One of the best things that happened in 2014 was that The Hobbit “trilogy” finally juddered to a halt, meaning those of us who feel obliged to see the films out of residual Lord of the Rings loyalty can get on with our lives in peace, at least until Peter Jackson finds his copy of The Silmarillion.
We meet lady elf warrior Tauriel in the second installment of The Hobbit, The Desolation of Smaug. If it feels like she was shoehorned in, it’s because she was shoehorned in. The book of The Hobbit is an unrepentant Victorian boys’ club. So, this is positive right? Actively altering the source material to be more inclusive! One whole new female character in nine hours of rambling and unnecessarily drawn-out plot? You’re welcome, feminists!
As a rabid Tolkien nerd and a card-carrying feminist, I desperately wanted to be positive about this new female character, created for my presumed benefit. Sadly, Tauriel is a case study in how not to write and insert a new female character into a pre-existing world or story. The first and most obviously problem is that she’s suffering from a lethal case of Strong Female Character syndrome.
Hi everyone! The fields of the link farm have lain fallow for a while, but they shall be all the more fertile for it and a new crop of feminism shall grow strong and abundant in the furrows of this newly-ploughed metaphor.
That is to say, the draft email where I keep interesting links (Iol, what are bookmarks) has become nothing short of unwieldy, so here’s a bumper crop of stuff I read recently (or not so recently) that I found thought-provoking. All of it is articles. In no particular order:
The Twitching of Democracy Could Twitch Plays Pokémon hold the answer to reinvigorating our broken systems of democracy? I have no idea, but fortunately my friend Tadhg decided to grapple with that very question in his latest blog post.
Rage Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum Women in general, and feminists in particular, are often accused of overreacting or being excessively angry in response to relatively innocuous things. Kameron Hurley does a great job of explaining that a) seemingly isolated incidents are often “blown out of proportion” precisely because they are not isolated incidents and b) anger is actually a necessary tool for changing the status quo.
Should “potential fathers” have any say in abortion? A thorny issue, but this is why I love reading Aoife O’Riordan on reproductive rights; she brings a level on incisiveness and clarity that I would never arrive at on my own and her conclusions always center the needs of the pregnant person above all else. And as a fellow native of a country where abortion is illegal except in the most extenuating of circumstances, her insight is valuable to me on a personal and political level.
Bi-Erasure and The Diary of a Young Girl Anne Frank may not have identified as bisexual, but the fact that her diary was originally scrubbed of homoerotic material prior to publishing is symptomatic of a society that is still profoundly uncomfortable with fluid sexuality. Solomon Wong illustrates how this relates to modern bi-erasure and why young bi people need more mainstream narratives that acknowledge their existence.
Bros before Rogues Nicholas DiSabatino asks if the X-Men franchise – despite reams of excellent source material – is getting steadily worse at portraying women as well-rounded characters… or indeed, portraying them at all. (Hint: Yes.)
Why Marketers Fear The Female GeekDisruptive innovation is one of my favourite marketing concepts. It basically means ripping up the rule book and throwing all the data out the window in order to capture (or recapture) a brand new market through bold and original strategies. And this, argues Anjin Anhut, is exactly what videogame companies need to do if they want access to the wallets of the fifty percent of the population they’ve been systematically alienating for the past few decades.
The Night I Kissed A Rapist In this simple personal account, Jan DeVry explores her firsthand experience of discovering that a rapist can be a well-liked, charismatic man with whom you have strong chemistry.
Seeming Female: Gender in Digital Space So at this point we all know that Fake Geek Girl is largely a myth, the fever dream of an adult nerd with a subconscious desire to punish all women for that one time a hot girl ignored him at summer camp. But the always excellent Foz Meadows posits an interesting theory: what if she does exist? What if she exists and what if she is a literal invention of male gamers? “What if the respective myths of the Fake Geek Girl and Fake Gamer Girl are actively being perpetuated, not through the whore-user predations of evil ladies, but because a cynical, sexist subset of male geeks are using stereotypical, strawman portrayals of women to manipulate their peers?” It sounds far-fetched, but the numbers add up and the performance of gender in digital spaces is a strange and elusive beast.
Prior to the release of Disney’s Frozen, I highlighted the fact that it was getting some pretty bad pre-release press from fellow feminist pop culture bloggers. The Feminist Fangirl wrote a post about how the original female-centric epic-quest fairytale appeared to have been gutted in favour of yet more bland princess fare. Then, the lead animator put his foot in it by making some poorly thought-out comments about how it’s really difficult to animate female characters, because they have to show emotion but they also have to be pretty, so sometimes they just end up all looking the same. Nightmare, am I right?
When Frozen was released, I deliberately resisted reading any reviews until I’d seen it for myself, although the general background buzz on the feminist blogosphere indicated that it was a lot better than expected. And having eventually seen it, I have to agree. Frozen is a feminist movie.
Link farm! Hello! Here are some the best things I have read on the Internet in recent weeks. But first, above, one of the best things about Beyoncé dropping a fourteen track visual concept album earlier this week (no biggie) is that this amazing TED Talk from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is getting some much deserved extra spotlight, since Bey sampled a large section of her speech in the track “***Flawless”.
The Feminist Selfie(article) “Selfie” is the Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year 2013, but is the rise of prolific self-portraiture – aided by webcams and smartphones – a feminist statement or tasteless narcissism? Can it be both? ChaosIntended makes an excellent case for the selfie as a feminist reclamation of the way women perceive and portray themselves.
What The Fluck(multimedia essay) This is a long and fascinating piece. It starts off talking about Tamara Mellon, creator of Jimmy Choo, but then expands to encompass some huge ideas… media, celebrity, public vs. private lives, corruption, politics and ultimately a call for new forms of journalism that can actually penetrate the giant financial power structures that run our world today.
My Abortion(article, content note for graphic descriptions of abortion) Brilliant journalism from Meaghan Winter at NY Magazine, reporting twenty-six abortion stories from twenty-six different women across the United States. There is no room for politics, but there is a full gamut of emotions – trauma, relief, nonchalance, fear, sadness, regret, gratitude – and some beautiful, heartbreaking moments that remind you that every single woman who has had an abortion is full and complete human being with a whole life of past choices and future prospects weighing on her decision.
I still don’t want to see Zack Snyder’s take on Wonder Woman(article) Charlie Jane Anders brilliantly articulates her (and my own) anxieties about Zack Snyder introducing Wonder Woman to the big screen and why he is not the director to catapult the world’s most iconic female superhero into the 21st century. Also, to save you reading the comments, they are full of “Wonder Woman will never work in movies because her origin is so messy and her costume is dated!” You know, as though screenwriters and directors have no creative license or agency to work around those things.
Loving your body and ending obesity (article) One of my favourite things about Emily Heist Moss is her ability and determination to find middle-ground on issues that have become so polarized that communication has all but broken down. In this article, she highlights that creating space for fat women to love themselves and promoting healthier lifestyles on a broad societal level are not opposing, or even mutually exclusive goals. And it’s not just that we can do both, it’s that we must do both if we ever want to see real change.
No Girls Allowed (visual essay) A comprehensive and aesthetically pleasing history of the rise of videogames that specifically charts the role of marketing in the evolution of the medium from family-friendly group entertainment to unrepentant boys’ club. Essential reading for anyone who still thinks companies “just make what sells!” Hint: they don’t, and marketing department don’t tailor their output to the whims of customers, but rather work hard and smart to create and control consumer demand.
Your Ability to Can Even: A Defense of Internet Linguistics (article) I love language! I love the Internet! I love The Toast! I love that online spaces are generating a whole spectrum of playful new ways to express ourselves through subversive grammar, memes, GIFs and typographic peculiarities. This article, I mean I just can’t even askkewefs abtklwvrqheqhljqv wow so linguistics
Feminists are not responsible for educating men (article) I have linked to this before across my various social meedjahs, but since I’ve had this conversations several times, drunkenly, in meatspace, in recent weeks, it bears posting again here. Go forth, well-intentioned men of the world, and read. And then restrain yourself from cornering me at the Christmas party to bombard me with enlightened questions along the lines of “Why don’t women just get over it?”*
*This is an actual thing that an adult man said to me during a “rational” discussion about feminism.
Someone recently reminded me that this blog is supposed to be about pop culture as well as feminism and I was like CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. So have some cartoons and videogames with a healthy side of gender analysis, hand picked from the lush gardens of the Internet by an overworked intern who needs to do some yoga or something.
Above, Errant Signal breaks down the idiotic assertion that reviewers who critique videogames in a social and cultural context are failing to be “objective” or imposing their “agenda” on an otherwise apolitical medium.
On Videogame Reviews (essay) And on that note, if Errant Signal breaks down the myth of the objective reviewer, Tevis Thompson ANNIHILATES it in this brilliant essay. What starts off as a review of the much-lauded Bioshock Infinite expands into something much broader and deeper. Even if you haven’t played Bioshock Infinite (I haven’t), this is mandatory reading if you give even a cursory shit about gaming culture, or even more generally about the nature of reviewing. It’s 8000 articulate, passionate, probing words and not a single one of them is wasted. Go read. (Also, I seriously got a little misty over Saving Zelda in work the other day.)
So What If It’s Satire?(article) I’ve been reading a lot of good stuff on D.A. White recently, but particularly enjoyed this post about the nature of satire. It’s a word that gets thrown around an awful lot, and to a downright alarming degree directly after someone suggests that a piece of media might be offensive. Using videogames, comics and of course A Modest Proposal as a point of reference, White explains why “offensive” and “funny” are not actually defining features of satire as a form.
The strange prudishness of Channel 4’s Sex Box (article) I don’t fully agree with Martin Robbins’ assessment of Sex Box, but he does manage to articulate a lot of the niggling problems I had with the first episode. I think the show has potential overall, but seriously, this: “Weirder still, given the obvious focus on diversity, was that it seemed each mate had to be paired with someone who looked the same – black with black, white with white, disabled with disabled, gay with gay, old with old – as if God had told Noah to run a sex cruise.”
Why I’m Not Supporting Disney’s Frozen(article) Oh, Disney. It always seems to be one step forward, two steps back with you guys. This post by The Feminist Fangirl delves into source material for Frozen – The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson, an “epic, melancholy, emotionally complex, and fantastically feminist” fairytale… and thenexplains how Disney decided to just fuck all that out the window – stripping it of all its unique elements and decimating its diverse cast of female characters – in favour of serving up another bland offering of “feisty princess surrounded by male helpers.” Sigh Disney. Just sigh.
Disney, Frozen and the (un)Importance of Prettiness (article) And as if that wasn’t disappointing enough, when it was pointed out that the character design for Frozen‘s Anna looks remarkable to Tangled‘s Rapunzel, the head animator decided to set us straight by explaining that “historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, because they have to go through these range of emotions, but you have to keep them pretty…” Yeah. I mean, if “pretty” exclusively means “impossibly huge eyes and almost non-existent nose and mouth”, I can see why that might be a problem.
Is BMO from Adventure Time Expressive of Feminism? (video) This guy is awesome because he interprets the character of BMO (a sentient videogame console) as an embodiment of the deconstructed gender binary, and therefore expressive of the ideals of third wave feminism. He also gives a very succinct explanation of the broad differences between first, second and third wave feminism. Also, he uses uses the French language (which I am currently trying to relearn) to make a point. It would be quite difficult for me to like this video more.
Pokémorality: Black and White(article) This article is not about feminism, but is in fact a SHAMELESS PLUG. This is an essay I wrote about Pokémon Black and White, originally published on a now-defunct videogame analysis site. I found it the other day and discovered I’m surprisingly fond of it, so now I’m giving it a home on Massive Hassle.
So this weekend saw the end of a historic Wimbledon tournament. Men’s singles champion Andy Murray made British sports history on the court and was showered with praise and glory and even a possible recommendation for knighthood.
But the crude and often violent commentary from these few (hundred) tweets are surely just an aberration, I hear you cry! It’s just the Internet, it’s just assholes trolling! No real people would ever actually suggest that Bartoli’s victory is somehow undermined by her looks!
The Box Trolls – coming in 2014 from Laika, the same studio responsible for Coraline and ParaNorman. It’s stop motion and it shows an awareness of non-traditional non-heteronormative families. I don’t know what more you could want!
So You Want To Compare Something To Slavery? – Well, I’m sure your comparison is completely measured and legitimate and not at all deeply insulting to any historically enslaved group! But maybe you should read this first, just to be sure…
A Woman’s Right To Chores – Over on Feministe, Molly Schoemann writes a light-hearted screed on strangely old-fashioned advertising for cleaning products. Come for the lols, stay for the comments full of “BUT THAT’S NOT SEXISM IT’S MARKETING IT’S NOT SEXIST IF IT SELLS.”
Word War Z, or Something Not Quite Like It – “I’m not sure why Brad Pitt bothered buying the rights to it really, because they essentially took all the things that made World War Z such a compelling and scary and fascinating read in the first place and just fucked it all in the bin.“
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War is one of my favourite books ever. I have read it three times and it scared the crap out of me. Good job, World War Z. Unfortunately, Hollywood got its hands on it and stripped it of everything that made it unique and terrifying and profoundly human, because why have any of those things, when you can give Brad Pitt a gun and a vague UN job and throw him up against a big writhing pile of CGI zombies? Don’t worry though, we’re supposed to give a shit about his character because he has a Generic Family with two adorable little girls and he says things like “It’s going to be okay, honey!” and “Tell them I’m coming back!” a lot.
I am not exaggerating:
so the topic of why fast zombies are stupid – both in terms of plausibility and symbolic efficacy – has been well covered. No one puts it better than Simon Pegg:
I know it is absurd to debate the rules of a reality that does not exist, but this genuinely irks me. You cannot kill a vampire with an MDF stake; werewolves can’t fly; zombies do not run. […]The speedy zombie seems implausible to me, even within the fantastic realm it inhabits. A biological agent, I’ll buy. Some sort of super-virus? Sure, why not. But death? Death is a disability, not a superpower. It’s hard to run with a cold, let alone the most debilitating malady of them all.
More significantly, the fast zombie is bereft of poetic subtlety.[…] [T]he zombie trumps all by personifying our deepest fear: death. Zombies are our destiny writ large. Slow and steady in their approach, weak, clumsy, often absurd, the zombie relentlessly closes in, unstoppable, intractable.
However (and herein lies the sublime artfulness of the slow zombie), their ineptitude actually makes them avoidable, at least for a while. If you’re careful, if you keep your wits about you, you can stave them off, even outstrip them – much as we strive to outstrip death. Drink less, cut out red meat, exercise, practice safe sex; these are our shotguns, our cricket bats, our farmhouses, our shopping malls. However, none of these things fully insulates us from the creeping dread that something so witless, so elemental may yet catch us unawares – the drunk driver, the cancer sleeping in the double helix, the legless ghoul dragging itself through the darkness towards our ankles.
Don’t get me wrong, the idea of crazy rabid people who want to tear you apart and eat you is pretty horrifying, especially when the infection seems to disproportionately effect world-class sprinters. BUT, as Red Lemonade points out, they are not zombies. This is not what zombie means. I’m not saying fast zombies don’t work and should never exist. I believe they have their place in the monster canon. But the slow zombie – the inevitable shuffling mass of death – that zombie is KEY to World War Z.
According to visual effects supervisor John Nelson, the reasoning behind having zombies who look like super-speedy heroin addicts is to make them more predatory because “everyone has seen everything in this genre.” Yes. Yes they have. Including fast zombies. If originality was really a concern here, a good place to start would be NOT making YET ANOTHER MOVIE about Kickass Government Operative Guy Saving The World. The book is not compelling because it has super-special original zombies. It is compelling because it is structured as an oral history that takes on the concept of zombies on an unprecedented scale.