Master of None Reviewed

This critique is dedicated to my good friend Zack, who asked for it. And as always, spoilers ahead.

You’d think love was all about the chase. That’s what I get from books, television, and movies anyway. Someone’s relationship is always just starting, or ending, or nearly ending before being renewed. And I understand why. Storytelling is the delicate art of maintaining tension. Where is there more tension than in the transitions of love?

But being in a long term relationship, I do sometimes want to see that represented. And without the relationship being undone in the eleventh hour.

Which is why Aziz Ansari’s Master of None disappoints me. The show took an episode or two to settle into itself, and I sometimes got the impression that Ansari, as “Dev”, was talking to himself instead of having a dialogue with the other characters. But these are minor flaws that do not detract from the show at its best.

And at its best, it’s quite good. Ansari plays to his strengths — physical comedy, and his nuanced second generation American viewpoint. Dev seeks work as a comedian, and ends up taking a part in a bad horror movie, providing Ansari the chance to die hilariously. Dev asks his immigrant parents (played by Ansari’s actual parents) about their childhoods, and their stories are at once harrowing, poignant, and still funny.

Even the romance arc of Master of None is strong. The love interest, Rachel (played by Noël Wells), has good chemistry with Ansari, and is very funny in her own right. Their relationship becomes a vector for more comedy, with Dev and Rachel embarking on small adventures. An uncomfortable taxi ride to buy Plan B. An early date in Nashville, because there was a deal on tickets there. Conversations about feminism, and relationships.

It’s a lot like Louie, or Maron, with insightful or even critical moments interspersed between the laughs. And sometimes it’s all mixed up.

One episode focuses on the grandfather of Dev’s friend, Arnold (Ed Wareheim). Dev and Arnold decide to visit Arnold’s grandpa, as it would be a nice, responsible thing to do. Dev and Arnold are first bored by the old man, but once he starts telling war stories they are enthralled. Then they meet grandpa’s companion — a robotic plush seal named Paro, who manages to be both adorable and deeply unsettling.

As Paro is a warm, fuzzy absurdity, most of Master of None has a warm, fuzzy quality that is less common in Louie, and absent from Maron. Of the three main characters, Dev is the youngest, the freshest, and the least jaded. Dev’s flaw is naïveté rather than wizened bitterness and depression. In many ways, it is a welcome change.

Which brings us back to where Master of None lets us down. Despite Dev and Rachel’s penchant for adventure, they pass up on the great adventure — growing together over time. Their relationship gets a little stale, but rather than work through that they suddenly break up.

It’s a sad ending, in no way funny, and that casts a negative light on all the preceding episodes. I can’t rewatch the show to enjoy the good times between Rachel and Dev, because I know it’s all just going to fall apart over nothing but uncharacteristic insecurity at the end.

I like Ansari’s comedy, and I wish him well with season two of Master of None in 2017. But I urge him to remember his strengths, and play to them. And while poignancy and deft handling of nuanced material is within Ansari’s comedic capabilities, a serious breakup from a serious relationship without any comedic twist really isn’t.

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Why So Serious? Captain America: Civil War Reviewed

In many respects, the latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a triumph. The cinematography was beautiful, the acting was excellent, the costuming was marvelous. The fight scenes were well choreographed and easy to follow, and they did indeed drop my jaw. Not to mention that the story held together with only a few holes  despite an enormous number of important characters. But alas, there was something missing from Captain America: Civil War that has been such a major part of the franchise.

What happened to the witty banter and quirky moments?

Like, we get it. Big, serious things are happening. Everyone’s down in the dumps. Are they really going to crack jokes when their friends keep running off to who-knows-where (like Thor and the Hulk)? Or falling on opposing sides in a political power struggle? Or getting seriously injured?

Sure, Iron Man makes a few fun comments. But there’s a reason that Spiderman webbed in and stole the show — he was having fun! Why wasn’t anyone else having fun? Or at least chilling out with some shawarma after a hard day of misunderstanding and brutally beating their friends?

And this is not just a problem with Civil War. I’m sure you’ve all noticed that grit is having a moment right now. Has been for the last few years. From Game of Thrones to Batman v Superman to The Walking Dead, what’s popular in broadly defined speculative fiction is dark and dour.

And I’m kind of done with it, because we can actually do better. I haven’t seen the show, but the book series of The Magicians walks the tightrope between realistic with realistic consequences and big colorful magic, and then finishes with a triple backflip and sticks the landing. Robert Kirkman’s other big comic book series, Invincible, isn’t a TV show like The Walking Dead yet, but it too manages to juggle serious and fun. Deadpool continues to blow my mind for being so crass, so funny, so over-the-top, and so real all at once.

I watched The Witch, a horror film peopled entirely with unsmiling, sin-obsessed pilgrims.  And even they knew to punch up the MAGIC at the end. So what happened, Civil War? Why so serious?

My hypothesis is that our current wave of blockbuster comic book movies is still riding the wave whipped up by Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, which were notably dark and gritty in a complete departure from earlier comic book to film adaptations. They did have their fun, colorful moments (the Joker, cough cough), which is why they mostly worked, but grit was the main theme.

So maybe the big studio exec default thinking is if they don’t have utter genius writing the script, at least keep it serious. People take serious things seriously, right? And this is a big, serious story. But the problem is that serious by itself is boring.

Tell me, which would you rather see?

(1) A bunch of characters state that they will or will not sign the Sokovia Accords, give brief explanations as to their positions, and then rather than talk about it Captain America goes to a funeral for a character that — to be honest — only he really cared about.*

(2) A bunch of characters order Chinese take out and have an actual conversation about the Accords, argue its merits back and forth, make each other and the audience laugh about it, have difficulties with their chop sticks, and ultimately agree to disagree without yet fully grasping how bad things are about to get bad. Skip the funeral scene.

Two sounds better, doesn’t it? It still deals with the weighty subject material, but it doesn’t make the audience suffer for it.

I’m not arguing for pure escapism, like a certain serious “literary” subset seem to think all this super hero, giant robot, and magic stuff is. If you divest these characters of their moral confusion and PTSD and just have them fly around and hit each other with wiffle bats and rainbows, you’ve lost my interest and don’t have a story.** It’s a balance.

Here, I’ll make it simple. I liked Civil War, especially the big six-on-six fight which was the entire reason we were all there. But I would groan if you asked me to rewatch it.

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*It could be that Peggy Carter is a major character in Agents of SHIELD, and I’m just ignorant. I have my own books to write, I can’t watch, read, or otherwise imbibe everything! 😛

**Some amazing art though…

Is It Sexist to Hit Her? Deadpool Reviewed

Deadpool is fantastic! Five stars, two thumbs up, new Facebook Wow FaceTM. Go see it before reading this, because you’ll laugh your ass off, and avast, thar be spoilers ahead.

Alright, so first I want to give a big shout out to my favorite joke: “Written by The Real Heroes”. Because it’s true. While the effects team worked pure magic and Ryan Reynolds knocked it out of the park (and dat ass…), without top-notch writing this movie would have been a big, obnoxious mess. My hats off to you, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick.

And the runner-up jokes:

–The little figurine of “Deadpool” from X Men Origins: Wolverine.

–Going to meet Professor X. “Which one, Stewart or McAvoy?”

–Angel Dust’s boob popping out of her bustier mid-fight, and Colossus freaking out.

There are, of course, many, many more fine jokes from Deadpool to reminisce about. But at this point I’d rather take a long look at that last one. The boob, the gentlemanly freak-out, the coy acceptance of Colossus’s chivalry. And then Angel Dust hits Colossus hard with a sucker punch, because you don’t look away from your opponent in a life-or-death battle. Not even if she’s a pretty, and partially exposed, woman.

Thanks to Reese and Wernick, this movie gets exactly where we are in this conversation. Is it sexist to hit a woman? Is it more sexist not to hit a woman? Deadpool himself asks this question mid-movie. He answers by shooting the woman in question with comedic timing; perfect Deadpool. But yes, there is an automatic cringe upon seeing such a cute, petite woman gunned down by a masked maniac.

But we just saw Deadpool treat a dozen guys the same way. They’re all “bad guys”, they all work for Ajax/Francis, and Deadpool isn’t portrayed as heroic for killing them so it’s okay. His brutality is funny. Dark satire pratfalls.

So, in context, is it sexist to hit the woman? She’s just another hench(wo)man. No super powers to even out nature’s muscular imbalance — but those other henchmen weren’t powered up either. In context, it really seems more sexist not to hit her.

And that, oddly, is what makes Deadpool the “hero” in this film. He’s the only man on screen who isn’t sexist. Okay, yeah, so he encourages the cabbie Dopinder to treat the object of his desires as an object. But Deadpool is comfortable talking about masturbation with his roommate, Blind Al. Which is normal for male roommates, but Blind Al is a woman.

Similarly, Deadpool doesn’t get jealous about the chosen profession of his lady love. They never talk about it once — we have no idea if Vanessa is still turning tricks or not. Because it doesn’t matter. Deadpool and Vanessa love the heck out of each other. Whatever their relationship looks like, it’s working for them, and that’s what matters.

And there’s a streak of Bugs Bunny’s transvestitism in Reynold’s Deadpool. He never wears a dress, but he’s impressively comfortable with his own sexual objectification. His cross-acting (what else can I call it?) is used for comedic effect on screen, but it’s clear the character himself really doesn’t give a damn about gender norms. Unless he can use them to crack an excellent joke.

Meanwhile, Francis totally forgets about the Vanessa in the Fridge behind him. So when she escapes, grabs Deadpool’s sword, and stabs Francis…I can’t even call that a joke. That was cosmic justice for every damsel in distress who hasn’t waded into the fight the moment she could.

To acknowledge the naked elephant (stripper) in the room, yeah. We have a little full frontal female nudity in this film. But we also have a long shot of Ryan Reynold’s muscular butt, and another long shot of Everything when Francis leaves him to die in the burning laboratory. That, my friends, is gender equality.

It must also be mentioned that this movie is dark, intensely violent, and vulgar. It’s not the kind of movie I expect to find myself thinking good for people. Not good for kids, no. To the mom and dad who brought their two little boys to see Deadpool with them and sat in front of me — your boys are super well behaved, but what the heck is wrong with you?

For adults, though? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with depictions of violence in media, so long as the writers, directors, actors, etc. are honest with the audience. Violence is shocking, disgusting, and holds the possibility of dire, even mortal consequence.

Once that is stated (and it is, in spades), why not make fun of what squishy meatbags we are?

In short, if it’s fiction, just hit the girl already.

Sick Time Equals Media Consumption! (a bunch of random reviews)

I started the new year with a cold, so I’ve been consuming a lot of media. Here are my impressions on what I have watched and read both while I was sick, and just in recent memory. Some of my selections are current and trending, some are not. As always, assume spoilers.

TELEVISION

The Flash: Season One
I started out really liking this show, and hating it by the end. I liked most of the characters (Mark Hamill’s Trickster being my hands-down fav), and there were some really great fights (especially early on), but the whole thing bogs down when Barry Allen and Co start taking prisoners. It bothers me that they keep people in solitary 24 hours a day, and there was rarely any evidence in the show that the prisoners were being fed, or talked to, or given any room to exercise.

I don’t care if they’re scary meta-humans that no normal prison is equipped to deal with, that’s still torture. And the show never does enough to address this gaping thematic wound to satisfy me.

Then the secret keeping got really tiresome. By mid-season, every time Barry and Iris were on screen together, I started shouting, “JUST TELL HER YOU’RE THE FLASH!”

And then the season finale — oy vey. The few reviews I read were mostly positive, but I thought it was awful. The “science” was especially laughable. Barry talks himself out of time-traveling and then does it anyway, and accomplishes nothing by it. And Eddie kills himself to stop Eobard, who didn’t need to be stopped at that moment, thereby depriving us of two of the show’s main characters AND causing a wormhole to destabilize, endangering the whole world and ending the season on a cheap-looking CG cliffhanger.

The whole point was to get Eddie out of the way so Barry and Iris can be together next season sans any pesky moral qualms, I guess. But then why even create Eddie and his relationship with Iris in the first place?

The season had a lot of promise, a lot of good characters, but it honestly felt like a first-draft script still focused on an end the writers had unknowingly written themselves out of. Despite Grant Gustin’s adorable face and the promise of more crossovers with Arrow (some of the best parts), I’m not all that interested in the further adventures of Barry Allen.

Arrow: Season Two
I’m a season behind in this show — oh well. I’ll keep it short. The overall arc was good, but this season had a lot of padding, and again there were too many characters keeping too many secrets from each other. Writer’s hint — having characters reveal information about each other to each other moves the plot along.

But I thought it ended fabulously (is Dark Thea as much fun in Season 3 as I think she’s going to be?), and I could watch Stephen Amell climb that salmon ladder all damn day.

South Park: Season 19
Wow. Who would have thought that South Park would run for 19 years and still show no sign of stopping? I grew up with this show, and it’s really grown too in a way that The Simpsons and Family Guy haven’t. It still looks sophomoric when I compare it to Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s other big, important work, The Book of Mormon, but compared to where it started with an elephant fucking a pig? Why, it’s positively sophisticated now.

Season 19 is all about how Internet culture affects our lives and how we relate to each other. Like Season 18 (but entirely separate from it, as Randy Marsh doesn’t seem to be Lorde anymore), the narrative continues and builds from episode to episode. We follow the rise and fall of gentrification in South Park, and some surprisingly nuanced points are made about poverty, new trends in marketing, and new trends in media. The town is literally updated, with new minority characters added as well as new locations and amenities. The show actually mocks its old self by having the characters desperately point to Token as their example of a non-white friend to try and prove they are progressive.

I’ve felt kind of “meh” about South Park for awhile, but season 19 is very good. Even that weird episode about yaoi. It is absolutely worth a watch.

BOOKS

Changing Planes by Ursula K. Le Guin
Having only read the first two of Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea books, I grabbed another of her books at random off the library shelf. Changing Planes turned out to be a collection of travel journal articles about imaginary places. Each reads like an entry one might expect from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, only less comedic and more philosophical. Each story presents a new, alien “plane” that stands in insightful juxtaposition to our own. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and I highly recommend it.

The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King
Considering that Stephen King is my writing guru (his On Writing is really, really good), I haven’t read all that much of his stuff. I’ve seen The Mist and The Shining, I finished off The Dark Tower series earlier this year, and I’ve read Cujo and some of his short stories and, of course, On Writing.

So I also picked up something at random from King off the library shelf. The Eyes of the Dragon is a solid YA fantasy novel, good fun on its own but with some surprise appearances of characters and settings from The Dark Tower.

I like King’s penchant for self-crossovers and reimaginings. It fits in with my own understanding that a character, once formed for one story, is going to be re-used and recycled and reimagined by fans, and possibly fit into other “real”, published stories later. Like how the Wicked Witch from the Wizard of Oz has transformed into Elphaba from Wicked. Or how there are dozens of versions of King Arthur between books, movies, and TV shows, from child Arthur of The Once and Future King to jock Arthur of Merlin to comedic Arthur of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

No reason the original author can’t also get in on the reimagination action.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
I’m stretching back in time a bit here (I finished this one last summer), but I just wanted to add this book to my review dump here. While the ending was messy and the world doesn’t make sense if you stop to think about it, the whole thing is super stylish, high energy, and fun. If you’re like me and you think you should probably read more sci-fi to expand your fantasy-oriented reading list, pick this one up.

FILM

The Hateful Eight
Oh look, a timely review instead of a totally random one! I saw The Hateful Eight just before I got sick, and it was amazing. Amazing. I don’t want to spoil much because this movie is such a ride, but I will point out that Captain Phasma wasn’t the only “non-traditional” (i.e. not a sexpot) female villain this Holiday Season. I have never seen a woman in a film treated like Daisy Domergue before.

Seriously, this movie is a must-see. Like, go see it! Now!

The Thing
I discovered that Quentin Tarantino was heavily inspired by John Carpenter’s The Thing in making The Hateful Eight. So when I got sick, I decided to watch The Thing. And it’s good! I love traditional film effects, and the ooey gooey monsters in this film are tops.

Watching the films nearly back to back, the parallels are pretty obvious. Both take place in snowy isolation (Antarctica vs. late 1800s Wisconsin), and both involve a group of people who start picking each other off because they are infected (by an alien…virus?/by hate, bigotry, and greed). And Ennio Morricone wrote excellent soundtracks for both. Apart from that, the characters and genres are quite different, so the two movies don’t just feel like an echo of each other.

I like The Hateful Eight better. The dialogue is better, the acting is better, it actually passes the Bechdel test for women as well as people of color, and the filmography is so pretty you’ll cry. But if you want to feel like a real film buff, give The Thing a watch too. Those monsters are totally worth it.

Bone Tomahawk
Now that I’ve gotten started, I could keep going. My husband and I watch a lot of movies together, especially horror, because my husband loooooves horror. But I’ll stop for now with the excellent horror/western we watched yesterday; Bone Tomahawk.

Despite the title and the assumptions you can probably draw from it, I don’t think this movie is racist. At first glance the murderous bad guys are “Indians”. But my favorite character, “The Professor”, is played by actual Native American Zahn McClarnon, and he states, “They aren’t Indians. They are Troglodytes.” And while dictionary-troglodytes don’t have tusks, or throat bones that make them sound like a pack of wolves, neither do Native Americans.

Like The Hateful Eight, most of the characters are white men, but like The Hateful Eight there are enough “minority” characters and the film is conscious enough about race and sex that I won’t complain. The acting is great, and the dialogue is superb — I felt like I was watching something new by Shakespeare at times.

The plot is a bit bare-bones, so (unlike Shakespeare, or The Hateful Eight) there isn’t a whole lot to think about after watching it. But it’s a solid film, and I do recommend it to western fans and horror fans alike. Don’t let the title turn you off.

Star Wars Awakens: A Film Review

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is good. It’s really good. It has so many clever flourishes and amazing moments that it isn’t just a movie, but a film. It’s art. A+ for JJ Abrams and his cast and crew. If you haven’t seen it yet, go. Go now. Definitely don’t read this first, because it’s full of SPOILERS!!!

Okay, so you’ve seen the film. Good. Here we go.

From the opening shot of a shadowed star destroyer flying over and blotting out a bright planet, we know The Force Awakens is both the Star Wars we know and love (not that Prequel nonsense), and that it’s about to get turned on its head.

Sure, we’ve got the mechanically inclined future Jedi scrambling around on a desert world full of aliens and ‘droids. We’ve got an even bigger Death Star. We’ve got Storm Troopers and blue-tinged holograms and light sabers. We’ve got the Sith Lord and his far more interesting Apprentice. We’ve got the clash between light side and dark that is central to the Star Wars mythos.

It’s Star Wars reborn; all the old, beloved stuff we grew up with fresh and new on the big screen again. The Prequels may not be expunged from the canon, but they are utterly irrelevant.

So what’s new?

Diversity.

Not that the original Star Wars movies didn’t push the envelope with Lando Calrisian and Darth Vader both played by black men. But Vader the character is white when his helmet finally comes off, and Leia seems to be the only woman in the Galaxy after Beru is murdered.

By comparison, the Resistance is richly diverse. Male and female, human and alien, Caucasian, Asian, Indian, African. I haven’t seen  a more diverse cast of one-line characters and extras since The Matrix.

In sharp contrast, the First Order is pointedly homogenous. They got the women-in-the-workplace memo, but anyone with a little extra melanin had best keep his white helmet on, thank you very much. And aliens aren’t wanted. I don’t even remember any ‘droids among the First Order.

Since every other setting is rich with aliens, ‘droids, and humans of every color, it becomes clear that the purely human, overtly white First Order is a creative choice. Abrams has given his evil army a Nazi-ish vibe, emphasized by their military trimmings, their whiteness, and their chilling, bent-armed variant of the Heil Hitler salute. And before you roll your eyes at the Jewish director casting Nazi-analogues as his villains, remember that we have a certain political party campaigning on a platform of fascism and xenophobia*.

Think about it. Nazis are way more relevant now than when Captain America was punching them back in 2011.

Star Wars wasn’t so political before, but it was never meaningless space opera. It was psychological. The story of Episodes IV, V, and VI is a basic hero’s journey, and everyone undertakes their own inner hero’s journey when they decide to start fighting their inner demons. And Abram’s Star Wars remains psychological, the politics an extension of the discussion about light and dark.

The locus of that discussion isn’t Rey, or Finn. It’s Kylo Ren.

Having watched the film twice now, I’ve got to give a shout out to Adam Driver for his amazing performance. He’s suave, menacing, pathetic, and completely unhinged by turns. In Driver’s capable hands, Kylo Ren’s emotionality and fragility emerges slowly, until he’s outdone by a kidnapped, restrained, and untrained Rey.

Kylo Ren is the realization of what George Lucas attempted — and utterly failed — with Anakin in the Prequel Trilogy. We only see Ren near the bottom of his fall from the light, but we can picture his childhood with two famous, demanding parents and the threat of assassination over all their heads. We can imagine young Ben (his true name) training with Luke, asking questions about the nature of light and dark and receiving unsatisfying answers from his half-trained master. We can see Snoke entering the picture, the first to tell Ben that all his fear and anger is okay, even desirable.

Unlike Anakin’s fall, Ben’s transformation into Ren makes sense even if it doesn’t happen before our eyes.

As the good guys, Rey and Finn still stumble and struggle and don’t always have the courage to face what they fear. Yet they are strong in the light — they will follow their Hero’s Journeys to their end. But Ren? Who knows. I can’t predict if Kylo Ren will follow the full circle of Anakin/Vader’s path from light to dark and back to light, or if he will emerge as a more confidant Dark Lord in Episode VIII, or if madness will take him down some murky third path.

I’m guessing, obsessing over a character that could have been a complete joke.** There aren’t many stories that get me so involved.

Holy crap, I love The Force Awakens.

I love the new characters and the old ones. I love the nigh seamless mix of CGI and traditional effects. I love the costumes and the sets. I love the story, and Abram’s audacity to actually kill Han Solo. I love the performances. I love all the brilliant little moments; Poe Dameron looking back in interest at his jiggling blaster bolt as it hovers, caught in Ren’s power. Rey’s bread rising up out of a bowl of water and her “quarter portion.” BB-8 unveiling R2D2, and looking so small and sleek beside the older ‘droid. Ren’s red light saber jittering against the steady blue of Finn’s and Rey’s. Luke saying nothing at the end, but speaking volumes of hesitancy and pain with his gaze alone.

If I had to give The Force Awakens a critique, the only one I can offer is that the main characters never take a break. They run straight from scene to scene without the time to sleep, or eat, or even take a bathroom break in between them.

And that’s it.

Sure, there’s a good deal of Deus ex Machina, and the characters are awfully competent, and really, a whole planet has been terraformed into a giant sun-gun? But no one can honestly complain about such things. That’s Star Wars. That’s what we all wanted, and it’s exactly what we got, only made richer, contemporary, and unexpectedly relevant. Thank goodness, and thank Abrams.

I can’t wait for Episode VIII!

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*Bernie Sanders, you’re our only hope.

**I love Kylo Ren, but I also love Emo Kylo Ren, who has one of the funniest Twitter feeds I’ve ever seen.

GRRM is Not a Feminist

George RR Martin claims, “I’m a feminist at heart,” but I don’t believe him.

Neither do his many angered fans.  They dealt with Joffrey forcing one whore to murder another.  They weathered the Red Wedding and a pregnant woman being stabbed in the belly.  They continued watching, despite Jaime’s last-character-arc-negating rape of Cersei.  And now Sansa has been pointlessly raped by the pointlessly sadistic Bastard of Bolton, and many of the feminist fans are done.  Just done.  They can’t let themselves tacitly condone the sexism any longer, and have sworn off future episodes.

What’s that?  None of that happens in the book, and GRRM doesn’t have complete creative control over the show?  And he actually griped about (but didn’t exactly apologized for)* some of its deviations from his work?  Alright, that’s a fair point.  The show has actually turned out to be more sexist than the books by a long shot, despite the initial promise that it might tone that crap down.

So let’s focus on the outrages GRRM himself has actually penned.  How about the raping stocks in Harrenhal, or Arya being pointlessly threatened with rape in the same location?  Or Brienne’s inability to save herself, relying ultimately on one-handed Jaime to rescue her from a mere bear?  Or the fact that the ruination of the Starks is almost entirely Catelyn’s fault?

And Cersei…hmm, I don’t believe that’s happened in the show yet.  Well, at the end of book five, that was a complete break of character, and it wasn’t at all like the actual Middle Ages either.  It wasn’t even consistent with GRRM’s own work, considering what happened to poor Lollys just for existing at the wrong moment in the wrong company.

Okay.  Deep breaths.  NK JemisonDiana GabaldonNicola Griffith.

I do think GRRM means well.  I do think that he WANTS to be a feminist, that he believes the feminists are right (as, generally, they are).  He’s a smart guy, he wants to be in on that.  He has created a number of memorable female characters, and writes frequently from their point of view.

And he seems sympathetic to their plight, as women.

But while inclusion is great, it’s only the first step in creating true diversity in your work.  Step two is giving your minority characters some agency, and GRRM’s ladies rarely have much of that.  Instead, they’re all plight.  Forever beset upon by the men and other women in their lives.

That doesn’t sound quite feminist to me.  It doesn’t even sound “realistic”.  We’re not all damsels 24-7.  And really, we’re talking novels, worlds and people created by a truly omnipotent god.  Why couldn’t Brienne just jab the bear’s eye-socket and stab into its brain with her wooden sword?

And then climb on its mangy back, climb out of the pit, and plant a kiss on Jaime Lannister?

Now that would have been feminist.

*                 *                 *

*first comment on GRRM’s blog post “Author, Author!”

Feminism in the Age of Ultron

If any other writer/director had done Avengers: Age of Ultron, there would be minimal critique by the feminist community.

But instead, Joss Whedon did it.  Joss Whedon, who created Buffy Summers and Willow Rosenburg, River Tam and Zoe Washburne, and Echo and her many personalities from the Dollhouse.  Feminist Icon Joss Whedon.  Joss Whedon Who-Should-Have-Done-Better.

Considering the liberties Whedon takes with Marvel’s characters and story lines, maybe he could have done better.  I would have loved to see Pepper Pots and Jane Foster in this movie.  Scarlet Witch could have been quippier.  And Black Widow didn’t need high heels.  But let’s get real for a moment.

First, this is not Whedon’s creation alone.  He has decades of comic book superhero material to incorporate into these movies.  He can depart from established plots, he can change the relationships between some of the characters, but he can’t change so much that it (a) negates the movies made before Whedon was crowned King of Marvel, (b) transforms the characters beyond recognition, or (c) goes outside what corporate has planned or is willing to fund.  Black Widow is upset about being sterilized because she is upset about it in the comics — Whedon didn’t make that up himself.

Second, Whedon still had more major female characters with agency and an effect on the story than at least 95% of big budget Hollywood films.  Most movies give you one, maybe two ladies, and most of the time they have no real identity outside of “girlfriend” or “mother”.  Here we had Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, and Dr. Helen Cho, with Laura Barton, Maria Hill, and Peggy Carter chillin’ in more minor roles.  True, the men ran point on almost everything, but there were usually women around.

(Same with people of color — I do wish the main cast was more diverse, but there were scenes full of black and Asian extras, and that’s really more unusual than it should be.)

Third, our world is sexist.

Well, duh, Your Hipp-ness, the world is sexist.  That’s why Joss Whedon was supposed to show us all the way, and not stick a single female character with some woman-trope, like pregnancy or cleaning up after the boys.

The funny thing is that Whedon does show us the way.  Black Widow is respected by her fellow Avengers.  She’s assumed to be smart and capable, and so are Scarlet Witch and Dr. Cho.  When Black Widow is underestimated by Ultron (which makes sense, considering that he just exposed himself to the entire Internet), she rigs up an old radio and brings in the rest of the team, instigating the fight that ends in the failure and death of Ultron.

Sure, there are fewer women on the front lines than men — but hey, that’s just like real life!  Laura Barton is home pregnant with the kids while her man goes to war — but hey, that’s just like real life!  Black Widow consented to her sterilization but deeply regrets it now — just like the real women who have been through our penal system and “volunteered” for sterilization feel.

I gotta tell you, this scares me a bit.  Here I am, sticking my neck out, writing feminist fantasy.  But I kick the crap out of my lady characters.  They wind up kidnapped, imprisoned, victimized, tortured, marginalized, raped, degraded, underestimated, dismissed.  So what is the inevitable complaint going to be?  Did I damsel or fridge someone?  Did I not give my women enough power?  Are there more male characters than female on the battlefield?  Am I more comfortable maiming my dudes than my dudettes?

Don’t get me wrong, writers need to keep asking themselves questions like this.  Push diversity, leave out or subvert the tropes, and put more women (and people of color, and gay, bi, and trans people) in the thick of your stories.  But the whole Fem-terweb shouldn’t be screaming-mad at Joss Whedon right now.

Whedon made an awesome movie that did assume women to be inherently capable, and there are so many popular writers and directors that I cannot say that about.