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Posts Tagged ‘ranty’

How to bore me in thirty seconds flat

I needed to be doing some random stuff on the computer this morning, so on a whim, I put on the first episode of Rizzoli & Isles, which is Yet Another Police Procedural, though with two female leads.

First thing I see: a bound and terrified woman, in the clutches of an unknown villain.

Which led me to ask on Twitter, What percentage of police procedurals open their pilot ep with a woman chased, crying, screaming, or dead?

Because seriously — at this point, that is the single most boring way I can think of to open your show. Also problematic and disturbing, but even if you don’t care about those things, maybe you care about it being utterly predictable. There is nothing fresh or new about having the first minute of your police procedural episode show us somebody (usually a woman) being victimized. I said on Twitter, and I meant it, that I would rather see your protagonist file papers. I might decide in hindsight that the paper-filing was also boring . . . but in the moment, I’d be sitting up and wondering, why am I seeing this? Are the papers important? Or something about how the protag is approaching them? Because it isn’t a thing I’ve seen a million times before.

The only thing that brief clip of the victim gives us is (usually) a voyeuristic experience of their victimization. They don’t make the victim a person, an individual we get to know and care about. They rarely even give us meaningful information about the crime, except “this person died from a gunshot/strangulation/burning alive/whatever” — which is info we could easily get later in the episode, through the investigation.

There are exceptions, on a show or individual ep level. But the overwhelming pattern is: here’s some violence for violence’s sake, before we get to the actual characters and the actual story.

I decided last year that I was done with the genre of “blood, tits, and scowling.” I think I’m done with police procedurals, too. I won’t swear I’ll never watch another one, but they’ve just lost all their flavor for me, because I’ve seen so many. And because I am so very, very tired with those predictable openings.

Why is this funny?

Mary Robinette Kowal recently had nasal surgery to correct a medical problem. Being who she is (a writer, and therefore professionally interested in just about everything under the sun), she’s been posting pictures of her recovery.

She also posted this.

Here’s the thing. Remember when I fell down the stairs? (It was just three days ago; surely you haven’t forgotten.) Afterward, several friends of ours made similar jokes, about my husband pushing me down the stairs.

Why is it that, any time we hear about or see a woman injured, our minds go immediately to domestic abuse?

And why is it funny?

As Mary says, part (maybe all) of the humor comes from the absurdity of the idea: my husband would never push me down the stairs; her husband would never hit her. Anybody who knows us knows this. But at the same time . . . is it really that absurd? How many instances are there of women being abused by their husbands, when all the friends and neighbors would never dream of him doing such a thing?

It isn’t funny, because it isn’t absurd. Not nearly as much as it should be. It’s reality for far too many women. And making jokes about it — that normalizes the idea. Used to be that you got cartoons about drunk driving, the bartender pouring his customer into his car when he’s had a few too many and waving him off homeward with a cheery grin. Because that was normal. You don’t see those cartoons anymore, do you? We don’t think it’s normal to drive when you’re sauced, and we don’t think it’s funny.

We need the same to be true of domestic abuse.

By all means, joke about me falling down the stairs. Remind me that I can’t fly. Say that however much I don’t want to carry boxes, I should stop at hurling them to the bottom, and not hurl myself with them. That’s fine by me; humor is a good way to deal with a really annoying and painful situation.

But don’t joke about my husband pushing me, or Mary’s husband hitting her.

if you can’t win, change the rules of the game

I don’t have the link, but my husband recently read me bits from an interview with or article by one of the screenwriters for the upcoming Doctor Strange movie, wherein the screenwriter referred to the character of the Ancient One as “Marvel’s Kobayashi Maru.” This is, of course, the character that recently got whitewashed by casting Tilda Swinton in the role; the screenwriter’s piece argued that it’s a situation in which there is no good solution. To wit:

1) The Ancient One is, right out of the gate, kind of a horrible racist stereotype. Mystical Asian master teaches white man the ways of magic! Yyyyyyeah, when that’s your starting point, you’re already in trouble.

2) Okay, say you don’t whitewash the role; you cast an Asian actor and just accept the fact that you’re going to perpetuate the Mystical Asian Master stereotype. The character is canonically Tibetan; you cast a Tibetan actor. Congratulations: you have just walked into a minefield, and its name is “Tibetan/Chinese politics.” China says “screw you, we’re not showing that film in this country,” and you lose out on one of the biggest markets in the entire world — a market which is pretty much necessary to make a film of this kind profitable.

3) Okay, okay, so no Tibetan actor. Cast a Chinese man instead! China’s happy! . . . at the cost of supporting China’s imperialist attitudes toward Tibet and erasing Tibetan identity.

Each one of us probably has an opinion as to which of those three options (whitewash the role and dilute the Asian stereotype; cast a Tibetan actor and eat the massive financial and political hit; cast a Chinese actor and erase Tibet) is the least of the available evils. But the fact remains that none of them are straight-up good options; up to that point, I agree with the screenwriter’s argument.

But I also look at that, and then think about the Kobayashi Maru scenario.

If you can’t win, then change the rules of the game.

For example: I’ve been told that in some versions of the Doctor Strange canon, the hero is Asian instead of white. I haven’t been able to track down a citation for that, but it doesn’t have to be previously true to be an option now; instead of whitewashing the Ancient One, racebend Doctor Strange himself. Then you may still have your Mystical Asian Master, but he’s not teaching a white man his secret ways, and you have a headlining superhero who’s a man of color. It doesn’t solve your Tibetan/Chinese political problem — plus you have to decide what ethnicity your Doctor Strange will be, which potentially carries its own complications — but it does help mitigate the problematic nature of the Ancient One himself, and his relationship with Doctor Strange.

Or my sister’s suggestion: cast a Tibetan actor as the Ancient One . . . and then re-film those scenes with a Chinese actor for the Chinese market. Sure, it’ll cost some money, but not nearly as much as losing out on the Chinese market. You’re still kind of complicit in China’s relations with Tibet, and you haven’t solved your “Asian master teaches a white man” problem (unless you combine this with the above), but it’s a potential compromise.

Or — and this is my preferred solution — get rid of the problem entirely, by getting rid of the Ancient One.

Jettison the inherently problematic baggage you inherited from previous versions of canon and come up with something better. Sure, the fanboys will wail and gnash their teeth — but whatever, they can suck it up. They already understand that there can be multiple different canons, sometimes with wildly divergent stories for how the hero got his powers; let this be another. Give Doctor Strange a different origin story, one that isn’t founded on a horrible racist stereotype. Change the rules of the game. Play something better.

I think the screenwriter did a good job of outlining the dimensions of the box they were stuck in. I just wish he and the director and the producer had realized that they didn’t have to be in the box — that they had the power to bust out of it entirely. It would have been better than the route they went.

(And Scarlett Johansson as Major Kusanagi? There is no goddamned excuse.)

Schroedinger’s WFC panels

Depending on which corners of the internet you’ve been paying attention to today, you may or may not have seen the useless and offensive piece of garbage that is the harassment policy for World Fantasy this year. It translates to “unless you are subjected to a criminally prosecutable instance of harassment, we’re not going to do anything about it. Play nice, guys!”

This is unacceptable.

And I’ve told the con runners as much. It’s barely a week and a half to the con; their ability to fix it is, at this point, limited. But they can at least do something. Me, I can’t get a refund on my plane ticket or my convention membership, so that cost is sunk. But if nothing improves by the time I get there, then I will not participate in programming — and I have told the con runners as much.

Because here’s the thing. It turns out I’m actually on two panels, not one; when I posted my schedule yesterday, the second one had vanished from the program, but it’s back now. That panel? Is on violence. And I simply cannot stomach the irony of sitting behind a microphone talking about violence, while knowing the event I’m attending has abdicated its responsibility to protect the safety of its attendees.

This isn’t rocket science. Many other cons have instituted policies against harassment and procedures to enforce same. I’m serving on the board of an organization that is, right now, dealing with a very complex allegation of harassment. I know what a good policy looks like, and this is so far from that, you’d need a telescope to see it from here. Their excuses for why they can’t do better are laughable. Their failure to even communicate this so-called “policy” to all of their staff is indicative of massive dysfunction. And if they didn’t see this storm coming, they’ve been willfully blind.

I will not support this kind of crap by lending my voice and my thoughts to their program. If they fix it, I’ll go on as scheduled. If they don’t, I’ll be in the bar. And we can have a nice chat about how “violence” doesn’t always involve blood.

bright doesn’t have to mean flimsy

My husband and I are finally caught up on both Arrow and The Flash, which means I can finally make the post I’ve been drafting in my head for a while. The following contains mild spoilers for both shows, as well as Daredevil. It also contains a fair bit of complaining about how much The Flash disappointed me, so if you really love it and don’t want to see someone dissect its flaws, you may not want to click through.


Intent is not magic, but it *does* matter

I don’t know why, but recently I’ve been seeing posts around the internet about intent and its role in harassment/discrimination/etc which, to my eye, are throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

I am 100% on board with the “intent is not magic” message. If you hit me in the face, then my face hurts, regardless of whether you did maliciously or by accident because you turned around to throw something and didn’t realize I was right behind you. Your good intentions don’t erase the pain and give me a magically unbroken nose. And if your intentions were good, then the proper reaction to finding out that you hurt someone else should be to feel horrified and apologize for what happened. If you get defensive? If you bluster on about how you didn’t mean to like that changes what happened? Then you’re doing it wrong.

(This example is actually not theoretical for me. During the karate seminar in Okinawa, I accidentally rammed somebody in the cheekbone with the end of my bo while trying to slide it out of the way for people to sit down on a bench. I felt terrible, to the point where even now, nine months later, I want to apologize to her again. And I wish I spoke more than ten words of German, so a language barrier wouldn’t have gotten in the way of my attempt to make amends.)

But what I am not on board with is an actual sentence I read the other week, which is: intent doesn’t matter.

It does.

Intent doesn’t erase the damage, no. But it goddamned well ought to inform what happens next. If you hit me in the face by accident and were mortified the instant it happened, then I don’t need to lecture you on how hitting people in the face is bad: you already know that, and just need to be a little more careful. If you hit me in the face because you weren’t aware that face-hitting hurts, then somebody needs to explain that basic point to you, and you need to take a good hard look at your habits to figure out what things you’re doing are likely to result in face-hitting. If you hit me in the face because your society says, yeah, face-hitting hurts but it’s totally okay so long as it’s done to the right targets, then you need to rethink not just your habits but your morals, and the change needs to be not just to you, but to the cultural environment that taught you to behave that way. And if you hit me in the face because you hate my guts and want to see me hurt . . . then I need to get the hell away from you, because the odds that any positive change can be effected there are nil.

In all of these cases, my face still hurts, and you should still apologize. And maybe I’ve been hit in the face enough that for my own well-being, I need to get the hell away from you without pausing to find out whether that was just an accident. But to say that intent flat-out does not matter — to say that there’s no point in figuring out the causes behind actions — that, to me, is taking the point waaaaaaaaaaaaay too far. (And both “intent doesn’t matter” and “I don’t see why we should figure out motives” are actual arguments I’ve seen in the last week or two. I’ve debated whether I should include links, but I decided I’d rather keep the focus on the concepts, rather than the people promoting them — especially since one of those posts was not recent, and for all I know the writer has changed their views.)

The minute we give up on intent, we treat every injustice done to us as a nail, to be hit with the exact same hammer. And that’s not going to get you very far with screws or rubber bands.

We should not put intent above the effects of a hurtful action. We should not act like it’s a magic shield against responsibility for your actions, and the person who was hurt should stop whining already. But we shouldn’t throw it out entirely, either, and it disturbs me to see people saying we should.

EDITED TO ADD: From Mrissa in the comments, an excellent link that says this better than I did, including the concept that “intent is data.” And data is useful.

The Absence of Women

The other day on Twitter, I commented about the absence of women from a book I was reading. Because Twitter is no place for long explanations or nuanced discussions, and also because I was about to go to karate and didn’t want to start a slapfight with fans of the book that might pick up steam while I was busy, I declined to name it there — but I promised I would make a follow-up post, so here it is.

Before I actually name the book and start talking about it, though, two caveats:

1) If you are a fan of the novel in question, please don’t fly off the handle at the criticism here. This is not meant as an attack on the author (who is, by everything I know of him, a really good guy), nor an attack on you for liking it. In a certain sense, it isn’t even an attack on the novel. I’m dissecting this one in great detail not because it’s The Worst Book Ever (it isn’t), but because it’s a really clear example of a widespread problem, and one that would have been trivially easy to fix.

2) Please don’t answer my points here by saying “well, in the second book . . . .” This thing is 722 pages long in the edition I read. That is more than enough time to do something interesting with female characters. I would be glad to know if the representation of women improves later on — but even if it does, that doesn’t change my experience of this book. It stood alone for four years, until the sequel was published. It can be judged on its own merits, and what comes later does not negate what happened first.

Okay, with all of that out of the way (and maybe the caveats were unnecessary, but) . . . the book in question is The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss.


Voyage of the Basilisk WILL be coming out

Just a quick heads-up: I’ve gotten several Tweets in the last day telling me that Amazon UK has canceled pre-orders of Voyage of the Basilisk on the grounds that “the book will not be published.” This is, to put it bluntly, not true. I have no idea what’s going on, but if you got that message, a) don’t believe it and b) please do re-order from a retailer that has not gotten its wires so badly crossed.

Now if you’ll pardon me, I need to go investigate this issue.

There is no war in Ba Sing Se

Earlier today on Twitter, Chuck Wendig posted:

Every week, every month, every year, another story, the same story told over again. White police killing unarmed black men. White men on the street killing unarmed black men. Because they thought the black men were armed. Because they felt threatened. Because they were afraid for their lives. Because the black man didn’t obey fast enough, was wearing a hoodie, was playing his music too loud. And time and time again, verdicts handed down that say, that makes sense. Of course you were afraid; of course you killed to protect yourself from the threat that wasn’t there.

I think about what I feel like, as a white woman of less than Amazonian build, walking down the street alone at night. Tensing up just that little bit when I see someone else approaching; tensing up that little bit more when I see that it’s a man. I imagine what it would be like to be a black man, and to tense up that little bit more when I see it’s a police officer. To see such a person as a hazard, rather than an ally if trouble occurs.

An op-ed in the New York Times today said,

Any police department that tolerates such conduct, and whose officers are unable or unwilling to defuse such confrontations without killing people, needs to be reformed.

This is fundamental. When we have riot police on the streets in military gear, SWAT teams burning infants with stun grenades, tanks rolling through suburbia because they’re army surplus and they might as well go somewhere — then something has gone so profoundly wrong I don’t have the words to describe it. When police turn their force against black men who have done nothing to deserve it, I can’t say “something has gone wrong,” because that implies it was ever right to begin with. But this is just a new verse in the same song. From its very founding, the relationship between the United States of America and its black citizens has been wrong. (The relationship between the United States of America and any of its minority citizens.) This country has used every tool at its disposal, from law to money to rhetoric to armed violence, to preserve the imbalance against them. Our steps in the other direction have been too few, too small, too often reversed with steps in the other direction. The problem hasn’t gone away. It’s right there today, tonight, all around us.

We need to reform a lot more than just the police. But the police are a place to start. If we cannot trust them, then we cannot trust anything that follows.

why I hate the dress shoe industry

A while ago I posted about needing new dress shoes. A lot of you gave helpful feedback, whether on LJ, on DW, or by email, and I was optimistic for the future.

Then I actually tried to get some shoes.

Really, I should have started this hunt way sooner — and with that in mind, I’m going to continue the hunt, because the shoes I bought for my immediate purpose meet basically none of my initial criteria. The heels are too high, they have no padding, they have no arch support. They’re just the best I was able to obtain on short notice. The shoes I found that might have worked weren’t available in my size, or couldn’t be obtained in time (one site has no shipping option faster than 10 business days — wtf). But this rant is about something bigger.

This rant is about the dress shoe industry basically telling me to go to hell.

ME: I would like a pair of heels that are not an ergonomic disaster.
INDUSTRY: I suppose I can help you. Here, have a small selection of shoes with padding and arch support and heels of less than two inches. They are very suitable to wear to work.
ME: No, I need something dressy. Evening wear shoes, not business shoes.
INDUSTRY: Oooh! We have those! You can enjoy a wide selection of beautifully designed platforms and wedges and stilettos, with heels ranging from three inches up.
ME: Did you forget my first criteria? I want dressy shoes without insanely high heels.
INDUSTRY: Three inches isn’t insane.
ME: Yes, it is. Look, I don’t want to argue; just give me the kind of shoe I’m looking for.
INDUSTRY: They don’t exist.
ME: What? Why not?
INDUSTRY: Because fuck you, that’s why. If you want to look fancy, then you have to pay the price. You have to be unstable, incapable of walking quickly, and in pain by the end of the evening. Those are the rules.

There are exceptions — a very, very, very small number of them, in the grand scheme of things. But on the whole, the dress shoe industry is flat-out uninterested in letting women look nice and take care of their feet. The shoes that are comfortable are also sensible, in the aesthetic meaning of that word. Even though there’s no reason you can’t design an attractively strappy shoe with a heel of, say, an inch and a half. Even though there’s no reason you can’t build a small amount of padding into the sole of something other than a sedate pump. We live in a world where anything less than two and a half inches is a “low heel,” and the three-inch mark is treated as the median. Never mind the detrimental health effects of wearing shoes like that on a regular basis: as a woman, you can wear good shoes, or you can look nice, but you can’t do both at once. (And god help you if you decide to flip the bird to the notion of “looking nice.”)

Ten minutes at DSW and I wanted to light the entire dress shoe section on fire. I ended up walking out with a pair of not-too-expensive heels that have no padding or arch support, but do unexpectedly offer ankle support — not by intent, I imagine, but simply because they have a decorative bit that laces up. These are not the shoes I want; they are not the dressy black heels I can wear with many outfits for the next ten years. I’m going to have to keep searching for those. But I can’t say I’m very enthusiastic about the hunt, because the industry has zero interest in providing me with what I want.