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Posts Tagged ‘thinkiness’

Rogue One: The Heroes

I wanted to make this post weeks ago, but I was in a cast and not typing much. So instead you get it now — which might be better, since at this point I imagine that most people who intended to see Rogue One in theatres have already done so. This post and its sequel will be spoileriffic, so don’t click through unless you’ve either watched the movie or don’t care if I talk about what happens.

Outside the cut, I will say that I enjoyed Rogue One . . . but it also frustrated me immensely, because I felt like it had so much excellent narrative potential that it just left on the table. In the comments on several friends’ posts, I said that it could have really punched me in the gut, but instead it just kind of socked me in the shoulder. I wound up seeing it twice, because we went again with my parents, and on the second pass Writer Brain kept niggling at things and going aw man, if only you’d . . . I know there were extensive reshoots, and I’m pretty sure I can see the fingerprints all over the film, though I can’t be sure which underdeveloped bits were shoehorned in by the revisions, and which ones are the leftover fragments of material that got cut. (The trailers offer only tantalizing clues: apparently none of the footage from the first two wound up in the actual film. You can definitely see different characterization for Jyn, but the rest is mere guesswork.) I just know there are all these loose ends sticking out throughout the film, and since story is not only my job but my favorite pastime, I can’t help but think about what I would have done to clean it up.

There will be two posts because my thoughts are extensive enough that I think they’ll go better if split up. First I’m going to talk about the good guys — what worked for me, what didn’t, and how the latter could have become the former — and then I’ll talk about the villains.

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My decreasing sympathy for Captain Rogers

There are many things I liked about Captain America: Civil War, but probably the best aspect of the whole movie is the fact that I keep thinking about it, and about the arguments it presents. Just the other night I got into a discussion about it again, which prompted me to dust off this half-finished entry and post it.

Let’s get one thing out of the way, first: from what little we know about the Sokovia Accords, it sounds like they’re a steaming pile of badly-thought-out crap. (Not to mention wildly unrealistic in so, so many ways; as one of my friends pointed out, the most implausible thing in this film isn’t super soldier serum or Iron Man’s suit or anything like that, but the idea that the Accords could spring into being so quickly, with so many countries on board, without three years of very public argument first.) So when I say I’m increasingly sympathetic to Tony’s side of the argument, I don’t mean its specific manifestation — nor his INCREDIBLY naive brush-off that “laws can be amended” after the fact — but rather the underlying principle that some kind of oversight and accountability is needed.

Because the more I think about the underlying principles on Steve’s side, the more they bother me.

I understand his starting point. He accepted oversight and followed orders; the organization giving those orders turned out to be a Hydra sock-puppet. Now he’s exceedingly leery of the potential for corruption — or even just so much bureaucratic red tape that nothing winds up getting done. And he’s presumably reluctant to sign a legal document saying he’ll follow orders when he already knows he’ll break his word the moment he feels his own moral compass requires him to do so. That part, I understand and sympathize with.

But here’s the thing. It sounds like he wants all the freedom of a private citizen to do what he wants . . . without any of the consequences of acting as a private citizen. Soldiers don’t get personally sued when they destroy people’s cars and houses or civic infrastructure; private individuals do. Is Steve prepared to pay restitution for all the damage he causes? (Or are the insurance companies supposed to classify him as an act of God, no different from a tornado or a hailstorm?) Would Steve accept it as just and fair if the Nigerian government arrested him for entering the country illegally? It sure didn’t sound like the Avengers came in through the Lagos airport and declared the purpose of their trip to officials there. Based on what we’ve seen, it looks like Steve wants all the upside, none of the downside, to acting wholly on his own.

And this gets especially troubling when you drill down into him acting that way in other countries. I’m sure he thinks that petitioning the Nigerian government for permission to chase Rumlow there would eat up too much precious time — and what if they refused permission? Does he trust them to deal with the problem themselves? No, of course not — Steve gives the strong impression of not trusting anybody else to deal with the problem, be they Nigerian or German or American. To him, it’s a moral question: will he stand by while there’s danger, just because a government told him not to get involved? Of course he won’t. And this is the part in my mental argument with him where I started saying, “right, I forgot that you slept through the end of the colonial era. Let me assemble a postcolonial reading list for you about the host of problems inherent in that kind of paternalistic ‘I know better than you do and will ride roughshod over your self-determination for your own good’ attitude.”

Captain America is, for better or for worse, the embodiment of the United States’ ideals circa 1942. Which means that along with the Boy Scout nobility, there’s also a streak of paternalism a mile wide.

Mind you, Tony’s side of the argument is also massively flawed. Taken to its extreme, it would recreate the dynamics of the Winter Soldier: that guy went where he was told and killed who his bosses wanted him to, without question, without exercising his own ethical judgment. And anything done by multinational committee will inherently fail to have the kind of flexibility and quick reaction time that’s needed for the kind of work the Avengers are expected to do. The politics of it would be a nightmare, you know that some countries will get the upper hand and this will exacerbate tensions between them and the rest of the world, and the potential for a re-creation of Steve’s Hydra problem is huge. Plus, how are they going to handle people who opt out of the program? What’s going to govern the use of their powers — or do the authors of the Accords intend to forbid that use, without government approval? That’s a civil rights nightmare right there.

But in the end, I come around to the side that says, there needs to be supervision and accountability. It’s all well and good that Steve feels bad when he fails to save people, but he wreaks a lot of havoc in the course of trying, and feeling bad about it doesn’t make the people he damages whole. (If memory serves, almost all of the destruction at the airport is caused by Steve’s allies, until Vision slices the top of that tower off: I doubt that was a narrative accident.) Is setting up that supervision and accountability going to be difficult? Hell yes. But there has to be some, because otherwise . . .

. . . well, otherwise we wind up with a larger-scale version of the problems we have right now with police violence. Which is a separate post, but I’ll see if I can’t get that one done soon.

thoughts on the depiction of rape in fiction

WARNING: this post is about rape in fiction, and considerations to bear in mind when including it.

Last week I posted some thoughts on Twitter about rape scenes in fiction — specifically, thinking about the possibility (the likelihood, sadly) that someone in your audience is a rape survivor, and contemplating what effect you want to have on that person. Those thoughts are the epiphany I arrived at while thinking through the larger issue; I want to write about that larger issue now.

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Undermining the Unreliable Narrator

In my recent discussion of The Name of the Wind, one of the things that has come up is the way in which Kvothe is an unreliable narrator, and the text does or does not separate the character’s sexism out from the sexism of the story as a whole. This isn’t solely a problem that crops up with unreliable narrators — it can happen any time the protagonist holds objectionable views, or lives in a society with objectionable attitudes but you don’t want to make the protagonist a mouthpiece for modern opinions — but it’s especially key there. And since I brought it up in that discussion, I thought it might be worth making an additional post to talk about how one goes about differentiating between What the Protagonist Thinks (on the topic of gender, race, or any other problematic issue) and What the Author Thinks.

I don’t pretend to be a master of this particular craft. That kind of separation is tricky to pull off, and depends heavily on the reader to complete the process. The issue is one that’s been on my mind, though, because of the Lady Trent novels: Isabella is the product of a Victorianish society, and while my approach to the -isms there hasn’t been identical to that of real history, I’ve tried not to scrub them out entirely. Since the entire story is filtered through her perspective (which, while progressive for her time, is not always admirable by twenty-first century standards), I’ve had to put a lot of thought into ways I can divide her opinions from my own.

There are a variety of tactics. Because I think things go better with concrete data rather than vague generalities, I’m going to continue to use The Name of the Wind as an illustrative example.

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I’ve had enough

The other day I was having to reinstall the operating system on my laptop, which is a tedious process that involves lots of waiting for things to be done. While this was going on, I poked around on Netflix, trying to find a new TV show to watch.

I actually watched a bunch of things that day, one of which was the first episode of Peaky Blinders. I like Cillian Murphy as an actor, and I’m a sucker for well-detailed historical periods, and the show is solidly written . . .

. . . and I just didn’t care.

Because I’m starting to feel like I’ve had enough. There’s a genre of TV right now that somebody on the internet once dubbed “blood, tits, and scowling,” and while there is a wide range of splendid material belonging to that type — for starters, look at just about everything HBO has done in the last decade — I think I’m hitting my saturation point. There’s a cynicism about human nature that tends to be endemic to the genre, and the representation of women is often problematic — though, in fairness’ sake, I should note that Peaky Blinders made a couple of moves with its female characters that I quite appreciated.

At dinner the other night, a friend of mine said he wanted to find a TV show where nobody died, nobody was murdered, nobody did awful criminal things, etc. Ironically, we wound up chatting about two shows that feature people getting murdered as a central plot point — but in both cases, the entire tone is different. One was Pushing Daisies, which is candy-colored and good-hearted even though the main character brings people back from the dead to solve crimes, and the other was Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, following an outrageous lady detective in early 20th century Australia. They are both very, very far from blood, tits, and scowling.

I’m starting to crave the change of pace. My taste leans toward drama, so people getting killed is going to be a regular feature of many of the things I watch (and read) — but I can do without the cynicism, the muted color palette, the parade of morally dubious people doing morally dubious things. Right now I’m enjoying the heck out of Agent Carter, with its cheerful pulp heroics. I need to get hold of The Librarians; the made-for-TV movies it’s based on are the best Indiana Jones films apart from Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade. I want some light, some humour that isn’t grim, some fun.

It isn’t that the other stuff is bad. I’ve just had enough of it for now.

Thoughts on Benjanun Sriduangkaew/Requires Hate

As promised, a follow-up post on the public revelation that Requires Hate and Benjanun Sriduangkaew are the same person, and the material collated by Laura J. Mixon on that topic. This is entirely about my own feelings and opinions on the matter; they’re not statements of fact, though I’ve done my best to be clear what facts I’m basing my feelings and opinions on.

Because naming gets complicated in a discussion of someone with multiple names, my approach has been as follows: I use Winterfox or WF when referring to that specific persona, ditto Requires Hate or RH, ditto Benjanun Sriduangkaew or just Sriduangkaew. (I would like to abbreviate that name as well, but since the initials there are BS, it would have a very unfortunate effect.) When I’m talking about the individual behind all of those personas, I follow Mixon’s lead in calling her RHB, for lack of any better referent.

Some brief prefatory comments follow, before I get to the main points.

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The King of Our Age

A while back my husband and I got into a conversation about the iconic writers of different eras — the people where, if you can remember a single person who wrote in that time period, they’re the one you think of. Chaucer. Shakespeare. Austen. Dickens.

This led, of course, to us debating who from the current era might be That Writer two hundred years from now. It’s a mug’s game, of course, trying to predict who’s going to last; the field of literature is littered with names who were expected to be classics for the ages, many of whom are now utterly forgotten. But a mug’s game can still be fun to play, especially when you’re making idle conversation over dinner. 🙂

The way I see it, the author in question is likely to exhibit some combination of four qualities:

  1. They’re popular (though not necessarily critically acclaimed just yet),
  2. They’re at least moderately prolific (no one-book wonders here),
  3. They’re working in a genre/medium/field that is especially characteristic of their era, and
  4. Their work reflects the social issues of their time.

(Notice I say nothing about quality in there. I do think that quality matters, but I also think our ability to judge what qualifies as quality, from the perspective of later generations, is deeply suspect.)

I said to my husband that I fully expect the writer of our age — defining “our age” as the late twentieth to early twenty-first century — to be someone in the field of speculative fiction, i.e. science fiction, fantasy, and/or supernatural horror. There has undeniably been a boom in that mode of storytelling in the last few decades; I suspect that, as a result, those works may be remembered for longer than many of the quietly mimetic tales of literary fiction. (In fact, if I’m being honest with myself, I suspect that the Writer of Our Age is more likely to be a movie director — Spielberg’s a good candidate — than anybody in prose fiction.)

Popular, prolific, working in spec fic, reflecting the social issues of our era . . . .

My money’s on Stephen King.

He’s already acquired a veneer of respectability that he sure as hell didn’t have a couple of decades ago. His works are being taught in college courses. He caters — I mean the word in a non-derogatory sense — to a broad audience, and generally writes about very ordinary blue-collar types, in a way that can be read as social commentary, whether it was intended as such or not. There are other authors who may be remembered, as much for their impact on the field as on their works (J.K. Rowling for the YA boom, George R.R. Martin for being the most famous epic fantasist since Tolkien, etc), but I don’t expect their work to be read much outside of specialized circles a hundred years from now. They’re probably the Christopher Marlowes of our era, doing some pioneering work, but generally only read by people who are exploring that genre in greater depth.

I’m curious whether other people agree with my assessment, though. Are there other authors you think are more likely to be remembered in the long term? If so, who and why?

The Value of Travel

I originally posted this as a reply to John Scalzi here, but it occurred to me that it was something that might be of interest to my local audience — especially since I’m posting all these photos from trips I’ve taken. 🙂

In discussing his own feelings about travel, Scalzi said:

The fact of the matter is I’m not hugely motivated by travel. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy it when I do it, nor that there are not places I would like to visit, but the fact of the matter is that for me, given the choice between visiting places and visiting people, I tend to want to visit people — a fact that means that my destinations are less about the locale than the company. I’d rather go to Spokane than Venice, in other words, if Spokane has people I like in it, and all Venice has is a bunch of buildings which are cool but which I will be able to see better in pictures.

To which I said:

I like seeing people, sure — but the second half of the comment is boggling to me, because it’s so radically different from my own view, in two respects.

First of all, seeing is only part of the experience. Looking at a picture is flat, whereas being there is a full-body surround-sound sensory experience. There’s sound, smell, the feeling of space or lack thereof, the process of walking through. Highgate Cemetery was more than its headstones; it was the blustery autumn day with the wind rushing through the trees raining leaves down on us and the tip of my nose going cold. Point Lobos is more than the cypresses; it’s the smell of the cypresses and the feel of the dirt under my feet and the distant barking of the sea lions. Furthermore, pictures will never show me even everything from the visual channel: they may show me the nave of the church, but usually not the ceiling, nor the floor with its worn grave slabs. They will show me the garden, but not the autumn leaf caught in the spider web between two trees. I would have to look at hundreds of pictures from Malbork Castle to capture what I saw there. (Heck, I took hundreds of pictures there!)

Second, the most memorable part to me is usually the bit I wouldn’t have thought to go looking for if I weren’t there. The first time I went to Japan, my sister and I went to see the famous temple of Ginkakuji, which I loved — but I loved even better the tiny shrine off to the left outside Ginkakuji, whose name I still don’t know. Or when I was in Winchester, and she and I walked to St. Cross outside of town; we went for the porter’s dole (old medieval tradition: even now — or at least in 1998 — if you walk up to the gate and ask for the dole, they will give you bread and water), but stayed for the courtyard with the enormous tree and the most amazingly plush grass I have ever flung myself full-length in. I can look at pictures of famous buildings in Venice, but I’m unlikely to see pictures of the stuff I wouldn’t think to look for.

I write all of this in the full awareness that I have been extremely fortunate in my travel opportunities. My father’s work has often taken him abroad, so he has a giant pile of frequent flyer miles, and both in childhood and now I’ve been able to afford trips to other countries: British Virgin Islands, Costa Rica, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Israel, Japan, India, Poland, Greece, Italy, Turkey, France, the Bahamas. It’s created a positive feedback loop: these trips have led me to really enjoy travel and the different experiences I have when I go places, so as a result I arrange more trips when I can. As a replacement, pictures don’t even begin to cut it.

Not part of my comment to Scalzi, but I will add two further observations:

1) Clearly I do see value in pictures, though, or I wouldn’t take so damn many of them. 😛

2) What it says about my sociability that I am liable to travel to places rather than to people is left as an exercise for the reader.

Automated Processes

This is apropos of my recent post on cooking vs. driving. It seemed easier to make a new post than to respond individually to the multiple people who made related points. 🙂

When I talked about the “attention” either task requires, what I’m really referring to is the extent to which certain processes are automated or not. If you think back to when you first started driving, changing lanes involved something like the following steps:

  1. Look for a suitable gap
  2. Put on turn signal
  3. Check blind spot
  4. Move into gap
  5. End turn signal

(Or some variant thereof.)

Once you’ve been driving for a while, though, the process of changing lanes looks something more like this:

  1. Change lanes

All the smaller steps that go into the act are sufficiently automated that you don’t have to think about them, not to the degree that you did before.

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a thought on racebending and genderbending

Which is to say, casting female performers for characters who are canonically male, or actors of color for characters who are canonically white.

Look at Hollywood. Look at TV. Look at how frequently they remake or reboot or sequelize existing narrative properties (for a host of reasons, not all of them terrible, but we won’t get into that here). For crying out loud, we’ve got three separate Sherlock Holmes franchises in progress right now.

If you don’t turn Starbuck female — if you don’t cast Lucy Liu as Watson — if you don’t make Idris Elba Heimdall — if you don’t break the mold of those existing texts in ways that will let in under-represented groups — then your opportunities for having those groups on the screen in the first place drop substantially. You’re basically left making them minor new characters, or else cracking the story open to stick in a major new minority character (and people will complain about that, too). Because all those stories we keep retelling? They’re mostly about straight white guys. And the stories that are new, the ones that aren’t being retold from one or more previous texts, can’t pick up all the slack on their own. You make Perry White black, or you make a Superman movie with no black people in it above the level of tertiary character.

Which isn’t automatically a problem when it’s one movie. But it isn’t one movie: it’s a whole mass of them. Including most of our blockbusters.

So either we chuck out the old stuff wholesale (and as a folklorist, I entirely understand why we don’t do that), or we rewrite it to suit our times. (And as a folklorist, I entirely understand that too — and I cheer it on. Go, folk process, go!)

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