Arrow Season 2 Midseason Review

We haven’t spent much time talking about Arrow here. Okay, there was that once, but that was a review of the very first episode, so we’ve definitely got some lost time to make up.

cw-arrow-green-arrow-bannerI never really bothered to review the show during its first season because, well, I didn’t think it was much to write home about. Much like my decision to keep buying the Fearless Defenders comic, I tuned in weekly more out of a desire to give a hopeful, just-starting-out superhero show good ratings so that the CW would continue making superhero shows. (I was apparently successful, as they’re planning a Flash spinoff series. Dammit, CW, make a show about a lady superhero, not another white guy.) The writing was sort of terrible, the plots were sort of predictable, and at least half of Oliver’s manpain was based on the fridging of his illicit lady-love. The only character who had consistently decent dialogue for the entire first season was our hero’s go-to hacker Felicity Smoak, a queen among women.

Anyway, I’m glad I gave the so-so first season a shot, because the second season is pretty much kicking it in the ass. Spoilers below the jump.

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Comedy for Everyone

There’s this idea (where it started, who knows) that there are comedies for different groups of people. With Bridesmaids, we had a comedy for women. With everything that is Tyler Perry, we have comedies for African Americans. We nerds dominate the internet with webcomics such as xkcd and web comedies such as The Guild. Are any of these niche comedies funny to peoples outside of their intended audience, or are those comedies simply not funny to other people? And who’s the audience for all those seemingly more generic comedies?

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A Thoughtful and Gentle Farewell

neighborhood-watch-trayvon-martin

This past Saturday, July 13, George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin.

I’m certain that everyone reading this has been inundated with news about the incident, the alleged self-defense killing of a 17-year-old Florida native on February 26, 2012. Trayvon died of a single gunshot wound fired at intermediate range. I’d rather not discuss the details of the case at length, you can find them all over the internet, including the Wikipedia page.

The media explosion that followed Martin’s death guaranteed that race relations in America would be on the tip of everyone’s tongue for the whole past year. Zimmerman, who is of German and Peruvian ancestry and identifies as Hispanic, became wholly white for all media intents and purposes. I believe that this occurred because the other party to the incident was black. Conversations (I should say arguments) turned to what would happen if the races were reversed. Some would argue that had a black man shot a white teenager, he would have been charged and convicted with relative ease, and some would argue that there would have been no case and no media circus. I, personally, can believe that maybe there would have been less media involvement, but I refuse to accept that a black man killing a white teenager in Sanford, Florida would have walked free with ease. But there’s a lesson here: race is constructed relationally. I do believe that had the teenager been white, Zimmerman would not have been cast as a white man. I believe that his Hispanic heritage would have been much more relevant.

That’s not the only thing we learned from this awful year. I, for one, learned how profoundly unkind people could be toward someone who was probably facing the second-hardest moments of her life. Many commentators attacked Rachel Jeantel for her size, her skin color, and her manner of speaking, none of which had anything to do with the matter at hand. She stood up and spoke for her deceased friend, and she deserved better treatment than she received if only because of what seemed a genuine effort to do right by the deceased.

I want to mention briefly, on the subject of unkindness, that the social media reaction to Rachel Jeantel, Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, and the case itself has been some of the ugliest I have ever seen. The mish-mash of privilege, hate, fear, condescension, and racism left me trying to decide whether to cry or vomit. I won’t link to them here; it seems disrespectful.

Disrespectful because whatever Trayvon Martin is to America, whether he’s just another black homicide victim, or one of the latest in a long list of racist homicides, he was someone’s child. To his father, Tracy Martin, he was a “best friend” and represented “the greatest gift God can give to a man.” His mother literally cannot bring herself to visit his grave. There are family members and friends who are beside themselves with grief, and have been for the past year. You see, in all the anger, all the politics, it’s easy to forget the individual, the bright promising young man who got in trouble, who smoked marijuana and fought in school, who wore a hoodie and was out later than good sense said a young black man should be out on the street. Who was creative and got good grades. Who was loved.

parents-trayvon-martin-parents100

As a young black man who used to wear hoodies, who fought in school, who is often out late at night, Trayvon’s death was frightening. Not because George Zimmerman was a homicidal racist predator or anything like that, but because I understand that for many I am an object of fear. I live in a mostly white neighborhood and wear clothing that is, to some, the “uniform of crime.” I have not, historically, backed down from every fight I should have, and I am aware that to many I am an object of fear. And that puts me at risk. What I’m saying is don’t forget that the political is always personal, too.

A young man is dead. One who was the light of the world for Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, and so on behalf of everyone here at Lady Geek Girl and Friends, I’d like to offer our condolences. To them, especially, but to all his family and friends, and anyone else hurt deeply by his death. We can’t begin to understand your pain, but we feel for you.

I’ll leave you with this, from Let’s Be Friends Again:

letsbefriendsagaintrayvoncomic

Theatre Thursdays: Racism in the Audience

im-not-racistYou know what really grinds my gears? When people go to see a musical, and then complain because a POC is playing their fave and that’s just not realistic. Like seriously, guys, there are chimney sweeps dancing on rooftops and people singing their deepest feelings in front of crowds, but a character of color is unrealistic in a part? Continue reading

Can We Have More Minority Representation in the New Year?

How often do you see minority characters in fiction? They’re pretty rare. When you read fiction, unfortunately you normally see a white protagonist alongside a plethora of supporting white characters. Possibly a minority sidekick, if you’re lucky. Minorities of both sexual orientation or race are underrepresented in teen and young adult fiction, according to this YALSA study.

But why is it so necessary for authors to write characters that accurately represent our world? It all boils down to facts—namely, the fact that races other than Caucasian exist in the real world, and when there is a fantasy world in which no minority characters exist, it’s basically telling minority characters that they aren’t good enough to exist even in a fantasy world. If elves and hobbits and dragons and dwarves can all wander around Middle Earth, there shouldn’t be anything terribly far-fetched about a few characters of color in the mix as well.

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That Time ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’ Made History and No One Noticed

Because it wasn’t that exciting.

So I have a vested interest in minority representation in Doctor Who. Anyone who’s read my S7 episode reviews knows that I’m annoyed at the lack of realistic LGBTQ characters. But I’m also concerned with the overwhelming whiteness of the show. I even have an essay being published in the Doctor Who and Race anthology about the lack of Asian characters in Doctor Who. (It’s coming out next year for anyone who’s interested.) We’ve been going through the editorial process pretty constantly over the past few months, and so the issue is even more at the forefront of my mind then it usually is.

So what was it about “TATM” that made history? Well, Doctor Who has a history of avoiding Asian locations, characters, and storylines. The only time in new Who that we’ve seen a character in Asia is when the entire Chinese army becomes the Master in “The End of Time”. “The Angels Take Manhattan” marks the first time where the Doctor is shown in China doing things.

So why did it suck?

Well, first of all, it wasn’t a part of the storyline but rather a stopping point so that the Doctor could drop a note to River on a Qin dynasty vase. It was actually so brief that I couldn’t find an image of it on Google—I had to screencap this myself.

Second of all, the characters are not agents, they’re objects. They exist in the show so the Doctor can pop in and manipulate things as he sees fit and leave. You could switch out the vase from China with an artifact from any other culture and nothing about that scene would have changed. It’s not like they played an important role.

This is just another fail in a long line of fail on Moffat’s part this season. Here, have a cissexist joke about a trans* horse! Trans* inclusion! Amy’s a bridesmaid in an off-screen gay wedding mentioned in a throwaway line! Queer inclusion! Ancient China is onscreen for less than a minute! POC inclusion!

This is not okay, Doctor Who. This is not real diversity. Step up and do something that actually makes a difference.

The Amazing Spider-Man! A Review

So I saw The Amazing Spider-Man at midnight (and I’m exhausted writing this so forgive any egregious spelling/grammar errors). Let me tell you my feels! I am going to try to keep this short; no promises.

First of all, I quite enjoyed this movie. It suffered solely in my personal estimation because I just saw The Avengers for the eleventh (yes, quite literally) time last Friday, and this movie is no Avengers. But it’s really good! Quick disclaimer: I am a newb to comics and know nothing about the Spider-canon.

Let’s do a bulleted list, Lady Bacula style. Things I liked:

  • Peter was really the definition of adorkable. Cute, but stumbling enough socially to make it clear that this wasn’t just some misunderstood Gary Stu. This is an actual awkward kid who sometimes can barely string a sentence together in front of people. (It made for a neat, psychologically unpackable dichotomy with Spider-Man; he’s wisecracking and funny as hell once he gets behind the mask.)
  • Gwen Stacy. Oh, Gwen. Disregarding my epic girlcrush on Emma Stone, Gwen is a great character. She is a scientist! She is good at math and biology and just as smart as (smarter than, actually) Peter! Without her Peter literally would not have been able to save the day! Yay Gwen! Guess who does more than just scream, get saved, and make out with Spider-Man? Gwen! Eat your heart out, Kirsten Dunst Mary Jane Watson!
  • The movie was full of cool (fake) science! I love science! I wish I was good at it, but watching actors pretend to be people who are good at (fake) science is the next best thing!
  • The stereotypical high school bully was a relatively three-dimensional character who grew over the course of the movie! What?! That’s unheard of in high school movies! It made me happy.
  • It did a great job distancing itself from the Tobey Maguire trilogy, in plot, character design, and even the overall feel of the movie.

    My mom’s gonna hate me for saying this (she’s a die-hard Tobey!Spidey fan), but I think I liked Andrew’s Spidey better.

  • Stan Lee’s cameo. Omigosh, lumpin’ hilarious.
  • Dr. Connors is Xenophilius Lovegood! Mind blown!
  • The character development was really solid to me. As a crotchety old twenty-two-year-old, though, I have to say that it’s hard for me to imagine any seventeen-year-old kid I currently know acting as grown-up as the kids in this movie.

Things I didn’t like:

  • Sometimes Peter was almost too awkward, like I was wondering if he had a speech disorder because he literally could not string words into a sentence at all. Andrew Garfield also had a lot of sort of weird mannerisms that seemed a bit overdone.
  • The one major POC character was the sinister, amoral, and demanding lackey of Norman Osborn (who we never see), is a bully and a coward, and might have died mid-movie? I’m not sure if he died or if he just got close to death by Lizard. The rest of the movie was super-duper whitebread.
  • The credits cutscene (full disclosure: if there was more than one I only saw the first; I booked it out of there because I had to go to the bathroom so I apologize if I missed one) was just confusing. I’mma try to stop comparing this to The Avengers, but with that, if you knew who Thanos was you were excited, and if you didn’t you Googled “Who’s the big pink guy in the Avengers credits” and found out and got excited. This cutscene was trying too hard to be intriguing for the next movie.
  • It had a guy in it who talked like the Joker and had a fedora, and he apparently is a telepath because he was talking into Dr. Connors head the whole time (when I thought it was just Connors’ inner Lizard having a Jekyll/Hyde argument with him for the duration of the actual movie). I’ll gladly see the next one, but it won’t be because the Peter’s-missing-father storyline has drawn me in with its intrigue and mysteriousness.

    Trying really hard to avoid comparing them; Avengers just blows this out of the water, though.

  • The moral of the story was, if I’m not mistaken, “Don’t act as a father figure to Peter Parker or you’ll die.” (That was the moral, right?)

That’s all for now! Go see it and tell me what you think!

Cosplay Questions: Race and Cosplay

It’s been a while since I’ve worked on this series, but I’m back with a vengeance now. Let’s open this can of worms.

Out of courtesy for the grossed-out-by-worms among us, here is one of the least icky pictures I could find.

There are two major race issues related to cosplay that I’ve noticed: first, the ongoing and loaded discussion of whether Asian or white people cosplay anime characters better, based on how they perceive the race of the anime characters. And secondly, the issue of racebending, or changing the race of the characters in order to cosplay. (This happens both with minority cosplayers dressing as perceived-as-white characters and white cosplayers cosplaying as characters of color.)

The first question is one that brings the covert racism out in a lot of people. Although a majority of anime characters are Japanese or of Japanese descent, their generally large, overexaggerated eyes and non-natural hair colors make a lot of people argue that they don’t look Japanese and that white people cosplay them better. I think this is, frankly, stupid. Most human beings, regardless of race, don’t look like anime characters. Regardless of race, none of us look like CLAMP noodle people, impossibly buff Toriyama characters, or ludicrously booby Gainax women.

Yoko, I love your character, your proportions are inhuman.

The important thing in this case is, rather than judging on a cosplayer’s race, to (if you must judge) judge on the awesomeness of their costume. Perhaps this is just easier for me, as a seamstress and costume creator, but it seems to be the logical way to think about it.

The other race issue that often comes up in cosplay is this: most anime characters are inredibly fair-skinned. Is it right for white characters to cosplay as the few characters with dark skin, and why do some people complain when cosplayers of color dress as perceived-as-white characters? Here’s my take on part one of this sitch (admittedly speaking from a postition of privilege): if cosplaying were a big-budget film (say, The Last Airbender, The Lone Ranger, I could go on) and characters of color were being played by white folks, I’d be livid about whitewashing and racebending and appropriation. But cosplaying is about showing fan appreciation for a particular character. Some people still do this in an offensive way—I don’t condone blackface or any of its variations—but if you’re white and your favorite character is, say, Yoruichi, I’m not gonna bitch you out for cosplaying as her. But white folks then have to extend the same courtesy to cosplayers of color. Don’t walk up to a black Inuyasha and argue with him because Inuyasha isn’t black in the show. Don’t go up to a dark-skinned Ciel Phantomhive and ask them why they didn’t cosplay as Indian prince Soma instead, since a dark-skinned English aristocrat in the 1880s would be unheard of. There are so few options comparatively for black cosplayers that it’s ridiculous and stupid to bitch about them cosplaying as ‘white’ characters. Just, as I said before, live and let cosplay. If you’re going to judge a cosplayer, do it not on the color of their skin but on the strength of their costume and the kindness of their heart.

Craving a Relationship, I Turned to a Game

It’s a game without any definition of your character’s gender. It’s a game without any clarification of your character’s race. One of the most appealing aspects of games is the prospect of experiencing one of the epic adventures we read about or watch onscreen. Many times this experience is diluted in games and we never get attain that catharsis we seek. You should care about this game because it fulfills the promise of experience right down to the sensory and emotional levels. It’s a significant step forward for the medium because it is art; it is literature. It’s an interesting game, to say the least. Journey feels like, well, a journey.

Journey begins with you taking control of a character, apparently meditating or resting in a vast desert. My first impression left me feeling as though I was looking at a woman, but after playing for a small while I identified with the character so directly that she became a he, just like me. All you can see is a mountain in the distance and vast, desolate desert. You instinctively move towards the mountain, the correct direction, thanks to the perfect visual design. There is no instruction manual, no overt tutorial, and no explanation of what is going on. Indeed, the only facts you know are that you are alone, and you don’t know what is going on. This leaves you feeling uneasy about your environment, anxious for direction, and eager for help – just like you were wandering alone in a desert. The sand glistens in the bright sun. Things happen in this world that you don’t understand, and you only come to understand the rules that govern you in terms of what you can use to your advantage. As you become confident in your own abilities, anxiety about your survival disappears, and you journey on.

Since there is no explanation about what is going on, the short cut-scenes you view are welcome treasures, almost as though they are prophetic dreams giving you purpose while you rest. Eventually you see another wanderer just like you. This is another human playing the game online. Journey’s multiplayer, you see, works under the assumption that every player is connected to the internet. So, it pairs you with another individual when you are both at the same point in the game. You cannot interact with this individual; in fact you can’t speak or communicate with any language. Whether you join up or go your separate ways, your journey continues. I was so relieved to see someone else during my first play-through that I instinctively clung to my new, anonymous partner. Just as I had come to relate to my character as myself, I related to the other wanderer as another human being. The game can be played solo if you so desire, but, since the multiplayer component is additive and nonrestrictive, doing so limits your experience.

The visual presentation is done to perfection, and not just to the purpose of establishing setting, but even to narrative significance. The brazen sun and shimmering sand don’t make you feel hot sand in your toes and dry air in your lungs. Instead, the bright light from the sun makes everything blend together, and the sparkles in the sand give you reference. It all leaves you feeling very uneasy and confused. You loath the sun’s brightness and the endless ocean of sand, yet it is what you know best. This is how the setting and presentation become narrative, how you become the wanderer, and how you seamlessly acquire instincts befitting of yourself, the wanderer. Making cut-scenes a positive experience is no small feat, making you see a character on screen as a real human being is even greater, still. The journey is authentic. After completing a play-through, you contemplate your experience as though it were real. You search for meaning and context. What you don’t need to search for is satisfaction. Each journey feels complete, yet leaves you hungry to journey again. Oftentimes there is a real emotional connection with the other people you play with, and so the game graciously gives you an opportunity to communicate with your partners after the conclusion. The experience engrossed me so fully that my heart broke at the end when I realized I had in fact played with half a dozen separate people, and I began anew in the hopes of finding a partner to travel with from start to finish. Craving a relationship, I turned to a game.

Subtlety is perhaps the most aptly wielded tool by Journey. Without realizing it, I made emotional connections. Without realizing it, I searched for true meaning and found it. Without realizing it, I forgot about all boundaries of culture, race, gender, or otherwise. Devoid of even the slightest hint of any pretentiousness or presence of a soapbox, this game makes a powerful social statement. If you ask me, it achieves this by allowing the consumer to find the message within him or herself as opposed to scripting a lesson. This is why Journey matters; it is a significant mile-marker not only for games, but for narrative itself.

With a score of “Universal Acclaim” on Metacritic, it has been very well received. Journey was developed by ThatGameCompany and is the third and final game in fulfillment of a contract with Sony. As such, it is a Playstation 3 exclusive title. It comes after Flow and Flower, respectively, and is a wonderful capstone to this otherwise unrelated set of games. Feeling wholly natural, making profound statements, and expanding games’ possibilities, Journey fulfills that promise of games, to allow us to experience in ways impossible for any other medium.

My Little Pony and Racism

And I’m back, with another exciting entry regarding the world of ponies and the people who love them. This time, let’s talk about racism!

I know, right?

So in the grand scheme of things, MLP is all about the love and tolerance. But two of its episodes, Bridle Gossip and Over a Barrel, are really problematic in a way I really hope is unintentional.

In Bridle Gossip, a zebra comes to Ponyville, and everyone’s scared of her because they’ve never seen one before. Twilight Sparkle refuses to believe the sinister rumors everypony’s spreading, but when the Mane 6 all get sick with mysterious illnesses they fear that Zecora the zebra is an evil witch.  In the end, however, Zecora’s knowledge of natural remedies is what cures them all of their sicknesses.  Seems legit, right?

Well Zecora looks like this, and her house looks like this:

Yeah, it’s a big scary voodoo hut with tribal masks everywhere.

And she speaks in a deep voice with an ‘exotic’ accent and also in rhyme.

So I’ve seen a defense of this that says that Zecora could just be an accurate example of what the Zebra nation within the Ponyverse looks and acts and sounds like, rather than a stereotyped and misinformed reflection of what people who are from where zebras are also from are like.  But My Little Pony does not exist in a vacuum, and its stories are informed by and inform viewers’ preset ideas of human race. And even though Zecora herself says: “Maybe next time you will take a second look, and not judge the cover of the book,” and the point of the story is that everypony is the same inside regardless of how they look outside, Zecora is still treated as a sort of mysterious other throughout the rest of the series.

I just can’t explain it, Fluttershy.

Over a Barrel is possibly a more problematic episode. In this episode, the Mane 6 are helping Applejack transport an apple sapling to her cousin who lives in an Old West-style town.  The train they’re on is hijacked by buffalo, who claim that the apple orchard is build on their native tribal land.  Despite the Mane 6′s attempts to make peace on both sides, the buffaloes and the ponies battle fiercely (with apple pies).  But when the Chief realizes how delicious the pies are, he agrees to share the land with the ponies.

It’s sort of like Pocahontas with buffalo – on both sides (pony and buffalo) there’s a young pretty one who wants peace and all the grumpy adults who think the other side are savages.

As one user on the MLP:FiM wikia page mentioned: “Thanks to this show, I now believe it is okay to appropriate another nation’s land and natural resources, as long as you get them perpetually addicted to a substance.”

Wow, cuz that’s not a troubling theme for an episode or anything. The Letter-to-Celestia moral of the story is that by sharing and learning to understand each other, even the best of enemies can become friends. But there are so, so many plot possibilities that would support that moral that don’t involve this sugarcoated retelling of America’s brutal treatment of its native peoples.

No show can be perfect. I just wish that My Little Pony had screwed up in a less culturally icky way.