Sexualized Saturdays: Matriarchy Shouldn’t Just Be Patriarchy-But-With-Women

Our society has a poor relationship with gender, which is bad for reality, but gets interesting in fiction. This dynamic is pushed to some possible conclusion in works such as The Handmaid’s Tale, Bitch Planet, or Stepford Wives. In these stories, the degrading treatment of women in the present day becomes far more explicit and sinister. We aren’t just looking at microaggressions and lower pay, but being forced into servitude or stripped of all agency. Stories like these are both good cautionary tales and thought experiments, and they can more easily highlight some of the harder-to-see marginalizations women face. But sometimes, an author wants to shock the audience by flipping the gendered treatment of the characters. In some stories, we get to see matriarchal societies and how they tend to operate, which is useful for examining our own biases. But whenever I see these, I wonder if this is how things would actually go.

A month or so ago, we saw some of the drafts for a Wonder Woman movie penned by Joss Whedon. To put it lightly, it caught some flak. Within the droves of criticism, some commenters pointed out that Diana would most likely not resort to insulting someone by telling them to “be man enough.” First off, she was previously unfamiliar with the concept of men in general. Second, as an Amazon her frame of what is strong would include only women. So if anything, she would say to “woman up,” but again, the gender thing wouldn’t come up the same way, because she doesn’t even know men existed. Third, would a society completely comprised of women still value strength as one of its key tenets and judge someone’s value on their bravery and toughness? For a warrior society, maybe, but not necessarily. Would their values be roughly the same as our more patriarchal society, just with a gender flip? I started thinking about it, and then I got to thinking about other times this theme caught my attention.

Content warning for sexism and assault below.

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How About No: Why a Firefly Reboot Is Probably a Terrible Idea

There was a bit of a splash last week when it was revealed that Fox might, finally, be interested in revisiting the Firefly property. The word used was “reboot”, not revival or renewal, but the company’s apparent make-or-break factor was that they would only revisit it if Joss Whedon was interested in coming back to run the whole deal. Presumably, eternally optimistic Browncoats everywhere raised a cheer of joy, their hope renewed. But should Firefly come back to the airwaves?

Frankly, I think that’s a terrible idea.

Well, to be clearer, it’s a terrible idea unless they address the various and sundry deeply problematic problems that the original series had. The issue I’m coming up against is this: I suspect that eliminating all of these problems would make a show that barely resembles the beloved-by-many original. The show suffered from a variety of racisms with a strong sexist undercurrent, and these were not so much vague issues as they were built into the worldbuilding of the show, deep down in the foundations. Let’s get digging, shall we?


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Joss Whedon, Driven Off Twitter by “Feminazis?” Um, No.

Gentle Readers,

A couple of days ago, Joss Whedon left Twitter. Packed up his bags and went, leaving us with this final tweet:

JossLastTweetThat’s kind of a shame. Joss has long been a writer/producer/dreamer of some of my favorite ideas and I really enjoyed his little corner of my Twitter feed. But what is much more important than that is why he left. After Age of Ultron was released, Joss received a non-trivial amount of Twitter vitriol, which you can investigate here, about the portrayal of Black Widow in the film. I had some issues, but nothing I want to get into here, and certainly nothing I want to scream into Twitter about. But what’s remarkable was the assumption that these tweets were the reason that Joss left Twitter. The article I just linked above, at time of writing, assumes that to be true, it seems.

More importantly, it was lent credibility by Patton Oswalt tweeting:

Yep. There is a “Tea Party” equivalent of progressivism/liberalism. And they just chased Joss Whedon off Twitter. Good job, guys. Ugh.

—Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) May 4, 2015

You know, I was really bothered by Black Widow’s characterization in Age of Ultron. I thought she was simpering and her on-screen time was wasted. I thought that attempts to show a softer side of her just made her feel a little less relevant, and made me wonder if Joss Whedon really understands the word “feminism”. The prima nocta joke just wasn’t funny, much less in good taste or appropriate anywhere, really. But does it make me want Joss Whedon to rot in hell?

Does it make me want to curse him out on Twitter, to fill his feed with profanities so that he knows that he’ll never work again in this business?

Eh. Probably not. But just the same, all people who respect free speech on the Internet should be ashamed that Joss Whedon was driven off Twitter.

There is just a single solitary problem with that: he wasn’t. In Whedon’s own words: “That is horseshit.”  Continue reading

Was Avengers: Age of Ultron as Good as Its Predecessor?

avengers_age_of_ultron_2015So, you all knew it was coming sooner or later: my review of Avengers: Age of Ultron. I have already seen the movie twice, but unlike its predecessor, I probably won’t hit the thirteen-showings mark with Avengers 2. Even though I enjoyed parts of it, it was weaker than the original Avengers on almost every level.

Hella spoilers after the jump.

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You Can’t Take The Sky From Me: Racebending the Firefly Universe

fireflyBack in 2002, you may have watched a little old show called Firefly. It was a Joss Whedon brainchild, a unique sci-fi show that tried to mesh together Asian and Western cultures as a backdrop for space cowboys. No, really. Whatever the case, Firefly became known as a show with a Sino-American background, as evidenced by its Asian/Western aesthetic and the phrases of Mandarin Chinese used right alongside the English in the dialogue. However, one major question remains: why were there never any Asian characters of note in all the episodes or the movie?

In the commentary for the Firefly movie Serenity, it’s stated that China and the U.S. were the two superpowers who took the human race to the stars, and so, by the time the series starts, these two cultures have merged into the default “human” culture. However, if the two cultures really merged, one would expect them to, well, merge—the prevailing theory that the Asians settled on the richer central planets instead of the poorer ones in the Outer Rim doesn’t hold water, because no ethnicity is inherently smarter or better than another. Asians should have been on all planets, rich or poor.

firefly mal chopsticksWhich brings us to our main cast. There were only a couple of extras who were Asian, which is a shame in and of itself, but none of our main cast—Captain Malcolm Reynolds, Zoe, Wash, Kaylee, Inara, Jayne, Shepard Book, or Simon and River Tam—were Asian. So we’re left with a bunch of mainly white characters who all speak some amount of Mandarin Chinese, use chopsticks, and dress up in Asian-inspired clothes and hairstyles. Without an Asian character in the cast and without Asian values reflected in the storytelling, this little bit of otherwise creative worldbuilding smacks of cultural appropriation.

Fortunately, however, Firefly is an old show with a huge fandom (hello, Browncoats), and many of them have written extremely nuanced and articulate posts on why Firefly’s cultural appropriation is a big problem. So I won’t go into that here. It did occur to me, though, that Firefly’s problem could easily have been fixed by racebending. That is, the producers could easily have changed one or more of the characters’ ethnicities so that they were Asian. But which ones would be best?

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Theatre Thursdays: Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing

Geez oh man, you guys, I really dropped the ball on reviewing this one. I told you about the trailer back in April of last year, and I brought you news of its production all the way back in May of 2012, so it’s been a long road. In fairness, I live in a pretty hick town, so I missed the chance to see its very limited theatrical run. Either way, the long wait is over! I finally got my hands on a copy and, without further ado (pun unintended), let’s get down to what I thought.

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Industry InJustice


You know what was great? Teen Titans. While I don’t need to make a list of reasons why Teen Titans was great, I could throw a couple at you. Starfire wasn’t a walking sex toy. A skilled writing staff managed to write jokes that made me laugh without wanting to put my head into a desk. Cyborg was clearly Black, but not an Erkel or a thug. Then there was Terra, who presented complicated notions of heroism, loyalty, and betrayal for a young audience. There was also the Puffy Am—shut up!—Puffy Amiyumi theme song. All of these things and others made for a great show. But it went the way of the dinosaur. If you ask Wil Wheaton, that was because the season 6 pitch didn’t go over favorably with the execs.

That’s the way it is with television shows. Many great shows are here today, gone tomorrow. Despite the efforts of many a Kickstarter or online petition, it takes much more than a vocal and obsessive fanbase to convince a company to reverse the decision to terminate a show. See: Firefly (which, by the way, was a decade ago, so maybe we should just let that wound heal). So many different things go into the cancellation of a show because it takes the cooperation of actors, animators if a show is animated, the owners of the creative property, production companies, etc., and I recognize that these things happen, but the cancellation of Young Justice genuinely broke my heart. There aren’t that many DC properties that I’ve ever really been into, so it was sad to see a critically acclaimed, Emmy-winning, mature, and compelling show disappear. That’s all right; I will learn to love again.

But the other day I was listening to Kevin Smith’s Fat Man on Batman podcast, which is a goldmine, and he was interviewing Paul Dini. Dini is a writer with a long career and a longer resume, and he has written for a show you like, no question. Dini gave a rather troubling answer as to why Young Justice was cancelled, along with other shows like Tower PrepApparently, those shows are too mature. They appeal to audiences that prefer complexity, and apparently those audiences don’t buy toys. Now, I acknowledge that televisions often live and die on advertising and merchandising. But there’s something much more disturbing in his answer. There’s a transcript here, and if you read far enough down you’ll encounter this comment about studio executives: Continue reading

Disney Princesses and the Art of Originality

So, today, while derping around over at Kotaku, I stumbled upon a really cool post titled “If Disney Princesses were Final Fantasy Characters.” It’s pretty straightforward, and shouts out the artwork of one Geryes over on deviantArt. He has a project called the Final Fantasy Damsel Dossier, which consists of stylized versions of Disney princesses and official given jobs (RPG professions) as though they were characters from the Final Fantasy franchise. Here they are all together:


kida_dark_knight2_by_geryes-d6dnj2xGentle readers, your author adores both of the components of this fabulous artistic mash-up and has been poring over them all day. As an aside, the list includes official and un-official Disney Princesses. For example, on the right you will find Kida, the princess-then-Queen Regnant of Atlantis, who is not one of the eleven official Princesses, stylized as a Dark Knight. Most of them are thematic, e.g., Belle is Beastmaster, Merida is an Archer, etc. They’re incredibly cool; go check them out. It’s okay, I’ll wait here.

tumblr_mub3q9PA0x1qzimgeo1_1280Seeing this cast me back to other Disney Princess remixes I’ve seen, like this one by Mike V where Capcom fighter characters collide with our favorite Disney ladies. In case you were wondering which of them was the best, it is hands down this one of Lilo as Tron Bonne. There’s also a hilarious one of Disney Princesses twerking which is worthwhile, if nothing else, because it generated the phrase “a twerk is a wish your booty makes.

Besides the fact that these are all cool and hilarious, the frequency with which Disney Princesses are being remixed is an object lesson in how cool art has the potential to make the things we love even better if we are willing to let it be re-used, combined, and re-imagined. Most geeks already know this and can explain it in one word: fanfiction. But people are protective of their art, usually for two reasons I can think of: one, because they’re worried about it being taken from them and used, without credit or compensation; and two, because they don’t want it used for a purpose or interpreted in a way that they did not intend.

The first of these is exceedingly reasonable. Many artists receive very little compensation for the work they do, despite bringing skills and ideas that have taken their whole lives to develop. This is well-illustrated in the story of Picasso and the napkin sketch, wherein a fan asks the great painter for a little sketch on a napkin. He complies, and hands over the sketch asking for, oh I don’t know, 5000 EUR (they would have used pesetas, probably; no one knows what those are any more.) The woman recoils in terror, saying “But it only took you 3 minutes.” He replies, “No, ma’am. It took me my whole life.” More on that here.

tumblr_kuomv8qTsb1qz50oeo1_500The second is probably just as common a concern, but it is philosophically stillborn. To quote Joss Whedon: “All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend. Art isn’t your pet—it’s your kid. It grows up and talks back to you.” To me, if your art is incapable of supporting any interpretation other than the one you intended, then your art is weak. All art, all ideas, inventions, what have you, come from combining or altering elements of things that have already been. And that’s okay.

JBanksy_Napalm_HR_400kust think of all the incredible art which blatantly rips off, references, or remixes other work. The Magnificent Seven is an obvious and long acknowledged interpretation of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and everyone knows that Kurosawa’s Ran is King LearThe Lion King takes from the Bible, Hamlet, and Kimba the White Lion, and is no less awesome for that fact. Banksy, anyone? It doesn’t do anyone any good to act like art, or writing, is slave to its creator. Everything is a remix of, or reference to, some thing or things that have come before. After all, there are only so many stories in the world.

But, I think that the “Disney Princess as X or Y” phenomenon (a couple of years old, in earnest) is special because of how important they are to us, culturally. Remember when it seemed that the appearance of Merida from Brave had changed to make her seem leaner, more “feminine” and less stocky? To quote Boondock Saints, “there was a firefight!” The Disney Princess are a multi-billion dollar institution, an important cultural touchstone, and they influence the self-image of young women and how our U.S. culture understands gender roles. Artistic remixes of Disney icons are an exemplar of the idea that nothing is too sacred or too important to be redesigned or reinterpreted. To say nothing of the fact that it produces beautiful things like this:

Why Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Isn’t That Great… When It Should Be


Like loads of other fans of Marvel superheroes, I was initially pretty excited when they announced the Cinematic Universe’s spin-off TV show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Even the pilot looked pretty promising—you’ve got Agent Coulson, a fan-favorite character, putting together a crack team of misfits with a particular set of skills to save the world. It felt very Avengers-y, at least in theory. S.H.I.E.L.D. has all the elements of what makes a great geek-friendly show. It should be a runaway success, with a huge, ready-made fandom. True, it’s the number one show on ABC for the male 18–49 demographic on ABC and pulling in around 7 million viewers a week (about average). But it seems like there are just as many people watching because they think it’s good as there are people who wish it were good. Average viewers seem to like it well enough, but geeky viewers aren’t as impressed. Why?

Spoilers abound below the cut.

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Web Crush Wednesdays: Is This Feminist?

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tumblr_midioqZwHJ1qmbq3uo1_500Let’s face it: sometimes being a feminist is hard. I mean, we have a branding problem—not that the word “feminist” is bad, as Joss Whedon was helpful enough to let us know *side-eye* but that there’s not enough pride in the word, in my opinion. I personally think that feminism is great, and we need to own our achievements. To the left is one of my favorite quotations about feminism, courtesy of Caitlin Moran (click for full-size). Caitlin Moran herself raises serious questions of intersectionality, like “How can I own my own identity, not drown out the voices of others, but still maintain a truly intersectional feminism?” After all, and repeat after me—“My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit,” or put another way, “feminism is for everybody.” Not just open to everyone, but for everyone. Which raises the question of where I, a black man, get off telling anyone anything about feminism. Can I even be a feminist, or must I be relegated to the status of “pro-feminist” or “feminist ally?” I’ve decided that the answer is “yes, I’m a feminist,” but that doesn’t even begin to approach all of the horrific and/or subtle ways in which we participate in a society structured to degrade women and the feminine to deleterious effect for almost all persons.

Sometimes, fellow feminists, it helps to have something to laugh at, and who better than ourselves? Is This Feminist? is a Tumblr devoted to answering its titular question in a way that satirizes all the hard work of being a feminist and the hit-and-miss nature of having your critical eye open all the time. The blog is not updating anymore, but its twenty-five or so posts are good for a relaxing laugh when you’ve just put down Half the Sky because reading it is too hard, or the news out of Ohio, New Zealand, or New Delhi is enough to make you throw up.

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