Thursday, March 31, 2011

Discourse: A Brief Note About Lucifer the Graphic Novel

I just finished reading Lucifer: Devil in the Gateway by Mike Carey.

This is a spin off from Neil Gaiman's amazingly epic and awesome Sandman books. And if you haven't read them, go and do so. I highly recommend it because they are beautiful and wonderful.

Unfortunately, I was an idiot and dropped off this particular graphic novel (the Lucifer one) at the library because I temporarily forgot I was blogging about the books I read. Oh well, I think the strongest story was the Six Card Spread storyline anyway.

I learned two things.

1). I should really, really educate myself regarding the Tarot
2). Lucifer is a delicious anti-hero and I would kill to see Mark Pellegrino play him in a tv series (or mini series!) based on the graphic novels.

However, there was this one particular moment in the Six Card Spread issue that was very - poignant. It was set in Germany, and one of the characters, a blond-headed boy (Karl), got himself messed up with some. Well, let's just call them Nazis, shall we? They would find people who weren't like Them and beat them up. Because they could.

Unfortunately, there's another boy who has a crush on Karl. He is not German (Indian, I believe). And he is a homosexual.

And he finally gathers the strength to ask out Karl. Who meets in an alley with his Nazi friends who commence beat the shit out of him. And do something nasty to his genitalia.

It's a very disturbing scene. More so because it happens in real life.

Anyway, Karl goes out drinking with his friends, then excuses himself to piss in order to call an ambulance. He's obviously a bit emotionally distraught and when the ambulance people are being thick, he shouts that he will show them where his victim was.

While he's waiting, he runs into his employer (who is an angel, a bookstore keeper, and distraught since Lucifer has dealt him a very nasty blow) who understands what has happened. And there is an exchange between the two of them that I wish I had photographed and put up here because I think it's beautiful - even if it is maybe on the cliche side, with the focus on bullying lately, etc. Though maybe it's not, since it was published in 2001.

He told Karl that it wasn't the fact that the boy he had just beaten up (I wish I could remember his name) was attracted to him that had made him angry, but because Karl was angry with himself for being sexually aroused by him.

And I was like - yes. This.

So many people are afraid to love themselves, to accept themselves. And it's so destructive not only to the individual in question, but to those around them.

Anyway, it was particularly heartbreaking when the parents of the boy thanked Karl for calling the police, because he might not have been found alive otherwise.

That just about broke my heart.

I wasn't very old in 2001 -- only about 13, raised in an ultra conservative household where I didn't even know homosexuality existed. So to me, looking back - this seems like such a powerful thing to say. And I really appreciate that.

Anyway, excellent series so far -- highly recommend it.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Fringe: The Tragedy of Agent Farnsworth

Last night's Fringe reminded me of how little the show views Astrid not only as a character, but as a person.

Astrid has always been one of my favorite characters, and I hate how she is often delegated to the role of Walter's caretaker. This is always niggling at me -- for example, in a past episode when Walter is beginning to realize that the fabric of the universe is beginning to unravel on Our Side, he asks why people aren't fetching the stuff that he requires. Peter and Olivia are both there, but it's Astrid who must go and fetch it.

It's Astrid who has to cater to Walter's (very adorkable, mind you) whims. It's Astrid who has to clean up the messes.

It's Astrid who's delegated to doing every Uncool Thing in the Fringe Division.

And that's just sad.

In this latest episode ("Stowaway"), Bellivia nicely illustrates how insignificant the scientific patriarchs view Astrid, despite her oft-stated intellect (particularly her linguistic abilities).

Bellivia hits on Astrid so often that she's forced to button the top of her blouse to alleviate the discomfort of his advances. And though it's clearly shown as (humorously) inappropriate, I feel that it opened larger issues that the show must at some point address because the exchanges between Bellivia and Walter demonstrate not only why but how the show needs to revise the way it is currently portraying Astrid.

I don't mind that William Bell is a misogynist asshole. Flaws assist in making characters three dimensional after all. On a character level, I didn't even mind when Walter and Bellie were considering putting Bell's consciousness in the cow and William says, "But I'd have to milk you." And Bell returns with the idea of assigning Astrid to do it.

First, it shows an anxiety on the males' side about same-sex touching in a sexualized context (because I doubt most people would view milking a cow as sexual if the breasts/nipples weren't involved in the context of body-hopping). This actually reminds me how few heterosexual men consider their own breasts as erotic, and how homosexual male couples are more likely to foreplay with each other's breasts than straight couples are -- possibly because heterosexual males find it to be effeminate (this from my human sexuality course).

This sexual-orientation anxiety is combined with the long history of milkmaids, which is of course (obviously) usually seen as a female occupation.

So in that brief exchange, there's anxiety regarding both gender and sexuality.

But this is okay - it's human to be anxious about such things.

What is not okay is that the show has not provided the same privilege to Astrid. If they were to assign her to milk Gene-as-Bellie, I can't imagine her saying no -- because she has never been given the opportunity to assert her agency and say no to being Walter's caretaker -- even when it has caused her physical harm as it did in Season 2.

That's all she /is/ in the show: Walter's babysitter. The show never shows any other side to her -- leaving such character developments to the imagination of disgruntled viewers.

Simply put, her agency is in question because she's never been allowed to express it.

So, when you have an exchange like the one between William Bell and Walter, it frustrates me not because they're being assholes, but because the show is not actively rebutting them by showing the audience that Astrid is more than how they are denigrating her.

If anything, the show is reinforcing the way these men view Astrid by only showing her in that minimizing, de-personifying context.

And that I find inexcusable.

I had hopes that the Alternate Universe would provide a more complex, nuanced view of Astrid, but so far, I am still disappointed. Instead of a handmaid, Astrid serves the role of a biological computer (though I do treasure moments when the show allows glimpses of her that reveal her to be more -- such as when she suggested the Fringe Division put out a request for people to call regarding information about a certain something or other -- but even that was more in her facial expression and tone than by the dialogue itself -- and that is a testament to Jasika Nicole's sorely underused acting abilities).

I know that part of the reason Alternate Astrid is so detached and distant is because in that universe she has aspurgers -- but even people who have autism are still complex individuals. I desperately desire that the show will portray either Astrids' complexities in a meaningful, significant fashion.

I think an opportunity was lost when Fauxlivia was posing as Olivia on Our Side. She's meets Our Astrid, who is so different from the Other Astrid -- and yet, the show doesn't even explore how Fauxlivia would react to that. Instead, we get a typical male-female romance between the leads complete with a plot deviced pregnancy instead an exploration of female-female friendship in a context that would have been amazing and significant.

How would have Fauxlivia reacted to our Astrid? How would Astrid react to the possibility of a reaction with Whom-She-Thinks-Is-Olivia-But-Is-Actually-Fauxlivia? How would she have reacted when this Olivia, whom is so much friendlier and open than the Olivia once knew, turned out to Feauxlivia? How would that have affected her friendship with Olivia when Olivia returned? Does Astrid prefer to Olivia or Fauxlivia?

The viewers don't know -- it's almost as if Astrid's relationship with Dunham doesn't matter if it's Fauxlivia or Olivia -- and that is unrealistic! It just is.

A wonderful, unique opportunity that lost out to the typical triangular romance that viewers have already seen a thousand other times and that I of which am most heartily weary.

I heard rumors that there is an upcoming episode that will be Astrid-centric: basically, everyone else is otherwise incapacitated, and she will save the day.

I hope these rumors are true, and I look forward to that episode because seriously. It's been three seasons. And she's the only main character who has not had any character growth.

It's a travesty, is what it is.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Regarding Ramona

The problem with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is that there was a severe lack of Ramona using her hammer.

Which was kick ass.

Thus one can understand why I wanted to see her whip that sucker out and start whaling on her "evil" exes herself.

It's not really surprising that my problems with Scott Pilgrim as a film is its presentation of gender. And it bugs me because I really think that they were trying to deconstruct a lot of the annoying constructions that populate the typical rom-com/action movie.

First, Ramona: I know they excused her passivity with the Gideon-chip (which, btw, should have had more screen time), but I would have liked more than a few second reference to it in which she just glosses over it with her fingers.

I would have really liked to have seen her actively fighting against it.

Second, the Evil Exes: I understand that the conceit of the film is that Gideon has some issues regarding relationships and women in particular. In this way, he never gets over the idea (unlike Scott, supposedly) that women are objects to be fought over, won, etc. Thus it is in character that he would view it as necessary that the exes fight Scott because, in his perspective, the woman has no agency in a relationship at all.

However, the movie doesn't fully succeed in rebutting this idea. The Evil Exes represent to some extent Ramona's emotional baggage -- not Scott's. Thus, though Scott defeats the exes, he's essentially fighting her battles for her. At the end of the movie, she's still running.

It's frustrating because this is, to some extent, a movie about a romance -- a relationship. Throughout the show, Scott has been portrayed as not being her equal, but at the end, they are still "unequal" in how they have grown: Scott has (supposedly) learned an Invaluable Lesson and Ramona is still running away from her emotional baggage, just like she was at the beginning of the movie.

I would have much preferred it if she had played a much larger role in defeating Gideon than simply kneeing him in the groin. And even though the line "let's both be girls" was funny (and yes, I laughed) - oh my god. The gender implications is head-desk worthy. Off the top of my head, it denigrates the female sex while also portraying Ramona as an emasculator of men, which is sort of an undercurrent in the flick (particular when Scott asks if she's always been the dumper, not the dumpee, which is evocative of Scott's own dumping experience).

Also, it was not lost on me that the only time Ramona really does get a chance to fight her evil ex is the female one. The second time she gets to fight is Knives. I don't think it's possible to separate these two fights from their connotations - there has been a long history of sexualizing women with their catfights. And even though I don't think the idea that women should only fight women because it's sexy or whatever was going through Wright's mind, I think those involved failed to see that by only having Ramona fight (primarily) women -- there just seemed to be a lack of awareness in those particular instances.

Which, don't even get me started on Knives. I'm glad she matured though, even if it was a bit hasty. But why couldn't Ramona mature too? Gah.

Third, Scott: I think the movie nicely deconstructed the idea that "love" involves fighting over women by having Gideon shatter the weapon Scott unlocked by learning the power of love. That was super nice. However, they promptly undermined it by having Knives, at the end, say that he had been fighting for her all this time.

Which is why I've addendumed all of my Scott-learned-his-lesson bits with a "supposedly." Because. I mean, really. If he had been "really" fighting over her, he wouldn't have gotten his sword of self-respect (which, by the way, is a weapon that Ramona needs to unlock and it would have been nice to have seen an equivalent /grouse).

I also liked that Scott had a bit of the Trickster about him in the way he defeated the Skater guy and the Vegan ex. That was pretty cool.

Tricksters for the win! Mind over matter! yeah.

Final thoughts complete with Dream Ending:

I know that it is unreasonable to ask that people consider the stories they're making and that they tailor their art to address society in some way. Scott Pilgrim is very refreshing as a film, and I really enjoyed it, even though the industry is inundated with films about boys becoming men with the help of a woman (eg, the scene where Scott is dead and Ramona appears to him on her skates). So, in that context, it would be nice to see more movies where the movie focuses on how a woman changes -- or at least acknowledges that it would happen without brushing it over (Knives) or not addressing it (Ramona).

And yet, I also know that it is unreasonable to expect that a person must change. Some people don't (but it's never as simple as that, of course - the nuance must be found). So, in that context, I don't mind (on some level) that Ramona is still running from her emotional baggage. However, I would also like to know more about the "why" -- as she stands in the film, she's less Ramona and more a catalyst to kick off Scott from boy to man.

I think that Ramona and Knives had more in common. Knives is this love sick girl who's obsessing over Scott (even to the idea that she thinks Ramona "stole" Scott - an idea that always makes my skin crawl) - and of course, she gets a reality check when Scott confesses what really happened, which is probably my favorite moment in the film (paraphrased):

Ramona: you cheated on me?
Scott: No, I cheated on Knives with you.
Ramona: There's a difference?

I let loose an internal cheer because -- yes! Exactly.

Anyway, I feel that Ramona and Knives are these two girls who are trying to come into their own selves -- and it would have been so much cooler if they went off together to have their own adventures rather than having Scott join Ramona.

It's not because I want some lesbian love between Ramona and Knives. I think this movie would work better if it wasn't about the romance, the need for Scott and Ramona to end up together in some ways.

After all, if Scott truly self-respected himself and truly loved Ramona, he would not need to end up with Ramona at the end of the film.

And it would have been nice for the film to follow through its sometimes strong, sometimes weak deconstructions of the genre with a killer bitch-slap like that.