I haven’t reviewed a comic in a while, and given that I’m entertaining myself with this one whilst I wait for the painkillers to kick in, a review only seemed fair.
Manfeels Park is the creation of Mo and Erin. It can be viewed either on the website, www.manfeels-park.com, or on the Tumblr, manfeels-park.tumblr.com . It consists in taking found comments – ridiculous male responses to feminism – and presenting them as though spoken by Jane Austen characters, using tracings from stills of adaptations from film and TV (chiefly, but not solely, the iconic 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice).
The name, Manfeels Park, is a pun on the Jane Austen novel, Mansfield Park, and the term ‘manfeels’, used to lampoon male complaints against feminism that are distinguished by expressing exaggerated pain for minor ills and the demand that the focus of feminist campaigns be diverted to deal with male issues – sometimes also referred to as ‘male tears‘.
Whilst I cannot condone actively hounding an individual for behaving in a childishly selfish and sexist manner, I have come to appreciate that mocking of the ridiculousness of men who insist they are worse off than women has become a vital outlet. Just as Valerie Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto, from the 60s, should not be taken as a literal call to ‘cut up men’, feminist mocking of ‘male tears’ is not directed at minimising male pain; rather, it is a call to recognise the ridiculousness of the discrepancy between slights actually experienced by men and the assertions made by so-called ‘Men’s Rights Activists’ that they receive discrimination far in excess of women.
If we don’t laugh, we’ll cry. And we are done crying.
As far as pokes at ‘male tears’ go, Manfeels Park is light-hearted, gentle mockery, and mockery that has no need to exaggerate. The text of the comics is drawn from the words of men themselves, and occasionally from the wittily underwhelmed responses of their women conversational partners. The Jane-Austen-style regency framing for these remarks provides the perfect context to both highlight how outdated the thoughts behind them are, and for setting the viewer in the mindset of social commentary and satire.
It’s also empowering for the woman reader to see their own feeling of askance echoed by a raised eyebrow from no less a figure than Lizzie Bennet; to hear a witty comeback to modern misogyny in her voice, backed by the authority of the world-renowned Jane Austen; to have a comic panel dealing with street harassment express the incredulity of female observers to the ridiculous defences men give of such behaviour by presenting five women’s sceptical looks to those of three men, and to do so via the mechanism of an iconic scene.
I also enjoy that the comments section is titled ‘Next Week on Manfeels Park…’, correctly predicting that the comic will be regularly commented upon by men who exemplify exactly what is being critiqued.
If you enjoy light-hearted mocking of the patriarchy, I really can’t recommend Manfeels Park enough.
You may have seen me talk about Allie Brosh before, especially if you also follow me on Tumblr or Twitter. Her work also inspired the post ‘[S]hitty drawings are funny‘ – title drawn from her FAQ page, explaining her choice of a childish style of art for her comics. She’s basically become a major hero for me, and for everyone else I know who suffers from depression. Her posts, ‘Adventures in Depression‘, ‘Depression Part Two‘, and ‘This is Why I’ll Never be an Adult‘ should be mandatory reading for anyone who has never had a mental illness trying to understand someone who has, and prescribed reading for those of us who suffer from depression.
She doesn’t solely write about her depression. Many of her stories are delightful tales of a mischievous childhood. Such as ‘Menace‘, the story of what happened when her parents gave her a dinosaur costume, or ‘The God of Cake‘, the story of the amazing cake her mother made, which Allie felt compelled to gain access to and consume. She also writes touching tales of the ‘Simple Dog‘ and the ‘Helper Dog‘ (Simple Dog pictured with her on the cover above), and her and her boyfriend’s kind, but often despairing efforts to look after them.
Allie speculates that the common spelling error ‘alot’ refers to a large, confused-looking beast.
In addition to her person life stories, she also makes comics that are just plain funny. You may recognise her work from such memes as the ‘Alot‘, ‘x ALL the ys’ (based on one of the drawings in ‘This is Why I’ll Never be an Adult’), and ‘Internet Forever’ (ditto). She also collaborated on a video for ‘Sueeve Shower Products for Men‘, based on her original post ‘How to make Showering Awesome Again‘. Which you should all watch, because it is hilarious.
An excerpt from one of Allies comics which is frequently adapted to substitute other things for ‘clean’ and ‘things’.
All of which is to say that I’m a fan, and, actually, half the Internet is a fan, they probably just don’t realise that they’re a fan of memes that were based on her artwork. I’ve been a fan for years, and had been eagerly anticipating the release of her book. Whilst she was writing her book, Allie’s blog went silent for quite a long time. I was aware that she struggled with depression, but I nevertheless assumed that at least part of it was that the book was requiring a lot of her attention. In 2010 she made 78 posts, in 2011 she made only 5. The last of which was ‘Adventures in Depression’, followed by ‘Depression Part Two’ in 2013. Allie had been depressed for a long time, and severely so – she had contemplated suicide.
What it’s like talking to non-depressed people about depression.
Nevertheless, Allie had completed her book, and she could see the light at the end of the depression tunnel again. You might have thought that a two year gap in posting might obliterate your fanbase, but not so, for Allie. The Internet exploded with outpourings of shared emotion in response to ‘Depression Part Two’. She talked about aspects of depression that nobody ever talked about – and there are a LOT of people talking about depression on the Internet, these days. I’m one of them. She talked about the things I was afraid to talk about. The things my friends who are also depressed had not mentioned as a part of the experience. And she expressed it just so. And with the wit, humour, and poignancy that has made her the type of blogger who can post nothing for two years and still command the attention of the Internet.
I have never wanted to buy a book based solely off what I’ve seen on the Internet so badly. I wanted to have the book, and I wanted to support Allie. I wanted her to be a success because she deserves it, but I also wanted her to know how important her words are to so many people. A friend of mine asked on Twitter a while back for recommendations of things to give to mentally healthy people to explain depression to them. I said immediately ‘Allie Brosh’s Depression, parts one and two’, and he said ‘Of course! I can’t believe I didn’t think of that, that’s perfect’. Because it is. There are so many different ways to experience depression, and often that can make it difficult to explain, because one person can give their symptoms, and they won’t match those of another whose feelings are just as valid. But that’s not the case with Allie. I mean, sure, she has some symptoms I don’t and vice versa, but I don’t know anyone who has depression who has read her posts who didn’t identify strongly with the core of what she was saying, or find that she was saying something they themselves had struggled to put into words. In particular, the struggle of talking to non-depressed people about how you feel seems to have hit home. How you end up having to try to protect their emotions, because they will become distressed at hearing how you are, even though how you are is just normal for you, and their distress just becomes something extra you have to manage. And how the way everyone seems to think they can solve your problems with simple and utterly irrelevant answers.
I’ve had a hard time, lately. A financially insecure time. I wanted to buy her book, but wasn’t sure I could excuse the expense, so I asked for it for Christmas. And I got it. And I’m so glad. It has been such a comfort.
Of course, it contains many stories I have read before. It’s wonderful to own them in such a colourful, physical edition that I can just flip through whenever I need them. But it also has many that I haven’t read before: delightful, funny, witty, insightful. Sometimes, when I’ve been very low, it was all I could do to just lie there in bed, and there was Allie’s book. Within arms reach. Full of such comfort and delight. The childlike, primitive, style of her drawings is so easy to identify with. For we are all children inside – confronted constantly with the confusion and wonder of the world, at sea in a world that expects us to have found some sort of secret ‘adult’ perspective. We are brought back to the powerful and clean emotions of childhood: enthusiasm for life and despair at its challenges, and it allows us to see that those emotions are still with us, under the layers of adult behaviour and requirements. Whether you have depression and need the connection that tells you that other people feel this way, too; or you don’t, and you need to connect to loved ones who do, Allie’s unique style somehow captures a perspective that is easy for anyone to relate to.
I’d give a copy to everyone I know if I could (and if I didn’t know some of them would be put off by the swearing). This book is just… a gift to the world.
I know I’ve mostly talked about parts of it you can already go read online, but I don’t want to spoil the surprises of the bits you can’t. And they’re just as good. Just as delightful. Just as spirit-lifting. I don’t know how else to convey how wonderful and important this book is. Go buy it. Buy it for yourself. Buy it for those you love. Everyone should read and share the experiences of this book.
Please put your hands together to warmly welcome the most awesomesauce K V Taylor. Particularly so as I have been a bad Womble and utterly failed to upload the review she kindly sent to me weeks ago. The reasons are illness, both physical and mental, but given Katey provided this for me as a favour because I knew I wouldn’t be able to post myself, it’s not much of an excuse.
K V Taylor wants to be introduced merely as a fantasy/horror writer and comic book junky, but I’ll go one further and say that she’s a pretty neato person whose opinions and tastes I have come to respect. You can find her at her website, Tumblr, and Twitter, all of which I recommend.
X-Men: Season One Written by Dennis Hopeless Art by Jamie McKelvie Review byKV Taylor
Last year, Marvel Comics began releasing a series of graphic novels that gave some of their most popular heroes a little backstory update. As a comic book pusher, I actually think it’s a spectacular idea. Jumping into comics can be daunting – all that backstory, all that continuity, all those know-it-all fans. Enter the Season One books and hey! All the background you need in one easy dose, right?
Cover art by Julian Totino Tedesco.
There’s not a whole lot new with these stories, but what makes them special and worthwhile to longtime readers is seeing them come together as a coherent whole between one artist and one writer, and how they change little things up to present the story in new and interesting ways.
The best example so far of that has been the X-Men book, so I’m going to stick to that for my review. Hopeless adheres closely to Marvel canon: the original five X-Men (Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Beast, Iceman, and Angel), are recruited by Charles Xavier to come to his school to learn to control their powers. Adventure ensues, including their first run-in with Xavier’s old friend Magneto-as-mutant-supremacy-terrorist and his equally classic if slightly more ridiculously named line up, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (Toad, Blob, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch).
CAPTION: Hank meets the Bad Guys.
There is a dearth of lady stories with the Season One books so far, which is what makes it extra great that Jean (Marvel Girl) is the voice of Hopeless and McKelvie’s X-Men. Hopeless’s Jean is not only the only one who seems to see the flaws in Xavier’s program from the beginning, but her relationships with each of the others have been changed up and intensified to become both the main plot engine and a symbol of their growing coherence as a team.
I’m just gonna leave this here…
Her relationship with Xavier has often been called creepy, and not without reason. Hopeless and McKelvie acknowledge and update that with her constant questioning of how and why Xavier has brought them there, and why this ‘private boarding school’ he’s convinced their parents to send them to is more training against random baddies in the ‘danger room’ than calculus homework. She likes it, but she isn’t sure why or how – or that she should.
In the original 60s version, both Warren (Angel) and Scott (aka “Slim” back in the day, Cyclops) crushed on Jean hard – hence the tension (and her reputation with some fans as a ‘Mary Sue’, but the problems inherent in that are waaaaay off topic, so I’ll just let that be for now). This time around, as Jean gets to know Warren better and faster than any of the others, she’s the one with the crush – and Warren figures it out just late enough to screw up.
And let’s not deny the power of a rich pretty-boy best friend… with wings. I don’t blame her.
Yeah, strapping your wings down to your back to hide them from your own parents is pretty messed up. Good call, Jeannie. Takes one to know one.
Meanwhile, the canon relationship everyone knows (whether they love it or not is a question of personal taste) is developing in the background – Scott (Cyclops) is being hyper-pressured by Xavier to turn into some kind of mutant leader-man… and simultaneously developing the most awkward interest ever in an oblivious Jean. This change-up in one of the oldest love triangles in comic history is a pretty loud example of how refreshing these titles can be for longtime readers. Much more rewarding for new ones, in some ways, since (good) modern romantic subplots tend to focus more on why the couple are good for each other, how they bring out the hero in each other, rather than ‘woman as prize in a pissing match’.
Her mutual-respect friendship with Hank (Beast) is beautifully done as well – when she needs an escape from the madness, she leans on Hank, and he leans right back in his hour of doubt. Her older sister deal with Bobby (Iceman) is less well fleshed out, but it does provide more than a few hilarious moments. It’s Jean’s voice we read in the exposition boxes, and it’s Jean’s changing relationships with her team and the mutant-hostile world around her that tie the story together.
With the occasional giggle involved, obviously. Nice cheek chillers, Iceman.
But they aren’t the only ones that count. Hank and Bobby’s trademark friendship, one of the greatest things about the original comics, is well-celebrated, and the driving force behind the discovery of Magneto’s ‘evil lair’ – and Xavier’s involvement with Magneto, which leads to a disillusioned Hank in the long run. Scott and Warren have relatively few scenes together, same with Scott/Bobby and Warren/Bobby, which is a shame, but what they do get is so perfectly characterized and balanced that it still feels mostly satisfying. Xavier and Scott… well…
This is what I mean about hyper-pressured.
Easy to see why he ended up the Cyclops people love to hate these days. (The Avengers vs. X-Men debacle… Long story. Don’t read it, trust me.) But also easy to see how he needs Jean to balance him out, and how he could inspire her to let loose her fierceness. Because oh, is Jean fierce.
The writing is just the right touch with these kinds of largely unspoken dynamics, but what pushes it over the top is McKelvie’s trademark clean lines and way with body language. His concept for each of them is at once perfectly in line with classic X-Men designs, but with that deft touch of the modern that few other artists manage–and he makes it look easy, as usual. I could basically go on about Jamie McKelvie all day, though, so I’ll spare you. Just. He’s my favorite currently working artist in comics, so I might’ve had a minor fangirl freakout when I saw he was on the X-Men title.*
Best panel ever? Quite possibly.
The book has its flaws, of course. The story tends to meander, without one coherent plotline, but several smallish encounters with the outside world and Magneto’s Brotherhood that build on each other. One of the pitfalls of trying to showcase an ensemble cast in a single GN rather than in serial with multiple storylines, ala monthly comics. Backstory wise, we’re mainly focused on Jean, of course, Hank, and Warren. A little more of Scott and Bobby would’ve balanced things out. And this is just a personal thing, since I have deep love for the original Brotherhood, but the only recruit we see happen is Blob. I get it, it would’ve been a digression, otherwise, but I like my villains fleshed out, and Magneto is one of the best ever. S’okay, I don’t hold that one against them.
Who could say no to a man this sassy?
This is more a story of these characters realizing that their place in the world right now is together, taking care of business, rather than the direct civil rights movement parallel that it was back in the 60s, which I think wise. Of course that element will always be there, especially for the X-Men, but let’s face it: telling a story that belongs to PoC with white characters is a dick move on multiple levels. Yes, Stan Lee was way ahead of his time–and still is in many ways. Marvel does a lot of things wrong, but a lot of things right, when it comes to that.
Are there other ways to get into comics? Definitely. X-Men: First Class (not the movie, which has nothing to do with comic canon) was a great title for that, and reads well. Or you could just start with the current Marvel!NOW titles, in which the Avengers and X-Men are all scrambled, but the combinations are all still new. (Possibility: the upcoming X-Men #1 by Wood and Copiel, with its all-lady cast.) But Season One is more bang for your buck, and it’s one of the best-looking comics I own thanks to Jamie McKelvie. Longtime fans, it’s worth it for the change-ups and the pretty. Hop on board, I say.
*McKelvie and longtime collaborator Kieron Gillen are on the new Young Avengers title. I’m pretty sure it will be amazing, if you’re looking for a monthly to jump on. #1 drops January 23.
I heard something on Radio 4 this morning that set a fire in my brain. It connected with all kinds of things that have been bubbling beneath the surface for the last few weeks – a bunch of ideas and threads from internet culture and international politics that suddenly aligned themselves and allowed me to step back and see the central point around which they were revolving. I knew I needed to write something about it.
People sometimes throw around the term ‘subjectivity’ in internet discussions, but often it is not clearly defined, so I’d like to start by giving a bit of context to fill in what I mean. As you probably know, if you’ve been around here much, I have a not-so-secret identity as a philosopher. More particularly, I study scepticism, and the philosophy of mind. Philosophical scepticism is the doubt of some foundational aspect of our knowledge – such as that there is an external world, or that there are other minds. The kind of scepticism that interests me is what we call ‘solipsistic external world scepticism’ – the thesis that I might be the only thinking being and the whole of the rest of the world might be a figment of my imagination. Scepticism is something most of us have thought about idly from time to time, and some of us (like me) may have worried about intensely for brief periods, but none of us (it is generally accepted) seem to believe in our day-to-day lives. Yet it is notoriously difficult to disprove. Why is that? Well, it is because we are, all of us, stuck inside our own minds. It is because we find ourselves unable to reason from the subjective to the objective.
By ‘subjective’, in this context we mean that which is unique to our own perspective: the thoughts and experiences that make up our individual world views. Sometimes ‘subjective’ is used dismissively, as a way of discrediting an opinion or ending discussions that have become uncomfortable: ‘That’s very subjective!’ one might declare, intending to imply that the opinion has no real basis in fact; or: ‘Oh, it’s all very subjective, really,’ one might say, ‘I can see we aren’t going to decide this’ as a way of holding off any objections that are being made to one’s view. But to be subjective does not necessarily mean to be ‘merely a matter of opinion’. The dismissive tone is induced by the inaccessibility of mental states to the perusal of others. ‘That’s just not funny!’ is declared, and another responds: ‘Well, humour is all very subjective – just because you don’t find it funny doesn’t mean that it isn’t’. And maybe some things are subjective in this sense – some philosophers have argued that morality is subjective in this way – but it’s important to understand that merely being subjective does not entail that something is invalid, untrue, ephemeral, or to be dismissed.
For the subjective is as praised as it is derided. The history of modern analytic philosophy has been dominated by the Cartesian notion of certainty being grounded in the immediacy of thought. Experiences are untrustworthy – the senses are easily tricked – but thought is ‘directly’ revealed to the self. Although few would now except Cartesian infallibility for all thought (the rise of psychoanalysis has mostly put paid to that), the immediacy of thought and experience is persuasive, and most would hold at least certain types of thought or experience as clearly more certain than facts about the world, which can only be inferred through the veil of experience. Thus, as I can never experience your thoughts and your feelings directly, I can never know what it’s like to be you in the way that I know what it’s like to be me. The objective, here, may be more concrete, in that it is stable and accessible to all, but it is also less certainly known, only experienced through the filters shaped by ones own thoughts and experiences.
OK. Enough philosophy. What does this have to do with Radio 4? Well, as I walked to work this morning I tuned in to a discussion concerning Peng Liyuan, the wife of Xi Jinping. Xi Jinping was selected as the next president of China on 8th November 2012. Peng Liyuan is a celebrity in her own right, being a ‘folk’ singer*, and Professor Delia Davin and Ross Terrill had been invited on the Today programme to discuss her in relation to Chinese politics. It was an odd segment. According to the Today website the discussion was supposed to ‘examine what role [women can] hope to achieve in Chinese politics today’, yet for most of the segment they discussed Peng Liyuan’s relationship to Xi Jinping with some comparisons to Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing. Ross Terrill has written a book on Jiang Qing, and the majority of the questions were directed towards him, instead of Professor Davin, who is described as ‘an expert on modern Chinese society with a special focus on gender’, who was asked what sort of music Peng Liyuan plays. Ross Terrill’s main comment on Peng Liyuan was that she would do best to keep herself entirely seperate from the politics of her husband. I’m not sure he even wondered just who this would be best for, and, to be honest, until I read the precis of the segment on the website, I thought it was a segment on how Peng Liyuan’s existing fame would impact on Xi Jinping’s career, instead of a discussion of women in Chinese politics. I wondered what Mr Terrill thought of Hilary Clinton’s involvement in politics – would he say she should have kept her nose well out of it and focused on doing what would be most complimentary to her husband’s career?
This was bizarre in itself, but then, towards the end of the segment, when the question of chinese feminism was finally raised, the question was directed to the biographer, and not to the woman who is an expert on gender issues in modern Chinese society. I was flabbergasted when Terrill confidently bemoaned the lack of feminism in Chinese society, only able to reference three historical figures who had gained some power through their husbands in the distant past. This, to him, was Chinese feminism. John Humphreys, the presenter, seemed to be expecting this answer – well, of course, the Chinese are sexist, aren’t they? Not like us in the liberated West (where we ignore the female expert when discussing the question of women and power in favour of the male biographer). He allowed Professor Davin a brief comment in what was clearly supposed to be a sentence before the programme closed and handed over to the news. To my relief, she expressed the same shock I did. Indeed, she said something to the effect of ‘Well, I’m glad you did [give me the chance to speak] I wanted to shreik at that comment!’. Because anyone who knows the slightest bit about Chinese history in the 19th and 20th centuries should know that what Terrill said was patently ridiculous and insultingly dismissive.
I would never in a million years declare myself an expert on Chinese history or women in China, but then, I’ve never tried to write a book about it. What I have done is read a book about it. Wild Swans, to be precise. Wild Swans is written by Jung Chang, and tells the story of her grandmother, her mother, and herself. Her grandmother was born in 1909 and was of the last generation to experience foot binding, she was also a concubine to a warlord. Her mother grew up in an age of turmoil and invasion. Jung Chang recalls that her mother ‘made up her mind to choose her own husband’ having become ‘disenfranchised with the treatment of women and the system of concubinage (see p. 81). Both the Kuomintang and then the Communists offered ideologies that appealed to the liberation of women, and her mother and father joined the Communist party. One of the most moving passages is chapter seven ‘”Going through the Five Mountain Passages” My Mother’s Long March (1949-1950)’, in which Jung Chang’s mother miscarries her first child, having been forced to march in harsh conditions and all weathers despite her evident illness. The reason? Because the Communist Party believed that men and women were equal, and that a woman should therefore be able to march as well as a man, regardless of the conditions.
All of which is not to say that Chinese feminism is a paragon to be emulated. The tale of Jung Chang’s mother’s long march illustrates this with horrifying clarity. There are hard lessons to be learnt here, in that equality of rights can mean respecting that a pregnant woman has different needs to a strong young man – we should not forbid her any and all activities, but this does not mean ignoring her medical needs, or the strains pregnancy puts on a body. The point is that far from being limited to a tiny number of women who gained power through marriage in the distant past, what Chinese recent history offers is a rich and very complicated story of feminist struggle, in many ways more dramatic than that which the ‘West’ has gone through. There is a strong impression that the extreme oppression of women’s lives in the society of foot binding and concubines led to an equally extreme position in the rejection of old attitudes under the new Communist regime.
And this was a thing of which I had no idea until I read Wild Swans. In fact, almost all the Chinese history I know I got from reading Wild Swans. It’s a terrible thing to say, but that was my education. A little bit on the terracotta army, and then it’s Romans, Normans, Tudors and Stuarts. Entirely Eurocentric, and largely Anglocentric. What reading Wild Swans gave me was an insight into someone else’s subjectivity. And boy, did it have an impact. For the first time history came alive to me and I understood why it was important – the value it has in enabling us to understand each other, and where we have come from. Since then I have eaten up history where and when I can find it. It’s been a bit of a random enterprise – an audio course on Ancient Egypt here, a history of Russia there – but I now understand how little I know about the world outside of my own little sphere of time and space, and I’m seeking to correct that. I’m seeking to expand my understanding of other people’s subjectivity.
And yet, a so-called expert on a programme about women and China apparently knew none of this – had no idea that there had been a feminist revolution in China, just as there had been a cultural one. Clearly had never read Wild Swans. And I remembered how I had read Wild Swans and thought that everyone should read it, and particularly that men, and ‘Western’ men should read it… and that there was a very good chance that Wild Swans would mostly be read by women.
Which is not to say that no men would seek the book out or would read it when it was recommended. I recommended it to my ex-boyfriend and he loved it and bought me Jung Chang’s biography of Mao for my birthday as a result. It’s that men are less likely to find it on their own, less likely to pick it up when it is recommended by women. In the same way that a male friend once laughed at me when I asked if he had caught an interesting segment that had been on Woman’s Hour. I forget the content, but it had been relevant to his interests. He laughed because of course he hadn’t heard it – of course: it was Woman’s Hour. And I have often thought, since then, that a lot of the content of Woman’s Hour is stuff that men should hear, and that most never will.
This is not to condemn men. I have a love-hate relationship with Woman’s Hour, as I think many women do. It is important that many of the issues raised on the programme are given time to be aired, and there’s a good chance many of them wouldn’t be if that time were not set aside for ‘women’s’ issues. And yet by labeling them as ‘women’s’ issues it is only natural than men should feel alienated from them. They are being told that this hour is not for them, even that it is composed of content that they will never really understand. It suggests that there is a special women’s subjectivity from which men can only ever be on the outside looking in.
And yet, I often feel alienated by the content and views expressed on Woman’s Hour. I don’t have a family and have no interest in having one, yet a very great deal of the content seems less ‘women’s’ issues than ‘parents’ issues, and it seems to me that by treating these issues as belonging to a special ‘women’s’ domain we reinforce the idea that raising a family is really a women’s business. And yet – and yet I’ve also come to realise that there is a value to my listening to experiences and troubles that are utterly alien to me. I’ll never understand motherhood from the inside – isn’t it important for me to take the time out, sometimes, and listen to what mothers have to say, to try to understand their points of view? Their issues? I think it is, and it is equally important that men do so, too, but these are views and issues that have been shoved into my domain in a way that they are not projected into most men’s. It’s a problem.
It’s a problem we also see reflected in the other big international politics event that has sent the news networks a flurry: the US presidential election. Some of you may have read my piece responding to the evidence that if only white men had voted, Romney would have won by a landslide. I echo a view that has been making a lot of noise since the election. It’s not simply that white men voted overwhelmingly for Romney, despite his terrifying gender and race politics, it’s that Romney supporters were genuinely shell-shocked that he didn’t win, as documented on whitepeoplemourningromney.tumblr.com. It never occurred to them because most Romney voters were part of a privileged world in which they had secluded themselves from dissenting views in the belief that dissent could only ever come from minorities. They had consistently ignored the views of feminists, black voters, hispanic voters, gay voters, transgender voters etc. etc. They even ignored the polls that told them these people were going to turn out in such numbers that Obama would have a clear victory. Why? Because they assumed they knew better about other people’s subjectivity, so they didn’t even stop to listen when people like Nate Silver told them they were wrong. Leading to the simply wonderful moment when Megyn Kelly asked Carl Rove, when he persisted in denying the truth: ‘Is that math you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better, or is it real?’
Escher Girls records the sexism endemic in the depiction of women in comics, countering the oft repeated arguments that ‘male superheroes wear skin-tight clothing too’ and ‘It’s really just Rob Liefeld, and he draws men stupidly too’. The creator of Escher Girls has said that she had heard the latter point so often that she deliberately didn’t use any Rob Liefeld images until she had posted several hundred images by other artists. The point of Escher Girls is not that all of the poses are impossible (although most of them are) as that women drawn so routinely in such ridiculously sexualised manners that people have stopped noticing just how far much of the industry has departed from reality. And in the this centrally collected place distinctly sexist trends emerge that show that the poses of women in comics (in the vast majority) differ wildly from the poses of men. Check out the ‘Offenses‘ section of the tags to see what I mean – in particular ‘ridiculous fighting stances‘.
Academic Men Explain Things To Me is a much newer Tumblr, posting accounts from female academics who find themselves patronised by male colleagues in a way that clearly differs from how these men would treat a male colleague. This is the phenomenon that has been dubbed ‘mansplaining’. The idea came to prominence in 2008 with Rebecca Solnit’s article ‘Men Explain Things To Me‘, although I didn’t know that when I first heard it. In fact, it was a male friend who first introduced me to the term – we were having a discussion in the perilous depths of FanFicRants, and he was worried that he might be coming across as ‘mansplaining’ (he wasn’t, but I still appreciate that he asked). For those unfamiliar, FanFicRants is an odd place. A LiveJournal community so prone to volatility by the inflammatory nature of its subject matter that its denizens have become some of the most self-aware people I have known on the Internet. Not all, I hasten to add, not by a long stretch! But the fact that if you’re going to rant you should be able to take the flack has meant that it is populated by a bunch of outspoken people who will tell you when you’re wrong. I learnt a lot from them. The JournalFen community, FandomWank, has developed a similar culture.
@everydaysexism works similarly, but more broadly, retweeting the experiences of casual (and not so casual) sexism that women have to go through. The effect is a more thoroughly compelling impression of the cumulative grind of casual oppression that women endure much more powerfully than one woman could convey to a male companion by saying ‘But you don’t understand – it may seem like nothing to you, but I have to live with this every day!’
And yet I worry about these projects. I have the sense (I don’t know how one could possibly know for sure) that most of the followers of Escher Girls and Mansplaining are women. It’s not without value. There’s an intense relief in seeing woman after woman describe an experience so familiar to you and yet so rarely acknowledged until recently. ‘Here – here!’ I say to myself. ‘Here is proof – it’s NOT just me and it’s NOT just sometimes, this shit is everywhere‘. ‘Gaslighting‘ is a familiar experience for most women – we are taught to doubt our own judgements and our own experiences – our own subjectivity – because we are surrounded by men, often in positions of authority, telling us that our experiences are invalid – that we must be wrong, that they can judge what’s going on in our own minds better than we can. It’s really, really important to have resources like this to begin to unpick this ingrained psychological damage. I think one of the most valuable things the Internet has done has been to enable underprivileged people who would usually be silenced by the privileged to get together, grow in confidence via shared experience, and present that experience to a wider world. But it’s only half the story. Men need to listen to these accounts too.
Again, I am aware that some already do so – I am happy to know a great many decent men who keep themselves informed and go out of their way to challenge themselves. Alas, they are still not the majority. What we need to ensure is that these blogs – these collections of experiences – do not become like Woman’s Hour. That they do not alienate men by self-designating as female-only zones. I’m not entirely sure how we do that. I think some of the solution may evolve on its own. I really like the way the ‘redraws’ aspect of Escher Girls has developed to be a dominant theme. The blog no longer simply criticises sexist work; readers send in their attempts to redraw the artwork in a way that preserves the content of the action – even the sexiness of the woman – without the back-breaking sexist overtones. It’s no longer about simply saying ‘Look, this is wrong!’, it’s also about saying ‘Come on, let’s see what we can do together to make this right’.
But at the end of the day I think it still takes a little effort – we always have to go a little out of our way to expand our perspectives. You have to want to understand the subjectivity of the other. Wild Swans gave me a kick up the arse, and I’ve had a few more along the way. All I can say is that I don’t regret them. The only thing I regret is that I have not done more to understand other people. We have to keep on trying. I hope that the short, sharp, shock of the American election to the Republican party will give them the cause for reflection that I’ve seen people talking about on the news and the blogosphere. But I’m not holding my breath. Change doesn’t happen without action, and if you rely on other people to change around you things will either stay much the same as they have before, or you’ll be left behind.
* Professor Delia Davin suggested that her songs are too patriotic to be truly termed folk music.
[Edit: People asked me on Twitter to write a follow-up post linking this to the privilege issues in Geek Culture at the moment. I had originally intended to include something making the connections more explicit in this post, but I was pretty tired by the time I was finished, and the post was already pretty long. I did, however, make a comment following Escher Girls’s reply to Tony Harris’s intensely sexist rant about ‘Fake Geek Girls’ over at my Tumblr that makes these points explicit, so if you’re interested in my thoughts on the matter you can check them out there.]
City of the Dead is a comic created by Thrillbent, a digital comics website, self-described as an ‘experiment in new media publishing’. Web comics are not new in themselves, but I have to admit that City of the Dead is presented in a format that was new to me, at least, and with a slick presentation that went beyond what I have seen both in other web comics and print media. The click-to-navigate feature does not simply load a new page; rather, it progresses the action as seamlessly as though one were viewing a user-controlled moving image. It’s been cleverly designed to create a unique sense of pace and urgency.
In addition to the carefully thought-out layouts and panel progression, the art itself is very well-done and quickly creates a sense of place and character. The female protagonist does seem somewhat awkwardly posed to display her sexual assets to the viewer in places, but considering the Escher Girls industry standard, it could be worse.
Mercy St. Clair is a bounty hunter looking for a shady character called Romero Kirkman, who has recently passed away. Fortunately for her, the reward said ‘dead or alive’, so she’s off to the Necropolis to catch up with his body. With a name like ‘Romero Kirkman’ you can probably guess where this is going, but I leave it to you to discover the details.
It’s not especially long, but as a bite-sized piece of fun on Halloween, it doesn’t have to be. The second part of the story is to follow in two weeks. Check it out!
Two years! Woo-woo! Thanks for keeping with me. It’s been another hell of a year, and although Life Events have meant that I wasn’t able to review quite as much as I would have liked, you’ve stuck with me, and that’s awesome. In fact, with 28,000 hits this year, three times as many people have shown at least a vague interest in this little blog as last year. So: thanks! 😀
Those of you who were here last October 3rd will remember that to mark the aniversary of this esteemed blog I decided to hand out some meaningless awards: The Serene Wombles!
What exactly are the Serene Wombles? Well, to quote myself last year:
Eligibility for a Serene Womble i[s] conferred by being the subject of a review [on In Search of the Happiness Max] in the past year. There may have been better or more worthy things that came out this year, but if I didn’t find them relevant to my interests, or if I simply didn’t have the time to review them, they won’t be eligible for a Serene Womble. I make no pretense that these awards are significant or important in any way, but I enjoy having the opportunity to praise and draw attention to things I have loved.
The Serene Wombles are divided into two categories, those that apply to recent releases, and special Time Travelling Wombles for the most awesome things in my Reviewing Through the Time Machine posts. The division between the former and the latter may at times seem arbitrary – why should a film that came out in 2009 count as a recent release, whilst a TV Show that ended in 2009 requires a time machine? It’ll always be a judgement call, and the judgement will [usually] have been made on a case-by-case basis at the time of reviewing. Sometimes I use a time machine for my reviews because I want to review something that came out in 1939, sometimes because I want to review something more recent that’s out of print, or because it’s a TV show that’s been cancelled… At the end of the day, these are not the Oscars, they’re the highlights from a blog, and are therefore subject to my whim.
The competition was basically between Dredd 3D, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Hunger Games. If this category were about which film I’m most likely to rewatch… well, I’d probably rewatch all of those three, but I’d want to watch The Amazing Spider-Man first and most often. But this isn’t just about which film I found most fun. Each of these was well put together and entertaining, and The Amazing Spider-Man was also visually stunning and thematically well-conceived, but Dredd 3D was just in a league of its own – beautiful and thoughtful in equal amounts. It really felt like Dredd 3D was taking sci-fi back – giving us a real vision of the future, beautiful and provocative as well as dark. Breathtaking, is the word.
I doubt this film will sweep the Real and Proper awards in the way it deserves, but here in Womblevonia I’m doing my bit to recognise originality, inspiration, and artistic genius where I see it. Congratulations, Dredd 3D! Well deserved.
Tough crowd. I mean, we have The Fades, one of the most strikingly original and well-executed British fantasy TV shows in a good many years – a real tragedy that it was not renewed for a second series. Then there’s The Hollow Crown‘s adaptation of Richard II, which contains some of the very best Shakespeare I have ever seen performed, and for one of my least favourite plays, at that, including a truly spectacular performance from Ben Whishaw, as Richard II, and a simply wonderful portrayal of John of Gaunt by Patrick Stewart. And although Doctor Who has been highly questionable over the last year, I can’t deny that ‘A Town Called Mercy’ was excellent. Yet Game of Thrones is still hands down the winner, for me. It feels unfair to some of the competition to give it the Serene Womble for Best TV Show two years in a row, but given that it was even better this year than last year, I don’t feel that I can really deny it. Performances by Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, and Maisie Williams were stand outs, but everybody was bringing their A-game. The special effects were incredible – I now believe that dragons exist and that they are both very cute and very dangerous. Pretty much every element of music, direction, and writing was outstanding, and it stands out in my memory as the best thing I have seen all year.
As they say on these here Internets: All of The Awards.
Well, maybe not all of the awards. This is a new category introduced to include the burgeoning genre of web series. I was tempted to roll it into the TV shows Womble, but, upon reflection, I must concede that web series are their own medium. They are usually shorter and are often much lower budget. It’s neither fair nor practical to try and compare them to much longer, much higher budget shows. Moreover, they are developing their own tropes and styles and on the whole exhibit a different character to their televisual brethrin.
That said, there wasn’t a lot of competition in this category. Both these shows are Felicia Day creations, and whilst I did watch other web series over the course of the year, I can’t deny that Felicia is the mistress of this genre – she has not only talent but the extra experience of being one of the founders of this artform. It means that she’s been at it for longer, but also that she’s better known. Nevertheless, it is notable that The Guild greatly outstripped Dragon Age: Redemption. I suspect this is in part due to the fact that Felicia will have had much less control in the latter, but I also didn’t find her own performance as convincing. In all honesty, The Guild is just in a league of its own. It has the geek-following to bring in stars for the extensive cameos that were a feature of this series, and it’s starting to get the money that allows it to do more things. It’s also excellently and knowingly written for the audience that powers the Internet: geeks. Not to mention the spot on performances of the other cast members: Vincent Caso, Jeff Lewis, Amy Okuda, Sandeep Parikh, and Robin Thorsen.
It’s a deserved win, but with more and more people finding it natural to watch their visual content online, more TV stars using short videos as a way to get a bit more exposure and make a bit more cash on the side (see, for example, David Mitchell’s Soapbox), there’s a blooming new arm of the media that I’m thinking I need to investigate further in the coming year. I’m interested to see how things develop.
The Serene Womble for Best ActorBen Whishaw Elligible Actors: This category is open to any actor in any recent production that I’ve reviewed in the past year – film, TV, radio, podcast, whatever. I do not discriminate by gender. It’s a fight to the melodramatic death and the best actor wins, regardless of what’s between their legs or how they identify.
This was a tough one. I feel bad for stinting Peter Dinklage for the second year running after praising him so highly, but it was a strong field, and he did contribute to the overall Game of Thrones win – keep it up, Peter, there’s always next year. Lena Headey was also giving all the players a run for their money with her outstanding performance as Ma-Ma in Dredd 3D – a real performance of a lifetime. But I can’t deny the just deserts for Ben. He took a role I’d never especially liked or understood and made me see it from a completely different angle – an angle that was utterly compelling and heart-breaking. In all honesty I was far less impressed with Parts II and III of The Hollow Crown (and I somehow missed Part IV), and I’ll not deny that Tom Hiddleston did a good job, but Richard II blew me away, and Ben Whishaw was the lycnhpin of that production. Incandescent. Any actor that can ellucidate not just the character they are portraying but the themes of the play and have that render their performance more compelling rather than less, and to such a level… sheer genius.
Thank you, Ben, for showing me Richard II the way you see him. Have a Womble.
This one was probably the hardest. Kraken is the most imaginative novel I’ve reviewed this year, and it was certainly a gripping as well as intelligent read. However, it did have some minor gender issues, the attempt at rendering London accents was unconvincing, and although I found the exploration of personal identity fun, it was inconsistent.
Rome Burning‘s alternate history setting was imaginative in a different way. For exploration of gender, race, and cultural issues it was outstanding. The characters were interesting and varied. The pace was fast and gripping. The politics, nuanced and intriguing. And, overall, the harder-to-define ‘squee’ quotiant was just higher than for anything (new) I’ve read in a long time.
Romanitas, the first book in the trilogy of which Rome Burning is the second, was also good, gripping, and squee-worthy, but the writing was not quite as strong and the world-building was more developed in the second volume.
A Dance with Dragons is what it is: a novel to which I have mysteriously devoted a surprisingly large chunk of my life in reviewing; part of a long series that has given me both great joy and great frustration. Perhaps it is unfair to put it up for assessment when the review is as yet incomplete, but I’ll give you a sneak preview and say that, for all its good points, A Dance with Dragons was not really competition for any of the above.
The Serene Womble for Best ComicRomatically Apocalyptic
Another new category, and only two in it, but I couldn’t leave them by the wayside. Both of these are excellent, and I thoroughly recommend them to all of you. Both are surreal, hilariously funny, and gender balanced. Romantically Apocalyptic has an edge for me by being, well, apocalyptic; but then again, Real Life Fiction has Manicorn. The real clincher is the artwork, which, as you can see, is stunning. I have never seen anything like it in a web comic. Or any comic. Or ever. And the creator, Vitaly S Alexius, hands this stuff out for free. There are no two ways about it: this comic wins.
That’s right, I’m giving the award to a film it’s virtually impossible to buy anymore. It’s not available on Amazon (there’s a Korean film called Glass Slipper, but it’s a different movie), it’s never been made into a DVD, the only videos I can find are US vids on eBay, the cheapest was going for about £16 (inc. P&P) at time of posting. I don’t know if it’d even play on a non-US machine. My copy was taped off the telly in the 1980s. But if you can get it, I urge you to make the effort. And this is really what reviewing via time machine is all about: drawing attention to classics and forgotten works of art. How can we get great films like this pressed for DVD if nobody speaks up to say that they are wanted?
The Glass Slipper is beautiful, sweet, and knowing. To me, it is the definitive cinderella story, and that’s not just the nostalgia talking. I feared it would be when I went to rewatch for this review, but it’s not. This was a feminist take on Cinderella in 1955, long before anyone even dreamt of Ever After. And it doesn’t sacrifice the romance for its message; it is a heart-breaking, life-affirming, challenging, witty, and beautiful work of art.
This is not to discredit its competition, however; both of the other films were clear contenders, although each is very different to the others, and it was hard to make the comparison. Robocop is a cleverly written and directed critique of capitalism. Its ultra-violence and gritty realism stand at stark odds to The Glass Slipper’s colourful fairytale punctuated with surrealist dance-interludes. Soldier’s Girl is a moving and powerful adaptation of the true story of a soldier who was beaten to death for loving a transgender woman. It perhaps didn’t have the artistry of the other two movies, but I don’t know that you want a lot of whistles and bells for such a movie – its task is to tell someone else’s tale and command the viewer to witness a crime and recognise an injustice. It would be wrong for a director to grandstand and steal the show. So, what do you do, when confronted with three such different films, ones that resist judgement on equal grounds?
I think you have to go with your gut. The Glass Slipper is the one that had the deepest personal influence on me, playing a pivotal role in shaping my psyche and helping me figure out what sort of a woman I wanted to grow up to be. Children’s or ‘family’ movies are often over-looked as less serious art objects than ‘adult’ films*, but they help to form the worldview a child is exposed to when they are trying to figure out what this existence, this life, is all about. Films like The Glass Slipper, which show a child a multiplicity of roles for women, are incredibly important, especially when they do so in the context of a story that is usually cast to define women as romantic creatures whose ‘happily ever after’ lies in marriage, and not in independant thought. Doing that whilst keeping the romantic centre of Cinderella’s tale intact is a masterful stroke. It deserves this award.
The Time Traveling Womble for Best Actor Lee Pace
Eligible actors: anyone who has acted in a film I had to time travel to watch.
It may not have garnered the illustrious Time Traveling Womble for Best film, but I can’t deny the Womble to Lee Pace – head and shoulders above the rest – there really wasn’t any competition. Lee Pace plays Calpernia, the transgendered woman that Barry Winchell fell in love with, and was brutally killed for loving. The gentle, understated approach to this sensitive role is spot on. I imagine a lot of reviews of this film will have said something to the effect of what a ‘convincing woman’ Lee Pace made – I’m not even sure what that means, but it’s the sort of thing people say when they discuss a man playing a transgendered role. I’ve known a number of transgendered women – they’re as varied as any other random woman would be from another; they’re as varied as people. Which is not the same as saying that they have nothing in common or don’t have shared experiences. I don’t want to make any sweeping characterisations of what it is to be a transgendered woman and then proclaim that I think Lee Pace matched that stereotype. What I’m saying is that he portrayed a well-rounded character – a person with loves and passions and heart-ache, with interests both important and trivial; a person whose story moved me and made me think about an important issue.
The point that moved me most – that stood out – was a moment in the above scene. It spoke to me powerfully even though it was speaking about an experience I’ve never had, and am never likely to have. Because it’s a scene in one sense about a man struggling with figuring out his own sexuality in the high-pressure environment of being a soldier in the context of the US Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell policy – only revoked just over a month before I reviewed this film; still in force when it was made. To a large extent, that’s what the film is about. But it’s also about a woman, struggling to be acknowledged as a woman, finding it almost impossible to date, even though she is beautiful and charismatic, because straight men won’t acknowledge her as a woman. And here she has found a man, a man she is falling in love with, and she must always be asking herself: is this just an experiement, for him? Am I his way of figuring himself out? And all this time she has been loving and supportive and understanding that this is hard, for him, but here she finaly shows her pain and anxiety. Yet, it’s still within the context of that loving, caring, understanding character. Once he has affirmed his love for her she subsumes her own pain to his need for support. It is done with so much subtlety and nuance. Lee Pace isn’t the one bawling his eyes out in this scene, but the emotion is nonetheless powerful.
That’s acting. Acting and sensitivity; just exactly what the role needed.
I did think about including some of the works of Anne McCaffrey in this category, as I did talk about a number of them in her memorial post, but ultimately I decided that what I was really doing was celebrating a woman’s life’s work, rather than giving a review. Besides, I might want to review some of them properly somewhere down the line.
As for the two remaining novels… well, it was an unfair match. The Drawing of the Three is basically my most favourite book. The Blazing World is an important book that more people should read. It’s historically valuable and truly remarkable for its time. But it’s also the offspring of a genre (novel writing) in its infancy – the very first science fiction novel, in 1666. Don’t believe me? Go read the post.
As for The Dark Tower – ah… I suspect I shall spend my whole life trying to tease apart why it affects me so. My post, ‘Meditations on Death‘ explores just one aspect of my its power – the seductive power of the concept of death-as-release, what makes us resist its allure, and how this is expertly explored in The Drawing of the Three.
And, last of all:
The People’s Choice AwardThe Guild, Season 5 Perhaps the most arbitrary of all the awards, this is the one you voted for with your feet. The selection for this award is based solely on the review post with the single largest number of hits. And this year it was a landslide, with 8,431 hits and counting, this post has had more hits than my home page. It’s had several thousand more hits than the total for all hits of my most popular month (July). The closest runners up are The Amazing Spider-man and The Hollow Crown (both around 1,000).
And it’s not even because it’s been on the blog since October last year – the hits suddenly started raining in in July. I don’t know what it was, but it seems like all of a sudden the Internet woke up to The Guild, and all I can say is that it couldn’t be more well deserved. Congrats, Felicia and friends: they like you, they really, really like you!
And that’s it! The awards have been awarded, and it’s time to start all over again, selecting novels and films and TV shows and comics and web series, and kittens only know what else, to review in a brand new Womblevonian year.
There are two things that immediately struck me that were most important to communicate as the credits roled. These things are as follows:
1) There is nothing wrong with this movie.
2) You need to see this film in 3D.
These might seem like ‘damning with faint praise’ in certain portions of the net, but if you’re been following me for a while, I hope you’ll take them as they are meant. Which is to say: I thought this movie was excellent. There was not a single thing wrong with it. Moreover, every other movie that I have seen in 3D, even where I thought the 3D added something in places (pretty much, in Thor and Avatar), at multiple points made me feel a bit queasy, was unnecessarily blurry throughout, was confusing in the fight scenes, and I repeatedly had to remove my glasses for my eyes to recover. None of these things is true of The Amazing Sprider-man. Furthermore, the 3D was not only not gratuitous, it was completely and utterly breathtaking. You need to see it. It is worth your time.
Now, if you have seen the trailer whilst watching some film you did not see in 3D you may be looking at this review somewhat sceptically right now. Let me put your mind at rest. I shared your concerns. I now understand. This movie is meant to be shown in 3D. The CGI looked shit in 2D because it was meant to be seen in 3D. In 3D it is stunning. You really feel it as an awe-inspiring experience every time he leaps from a building. For the first time 3D has made me feel closer to the action, more engrossed, as opposed to distancing me from it. For nothing else but that, you should experience this movie.
And that’s just the set dressing.
OK, it wouldn’t be hard for to beat the previous Spider-man movies in my eyes. I found the first one to be almost without redeeming feature (although quite funny in an unintentional way). I enjoyed Spider-man 2, sometimes in the way it meant me to (there were a few genuinely funny, rousing, exciting moments), but often because the scripting was so bad I had to laugh or I’d cry. I actually have time for Spiderman 3, in a way that I know few people do. I think it had a better, tighter plot, and made few appalling scripting errors, at the same time as taking a more realistic and welcome attitude towards romantic relationships. None of this is to say I thought it was a great movie.
The Amazing Spider-man is just a different creature in every sense. There were one or two moments that might have been called corny, but these were entirely due to the nature of the source material – I want this to be spoiler free, but there are certain Spider-man events that you know are inevitable, and they need to happen in one way or another. Given that they had to go down, they were given the most plausible interpretation possible – one which was both respectful to the source material whilst bringing it up to date with what a modern audience would expect.
The acting was flawless. Just look at the cast list and you know that there was a lot of talent. I mean, Martin Sheen, well. He was everything you’d expect. Rhys Ifans was also excellent, and touching, even though he had a somewhat less realistic story arc (again, within the confines of comic book lore, very well-handled). Sally Fields was nuanced in a way the previous Aunt May did not even approach (although, she did what she could with the lines she was handed). But the real prizes go to Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield. They both epitomise the nervousness and enthusiasm of young love without ever becoming clichéd or obvious. Their on-screen chemistry is undeniable and wonderful. Before I even saw the film I was charmed by this photo of them together at a cocktail party, captioned by Megan O’Keefe (she of My Mom Watches Game of Thrones fame): ‘I’m at the point where I honestly don’t think Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are promoting The Amazing Spiderman. They are promoting the fact that they share a perfect, flawless love that I will never understand’… And, well, that’s pretty much how it looks on-screen.
And I can’t stress enough what an excellent actor Andrew Garfield is. He not only fills out the tights (or whatever it is they make Spider-man costumes out of these days that I’m pretty sure teenagers can’t afford, but anyway), but the boy makes a believable character out of the two-dimensional shell Toby Maguire left behind. I have an affection for Toby Maguire, but Spiderman is not his best work. In illustration: Peter Parker is a character with a lot of reasons to cry. I imagine it’s hard for an actor not to turn Peter into a blubbing mess. I imagine it’s also easy for a director to say ‘don’t worry, son, we’ll just pull out the air-sprays and may your eyes water on cue’ – I’ve seen far too much of this these days and I really don’t believe in single, beautiful tears from pristine white eyes anymore. Andrew Garfield cries from the red eyes of someone who doesn’t want to cry,who isn’t weak or wet, but who nevertheless has landed in a life that is seriously fucked up even before he gets bitten by a mutant spider. He’s angry as well as conflicted and despairing, and justifiably so. But he doesn’t wallow in his pain. It’s masterful. Andrew Garfield is one to watch.
Neither of these photos is what I was after. My Google-fu failed me. But I guess you can see what I meant by the hair style?
Frequent fliers of the Happiness Max will know that I have issues with the treatment of women in most superhero films. Not so, here. Even Aunt May gets to say ‘For goodness’ sake, I can walk 12 blocks by myself!’. And though the confines of existing story structure and comic book lore mean that there is an inevitable power imbalance between Peter and Gwen (Emma Stone), it does not really impose upon their relationship. Moreover, Gwen gets to be believably strong, saving the day in her own right in a really, really beautiful moment that makes an awesome visual reference to Jurassic Park in a way that I can’t say too much about without spoiling things, but is just thoroughly awesome – right down to her bangs*.
I suppose a nitpicker might want to complain that the science doesn’t make sense, but to them I would say ‘Really? In Spider-man? You don’t say.’ You really can’t have Spider-man where the science makes sense. He gets bitten by a spider and gets superpowers. As the whole sciency bit turns on the assumption that this makes sense, anyone who has a problem with this was never going to like a Spider-man movie anyway.
Besides that… OK, I tell a lie. Representation of people of colour was not super awesome. There was a prominent character with asian features, Dr. Rajit Ratha, but he was a baddie, so that’s not 100% win. That said, I didn’t feel he was stereotypical at all, and nothing about his evilness seemed connected to his race. Equally, there was a disabled character – awesome – but he went evil too – less awesome. But it didn’t seem like the character was really evil, rather that the serum he took made him act not much like himself. He was a really cool and well-rounded character before that. I suppose, again, there was the constraint of the format. The character’s disability and character development are a matter of comic book lore. It does at least raise interesting questions about the treatment of disability – what is ethical and what is not; how much people with disabilities should feel like they have to be like able-bodied people… He seems like a perfectly capable (and lovely) scientist before the plot-hammer hits him, and his basic desire to find a way of healing himself is not actually what is presented as questionable by the film. Rather, certain pressures are applied in a business capacity to make him do something he would have found ethically unsound otherwise. In this sense, both Dr Ratha and Dr Connors are pressured into their unethical behaviours by an unseen (hinted white) rich man. Which suggests to me that the big bad in this movie is really the big bad of our age: the 1%, the over-privileged, forever seeking to carve out an extra sliver of advantage for themselves at the expense of anyone else who might get in their way.
I don’t know. I’m not gonna press that point too hard. Perhaps I should say that it’s a film ‘with much less wrong with it than all the other superhero films’. Even Captain America and Batman Begins (which I adore) have their issues. Nonetheless, I’ve been so let down lately by films that I expected more from that I don’t feel bad about giving credit where it’s due. This is a fine, fine film. The cinematography is simply stunning, and the use of 3D is unsurpassed, creating a seamlessly enjoyable visual experience. On top of that it is witty and the fight scenes are fantastic. Spiderman is satisfyingly wise cracking whilst never being too cool for a dorky kid. The characters are well-rounded and universally well-performed. It’s also the least thematically problematic superhero film I’ve seen.
You need to see this movie. Honest to kittens, I was jiggling in my seat with joy.
Only just over a week ago I discovered this most unusual and high-quality of comics.But – woe is all of us! – Romantically Apocalyptic is in real danger of disappearing for an unknown period of time. Basically, the computer of the awesome dude who creates this most impressive of comics has died. I don’t usually go in for the ‘please help pay for x of y complete stranger’ but this is a cause I want to support. I don’t have a lot of money to donate to supporting the arts, but I contributed a meagre amount. Because this work goes so far beyond just about anything else I can think of in terms of quality and labour-intensitivity for something given out for free.
Alas, although most of the fans seem aghast at the circumstance, most of them seem to be as skint as me, if not more so. If you liked my review, if it persuaded you to go read the comic and you liked that, please consider donating. I know times are hard believe me, but we need to support artists in the hard times if we want to live in a rich and entertaining culture. More info over at their site, under the faux-scream.
Warpcore SF has posted some really interesting stats regarding the balance of gender in the protagonists of the books she reviews. They suggest a persistent dominance of male protagonists in her reading, despite her own awareness of the problem. This is a thing I have long been conscious of myself. As a teenager I ate up books with strong female protagonists, but as adult it at least feels like I read many more books with male protagonists. I have also noticed in my own writing a switch from writing books largely concerned with strong female protagonists to books concerning men in general. Even since I became aware of this facet of my writing.
I thought at first this was because I’ve had something of a late adolescence – oh, I developed on queue (early even), but I was so sexually repressed that I didn’t start unlocking my own desires until after I took part in the Vagina Monologues, age 20. Ironically, this was just after the end of my last relationship. Let’s just say I’ve been… frustrated. So, big whoop, I’ve had sexy gentlemen on my mind. Heterosexual men frequently have sexy ladies on their minds (or so the Internet tells me), but when they write them into their stories, they become the love interest, not the main character (most of the time – not always). Moreover, I certainly still thought of sexy gentlemen a fair bit as a teenager, but they were, again, the love interests of my driven female characters.
Well, here’s my theory: like begets like. I read a lot of Anne McCaffrey as a young teen. A lot. I also read Tamoira Pierce and other female writers who tended to put their female characters centre stage. I was inspired by them and I felt confident in myself as a woman and wanted to write about other women who felt confident in themselves. Women taking centre stage (in fiction, at least) just seemed normal. But as I grew older I read more books written by men and with male protagonists, and even the books I read that were written by women tended to have male protagonists. Unconsciously, my idea of what the norm for protagonists is shifted, and when I got ideas for writing, the view-point character (even though it was frequently a viewpoint I identified with) became, more often than not, male.
This is why I want to emphasise that when I’m highlighting a lack of female characters in a book, film, TV show, comic, or whatever, I am rarely in the business of directly blaming the author and creatives behind the art. Because I do it too. Rather, what I’m trying to do is to highlight the disparity and remind all of us – myself included – that this is not what the world looks like, but the more we see it presented as the norm, the more we will unconsciously expect it to be the norm in our real world interactions, as well as in our fiction. Moreover, reading lots of books with male protags did not make me not want to read books with female protags – I still really like it when I do, and I still get frustrated when there’s a disconcertingly high ratio of men to women in my fiction – it’s just that like begets like, and we need to make that association conscious in order to combat it.
So, anyway, I found Warpcore SF’s figures interesting, and she invited other bloggers to add their own. So, here are mine. I’ve used roughly her system for logging female, male, and neutral main characters, using neutral for multi-character viewpoints or transgender main characters. However, I don’t just review books on this blog, so I thought it would be interesting to separate out the figures for the different types of things I review. Note, also, that I have counted things like Doctor Who, Torchwood, and A Dance with Dragons, where I have reviewed the same over-arching item multiple times (i.e. different chapters or episodes), as one item.
Total figures for all reviews:
So, wow, the overall total is quite dramatically male-dominated, but take a look what happens when I split it up into 2010-2011 and 2011-2012:
So, wow, that’s quite a swing from really very male-dominant to pretty much equal, with a strong preference for gender neutral. Of course, this year isn’t done yet, and you can see from the figures that I’ve only reviewed about a quarter of what I reviewed last year so far, but still, it feels suggestive that the greater consciousness of what I was reading and reviewing that built over the course of the last year has had some kind of effect.
On the other hand, I’ve already doubled the number of reviews I’ve given to Film & TV shows that had a female lead, and considering that this was the biggest category for reviews last year, I think that’s striking.
OK, small figures, again, but I think that this actually does reflect a shift in my reading habits, and in the publicity of comics with female creators and higher numbers of female characters.
I have only reviewed two podcasts on this blog, both were last year, one was a work of fiction with a male protagonist, the other was non-fiction but given by a man. I have counted both in the overall total for boys.
Again, no blogs reviewed so far this year, but I did find it striking that all the blogs I reviewed last year were written by women and/or focused on women as a subject. I hadn’t realised it was this extensive, but I really do read a lot more blogs written by women. Whilst not all of the blogs I reviewed were overtly feminist, those written by women were from people whose point of view on gender closely aligns to my own, and the one run by a guy is Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor, which kind of says on the tin that it’s not going to give me any nasty surprises. And I genuinely think that’s the reason why. It’s not that I only read feminist blogs – I don’t. Nor do I think that women are more likely to write about things that interest me – I’m a geek, there are lots of geek blogs written by men. It’s that I only tend to regularly read blogs by people who are unlikely to make weird assumptions about gender difference, and specifically what women are like. Again, it’s not that all men or all male bloggers make weird assumptions about gender differences and what women are like; I think it is an unconscious bias on my part that stems from having been bitten quite a lot in the past, that and the fact that female bloggers more often flag up things they don’t like regarding the depiction of women in TV/film/books/comics, making it more likely that I will quickly see something in scanning a blog that reassures me that we’re on the same page. Also, it’s not just about the blogs I read, it’s about the blogs I review and recommend. Blogs that have a tendency to be concerned with redressing the balance of female-to-male presence in genre are more likely to be aligned to the interests of this blog – both mine, and what I assume to be my readers.
I just hadn’t realised that I had become so dramatically female-focused in this area. Mind you, I also hadn’t realised I’d reviewed so many blogs.
Lastly, because the non-Film/TV/book categories were all so small and bitty, I grouped them together as ‘others’ for comparison:
I find it interesting that there seems to be a pretty even split in the ‘other’ category, which by and large concerns things I go out and find on the web, either by following links, or on recommendation/word of mouth. It suggests (in as much as it suggests anything) a great equality in more ‘indie’ stuff than in the mainstream media; although, again, this is self-selecting based on the people I choose to follow on Twitter/tumblr, the sort of comics/blogs I already read, and so forth. There is, after all, a whole wealth of extreme right-wing indie stuff out there on the web that I would never be recommended, would never seek out, and would be very unlikely to review if I did encounter it.
In general, I’d say there’s a trend in my reading towards more equality, with some odd blips on both sides.
I should stress that I am under no illusions of the statistical significance of this data beyond a record of my own reading habits, but if it can form a part of a greater picture gathered from multiple blogs it might say… something. Similarly, my analyses are subjective, intended to colour in the reasons that seem to me to be behind the figures, rather than anything more substantial. I intend to continue to keep track of this, now, that I might be able to produce more useful data in future.
It’s all got a bit comicsy in Womblevonia. I don’t think of myself as someone who reads a lot of webcomics, but these days, it seems I do, and slowly, by following links from one to another, I get introduced to more. In this case, Coelasquid, who writes the awesome Manly Guys Doing Manly Things, mentioned on her tumblr that she was up against Romantically Apocalyptic in ComicMix’s March Madness Webcomic Tournament. I poked my nose over, always happy to support those who give me pleasure, but I thought, ‘No, I will be a good girl and check out the competition, rather than just voting on bias’. So I clicked the link and went over to Romantically Apocalyptic, and…
Oh my goodness.
This is a wallpaper made by the creators for use in promotion, so I'm sure they won't mind me posting it here. Click through to view full size.
I’ve just never seen art this stunning in a comic before, and it happens to concern one of my very favourite things: apocalypse. I’d say they made it just for me, except that one of its few flaws is a certain lack of women. Not that I’m going to press that complaint too strongly. It’s doing a number of interesting things with gender, one of which is that the main* character’s gender is ambiguous. More on that later, first, let me tell you a little more of what it’s about.
The Captain and his (or her) two gas-masked companions, Pilot and Mr Snippy, are three of the last human beings left on Earth. The story unfolds slowly. At first we are introduced only to the Captain and his/her companions, who seem content to wander the wastelands, finding what enjoyment they can in the end of the world. The Captain doesn’t appear entirely sane, and Pilot seems even less so, but in the absence of other companionship, Snippy appears content to follow the Captain’s deranged but faultlessly optimistic lead. Slowly, though, the seemingly random and amusing events of their lives start to fit together and reveal elements of the past: how the world got to be this way, and how three such unlikely companions would come to spend what’s left of their lives in this way.
Not wanting to spoil too much, I shall merely say that what is revealed is fascinating and still incomplete. I can’t wait to see how the rest unfolds. The Captain is enigmatic and fabulous, whilst poor benighted Snippy manages to effectively garner one’s sympathy. The mixture of joy and desolation is quite compelling, and the slowly unfurling plot reveals a world that only becomes weirder and more interesting as time goes on.
And I really can’t praise the artwork enough. Photographs of models in real places are blended seamlessly with digital artwork in what has clearly been a labour of love that goes above and beyond what one would usually expect of a humble webcomic (although I know that even the humblest of these generally take much longer to produce than many people realise). Employing models whose identity is anonymised by the gas-masks they wear also adds an interesting twist. Gender remains ambiguous until confirmed by story elements. We see Mr Snippy in the past, and know him to be male, but even in the past the Captain’s features are hidden from us. We have only the reactions of those around him or her to go on. Most refer to the Captain as male, but s/he is also taken to be a girl in a flashback to his or her childhood. Moreover, the character is reputedly modeled by both men and women, and the main model is female. I quite like that this is ambiguous, and although part of me naturally wants to know, I rather hope that it remains so. It would be great to have a character like this – all excentric enigmatic charisma and easy command – that was female, but it would be equally wonderful to have a charismatic and commanding male character whose favourite object was a mug with a giant red heart on it and who is as happy to carry around a Hello Kitty handbag as a bomb.
Incidentally, if you’re not into romance, do not be put off by the title. There is some hint that the comic is romantic in the sense of taking a romanticising aesthetic on the apocalypse, more than anything else, although it is clear that Pilot has feelings of some description for the Captain, and the creepy super-computer, Annie, (which may have helped cause the destruction of everything) seems to feel some twisted kind of affection for the engineer, Alexander Gromov. It may be that romance is on the cards somewhere down the line, but what is clear for now is that things are only just getting going. I can’t wait to see where it goes next, and in the meantime, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
And, in case I haven’t convinced you yet, one of my favourite sequences, for your delectation:
The only trouble now is that I can’t decide on my vote for March Madness…
*Although, as time goes on I’m half convinced that Snippy is the true protagonist.