The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal
Below are 10 entries, after skipping 10 most recent ones in the "The Ferrett" journal:
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Selma: The Exceptional Biopic|
I absolutely hate biopics because of the shameless way they game critical acclaim. Let’s take last year’s “Twelve Years A Slave,” for example.
I thought “Twelve Years” was a decent horror story and a thoroughly mediocre movie. It had a few nice tricks, but the directing was pedestrian, the pacing turgid (and perhaps as a conscious directorial choice to make the audience feel the endlessness of slavery, but boring is still boring), and the writing functional. On my own, I would have given it a B- in the way I did “Saw” – effective at making audiences wince, cathartic, but not much more.
But see, the magic of biopics is that if you make a film about something Truly Important, criticizing the story slurs right into criticizing the subject matter.
“How can you dislike Twelve Years?” people cried. “Well, you must be for slavery! How can you dismiss this whole experience?”
Except I’m not. I think the historical relevance of Twelve Years is great, I’m glad we got a major motion picture on slavery (which hardly ever happens), I’m thoroughly anti-slavery.
However, I thought this picture was crappy. I wish the story as presented was better. I wish we had tons of films about slavery, the same way we have endless films on white people in the Regency era swanning through England, so we could see just how tedious this was by comparison.
Likewise, a Great Film about Gandhi or Alan Turing or anyone historically important becomes immediate Oscar-bait, because if you don’t like the movie then you must not recognize the greatness of Gandhi!
Worse, biopics lend themselves to what I call “Capote syndrome,” where you make a movie with one great performance – Philip Seymour Hoffman absolutely nailed it – but the film itself is wandering, and not particularly interesting, and so yeah, it absolutely deserves to win “Best Actor” but everyone else is meh. (Likewise, I thought “Twelve Years” housed two great performances, wrapped in a big ball of meh. I liked “Lincoln” just fine, but you take Daniel Day Lewis out of that film and it vanishes.)
So no; try though people might to conflate the historical importance with the cinematic execution, it’s possible to have a mediocre movie about a transforming historical figure. And it’s possible I’m wrong about “Twelve Years” – we’ll see if anyone’s still watching it in a decade or two. We all know that critics are often wrong, and I could be so here. But my point is that thanks to public reaction, the distinction vanishes so it becomes hard to critique the film without seeming to dismiss the event.
(And that doesn’t mean that a mediocre movie won’t hit home and hit home hard for some. Right now, I’m dealing with mourning for my goddaughter, who died of brain cancer. Show me any movie about kids being sick, I fall apart. But that doesn’t make those movies great movies or anything; they’re just plucking at heartstrings that are extremely tender. Likewise, I don’t doubt that a film like, say, “The Butler” or “American Sniper” was absolutely moving for many people, but I question whether that’s because the movie was good or – like me and Rebecca – it was an average film that unearthed some super-intense memories.)
Now, after 500 words of trashing biopics….
OH MY GOD SELMA IS SO FUCKING GOOD
Selma is not some recreation of a man – it symbolizes the heart of the conflict of the Civil Rights movement, putting you firmly in the shoes of African-Americans in the 1960s and showing all the trials they had to face.
And Selma does not pull punches in the flaws of its characters, the conflicts that threatened to rip the Civil Rights movement apart. Not all Negroes cheerfully lined up behind Martin Luther King; we see the militant wing of Malcolm X nipping at his heels, the local activists who are pissed that King has swept in to make a media show of a town they’ve been working for years to improve.
It pulls no punches in saying that MLK went to a town where the Sheriff was cool-headed enough not to beat the shit out of black people on national TV, and he failed, and he is choosing Selma because it will be a nice visual bloodbath to shock America into having some febrile nature of a conscience.
It shows how easily MLK could have been crushed, if LBJ had decided that he wanted King gone, and yet for all of LBJ’s good will MLK still needed to force LBJ’s hand so once again, the Negro’s right to vote wouldn’t be shuffled under in a tide of “We’ll get to that later.”
What we get with Selma is a story – and a good story, one filled with tension, because even though you know it works out you get to see the toll it took on the men who got us there. It doesn’t pull away from the hard decisions; it leans into them, letting you see just how brave these people were without putting them on a pedestal where they’re just Big Damn Heroes.
Selma is as good as people say it is. And it’s an uncomfortable movie, but it’s also not torture porn; it shows you what you need to know, and does not shy away – that lingering shot of the dead girls at the beginning sets the stakes – but it’s more concerned with the living than the dead. When Martin Luther has to go talk to a man whose grandson has died, the scene where he tries in vain to comfort the living takes twice as long as the death scene. And that’s purposeful. We feel the resonation of the deaths long after they’re gone.
Selma is modern. It doesn’t have to stretch for parallels – though it’s largely unspoken except for one lyrical reference to Ferguson in the credits, we have a hidden set of deaths and abuse that nobody wants to look at.
There’s no modern-day analog to Martin Luther King, or even Malcolm X, and I don’t think that’s the fault of the black community. Today is a day of fractures; there’s a thousand media outlets, everyone can have a blog, everyone’s on Twitter, everyone has their own choice. I’m not sure we can have a great uniting figure any more.
When you hear the words of King, slow as syrup, each word thought through precisely, man. You wish a little that we were back in the days when one man could be lifted to such heights. Because what he said, and did, to focus the movement, to keep it on track, still resonates today.
Go see Selma. It’s so worth it.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.
This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/457978.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.
Why I’m Going To Be Civil To Your God Damned Ex-Boyfriend.|
If you date actively in the poly scene for long enough, ex-lovers will accumulate at your feet like drifts of autumn leaves. You’ll date, discover they’re not right for you, probably have a couple of seriously nasty and hurtful arguments before some final stab from hell’s heart causes you to flee the premises.
Now: What do you do with all of these exes?
If the answer is “Ensure that everyone knows what shitty people they are so that no one will ever talk to them again,” congratulations! You may have just helped shatter your community.
Before we continue, let’s set some guidelines: if you broke up because s/he physically abused you or raped you, then that’s something your community deserves to know about, because those sorts of missing stairs go on to rape and abuse other people. I am by no means suggesting that you stay silent on issues of abuse so we can draw the quiet curtain of “Don’t cause drama.”
Yet most breakups involve some level of ugliness. While there are the occasional breakups that are cool-headed, mutual partings – “Why, yes, I believe we are incompatible, let us share a final cup of tea and depart as friends” – most breakups occur because at least one person thinks they’re being reasonable and at least one other person doesn’t.
As such, most relationships involve being aggrieved for weeks, months, before you come to realize that not only are they hurting you, but they believe they’re entirely justified in fucking you over.
So when that final trauma comes smashing down and you realize that this asshole is never going to stop hurting you, some people’s first inclination is to run around ensuring that this nefarious villain will never harm anyone again! And their friends, who’ve bought into this weird idea that “loyalty” means “backing your friends blindly,” will immediately ostracize and trash-talk the ex, and snub them at parties, and do their best to cut this cancer from the community….
Which ensures you’ll never really have a community.
Look, if this was a group of monogamous people, maybe that behavior could at least reach some stable point where everyone was happily dating and no new relationships could come along to form schisms.
But you’re not. You’re a poly group. You’re this incestuous bunch of folks dating each other, and there will never come a point where someone isn’t having a falling-out with someone else.
As such, what I see in a lot of poly communities is this complete inability to actually have a community. What you have instead is this constantly shifting tide of allegiances, where Sharon can’t be in the same room with Candy, and we like Sharon better, so fuck Candy, she’s not welcome at this party, which means that Candy’s friends won’t come either. Yet oh Christ, Bob just broke up with Sharon and who doesn’t like Bob, and…
…next thing you know, you have several warring factions, each constantly regrouping as new breakups bring a fresh wave of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and Jesus the drama never stops.
So my rule is that I’ll be civil to your ex, whenever possible.
I’ll be civil to my ex, whenever possible.
If you consistently can’t stand in the same room as your ex, you’ve probably got some issues.
And again, some caveats: I don’t expect you to be immediately good with being in the same place as your ex. Nor do I think you should watch avidly as they smooch on the couch with that new lover. There needs to be some cool-down time while you readjust to this new reality.
Nor do I expect you to act like everything’s okay. You don’t have to go over and make happy conversation with them. I’m not asking you to be best friends again, I’m asking that you learn to just exist in the same space.
Nor do I expect you to thumb the “mute” button on your issues. Bitching to your friends? Fuck, that’s the reason you *have* friends. Don’t spew toxic hatred to everyone you meet, but if you gotta vent to a buddy, I say vent away. People get down on gossip, but a) you can’t really stop gossip, and b) in some cases it’s an accurate way of determining who’s worth dating. If I’m as cruel as my ex-girlfriends think I am, well, that’s something y’all should take into account when I ask you on a date.
But asking everyone around you to restructure their parties just so you never see evidence of this human waste you used to love? That’s a bit over the top.
And yeah, I hear terrible things about exes. But I also know that breakups are where people are at their worst. If you judged me exclusively by the things I did in the waning weeks in a relationship, I would be a screaming rant-monster.
The truth is, people love hero narratives. It’s a lot easier to say, “Oh, I was so perfect! She was a monster!” And those narratives are neat and clean, because you’ve got a hero (and coincidentally, it’s always you!), and you’ve got a villain, and if you get enough of your friends to agree that this ex is a jerk then you can vote that villain off the island and feel good about it.
There are relationships with clear monsters, no questions. (Let’s harken back to that “rape and physical abuse” thing earlier.) But that’s not most breakups. Most breakups involve some jerky behavior that arises because two people have differing needs.
Most breakups involve both people acting a little jerky. Yet when you’re hip-deep in the Hero Narrative Of Breakups, you dismiss all the petty stuff you pulled as entirely reasonable, and amplify the mistakes of the Evil Ex.
Yet you do not have to make every ex into a villain. Try these magic words: “We had differing needs.” Those differing needs can cause a lot of hurt; if you’re allergic to wheat and I bake you a fresh loaf of bread, that’s gonna drop you straight into the Land O’Gastrointestinal Hell.
But that doesn’t mean that the baker is some criminal mastermind out to destroy the gluten-intolerant. It means that he loves baking, and he dated someone who couldn’t deal with that, and after a lot of anguish they decided this wasn’t going to work out.
It is worthwhile to be able to see a breakup as not the result of targeted cruelty, but rather the friction caused by two differing personalities. It is worthwhile to be able to see your own part in a breakup. It’s worthwhile to see your ex as someone who is simultaneously a decent person and yet someone who will cause you endless misery when you date.
That’s chemistry, baby. Some compounds are just volatile.
And it’s super-worthwhile not to drag everyone you know into taking sides in this battle. You don’t have to rally round the circle, punish your ex with all the ostracization and demonization at your disposal for every slight, haul your friends into this war you have created.
Me? I’m going to be civil to your ex. I may think he’s a jerk for what he did to you. I’m not going to be best friends with him, nor am I going to invite him to parties at my house that consist exclusively of my friends.
Yet if I see him at a club or a convention or at someone else’s party, I won’t be offended by his mere presence. I’m going to say “hello” and make my excuses and move on to someone I do enjoy talking to. Just as I would do with one of *my* exes, if I saw them at these places.
I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.
This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/457501.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.
So How DO You Promote A Book From Scratch?|
I’m super-lucky with my debut novel; not only have I been blogging/publishing stories for years and am friends with tons of writers, but I’ve got the mighty Angry Robot marketing engine on my side to push FLEX like it was solid gold sliced bread.
But I have friends who are launching books from small presses and low contacts. They have issues getting their books seen.
And since I’d like to be able to help people like this in the future, I’m asking you wise people for advice: If you had to start promoting your book from scratch, with a small social media footprint and no connections, where would you start?
I mean, what I’d do would be something like:
1) Compile as complete a list of book bloggers as possible. Not just the big influential ones I have little shot at, but all the smaller ones who might be amenable.
2) Polish my pitch to pristine working order, much like I’d prep a query for an agent.
3) Offer to send samples of my book to all of those people.
4) See about holding a GoodReads giveaway.
5) Investigate holding a blogging tour, pinpointing as many bloggers as I could to try to come up with fascinating takes on my book.
But would that work? Is that actually effective? I don’t know, but I know lots of you are effective self-publishers, or have crawled up to have successful books from humble starts – what worked for you? Any and all tested advice on what’s effective (and, just as effectively, what’s not) is deeply appreciated.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.
This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/457347.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.
Why We Need New Names For New Strains Of Racism|
In my review of Annie the other day, I said that we needed a new name for the subconscious racism that permeated our system: the kind that causes cops to shoot black people twenty times more often than white people. The kind where, if you’re a black person on OKCupid, you lose three-quarters of a star rating on average merely by the color of your skin.
That’s not some sort of global phenomenon; it’s sadly American. There’s a great chapter in Dataclysm, written by one of OKC’s data analysts, discussing how that sort of racial bias isn’t as present in other cultures. But years of American standards have caused lots of people to equate “black” with “unattractive” and “threatening” – even to other black people.
And I said we needed a new word to describe that racism – that unthinking regurgitation of all the biases ground into you.
And others said, “Why do we need a new word for racism? It’s racism! That’s all one thing.”
Well, I love words because they open up new ideas. It’s sort of like how the color blue is a comparatively new invention – people used to think of the ocean as black or wine-red. But someone said, “Hey, that water deserves its own color,” and now we have a new way of thinking of stuff.
Likewise: abuse. We could just say, “Wow, that guy totally abused his wife,” and be correct. But it’s more accurate, and evocative, to say, “He totally gaslighted her,” indicating a complex pattern of mental abuse that involves manipulating the facts to undermine her self-confidence and sanity.
Or we could just say, “She perpetrated identity fraud” and be correct. But it’s more accurate to say “She catfished him,” indicating that she led him on romantically by lying about significant portions of her life.
Or heck, we could just say “They lied” and be correct in both examples! But the beauty of words is that they provide shading, nuance, the fine-grained ability to convey a concept that, perhaps, we didn’t have before now.
Likewise, “racism” is a big damn word that covers a lot of ground. It’s a word spread so thin it’s almost useless, like “liberal” or “conservative” – it could mean anything. Having more words to convey the specific kinds of racism that one can perpetrate is helpful.
And “racist” is such a loaded word – it’s one of the worst insults you can toss at a white person, for good or for ill. You say that to most white folks, it shuts down conversations. It’s often not helpful in terms of getting the people who have some racist inclinations to reflect upon what they might be doing (even as it can be terribly empowering for minority communities to call out racism accurately).
As such, having new words to make a differentiation between “You are a card-carrying member of the KKK” and “You are a decent person who has absorbed some unfortunate ideas from a racist society” will be helpful.
Not a panacea, of course. The idea of “mansplaining” is horrifically useful for women trying to outline a specific form of condescension, but of course there’s going to be disagreement over what it is. I’ve been accused of “mansplaining” to someone who expressed confusion about something I said, when I didn’t even know the gender identity of the person I was clarifying myself to. And there are doubtlessly people who do mansplain to women (including possibly me), who would argue to the hilt that they’re not doing that. So even if we got that word, we’d doubtlessly have people using it when it didn’t quite fit, and people misunderstanding it, and people denying it…
…but that’s not a reason not to want this word. That’s what happens to every word that describes a negative behavior.
Now what’ll happen next is that people will suggest all sorts of words in the comments here that could describe this subconscious bias, but all of those words will suck. And that’s not your fault! Words only really take root once they reflect a story that resonates within that culture. It’s no coincidence that “catfish” and “gaslight” both took root after a movie expressed their story. And they’re both catchy words that don’t actually describe the situation much; they just happened to connect with a tale that people could relate to.
So I suspect this word-for-subconscious-bias will be a while in coming. It’ll need some clear narrative in this country that brings it into focus – and that’s hard to do when we’re dealing with a bias that we can’t see. The Occupy movement got partway there with “the 99%,” bringing an abstract concept almost into focus with a lot of protests hammering on it. It may be that the nationwide protests for black justice find some way of highlighting this issue and bringing it into being.
And I want to see that brought into focus. Because right now, to most white people, racism involves intent – you meant to be nice to black people, you know you don’t actively work to undermine them, so you’re fine! And anyone who tells you that you’re hurting black people – you know, maybe by pulling the trigger on them twenty times sooner than you would someone with paler skin – must be trying to smear you.
But no. Truth is, we’ve got a long history of hating dark skin in this country. It’d be surprising if we could just shake it off without some active investigation of how we think. And I wish we could find a word to get across that needed nuance of “Harboring no active hatreds might not be enough to stop you from hurting people.”
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.
This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/457006.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.
Why Your Lust For A Shared Fandom Is Fucking Up Your Relationships|
My friend Rahul Kanakia wrote an excellent article called “Why Do All Sci-Fi Novels Assume That If A Person Likes All The Same Stuff As You, Then You’re Their Soulmate?” And there, he highlighted one of the major fallacies of geek culture: ZOMG IF I COULD JUST FIND A WOMAN WHO LIKES D&D, THEN WE’RE MEANT TO BE.
But honestly, while your mutual love of GI Joe cartoons is a good starting point to launch talks, it’s by no means a guarantee that you’re gonna be good at a relationship. I mean, yeah, “She loves D&D!” seems great – but if you’re a passionate roleplayer who nobly flings the rulebook aside in your quest to discover Your True Character, and you hook up with a girl who’s a merciless power-player who’d cheerfully run an orphan-slaughtering factory if the XP boost got her to twentieth level, then you’re probably not going to work out well in the long run.
That geek fallacy assumes, incorrectly, that there’s only one thing to love about any given media property – so if you both like it, then you both like the same thing. Yet every fandom’s a big place. When I say I love Star Wars, I love Luke. Others love Han. Or Darth Vader. Or Jar-Jar. And you seriously think a guy who has a room full of Jar-Jar collectibles is going to connect with the Capulet that is Lady Vader?
Now, I’m not saying love can’t blossom from the same fandom. (Frankly, I’ve never found two Terry Pratchett fans who couldn’t work it out.) But when fandom is presented as the unerring key to your heart, that leads to disaster. Because that encourages sad, lonely men (and women!) to view the opposite sex as some sort of collectible action figure – “Wait! I found the girl who likes Pokemon! That means I’m done!”
So they discard women who don’t like Pokemon, narrowing their vision to find that one Pikachu girl.
And they find her, and of course she’s surrounded by tons of other blinkered dudes who are convinced that if they can just get her attention, they are guaranteed love.
And they find her beset by men of all sorts, so many drooling dudes that it starts to erode their enjoyment in this hobby – sure, maybe she loved Pokemon once, but in a Pavlovian process she is now coming to associate “Pokemon” with “guys constantly pawing at her,” and that’s not cool.
But lo, they persevere on, pushing past all the other guys to become her friend. And they genuinely seem to believe on some level that merely a) being in close proximity to her, and b) sharing this hobby means c) hot smoochin’ FOREVER.
Yet A + B != C here.
That’s a problem with American culture in general, not just nerd culture. Every love story slurs “falling in love” and “staying in love” together, because functioning long-term relationships are hard to make dramatic. Falling in love, that’s exciting! It’s a first! Fireworks of new things! And breaking up, that’s exciting! All the arguments and final decisions!
So what we get, filtered through the lens of narrative interest, is this weird idea that “falling in love” has mostly the same mechanics as “maintaining a relationship.” And so we come to think what makes a good relationship is this constant fascination, endlessly going out for coffee and exchanging secrets and finding new places to go, because that’s what young couples do.
Except that’s the start of a relationship. All those grand gestures are because you’re finding out what the other person is like, having all of these grand talks because you don’t know them yet – and you’re trying to determine whether this is, indeed, good. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t be interested in someone, because part of maintaining a good relationship involves not going on autopilot – but too many old married couples have tried to restart their relationship by “Let’s go out for coffee,” only to discover that they actually don’t have much left to say to each other.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Gini and I have been together for fifteen years. We’ve heard all our good stories. We don’t have much to talk about because we’ve been there for everything that’s happened over the last fifteen years – we catch up when someone comes back from a convention, or when the new Avengers trailer drops. But if our relationship was predicated on “all the new things we did together,” our marriage would be buried in a broken heap down at the dump.
But what nerds come to think is that this flurry of initial conversation is proof you’re compatible. And it’s not. You’re confusing the gathering of proof with the proof itself.
Sometimes you talk for hours on the phone, yes, and what you discover in those hours on the phone is that this person (or at least who this person presents themselves as) is someone you’d like to call a friend. But when you have that terrible overhang of “exploration is romance” tangled up in this, then you get some very confused people. Hey! We spent days together! I comforted them when they were down! I did all the things that romantic couples do, and romance didn’t come tumbling out, so she did something wrong!
Except she didn’t. She figured out what kind of relationship she’d like to have with you. And you’re misinformed enough to believe that this process is what creates love, instead of realizing this process is where you discover if romantic love might exist.
(I say “she” here, because guy nerds are often the most vitriolic about misunderstanding the process, but hoo boy you see women assuming that “intense discussions” are “love” as well. Nerd culture is overwhelmingly male, and I’m discussing nerd culture, but Jesus please don’t take these examples as evidence that women don’t make these mistakes often.)
So what you’ll often see in male nerd cultures is this horrendous bitterness – hey, I found a woman who likes Pokemon! And we talked! We talked for hours! And she wasn’t interested in me!
She must be a fake nerd girl.
Because yeah, of course the problem isn’t that you foolishly assumed a shared fandom was your ticket to hot cuddles. Nor was it that you assumed that your having long talks would create a lasting love. No, the problem is that she just wasn’t into Pokemon enough, and god damn it how dare someone claim they’re into Pokemon when they won’t fuck me.
Whereas the truth is, watching Pokemon cartoons is a thing you can do together. It’s a good thing to switch back to when the awkward silence falls over that first date. But loving Pokemon doesn’t say a damn thing about what love language you speak, or how you react when your lover hurts you, or whether they’re good for you in bed, or how much you pay attention to the person you’re dating as opposed to watching this brightly-colored Japanese cartoon on the screen.
That shared love you have of fandom? It’s a good start. But a good start isn’t a guaranteed finish. And worse, that attitude is slowly making fandom a hostile place for women, by reducing their fandom to a sign of romantic compatibility, and encouraging every guy to think that they deserve a shot with her, and all the angry feedback that incurs when they don’t get it.
And if you’re wonder why it’s so hard to find a girl who’s into what you are, maybe you’re part of the problem. Because they do exist. They just may have chosen to take their love into a private space, where that affection they have for Green Lantern doesn’t turn their body into a bulls-eye.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.
This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/456857.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.
Annie, Or: How To Do A Revamp Properly|
Hollywood does a lot of reboots and revamps, uprooting classic stories to either a) tell them the exact same way you told them before, or b) changing so much that they forget exactly what made the original great.
Annie, however, is the finest revamp I have ever seen. It completely changes the classic Orphan Annie story – which is good, because that story’s almost a century old at this point, and encrusted with decades’ worth of predictable remakes. It’s fearless in the way it throws out whole elements, whole characters, changing classic songs without batting an eye.
And what you get is modern, and refreshing, and just as relevant as when the old Annie came out.
Annie’s been getting some terrible reviews – partially, I suspect, because the producers were a tad heavy-handed on the autotune. But I also think there’s a certain discomfort with how they’ve changed Annie – a soporific ode to yesterday’s greatness – into a fairly ugly reflection of today’s environment.
Thing is, for all the talk about The Black Annie being an outrage, Black is the new Irish. Annie was a red-haired moppet not because the people of old loved Gingers, but because she was clearly the unwanted offspring of an immigrant class most people despised. People back in the day would have properly read this encoding, but America’s largely forgotten the “NO IRISH” signs hung on places seeking employment. So having Annie be unwanted and black is proper.
And Annie is – well, not Annie. Don’t get me wrong, I love old Annie (I can quote you large swathes of the 1982 version), but old Annie was – well, sweet. She was supposed to be spunky, but after she rescued Sandy, she sort of lapsed into a cheerful passive aggression where she got what she wanted by sunnily guilt-tripping everyone.
This new Annie, however, celebrates the hustle.
This Annie schemes. She’s got dreams, and she doesn’t just sing Tomorrow – she’s hunting for side jobs to get the $43.20 to pay for the bureaucratic fees to find out who her parents were. She isn’t just thrilled to be with today’s equivalent of Daddy Warbucks – she’s actively using him, as she uses her. As witness this scene where Stacks (the new Warbucks) realizes he needs to put Annie up at his house in order to get the photo ops he needs:
Stacks: “There’s got to be an easier way to get these photos.”
Annie: “Not if you want me in ‘em.”
And I think that white America is generally uncomfortable looking at this. Annie’s supposed to be escapist! Annie’s supposed to be sweet, a passive thing carried off by well-meaning rich people! But no; Annie explicitly rejects that paradigm, saying that the people who get rich work their ass off for it. Annie works hard, Stacks works hard – it’s a sharp-eyed look at the American Dream, wherein you won’t get anywhere if you don’t scrape for every penny, but by God the system can still knock you on your ass.
Speaking of which, Annie carries on the great tradition of keeping its creator Harold Gray spinning in his grave by completely changing Daddy Warbucks. The movie is firmly in the pro-FDR camp, but recognizes that things have changed since 1940. Stacks is now a cell phone billionaire running for mayor, mainly because it’s the next achievement to rack up for his massive ego. He has no particular plans for New York, no vision – it’s just the next step up in life for him.
And here’s the thing: the movie questions whether this is a good thing.
Whether Stacks is worthy of being mayor is a constant background issue. This new Annie implies that if you’re going to rule, you should do so with compassion, and while you can get elected it’s not going to be good for people if you do.
The new Annie also has compassion for everyone, man. The streets that Annie lives in? Rough, but supportive overall. They’ve got nobody but themselves. In particular the movie transforms Mrs. Hannigan, throwing out the random “Her brother and his ditzy girlfriend show up” plotline to provide Ms. Hannigan with a real and awful choice in politics. Ms. Hannigan has actual dreams – and while she’s unabashedly a monster, she once was a singer. She never made it. And that failed ambition curdled something within her.
In this new world of Annie, everyone has something worthwhile about them, if you look hard enough.
I suspect this movie’s getting pummeled in the reviews because, well, for a kid’s film it’s explicitly political. And as a remake, it is the precise opposite of what most people consider to be faithful – all the classic elements are erased. So you’ll have people pounding on it for putting in new musical numbers, or transforming the classics, and that’s it.
And… Annie’s black.
There needs to be a better word for racism, something more fine-grained. But in America, there’s this thread bubbling through our culture where white kids get to be adorable, but black kids are perceived as a threat more easily, seem more sinister. White people aren’t even aware of it, but the fact is that black people are twenty times more likely to be shot by cops, and I don’t think that’s because the cops are KKK members – I think it’s because years of cultural mores have piled up to quietly teach us that pale skin is forgivable, and dark skin is a harbinger of ill intent.
What’s the word when someone’s quietly regurgitating negative attitudes they’ve absorbed without even being aware of it? “Racism” sounds like an active choice to most white people. But there’s no better word to indicate these subliminal winces, the kind of thing where people say I dunno, Annie’s good but there was just something about her I didn’t click with.
And the danger of this sort of thing is that you get to handwave all criticism by claiming racism, which I am explicitly not. Like I said, this won’t be to everyone’s tastes. But the problem with this unthinking downgrading of African-Americans is that some percentage of negative reviews is doubtlessly due to this insidious undertow, and maybe it wouldn’t have made Annie A+ reviews across the board, but maybe it’d be a 6.0 on IMDB instead of the 4.9 it is now.
Regardless, though, Annie is an amazing movie. You’re going to get poppy auto-tune sprayed in your face, and if you don’t like that, then best stay away. But the film’s battled through crippling reviews and an early Sony leak of the full film three weeks before release to earn more than its budget, which indicates strongly that someone’s liking it. I suspect, in time, it may become a touchstone classic for someone in the next generation, much like Labyrinth was a box-office flop but inspired many young girls to be more than they were.
In any case, it’s not gonna be in theaters for much longer. I’d go see it while you can.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.
This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/456480.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.
Flex Book Tour: New York and Boston(ish)! Meet A Weasel On March 13th and 14th!|
I promised y’all I’d tell you when I’d be in your town to sign my upcoming novel FLEX, and at last I have East Coast dates confirmed! So mark your calendar! Not only will I sign books for y’all, but chances are extremely good you can coax me out to the bar afterwards, where I may even buy you a drink.
Friday, March 13th: WORD Bookstore Brooklyn
126 Franklin St, Brooklyn, NY 11222
7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 14th: Annie’s Book Stop Of Worcester
65 James Street, Worcester MA 01603
5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Tell your friends! Make extravagant plans! Arrive with bells on, for I fear loneliness! (And once the people have their Facebook event pages up for these, tell ‘em, so they can better prepare for either an onslaught or the hollow rustle of tumbleweeds drifting through their store!)
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.
This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/456247.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.
I Don’t Know Charlie Hebdo|
I’d be shocked if you haven’t heard, but there was a recent terrorist attack on a French magazine called Charlie Hebdo, which published cartoons of Mohammed. Twelve dead, including the editor and four cartoonists. I think the only word that comes close to summing it up is “terrible.”
I had not heard of Charlie Hebdo before this attack.
Fortunately, social media has my back.
Over the last two days, Twitter has provided me with a mini-education on what Charlie Hebdo was, the long tradition of purposefully offensive French satire, a smattering of cartoons, and past controversies. This is better than Wikipedia, in many ways – Wikipedia summarizes a thing in an essay style designed to be as dry as dusty encyclopedias, whereas Twitter links me to shining jewels of editorials, reducing things to the pithiest of quotes. I’ve read probably a good novelette’s worth of information on Charlie Hebdo since the murders.
Yet this education is incomplete.
The thing I find lacking in all of these talks on Charlie Hebdo is, well, Charlie Hebdo. I could be thought to be well-read on the topic – but the truth is, for all the furor, I still have zero idea what the inside of the magazine looks like. I’ve seen a few covers, which appeared to be pretty amateurish to me, and some translated cartoons, but…
I have not experienced the source material in any meaningful way. Only a radiating circle of reactions to it.
Which happens a lot in social media. I sure know a lot about Justin Bieber and what a jerk he is and how his fans are crazy, but I couldn’t pick a Justin Bieber tune out of a Spotify lineup. I’d read tomes’ worth of Twilight’s regrettable gender politics and shoddy writing long before I finally sighed and picked the damn book up to see for myself. The Michael Brown shooting gave me voluminous essays explaining to me Just What Happened During The Shooting before I gave in and read the coroner’s report for myself.
In social media, the story becomes its own narrative, often divorced from the core material. Yet we wind up considering ourselves experts on a topic we’re still, in some vital way, unfamiliar with.
Interestingly, I wound up envying my friend Billy Moreno on Ferguson, because he took some time off and went down to Ferguson to participate in the protests. Now, Billy, he has a good take on what happened down there. He got off his couch and got some direct experience – and admittedly it’s just a sliver of real life, but that’s all any of us get, really.
Yet even a tourist’s direct take is better than a Twitter overview, to my mind.
I’m not saying the hundred essays I read on “What it’s like to live in Ferguson” were useless – some education is always better than none – but I remain excruciatingly aware that any image I take away from social media is lacking some essential truth. It’s a flurry of opinions, many from people I usually agree with, but I can no more get a full idea of what it’s like to live in Ferguson than I can fully get what it’s like to live as a black man by reading essays.
It’s good to use those essays as a bridge to understand things, mind you. I’m a better person for having read black fathers’ takes on the talks they have to have with their sons, and imagining me having to say that to my kids, and feeling that burn of the ol’ empathy muscle flexing and flexing hard.
But it’s also good to recognize that “reading someone’s take on an experience” is not the same as “knowing that experience.” Just because I read about that black father doesn’t mean that I get what it’s like to be him, now. Just because I read about Ferguson doesn’t mean that I know what’s happening down there. Just because I’ve read tons of fan reactions to Twilight doesn’t mean that I know what reading the book is like.
There’s still that gap.
And so I come to Charlie Hebdo with a student’s ignorance. They were engineered to be offensive. They served a long-set function in a foreign society I don’t understand that well. Nobody should have murdered them, of course – but when I look at, say, their cover presenting the Boko Haram sex slaves as welfare mothers, I have to acknowledge that this cover was presented in a context, and despite reading much of the hubbub surrounding that cover, I am largely unaware of that context.
And maybe this is just my take on things, but I frequently feel like people are force-educating themselves on daily topics so they can have opinions – hey, Charlie Hebdo just got shot, how do I feel about that? I need to be a part of this social media story, to have something meaningful to contribute, and so I gotta start finding what I think Charlie Hebdo was so I can be relevant. It’s the old op-ed columnist trick, where you wake up and have twelve inches of column to fill, and you’d better fill it with something. Let’s start asking Interesting Questions! Was Charlie Hebdo too offensive? Should people be defending them? Hey, can we find all the worst moments of Charlie Hebdo to kickstart a discussion on my watch? Can we find the finest moments when they spoke truth to power?
People sometimes get accused of “seeking offense.” I don’t think people seek offense. But I do think that social media encourages people to seek a story that they can attach themselves to, to determine super-quickly whether they are For this new stage of events or Against it – and thus they carbo-load on other people’s interpretations of these events so they can stake out a position. So they can be seen to be participating.
As for me, though, I kind of think that social media discourages a very important skill: the ability to Not Know. Do I think that Justin Bieber’s a spoiled twat? I honestly don’t know. Never met the dude. All I get on Twitter from friends who delight in watching snotty teens go down is a constant stream of his worst hits, and I refuse to assume that this is accurate.
What I hear about him sounds bad, I agree. I’m willing to go so far as to say that he looks like an entitled jerk who’s going to run into trouble when he runs out of fans. Just like it was entirely fair of me to say “I haven’t read Twilight, but a lot of my friends think it’s pro-stalkery pap, and so I have no interest in reading it.” (Even if I eventually did.)
But when I speak of Justin Bieber, or Charlie Hebdo, or Ferguson, or any breaking story, I also acknowledge my own ignorance. I don’t know them. I haven’t been there, myself. I am being educated second-hand, by takes on people’s takes – and it’s not merely okay, but actively healthy, for me to say, “I don’t have to have an opinion on this.”
What I see on Twitter isn’t necessarily the truth. It’s just a collected amalgamation of the opinions of people my friends agree with. And while I trust my friends, they can fuck up, and I can fuck up, and so the least I can do is keep my ignorance on the topic firmly in mind.
Until someone starts writing about pudgy white male depressives. Then I’m an expert.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.
This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/456111.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.
If Someone Gives Me Another All-Male Cast, I’m Gonna Ancillary Justice ‘Em|
I’m reading Ancillary Sword, the sequel to the most excellent Ancillary Justice, which has a “hook” that’s confused a lot of people:
All of the characters are referred to as “she.”
Not that the universe is all-female, of course; it’s just that the lead character in the Ancillary series is actually a computer AI given a fleshy body, and in this universe gender clues are both subtle to spot and socially painful to get wrong. And since the book’s told from Breq’s viewpoint, she just assumes that everyone’s a “she,” even if they have a beard or an Adam’s apple or a chest as furry as a black bear in heat.
This has gotten a lot of pushback as “stunt writing.” Who is Ann Leckie to just gender a whole universe? It’s confusing! It’s crazy!
But in other news, Mark Lawrence made a post where he was very proud of publishing a (successful) book with an all-male cast, which led to a discussion of how a lot of fantasy writers just sorta forget to put female characters in except when it’s time to fuck. All the leads are male. All the shopkeepers are male. All the politicians are male. One wonders how these universes breed, when women are all hidden like cockroaches, not venturing into the light until one of the very manly testosterone-producers waves his magic schlong and they all arrive from whatever hidden chick-village they hole up in.
That’s unrealistic. So the next time I read a book where it’s all-dudebro, all-the-time, I’m just going to assume that the lead character is, like Breq, actually psychologically incapable of spotting the difference between men and women, and we are hearing the strange story of a man who is so in love with his muscles that he has accidentally misgendered a whole world. It’s not that women don’t exist here; it’s that he is incapable of recognizing the female nature of someone who’s not sexually attracted to him personally, and these bold adventurers are actually severely psychologically dysfunctional in a way that they, sadly, cannot recognize.
These poor souls! But now that I’ve just Ancillary Justiced their plight, I can feel their pain. This isn’t bad writing that presents a completely unrealistic world artificially warped to service the needs of very manly men; it’s just very subtle characterization, where the author is drawing attention to how stunted the world view is of so many heroes.
It’s a service, guys. Thanks for providing it.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.
This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/455837.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.
Hi! Ferrett Is Currently Engaged In A Battle To The Death With A Mac.|
You may note some silence here; if you follow my Twitter, that’s because you know that I’ve switched to a Mac for work, and things have not gone well. I’m slowly easing into the environment, but it sure is hogging a lot of my CPU resources now.
(The next person who tells me “Macs just work” is gonna get a snootful. I love certain features on the Mac – gestures are tech – but if I didn’t know how to Google things I’d be staring at the screen dumbly. Also, every Mac touchpad and mouse assumes you’re working on a hard surface, which is supremely annoying when no Macintosh mouse will actually register a click on the armchair rest that I work on.)
Anyway, so I’m bouncing between laptops as I enter passwords and download new programs, and come the evening I just want to watch porn. So hey, I’ll entertain you again at some point, but that’ll be after I figure out how to use this new she-beast that has heaved into my life.
(But when it’s done? I can learn how to program iPhone apps. And that’ll be exciting. Also, I’ll be a Cool Kid, and who doesn’t want to be a Cool Kid?)
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.
This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/455445.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.
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