mokie: Vintage photo of a woman with legs crossed reading a book (reading smut)
So I was discussing fiction with a friend... No, that's not quite right.

So last year I started watching Hemlock Grove, but got distracted and wandered off. When I saw an advertisement for the upcoming second season, I thought two things: "Better to catch up and keep up, then," and "Wait, what? 'Emmy-nominated'? Hemlock Grove was nominated for a fucking Emmy, but there's no love for Hannibal?"

Because I like Hemlock Grove, more or less. Contrary to appearances, it's not yet another True Bloody Vampire Twilight Diaries teen romance soap opera with fangs, but a collection of Hollywood's classic Silver Screen movie monsters translated to a modern setting, and that's a pretty nifty idea. But I love Hannibal, and most of the critics who've bothered to watch it call it the best show on TV right now - better than Game of Thrones, better than Mad Men, better even, some thought, than Breaking Bad. And yet it was more or less snubbed by the mainstream American awards shows, and even the piddly media awards; for instance, it shows up only in vague "Best Villain" and "Best Show" categories on TV Guide's online awards voting. Why is that?

Because society is full of snobby assholes who take great pride in not watching horror... No, that's not quite right.

Because society is full of snobby assholes who take great pride in bragging about not watching horror. And the little committees that pick award nominees and winners are loaded with those assholes. This is no surprise to 'genre' fans - we're pretty used to the world looking down its nose at us - but it is a surprise to see so many vampires and werewolves sprinkled around out in the open and accepted. They're not horror anymore, but romance, the new soap operas, and the voters are totes cool with them as long as they stay sexy and don't look like, y'know, monsters.

Even so, I suspect Hemlock Grove's nomination had more to do with patting Netflix on the head for making its own series than the series it made.

But anyway.

So I was discussing that with a friend, and we wandered off on a tangent about romance novels, including paranormal romances, historical romances, the old-fashioned gothic romances, and all that jazz. Eventually we circled around to poking the fanfiction concept of 'id fic' with a stick, because that is a clever, clever way to look at literature.

Id fic appeals to the squat little reptilian pleasure-seeking part of brain, your id, the little masturbating monkey mind, the part of your brain that embarrasses you at parties with inappropriate thoughts and grunts, "Uhn, sexy!" at shit you know just ain't right. As one fanfiction writer put it, "Because 'good' stories often have to temporize, to maintain reality and your suspension of disbelief and the dynamics of the canon. But idfic says fuck that, let's turn this shit up to ELEVEN and SEE WHERE IT GOES."

See? That's brilliant. Instead of blushing through flustered and defensive explanations of how V.C. Andrews' hypermelodramatic incest porn has deeper meaning, or romance novels aren't really about the smut, or how pulp fantasy novels have deeper wish fulfillment blah blah blah, look at the freedom of just saying, "It's id fic" - acknowledging that the masturbating monkey mind loves its stories, too, and that this is totally okay.

But, at the same time, it also lets us see how V.C. Andrews' hypermelodramatic incest porn, etc., can have deeper meaning, because where you've got id, you've got context for the tight-laced and prudish super-ego to stroll in: the masturbating monkey mind likes it dirty, and what the masturbating monkey mind finds dirty has a lot to say about the culture and society and baggage of the mind it squats in. For instance, Wuthering Heights is a big ol' floppy melodramatic mess of id, crouched in the corner fapping furiously and leering at onlookers, but it's also a classic that "challenged strict Victorian ideals of the day, including religious hypocrisy, morality, social classes and gender inequality."

Would it be going too far to suggest there's also super-ego fic? Stories that consciously and purposefully poke at social constructs and cultural baggage, that get all up our noses about being a better person? Those stories certainly exist - they're the things we rarely read on our own, because they're preachy and boring, not at all as interesting as peering through a book-shaped keyhole with the masturbating monkey mind at things we know we'll later feel dirty for enjoying.

Maybe that's what I like so much about Hannibal - having both the monkey and the monk at the dinner table together, uncomfortably aroused.

Edited to add: Yes, I know, the id fic concept has been around for ages, but my circles don't overlap that way. Sometimes it takes a while for things to pop up on my radar. Also, when discussing some topics, particularly fandom or fan-adjacent topics, things work out best if I just assume that the other person has no idea what I'm talking about until/unless they say otherwise, and thus I need to explain from scratch without getting too slangful or complicated.
mokie: Man with an old computer monitor for a head drinks through a straw (media pop culture)
#1. Room 237
The structure of this documentary about the search for hidden meanings in Kubrick's The Shining seems to intentionally mirror the movie: creepy labyrinthine rambling, and then someone whips out the crazy.

Long before the documentary rolled up on Netflix, I'd seen an article (or three) mentioning some of the more plausible theories, and did some back reading on them. That's why it's so odd that the film does a relatively poor job presenting those theories: the documentary is a long series of rambling interviews with voices we never seen, played over clips from the movie edited together, looped around, rewound and replayed, while the soundtrack jogs along being inexplicably more creepy than it was in the actual film. It could easily have been trimmed not just for a tighter pace, but to better cover the theories. Instead, the detached voices ramble, and the more they ramble, the more obsessive they begin to sound, like the famous director himself.

And then they get to the moon landing conspiracy theory, which sounds like it was added intentionally to make everyone involved sound crazy.

#2. Death Becomes Her
Death Becomes Her took the bones of Hollywood's classic monster movies and turned them into a Hollywood monster movie.

A disgraced surgeon working on corpses to give them the semblance of life? An inmate asylum who funnels their obsession into eating? A slinky and seductive foreigner offering eternal youth? Not one, but two brides? Even zombies get a nod near the end of the film.

The horror isn't shambling creatures rising from the grave in search of blood, but shambling stars emerging from the plastic surgeon in search of youth, part of an industry based entirely on the preservation of appearance, the rejection of reality and fear of the passage of time.

#3. Lilo & Stitch
Lilo & Stitch was the first Disney movie in which we see protagonists who are orphans and the implications of that.

The golden age princesses had their parents conveniently removed in favor of wicked stepmothers and fairy godmothers, and later animal protagonists lost their parents for drama points, but it never mattered: the princesses were content to sing and wait for their prince to come, the animals were too young to care or got a narrative cut-away to hit us with the death but spare us the grieving. (Damn you, Bambi.)

The Disney renaissance passed on stepmothers in favor of single/adoptive parents and wicked fairy godmonsters (hey, worked for Maleficent). Neptune's daughters appear to have no mother, but Ariel gets a little hand from Ursula, while Belle had only crazy old Maurice and a long-gone witch who thought it was appropriate to turn a castle's worth of people into furniture because someone was once rude to her. Jasmine's mother? Pocahontas's mother? Chief Powhatan's first on-screen act was to let us know she was dead. Hercules? Kidnapped, adopted by a nice couple, later reunited with his parents. Simba? Lost his father, adopted by a nice same-sex couple, later reunited with his mother. Tarzan? Orphaned (but too young to grieve), adopted by a nice couple (of apes), later reunited with his species.

Lilo? Orphaned, grieving, arguably acting out because of it.
Nani? Orphaned, grieving, trying to keep their tiny broken family together in spite of it.

Beside the fantastical half of the story, there's this small human story about loss and coping with it. No Prince Charming can come to their rescue, though David offers support; no evil monster is going to rip them apart, though a social worker threatens the family (out of concern rather than malice). The big scifi tale of an isolated special snowflake created in a lab (almost a shot at Disney's family-free princesses) gains its depth by smooshing it into this little human story.

#4. The Addams Family
The original comics, TV show and movies all show the Addamses as part of a community that accepts and even celebrates their weirdness. While the plot may be about the average Joe or Jane stumbling into weird Addams territory, the Addamses and their culture are always accepting and welcoming of these mundanes - more accepting and welcoming than the mundanes are, certainly.

Weird moment of synchronicity! I jotted that down several months ago intending to expand it into a whole ramble at some point. A day or two later, the_phredPhred shared a blog post arguing that the Addamses are the most well-adjusted family on television, because: Gomez and Morticia are clearly in love and enjoy spending time together while also giving each other space to pursue their own interests; Wednesday and Pugsley may play dangerous, but "seem to view one another as accomplices, rather than rivals"; it's an extended family, in which relatives and employees are clearly respected and cared for; and they didn't change who they were to please others, or demand that others change for them.

Another blogger expanded up on this with a brief comparison to the '60s other televised 'horror' family, the Munsters, and might have definitively explained why most people are either a Munsters fan or an Addams fan:
"On one level, the Munsters were a campy stereotype immigrant family, while the Addams' were strictly old-money. Two different spins on the American experience. On another level, the Munsters are 'externally validated' and live entirely for the approval of others. The Addams are 'internally validated' and totally comfortable with themselves as long as they live up to their own standards. The Munsters are ashamed of their unique qualities, while the Addams' celebrate and enjoy them. (Only Grandpa Munster is unabashed, and continually has to be reigned in). [...] In my experience, Business people, early risers, team sports players and dog owners all seem to like The Munsters while artists, night owls, individual sports players and cat fanciers see to prefer The Addams Family."
It makes me wish Mockingbird Lane, a very-Addams reboot of The Munsters, had been picked up. Ah well.

#5. Roseanne
In many ways, Roseanne is less about a working-class family than it is about the death of a small town.

The small town of Lanford, Illinois, is almost a character in its own right. Outline the series, and you'll see not just the changeable fortunes of the Conners, but the decline of Lanford: the closing of its primary employer, a loss of quality jobs, a slip in the local economy affecting local businesses, the town quietly fading into a trucker's stop-over point. It's part of why the last season rang so wrong, but for the right reasons (or, at least, right on paper): it wasn't a big fantasy about her husband not dying, but about the main character having the money to save everyone, culminating in saving the town itself by restoring its primary employer, Wellman Plastics. It all centers on one line in the monologue: "When you're a blue-collar woman and your husband dies it takes away your whole sense of security."

Concentric Kvetching

Saturday, 8 March 2014 03:27 am
mokie: FLCL's Naota silhouetted holding a guitar (impressed)
I want to save this forever and ever.

Psychologist Susan Silk came up with a handy visualization of concentric rings to help people avoid saying the wrong thing to a person going through tough times.

At the center of the diagram is the person at the center of the situation - for example, a man who is seriously ill. The people in that person's life are arranged outward from the center in circles of ever-decreasing intimacy: his spouse and immediately family are one circle out from center, their close friends a circle beyond that, then extended family and aunties followed by co-workers (or maybe vice versa, depending on how the family feels), then acquaintances, then that sales clerk who always says hello and the guy who sometimes reads the ill man's blog, ad infinitum.

The rules: care goes inward, venting comes outward.

The sick man needs a shoulder to lean on, not to have to support everyone else and make sure they're okay with his condition. At the same time, his immediately family needs support from their extended family, not to have to comfort a distant aunt who wants to wax dramatic about how this illness devastates her. And if that aunt happens to be in town and stops by the shop, a sympathetic word from the sales clerk would be great, but not a lot of fretting about a customer he barely knows.

Given that so many of us worry about what to say, saying the wrong thing, what we think we'd want to hear if we were in those shoes, etc., this is a nice reminder that we're not at all in those shoes, and that some situations shouldn't be about what we need or want, but about what someone else needs from us.
mokie: Sleepy hobbit Will Graham naps on a couch (sleepy)
Why do so many family fights and feuds begin with funerals? Because it's easier to fight than it is to feel.

Sadness and grief are helpless feelings. You can't do anything about them. You just slog through, and even if you slog through, it gets you nothing - it doesn't bring someone back, it doesn't undo the cause of your sadness. You just endure it. It's so much easier to feel angry, because it makes you feel like there's something you can do about it.

Being sad won't bring your loved one back, but you don't have to realize you feel sad if you're busy being mad at your brother. You're helpless in the face of your grief, but in your anger you can ban your brother's family from your home. A measure of that drowning wave of emotion is repackaged as anger, because you can do something about anger - you can hang it on someone else's neck and drive them out. When the emotion creeps up later, it tells you it's anger - Can you believe he did that?! - and you can tell yourself you've done something about it.

Once I saw this pattern in my own behavior - I'm frustrated/tense because [depression/grief/etc.] and I'm not dealing with it directly - I learned how to slow down and turn that energy towards the actual problem. I also learned that I'm not an emotionally stunted freak, and this is pretty common. Most importantly, I got a sense for my schedule - for example, that February was always terrible, and it had to do with being cooped up and oversocialized in December and then numb in January.

Between snow days and cabin fever, this month has been full of people throwing matches and punches. I don't know if this year is worse than most or if it just seems that way because I'm outside it this year, since the flu knocked me off my ass for two weeks (and wobbly for two more) and so I've had plenty of people-free time.

Or maybe I vent my grumblies through TV shows about cannibal serial killers and zombie presidents nowadays. That's healthy too, right? Sure it is.
mokie: Cartoon Calvin sneezes and checks his tissue (lurgy)
I recently discovered I might not be allergic to coconut after all.

When is an allergy not an allergy? When it's Oral Allergy Syndrome, also called Pollen-Food Allergy Syndrome (along with several other names, because everybody wants to be the one whose name gets used on House M.D.), in which regular nose-based allergies masquerade as food allergies, due to certain fruit and veggie proteins vaguely resembling problematic pollen proteins.

Basically, it's like your body mistaking a dust-bunny for a spider and wigging out inappropriately.

Outside of allergy season the problem food isn't a problem, because your body hasn't been primed by pollen and pushed into kill it with sneezing! mode. The heat involved in cooking and canning can also denature the troublesome proteins, which is how some folks can be allergic to a raw fruit or veggie but able to eat the same item cooked--because they're not allergic to the food itself, even though they are having an allergic reaction to it. Either of these could explain why I've been able to eat coconut just fine until recently, mostly baked in cookies or simmered in soups, but also just noshing on raw flakes without any ill effect. I just happened to do it at the wrong time of year this time.

The upside of this, apart from that OAS usually doesn't cause anaphylactic shock, is that it would also explain why my late winter/early spring allergies have been so bad since moving to this neighborhood: birch.

I used to live next to Tower Grove Park and the Missouri Botanical Garden, two big green spaces dedicated to growing a large variety of greenery, pretty much all of which I tested allergic to back in middle school. Apart from swollen hands when walking past a bushy area on Magnolia Avenue, though, my allergies just translated to a runny nose and some occasional sneeziness--and good luck narrowing down which bit of all that greenery was responsible for which sneeze. (Especially since the allergy scratch test throws a lot of false positives, as dracunculusdracunculus pointed out.)

What the old neighborhood didn't have, and this neighborhood does, was a lot of birch trees. Specifically, a cluster of them half a block down from my current apartment.
In springtime, two of the biggest cross-reaction offenders are birch and alder trees. Depending on where you live, anywhere from 20 to 70 per cent of people who are allergic to birch and alder pollens will also have oral allergy syndrome. (Janet French, "Oral Allergy Syndrome: Why do Pollens and Foods Cross-React?" Allergic Living 2 July 2010)
The doctor interviewed in that article pointed out that OAS is more common than the legitimately scary food allergies like peanut, which might explain why so very many people believe they have food allergies even after a smug host points out that they just ate something they're supposed to be allergic to. (And fuck you if you do that to people. Seriously.) The article also mentions a point I regularly make, that chamomile and echinacea cause cross-reactions to ragweed because they're in the same family, which makes it really annoying when every suggested cure for your allergy woes is a nice cup of chamomile and echinacea tea.

The author does lose points for bad editing when she inadvertently (I hope) suggests that honey is somehow a plant related to ragweed, rather than that honey could contain ragweed (or related) pollen. That in itself sidesteps the point that many allergy sufferers intentionally eat honey hoping there's allergy-causing pollen in it, due to the old wives' tale that this will desensitize them. It doesn't work, though, because most of the honey on store shelves is (a) filtered, microfiltered, and then filtered some more to remove all possible pollen; (b) heated and treated till it's thoroughly dead so that it won't crystallize on store shelves; and (c) from China, and thus unlikely to contain any pollens you're familiar with. You could try raw local honey, but as someone who gave it a go, just go take a Claritin and save yourself the disappointment. (And the awfulness that is clover honey. Ugh.)

Back to the point! How vile is birch?

Here is the Wikipedia checklist of foods that are cross-reactive with birch: almonds, apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, carrots, celery, cherries, chicory, coriander, fennel, figs, hazelnuts, kiwis, nectarines, parsley, parsnips, peaches, pears, peppers, plums, potatoes, prunes, soy, strawberries, walnuts and wheat. That's not even a definitive list--other lists add all the tree nuts, and coconuts, and peanuts, and tomatoes, and turnips...

If you Google "oral allergy syndrome" and a food, Google will say, "Birch. It's the fucking birch, man."

Birch will take from you everything that you love.

Apart from a visit to an allergist, the only way to know for certain if my coconut allergy is a real allergy or a birch cross-reaction is to wait till the birch stops its arboreal spooging around June or July, and then nibble a little raw coconut while someone stands by with a heavy dose of Benedryl. A preemptive strike on the trees is out, as they wisely chose to be planted in front of a cop's house.

Sneaky, bastardly birch.

Update: TESTED AND CONFIRMED. The same coconut that made me miserable in April and May caused no reaction at all in June. Of course, now my grass allergies are in full effect, so I couldn't taste the coconut, but still...
mokie: Man with an old computer monitor for a head drinks through a straw (media pop culture)
A month or so ago, for reasons I can't remember, I found myself reading about milestone episodes of South Park--which episode really gelled the show's dynamics, and which episode cemented Cartman not merely as a tiny Archie Bunker but a budding psychopath, etc. This kicked off a marathon review of the entire series for me. It's turned up a few surprising realizations, like that Stan and Kyle aren't as interchangeable or even alike as many fans claim (and complain about), and I can't explain that without going full nerd, so I'll just leave it there, because that's not the realization I want to write about.

I realized that some of the episodes are so damn far ahead of the moment that many of us don't seem to get them at the time of release.

The episode that brought this home is season 12's "Britney's New Look", about the media frenzy over Britney Spears and her long, slow public meltdown. In the episode, the boys learn people will pay insane cash for Britney photos and trick their way into her motel room by telling a guard they're her kids. For the distraught but otherwise normal Britney, this is too much: under the stress of the media onslaught that she knows will never let up, she blows her head off. Through some fluke she survives, and nobody treats her any differently except the boys. They feel guilty and try to help her escape, only to discover it's a massive conspiracy, and she's just a human sacrifice for a good harvest. (Yes, really.)

(Edited to add: I refuse to add spoiler tags for a TV show that aired two elections ago, especially as the spoileriffic element is the whole point of the episode.)

First, there are the reviewers who see only a parody of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" and describe it simply as that, even though I don't think that's technically accurate. The episode imitates the end of Jackson's story, the crowd surrounding the damned woman with cameras instead of stones, but it's using Jackson's story to satirize paparazzi culture, not satirizing her story itself. (Interesting aside: Jackson said about the original reaction to her story, "People at first were not so much concerned with what the story meant; what they wanted to know was where these lotteries were held, and whether they could go there and watch.")

Then there are the folks who missed the point. Spears fans protested that it was a heartless mockery of a low point in her life, and completely missed that she was being portrayed sympathetically, while everyone else (even the boys at first) were villains. Show fans whined that there weren't enough jokes, not enough Cartman, and the only laugh they got was hearing Clinton say "spearchucker" in debate with Obama, completely missing, well, probably anything in the series more intelligent than a fart joke.

And then there were the folks complaining that if they were going to do a Britney Spears episode, they should have done it properly, because there's so much to make fun of, missing both the point ('Holy fuck, there's celebrity poking, and then there's this, and this is not right--we as a society are killing this woman, let's back off and not do that anymore'), and the fact that they were in fact the very people the episode is actually satirizing. For example, and an egregiously creepy example it is, there's the review that crowed the episode "takes a stab at Britney Spears and her popularity" "[w]hen the Queen of Trailer Trash visits South Park," and "[o]nly the boys seem to notice her head is blown off in a great parody of her train-wreck life. We love how Matt and Trey treat her as a brain-dead machine propped up by the media. No head. No brain. Doesn’t matter. Look at the camel toe!"

That's driving right past the point and off the pier, into a lake of fire.
mokie: Ghostbusters' Vinz Clortho wears a collander and answers questions (geeky)
The season finale of AMC's zombie drama The Walking Dead airs tonight, and the network is running a marathon of the entire series so far. Since I'm a fan of the show, I figured I'd wax philosophical. And before anyone asks, I've not yet read the comics, so this probably won't be relevant to them at all. Don't open, spoilers inside )
mokie: Earthrise seen from the moon (melancholy)
What can I say that hasn't already been said? News of the shooting was devastating. The national discussions it started on gun control, mental health access and the role of the media have been frustrating, but were overdue. The national discussions some people tried to start using the tragedy suggest that any mental health care reform needs to start with our politicians and celebrities. Please, won't someone think of Victoria Jackson?

On the same day that a man shot 20 children and 7 adults in Connecticut, a man in China slashed at least 22 children with a knife, a man in Indiana was arrested after threatening to set his wife on fire and then shoot up a nearby elementary school, and a teen in Oklahoma was arrested after plotting to lure students and faculty into the school gym and open fire. In the week since, a man walked into an Alabama hospital and opened fire, a Maryland teen was put in psychiatric care after concerned students reported that he had detailed information on the school building and security, and a Utah elementary school student brought a gun to school and threatened his classmates, citing fear of being killed like the kids at Newtown.

Maybe the world is always this crazy, and we just spend so much of our time focused on our own little corners that it's usually easier to ignore.

Mental Health Reform
Yes, please.

Though speculation abounds about the attacker's mental health, his actions point to a larger societal problem, and if we can't see it objectively in our own backyards, we can observe it unfolding in China, where attacks on schools are on the rise. Some experts attribute these attacks to mental illness, while others talk about frustration with rapid social changes, unemployment and general disenfranchisement.

I don't think that's an either/or. Dismissing these attacks as mental illness fails to address seriously the debilitating stress that drives people to the point where exploding seems like a solution; talking about them only as frustrated men downplays the value of access to good mental health care in favor of talking up punishment and armed guards. We need a healthy middle ground, where a person doesn't need a diagnosis of mental illness to get serious help, and doesn't feel stigmatized for seeking out the help they need.

Gun Control
Social media has been rife with strife, hasn't it? In one corner, people waving photos of an armed Israeli teacher with her students as proof that we need guns in schools--nevermind that the photo is of a guard, not a teacher, and that under Israel's restrictive gun control policies, citizens wouldn't even have access to as much firepower as the attacker had that day. In the other corner, people pointing out that the 22 children involved in the Chinese knife attack will all survive, so eager to make the point that they gloss over the alarming larger reality that schools are increasingly seen as a viable target by the disgruntled.

To share my biases upfront: my grandfather was a hunter, my cousins still are, and I know people who work in dangerous vocations that have to be armed for their own protection, so I know that there is such a thing as a responsible gun owner. At the same time, I also believe there's no reason for your average everyday citizen to have an assault rifle in their home, and that the discussion about gun control in our country is muddled by an unhealthy combative mindset that has latched onto guns as symbols of power and agency.

Examples of that mindset? Start with politicians pushing to arm teachers, under the assumption that at least one teacher with a gun could easily take out a gunman and reduce the danger. In reality, all armed teachers would introduce to the situation is crossfire: statistics tell us that accuracy drops among trained police officers when shooting moves from target practice to real situations, and psychology tells us that humans are consciously unwilling and subconsciously sabotaged when firing on other humans. (Yes, that's a Cracked article. Their explanation is a more interesting read.)

This kind of thinking is dangerously related to the kind of thinking that says, "I'll get a gun and show them all that they messed with the wrong guy." This kind of thinking isn't the solution--it's the problem. It's the kind of thinking that got an unarmed teenager stalked and shot by an armed junior detective wannabe after the real police told him not to engage, and which had half the country arguing if the wannabe had the right to 'stand his ground' and fire on the unarmed kid that he was stalking through the kid's own neighborhood. It's the kind of thinking that led a grown man to fire into a minivan full of teenagers because their music was too loud.

Whether or not we manage to come to a consensus on the issue of accessibility to guns, we have to address the connection between anger and armament in our culture. We've gotten the idea that waving weapons around is a legitimate way to express our frustration, even to the point of bragging about it on cable news stations. Is it any wonder a segment of the population carries out that threat?

The Media, the Politicians, the Deities and the Wingnuts
By midweek, even the media was questioning its presence in Newtown, and the value of the story vs. the empathy of its actions.

Sadly, some of us have gotten so entrenched in the politics of empathy that we've started to lose hold of the real thing.

Politically and/or religiously-minded individuals tried to stick the tragedy to their favorite hobby-horses. On the right, Mike Huckabee blamed the 'removal' of God from schools (nevermind what that says about attacks in places of worship), Victoria Jackson tried to equate it with abortion, James Dobson blamed it (and everything else) on the gays, and Ted Nugent blamed 'political correctness and moral decline', if you're inclined to take a tongue-lashing about morality from a man who gained legal guardianship over a teenager so he could have sex with her. On the left, there were snark remarks about 'arming those evil union teachers' and a demand to talk gun control before the families even knew if their children were among the slain.

For me, none of that tops Charlotte Allen's error-ridden misogynistic New Review essay in which she blames the "feminized setting" of the school, stating that "women and small children are sitting ducks for mass-murderers," lamenting that there were no men on staff to leap into action, that "even some of the huskier 12-year-old boys" might have taken the attacker out had they not been pushed to hide like scared little girls. It's a batshit revisionist view of events that ignores two brave women who rushed to try to stop him, insults the custodian who saved lives not by flinging a pail at an armed man but by running through the building warning teachers and students to take cover, and denigrates teachers who saved lives by concentrating on getting kids out of the line of fire rather than throwing themselves into it.

And, on the other side, those pointing out that the heroes of Newtown were all women (sorry, custodian!), and waxing philosophical about the differences between the genders, as if male teachers would not have given their lives for their students in the same situation.

But can we say that they're at least learning? Between Anderson Cooper's refusal to use the attacker's name on the air, and the media's greater focus on the victims rather than the gunman, the media seems to have figured out that they don't have to feed that morbid curiosity or give the attacker a posthumous platform. If this holds up, it's already a great step forward.
mokie: Ghostbusters' Vinz Clortho wears a collander and answers questions (nerdy)
First I flood you with dream entries, then my social ineptness, and now nitpickity book talk. I bet this isn't the exciting chronicle of chronic excitement you thought it would be.

For those who believe there's nothing as boring as hearing someone else's dreams, let me reassure you that I don't usually remember and record them this often, and this recent burst of dream entries probably won't last. For those uninterested in my social ineptness, you and my mother both. For those who don't care what I'm reading, take solace in the fact that I at least cut the spoilers. Unless you're reading by RSS, which I hear ignores cuts, in which case...oops?

Now, onto the nitpickity book talk!

I've made no secret of the fact that I'm twitchy about genres. There are genres for settings (westerns), genres for audience (young adult), genres about types of relationships (romance), genres that include unreal elements (fantasy), genres that include unreal elements that could be real maybe (science fiction), genres about types of relationships that include unreal elements (paranormal romance, though arguably chick lit would fit here too), genres within genres, genres overlapping genres, an entire wide swath of fiction dismissively dubbed 'genre'. It's chaos!

It irks me.

I look upon my shelves of science fiction/fantasy and sigh with relief at the convenient compromise that is 'speculative fiction'. I glance at the horror shelves and wince at the idea of a genre based not on the book, but on how the reader reacts to the book. I organize my nonfiction shelves by the Dewey Decimal System because it makes sense.

So I was happy to stumble on The King of Elfland's Second Cousin's entry "Ephemeral Horror and the Diffusion of Genre Markers" even if it wasn't about ephemeral horror, as I thought, but about horror as an ephemeral genre, which is something of an ephemeral horror. This will start making sense any minute now, I promise.

The following points made my inner M&M sorter very happy:

#1. "[W]e categorize stories based on the conventions they employ and the devices that show up within their texts. Spaceships, time travel, aliens? Let’s call it science fiction. Magic and knights? Let’s go with fantasy. [...] These devices, the objects and tropes of most genres, can easily be slapped on a cover to communicate the story’s category to booksellers and readers."

Sometimes, in my flailing about order and chaos and systems for big cohesive pictures, I lose sight of the tiny common sense trees--namely, that 'genre' is just a fancy French word for 'kind', and is not, never was, and never will be some high and mighty literary infrastructure. It's just a big mental box into which vaguely similar stories are tossed so that the stuff you like is near the other stuff you like, so you can find more stuff you like.

#2. "Horror lacks the constraints that more solidified genre conventions impose. We can write a horror story – like Shirley Jackson’s classic 'Flower Garden' – without a single element of the supernatural or the inexplicable. [...] This freedom means that – in order to be effective – horror must sneak past the reader’s natural defenses, must directly speak to the reader’s perceptions, values, and fears. This is the kind of deep-seated, emotional and perceptual communication that the literary fiction genre has traditionally claimed for itself. But where literary fiction uses such emotional and philosophical intimacy to explore comfortably distanced morality, horror uses a highly sensitized point-of-view to get as close to the nerve as possible, to map even the most painful experiences from the inside."

It's a fantastic parallel: like a good horror story, the horror genre is about wandering into the dark and unfamiliar room to check out that bump you just heard.

I've argued the merits of horror with haters before, and pointed out that like fancy pants literary fiction, good horror says something about the viewer and society (and not just "We watch movies with naked co-eds taking a hatchet to the face"). To play on our fears, horror has to be able to get into our heads and push the buttons it finds there.

#3. No quote here, because it's a bit too spread out, but the point is brilliant: there are (of course) horror tropes, except when we become too used to them, they stop being horror tropes.

When horror begins relying on tropes to define it, those tropes cease to be scary, and in a fundamental way, the works that feature them stop being horror. Once the tropes are no longer new and unsettling--once we know them by heart--we begin to redefine and re-imagine them. We turn vampires into moody romantic leads, disfigured undead serial killers into comedians, and the lonely werewolf from an alienated loner into a member of a highly organized underground society of walking AIDS metaphors.

It won't make me change how I organize my reviews, but it does have me rethinking the horror movies of my youth.
mokie: Blackadder's Baldrick says, "That is a bourgeois act of repression, sir!" (politics ism)
Now that the election's over, there's a lot of chatter about why Romney lost and what it means for the Republican party, as well as the significance and repercussions of other races like Bachmann's narrow victory and the universal defeat of the "GOP's Rape Apologist Caucus". I'm not referring to the talking heads whining about how "half of the country doesn’t put value in honor [and honesty] anymore," or 'it's the damn minorities and women who think they're entitled to a hand-out that are killing traditional America' (Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly, respectively) but actual Oh shit, how did it come to this? discussions. Most are focusing on the issue of compromise--insisting that the President needs to, naturally, while ignoring that it was their party digging its heels in, even on its own bills, specifically to prevent anything useful from being accomplished for which he might be credited. (Sigh.)

It's no secret that the Republicans hitched their wagon to the evangelicals in the '80s, and they've been paying off that loan ever since. The problem with defining the GOP as the party of both God and Wall Street (apart from that whole Matthew 6:24 thing) is that it leaves out in the cold old-fashioned and fiscal conservatives uninterested in pandering to, or even associating with, a religious fringe that looks increasingly bigoted, behind the times and batshit crazy.

Despite Fox News' occasional attempt to panic your uncle with talk of taking God off the money, polls this year showed an increasing number of people uncomfortable with the large role religion plays in our politics, and the worries underlying these numbers aren't new. In the '60s, some voters feared Kennedy's election would invite the Vatican into US politics. During this election, some expressed the same concerns about the Mormon church, particularly given its role in the passage of Prop 8 in California. Yet for twenty years, Republicans have sat back as evangelical Christians hijacked their party to inject religion into national politics while ranting about any politics that sniffed near religion or religious issues (legal and tax exemptions for quasi-political religious organizations! no oversight in children's care homes! no contraception for anybody!). Republican voters put up with it, because what else were they going to do? Vote Democrat?

Meanwhile, as the pundits cite shifting demographics in favor of Obama, they're missing a generation of young conservatives who find the evangelical control of the GOP skeevy, the conservative media's shit-stirring among the old folks laughable, and the Libertarian candidates not such a bad option anymore.

A conservative friend pointed out how far down the rabbit hole and up their own asses the party is these days. "Their worldview now is literally, 'We need some supernatural divine intervention up in here.' [...] The truth is, they just don't know what to do anymore. They just want to pray to Jeebus to set the world back to what they want." Where I (cynically) saw the Becks and Palins as charismatic con men scamming the unsuspecting, he assured me they're for real, and that's part of the problem. "Imagine all the worst, most fucked-up appeals to theology a person can invent in their own mind to explain why the world should be how they want it to be, then multiply that by ten. That's what is going on in the heads of these people."

To be clear, I'm not saying Romney lost because of irreligious conservatives voting for third party candidates. I'm saying that the Republicans are losing the most valuable part of their audience entirely, as the younger generation shakes their collective head at the nouveau televangelists and looks for alternatives to the crazy old man party.

Instead of wondering which ethnic group it should concentrate on winning over for 2016, the GOP would do better to step away from the Kool-aid entirely, and refit its platform to embrace a wider swath of the conservative base that they've been actively scaring off.

Update: Or maybe they'll lock themselves in the echo chamber and cry for a while...
“Turnout was the big problem, since we didn’t get all of McCain’s voters to the polls, but we really should have been talking more about Benghazi and Obamacare,” an adviser says, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Those are major issues and Romney rarely mentioned them in the final days.” (Robert Costa, "Romney Adviser: It Was the Messaging," National Review Online November 7, 2012)
Compare and contrast the comments with those at The Atlantic Wire's reposting of the article, if you'd like.
mokie: A tiny, sad cardboard robot walks in the rain (thwarted)
It has been suggested by someone who is very, shall we say, 'right', that I'm actually seething about something else that I can't do anything about. That anger that I can't fix is snaking its way out of my molten core and finding its way up to the surface through minor fissures here and there, causing things that should be small nuisances, like unclear instructions, to become sinkholes of raaaaaaaaaaaaaage.

Damn! I hate it when other people are right.

Realizing it helps. I can see where I tried to convince myself that I wasn't that angry over the thing that's making me seethe, since (a) it's a stupid thing to feel angry over, and (b) I can't do anything about it. And I can see where trying to shove that issue into the 'minor nuisance' box knocked all the real nuisances out of the box and all out of proportion, since (a) they were legitimate (if minor) issues, and (b) I could do things about them, including raaaaaaaaaaaaaage. It was easier to get angry at a few small, clear targets that I could knock out or blow up about than at a vague and currently unfixable thing.

You know what else helps? Mocha coffee hazelnut spread stirred into warm almond milk. No, wait, I mean, talking about it. But that too.

And another thing pointed out to me: socializing wipes me out and makes me cranky. I know, I shouldn't need this pointed out, since I point it out so often, but my Friday was full of more people and places full of people than usual (ooh, that's sad), so I should have expected to be spending my Saturday and Sunday waving a knife around re-establishing all perimeters, prison-style.

So now I feel stupid about being so tetchy for the better part of a month, and guilty for feeling stabby at someone (okay, everyone) yesterday, and waving a knife around, prison-style. (Joke! Don't call CPS!) And drained, because that's a lot of realizing and feeling to be doing all at once.

(Also, like I should be posting some emo song lyrics or something...)

[Related posts: I'm all out of fucks, because I used them all in this post. / All my fucks are back! / Well, that was brief.]
mokie: The Dark Knight's Joker inserted into a scene from Beetlejuice (confused)
They finally did an American remake of Absolutely Fabulous.

There were a few changes. Like Patsy's now a glutton rather than a lush, Saffy's a boy, everyone's under 18, and they call it iCarly.

I haven't been this disturbed since I realized I'm the DJ...
mokie: Firefies swirl beneath a tree on a moonlit night (happy)
From the Terminator 2: Judgment Day trivia page:
The "forced medication" scene (Special Edition only) had to be re-shot several times because actor Ken Gibbel wouldn't hit Linda Hamilton properly with his nightstick. The scene was very physically demanding and Hamilton was furious with Gibbel because he repeatedly botched it. She got her revenge in a later scene where she beats Gibbel with a broken-off broom handle - the blows are for real.
If you check Gibbel's IMDb page, you'll notice T2 is his last acting role.

She beat him right out of the movies!
mokie: A tiny, sad cardboard robot walks in the rain (sad)
...but "V: The Final Battle" is its Phantom Menace.

I remember loving it for the hybrid twins (oh, Elizardbeth!) and being unimpressed with its hocus-pocus ending. How did I miss the sloppy plotting, the clichés, the suddenly inconsistent characterization? Oh, right, I was only eight-years-old.
mokie: Ghostbusters' Vinz Clortho wears a collander and answers questions (nerdy)
The opening of the original V miniseries (1983) is a thing of beauty.

A Hispanic man in soldier garb is walking through a scene of chaos, discussing the results of their most recent action. His ranting pegs him as a Salvadoran freedom fighter, and as we pull back, we see his audience, an American cameraman. As the military bursts upon the rebel camp, Mike and his sound tech Evan alternate between dodging for cover and stepping out to get that perfect moment on film.

"You're going to get me killed this time, Donovan!"

"You're going to get another Emmy!" With clear admiration, Mike points out the rebel leader, who has calmly pulled a pistol on an encroaching helicopter. "Look at him! Look at him!"

The two journalists finally reach a vehicle and make a break for it, but are pursued and run off the road by another helicopter. Mike takes cover, camera rolling of course, to draw fire so the injured Evan can reach the trees, but the helicopter abruptly stops firing and pulls away. Mike turns to see the cause: a mammoth aircraft--no, let's be frank, it's a flying saucer--stretches across the sky overhead and grows larger by the moment. After a moment of shock, Mike has the presence of mind to resume filming.

Let's break it down, shall we?

- During the '80s, the reference to the conflict in El Salvador made this topical. War and revolution are timeless, though, so it also serves now, decades later, as a way to establish a time period for those familiar with history, and a foreshadowing tone for those not--and it does the former without seeming dated, like fashion or pop culture references might.

- We learn almost everything we need to know about Mike Donovan, who will go on to be the series' protagonist. Not only does he keep a clear head during danger, he has the guts to take big risks and the skill to make it work--which is a complimentary way of saying cockiness overrides the good sense to come in out of the bullets. He'll put himself on the line for others, and he has an idealistic streakpossible spoiler ).

- The early '80s loved their post-Vietnam para-military action flicks. First Blood had come out the previous year, Red Dawn would come out the year after, filmmakers chucked words like 'lone,' 'cobra,' 'wolf,' 'delta,' and 'force' into a hat for film titles, and nobody yet trusted Arnold Schwarzenegger with real dialogue. The miniseries takes advantage of the audience's genre familiarity by starting with images of guerilla fighters, guns and helicopters to establish a certain expectation for the series. And then it's batted aside almost casually, by an impossibly large flying saucer.

Independence Day owes a huge debt to V in terms of imagery, with giant craft hanging over iconic sites like the White House and the pyramids at Giza, but V goes a step better. We meet our ensemble cast with the news report's audio in the background as they discover the news, but where ID4 interrupted casual everyday activities, V interrupted guerilla activities, biomedical research, an archaeological discovery, a burglar at work, a child being hit by a car--each moment introducing a member of the ensemble cast and telling us something important about them. V's aliens didn't interrupt work or breakfast, they disrupted everything.

It was enough to put me on the edge of my seat in 1983, and it's still effective almost 30 years later.
mokie: A large white shark rearing from a tiny child's pool (devious)
While drawing up proposals for Camp Feral Child, I noticed that Missouri is one of several states racing to do away with child labor laws. And that's when it hit me: SUMMER LABOR CAMP!

It only makes sense. Why pay money to send them to camp when you can MAKE money sending them to camp? And they'll still be making arts & crafts, but now for a profit! It's WIN-WIN!

Education is your child's job, but who gets a three month vacation from work in this economy? Nobody! Tell your rugrat to get busy bringing home the bacon at Camp Make-a-Buck this summer!
mokie: A Japanese lantern in front of lush green bushes (thoughtful)
Titan A.E. was supposed to be a groundbreaking integration of digital and traditional animation from the true heir to the throne of Disney, Don Bluth.

Except by the time Titan A.E. was released in 2000, Disney and various Japanese studios had been experimenting for a decade with mixing traditional and computerized animation, and Saturday morning had at least three fully CGI cartoons, with a handful more that toyed with computerized elements. To add insult to injury, Bluth's integration was poor, both on its own and in comparison: fingers didn't hold objects, characters stepped into doors instead of through them, and so forth. When we first see the rotoscoping--classic rotoscoping, so blatant and clumsy it immediately brings to mind 1978's Lord of the Rings or 1981's Heavy Metal--it becomes painfully clear that this is "Don Bluth Does Digital!", a desperate attempt to stay relevant by a man clinging to the days when he was a contender.

But the problems go far deeper than style, to a serious lack of focus and commitment in the story itself.

Both the loss of Earth and the loss of the protagonist's father are rushed through so quickly that I don't even need to hide that with spoiler warnings. We're not emotionally invested in either the big picture loss or the protagonist's loss because it's over by the time the title appears, reduced to mere backstory: here's why they're in space, hey did you notice that ring? Where the movie really begins, Cale's fatherlessness and the loss of Earth are just how things are. Depending on the story, that could work just fine.

Unfortunately, the story the filmmakers want to tell requires us to feel sorrow for Earth That Was the lost home planet and father, the longing to belong somewhere, and the urgency to find Titan, and they never step in and give us a reason to feel any of that. We enter a world already made, with characters pretty much used to it, and it's hard to care. It's hard to believe the characters care, either. They seem more heavily invested in cynicism, sarcasm, and general postmodern asshattery than in their search and the story. The characterization is all over the place, at times so blatantly derivative that it feels like the whiniest Star Wars or Firefly fan-film ever, even though it predates the latter by two years.

That's partly because Firefly creator Joss Whedon was a screenwriter on this. Watch the film knowing this, and it becomes a wonderful example of how to completely fail to pull off anything Whedon. Titan A.E.'s complete lack of motivation for its characters? In Firefly, that comes across as depth and moral ambiguity. Whedon's trademark quirky rapid-fire dialogue became famous in Buffy*, to the point that it's something of a watershed program, but in Titan A.E., the dull delivery instead gives the impression filmmakers just couldn't decide whether a moment was meant to be dramatic or humorous. It's like Monty Python as recreated by a Bible study group, or worse, the pilot for the American version of Red Dwarf. They've got the script, they've got the plot, but they have no idea.

In the end, the problems transcend all of that: the movie just can't decide what it wants to be or who it's for. Where better storytelling and production might have pulled off an 'everything to everyone' open-ended approach, Titan A.E. doesn't have it: it is the film equivalent of that guy who thinks trying hard and giving a shit makes him look uncool, so he half-asses it and pretends that makes him hip. Yes, as a film, it's a douchebag.

But consider all of that and ponder with me this notion: should Titan A.E. be remembered not as a tired wannabe work by a former animation titan, but as a very, very awkward dress rehearsal for Firefly?

* Though you can catch hints of it earlier in Roseanne, where he also arguably laid the groundwork for Darlene's evolution from basic tomboy to realistic teenager.
mokie: Firefies swirl beneath a tree on a moonlit night (happy)
Earlier this month, I gave up on the ancient mattress with unexpected springs that pop my back all out of whack, the futon mats that go flat in all the wrong places, and the inherited bunkbed frame that looks silly in an adult's bedroom and creaks with my every move. So terribly, terribly uncomfortable--especially compared to...

A HAMMOCK!

Not the taut rectangle of canvas or rope spread wide by wooden dowels and prone to flipping cartoon dads on the lawn, but a proper Mesoamerican humidity-defying cocooning sling, almost impossible to fall out of accidentally, and so comfy they're damn near as hard to climb out of on purpose. While I don't recall the specific train of thought that led to this decision-making process, I believe I remember the key points.
  • Comfort. Hammocks are comfy. That's one of their key selling features. My bed? Not comfy.
  • Custom. Lots of people sleep in hammocks. Gilligan, for instance. And Nicaraguan truckers. Astronauts, even, and they manage it without gravity.
  • Health. Some campers swear hammocks fixed their back problems. After lugging 30lbs of gear and sleeping on rocks, you'd better believe their backs were plenty problematic.
  • Money. It looked way cheaper than buying a new bed.
All true. As added bonus, you should see how much more spacious the room feels without a bed taking up half of it. Oh, and I never have to make a bed again. Not that I ever made it when I had one, but it's the principle, you know?

There are a few problems I did not anticipate in making the switch, though.
  • Insulation. Without a mattress or futon beneath me, I tend to sleep a little cooler. Since St. Louis usually flips straight into summer sometime around April, I didn't think this would be an issue, but apparently we're trying out that 'spring' thing, so I'm sleeping in winter jammies still.
  • Temptation. With a bed, even a moderately comfortable one, taking a break from work to watch the news or read a little is no big deal. With the hammock, I'm no sooner comfy than I'm dozing off for half an hour. Or an hour. Or three.
  • Invasion. When the hammock arrived, I'd not yet taken the bed apart or out of my room. I wanted to set up the hammock frame ASAP to be sure all the pieces were there, and my 11-year-old nephew Zaphod lent a hand. And then tested it out. And then spent the night and slept in it. And then protested me moving it to my room. And then begged me to move it back into the living room. And then decided the bedroom hammockroom was a perfectly cromulent place to lounge.
By moving the hammock out of the living room, I changed his perceived territory.

Upside: I know what to get him for his birthday. Downside: sleepovers will probably mean double-bunked hammocks.

Profile

mokie: Earthrise seen from the moon (Default)
mokie

August 2017

S M T W T F S
  12345
6789101112
13141516171819
202122 23242526
2728293031  

Credit

Syndicate

RSS Atom
Page generated Tuesday, 19 September 2017 11:34 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios

About dream/reading tags

y-* tags categorize dreams.

For types: beyond the obvious, there are dreamlets (very short dreams), stubs (fragment/outline of a partially-lost dream), gnatter (residual impression of a lost dream).

For characters: there are roles (characters fitting an archetype), symbols (characters as symbols), and sigils (recurring figures with a significance bigger than a single dream's role/symbolism).

x-* tags categorize books.

Material is categorized primarily by structure, style and setting. If searching for a particular genre, look for the defining features of that genre, e.g. x-form:nonfic:bio, x-style:horror, x-setting:dystopian.

Tags