Confessions of a chronic spoiler

I’m that friend everyone hates; the one who bursts out the ending of a long-awaited movie, or accidentally reveals a crucial plot point from a new book.

I don’t do this on purpose. It’s more like someone goes, “Have you read Half-Blood Prince yet?” and I respond, “OMG yes! I can’t believe Snape killed Dumbledore!”

It’s really not my fault – you can see from the exchange that it’s not clear that the person has not read the book yet. In fact, I would argue that it’s reasonable to assume they have read it, otherwise why would they ask? To see if it’s good? If you’ve gotten that far in Harry Potter, I would think you’re pretty committed to the series.

Clearly, therefore, I am blameless. But if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably already know this about me – pretty much every review I post has a decent chunk of spoilers, which I indicate for the unsuspecting reader’s convenience.

The thing about spoilers is: they don’t bother me. Yes, they make a joke less funny, or a death less sad (which actually is okay by me, I don’t like being sad). But when it comes to media consumption, I believe it’s all about the destination, not the journey.

Case in point: I am a huge fan of Agatha Christie, who is also called the Queen of Crime. This woman is a genius. No one can hold a candle to her, and I love me a good murder mystery.

(Side note: Has anyone here ever seen “Columbo?” Because O. M. G.)

Back on topic. Hercule Poirot is the best character in English canon, and Ariadne Oliver is ultimate self-insert parody character.

As a result of my undying passion for Christie and her writing, I have read her books repeatedly. They’ve already been spoiled: I know who was murdered, how, and by whom. But what I don’t remember is why it happened and how Poirot and/or Miss Marple figured it out.

(Yes, I have read other non-Poirot, non-Miss Marple Christie stories. They’re great too, but Poirot and Marple are gems without which the stories lack that certain je ne sais quoi.)

That’s the beauty of Christie’s writing. Watching the detective put the pieces together, watching the characters knowingly and unknowingly reveal the psychological intricacies that will inevitably lead to Poirot crying out, “Ah, but I have been such an imbecile!,” or Miss Marple launching into a parallel story based in St. Mary Mead. That moment, when you’re scrambling to catch up to their deduction, wracking your brain for that elusive clue that’s just blown the case wide open, and then sitting through the dramatic reveal. Even if you know who did it, the drama of the moment, the intersecting narratives, the details that were irrelevant and distracting, the ones that were crucial and revealing. Some of these details I remember. Some of them I begin to recall as the story moves along. Some I don’t remember at all. Some I discover with the second, third, and fourth read.

It’s an experience that’s never spoiled. Maybe it’s less dramatic, less tense, but it is no less exquisite for having been lived before.

So to all the friends I’ve spoiled over the years, sorry. Maybe lead with the fact that you haven’t read the book yet. Geez.

Quibble with the world:

Does anyone know who the Flintstones are anymore?

I am not old. I want to put that out there from the start so we’re all on the same page here. I am NOT old. Unfortunately, television seems to disagree with me.

First there was the Sailor Moon reboot three years ago, which apparently was rather unpopular. I wouldn’t know – I didn’t watch it because the new character designs freaked me out. And yes, I have seen the manga, and yes, Sailor Moon was not exactly known for its accurate portrayal of the female body in its original run. I still don’t see why their faces need to be so shiny.

Her hair was not this plasticy-looking in the manga. Also her face seems pointier. Originally from Tumblr.

Back to the point: this year, Sailor Moon is celebrating its 25th anniversary. You know who else celebrated a 25th anniversary this year? ME. Sailor Moon and I ARE THE SAME AGE.

But here’s what’s worse: last year, Dragon Ball turned 30. This show, which, along with Sailor Moon, took up a pretty decent chunk of my childhood, is actually older than I am. And it also has the weird shiny character design.

All this I can live with. Sure, it’s been a solid 15 years since I’ve seen these shows (as a kid. As an adult, I’ve rewatched some episodes. If you’re interested, Toonami is airing the Kai version of the Buu saga, which thank God, because those seasons take an eternity.). But 15 years is not that much in the scheme of things. It’s also been 15 years since I’ve worn braces, 15 years since I started wearing a headscarf, 15 years since I put on my first pair of glasses. So big whoop.

But that’s not where it stops. Oh no! I recently watched an episode of “Teen Titans Go!” (yes, I watch a lot of cartoons. Let me enjoy my life!) where they parodied “Scooby Doo,” complete with a dogified Beast Boy, glasses-wearing Raven, and a masked villain(s).

Image result for raven as velma
Photo via YouTube.

You know when “Scooby Doo” first aired?

1969.

And it’s not only Cartoon Network that has it out for me. Disney’s getting in on the fun too. Did you know that the original “Beauty and the Beast” was released in 1991??? And “Mulan,” which is also getting the live-action treatment (which people already hate), was first released in 1998.

Here’s another one. Guess when the first episode of “The Flintstones” aired. Go on. I’ll wait.

Ready? The correct answer is 1960.

Turns out the Flintstones were the original Simpsons. And so in the 1990s, I was watching a cartoon that was already 30 years old. “The Flintstones” is basically my parents’ age.

Speaking of which, you know all those Flintstones Fruity Pebbles commercials on TV? Do kids today even know who the Flintstones are, or is it a “floppy disk is the save button” thing where they only know them as the guys on the cereal box? Do they even know the theme song?!

I’m not really depressed about the situation. It’s actually kinda nice to relive one’s childhood like this. But it is pretty weird to relive your childhood when you’ve only just become an adult. It’s also pretty jarring to realize just how much time has passed. Twenty years is a lot of time at the individual level, and it can be hard to remember that 20 years in the life of a young adult is not that much. If you were five 20 years ago, then you spent more than half of those years in school, which as we all know, Does Not Count.

So in conclusion, I will continue to watch cartoons, enjoy my life, and look down on kids who eat Fruity Pebbles but don’t know that the Flintstones are a modern Stone Age family from the town of Bedrock. Those fake fans.

Quibble with the world:

I can’t stomach the Santa Clarita Diet

At the risk of being drawn and quartered, I’m going to confess to you, my faithful and loving readers, that I just don’t like the Netflix series “Santa Clarita Diet.”

I tried. I really did. I’ve watched six episodes over the course of four weeks, and I don’t think I can keep going. And I’ve figured out that it’s not the show, it’s me.

I completely understand why the show is so popular. It’s really funny – I’ve been in love with Timothy Olyphant since I saw him on Conan, and he’s actually the reason I started watching the show. Abby and Eric are great, and I’m rooting for Eric so hard! How can he be denied love when he’s so adorably awkward?

So yeah, it’s a funny show, and I laugh along with the rest of the internet world. I mean, the gifs alone:

But guys, it’s just so gross. So gross. I’ve never been good with blood. I couldn’t watch “ER” with my mom because the sight of people being cut open made me nauseous. I wait 15 minutes after the start time before I turn on “Law and Order” or “Bones” (which I’ve recently gotten into) because I don’t want to see bloody corpses. If I am so unfortunate enough as to catch a glimpse, I have to keep telling myself “it’s not real, it’s not real, it’s not real” so I don’t get nightmares.

That’s just how I’ve always been, so the fact that I kept going through the “Drew Barrymore bites off Nathan Fillion’s fingers and then eats him” scene is frankly a breakthrough moment for me.

The thing is, it’s not that he didn’t deserve it. He was a creep and a jerk. But I can’t help but feel that being eaten is not really what society would call proportionate punishment. In fact, I can’t see that being eaten is proportionate punishment for anything. Yes, the showrunners are making a real effort to make Barrymore’s victims truly awful human beings, but, and this is where it gets weird for me, they’re really just actors, so they don’t deserve to get eaten – they’re also not really being eaten, but my brain for some reason is not processing that part quite as well. Probably it’s the sheer amount of blood being shed on the show that my brain can’t get over.

Another thing that’s definitely not helping is how much Barrymore’s character enjoys eating people. Watching her cheerfully make a smoothie out of a dead guy’s ear – just typing that sentence out made my stomach turn a little – is incredibly disconcerting to say the least. I am also not convinced that she wouldn’t eat her family if she was truly starving and their were no other options. When a girl’s gotta eat, a girl’s gotta eat.

So that’s where I’m at now, but that’s not to say I won’t revisit the series later when I’m feeling a little more up to it, if only to find out about that Serbian town that no one wants to go to. After all, “Gotham” is pretty violent but I’m definitely going to watch the second season…sometime. (Also “Gotham” may be darker than “Santa Clarita Diet” but it’s significantly less bloody. Just sayin’.) I’m also very excited for the second season of “Jessica Jones,” although again it took me a while to get through the show’s first season because it was just so overwhelmingly violent.

I think that’s part of why I’m struggling with “Santa Clarita Diet.” There’s already so much gore on television (by my standards, anyway) that I normally gravitate to comedies as a relief from it all. The last thing I want to think about when I’m trying to relax and enjoy myself is the brevity of human life, and I definitely don’t want to think about cannibalistic neighbors. My neighbors seem nice and normal enough, but then again, so does Drew Barrymore. She’s a real estate agent.

Quibble with the world:

Creativity: Maybe she’s born with it

Creativity is, I think, something that everyone strives for. Not everyone is an artist or a designer or a writer (and not every writer is doing creative work), but in general, I think people like to see themselves as creative, whether that’s by thinking outside the box within their profession, or with a fun hobby. So the question is, are you born creative, or is it a skill you can develop?

According to an article in “The Guardian,” research shows that there are “creativity genes” which impact the way our brains transfer information between different lobes. Basically, the more connective pathways your brain has, the more likely you are to be able to see connections and patterns, and therefore the more likely you are to be creative. (There’s also some stuff in there about the sizes of lobes and fibers and so forth.)

Of course, there’s a nurture component as well: you can hardly see connections and patterns if you’re poor and starving, for example. Trauma also has a negative impact on one’s ability to be creative.

But going back to our original topic, can you learn to be creative? I think that everyone has creative potential, just not in the same areas. We tend to think of creativity as being the purview of artists, writers, and increasingly, entrepreneurs and those in the tech industry. But there’s creativity everywhere: NASA just discovered a bunch of new planets. I mean, true, they didn’t build them, but the idea of looking for other planets and in that specific place, not to mention all the technology and breakthroughs that have built up over decades to lead us to this discovery – if that’s not creative, what is?

I think creativity is a lot like learning styles. Musicians and voice actors probably have auditory creativity, where they learn by hearing and, more importantly, visualize in sound. I know that kinda seems like an oxymoron, but bear with me here. I’m a visual learner, I need to read something to understand it. If you tell me something, especially directions, I will forget them almost immediately. I have to write stuff down, and by write stuff, I mean write with pen and paper like it’s the ’50s.

But not only am I a visual learner, I am also tend to think in words (vs. thinking in pictures – most people use a combo, leaning towards visual thinking. I use a combo too, but a lot of my thinking happens in words). Example: when I read Harry Potter, I don’t imagine Harry/Daniel in my head running around the Forbidden Forest. Instead, I see a thought bubble with the word “Harry” in it, and that is basically the stand-in for the character in the imaginary world in my mind.

I see Hogwarts, but in a limited space. So for example, if Harry and co. are in the common room, I only see the table or couch they’re sitting on, with no connection to the wider space. Similarly, the Room of Requirement is in an empty hallway – it has no spatial connection to the rest of the school.

It occurs to me now that this limit of spatial visualization is why I’m so bad at directions.

The point is, given this information, it’s not surprising that my first love was reading and that my main creative outlet is writing. I like to draw and paint, but without specific instruction I tend to end up with random blobs (I can draw flowers though! Mostly because I draw them as blobs with a yellow bit in the middle). Even when I visualize something in my head, transferring it onto paper requires a stronger grasp on distance and proportion than I currently have.

However, we must ask ourselves which came first: visual text-based mental wiring, or the love of reading? Could the early introduction to books have set up my brain to receive and process information in word form? Or did I fall in love with books because my brain likes to receive and process information in word form?

“The Guardian” article would suggest the latter. I know that reading and reading and reading like there’s no next Tuesday has hugely improved my writing. In theory, that should be true for everyone. Creativity, I think, is more about what you’re willing to embrace and how you’re willing to embrace it (as determined, in part, by genetics), rather than a some-people-have-it-some-people-don’t ability.

 

Quibble with the world:

If you write fiction, you’re probably self-inserting

If you’ve ever had the (mis)fortune to delve into the murky waters of fanfiction, you’ve likely come across a Mary Sue character: a young and beautiful women who is as close to perfect as possible and universally adored.

(Fun Fact: According to TV Tropes, the “Mary Sue” character first became a Thing in a Star Trek parody fanfic.)

The thing about Mary Sue (and her brother, Gary Stu) is that she is almost always an author self-insert. We wish we were perfect (and in a smolderingly romantic relationship with our favorite show/book’s main character), so we create this version of ourselves: beautiful, strong, kind, honest, talented – just all around amazing.

 

Which is fine. If you’ve ever written any kind of fiction at all, you’ve probably done the Mary Sue thing. Writing is, at it’s heart, an exercise in self-reflection, an attempt to understand oneself and one’s place in the world through the power of imagination. This, I believe, is a basic human instinct. When you dressed up as your mother in your long-gone (I assume, since you’re on the internet) preschool days, putting yourself in her shoes (literally), it was a kind of self-reflection. By pretending to be your mother, you entertain the idea that you will one day become your mother, a notion you will undoubtedly recoil from a mere 10 years later. But I digress. The point is, the urge to write a self-insert character is present in every writer.

It’s worth noting that not every self-insert character is automatically a Mary Sue. You might find yourself going in the opposite direction, highlighting and exaggerating the flaws you see in yourself as a form of self-flagellation, or perhaps as an attempt to reconcile yourself to those flaws. Perhaps you tend to insert yourself as a side character, someone in the background who’s main role lies in observation – kinda like you are in real life (which is not a bad thing, btw. More people should observe).

Or maybe you’re the narrator. Technically, all writers are the narrator of everything they write. Here, I mean this more literally. Your narrator is of  the all-seeing, all-knowing variety who does not merely recount the facts of the story but influences it’s path. Lemony Snicket, for example, laments the sad story of the Baudelaire siblings even as he commits to telling the reader every last harrowing detail. A form of grappling with control, or lack thereof, in Daniel Handler’s own life? I have no idea, but if I had to guess, that would be it.

Geez, what a downer.

Tom Holt’s “Alexander at the World’s End” has this kind of narrator.  Euxenus son of Eutychides is telling the story of his life in the court of Alexander the Great, after having lived a long life. He is now dying in a small outpost at the end of world and is telling this story to some unnamed young man, who stands in place of the reader. By reflecting on his life, Euxenus considers the myriad coincidences and random events that guided his life and led him to this, his final resting place, thousands of miles from his homeland. And perhaps, in a way, Holt is also considering the twists and turns his own life has taken. Or not. I don’t know, but speculating is fun.

How does one get their own talk show? Asking for a friend.

(Also, I highly, highly recommend “Alexander at the World’s End.” It is one of my favorite books of all time.)

One of my favorite authors in the world, Terry Pratchett, does this too, I think. If you look at some of his main characters – Sam Vimes, William de Worde, Moist Von Lipwig – they’re all provocateurs. They’re different people, of course, in different times and with different priorities, roles, and concerns, but they all have the same characteristic in common: they don’t accept the status quo, and it is ultimately that characteristic which drives their stories. Did Pratchett see himself this way? His books are very political in nature, especially for the fantasy genre, and draw deliberate parallels between Discworld and our world. If the pen is mightier than the sword, I would say that Pratchett wielded his pen in much the same way Vimes wields his badge or de Worde wields his printing press.

I want to end on this note: if you want to read a hilarious parody of a Mary Sue character, read George Macdonald Fraser’s “The Pyrates.” I read it a hundred years ago but I still remember it, and let me tell you, the only book I have ever laughed so hard at is “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Captain Ben Avery is literally the most perfect human man to every exist in the universe: women fall over themselves trying to get his attention, while he remains utterly indifferent. It’s not just Avery – every character is an exaggerated stereotype, all of which serves to take the story in the weirdest and wildest directions. (It also makes the plot a little hard to follow, but let’s face it, this isn’t the kind of thing you read for the plot). If you like insanity, you’ll like this.

Quibble with the world:

Sexism ruins lives: A review of The Muse by Jessie Burton

Have you ever had this happen with a book, where you read the first, say, five chapters, and you think huh, this is pretty interesting. Then you come back to it the next day maybe, and you read a few more chapters, and suddenly the ante ups by 500 percent and you’re reading well into the night because you must find out what happens next.

That’s “The Muse” by British author Jessie Burton. The story is about Trinidadian Odelle Bastien, who works in London in the 1960s and wants to be a writer. She takes a typist job at an art gallery, where she meets Marjorie Quick, an upper level executive. Marjorie takes a liking to her for mysterious reasons (*coughs*), but the story doesn’t really take off until Odelle meets Lawrie Scott, a young man in possession of a very strange painting. Through Odelle, he brings this painting to Marjorie’s gallery, and, well, things take a major turn.

While Odelle is doing her thing, we catch up with Olive Schloss, an Austrian-British teenager living with her wealthy family in 1930s Spain. Olive’s father, Harold, is in the business of selling art to wealthy people all over Europe and North America, and he’s kind of jerk to his daughter. Harold believes firmly that only men can be true artists – women, he tells his daughter, don’t have the right temperament or whatever to pursue art professionally (and if this sounds familiar to you, well, I urge you to contemplate the state of the world today). Olive, not surprisingly, is very depressed by this attitude and loses her motivation to paint, until she meets Isaac and Teresa Robles, siblings who serve her family’s landlord. Well, mostly Isaac. He’s older and deeply involved with the unions and communist party in Spain, and he’s also tragically poor, which is always romantic.

So Olive paints and paints and paints, and it’s clear even to the unworldly Teresa that she has a special talent. But Olive knows that anything she produces will be dismissed by her sexist father, so she decides to pass off her paintings as Isaac’s, a scheme that he accepts for reasons.

But this is 1930s Spain, and conflict is brewing even in the countryside. Olive and her family have the privilege of neutrality – up until they don’t. The Spanish Civil War takes a while to reach their small town, but when it does the results are catastrophic. Isaac, and by extension Teresa, are targets of Nationalist supporters, and the Schloss family (yes, they’re Jewish), can’t help but feel trapped on a continent that seems to be unraveling before their eyes.

The nature of their escape and the fate of Lawrie’s painting, which is obviously Olive’s wrongly attributed to Isaac, is too much of a spoiler for even me to reveal here. I will say this, the beauty of Burton’s writing is that she gives you just enough to see a few feet ahead on the path, but not quite enough to show you the destination. By the time you’ve reached the inevitable conclusion, the story is effectively complete. All that remains are a few loose ends for Odelle and Marjorie to tie up. In that sense, it reminds me a lot of “The White Lie.”

Burton crafts the story incredibly well. Odelle speaks in Trinidadian English when with her countrywoman friend, but switches to a much more formal, British English when at work or speaking with other characters, a detail that many writers who don’t have that background could easily have missed. She also does not shy away from showing just how Harold’s sexism dooms Olive, and how in turn European fascism dooms them all (to varying degrees).

What she does shy away from is racism. I find it difficult to believe that Odelle faces very little racism in 1960s London. This is barely 30 years after the “Aryan race” was a thing, and yet the worst she gets is impolite waitresses and people “complimenting her” on her English. That’s how racists act now, 70 years after WWII and in a time when racism is much less socially acceptable. I’m also astonished at how willingly she jumps into an interracial relationship. At no point does Odelle ever consider the impact this could have on her, what she might face as a black woman in the company of a white man – and it would have been much worse than a few surprised looks and disapproving tuts. Again, this kind of attitude is much more reflective of race relations today than it is the 1960s. Particularly given the current climate, we need media that clearly says: Racism hurts. Racism ruins lives. Instead, racism in Burton’s world is little more than a mild inconvenience.

“The Muse” is an intense tale. It left me emotionally exhausted and wondering how different things could be if only there was a little less prejudice in the world.

Quibble with the world:

Nadia watches Netflix: A Series of Unfortunate Events

I was a huge fan of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” when I was a kid – I stumbled across “Hostile Hospital” (and “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” but that’s a post for another time) at a bookstore and bought it before realizing it was part of a series. I was immediately hooked. Talk about reverse psychology! Every warning from Lemony Snicket only made me want to read it more.

A few years later the movie came out, and I…liked it a lot, actually. Jim Carrey was INSANE as Count Olaf, and by far the best part of the movie. Of course, there is no denying that the movie had very little resemblance to the actual books, but then again, few movies do. It also didn’t help that it tried to condense four books into two hours.

What I particularly appreciated was the way the movie captured the dark humor of the series. That’s something that the recently launched Netflix series trips over a little bit, particularly in the first few episodes. So let’s break it down, bullet point style:

I liked:

Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf. I mean, need I say more?

Klaus Baudelaire. Even in the books, he’s the only one with a reasonable sense of outrage at the injustices they’re facing. Violet is great, but she really ought to be angrier.

The mystery! Readers of the original series will know that the whole VFD stuff and the eye and the big mystery behind the Baudelaire’s parents deaths (and the Beatrice thing) doesn’t even start to be revealed until, what, Ersatz Elevator? That’s book six. So yeah, it’s great that the series is already giving us these tidbits of the background in which “Unfortunate Events” is happening.

Mr. Poe. I should hate him. I really should. His utter incompetence is the source of the Baudelaire’s troubles (that and the VFD stuff). If only he would call the cops in a timely manner, the kids might have a better chance at a guardian who doesn’t die on them. But what can I say, I like the guy. He’s well-meaning, if inept.

Very true. Mostly ’cause of you dude.

Sunny Baudelaire. She knows what’s up.

Olaf’s henchmen. I’ve always kinda had a soft spot for these dudes. Even in the books, they’re mostly just along for the ride. This guy is especially enjoyable:

I didn’t like:

The narrator. I like the concept of a narrator, and it certainly makes it more true to the books. But he’s played too deadpan, and the explanations of what things mean is getting kinda boring. It was quirky and fun in the books. Here, it’s just an unnecessary interruption.

We know dude.

It’s not funny enough. Basically what I said in the beginning. In the first few episodes, the show really had trouble striking the balance between humor and horror. What’s happening to the Baudelaires is truly terrible, and it’s largely due to adult incompetence and passivity. Children should not have to live like this, and it’s infuriating that they do. Part of this is that I’m an adult now, and I feel more strongly about child welfare. When you’re a kid, it’s all part of the adventure, and it confirms a deep-held belief that adults are the worst. But even then, a large part of what makes the books more palatable is that they’re genuinely amusing. In terms of funny-to-sad balance, I would say the best part is the “Miserable Mill” episodes. “Wide Window” has its moments, but Aunt Josephine is just so annoying.

The Marvelous Marriage. I had totally forgotten about this part of the first book. I didn’t remember it until well into the first episode, and I immediately felt squicky. Again, this is one of those things that when I was kid didn’t strike me as any more evil than all the other plots Count Olaf was putting together, but now…just no.

Poor Violet.

Overall, I can’t wait for next season. I feel like the series really hit its stride in the last half of the season, and I can’t wait for the next season. Also, “Ersatz Elevator” was my favorite book of the series, and I can’t wait to meet Esme Squalor.

Quibble with the world:

Link Bank January 2017: Pop culture gives politics a kiss on the cheek and a knee to the groin

Well, this month really decided to go out with a bang, huh?

In his first few days as president, Trump has done his best to make good on the worst “promises” of his campaign, with truly terrible results. I won’t go into too much detail here, mostly because I imagine you don’t need the reminder.

What I do want to say, though, is that it’s easy at times like this to resent the intrusion of politics into our entertainment. Even the most active of us need a break, and it’s natural to look to our Tumblr feeds or our favorite blogs (*winks*) for  that much-needed breath of fresh fair. So when we’re bombarded with politics even in these spaces, it’s natural to feel frustrated, even angry.

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as “getting away from politics.” Everything is politics. The fight for diversity and female representation in media is politics. #OwnVoices is politics. #OscarsSoWhite is politics. And from where I’m standing, that’s always been the case – John F. Kennedy’s closest friends were Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe. Ronald Reagan was an actor before becoming governor and then president; same with Arnold Schwarzenegger (although with any luck we’ll avoid a repeat of that last part).

So here’s to pop culture and politics, a marriage best described as “inevitable.” After all, when you’ve been together this long, there’s not much point breaking up.

When Nerds Protest Our Signs are the Best – Black Nerd Problems

“There’s been plenty of think pieces about how superheroes are the mythology of this generation. Judging from the signs, costumes, and catch-phrases coming out of these marches, it isn’t just superheroes — science fiction and fantasy characters have their places in the new pantheon as well.”

How Princess Leia Became an Unofficial Symbol for the Women’s March – Washington Post

“Fisher’s own off-screen story of struggle and empowerment helped bolster her feminist credentials for many fans. She had openly shared her personal history with bipolar disorder and substance abuse, and assailed stigmas associated with mental illness. She championed feminist causes — and she lobbed plenty of criticisms at Donald Trump, before and after he won the presidency.”

American Idols and Idiots: Pop and the Coming Trump Culture Wars – The Ringer

“Maybe art doesn’t get genuinely political until it’s willing to forfeit the comforts of art altogether. In the near future, maybe albums will just serve as promos for sneak-attack PR campaigns.”

How Pop Culture Co-Opted Politics – The Week

“Increasingly, it’s pop stars or celebrities or pro athletes who strike us as having a voice and agency, and the resources to withstand the felt risks of exercising that voice and agency, that we obscure peons lack, even in large numbers.”

Pop Culture Captures Campaign Politics – Huffington Post

“Once upon a time, popular culture provided sustenance to the masses. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, popular culture served as a lifebelt, to lighten spirits, assuage suffering, even inspire…And now? Pop culture is a crude joke, a poke in the eye, not very entertaining or inspiring.”

Quibble with the world:

Bringing the superhero girls – and the princess girls

This morning, I watched Dr. Christopher Bell, a professor of media studies at the University of Colorado, ask an important question: why are the superhero girls in the movie theaters not present in stores?

It’s not like I didn’t know that superhero merchandising skews heavily towards males, but when you see it on display, when you hear the facts and figures, it’s honestly shocking. As Dr. Bell points out, not only are female superheros not represented, they are actually removed and replaced with male characters.

The video is a little old (it’s from a TEDx talk held in October 2015), so I decided to do a little research and see if this was still the case. After all, the gendering of toys has been a topic of much debate for a while now, and I figured maybe things have changed. So I went ahead and googled “childrens superhero toys.”

This is what I got:

These are the first results that are not ads. As you can see, the very first thing that comes up is a post from “Joys for Boys.” And look, I am all about boys having joy. Boys deserve joy. But the fact that is the first result, before stores that actually sell superhero toys, goes to show just how heavily gendered the media has made superheros. As you may well know, Google ranks results by popularity and by how well they connect with similar content, so this is pretty telling.

But just to be fair, I checked out the top two toy stores that came up to see what they were selling.

Amazon:

Of all the results on the first page (you can only see a small part here), only one of the toys featured a female character as prominently as it did the males.

Here’s Toys R Us’ Marvel section:

Hey, the very first toy is a girl! She’s being promoted by the site, sure, but hey! GwenPool is a great character too – because not only is she an awesome female hero holding her own in the Marvel Universe, but her outer appearance reflects a pink girly vibe that is often looked down upon in comic book culture (and let’s face it, the world in general). Sadly though, dear Gwen is alone – the rest of the page is dominated by male characters.

So yeah, not much of a difference in the last year and a half. Although in fairness, Disney specifically has introduced female superhero toys from its Marvel and Star Wars franchises. Hooray for progress!

For me personally, though, the problem is not with the representation of female characters in merchandising as much as it is with the notion that the qualities and interests we associate with girls are inherently beneath the qualities and interests we associate with boys. This is something that Dr. Bell addresses in the video, but there’s a link here that he doesn’t really expand on; namely, that part of the push for female superheros (in my view) is a result of that subconscious preference we as a society have for “boy things.”

We have gendered qualities like smart, strong, and just, and made it so that the women we see embodying those qualities most are women functioning in a male-dominated environment doing activities that have been long associated with males (all while remaining conventionally attractive). In many ways, that is a reflection of society at large, where many women often find themselves in male-dominated environments doing “guy stuff.” And in those situations, they have to prove that are just as smart and strong as men.

The thing though, is that yes. Yes absolutely, let women be superheros, kicking ass and taking names. Let them wear black on black on black, leather jackets, and high-thigh boots. Let them wear torn jeans and no makeup while they punch people through walls. Yes! I’m all about that stuff.

But I’m also about “girl stuff.” Let them wear dresses and cute shoes and makeup. Let them delegate the dirty work because they don’t want to break a nail. (It takes time to get your nails done properly! You wouldn’t want to ruin all that hard work either. And no, it’s not superficial to care about how you look – it’s human nature, as evidenced by the long aisles of male hair care and skincare products). And don’t roll your eyes at them or make fun of them. They’re kicking ass and taking names their own way, and they are just as smart and just as strong as men. They’re just as smart and just as strong as YOU.

This is what we should be teaching children, all children. You can like superheros and be cool, and you can like be princesses and be cool, too. You can like both! Because the qualities that make you a good person have no gender.

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Diversity of cultures and characters: Sajidah K Ali talks “Saints and Misfits”

When it comes to writing, Canadian author Sajidah K Ali’s story is one of perseverance in achieving your dream.

Sajidah K Ali, courtesy author

Sajidah was born in South India and is Muslim, and is currently living in Toronto. For a while, her Creative Writing degree sat in the background as she pursued motherhood and a career in teaching, but she returned to her first love (don’t we all?) a few years ago. Now she’s getting ready to release her debut novel, “Saints and Misfits,” a young adult story. I talked to Sajidah about the book and her experience as a writer.

When did you decide that you wanted to pursue being a professional writer?

I majored in Creative Writing in the early 90’s. Yes, that long ago. While I had every intention of become an author, I instead embarked on other journeys – that of becoming a mother, a teacher, and so on. It was only about ten years ago that I decided to put my all into something I’d wanted to do from the beginning: write stories.

Tell me about “Saints and Misfits.” What is the book about? What was the inspiration behind it?

It’s a story about a Muslim fifteen year-old who finds her voice and, essentially, meets herself, in the midst of something painful. I like to call it a Muslim girl power story. But it’s not told in a dark way; the book is peopled with characters that provide the main character, Janna Yusuf, an opportunity to see the absurdities, hopefulness, and humor of life in the different communities she moves in.

I can’t say there was one inspiration behind it; it was more like I wanted to explore several threads (some that are not frequently explored, like that of how religious messages of “patience and forbearance” may be internalized wrongly, especially by Muslim women) and in weaving them, I found this story.

What was the process of getting published like for you? Did you struggle to find a publisher, or was it a fairly smooth process?

My experience of getting published will seem short ‘n sweet but I have to tell you that it took me five years to write “Saints and Misfits.” After I had finished writing the story, I spent ONE WHOLE YEAR on just rewriting the first chapter! Once I was satisfied with the manuscript (after five years, remember), I looked for a literary agent – which is the only way to approach one of the big publishing houses – and once I found the wonderful John M. Cusick of Folio Literary Management, I worked on the manuscript a bit more with his feedback and then went on to submission. The amazing Zareen Jaffery at Simon & Schuster’s imprint, Salaam Reads, showed immediate interest and we had a deal. This process of finding an agent and selling the book took about three months.

So, long story short: it was a blessedly smooth process after years of being that quintessential writer tapping away at a keyboard, ready to throw in the towel but not doing so only to prove to my 12 year-old self that you have to try your dreams.

What do you have in the works now?

I’ve finished a picture book, working on a second and in the drafting and outlining stages of another YA novel.

What inspires your stories generally? How does your background as a Muslim Canadian influence your work?

Ah-ha moments inspire my stories. Those moments that something becomes clear to you and could only become clear to you because the juxtaposition of all circumstances in your life allow it to be so. They occur throughout our lives and I like to capture that in writing. I think that’s what my short stories & narrative essays (that I write under another name) and “Saints and Misfits” are all about: that moment of clarity.

I’d like to think my background as a Canadian allows me a sense of ease when I’m writing about diversity within diverse communities. Multiculturalism is an important aspect of our Canadian identity and that plays out in our daily lives, which then spills over into my writing: the easy friendships between my diverse characters in Saints & Misfits is an example of this. And, as a Muslim, I’m naturally inclined to explore the diversities within the Muslim community – and not just the diversity of cultures, but diversities in religious understandings.

What’s your advice to young novelists trying to get published?

First, the one everyone says: read, read, read. Artists need a medium to make art and for writers, that medium is comprised of a palette of words and sentences and voice and forms and so on. The more you read, the more you have up there to work with to make your own art, your own stories.

Secondly, find your writing rhythm. Not that it will stay the same throughout your career, but read about how different writers do their job and try different things out. For years, because I was a very successful pantster in university (someone who writes by the seat of their pants, relying on inspiration, fueled by the fear of deadlines approaching), I thought I had failed because that style didn’t work for me later on in life. But then, every time I’d try methodical outlining and plotting, that didn’t work either (fall-asleep boring!). I found out my way was to balance the two: pants & plot, pants & plot, pants & plot…repeat until the book is done.

And lastly, don’t write to trends. Write the stories you want to tell, using the palette you’ve assembled (that will be unique to you because no one else in the entire world is the sum of all things you’ve read & experienced) and your audience will find you.

Actually, another lastly: don’t give up. That’s the common thing that all published writers have – they didn’t stop trying.

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