Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Freshers' Flu

Well, as a post grad student I haven't done Freshers' Week (for one thing it's full of freshers) but I have managed to get a (un)healthy dose of freshers flu. This is because freshers basically run on cheap booze, pot noodle and adrenyline. It's kind of impossible to get sick. They just don't have time.

It's like Tainted Love, but instead of lust it's swine flu.
For the rest of us however it's kind of risky to leave home without a protective sneeze guard, let alone go into a packed dark room with them. So consequently I'm going to spend this week unpacking, blowing my nose and not updating my blog.

Sorry guys!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Remembering the Nostalgia Critic

[Major spoilers from the start regarding To Boldly Flee and the Nostalgia Critic.]

I was going to write today's post about the night I spent packing to go back to Newcastle and watching To Boldly Flee that was going on over on That Guy With The Glasses all the way through before the finale was posted on line. Except that didn't happen.

Instead I spent the night huddling in bed, glued to my laptop screen while a storm raged outside. The quality of the writing, acting, effects, even the score made me very, very happy. The ending broke my heart. I couldn't write about putting things into bags and boxes when I'd been exposed to something this clever and funny and beautiful and joyous and sad. So this post will be dedicated to those who boldly fled, the living and the dead of them.

For those who don't know, this is the Nostalgia Critic. Comedic persona of Internet reviewer Doug Walker, the Nostalgia Critic has been the flagship of review site That Guy With The Glasses since it started five years ago. He's kind of a big deal. And now he's dead, killed off by his own creator.

Obviously his fans are UPSET. Every other post on Tumblr seemed to end 'I am openly weeping' 'Literally in tears' 'Doug Walker made me cry'. At some point someone quoted a line from Slaughterhouse Five and I was so stunned and overwhelmed I read the whole thing. The majority of fans, while sad, are being supportive of Doug Walker and his decision. The minority... not so much. I've seen people threatening to rage quit, calling the way it was handled an insult to the fans and generally being the douchebags people are on the Internet when the person you're bad mouthing can't physically come over and punch you. Those people aren't just stupid because Doug Walker is a real human being who's entitled to his own life and maybe doesn't want to spend it yelling into a web cam. They're stupid because To Boldly Flee was really, REALLY good.

It absolutely a product of it's time (there's a lot of anxiety about SOPA which shouldn't be outdated as, away from the public eye, the fight for a free Internet is still going on), both the time it was written and the career changing decision it was building up to. Somehow though that makes it better: more ephemeral and evocative, like a fly caught in amber. Like the old political cartoons we used to write whole essays on in History ("Mommy, Wilfred wrote a dirty word!" one read. The word was Roosevelt.) The film was a product of the anxiety on the site (many of the contributers use it as their sole source of income) and the Internet in general and that shouldn't be forgotten.

Rob Walker (Doug's brother and writing partner) made this statement on his facebook:
Those that keep complaining about us referencing SOPA need a reality check. It's not dead. Like a ninja, it just slinked away into the shadows and is waiting for the right time to strike. If you think I'm harping on old news in my script for To Boldly Flee, just know that Doug and I both agreed to keep it in there for a reason, despite SOPA's last minute shelving. We don't WANT people to forget. We want them to remember. Let it be a time capsule and a reminder of what the suits nearly got away with... and STILL are.
He included this link to demonstrate what's still happening.
For those who haven't seen To Boldly Flee (and don't mind being spoilered) the basic plot is that the Nostalgia Critic, who is suffering from survivor's guilt after the death of his friend Ma-Ti*) is put under house arrest pending trial for copyright violations. When he begins to receive messages from Ma-Ti about a mysterious 'Hole' he summons the other critics, turns his house into a spaceship and sets off to Europa, the icy moon of Jupiter to try and atone for taking Ma-Ti for granted. Since in the last two anniversary specials he's been either a power crazed dictator or a money grubbing exploitative boss, the others are naturally sceptical but go along to stop the law and save their careers. There's also a love triangle, psychotic robot doubles, comedy scientists and a plant that really ties the room together. And then General Zod gets involved and just watch it, watch it now.

The Nostalgia Critic has gone from being a 2D caricature to an actually legitimately good person. And this character building is what makes the ending so inevitable and so shocking. After driving a (flying) car straight into the plothole the Nostalgia Critic comes face to face with Doug Walker who explains that he is not a real person but a fictional character. Not only that he was always supposed to be an unlikeable character, intended to be laughed at rather than with. It could so easily be crushing and existential. But the Walker Brothers made it beautiful.

NC: So I'm just a character?

Doug: Well you were at first, but now you're something else.

NC: What?

Doug: Evolved.

NC: What do you mean?

Doug: Think about it. Would the dictator from Kickassia actually give a shit about his friends? Would the money-grubbing egomaniac from Suburban Knights actually give a crap about a dead Indian boy? I didn't expect that when I started writing you long ago, but ever since then, you've changed. You've literally leapt off the page and taken on a life of your own. It became less of me writing you what to do and you telling me what to write. (NC is still confused) And seeing where we are, I guess that leaves us with one last choice.

NC: What's out that door?

Doug: Reality. [Quotes from the Channel Awesome wiki.]
It's especially beautiful to me as a writer because that is how it works. When you write about a character for a long time -at least if you do it right- you fall in love with them. I'm not talking about making them more attractive/powerful/etc but about the way their flaws become good things. Nissa my main protagonist is a prickly ball of barely contained self loathing and rage which is exactly what I love about her. Her younger sister becomes so evil she'll casually kill a man's children to get his attention but I love her unreservedly because I understand the things that have lead her to that point. This is what a character is. This is what being a writer is.

The Critic is given a choice: he can go outside into reality and write his own story but if he leaves the story will collapse without him. All his supporting characters will cease to exist. All his friends. At this point the instrumental version of my old school leavers song, I Vow To Thee My Country, started to play. It was the song I sang to say goodbye to friends who were moving on and the song I sang when I was leaping into the great unknown of secondary education. Eleven years later and I still knew the words. All of them. I'm not a Christian but the song means a lot to me. When I hear it the world goes still. It's sweeping and inspiring and fundamentally it's about caring enough about something -a thing or a person, or a group of people, or a whole world, enough to sacrifice yourself for it. It's about love.

While the other reviewers are pulled into the Plot Hole, reminiscing about their first reviews and complimenting each other, the Critic chooses to save the day. He merges with the plothole, expanding it into a new, contradictory universe where his friends can live, it is implied, with some measure of freewill. It ends, as all things should, with a party, though a bittersweet one. Life went on and people remembered. They were nostalgic for the Nostalgia Critic.

The ending of To Boldly Flee gives me hope on so many levels. As a broke student it gives me hope that it's possible to make a name for yourself with a camera and talent. As a writer it gives me hope that even a caricature who was never intended to be likable can evole over time to the point where (large sections of) the Internet stops to mourn his passing. As a human being it gives me hope because all of us, even those of us made of pen and ink, celluloid and imagination, are redeemable. You may never fly a car through space but within you is the potential to be a hero. It's in everyone, the people you don't like and the people you do. And within every writer is the potential to move and audience to tears, to change the way they think or even just to make some girl with a blog temporarily a little bit nicer to everyone around her.

I was on Tumblr not long after the episode went up and already people were pouring their hearts out. the way the Nostalgia Critic has legitimately changed lives touched me as much as the film itself. There was an English graduate who wrote for the first time since finishing her** degree, a theatre student who found her love of film reawakened, a score of people who'd moved to a new city, or felt unpopular and alone who cited the Nostalgia Critic as the thing that made them laugh again.

There was an extra note of sadness this year as Spoony, one of the most popular contributers on the site left after a disagreement with Obscurus Lupa, another contributer, about whether it was appropriate to joke on Twitter about raping your coworkers (Jesu Otaku). Since he a) has been diagnosed bi-polar, and b) made a freaking rape joke on Twitter, people jumped in to defend or vilify him. I was online as he was suspended and watched the increasingly bitter comments with equal parts horror, concern and that nasty little impulse that makes people look at car crashes. Long story short he left the site permanently and now various sections of the fandom are out for various people's blood. That's the cliff notes version.

The problem was that this guy was playing three separate roles (two of them major roles) without which the film would not make sense. So fans watched an ending where Spoony was resurrected by Santa Christ*** and brought into the brave new world miraculously alive. It was Spoony we saw being hugged by his surviving colleagues, many of whom won't even speak to him anymore. Some people felt that his resurrection should have been cut but I disagree. I disagree because as Spoony the character was resurrected, Spoony the creator began to redeem himself: admitting that watching the film was bittersweet, acknowledging he was at least partly to blame, making a commentary where he explained himself. You can find it here.

It bears mentioning as well that the day after the final part of To Boldly Flee aired, Doug Walker appeared as  himself, announcing that yes the Critic was gone (although he hasn't ruled out cameo apperances) and no, the site was not closing. He was moving onto new projects. The site had bought a studio. Like the Critic he was taking a leap into the unknown. As the person who was so physically afraid of screwing up this year I literally threw up as a kind of rudimentary defence mechanism while packing the car to leave, this resonated with me. It made me want to be better and braver, to take more risks and keep my friends safer. And as a writer, making someone feel that way, that's the dream.

I'm going to end with words truer and more beautiful than mine. I can't credit a source except the place where I found it because it was submitted anonymously. I've included it in full firstly because I think everyone should read it and secondly because you have to follow a few links to find it. But I'm glad I did.

I loved the character of the Nostalgia Critic, I didn't think the show was getting old, and I'm not impressed by the ‘going out before it got stale’ thing. All that said, I loved Doug decision to end the character and the way it was done. Personally, the timing was impeccable. The past month or so, I've been finding myself romanticizing letting go of things, or destroying things one would seem to hold onto 99% of the time. Ending things can be beautifully cathartic, almost to the point where that cathartic experience is enough reason to end things (almost, though). My habit of every Tues night/Wed morn will change. Thoughts like that have become profound and interesting to me. Furthermore, Doug and Rob found a way to end the character in a cathartic way at the end of To Boldly Flee. The way the story was set up, and the selections for the score, I mean, it was beautiful. It truly was.

I saw my ‘Boss’ a couple of weeks ago, and he's someone who has been around a long time, and is starting to see some of his friends and other things fade from existence. He didn't seem sad, though. He seemed, defiant and delighted with the way things have turned out for him personally. He said: 'As you walk on through life, your life is filled with ghosts. Not just people, but old buildings, and old cars you had. They all find some place, and something deeper than memory. They get in your bones and in your blood. And they become a part of who you are. And I think that's a good thing. Cause when we were young, you know, they told us that ghosts were, "ooh, ooh," to be frightened of. But as you grow older, ghosts are the things that walk alongside you and remind you of the preciousness of life. And the value of good things in your life. You know, the presence of love. And how that love and spirit carries on after those things are gone.' My feelings on endings were vague at that point, but they were certainly cemented after that.

After TBF was finished, I couldn't remember when I first ran into the Nostalgia Critic. Luckily, I remembered the blog post, Googled it, and saw it was November 22, 2008. I thought back to what was happening to me at that time. I was finishing college, the best 4 years of my life. Also, the most important building of my cultural existence and childhood, as well as the place of my youngest memory, had an appointment with the wrecking ball. It was a time where I was scared because I was thinking that maybe I ain't so young anymore. Perhaps that's what helped me become a fan of NC (aside from Doug being a talented comedian). Here was Nostalgia being justified. And I think that is something of a common thing for anyone who could identify as a part of the current youth of the world like I do.

In the four years I’ve waited every week for a new NC, though, I’ve acquired more ghosts. The house where I was a baby in was knocked down. I’ve said goodbye to jobs I loved, my hometown, and a place 2,500 miles away that opened itself to me so I could get my MA. I’m only at the quarter-century mark; but when my dad was there, he was changing my diapers; and when my mom was there, I knew how to read. Realizing all this, all of a sudden, I feel old. But unlike four years ago, I know that’s not a bad thing. I’m not afraid of the wrecking ball anymore. In fact, I’ll revel in it should it come. Ghosts are to be celebrated, and I feel lucky now that I have many ghosts ahead.

As an crack amateur scholar of comedy, I feel confident in saying Doug has serious chops. And he’s going to do projects that will absolutely kill. So the end of the Nostalgia Critic isn’t something sad. Because it ended, we know that it happened, and potential for new things are opening up. That’s exciting to the highest degree. And it’s very cathartic, and I love those feelings. It asserts that we are alive, and we have tremendous stories to tell. Bring on those wrecking balls and those ghosts.

And, I’d like to wish anyone reading this (and even those who aren’t) a long life filled with many ghosts.
I wish you all a long life filled with ghosts. May all your films involve love triangles, psychotic robot doubles and mad scientists, except the ones that don't. And may you be changed for the better by the things you watch, no matter how unexpected.
In memory of those who boldly fled.

*Yes, the one from Captain Planet. Kind of. It makes sense in context.

**I assume. Most fanwriters are female so it's the default pronoun in fandom.

***It makes sense in context. See note on Ma-Ti.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

A Song Of Ice And Fire: Who's Going To Die Next?

Please note that 'everyone' is not an answer. Even if it is probably true.

Following a reply on this post, I've been thinking a lot about which favourite characters we're going to have to say goodbye too in books six and seven. And when I say 'say goodbye to' I mean 'watch helplessly as they're graphically killed off.' I want to make absolutely clear that said reply was well thought out and intelligent and that I am in no way trashing that person's opinion (I'd credit them but the comment was anonymous). I just disagree about the likelihood of that many named characters surviving.

There wil be MASSIVE SPOILERS from this point on. Seriously, if you haven't read the full series then don't read anymore. This will ruin so many surprises. Apologies to people who follow the TV series: I'd like to predict something for you but seeing as I already know what happens in the next three books I can't see that working out.

The Living:

Theon Greyjoy: Theon is an interesting character and I'm not just saying that because of the crush I have on Alfie Allen who plays him on the show (fun fact: he's that Alfie Allen). After what went down at Winterfell it seemed like there was nothing GRRM could do to make him sympathetic again.

Enter Ramsay Bolton.

Theon has had such a long, painful character arc, it's difficult to believe there isn't going to be some kind of pay off. Like maybe, just maybe, a bittersweet ending.

[In fact, if it wasn't for the fact it's going to be OMG so obviously Daenerys, I'd believe that there was a chance that the Greyjoys might stop squabbling and just take the Iron Throne together. This isn't so much a prediction as a hope but I really want to see Theon and Asha bond as siblings and learn to appreciate each other's strengths. Because as a team they could be unstoppable.]

Tyrion: I'll be brutally honest: after his rape threat against Cersei (I don't own that volume so I can't look up the page number but it's when he's trying to find Daenerys) I have major issues with considering Tyrion 'one of the good guys'. Because someone who uses sexual violence as a weapon is a hateful person, no matter how many funny lines they get or how much parts of the fandom hate the intended victim. I can see him plausibly becoming a complete monster and/or being exposed to some kind of horrific catalyst while in slavery that makes him realise that revenge isn't worth becoming said monster.

That being said, I don't think GRRM will kill him. There isn't really an ending that seems right for Tyrion that doesn't involve being crushed by an elephant at the moment of climax while lying between twin prostitutes fresh from the pleasure houses of Lys. And that's before you even get to the jackass and the honeycomb.

From the first book I was convinced that Tyrion would not only outlive the rest of the cast and five books on his chances are only improving. Mainly because everyone else is dying.

The Dead:

Theon Greyjoy: I haven't ruled out the possibility of a bittersweet death.

Jon Connigton: Although since he has terminal greyscale I see this surprising no one.

Walder Frey: He's really old and he's pissed off a lot of people. Something's got to kill him.

Ramsay Bolton: I have a theory he's going to set his dogs on Theon, forcing them to choose between their friend who used to roll around on the floor with them or Ramsay Bolton. And who could blame them for biting the hand that fed and (probably) whipped them? I've never yet met a person who doesn't want to kill Ramsay Bolton by fire. In fact I'm kind of worried just because I typed out his name three times...

Lady Stoneheart: The psychotic break and recent spate of hangings not withstanding, Catelyn Stark was a good person and I believe a few things could bring her back and persuade her to finally let go of life. These are, in no particular order:
-being reunited with one or more of her children
-killing Petyr Baelish (for murdering her sister and grooming her daughter)
-receiving Ned's remains.

This theory depends a lot on the dramatic principle of catharsis. Simply said, in a tragedy focussing on one character a fatal flaw will lead to a catalyst and from there lead to a series of increasingly bad events that escalate until things reach breaking point. From there there are two possible outcomes. Either the character will recognise his/her flaw and attempt to put things right but die anyway or (and this is the real tragedy) s/he won't learn anything and will either die not having learn or live and continue to go on making the same mistakes. In the first option the audience leaves feeling cleansed because the dangerous elements have been wiped away and the survivors (both of them) are free to go about establishing a better world. That's catharsis. I don't know the technical term for the second option (unless you count 'downer ending') but if you do then please let me know.

When there's an ensemble cast like in ASOIAF there aren't so much character flaws as flawed characters (there's a distinction in there somewhere). Robert's selfishness, the Lannister's ambitions, Cersei's complete and utter inability to accept she doesn't know everything, Ned's honour, Joffry's sociopathy, Theon's daddy issues, everyone's treachery... Catharsis here won't be measured in the death of one character but the death of dynastys. And for Catelyn Tully Stark to rest in peace, Lady Stoneheart has to die.

Under that logic I should also probably predict the deaths of: Petyr Baelish, Cersei Lannister, the uncles Greyjoy, the Freys, the Boltons, maybe even cuddly, lovely Ser Jorah everyone-forgets-he-traded-slaves-that-one-time Mormont. And hell, even Daenerys has killed a metric fuck ton of people.

Of course I don't believe for a minute that GRRM of all people is compelled to give us a happy ending.

The Undead:

Bran Stark: Meera's too old for him, Jojen's pining for home and he still hasn't managed to find a way to walk again. I see him retreating more and more into his warg powers (every fibre of my wants to call it Borrowing but then I was a Terry Pratchett fangirl before I'd ever heard of George R.R. Martin). Plus his whole family are either dead, presumed dead or zombies. Even the servants who raised im have been slaughtered and I suspect, if it comes to it, Meera will choose Jojen over him because he's family. The brutal fact is that Bran doesn't have much going on for him in Westeros. I wish it wasn't true. Warging allows him not only to walk but to fly. I don't think he'll want to give that up.

Jon Snow: Melisandre isn't going to let him die... Is she?

Benjen Stark: Consensus seems to think he's Coldhands and I see no reason to disagree.

A suggestion it is physically hurting me type: Please, please not Brienne. Jaime said she "looked older" (I hear hanging can add ten years) and while I believe absolutely in her honour, there's no denying that she was behaving suspiciously. Perhaps she did hang and was resurrected. Perhaps she can't stand to see Podrick die.

Normally I'd believe that no writer could possibly be so cruel as to have a character as good as Brienne killed by the zombie abomination of their former liege lady for a crime which she not only didn't commit but which she would never commit and being given a choice between killing the man she loves and letting two innocents (and herself) die. After she went through hell, high water and sexual harrassment trying to find her killer's damn kids. I also believed that Ned Stark was probably going to make it, King Robert wouldn't let his wife butcher a twelve year old girl's pet in front of her and that J.K Rowling wouldn't kill just one of the Weasley twins. And look where that got me.

What are your predictions for the next two books? Who will live and die? Have I missed out your favourite character? Let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Why Write Strong Female Characters

As a writer and a feminist (and a writer who is a feminist) I am getting really, really sick of terms like Strong Female Character or Strong Independent Woman being used to bring characters down.

What. The. Actual. Fuck?

I want to say that I get the joke but honestly I don't. I am officially on the Internet, admitting that I don't now something. This is a 100% genuine plea for someone to explain to me how something that would be a compliment (to me one of the highest possible compliments) in the real world is a deathly insult to a fictional character. I am not being sarcastic. I am not being facetious. I genuinely don't get it.

I understand that in this video on female super heroes the Nostalgia Chick is using it to talk about characters written by men, to appeal to men. One of her main issues is that super heroine Barb Wire dresses "like a  real prostitute in the context set up in this world" and looses her temper when a man calls her babe. I think at one point she drops a flaming car on someone for that. 'Empowerment: as conceived by a thirteen year old boy' reads the Nostalgia Chick's gleeful caption. And she has a point. There's a difference between slut shaming and pointing out that someone is wearing an impractical costume for no other reason to get the male viewership up (because what man would want to watch something with a female protagonist unless she was half naked right?). To her credit the Chick acknowledges in the credits how close this line of argument strays to victim blaming and is uncomfortable with it. But she has a point. I've been going clubbing and on bar crawls long enough to know that if I go out dressed a certain way I will probably get hit on and frankly if I'm not in the mood it's a lot easier to dress down than to debate feminism with someone who is a) drunk, b) an idiot (knowing my luck) and c) in a noisy room while d) looking down my shirt. And no I shouldn't have to. You shouldn't either. Your wives, mothers, sisters, daughters and girlfriends shouldn't have to. I really hope that one day we'll move beyond that. It just hasn't happened quite yet.

Kate Beaton, creator of this has come out and said she's not criticising feminists in her comics. She's talking about Strong Female Characters. Who are completely different from female characters who happen to be strong. And nnnrrrrggghhh ERROR ERROR MR JELLY REBOOT UNIVERSE AND TRY AGAIN.

What I don't like about the term is that it's misleading. Where do we draw the line between a Strong Female Character and a female character who is strong? Is Princess Leia part of the problem? Or Buffy Summers or Hermione Granger? I have (lovely) friends who have genuinely told me that they don't like Zoe Washburne of Firefly because she's too strong and too independent and "the whole warrior princess has been done". Equal rights do not have an expiry date. A genuine quote (now forever seared on my memory) is "sometimes there's nothing wrong with wanting a hero to rescue you". And there isn't. In the 1950s!*

Where do we draw the line between a well written character who doesn't appeal to someone's personal tastes and a badly written one who is unsympathetic/unbelievable/both? Where do we distinguish between a so called "Strong Female Character" and a female character who is strong? Is Katniss Everdene okay? Is River Song? What about Princess Merida? Mulan? And if they aren't then what about their male counterparts: is there any attribute of River Song (except her origin) that can't also be said about Han Solo (or, in universe) Captain Jack Harkness? And does anyone really believe that those comparisons would even be made? John McClane is just too awesome: I mean sometimes there's nothing wrong with relying on other people, god! And don't even get me started on Batman: a martial arts master, genius, scientist, billionaire playboy and the world's greatest detective? Like anyone's going to buy something as patently unrealistic as that.

Female characters are held up to a far greater standard of scrutiny than male ones are. Catwoman will always** be a female character whereas Batman is just a character. She has to be a Good Role Model for young girls while still appealing to a male readership. He can just get on with kicking ass and wearing capes. No wonder that many so called Strong Female Characters aren't well received: they're trying so hard to appeal to everyone they end up being loved by no one.

Not feminine my ass.
There has been a lot of talk on the internet recently about the term Mary Sue and whether it's even relevant anymore. There are a lot of better articulated posts than mine (not to mention I could write a series of posts on this topic before I scratched the surface) so I'm going to link rather than write. There's a post here which defends Mary Sues, saying that the criticism against them is "a tendency to mock women for having wishes to fulfill, or for thinking there stories are worth telling." As someone who learnt how to (and how not to) write from Mary Sue parodies I disagree with this article but I thought the quote was interesting. As I said, I'll do a full post on  the issue of whether the term even means anything anymore another time.

But the basic argument is that Mary Sue has gone from meaning 'a character who does not serve the story but uses it for their own gratification' to mean 'a female character I dislike'. Mary Sue has a male equivalent Marty-Stu (or Marty-Sam, Gray-Stu etc) but the naming pattern suggests the truth: that the females are the most common and deadly of the species. Accusations of Suedom (the technical term) are far more common and more heated when aimed at female characters than male ones. I've heard Katniss Everdene called a Mary Sue because 'two boys are fighting over her', but no one seems to care that James Bond, Robert Langdon or Indiana Jones have at least one new love interest every film and/or book and never seem to call them after the story is over (kudos to Jones though: the reintroduction of Marion Ravenwood was one of the few things I thought Kingdom of the Crystal Skull got right). It's forgivable when a dashing man gets the girl(s) every time because it's harmless good fun but Katniss can't even have a single conflicted love triangle without being seen to rise above her station. Zoe Washburne has been criticised for having nothing inherently feminine about her*** (apparently her roles as wife and aspiring mother don't count) and could 'just as easily be played by a man'. By a person who idolises Jayne Cobb, by the way. Because a man being too masculine, that'd be just silly.**** Is it so hard to believe that in that world anyone who can hold a gun (and isn't trained in some specialised skill like healing the sick, keeping the ship running prostitution) learns how to use one?  Really?

This attitude has lead to the sinkhole of circular logic that I believe has contributed the growth of so called Strong Female Characters. As we know, characters have to be flawed. And because female characters attract this extra scrutiny female characters need more flaws to balance out anything that is better than average about them. So your respected doctor? She's either unmarried and childless because she spends all her time on her career (never because she wants to be), or an alcoholic, or has crippling self esteem problems. Your demon hunter? She can't get a date and/or has severe anger issues. So female protagonists are so weighed down by unnecessary flaws (as opposed the normal, compelling kind male characters get) that they can barely function. And so writing a decent female character becomes almost impossible and writers try and make them more likable by making them more flawed and before you know it it's goodbye Buffy and hello Bella Swan.*****

Not being one to depress everybody without at least suggesting a solution, it's time for the 'so what do we do about it' portion of this post. So what can we do? Firstly come up with a different term: faux-Amazons, Straw Feminists, whatever you like. Secondly read (or write, if that is your wont) realistic, strong, empowered women and make legitimately strong female characters the norm. Thirdly read Judith Butler ("gender is performative") or Simone de Beauvoir ("one is not born, but becomes a woman") or just about any gender theorist and realise that hardly any of this stuff we surround ourselves with is intrinsic to what parts we're born with and is instead just the product of millions of years of made up bullshit and really we're not that different from each other. And that is both possibly the most grumpy plea for tolerance on the internet in... oh at least the last four seconds and also the kind of thing I really wish we'd figured out by now.

I'm going to answer the question I raised in the title with the words of a writer who shaped a lot of my worldview as a child. Because of him I know that there are far more than one ways to be strong and not all of them involve karate, vampires and balls of magic. But if you want to spend your nights in the graveyard with a bag of stakes and holy water then that's god too. Doesn't make you any less of a woman.

'Really' counter: 7

Existential crises while writing this article: 2

Necessary disclaimer: I'm a huge fan of the Nostalgia Chick and I think Kate Beaton is pretty funny. I have massive respect for both of them, I just wish they'd use different language in this one specific case.

 *Okay, that's unfair: everyone is entitled to like whatever character archetypes appeal to them. I'm certainly not apologising for mine. But I physically cannot understand a form of wish-fulfillment where you actively want to be weak. The only equivalent I can think of to explain this to them is what if I decided I wanted to be ugly? They wouldn't understand me. I don't understand them. And that's fine because we're all different and etc etc but really? Your highest form of wish-fulfillment has someone else as the star. Really

**Always here meaning: until we as a society lower our tolerance for sexist bullshit. Hopefully that isn't the same thing as 'always' meaning: forever.

***Bear in mind that the three other women are: a high class prostitute; a mentally troubled waif/super soldier; and a cutesy mechanic with the romantic sensibilities of a fourteen year old. All interesting characters but would you really want to be them?

****Or too feminine. Whatever.

*****I like to read Twilight as a tragedy about the assimilation of a self absorbed teenage girl into a vampiric cult. Bella Swan is actually an incredibly flawed character. It's just a shame that very few of her flaws are intentional.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Just a quick note...

Well hello there internet!

Heeeeere's Kate!
I've been having a busy few weeks for various reasons, some of which are hilariously funny and some which are markedly not. The main ones include my parents going on holiday, two elderly relatives suddenly being hospitalised, having to find somewhere to live next year, getting stranded in Newcastle overnight and my body going on strike with some weird 24 hour thing to the point where I had to stop eating to go and have a lie down. Twice in the same meal. 

Anyway things are (hopefully) a little bit more settled now so starting from tomorrow I'm going back to structure and weekly. See you there.