Sunday, January 22, 2012

Genderbender

A few interesting comments on the SHERLOCK post.

cgeye:
And, a "highly functional sociopath" being thrown off his game by a lesser, slutty sociopath seems beneath him. If he's just discombobulated because of the punanny, well... doesn't that out him as sexually immature, instead of possessing an intellect so beyond normal sexuality that it takes a woman of rare intellect to swerve his game? For a man who can attempt every other manner of mystery, he couldn't hole up for a week with every type of porn, to understand others' sexual motivations?
 Excellent point. I fear it tells us more about Steven Moffat than we really want to know. It's juvenile in its way and it's funny that I gave that scene the benefit of the doubt and then had to sigh and take it back upon reading interviews. "Yeah, Sherlock's totally flummoxed because THAT WOMAN IS PURE SEX!" Oh, brother.

Night Flyer:
I believe the intention here was only that Adler initially befuddles Sherlock not because she's naked, but as the accompanying visual gag shows, she has no clues on her person for him to "read" like he does with everyone else. She outsmarts the show's established gimmick.

To the creators, "dominatrix" is likely just an edgy-sounding word more than a character-defining, nuanced definition. Sherlock is always pining for a challenge/mystery worthy of his attention, and this time he's found one that's personified in Adler. The attraction has nothing to do with sex. Sherlock and Adler were both uniquely immune to each other's primary weapons, which made them each try even harder to use them. Thus evolved a kind of mutual respect.

I didn't see any real sexual tension in what followed, just faux-sparring to misdirect viewers. What Will calls the "ignorance of sex" was most likely intended as cutesy humor directed at the same segment of fandom that giggles hysterically when a character mistakes Sherlock and Watson for a gay couple fifty times an episode. 
Heh. Interesting take, although given the recent interviews I've read you've searched for something that isn't there. It was all about her nudity, and not about her taking away the visual clues. But I love that idea. I don't mind good sexual tension, not at all. But you say yourself that "dominatrix" isn't exactly a nuanced character description. You can't just go, "Okay, we're updating her to be a dominatrix" and then stop right there. Moffat's women have a bit of an issue with this. They are their descriptions, or their roles, and there's generally no more character work done.

So once again, we have Woman As Object and not a character. And when we're talking about Sherlock Holmes, I do expect that if he's going to be taken down, it will be by someone fascinating. And it so sadly was not.

Will Shetterly says:
"There are a lot of men who think that women use their gender and their sexuality as a weapon, which is essentially what Adler does and it supposedly blinds Sherlock to who she is.* ... *That's not how I read it at first because I gave Moffat the benefit of the doubt but based on interviews, that's exactly how it happened, which is rather a great disappointment."

Hmm. I think you'd have to consider the other women in the show before drawing that conclusion. Moffatt's update is based on a story about a woman who uses sexuality as a weapon, so I think it's legit to make that choice again for Adler.

That said, since Watson can't keep his girlfriends straight in this ep, I grant that Moffatt's feminist creds deserve closer scrutiny. 
Closer scrutiny? Exactly how much scrutiny will you allow me? Does he have to create ten poorly drawn women? Twenty? Fifty? I appreciate being given permission to go there, but based on Amy Pond existing as a walking uterus for two years, and the deconstruction of River Song from a strong woman into a simpering Doctor lover, I think we already had enough evidence before Irene Adler showed up.

And sure it's legit. It's also the easy way out for someone who doesn't want to think about a female who isn't simply an object. That's the problem, you see, when women keep seeing this over and over and men justify it by saying what you just said. The only female character Moffat has created that really worked for me was Jekyll's wife. That woman was awesome. But he seems to have backslid a bit. That's not to say that I didn't like the Adler episode. I liked it a lot. But just because a female character isn't overtly a disaster doesn't mean there aren't issues that could be addressed. Adler as a dominatrix was frankly boring and expected. I'm sure all the guys liked seeing her naked. Good for you. But as a modern-day foil for Sherlock, she didn't work as well as she could have if Moffat had taken her out of that box.

Certainly going from Victorian courtesan to dominatrix makes sense to a guy. Of course it does. Sex to sex. Sure. But. Why does it have to such a straight-across substitution? What was different about Adler as courtesan was that she was seemingly a Victorian woman, but she was obviously aware of the limitations imposed on women by society and was flaunting those limitations by not being that woman. This modern-day Adler, on the other hand, is just a dominatrix, and frankly we saw a Goddam dominatrix in the pilot for DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, so YAWN. Dominatrix as a stereotype is quite different as dominatrix from a character standpoint, and the latter is NOT what we got. It's pretty sad when the MOVIE version of Adler -- which is period -- is much more interesting than the modern-day version.

Why is she a dominatrix? What led her here? Who was she before? What was her life like? What IS her life like? WHO THE HELL IS THIS CHARACTER? She's nothing. She's a shell. An amusing shell, a sexy shell, but just a shell. And as someone else pointed out, she's working for Moriarty, so she's not even doing any of this ON HER OWN. She's working for a man, she's brought down to her female emotions by a man, and she's saved by a man.

How am I supposed to feel about this, do you think?

I wonder how men saw Lisbeth Salander. Not objectified enough for you to be interesting? Not female enough? Too weird? Too obviously a well-rounded character, thereby a threat? God forbid she should be a PERSON. An OBJECT is much easier to keep at arm's length.
A point I've been thinking about: part of what redeems this Adler as an antagonist for me is that she totally loves Sherlock...and she's still totally willing to throw him to the wolves in order to win. She didn't fail because of her love for Sherlock. She failed because he was tricky enough to note the physiological cues that she loved him, which gave him the hint that she might've been too cocky when choosing her password. 
And funnily enough, part of what destroys her as an antagonist is that she totally loves Sherlock. I can't tell you how Goddam tired I am of strong women being weakened by their love for a man. Maybe this is such a strong male fantasy that it blinds you to the obvious. Love does not have to diminish a character. And when it is used that way, it's virtually always used to diminish a woman. It's women who have to give up their strengths for the man. It's women who have to give up their lives or their careers for a man. That may not seem like a big deal for you but if you constantly saw this negative stereotype of your gender throughout your entire life, you'd get a little sick of it, too.

will says:
I think the key here is to understand the underlying point of a Dominatrix. It is not SEX that is the key in a Dominatrix deal - it is POWER.

My point is that rich men (and women) don't hire a Dominatrix to provide sex. It's to upend their power structure. For most who indulge, I would imagine it IS a sexual, fetish experience. But the fact remains that the "customer" gets off NOT from physical stimulation, but from MENTAL (ie, they find the power shift titillating, despite it being objectively non-sexual. Think people into girls holding balloons - not inherently sexual, but still generates a huge amount of "porn" for those who enjoy it).
The evidence doesn't bear this out. If it was NOT sexual, then it would not be presented as sexual. But that's how it IS presented.
THAT is the key to Adler in the BBC version. I'll admit that this is somewhat muddied by her unarguably sexual teasing of Sherlock. But think about what she was actually doing; Sherlock is (apparently) a virgin. That means he's never experienced sex. This is a person who HOLDS OVER HIM something that SHERLOCK doesn't know (what sex is like). Because sex generates such a primal response in our lives, Sherlock can easily be made to feel that he's missing out on something - which he tries to cover with bluster.
And like others have said, it's not in keeping with Sherlock's character that he wouldn't know everything there was to know about sex. BECAUSE THAT IS WHO HE IS. And so this was rather disappointing. But see, when some people conceive of a female character, that's what they start with -- the female part. Rather than coming up with an interesting character who happens to be female. She is tits and a vagina first and then maybe some clever dialogue, blah blah blah. BORING. Tired of it.
All this to say: I thought the portrayal of Adler as a Dominatrix was - while on the surface somewhat obvious - a fairly brilliant update, given that a Dominatrix challenges power conventions nowadays the same way Adler herself did back then (I admit I don't see quite the same weaponized sexuality in the Conan Doyle stories that you're finding). Yes, they could have played her lurid and graphic, but they chose whip-smart and surprisingly contained. I loved it.
I'm sure you did, because you have the luxury of not having to look past your own gender and see what women always see with characters like this.
(This comment is long enough as it is, but I have a great deal of response for your comments about men's interpretation of women weaponizing their sexuality. The basic point is that I think you're again missing the power forest for the sex trees. The empowered (weaponized) sexuality is merely a symptom of a different attitude of gender relations. That's what men find terrifying, not the sexy part. But we confuse it for the sexy part. OF EQUAL IMPORT is that when women are aroused, there is an EXPECTATION of sex from the man in their life (boyfriend, husband, etc)(obviously I'm only talking about heterosexual couples, etc etc). Often, however, I think guys might not be as into it as the media would seem to expect. However, there is no way to back out - you're a MAN, it's GIRLY to "be too tired" or whatever. So then you have to perform - and perform WELL, cause you're a MAN. It's Pavlovian - eventually you start to instinctually recoil from sex - which makes women's natural, regular old sexy advances seem terrifying. Not hugely related, but just figured that might be a bit of insight into the male psyche you had not considered.)

I think this might say more about you than it does about men in general (g). Suffice to say, that is not and has never been MY experience.

And really, there is NOTHING I like more than being told by a man that my reading of misogyny is wrong. Don't misunderstand. I appreciate the thoughtfulness of all the comments, and the attempts by the guys to describe why they loved Adler. I really do appreciate it, because the alternative is for people to be assholes about it, and none of the comments here was from that point of view at all. However, it's a bit ironic that you accuse me of missing the point when you miss the point that it is not a man's place to explain to a woman what is misogynistic, just as it is not a white person's place to tell a minority person what is racist. But for some reason that I think is fairly obvious if you think about it for three seconds, it's generally considered okay for me to tell women how to feel and think.

I've been told, VERY recently, that I am too sensitive to feminist issues. First of all, I'm not. So if the person who said this to me ever actually met a woman who was REALLY sensitive, it would be quite a shock. I don't go as far as a lot of women do. But then any type of militancy is rather exhausting and I don't think it helps the cause to be that way.

So what happens is, women ignore a lot of stuff. Some of it by choice, some of it because of workplace situations. Women still have to pick their battles and when they're working with men who are, frankly, terrified of women (which is what the evidence tells me about Moffat), that job gets harder and more frustrating. This is not to say that the men who ARE afraid of women, or who can't stand women, or who think they're just alien beings that are so different they have to be treated as such, are bad writers. That's not it at all. Steven Moffat has proven himself on many occasions to be a terrific writer. But the dude has blind spots, with story and with female characters.

An aside on this -- if you haven't seen the third episode of Sherlock, it is utterly, mind-bogglingly, earth-shatteringly wonderful. There's SO much for the actors, such wonderfully juicy, emotional scenes. There's a lot of that trademark Moffat misdirection, but the episode really lands on the friendship between Sherlock and John and it does so beautifully. What's distressing about it, to me, is another Moffat Achilles heel. After the episode aired, he teased the audience by telling them that they missed the clues. This is what he does. He sits there all smug and tells people that he littered the thing with clues that they will never find because they are not as awesome as he is (not to mention that if you create something, you are obviously going to know what the clues are and it doesn't mean your audience is stupid). But what he seems to be missing here is that I DON'T GIVE A SHIT ABOUT THE CLUES. The episode works SO well on a character level and to have him just demean it by bleating about clues is just weird. DUDE. YOU DID AWESOME WORK THERE. ACCEPT IT.

Moving on. Anyway, I do not appreciate being told, by men, that I'm wrong about this. Because you see it from a different point of view, and because you are male, does not mean you're right. In fact, you're just proving my point by being intractable and rather patronizing about it.

There's also the simplistic view that because I say this, I think you're a misogynistic asshole, which is simply NOT true. There are degrees, and most men fall on the mild side of it like you seem to, which is still not completely okay but because I'm not a raging crazy feminist, it's easier to handle. But when you are telling me what misogyny is, then we are gonna have an issue. But sure, it's hard for you to completely understand someone else's experience. Expecting you to grok this totally isn't possible, but the insistence upon telling me what is or isn't misogynistic is plain wrong.

I've already been HERE in the past, but I can think of one male writer who writes the everlong SHIT out of female characters, and his female characters are the best on TeeVee at the moment. That would be Matt Weiner. He's treading a fine line of writing strong women in an age when women were not considered strong. They still had rather Victorian roles thrust upon them, and the interesting thing about the women of MAD MEN is that they clearly do not FIT into these roles. But society won't let them off the hook so they either try to fit into these roles because they don't know how NOT to (Betty and Joan), or they say, "You know what, roles? FUCK YOU." Like Peggy, who is going to be as frustrated as Betty and Joan, but she's going to register that frustration outwardly, which is healthier for her but might wind up being more destructive to her with regards to society.  Still, I would choose that over the quiet desperation of Joan and Betty.

MARCH 25TH. MAD MEN. OMFG I CAN'T WAIT.

I wrote about STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET earlier and everytime misogyny rears its awful puss, this seems relevant. The same guys who told me that STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET is misogynistic because of how Kim Novak's unhappy suburbanite is objectified by men thought that Lucky McKee's THE WOMAN was a glorious feminist film.

Sidebar: If you haven't seen this piece of shit (I could have sworn I ranted about it but it doesn't seem like I have), then DO NOT SEE IT. If I ever see this Lucky McKee creature in person, he'd better be able to run pretty Goddam fast. Basically, a feral woman is kidnapped by a family man who, you find out, isn't really that nice a guy, beats his wife, rapes his daughter, etc. Blah. BLAH. Male filmmakers, do us a favor. Don't try to make a feminist film. I'm begging you. You're off the hook for these, okay? Just give us good female characters in movies.

So. STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET - see. THE WOMAN - avoid.

When I first got on the Internet, guys were terribly surprised to find out that I was female, because I didn't talk about knitting or whatever, and because I had strong opinions. This still happens to women online. What does THAT tell you about where we are? Female gamers still get harassed, too, and are being forced to announce their gender in the game, which... you can imagine what happens next. Pretending that because women got the vote and can work outside the home means that gender discrimination is off the table smacks of male privilege and it's just unacceptable.

I just tire of the lectures about what is misogynistic, or snarky comments about my sensitivity when BELIEVE YOU ME I am not nearly as sensitive as I could be. Because I choose not to be. I'm not offended by everything but obviously when something sticks in my craw, I'm going to talk about it.

To recap - thanks very much for the thoughtful comments, even if I don't agree with them! Hopefully something appalling will happen this week so I'll have an actual topic for next week. God willing.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Blackout!!!

Today is the SOPA blackout, when sites like Wikipedia and Reddit shut down to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act. These acts, which were driven by massive donations to the Internet-stupid Congress by the Internet-stupid MPAA, are designed to wipe out online piracy, like, FOREVS. Since the attempts to stop music piracy wound up destroying the music industry, I think we can see where this is going. I am not a lawmaker, or an expert in lawmaking. I am not an expert in Internet things (I'm proud of being able to post the above widget, for example). I cannot state with any fact the amount of money piracy has taken from MY pocket, but as someone who marched with a Goddam sign for several months back in 2007, I know what it's like to make what turned out to be a rather feeble attempt to protect my intellectual property.

That didn't work out too well, by the way. Just take a look at who gets the most chunk of change from sales and rentals. Take a look at whose paychecks are bigger. And then look at who's really serious about stopping piracy. A hint - it ain't the actual content creators. The notion of a massive corporation thundering about intellectual property is beyond weird, especially in this age of remakes and sequels and the crushing of originality. Obviously the entertainment business is a BUSINESS that couldn't exist unless it made money, but come on. These guys aren't stupid. They don't honestly and truly believe that SOPA is going to STOP PIRACY. Only dumb old Congress believes that, because they are ignorant patsies and lovers of campaign contributions. But the MPAA and the studios probably fall to their knees every morning and thank the gods that Congress is such a bunch of dumbasses. Fortunately they had evidence of that before, back when Congress voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq.

People are starting to crowdsource. Content creators are raising their own money and making their own movies and television shows. They're bypassing the corporate tangle of publishing to publish their own books. And this is all happening because of the Internet. So if you really imagine that the MPAA is going to allow content creators to use this Internet to make their own movies and television shows, you are sadly mistaken. SOPA is their gambit, their effort to assert control. "It won't affect me," you say, because you have never pirated anything. Sure, tell that to the people who got socked with million-dollar lawsuits even though they didn't steal a Britney Spears song. Everything is rented. The Cloud is NOT the great idea it's presented to be because your content can be taken from you at any time. ANY law that pretends to be For The People but that is this vaguely restrictive can be tightened around our necks, one byte at a time, until we are ALL considered criminals.

Piracy is never going to be stopped, and we should just accept that. DRM certainly didn't stop it. Instead, DRM pissed people off and made them not buy things. Remember the Sony rootkit? Yeah, good times. We are living in an age where you pay a bazillion dollars for cable, and then the cable companies take channels away from you, stick them in other packages, and make you pay even more. We're living in a time when we can instantaneously watch something, yet these monolithic companies want you to wait months to watch British shows. FOR NO GOOD REASON. It was bad enough when cable and satellite providers (but especially evil, evil cable HI TIME WARNER WHASSUP) were divvying up service areas. But now they're divvying up CONTENT. I don't mind paying for what I watch, read or listen to, but I strongly resent the Sophie's Choice way they're screwing us.

How much more would you pay if you could choose your programming a la carte? Why won't they let us do that? Think about THAT for blackout day.

And now, some blackout day links for you:

Whatever
Wil Wheaton


Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Woman

For some TeeVee viewers in the world, the new series of SHERLOCK has started. For U.S. viewers who don't know how to do anything, it won't be seen until May. It's January now, which means that in FIVE MONTHS y'all will get to see SHERLOCK.

In the olden days, when physical films and/or videotapes had to be physically sent over to another country on a tramp steamer, this probably made sense. But it doesn't now. At all. But no mind. I've seen the first two episodes and I also saw THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, which was my first exposure to the series. These two things actually DO have something in common -- the concept of a gender-defying woman.

In the case of DRAGON TATTOO, that woman is obviously Lisbeth Salander, and based on interviews with the writer, director and actress, a lot of thought went into the concept of the character. Mostly, into what they didn't want her to be. And then why is she who she is? Why does she act the way she does? Dress the way she does? Why is she so good at her kind of research? What results from this is  fascinating, complex, contradictory but logically created character.

And then there's SHERLOCK and the introduction of Irene Adler. One of the things I like most about this version of SHERLOCK is how Mark Gattiss and Steven Moffat have updated the characters and the world. This Sherlock is not afraid of technology. He even uses it to his advantage. So does Watson, who isn't a musty old book writer but instead writes a blog. The writers have given this a lot of thought and it's always fun to see it manifested. For those who haven't seen any of the new series yet, there's more and it's delightful.

Anyway. The original incarnation of Irene Adler was basically the Victorian version of Barbara Stanwyck's BABY FACE -- a user of men, a social climber, etc. Kind of a typical female character of that time. But she was unique in that she was able to pull the wool over Holmes's eyes, and he never forgot it. So good for her, then, right?

The other recent version we have of Adler is from the Guy Ritchie movies, in which she is an American (which she is in the Holmes stories but not in the BBC version) but also a skilled thief. What I like about this Adler is that she defies convention. She doesn't have to be a fucking courtesan, thank you very much, because she has skillz. She's a bold, blustery American. Which seems kind of perfect.

The Adler in SHERLOCK is a dominatrix.

YAWN.

The way she is presented and written and edited makes it clear that the writers consider this a bold, fresh choice, leading me to believe that they have never seen an episode of any American crime show. Now, I understand that in the updating of Irene Adler you may go there. At first. But then you SHOULD go, "Yeah, we COULD do that, but it's a bit lazy, isn't it? Shouldn't we come up with something that is a bit more bold? More fresh? More distinct?"

There are a lot of men who think that women use their gender and their sexuality as a weapon, which is essentially what Adler does and it supposedly blinds Sherlock to who she is.*
This is not true, and all you have to do is watch the rape scene in THE ACCUSED to get that. How many times has a female victim been told that she was asking for it? Which, by the way, is never the case -- women simply do not ask to be raped. But how many court cases have there been where a famous athlete, for example, claims that the woman he assaulted deserved it, or was asking for it?

I think that men think women do this because men CAN use their gender and sexuality as a weapon. They can get aggressive and in someone's face and they can threaten each other and usually, one dude backs down. So I suppose it makes sense that they would think women can use their sexuality to do the same thing, only it obviously doesn't work that way.

Women, let me ask you this -- if you can avoid it, do you stop for gas at night? When you're walking down the street and a few dudes are walking towards you, do you take off all your clothes and face them boldly, using your sexuality as a weapon? NO YOU DO NOT. While 99.999% of men aren't ever going to do anything to you, there's always that wild card. So you just never know, and you have to always protect yourself. And that's not even counting the guys who will whistle, or say dumb shit like, "Hey, smile!" Like we're there to entertain them which, let's face it, some of them believe.

Based on this incarnation of Irene Adler, that's what Steven Moffat believes. It's as if Adler knows that when she strips totally nekkid, or cracks that whip, all men immediately bow before her and are incapable of thought. This is stupid of Adler but in the fictional world in which she lives, that's kind of how things work. Because Moffat doesn't make her ashamed of her sexuality, or her body. But the way she wields it is the sort of male fetish fantasy that doesn't exist anywhere, y'all. She knows being so unselfconscious in front of Holmes is going to fuck with his radar. But not because that's how human nature works. No, she knows it because that's how human nature works in Steven Moffat's mind. And frankly, it diminishes Holmes somewhat for me. I think less of him because he doesn't see through this shit right away and turn the tables on her.

You see, Adler is putting this on. There's nothing emotional or personal about it. It's a game with her and for Holmes to not see that, well, it doesn't feel like Holmes. This is Moffat using a woman to fuck with Holmes, but the woman doesn't get to use her intelligence. She gets to use her -- well, you get the idea. She uses the only thing that Moffat seems to recognize in women, which was also present in the Christmas episode of DOCTOR WHO. There, he had a perfectly organic reason for Madge's strength -- the fact that she was holding onto such incredible grief and being strong for her kids. But no, instead he dives right for the uterus. Disappointing.

So although I quite enjoyed aspects of Adler in the new SHERLOCK, and very much enjoyed the interplay between Holmes & Watson and MY GOD the Sherlock/Mycroft stuff is utterly magnificent, I thought Moffat really missed the boat on much of Adler. And seeing THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, I wondered how much more effective Adler would have been if she had been more Lisbeth Salander.

Lisbeth hides her gender and sexuality and creates an armor of protection around herself. She doesn't do this because she wants to fuck with men and play games. She does it because she's trying to fucking SURVIVE. She didn't sit there and one day go, "So here's my plan to totally transform myself." She just DID IT. And if you asked her why she cut her hair like that, or pierced what she pierced, or ANYTHING, she would just stare off to the side and not answer you. Lisbeth is only female when she's violated by a monster (but boy, does she turn on him in a satisfying way) or when she chooses to be with Mikael. But even then there's something off about her. Lisbeth is the woman who slips through the cracks, but doesn't moan about it. She just tries to live. She is barely contained rage but her control is magnificent. And if you apply that control to her mind-fucking Sherlock Holmes, I think it would be pretty interesting.

How would Holmes react to a woman who didn't use ANY of her male-perceived weaponry, but who instead was bristling with contradictions that aren't the society-approved ones? How would Holmes deal with a woman who is wearing such a mighty figurative suit of armor? How do you predict what a character like Lisbeth is going to do? Well, all you CAN predict is that she'd survive. Because that's how she's created herself. Adler, on the other hand -- I don't want to spoil anything for y'all but there's a twist and a big disappointment at the end that is just SO VERY MOFFAT.

But Holmes vs. Lisbeth Salander, that is interesting. Because she isn't going to give him ANYTHING, but she can become anyone. She plays things even closer to the vest than HE does and on a certain level, they are equally damaged. She's nobody's fantasy. But she also doesn't dwell on what's happened to her. She just creates another wall to slide in next to the existing ones. And then she matter-of-factly goes about the business of fucking people over in unbelievably creative ways.

If you haven't seen SHERLOCK yet, just keep Lisbeth in mind when you do. It'll be interesting to hear what y'all think.

Also, this week's episode of THE VAMPIRE DIARIES was frakkin AMAZEBALLS.

*That's not how I read it at first because I gave Moffat the benefit of the doubt but based on interviews, that's exactly how it happened, which is rather a great disappointment.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

A Mild Case of Self-promotion

It really IS mild. And short. There will be a more substantial post next week (I'm trying to post at least a little something every week, so let's see how it goes). Although most Americans won't see the new season of SHERLOCK until fucking ridiculous MAY, there is much to discuss that will not be too spoilery. I suppose it WILL be spoilery if you've never heard of Irene Adler. But I suspect you have.

So in the meantime, here's a little self-promotion. Firstly, Erin and I did a podcast for the very cool Millennium site backtofrankblack.com, and it is here. Troy and James asked terrific questions and going back to look at the show after so long was a very weird experience. Millennium totally holds up, and the differences between then and now aren't as apparent because Millennium wasn't a gimmicky show. It wasn't trying to be hip or edgy or any of that. It just WAS. And that means well-told stories, simple, effective editing, and just not so much TRYING. A lot of it was ahead of the curve, which you simply do NOT get credit for. EVER. And that sucks.

Something I really noticed was the use of sound. I think reality shows have fucked TeeVee sound design because every single potential moment is scored, and it's usually scored with that whooshing noise that is supposed to make you look up from the laundry and watch what's happening. Reality shows have wall-to-wall noise and sound and since that seems to be effective, people have no choice but to follow that lead. TeeVee viewership hadn't fractured as badly back when Millennium was on, but now it's all about doing whatever it takes to get eyeballs on your show. Hence the different sound design, IMO.

Millennium is a very quiet show, actually. You can hear the sound effects. Wind, footsteps, breathing, whatever. There are long stretches of the show with little to no dialogue. And editing was done differently, too. I think the minimalism helps the show to not feel dated. And there's something to be said for timelessness. But thins are different now, of course. Technology changes so quickly that it's pretty disposable. You buy an amazing phone and then six months later, there's an even more amazing one. So we don't even get a moment to enjoy and appreciate the advancement. Entertainment is like that, too. It's all files and DVRs that are easy to manipulate. You don't hold the physical representation of entertainment anymore, which might be why I like buying TeeVee shows on DVD. Because of how disposable things are, entertainment has to find different ways to get people to notice. Hence the whooshing.

HEY YOU KIDS, GET OFF MY LAWN!

Anyway.

The other bit of self-promotion is that I wrote a longish short story that I wanted to put on the Kindle for free, but Amazon won't let you do that. So it's up here for 99 cents. But I made a free ePub version that I put here, and so you can download that if you prefer. It's a pretty fun story, if your idea of fun is my idea of fun.

Here's the cover. I'm pretty proud of my rudimentary Photoshop skillz:


Till next week, cats and kittens...

Sunday, January 01, 2012

The Year That Was

THANK GOD 2011 is over. I mean, THANK FREAKING GOD. This year was a bit of a crazy bitch.

But even though 2011 sucked, there were some good things that happened in it. And what better way to head into 2012 than with a list of some cool shit that came out of 2011? Maybe positivity will help. Who knows? So:

The Vampire Diaries
There's been a meme going around about this show, in that "OMG YOU GUYS THIS SHOW IS SO GOOD I KNOW IT SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE BUT IT'S NOT OMG!!" And it's true. Vampire Diaries could have skated along on the goodwill earned by the YA series, but it didn't. In fact, the show became must-watch TeeVee if you have any interest in a show that defies its own conventions, falls viciously in love with its characters, punches them in the face, and somehow manages to keep alive a love triangle that should grow stale but doesn't. Helping the show on its way in the remarkably astute cast. Totally underrated, if you ask me. Shows where the leads profess their undying love for each other generally have dullards in the leads and other interesting characters flitting about the edges, but that isn't the case here. There's nothing wan about Elena Gilbert and the way Nina Dobrev plays her is spot-on perfect. She's spunky. Lou Grant would hate/love her. Not only that, but she's also asked to play Elena's wicked doppelganger vampire twin (I KNOW, but it works). Paul Wesley and Ian Somerhalder could not be better as warring vampire brothers (I KNOW, but it works).

While the relationships seem pretty simplistic right out of the gate, you will soon discover that they are in fact not. While it's hard to shine in a cast as strong and deep as this one, Candice Accola as dim snob Caroline manages to. Not only that, but Caroline's journey is one of the strongest of the show. And sure, they stop going to high school at a certain point and then you discover that they're all still supposed to be IN high school and you wonder if they all flunked, but the refusal on the part of the writers to hew to the tiny box that these types of shows inhabit is laudable. And yeah, there seems to be some kind of a founder's festival every single day in Mystic Falls and now the volunteers are apparently drafted into service, but you don't know... maybe if they skipped one, the founders would return as zombies and eat everyone. Hey, it's The Vampire Diaries. It could happen. This is appointment TeeVee in an age when that is almost fucking impossible. If you think Vampire Diaries is just some campy kid's show, you probably thought the same of Buffy. And you were wrong then, too. Twilight, it ain't.

The Fades
Holy mother of God, where do I start with this one? It's British, it's six episodes, it's an entirely new mythology for ghosts and other things (telling you what they are would ruin some stuff), and it's utterly impossible to ignore. The Fades is a tough, tough show, totally unsentimental but with an incredibly sentimental, sensitive teenage nerd boy at its heart. Paul's the kid who can't help doing the right thing, not because he thinks he's supposed to but because HE JUST CAN'T HELP HIMSELF. The adults in this world are broken and desperate, like a pod of outcast Felix Castors. And because it's British and six episodes, shit starts to happen and change right from the start. Just when you get a handle on it, something happens that makes you go, "I did not fucking see THAT coming." It's going to be on BBC America in the next few weeks and if you don't watch it, then I suppose you just hate television. It's violent and horrific and something that I think we could do here, if there was a home for it. But at the moment, that doesn't seem to be the case.

The Doctor's Wife
Easily the best of the Steven Moffat DOCTOR WHO, this is the Neil Gaiman episode that is to Doctor Who what a Darin Morgan episode is to The X-Files, which is to say that it is an episode of the show that is able to crystallize what you love most about the show, put a silly hat on some of the goofy stuff, and deepen the characters in unexpected ways. An utterly enchanting hour of television that's so good it shows the problems with the Moffat era even more. An aside -- there were several episodes from this season that I quite enjoyed but Moffat's storytelling just doesn't work for Doctor Who. He's good at a lot of things. Sherlock, for example. I just don't think this is in his wheelhouse. And I'm sorry I just used "wheelhouse."

Fringe
I won't be able to say "Okay, so here's what's happened and here's what's going on" in regards to Fringe, because it's got to be the most complex show on American television at the moment and I do not have a notebook with me. I am a huge nerd for alternate universe/Philip K. Dick types of things, and Fringe fits the bill where that's concerned. But more than any of the cool science, it's the characters who live at the heart of the show. It's the TeeVee version of ALTERED STATES, and not just because Blair Brown is on it. The writers on Fringe play with their conventions and they have a unique chance to examine how their characters would react if their worlds were changed forever. How many universes have there been? Which one are we in now? Where does Peter Bishop belong? Is there any universe where Walter Bishop isn't either crazy or evil? No seriously, that's a real question. The universe in which we're currently playing has big changes, and then more subtle smaller ones. And they are all fascinating. The writers don't wait for the audience. They populate their world, and then we catch up to it. "One Night In October" stands out, thanks to a phenomenal performance from the always dependable John Pyper-Ferguson and a terrific story about the differences between the same people in different universes. "And Those We Left Behind" is an episode that perfectly illustrates how science fiction can be used to illuminate the human condition. Ratings-wise, fewer people watched it then probably watched a Kardashian getting an annulment. Depressing, but cheers to Fox for keeping the show on the air when they had every financial reason to cancel it.

Breaking Bad
I would hope that everyone reading this blog is already watching this show and knows that it doesn't put a foot wrong, has an amazing cast that always delivers, and has killed off a villain like no other show ever has or ever will. Also -- MIKE. Because Goddam. If there was a better performance this year than Giancarlo Esposito's embodiment of Gustavo Fring... well, there wasn't. To the end of the season Esposito never cracked, and that made Gus a terrifying monster in tiny glasses and a perfectly tied tie. You will never look at a boxcutter in the same way again. We're all in the car with Vince Gilligan and nobody is wearing a seatbelt, because he's such a good driver that you just know nothing is going to happen. Hell, maybe we've all got our heads out of the window like dogs. When people say that we are in the golden age of television (something with which I don't entirely agree), it's this show that they're talking about.

I would put Mad Men on this list but then we didn't get a Mad Men this year, did we? More proof that 2011 sucked.

Men Of A Certain Age
"Oh God," you groan, "here she fucking goes again." Yeah, I still miss this show and 2011 was the year it was canceled, SO FUCK 2011, YOU HEARTLESS COCK. If we really ARE in the golden age of television drama, then an actual television DRAMA with deft writing, wonderful characters and painful truths interspersed with achingly funny, embarrassing moments would still be on my fucking television. But it's not. And its perceived failure means that other networks aren't likely to give a show like this a shot either. I was thinking of pitching Women Of A Certain Age. How do you think THAT will go?

It's not that networks won't give shows like this a chance because they are assholes. It's that the majority of TeeVee viewers don't want to watch a show like this. Maybe if they solved crimes and were "hip" and "edgy," people would be more interested.

Sigh.

Captain America, Thor and X-Men: First Class
Oh, fuck off. I'm weary of the pounding these movies have gotten. YES, it's easy to punch a superhero movie in the face. I AM VERY AWARE OF THAT. But when you go to movies and you are exhausted by how awful they are, you realize how fucking hard it is to make entertainment. Because judging by movies, IT MUST BE FUCKING IMPOSSIBLE. Then these movies happened and I happily remembered what it was like to go to the theater and be entertained. Every movie doesn't have to be some great commentary on human nature and the state of our world. Every movie doesn't have to be a deconstruction of storytelling. Some movies, like these, can be entertaining. What's also fascinating is how these three movies are anchored by huge performances -- Chris Evans as Cap, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Michael Fassbender as a fully-clothed Magneto and James McAvoy as Xavier. And look! There's an American in there! Okay, just the one. But still cool.

Hanna
What the fuck, Joe Wright? I thought you were Mr. British Drawing Room Guy Where Actors Get Slightly Cross With Each Other! But no, apparently you are Mr. Fucked Up Fairytale Assassin Movie Where Teeth Are Crucially Important. Hanna is one of those movies that is like a lot of other movies on the surface but deep down below, it isn't. And it was a blast.

TrollHunter
The Scandinavian peoples are doing some weird shit, y'all. TrollHunter is, I believe, slated to be remade in American, although how, I do not know. Because it's about TROLLS, and guess where they AREN'T? This is a droll, funny, creepy little movie that will certainly make you think about trolls in another light. If you were ever thinking about them to begin with. And this, on top of the wickedly strange and creepy Rare Exports! Thanks, you wacky creep-bags.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
How the hell did this movie get made?? It's not an action film. It's not REALLY a Planet Of The Apes movie either. It's just... quite terrific and sensitive and thought-provoking, and at its center is a wonderful performance by Andy Serkis. Seriously, it's time to recognize what this guy does. There's only one really big ape-on-human setpiece, and the rest of the movie is just lovely. HOW DID THIS GET MADE?

Young Adult
As unsentimental as Juno was sentimental, Young Adult doesn't go where you think it's going to. It heads there, but doesn't quite make the turn-off. Charlize Theron plays the bitch-queen from hell like the most unhappy person who has ever lived, and frankly, she may be. She has probably one moment of true honesty and happiness in the movie and the ending leaves you to wonder if she truly has learned anything, or if she's going to continue being the same horrible, lonely monster she was when the movie started. The whole cast is great. Patrick Wilson is always good when he's playing a lummox, and he's a perfect one here. And Patton Oswalt is terrific as a rage-infested nerd who's so caustic only Mavis is immune. What happens to people who stay in their hometown? What happens to people who leave? And who's really happy? I've felt that Jason Reitman has a great movie in him and he certainly has gotten closer with Young Adult, thanks to the terrific, tough script by Diablo Cody.

Frank Turner and Noel Gallagher
Not together, but separately they were my soundtrack for the year. If you guys haven't heard punk-turned-troubadour Frank Turner, treat yourself. But he's not some sensitive folky, not with a song like Thatcher Fucked The Kids, which sounds like a perfect Occupy theme song. He's witty and caustic and insanely melodic. And in the battle of the Gallagher brothers, Noel's solo release wins the day. I liked the Beady Eye album but it's a little thin, isn't it? Well, Noel's is not. It's not an Oasis record but if you've heard any of Noel's b-sides (I know, I know, I'm using Old People Talk) then you have some idea of what to expect. And live, well, man... wow. The new songs mix beautifully with the Oasis songs, and I've always liked hearing Noel sing the Oasis songs. While he seems reluctant to stand center stage, that's where he belongs. Looking forward to the new 2012 release, if that isn't just total bullshit.

Scarlett Thomas
Thanks to a certain writing partner, 2011 was the year I discovered the British novelist Scarlett Thomas, who is a motherfucking Godlike genius and I think, perhaps, my literary soulmate. Not in the "Hey, we write alike" way, because if I could write like Scarlett Thomas I could die happy. Which would not, incidentally, make me a character in one of her books because dying happy is such a long way from where these people are it's not even a possible thought. She's a first-person writer and her characters share similarities, so much so that you just know she starts with herself and goes from there. And that makes these clever, unique books all the more intriguing. If you want to read the perfect assemblage of Philip K. Dick and Jonathan Carroll, do yourself a favor and pick up The End Of Mr. Y, because it is fucking utter genius.

The Magicians
Have you people read this?? Seriously, if you like any kind of fantasy or science fiction, if you read Harry Potter while sipping a clever Trader Joe's Chardonnay, if you remember having your eyes opened by Narnia, if there was a moment during all of that where you went, "Hang on... wouldn't it be more like THIS?" then Lev Grossman's genius book is for you. In fact, there's a sequel that goes where you do not expect it to go, and a third book coming out next year. A THIRD BOOK. Sigh.

Bitter Seeds
It didn't come out in 2011 but I read it in 2011 and this is MY list, so it counts. Do you like X-Men? Are you fond of the British witches in World War II? Then pick this up. Ian Tregillis is a terrific writer and this book will fuck you up. A sequel is coming out in July, and I do not want to wait until July, Goddammit.

So that's some good stuff in 2011. And maybe I'll blog more in 2012. Maybe I should try to blog SHORTER, which would then mean MORE. Theoretically. I don't know. We'll see. My resolution for 2012 is pretty much to not kill anyone, so the bar's set pretty low. As for things coming out in 2012, I guess there's some. Sherlock returns, as do Southland and Mad Men.


Also, I am looking forward to The Avengers, and fuck you if that's a problem. It's still really fashionable to bash nerd stuff and wouldn't it be nice if 2012 became the year when we stopped fucking doing that for five seconds? Besides, I have a suspicion that 90s nostalgia is going to explode and that means 90s music, which all sounds like it came out of a giant flannel asshole, so if we could just agree to hate THAT and leave nerd stuff alone that would be awesome. Also, the world is supposed to end on my birthday and if you're not going to buy me a car with a giant bow on it, this would be a nice present instead.