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No, I haven’t seen it.

But I was reading a review, and it got me to thinking: the problem with all these “gritty” or “realistic” or what-have-you superhero movie adaptations is that they try to soft-shoe around the original material. “Look,” the filmmakers seem to be saying, “yeah, we know it’s based on a comic book (shudder), but it can still be A Serious Movie.” And they downplay all the elements that actually make the comic book awesome.

Take Doctor Doom.

Sideshow Collectibles' Dr Doom figure--look how cool this guy is!

Sideshow Collectibles’ Dr Doom statue–look how cool this guy is!

This guy is awesome, right? He’s a super genius ruler of his own small European country, a dictator, a scientist, he talks about himself in the third person, he does not at all care what you think for HE IS DOOM.

Awesome.

So why the heck would you downplay or straight-up remove all of that from your movie? You think maybe a European genius dictator named VICTOR VON DOOM is too goofy, audiences won’t buy it? Then why the heck are you making a movie with someone named Victor Von Doom in the first place? No, the only way to make a movie, a good movie, with a supervillain named Doctor Doom, is to thoroughly own it.

Own your premise. Don’t be ashamed. People who think comic book material is too goofy or low-brow or campy or cheesy or whatever are not going to go see Fantastic Four anyway, I promise. But you have to own it.

This is a thing in fantasy and sf publishing, too, this feeling that elves or lasers or time travel or whatever are inherently less serious than, I don’t know, whatever real life things people prefer to elves or lasers or time travel, so we have to downplay those elements, or say “but it’s really a metaphor for cancer!” or something. Why you would prefer real life to elves et al is a question I am not equipped to answer, but some people are embarrassed by fantastic (hehe) elements in their fiction.

But you can’t do that. If you’re telling a story about elves, or spaceships, or zombies, or a the ancient, bitter rivalry between the dragon kingdom and the unicorns (I would read that novel), you have got to own your premise, own it to the hilt. Don’t be embarrassed; shout it from the rooftops! Say, YES! MY MOVIE IS ABOUT GIANT ROBOTS PUNCHING MONSTERS IN THE FACE! And if you do that, with passion and verve, you may not have told a serious story (although you can sneak the serious stuff in there, I promise, Pacific Rim forever), the “realism” crowd isn’t going to love it (they weren’t going to anyway, it’s okay), but you will have made something AWESOME.

SO SAYS DOOM

SO SAYS DOOM

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A friend linked to this article, which suggests that fantasy films, shiny and pleasing to look at as they may be, can have a deleterious effect on the imagination.

Instead of my imagination being engaged in a unique relationship with the imagination of the author, everything is provided for me by the intermediary–the film director. My imagination is unnecessary, for every detail down to the last scale on the dragon’s back is served up on the big screen larger, more completely and vividly than I ever could have imagined myself.

If this is so, then films of children’s fantasy stories, while very entertaining, may be counterproductive. If they stifle the imagination, then in the long run we will have a population that continues to have a great appetite for entertainment, but little agility of imagination.

Mr Darcy?!

Mr Darcy?!

Is the author on to something?  His argument is persuasive.  I know that my experience of the films he mentions (the Harry Potter movies, the Narnia films, and Peter Jackson’s epic Lord of the Rings fanfic) has been: “Hmm.  That is not at all how I pictured it.”  I’ve started avoiding movies based on books I enjoy, because the things the film gets wrong (from my point of view) start to supercede the images I have in my own mind, and then I start imagining the movie versions while I read and it just makes me crabby. (For instance, when I first read Pride and Prejudice, Mr Darcy was a blond. I know! Every single film version makes him dark-haired, but in my mind, he was definitely an icy blond with a pointy nose–Malfoy-esque, actually.  But now that I’ve watched umpty-bajillion film versions of the story, I have trouble reaching for that image, and am left with an actor stand-in instead.)  Possibly this is a.) not a problem most people have and b.) not the point the author of the article was making.

But is he right?  And I wonder: do animated movies have the same stultifying effect?  (Drawn animation, I mean, not CG.)  Because a drawing, or a painting, requires interpretation for our brains to make sense of it, which would be more work for the imagination, I should think.  (Less realistic/naturalistic = more work for the imagination?  Does stop motion count?  If you have to make your imagination work to believe that a man in a suit is a monster stomping on Tokyo, is that better than having a lovingly-rendered CG monsters?  I have no concrete data here.)

Thoughts?

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Maybe you’ve seen the video going around titled “What if Man of Steel was IN COLOR?” Here it is, just in case.

 

 

The video’s taking some flak for tweaking the “original” sequences from the film to make them even more desaturated, if that were possible, and I mention this only in the interests of fairness and full disclosure, because the “original” clips in the video sure match how I remember MoS looking. I haven’t checked back on the actual film, because once was enough for me, thanks.  (I did think the “honest trailer” was accurate.)

 

 

Whether or not the VideoLab folks were being quite fair to Man of Steel and Zak Snyder’s grim-n-gritty vision, the re-touched clips look bright and appealing, and make me wonder how much of the negative reaction to the film is on account of the bleak, desaturated visuals. (The rest of the negative reaction is obviously on account of the script.) That in turn got me thinking about another recent sci-fi action movie with a distinctive visual style.

 

BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMP

BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMP

 

There’s a great article on the visual vocabulary of Pacific Rim, and anybody interested in telling stories in a visual medium ought to go give it a read. (Blue language for them as worries about such things.) The writer touches briefly on the use of color, and he’s spot on: Pacific Rim is an incredibly visually intelligent film. If you have a couple of hours, you might also check out Guillermo del Toro’s commentary on the film, which is packed with one genius observation after another. Yeah, I might be fangirling a little bit.

 

But listen, color plays a huge role in how we experience the world, and thus in how we experience stories. Different colors can cause different effects in us, stimulating different centers in our brain, and a savvy storyteller will know those effects and use them to give his story even more impact. Pacific Rim starts out with a fairly straightlaced “realistic” color scheme, and gradually brings in more and more hues until it’s a rainbow-colored phantasmagoria in the Hong Kong battle, heightening reality so that the audience can forget about “serious” stuff for a while and enjoy the spectacle of a giant robot smashing the hell out of a monster from the deep.

 

Check out these colors! We have the usual action movie orange and teal, sure, but also that vivid blue, and pink, and purple, and that band of lemon in the lower third.

Check out these colors! We have the usual action movie orange and teal, sure, but also that vivid blue, and pink, and purple, and that band of lemon towards the bottom.

 

And then of course there’s this:

 

Gratuitous backlit Idris Elba

Gratuitous backlit Idris Elba

 

I can’t stop.

 

Gratuitous Hellboy--er, Hannibal Chau

Gratuitous Hellboy–er, Hannibal Chau

 

Look at him! His suit is mauve! His shop is green! How often do you see these colors in films nowadays? (And his tie picks up exactly the green of the kaiju specimins behind him. That is attention to detail, man!)

 

Color is powerful and evocative, and while I understand that the grim-n-gritty aesthetic is a thing, I also think the directors of these monochrome films are missing out. Even a pop of color in the right place, or contrasting a colorful scene with a desaturated one, can add flair and drama to your tale.  A color can symbolize a character or an emotion, or tie elements of your story together thematically without anyone having to speak a word.  Colors can enhance emotions, suggest connections that the audience might not even be consciously aware of, like the connection between Mako’s blue bangs, the blue jacket she wore as a child, and the blood of the kaiju (you did read that article, right?).  Also, did you notice that Mako and Raleigh’s colors totally start matching each other once they are co-pilots?  Because they totally do. (Okay, I’m geeking out again.)

 

Or, you know, you could just keep everything kind of grey, if that’s what you’re going for.

Man_of_Steel281080p29_SCREENCAPS_KISSTHEMGOODBYE_NET_0891

I would just like to point out that the color of the sky in this picture…

... is grey.

… is grey.


All screencaps via kissthemgoodbye.net

 

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Jupiter Ascending is like the dream you might have, if you fell asleep on the couch after a heavy meal, probably involving alcohol (not beer, though; or even wine–too common. Absinthe or chartreuse), in a room with an Art Deco book on the coffee table and a Matrix poster on the wall, where your roommate was marathoning science fiction movies like Dune and The Fifth Element. Which is a pretty specific set of circumstances, come to think of it.

jupiter-ascending

What I mean is, like a dream it lacks all coherence, you can’t recount what happened in it once you wake up, and though it looked pretty cool (my dreams always look cool, don’t know about you guys), you can only enjoy it because you were asleep. It’s terrible in a way that we don’t even have words for, so terrible that even now, having seen it, I’m not sure what I saw or if I actually saw it. As in dreams, characters come and go without explanation or purpose, conversations occur that seem to their participants to convey meaning but are actually nonsense, the scene jumps from place to place with no explanation so that a new nonsense conversation can take place.

And then, at the end, Channing Tatum has wings. Because at this point, why not.  (Actually, my favorite part of watching this film was when Tatum’s character ripped his shirt off, and one of the teenage girls in the front of the audience gasped audibly.  It was almost as great as the shirtless scene in Thor 2, when a woman in the audience actually yelled, “OH MY GOD!”)

It’s like the worst YA book* you’ve ever read, and the most frustrating, because it seems full of interesting ideas, ideas with a lot of potential for a cool story, but none of them are fully thought out or employed effectively, and then there are so many elements thrown in because why not? They are just cool. So what you have is idea salad, but no story, and that’s a shame, because Art Deco Vampire Space Royalty, and a beautiful Space Princess and Wolf Angel Boy who have to Put A Stop to their Evil, sounds like a really cool story, doesn’t it? Or maybe just a dream.

*Just to make it clear, I’m not bashing YA. I love YA, and many of my favorite books are marketed as YA. But even the most ardent YA fan has to admit that there are a looooot of terrible books on the shelves in the YA section, and that terrible YA has a different flavor than terrible SF or terrible romance or terrible fantasy. Some books–and some movies–are just terrible, and that is fact, but that fact doesn’t condemn a whole genre. Cool?

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SPOILER WARNING: Very mild spoilers for Twelve by Jasper Kent, much more major spoilers for Out of the Dark by David Weber.

Hello, ladies...

Look out, ladies!

My dad loved Dracula.  When I was a wee tot, he read me Bram Stoker’s classic novel; I don’t remember this happening, but I’m told my mom disapproved.  (Mom and Dad didn’t see eye to eye on stuff like this; family legend has it that, for their anniversary, he took her to see Alien in the theatre.  I’m not sure that she was thrilled.)  Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula was one of his all-time favorite movies, and he enjoyed quoting some of the more over-the-top lines in a deep, appreciative rumble, like a wine aficionado savoring a favorite vintage.

It’s not a surprise that he communicated some of his enthusiasm to me.  I became an ardent Castlevania fan, enjoyed Van Helsing, geeked out when Dracula appeared in an episode of Buffy.  Of course, meeting Dracula in non-Stoker yet still vampire-related contexts is not terribly surprising.  But sometimes you run into the Count in (pardon the pun) the damnedest places.  Sometimes it makes sense, other times, not so much.

I am here to kill Frenchmen!

I am here to kill Frenchmen!

Jasper Kent’s novel Twelve centers around a group of Russian soldiers in 1812 who hire a band of mercenaries to help slow or even stave off Napoleon’s invasion.  The mercenaries turn out to be vampires, which is not terribly surprising for the genre-savvy reader; the nice surprise was their leader.  He appears only once, to drop off the twelve-vampire guerilla squadron, but the details of his appearance were perfect, from his manner to the dragon ring he wore.  The thing I appreciated most was, his presence in Imperial Russia could still fit in with Bram Stoker’s timeline for the undead nobleman.  After all, nobody said he wasn’t wandering around that area 80 years or so before he decided to move to London!

More surprising was his appearance in David Weber’s military sci-fi novel Out of the Dark.  Yes, that’s right.  Military. Science. Fiction.  With Dracula.

Of course!

I’ve never read any of Weber’s other books, so I can’t say how typical Out of the Dark is of his work.  The first two-third were fairly dull, alternating between the wolflike aliens invading Earth and the stalwart humans, mostly soldiers, operating in small bands to pick off the invaders.  Then, one of the soldiers winds up in Eastern Europe (specifically Walachia), where he encounters a local nobleman who is also battling the aliens.

The nobleman introduces himself as Mircea Basarab, a name which pinged something in my memory, but I couldn’t recall what.  Everything about his first appearance in the novel screamed “YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS GUY,” but of course he hadn’t been mentioned previously in the book, so I thought perhaps he might have been featured in another of Weber’s novels…?  Except not so much.

I am here to kill aliens.  And to look fabulous!

I am here to kill aliens.
And to look fabulous!

With Mircea’s help–his speed, his cleverness, and his amazing ability to get himself and his men into highly fortified alien installations and slaughter everyone stationed there without being caught by surveillance–the alien invaders are not only slowed, but entirely repulsed.  The book ends with “Mircea” and assorted of the main human characters (now not quite so human as they were) taking over an alien spaceship, while Mircea vows to take the fight back to the aliens’ homeworld.

Like you do.

Because when your planet is in the middle of an invasion from alien hostiles, what you need is … DRACULA!

(The little ping I got on my memory?  It’s because Mircea was the name of Vlad Tepes’s older brother.  Basarab is the name of their royal House, of which House Dracul was an offshoot.  Later in the book–you know, before he turns everyone into vampires and kills all the invaders–he apologizes for giving a false name.  He didn’t want to freak out the poor American.)

Now don’t get me wrong.  I am big huge fan of the kitchen-sink method of fiction-writing.  The more cool stuff you can pack into one book, the better!  It’s just that, “… and then DRACULA shows up!” is a bit startling in the middle of a fairly boiler-plate SF novel full of cardboard characters and lovingly detailed descriptions of guns.  I wish Weber had been able to work the Dark Prince into his book more smoothly, without that “WHAM! And now we’re going THIS way!” wrench of the steering wheel.

It does make me wonder, though.  What other novels would benefit from the inclusion of Dracula?  How about a Tom Clancy-style political thriller?  Dracula would make a heck of a spy!  Or one of those chick-lit books about shoes?  “I don’t know what to wear to Brian’s party,” Melissa sighed.  And then DRACULA showed up!

I am here to help you select appropriate shoes, Melissa!

I am here to help you select appropriate shoes, Melissa!

What do you guys think?  What other genres would be improved if Dracula showed up?

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Getting the obvious out of the way up-front, guys, that's all

Well, I mean, just look at him!

WARNING: In talking about the themes of the movie Thor, I’m going to assume you’ve seen it.  If you haven’t, PREPARE TO BE SPOILED.

 

What more do you need, really?

Perfect

Thor is one of my very favorite movies in the world.  I don’t tire of it, I don’t want to stop watching it; the more times I watch it, the more I enjoy it, the more entrancing I find it.  In my more hyperbolic moments I think that every movie should be like Thor.  (I know that’s silly, though; sometimes I also think that I could live on nothing but coffee, but sense always eventually returns.)

Counter-cultural

For a good long while now, the move in fantasy entertainment has been away from the bold four-color heroes of latter years and into the many many shades of grey.  The trend toward “realism,” here meaning “grim dark bleak hopelessness,” has culminated in the huge popularity of HBO’s Game of Thrones, which, if you’ve been living under a rock, is based on George R.R. Martin’s neverending book series of the same name.  If pop culture is a mirror of an age, our age is cynical, nihilistic, violent and horrible.

Be honest.  Which ones of these guys would you rather hang out with?

Be honest. Which ones of these guys would you rather hang out with?

By contrast, Thor is old-fashioned.  It’s so old-fashioned, it’s practically a throwback.  It’s so out of touch with the trends, it needed my rather snarky aside in the above paragraph.  Compare and contrast a still from GoT and from Thor: one is gloomy, desaturated, bleak.  The other is bursting with bright, glorious color.

Nor am I talking just about the actual RGB hues on your monitor.  In contrast with much of the popular entertainments in these latter days, Thor is not cynical.  It is not a joke at the viewer’s expense, or a long bloodbath.  It is not especially violent, because it’s not really an action movie,* although of course the Asgardians, being a warrior culture, tend to resolve their conflicts by feats of arms.  Thor is the tale of a thoughtless young man who, by his good choices and his spiritual growth, becomes a worthy king; it is at its heart hopeful, loving, and optimistic.

*More on this later, perhaps.

Team Free Will

Odin All-Father has two sons, the bright and the dark.  At the start of the film, both of them are arrogant and self-involved, so you can’t really say that Thor is the “good” son and Loki the “bad.”  The greatest contrast between them is in their behavior: Thor is brash, open, boisterous; Loki secretive, closed, introspective.  Both of them, however, “were born to be kings,” and Odin, who loves his sons, wants both of them to live up to their destiny.

Born to be kings

Father and sons

This is important.  Thor’s rise, and Loki’s fall, are products of their own choices.  As much as Odin values his sons, he values their independence and their free will.  It’s unclear whether or not he knew that Loki engineered the Frost Giants’ interruption of Thor’s Big Day, but given the fuss he fails to raise, it seems probable that he did.  Similarly, he permits Thor to go bust up Jotunheim because the consequences of that course of action–namely, banishment from Asgard and the loss of the hammer Mjolnir–are perhaps the only things that will teach Thor true kingship.

Odin: You’ve forgotten everything I taught you!  About a warrior’s patience.

Thor: While you wait and be patient, the Nine Realms laugh at us.  The old ways are done; you would stand giving speeches while Asgard falls.

Odin: You are a vain, greedy, cruel boy!

Thor: And you are an old man and a fool!

Odin: Yes.  I was a fool.  To think you were ready.

Odin loves his son, and he sorrows at what has to happen next (Sir Anthony Hopkins’ performance here is masterful; listen to the break in his voice as he delivers his lines), but Thor must be taught to do better.

Anyone who has even dipped his toe into the waters of Christianity can see the parallel between Odin’s treatment of his sons, and God the Father’s loving Providence towards his children.  God lets us screw up, even disastrously, knowing that through the greatest losses come the greatest lessons.  He is fitting us for Heaven, for eternal Kingship as his adopted sons and daughters.  He is giving us chance after chance to become better, more beautiful, more loving.

Thor succeeds at the task he has been (unknown to himself) given, and his blossoming is a delight to behold.  The once-arrogant God of Thunder serving breakfast to his new friends is a sweet and joyful little scene.  But what about Loki, Laufey’s son?

Totally NOT scheming or anything

Totally NOT scheming or anything

He too is given the chance to do better, when the Allfather collapses into the conveniently timed Odinsleep.  Suffering under the revelation of his true parentage, confused and conflicted, you would think that this would be the perfect time for Odin to stick around and offer a firm hand of guidance–but Odin prefers a more open-ended, laissez-faire approach.  With Thor banished and Odin in a coma, it is Loki’s chance to shine.  What will he do with the opportunity?  Will he show himself a wise king?

Well, no, and that is Loki’s tragedy.  Thor’s everything is taken from him, and he becomes great.  Loki is given everything, and he destroys himself.

Sounds pretty true-to-life.

No Greater Love Than This

What a charmer

Hello, ladies

Thor has one true love: himself.  No, make that two: himself, and his mighty hammer Mjolnir.  As a man grown, he is not much changed from the rowdy little brat who boasted that he would one day “hunt the [Frost Giants] down and slay them all.”  He can, however, be charming, and he’s just as good as his brother at talking people round into doing what he wants them to do.  He mercilessly and recklessly uses his friends to get his way, and in his bitterness at the ruination of his “day of triumph,” he nearly gets them all killed.

The banishment sequence is heart-breaking.  Watch Thor’s face as Odin dresses him down: he is confused, terrified.  He truly is “a boy, trying to prove himself a man,” and he’s as confused as a scolded puppy as Odin strips from him his badges of rank and power.  He crash-lands on Earth still reeling from the speed of events, still trying to process what has happened to him; it’s no wonder Darcy feels the need to tase him.  A giant man is shouting nonsense at the heavens?  I’d tase him too!

Tase all the crazy Vikings

Tase all the crazy Vikings

Banishment alone is not enough to teach Thor his lesson, however.  He attempts to use his new friends the way he did his old.  It is only when he cannot lift Mjolnir, when he is shown how unworthy he is, that he begins to understand.

He begins to atone, through small acts of love: he rescues Jane’s journal from SHIELD; he tells Jane about the Asgardian understanding of the Cosmos.  He drinks with Selvig and actually listens to what the older man has to say–possibly a first in his life.  He makes breakfast for the scientists.  And, when Loki sends the Destroyer to do what it does best, he lays down his life not just for them, but for the town.

“There is no greater love than this,” says John 15:13, “than that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

This is the essence of love, the essence of kingship: to hold yourself not above others, but as a servant to all.  To give unflinchingly and unstintingly of your self, even to death.  Thor faces the Destroyer with nothing but his own mortal might … and he asks for his brother’s forgiveness.

loki_popcorn

Is it just me, or does this sequence make it look like Loki’s got a bucket of popcorn that he’s nomming on while the Destroyer does its work?

And you know what happens next.

He dies.

Thor's rated PG-13, but if you get the reference I'll give you a cookie!

Thor’s rated PG-13, but if you get the reference I’ll give you a cookie!

 

The loving sacrifice of Christ is echoed in pop culture all the time, but it’s usually symbolic, seldom so on-the-nose.  Thor actually expires, there in the dust of a backwater town, having given his life that his friends might live.  He has learnt, thoroughly and well, the lesson his father sent him to learn.  And because of his willingness to die in the service of others, he proves that he is once more worthy to wield the hammer, truly worthy to be king.

The Greatest of These is Love

Thor is a movie based on a comic book character based on a pagan god (who, if you read the old stories, is pretty much a boor), but at its heart it is thoroughly, entirely Christian, and I submit that, for that reason, it failed to connect with a large segment of its intended audience.  Read any random io9 article  and see how long it takes for the commenters to start saying hateful things about Christianity (science articles are best for this, but just about any one should do).*  Talking about all the reasons post-Christian modernity hates Christianity is not within the scope of this already lengthy post, but the animosity is an observable fact, and within the geek community, which seems to contain a higher concentration of self-proclaimed atheists,** the rancour is particularly fierce.

Small wonder, then, that a movie carrying such a thinly-veiled Christian message, only a little bit subtler than that of the Narnia books, should fail to find much of a welcome there.  Which is a shame, since Christian messages about loving one’s neighbor–loving one’s enemies–about patience, kindness, help for the needy–are always helpful and relevant not just to those who profess the faith of Christ, but to all humans.

I have much more that I would like to say about Thor; I have barely touched on its visuals, and haven’t mentioned the music or the excellence of the cast, or the awesomeness of its supporting characters.  I’m sure I could write a book about it–but this particular article seems to be winding to a conclusion.  I shall leave therefore with the famous lines from St Paul: “Love is patient.  Love is kind.  Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.  It does not demand its own way.  It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.  It does not rejoice about injustice, but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.  Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.  […]  Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love.”

One Final Note

Its power has no equal

Its power has no equal

Did you know (I just found this out today, and I’m still geeking out) that the knotwork that appears on Thor’s hammer, whenever Odin’s will is acting upon it,*** is called a Trinity knot?  I wonder why it’s called that?  Hint: it’s not because of that chick from The Matrix.

*I love io9, but I can’t read the comments boxes, and I sometimes have to skip the articles too.  But it’s a great source for nerd-related news.

**Totally unscientific observation, based not on stats but merely on being alive and present on the internet.

***At least three times in the movie: The banishment sequence, when Odin whispers the famous “Whosoever holds this hammer” line; in the compound, when Thor fails to lift the hammer; and just before it flies off to trigger Thor’s transformation sequence.

__________________

Credits: Thor movie screenshots are from Movie Screencaps.com; breakfast table image is © Photogolfer | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

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So this weekend my buddy Craig and I were kicking around ideas for the comic book we eventually want to put together.  Following the Rule of Cool–or maybe it’s Rothfuss’s Law*–we are throwing every awesome thing we love into the mix.  We’ve got Amazons riding flying bears and wolves and whatnot; we’ve got super-advanced ancient technology, the secret of which is now lost; and of course we’ve got sky pirates!  We’ve got two main characters, the sky pirate captain (older, male), and a young Amazon warrior (younger, female).  Then, as we were populating our sky pirate crew (cynical captain; ex-nobleman; Viking berserker bear-warrior), I said something like,

“We need a woman in the crew.”

Craig looked at me funny.  “Are you sure?” he said.  “Once we’ve got the Amazon girl travelling with them, the other woman won’t have much to do.”

I love this show, but why are all the Gargoyles dudes?

“That’s fine,” I said–rather emphatically.  “More women equals better.”

He still seemed a bit confused, but I carried the point, and we’ve got at least one female in the pirate crew.  (I think I can finagle some more.)

The incident got me to thinking, though, about the difference between my POV as a creator, and his.

I can’t read minds, but it seemed like what he was thinking was, “Why do we need another female main character?  We’ve already got one.”  And I was thinking, “Women kick ass!  Let us therefore have a variety of kick-ass womenfolk in our story!”

Craig’s line of thinking (or the line of thinking I am attributing to Craig, anyway) is based on the erroneous idea that, while men are good at lots of different things and have lots of different characteristics, women are basically only good at being female.  That is their character trait.  So you’ve got the Captain, the Former Nobleman, the Viking Warrior Badass, and the Girl.  What does the Girl do?  Well, she’s a girl, right?  What more do you need to know?

Stated baldly like that, of course it’s a ridiculous notion.  Think of any two women you know.  Are they exactly the same, interchangeable?  Of course not.  And yet it persists.  Check out the TVTropes page on the Smurfette Principal for examples.

Yet, when I think about some of my favorite stories, in whatever medium, they share a common characteristic: The main characters are defined by their role in the story first, and their sex second.

Why are they in Star Trek uniforms? Because it's awesome.

Think about Firefly.  (I know I do!  Almost all the time!)  Your main characters are: The Captain, the Stoic Badass Warrior,

the Merc, the Mechanic, the Pilot, the Hooker, the Preacher, the Doctor, and the Damaged Psychic.  (That’s a lot of main characters!  Way to go, Firefly!)  On a typical show, who do you think would be female?  Probably only the Hooker, and

maybe the Doctor also, and the rest would be guys.  But!  We already know that, on the show we loved and lost too soon,

nearly half the main cast is female!  Even better, it’s not the characters you’d expect: Zoe Washburne is perhaps the most badass of Stoic Badasses, and if anyone can fix up a ship better than Kaylee, we haven’t met that person yet.  As for River, she can kill you with her brain, and Inara, though she is the character most dangerously close to cliché-ville, is still a living woman with a complex relationship both with her job and her clients, and the life she’s chosen to lead aboard Serenity.

Similarly, maybe you haven’t read The Lies of Locke Lamora and its sequel, but you should.  Women are everywhere in these novels; they are brilliant thieves, politicians, gymnast/gladiators, soldiers, pirates, guardsmen … any job you see a guy doing, you see women doing it too.  The best part is, it’s completely taken for granted.  Not, “Hey little lady isn’t that sword a bit heavy for you there hur hur hur?” but “Oh ergh yeah please don’t impale me ma’am please ma’am.”  (The pirates in book 2 are hands-down awesome.)

Every time I encounter a work like that, like Firefly or Locke Lamora, in a world where women just do awesome things and no one remarks on it, because of course they do, I stand up and cry, “More like this, please!”

More pirates, adventurers, thieves, badass warriors, scientists, teachers, preachers, merchants, captains, rulers, rebels, sorcerers, mathematicians, grammarians, librarians, artists, writers, postal workers, good people, bad people, people who love cats and hate children, or who love children but hate people, people who get the job done, or who would rather let the job wait and just enjoy a nice cuppa, people who are women.

—–

*I don’t remember the context at all, but I’m fairly certain Patrick Rothfuss once said something on his blog about throwing lots of disparate elements into his books because he loves them and thinks they’re awesome–and what other justification do you really need for flying bears, sky pirates, amazons, etc?  I think this should be called Rothfuss’s Law.

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