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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn: The Trouble with the Fallen Woman Archetype

Trigger Warnings: This book contains 2 rape scenes (coerced consent) and one attempted rape that involves a violent physical assault. The main character makes a bulimia joke, at the expense of her mothers in a scene that trivializes eating disorders. Consent is completely misrepresented, twice the main character explicitly tells boys to ignore consent. Physical assault: the main character slaps a boy in the face, but dismisses it as okay because “he likes it when I’m rough.” 

The Fallen Woman Archetype

One of the biggest flaw of the redemption story for a sexually active girl is the assumption she’s done something wrong.

Firsts makes a lot of promises that I truly believe it could have delivered on if it had gone through a few more revision. The potential is there, littered through out the narrative like loose threads left dangling. This could have been a sex positive and subversive exploration of the social construct of virginity, but instead it’s just another Fallen Woman story. This time with a “Happily Ever After” tacked on at the end.  

There are a lot of issues I ran into in the story, I want to try to at least touch on most of them to both explain my reaction to the book and to explore the common problems that I keep seeing in how we view sexually active women in stories. Because much of what bothered me is very common in many genres of literature, and media in general.

I want to be very clear, I am not holding Firsts solely responsible to fixed these issues in media. If anything I want to address how much of what is in this book is a reaction to those tropes, cliches, and deep seeded social attitudes. So we can kind of see how we got here in the first place, and why this book can seem progressive while being the complete opposite. 

I can understand why this books is so appealing. There’s a certain kind of Schadenfreude and catharsis that comes from Fallen Women stories. Where we both get to live vicariously through a characters' sexual exploits, but also get to watch their inevitable fall from grace in all it's graphic and horrific glory. There's a ugly sense of satisfaction that a lot of people feel when they see a woman, who "gets away" with things other women don't get to experience, finally gets caught and subsequently punished. Most people won't admit to enjoying this, but it's huge fixture of these kinds of stories and I suspect a big part of their appeal. 

As author Tiffany Reisz says, erotica is much closer to Horror than Romance. The fear, intensity, and titillation are key themes in Erotica, Horror, and Tragedies. While Firsts isn’t technically in these genres, it’s pulling from all of them in it’s use of the Fallen Woman archetype and resembles them far more closely that Romance.  From The Scarlet Letter to Cruel Intentions (Les Liaisons dangereuses), the central focus of the Fallen Woman story is the fear of discovery that builds tension, the climatic exposure, shame/public humiliation, and sometime the redemption of forgiveness. 

The central themes of a Fallen Woman story are fear, shame, and forgiveness, not love or empowerment. Also common themes are rape, slut shaming, and repentance. Over hundreds of years these constants of the Fallen Woman trope haven’t change, and all are present in Firsts. Though in this version the Fallen Girl is given a happy ending, but that doesn’t change the fact that the story depends heavily on her fear and pain for dramatic tension and her humiliation for the climax of the story. So it isn’t really subverting the anything. Especially since the Mercedes redemption relies upon a boy to forgive and love her to make her worthy again. 

Review Proper 
[Spoilers Abound: No Seriously there are a ton of spoilers in this review. Consider yourself warned.]

Right off the bat I was struck by the staggering lack of empathy and depth for girls/women verse the sheer amount time and care poured into sympathizing with the boys, especially the ones who cheat on their girlfriends with Mercedes. The fact that it is rarely even phrased in this way, as cheating, in the book says a lot. Another stark example of this gendered double-standard is how Mercedes herself views her parents. Her father, who is absent for most of the book and her life, is barely mentioned. Despite this he is viewed by Mercedes as better than her mother, Kim, who is portrayed as a disturbingly sexist caricature of a divorcee mother.

Kim really stands out, because she represents a very common form of slut shaming that is rarely addressed. The Desperate Divorcee. A rich, lonely, desperate older woman who wears too much make up, gets too much plastic surgery, lies about her age, chases younger men, and pushes her daughter to be sexy. These are all points upon which Mercedes makes fun of and criticizes her own mother. Even Mercedes is part of this slut shaming myth that insists that these bad mothers, these Desperate Divorcees, alone are responsible for turning their own daughters into sluts by not being loving and nurturing enough. By being sexy in the “wrong way,” by being sexually active when they should be mothers. 

Angela, Mercedes best friend, doesn’t make it out much better than Mercedes mom. From the moment she is introduced it’s well established that much of the rifted between them (of which Angela is not aware of at all) exist because of her religious beliefs and Mercedes sexual activity. What is also very plain is that Mercedes resents her friend a lot. She uses a notebook Angela gave her to track her exploits with the boys, and repeatedly mentions how scandalizes Angela would be by everything she does. While I theorize these resentment lies in Mercedes’ envy that her friend still has her innocence and virginity intact, that is never explored.

In contrast, A girl named Jillian, who Mercedes doesn’t even know that well, is all but canonize in her mind for being all the same things that Mercedes resents her best friend for being. But Jillian’s purity and innocence seem very precious to Mercedes, which is why she decides to sleep with Jillian’s boyfriend to ensure he gives Jillian the first time Mercedes never got. 

Mercedes logic behind why she’s provided her service is so fascinating and poignant, but again it lacks exploration until the very end where it’s delivered in an info dump of exposition. It was so frustrating to see an opportunity to link Mercedes own experience to why all the girlfriends of the boys, Mercedes sleeps with, had such high expectations. 

Time and again boys are prioritize before girls. Mercedes thinks far more about the boys she’s teaching than the feelings of their girlfriends or even herself. This is demonstrated so painfully when she has sex she actually enjoys it and immediately is concerned about it. Since she has effectively made sex her job, Hell her mission even. Her own pleasure isn’t even considered. Which bothers me so much. There is a notable very little pleasurable/enjoyable sex in the entire book. Another huge red flag. Sex is work. Sex is a lesson. Sex is distraction. Sex isn’t fun. That’s not sex positive, at all. 

As for Faye, the new girl, who is a prime example of queer baiting, felt very forced and unravelled what little believability the story had left for me. She was a rather blatant story device used to push Mercedes and Zach together, and to teach Mercedes lessons that should have already been integrated into the story from the start. 

As for the love interest, Zach, he’s the worst kind of “nice guy” cliche. I lost any respect I had for him the minute he tired to put his dick in Mercedes without wearing a condom. Even though he knew she as a rule about only practicing safe sex. One strike he is out. The other boys and the remaining cast are forgettable faceless cardboard cut-outs. Even the villain is a boring cliche and I saw him coming a mile away. Don’t even get me started on the Spanish exchange student who coerces Mercedes into consenting to sex, which is in fact rape, who was a really gross racist cliche from his ridiculous broken English dialogue to his “chocolate brown eyes.” Because of course the only character of color in the story is a rapist. *heavy sigh* 

Some other things that bothered me were the mishandling of consent, the heavy use of rape (without labeling it as such), a distinct anti-abortion tone, and the shoehorning in of religious themes at the end. 

Consent: Twice Mercedes tells boys to disregard consent, and in the scene where the Spanish exchange student coerces her into sex she says putting her hand in his hand means she’s giving consent, which completely misrepresents consent and confuses what is a very clear cut case of rape. 

Rape: There are two scenes that involve coerced consent, i.e. rape, and once scene of an attempted rape that involves Mercedes being physically assaulted. At no time are any of these situations labeled as rape, and the resulting trauma is never addressed though it is obviously a huge factor both in Mercedes choices and she exhibits clear symptoms of post traumatic stress and anxiety related to the abuse she experienced. 

Anti-Abortion: There is a scene where a Mercedes over hears a conversation between two classmates, in which one has discovered she is pregnant. The other girl suggests an abortion and the response is “No way. I might be fucked-up, but I would never do that.” The implications and associated condemnation is quite clear. In a flashback, Mercedes discovered she was pregnant after being coerced into having sex for the first time at age 13. She schedules an appointment to get an abortion but prays that the baby will just “go away” and wakes up to pain and a miracle miscarriage (which isn’t portrayed very realistically). Considering this pregnancy and miscarriage are a huge part of the trauma Mercedes experienced due her rape and the inspiration for her “service” it is a huge miss to throw this into the end of the book without ever exploring or really unpacking it in the rest of the story. It feels rushed and inserted to illicit sympathy for the poor Fallen Girl. 

Religion: The religious overtones come in at the end of the story, which makes them very jarring and distracting. Mercedes praying for miscarriage is part of it. But she also quotes the Bible while reconciling with Angela, and even continues to attend prayer circle. She even talks about giving up control, a theme heavily used through the story. There’s a distinct feeling that she’s giving up control and having faith in god. Though it’s not explicitly said. Not to mention she finds redemption in the love and forgiveness of a boy, and a monogamous heterosexual relationship with him. To be clear, I have nothing wrong with religious overtones or Christian romance. Here it felt forced and sloppy. Which summarizes the overall criticism of the book. It really feels like a first draft. Full of potential, but badly in need of several sets of eyes and more redrafting to refine the story. 

Though part of me really wonders if you can really subvert slut shaming with a Fallen Woman story at all. The optimistic side of me says yes. I see so much potential in this book it makes me believe this can be done. It just takes peeling back the layers and exploring the motivations of characters past our cliche prejudiced assumptions, especially in regards to women. 

For example: Maybe the girls have such high expectations around losing their virginity because in some way they can sense it’s one of the few ways in which girls are valued in our culture.

Maybe if Mercedes relationship with her father was explored more. If we knew what is was like prior to or even knew how old she was when he left. Maybe we could explore how such a huge loss not only impacts Mercedes but her mother too. I mean the man named his daughter after a car. He treated them both the women in his like like objects and discard them when they became too much a burden. How about how her father leaving marked this loss of innocence as much as her loss of virginity did? Maybe explore how she was attempting to regain that feeling of value from Luke and he took advantage of that power to rape her. And how Kim’s insistence on sexualizing her daughter is a misguided attempt to give her daughter value denied to her by her ex-husband.

Kim and Mercedes are both products of a world that values women as object, whether they are virgins or sluts, based solely on their sexual availability to men. Mercedes thought she could game the system by taking control over other girls first time in order erase the trauma of her own. Much like Kim hurts Mercedes as she tries to repair her broken marriage by trying live vicariously through her daughter. Mercedes controls other girls and ultimately hurts them and herself by acting exactly like her mother. 

But neither Mercedes or her mother created this never ending cycle. They are just continuing it. The fault doesn’t lie on them. I'm tired of books that only address the symptoms and not the actual problem. Which is the case with Firsts.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Saviorism in YA

One of the tricky aspects of advocacy is learning the difference between support and saving. Support means learning to listen and respect their needs, trusting they know best and placing them first. This can be really tricky when we’re pulling double duty, self-advocating while trying to be allies for others. Not to mention, the complexity of being an adult advocating for young people. This overlap can often blur the lines between what actually helps others and what makes us feel good.

There is no question the latest conflict in the YA community hit a nerve. While I will maintain that speaking about it specifically should continue, I won’t dispute another important issue emerged. Many authors expressed that they feel a great deal of pressure “to get it right” when writing diverse characters. Marginalized people who are also authors spoke up too, sharing how they to feel this same pressure to be perfect when writing their own experiences. I think one thing feeding into this pressure is how often we mistake advocacy for being saviors.

There is a trend in the online YA community that I suspect feeds both this pressure “to get it right” and the assumption that all forms representation must be perfect. There is an incredible amount of pressure placed on authors to be role models and mentors. Which is not only a completely unrealistic and problematic expectation, but misrepresents the relationships between authors and readers. 

The power dynamics I’m specifically addressing here are between adult authors advocating for and even interacting with young readers. I’m being very specific about this because it’s important to keep these polar opposite positions of power in mind when thinking of how often we see dialogues around why we write and the impact of books, especially in discussions of diverse books. 

Think of the children,” has become a widely mocked battle cry for thinly veiled attempts at censorship and unnecessarily control of information. Those who use these claims often do so out of a misguided belief that kids are so unintelligent and helpless that they require tight control and guidance. I also think some people who do this not only believe they’re helping, but feel obligated to do it. They feel pressured “to get it right” for kids.

I see a variation of this phenomenon in another battle cry: “be the person you needed when you were younger.” 

I know, it looks seductively simply and well intentioned, but notice how it centers advocacy on what the advocate believes they needed when they were young. This mindset makes an adult, who has significant privilege, feel entitled to center themselves, making their experiences the measure of what young people need. At no point does it factor in the unique experiences, opinions, and needs of the very real young people an advocate is trying to help. That is saviorism.

When you assume you know better than the person you’re helping, you are placing yourself in a position of power and authority over them. You know best, and consequently you close yourself off from listening and learning from them. This is how you make yourself a savior versus an advocate. Real advocacy should challenge us to think of others first by empathizing and understanding their wants and needs in order to better help them.

What about marginalized authors? Don’t we know better than anyone what it’s like to be a marginalized reader, and know how best to help them? Marginalized people are not a monolith. 

Sure, I was a teenager once, but every queer teenaged girl of color is not exactly like me. While they and I may share similar experiences, and they might even find my thoughts and stories useful, I am not an authority on what is best for them, and assuming I am doesn’t help them either. They don’t need me to save them. They need books. 

Books could help them know they’re not alone or broken. Books could teach them how to cope with a culture that denies their agency and tries to erase their identity. Books may inspire them to save themselves, or even help someone else. 

An author doesn’t change lives; readers who are inspired and empowered by books do. Authors are not saviors; they write books. Telling a story doesn’t change the world. The people who change because of those stories do. 

Not all books have to save lives, nor should they be required to do so. Sometimes stories help in small ways. They can distract us from our troubles, make us laugh, or cry when we need it. They can help keep someone alive until they’re strong enough be their own heroes.

Authors can advocate for marginalized people by reflecting the reality of humanity in their work. This is accomplished in every genre in various ways. Not all stories are for everyone, nor should they be. Diversity is about getting more stories and representation for everyone. Marginalized people reflect reality by simply telling their own stories, and sharing new perspectives and experiences. They also embody diversity in their very presence in the industry, the impact of seeing someone like you telling their own stories is immeasurable.

Putting a stop to the long standing exclusion of marginalized people from books in every genre in literature isn’t going to be easy. It’s been the dominant narrative in literature for hundreds of years. Authors shouldn’t add to that already stressful and difficult process with unrealistic expectations. 

I see a lot of authors putting undo pressure on themselves, imagining these young readers who are depending on them. Unfortunately, I see the imagined parallel of those imagined young readers become the focus of discussions of individual books with no mention of how they are part of a much larger systemic issue. Representation of marginalized groups impacts all readers, and we should question how YA books impact younger readers. These are valid discussions of systemic issues in publishing, society, and media, not an indictment of an individual author.

An author’s responsibility is to write their book to the best of their ability. That’s it. The industry’s systemic issues will not be solved by one book or its author, many of who lack any real power to do more than self-advocate, to say nothing of marginalized authors with even less power. 

If authors are inspired and motivated to write by imagining the kids they might be helping, great. Even better if they’re inspired by messages from readers who say their books helped and saved them. This impact is real and important, but keep the actual role and responsibilities of authors in perspective. 

Advocate for young readers by treating them like readers. Respect their ability to empower themselves. Young readers don’t need saviors. They need books. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Fall Preview Part 2: What to Watch this Fall and Beyond!

If you thought I already overloaded you to-be-watched list with my last post you ain't seen nothing yet. There are many more shows coming that look promising. While I haven't seen their pilots I have their trailers and I can't wait to watch them. I'm also cheating and adding in shows that aren't set to premiere until early 2016, but I doubt you'll complain once you see how amazing they look. Bring on the trailers!

Quantico (ABC)
Premiere September 27th, 2015

Priyanka Chopra in the leading role of an American tv show? Hell yes! Fans of Bollywood films already know Chopra, who is not only one of the biggest stars in India cinema, but also one of the highest paid actresses. Quantico is a mystery-thriller following a group of FBI recruits going through training, and features an extremely diverse cast of characters that is so damn refreshing to see. Chopra's character, Alex, is at the center of the story. A confident and capable woman, who knows what she wants and isn't afraid to go after it. Considering she will be thrust in to the heart of a dangerous mystery she's going to need every ounce of that her strength and skill to survive. I'm an easy sell for a show like this, and I really hope I'm not the only one who will tuning in to watch. 

Into the Badlands (AMC)
Premiere November 15th, 2015

Loosely based on the 16th century Chinese novel 西 (Journey to the West) this show has the distinct style of a Western with dashes of Steampunk for a flare of fantasy. What sets it apart from both those genres is an Asian man, Daniel Wu, in the leading role. Wu's character, Sunny is a hired sword denied a full life of his own by the laws of this world. And oh what a brutal and beautiful world it is. As a huge fan of fantasy and Hong Kong cinema in particular Into the Badlands looks like it was custom made for my heart. Did I mention Sunny's love interest is played by a black woman? I am so watching this show.

The Shannara Chronicles (MTV)
Premiere January 2016

I'm just so damn excited to see this show. Based on the best selling Terry Brooks novels, this 10 episode series, I believe, is supposed to cover the events of the first book. This is a bold endeavor, especially for MTV which has only just dipped it's toes into producing original content, but based on the Comic Con trailer this might just be the show to give Game of Thrones a run for it's money. Bold claim, I know, but just watch the trailer and tell me it doesn't give you chills. The production value is on par with big budget film franchises, it has a built-in fanbase, and it is far more accessible to a younger audience (MTV's bread and butter). This is my #1 must watch of 2016.

The Magicians (SyFy)
Premiere early 2016

Based on the Lev Grossman novel of the same name, The Magicians is about a group of college students who not only discover magic is real, but that they have abilities. The show is being sold as a Harry Potter meets X-men, for adults. The trailer feels like it has so much more going for it than a cash grab for popular media tropes. Let's hope the SyFy markets it to the right audience, because this looks damn good. Did I mention is Manu Bennett plays Allanon? Yeah, we need this show NOW! 

The Man in the High Castle (Amazon)
Premiere January 15th, 2016

I went to the San Diego Comic Con panel for this show and I have to tell you I'm considering getting Amazon Prime just to watch it. The Man in the High Castle, Based on Phillip K. Dick novel by the same name, is a dystopia set in an alternate universe American where the Allied forces lost World War II. America has be cut into two pieces the East Coast and MidWest are controlled by the Nazis and the West Coast is controlled by Japan. The series follows a diverse cast of characters on both coasts as they live their lives in this altered version of the 1950s. The man, referenced in the title, is a mysterious figure who makes and distributes films of a possible reality of what a free America could look like, that closely resemblers real life history).

Now, I know a lot of people will be very concerned by the potential for mishandling pretty much everything involved in this premise. I mean, considering the loaded history of WWII and current events happening today in America, how can you not be worried? I myself had those same reservations, until I listened to the cast and show creators talk about the show and their intentions to not only address the problematic themes in the show premise but to use it as a vehicle to pointedly comment on contemporary America.

With the exception of a swastika would the 1950s version of the American dream look all that different under Nazi rule? There are very obviously racial implications to a Nazi controlled America that the show will explore. Likewise, on the West Coast we will get to see a more complex exploration of the blending of Japanese and American culture, and see much more racial diversity than in the Eastern part of the country for very obvious reasons. Despite, the very notable "Yellow Menace" imagery in the trailer, there is diversity in cast which includes Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, in what the panel and actor himself says to be a very important and central role.

Alternate history is one of my absolute favorite sci fi/fantasy tropes. I love the potential for commentary on real history and contemporary attitudes. I'm very hopeful The Man in the High Castle will meet or even exceed my expectations. Watch the trailer and see if it gets you excited and intrigued. 

These are just a small sampling of upcoming shows that have me super excited. I hope I've infecting you with my enthusiasm. Please feel free to share you recommendations with me. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Fall TV Preview Part 1: Bring on the Pilots!

There are a lot of new tv shows coming this fall. I got a chance to watch a few of the pilots and I'm here to share my take on those pilots. Be warned I will be mention some small spoilers, nothing that isn't covered in the trailers, but consider yourself warned.

Blindspot (NBC)
Premiere September 21st, 2015

The minute I saw the trailer for Blindspot I was intrigued. A big reasons why was the start of that trailer. It begins with a police officer discovering an abandoned duffle bag in the middle of Time Square, which is crowded by people, with a tag on it that says "Call the FBI." Next scene Time Square is completely empty save the bag and a  man in a bulky protective suit, obviously a member of the bomb squad. As he reaches out the bag suddenly begins to move and he yells "There's something in there." As the bag opens he pulls out a gun and aims it at the bag, he's shaking and breathing heavily. Then a naked woman, covered in tattoos emerges. The first thing that popped into my head was: A woman is naked on the screen and the only other person, a man, in the scene is scared and pointing a gun at her. THIS IS AWESOME! 

It's a very striking subversion of how women and their bodies are framed in most crime thrillers, as literal bodies and terrified victims. That shifting of the lens is imbedded in ever aspect of Blindspot (though sadly not not reflected in the publicity campaign for the show). That opening scene is a visual metaphor for the show and Jane herself, because while she is a victim, she is also very dangerous not just because of the mystery she presents, but the power she holds.

Jane has no memory of who she is, but she retains all her knowledge and skills, and a body covered in clues in the form of various tattoos. This old chestnut of a plot device (amnesia) is given more depth by allowing the narrative to focus on Jane’s experience of this ordeal. She is at once vulnerable, determined, powerful, and very sympathetic. The mystery she presents is fascinating and frightening, both in how it affects her and the potential dangers her tattoos are heralding.

Jane is not an object in the story so much as she is the story. The plot, so far, hinges on discovering who Jane is or was before she lost her memory. What a brilliant way to humanize a woman, by not only making her both the key to the entire story, but by making her the only one who solve the mystery. Which sets the man, who would typically be the lead in the story, firmly in the supporting role. All this is wrapped in a atmospheric, action-crime thriller with pulse pounding pacing and fight scenes that are on par with big budget films. No shaky-cam here, my friends. 

The cast is pretty diverse, though actors of color are relegated to 2nd and 3rd tier roles. Still their performances are strong and stand out, which gives me hope for more development of these characters as the show progresses. Notable stand outs are Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Bethany Mayfair and Ukweli Roach as Dr. Borden. Sullivan Stapleton does an adequate job as the “Trojan leading man” of the story, playing Kurt Weller, an FBI who finds himself plopped into the middle of the mystery because his name is tattooed on Jane’s back. But it is clear this is Jamie Alexander’s show. 
If you're of fan of Jamie’s work as Sif, in the Thor movies and Agents of Shield tv show, you will be more than pleased to see her finally get the spotlight she has long deserved. Her performance is nuanced and stunning. I wish we had more action heroines with this much complexity and layers. 

The pilot has me hooked both on the story and deeply in love with the character of Jane. I’m setting my dvr. I can’t wait to find out the secrets hidden in Jane’s tattoos and past. 

Lucifer (FOX)
Premiere: Not announced yet

I am a big fan of the comic book spin-off of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, by the amazingly talented Mike Carey. Lucifer was one of my FAVORITE characters from the Sandman universe. I wasn’t sure what to think of the idea of a Lucifer tv show when I first saw the trailer, but I am so glad I gave the pilot a chance. This is not the Lucifer comic book, but it does have the same tone and charm of the world and characters. Not surprising as Gaiman has a producer credit on the show, I don’t doubt he had at least some say so in how it was made. Still I advise any fans coming to the show to keep their expectations in check. 

The show opens on Los Angeles where Lucifer, who has recently quit his job, i.e. abandoned Hell, is running a night club. His “vacation” is not without it’s complications, one of which is an Angel by the name of Amenadiel, played by the phenomenal D.B. Woodside, who has been sent by God to get Lucifer’s butt back in Hell. No suprising, Lucifer isn’t interested in returning to his old job. He has made a comfy life for himself, and some of his former minions, on Earth. One of those minions, fans of the comic book will be please to see, is Mazikeen, played by the talented Lesley-Ann Brandt, who is the bartender at Lucifer’s club. 

The story real story starts with the introduction of Delilah, an famous pop singer who Lucifer helped get started in the business. Sadly, she is killed right in front of him. While I’m disappointed by the fridging of a women, ugh this trope is quickly becoming a cliche, I was struck by the dynamic between her and Lucifer. In fact, this take on Lucifer’s motivations and personality is the strongest hook for me with the show. 

What I’m talking about (which can be seen in the trailer)  is how Lucifer isn’t flirty or sexual with Delilah, but rather very paternal and caring. His reaction to her murder is likewise very passionate, and I was really struck by how important “justice” was to him. I love this depth to his character that not only feeds into why he would have been so well suited to run Hell, but also hints at how much Lucifer might actually have in common with the father he claims to hate. Tom Ellis is fantastic as Lucifer. He brings a surprising amount of depth and humanity to a role that could be easily be played over the top. He fluidly shifts from petulant child to furious angel and back to a charming playboy within the space of a few minutes. He isn’t the devil we know, but he is a devil we want to know.

Chloe, the police detective investigating Delilah’s murder, isn’t what she appears to be in many ways, which is so damn refreshing. In fact, her character/backstory is another thing that got me hooked on the show. Her interactions with Lucifer fully embraces the odd couple trope, only here there is no weaker link/butt of the joke. Lucifer has met his match in Chloe, who is literally immune to his charms. So far, there is no real hint of romantic subplot between them, and I’m so hopeful it remains that way. I really enjoy seeing them as platonic partners, and even keeping Lucifer in a place of paternal responsibility. It emphasizes his power and separation from humanity. 

Overall, I’m super excited to see the show. It has a fair amount of diversity in the supporting cast, don’t mind me while I flail over Mazikeen being black in this canon. I’m really happy that despite the title of the show, Chloe is as much a lead in the story as the devil himself. 

Additional Note: Lucifer is the show that should be doing a crossover with Sleepy Hollow, especially since the same talent is working behind the scenes on both shows. I would much rather seeing Ichabod and Abbie face off with Lucifer, rather than the cast of Bones. Seriously, what the hell is FOX even thinking? 

The Minority Report (FOX)
Premiere September 21st, 2015

I watched this solely on the casting of Meagan Good. She does not disappoint, likewise with her costar, Stark Sands,  and the rest of the supporting cast (who are delightfully diverse). I've been missing a futuristic odd couple show since Almost Human was cancelled. Minority Report isn't that show, but it has the same bright technologically stunning vision of the future, which is a nice change from all the monochrome dystopian sci fi dominating popular media right now.

The story picks up a few years after the end of the movie and shows the inevitable repercussions of shutting down the PreCrime program. Dash, one of the original three pre-cogs used in the program, has return to the city to try to help people by stopping crimes before they're committed. He is joined by Detective Lara Vega, and together they explore his gift and try to prevent crimes. The introduction of Dash and Vega feels more like a superheroes origin story, opposed to a typical crime thriller. I think some of that is related both to Dash's abilities, but also the themes of Phillip K. Dick's story, upon which the movie and now tv show are based. The show expands on the moral and ethical argument presented by PreCrime with real world, or in this case futuristic world, consequences. It also confronts us with very real questions about personal responsibility, the nature of crime, and the cause of it.

Acting and story wise I am sold, I love the production/art design, and am genuinely engaged with the story. The look of the show beautiful without being distracting. The only thing that bothered me are some unnecessary bits of humor and dialogue forced into scenes where they didn’t belong. I’m hoping these were problems with the pilot that will be remedied in the rest of the show. I can see how they are attempting to replicate the dynamic of Sleepy Hollow within a future setting, which isn't a bad thing at all, for me. Dash is a hapless, but not completely helpless, man out of time. Vega is the intelligent and determined police detective, with a kind heart who takes Dash under her wing. There are obvious conspiracy going on, that hint at a bigger story arc for the season. It’s a good start.

Supergirl (CBS)
Premiere October 26th, 2015

If you were following me on social media when the Supergirl trailer leaked you already know that I'm very much in love with the show. Well, I've seen the pilot episode and my love has only grown. This is everything I never knew I wanted. 

I love everything about this show, from the bright color palette (FINALLY THANK YOU), to the joyful tone, and of course Kara herself. She is every bit the earnest, vulnerable, and capable super-heroine we deserve. On top of all that, this is a comic book show, by that I mean it has ALL the tropes. I'm talking monster of the week, smashing people through walls, and explosions. Best of all, we get all of this with a girl standing in the forefront. This isn't just a young woman coming of age story, it is a young woman superhero coming of age story. 

As a long time fan of the Superman mythos this show made me so happy, and surprisingly emotional. There are a lot of wonderful easter eggs for Superman fans. Whether you love the Christopher Reeves Superman movies, the original Supergirl movie, Lois and Clark, or even Smallville, there is a little surprise in here for everyone. It means a lot to me to see Kara's story woven into the Superman legacy. 

It is also wonderful to see that the central relationship of the show is not a romance, though there is definitely hints of a romantic subplot, but instead the focus is on the relationship between sisters. Alex Danvers, played by Chyler Leigh,  is the daughter of  Kara's adopted parents (who are an awesome easter egg for fans). Alex takes her role as Kara's older sister very seriously, which casts Kara's journey to becoming a hero into a decidedly feminist light. It's played subtly, but poignantly by Leigh, who gives a lot of real world subtext to the risks a woman, like Kara, faces being in the public eye. Honestly, the entire show is filled with feminist subtext I could be here all day going over all of it. 

Of course I can't not mention Jimmy, I mean James, Olsen, played by the handsome and talented Mehcad Brooks. That's right, Jimmy Olsen is black, and a potential love interest for Supergirl. Cue me dancing. Their meet-cute is ridiculously sweet. When James isn't melting the screen, he has a lot of depth and some secrets of his own. I can't wait to see more of him and the show. 

While the show is being marketed to adults, I think it's really going to hit big with younger viewers too. This show is made for young girls. Kara's story isn't just about being a woman, but about becoming a person. Figuring out who you are and what kind of power you have in the world. That is universal story, but one girls have been needing to see themselves in for a long time.

So that's part 1 of my Fall TV Preview. In part 2 I'll be listing the upcoming shows I haven't seen yet and talk about why I'm planning to watch them. 

What shows are you excited to see? 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Bisexual Steve Rogers and the Heteronormative Default

Heteronormativity is the belief that people fall into a distinct gendered binary (man or woman) in all aspects of human behavior and relationships, enforcing rigid socially constructed ideas of gender and sexuality. It is based on the notion that heterosexuality is the only or default sexual orientation, thus all romantic and sexual relationships must fit into the rigid confines of heterosexuality. This ideas is false, incredibly damaging, and sadly extremely pervasive in many cultures. It even can influence how we view homosexuality, creating a kind of light-switch with only two settings, gay or straight. This “light-switch” idea is so common in our cultural consciousness, that almost every story functions on the default assumption that everyone is heterosexual unless explicitly labeled homosexual.

So, what does this have to do with the beloved alter ego of Captain America? Simple, Steve Rogers is bisexual. No, seriously. Let me explain.

If we are to dismantle heteronormativity we have to actively alter how we view relationships and sexuality. Ideally, we should already view everyone as fluid until they identify otherwise, but I find that breaking the binary all together is far more effective in demonstrating the pervasiveness of heteronormativity. So, for the sake of this experiment let’s shift our default assumption to bisexual.

Let’s start by looking at the movie Captain America: The First Avenger and assume Steve is bisexual, until proven otherwise. Right off the bat many people with point to Steve’s relationship with Peggy Carter and it’s obviously romantic connotations as proof of his heterosexuality. While I won't dispute that there is most definitely a romantic relationship between them, of which I'm a huge fan, but that doesn’t disproves Steve's bisexuality. After all, bisexuality is an attraction to people of any gender. Another important thing to note is there are no sex scenes or even implied sex in this film. Any assumptions we make will be based on platonic interactions and emotional intimacy.

Out of the gate Steve and Peggy’s interactions do not fit into standard romantic cliches. Steve is introduced to Peggy as a passive observer, and a subordinate. They do not directly interact until the cab ride before he is transformed, while they do have an intimate conversation, that has implied romantic subtext, it is clear they are not in a romantic relationship or even courting each other.

Even in later scenes that do have heavy romantic subtext, like when Peggy discovers Steve is kissing another woman and Steve assumes Peggy is involving in some sort of sex act called “fondue” with Howard Stark, it is still unclear if a romantic relationship has been established. These scenes are less about romance, and more about using gender coded behavior and sexist stereotypes as a narrative devices to show more about the characters, i.e. Steve’s insecurity and Peggy’s guarded nature. These are two coworkers and friends, who might have sexual or romantic interest in each other, but at no point in the film do they refer each other girlfriend/boyfriend. (I might also add that neither of them ever says “I am heterosexual” out loud. Which means Peggy Carter is bisexual too, but that’s a post for another day.)

Now, let’s compare Steve’s relationships with Peggy to his relationship with Bucky. They too are coworkers and friends, who have an established relationship and even share several emotionally intimate scenes. Bucky is the reason Steve goes behind enemy lines in his first real act as Captain America. When Bucky is presumed dead Steve is devastated.

Sure, at the start of the film Bucky and Steve go on a double date with two women, but again this doesn’t disprove bisexuality in either of them. The only notable difference between these two relationships is that Steve and Peggy kiss, but considering the lack of any sexual or romantic interaction up to that point it would be easy enough to assume it is their first/last kiss. Thus it doesn’t confirm an establish relationship, much less disprove Steve Rogers’ bisexuality.

Kissing aside, the only real difference in the narratives of both relationships are the genders of the individuals involved. If we are to look at them through our default bisexual lens, it is not only clear that Steve Rogers has romantic feelings for Peggy, but it shows a very real likelihood that he was also in love with Bucky. Based on this assumption and the lack of an established relationship with Peggy the narrative of Steve’s relationships takes on a whole new, and complex dimension.

Is Steve’s lack of self confidence fed by an unspoken love with his best friend? Was Peggy aware of it, and chose to not express her own feelings until after Bucky died? I’ll leave all these questions to fan fiction authors to answer.

Strong relationships are important part of the narrative of a good story, even comic book action films. Steve’s love for Bucky, be it platonic or romantic, is what drove him to become Captain America. Likewise, Peggy's affection and support helped Steve on that journey. We can also see that those relationships are important no matter the genders of those involved. Peggy and Bucky both have a profound impact on Steve’s life. Both character appear in person or at least are mentioned in every film Steve is in. Most relevant to the topic at hand though is that there is no way to disprove that Steve Rogers is bisexual, since both relationships are equality strong and emotionally intimate.

The point that I’m trying to make is that the writers of this film, and media in general, do not even try to differentiate the presentation of a friendship between two men and a romance between a man and woman. Why? Because it is assumed that the audience will automatically code the men as heterosexual, and thus know implicitly that their relationship is platonic. Likewise, they rely on the assumption that because Peggy is a woman, she will automatically be viewed as a sexal/romantic partner for Steve.

This is true of how all relationships are portrayed throughout the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Which explains why there is so much speculation about Black Widow’s romantic involvement with the other Avengers. She is a woman and they are men, and thus all her interactions with them are coded as sexual/romantic even when they are intended to be seen as platonic.

It would be lovely if we didn’t have to label people at all, but we are all taught from a very young age and reminded on a daily basis to default view our world through a heteronormative lens. These ideas harm everyone. Which is why it is important to be aware of and actively dismantle them.

Don’t forget, Steve Rogers is bisexual.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Anything but Broken by Joelle Knox

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Trigger Warning: This book touches on suicide and bipolar disorder. It deals directly with mental and emotional abuse, anxiety disorder, and alcoholism. The word "crazy" is also used a great deal.

A harsh reality of adolescence is not all of us make it out alive. Those of us who do survive often carry the weight of those lost lives with us, along with a fair amount of survivor’s guilt. This is one of the quintessential New Adult experiences that I rarely see explored in any genre of fiction, much less with this much care, thoughtfulness, and raw honesty.

Hannah Casey has come home to deal with the aftermath of a car accident that resulted in the death of her father and hospitalization of her mother. As the only living member of her family Hannah is forced to take on real adult responsibilities, and return to a town she hasn’t seen since she was fifteen. While she faces the ghosts of her past, she runs into Sean Witlow, her first crush, and her (dead) sister’s ex-boyfriend. Tragedy brings them together, but it’s love and the possibility of a second chance at happiness that draws them closer. If only those the secrets that have haunted Hannah will stay in the past.

I went into this book with the expectations of a well written, steamy romance intensified by a personal tragedy. While all of this elements are present, Anything But Broken elevates them far beyond my wildest expectations. From the opening scene of the book the skillful storytelling blew me away. In that scene, where Hannah returns to her childhood home, there was a tangible the sense of foreboding that gave it the feel of a contemporary gothic horror, only instead of ghost and castles it had memories and a home gym. That oppressive sense of impending dread that mirrors Hannah's own mental and emotional state felt like a living breathing entity that hung over me while I read. It’s made me tense and anxious to keep reading, in anticipation of the prevail shoe that was destined to drop. And when it did, though I thought I was ready for it, I wasn’t even remotely prepared for how realistic and how emotionally it was, for me.

The writing is flawless. It reads so smoothly, but also lavish in it's world building. I know, that seems like a strange things to say about a contemporary story, but in this case it fits. Hurricane Creek feels like a real place. You fell the humidity of a Georgia summer night, and almost taste the sweet smell of fresh peaches. More importantly,  I feel like I know all these characters. I’ve traveled with them through the backroads of Hurricane Creek, seen them at their highest and lowest. That kind of emotional investment doesn't just happen by accident.

On the surface Hannah looks like your typical romantic heroine. In reality, she is anything but. This girl is a very flawed and deeply damaged young woman. She makes a lot of mistakes, but she also learns from them and grows over the course of the story. Hannah is a beautifully complex young woman, a refreshing mixture of courage, recklessness, and vulnerability that feels so on the spot for being just shy of 21. It meant a lot to me personally to see a young woman allowed to come back from a big fall. I think we often forget how girls are pressured to be perfect to the point that they many fear being written off forever for being human.

As for the romantic leading man, Sean Witlow. WOW! He too seems to be all the classic Alpha male tropes wrapped in a hot mechanic/racer, but he is so much more. It is wonderful to see a young man understand and respect consent, who loves and forgives, but who is also goes through his own character arc. He is actually allowed to process guilt and grief, while growing and learning. He is still a delightfully sexy romantic fantasy, but also a very believable working class man who truly appreciates and respects women.

Hannah and Sean’s relationship is a perfect balance of sweet romantic fantasy and realistic depiction of how tragedy can intensify attraction. I was really impressed with how much time was give to the development of their relationship.  Trust is the foundation of their relationship that carries them into some of the hottest sex scenes I have ever read, even the ones that never involve penis-in-vagina sex. The slow building sexual tension never lets up even when the story reaches both its literal and thematic climaxes. This is top notch erotic romance, and some of the most subversively feminist I’ve ever read. Even within the throws of a sex act that is one of the most classic symbol of masculine dominance the focus is on Hannah’s pleasure and power, and this prioritization of Hannah’s pleasure is emphasized by Sean himself.

The story also has a strong ensemble cast of distinct and endearing characters, who I hope to see get their own spotlights in the rest of the Hurricane Creek series. Gibb and Evie being two of my personal favorites, both are just as complex as Hannah and Sean while having fascinating backstories of their own. I especially love how we watch Hannah’s own view of Gibb changed over the course of the story as she came to know him better. This double duty character development, that felt so organic while reading, is what I'm mean when I say the storytelling blew my mind.

As for the contents of the trigger warning, this story isn’t about suicide or mental illness, so much as it is about the devastation of alcoholism. It is really a story for families of addicts, exploring that painful awakening we all go through at some point in our lives when we realize just how much destruction addiction has done to us and those we love, but also how we could succumb to it someday too. It also unpacks the psychological damage that children of alcoholics deal with, in this case anxiety. Anything but Broken deals with each of these topics with unflinching honesty and understanding that resonated with me on a very personal level.

I cried a great deal while reading this book, both happy tears and very painfully personal ones. I share this not just to applaud the novel, but to further warn other readers who may share some of these traumas. I love this book, and will read it again. But it is very honest and raw, which might trigger reactions with readers who relate a great deal with Hannah's childhood/family dynamics.

I honestly could writing a hundred essays on every detail of this book, and I still might, but for the sake of this review I will just say it is a great, very steamy romance with an honest heart and realistic portrayal of some of the hardest parts of growing up.

Anything But Broken by Joelle Knox buy it on Amazon and Kobo now.

Note about the authors: Joelle Knox is the pen name of Donna Herren and Bree Bridges, the talented writing duo behind the dystopian erotic romance Beyond series as Kit Rocha and they’ve penned dozens of paranormal novels as Moira Rogers.

Friday, May 22, 2015

[Review] Dollar Shave Club: A Great and Affordable Option For Anyone Who Shaves!

Disclaimer: I'm not being paid for this review. I bought this product with my own money and I really like it. 

If you regularly shave any part of your body, face, or head, you know that all the stuff involved with the process is expensive. An average store bought razor costs upwards of $10 to $15. That is just for the handle and one razor head. Replacement cartridges can cost around $30 for a pack of 8. That breaks down to $3.75 per cartridge. Depending on how often you shave and replace your blades that gets really expensive really fast.

Enter the Dollar Shave Club.

I’ve been seeing their hilarious ads on Youtube and TV for awhile. Under all the humor the service sounded like a great deal. While most of their advertising targets men I decided to give the service a try, because shaving isn’t gender specific and neither should the associated products. 

There are three plans, ranging in price from $1 to $9 per month. The difference between the plans are in the size/style of the blade heads and shipping charges. The $6 and $9 per month plans come with free shipping. I decided to go with the $6 per month plan, I’m a sucker for free shipping. 

The $6 package gets you 4 blades/heads a month with free shipping and handling. The first package that comes has one handle, four blades, and a sample of their shave butter. 

The Service was easy and quick. The website is very easy to navigate and signing up was a breeze. Also, I love how they emailed me before my replenishment shipment went out to give me a chance to add to or change my services before it shipped out.

The Shipping was fast, like shockingly quick. Less than a week from the time I signed up to when I got the first package. The replacement blades came right on time. In fact, they arrived before I need them. So bonus.

Additional note: The service is available in the USA, Canada, and Australia. 

The Packaging is beautiful and hilarious. It has all kinds of humors anecdotes and plays on words all over the box and interior parts. If you’re a fan of graphic design and typography (which I am) you’ll have to fight the urge to not save every piece of the packaging. 

The Handle is a pretty standard, masculine coded design. It’s thick, has good weight to it, and a comfortable angle to grip in your hand. Plus there are plenty of texturized bits all over the handle to keep it form slipping even when it's wet. 

Note: If you loose or break your handle you can add a new one to your regular monthly order for $4. This is a nice feature if more than one person in the same house hold want to share the service. My husband and have our own handles. 

The Razor are freaking sharp! Holy crap. Wow, they make shaving fast and easy. Be careful shaving tight corners and angles, like your ankles or chin. Be especially careful shaving around the public area and labia with these blades. It's all fun and games until you nick your clit. 

Important Note: I’ve seen some reviews discussing people having difficulty with rinsing hair out of the head of the blade. I didn’t run into this problem, but it’s a far critique of the design of how the blade head attaches to the handled. Which causes it to have to be rinsed out more often when shaving thick hair growth. So if you have lots of dense amounts of thick, course hair this way affect how it performs for you. 

The Shaving Butter was really nice. I got a free sample with my initial kit. It smelled pleasant and left my skin nice and smooth. However, based on the ingredients and the fact that the entire kit is geared toward cis-men, I wouldn't recommend using it on or near the pubic area. No one wants a vaginal infection.

In summary, I love the product and the service. I’m saving a ton of money on blades and am able to shave more often without fearing razor burn from dull blades, since I’m not trying to make expensive razors last longer. On the whole I highly recommend the Dollar Shave Club for anyone who shaves any part of their body regularly. 

Additional note: I think it's a HUGE miss on the part of Dollar Shave Club that they're not marketing to women. Not that they need to make the razors pink or change the packaging at all. Every woman I know who shaves already uses men's razors, because they work better and are often cheaper. I think it's easy money to add onto their existing campaign to also appeal to women. Especially if they pitch the whole idea that couples can share the service. 

Dollar Shave Club is a great service for an affordable price. I highly recommend it. It also makes a great gift for anyone who shaves regularly, no matter their gender.

Happy Grooming.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

[Spoiler Review] 5 Things I Loved and 5 Things I Would Change About Avengers: Age of Ultron

[Spoiler Warning: I'm going to discuss details of the movie, many of which are spoilers. If you want to read my non-spoilery review click here.]

This is a follow up post to my review of Avengers: Age of Ultron. I wanted to dig into some spoilers and share a few more thoughts on the film This is going to be a list of things I liked, and things I would have changed. 

5 Things I Loved

Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff
FINALLY we get another woman on the Avengers team. While this Wanda isn’t the same character from the comic books, I adore this new MCU version of one of my favorite characters, who is arguably the most powerful individuals in the entire Marvel Universe. They also did a masterful job with Wanda’s powers. A much better job than the X-men movies ever did with Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix. 

Tony Stark
Tony's story arc is such a great example of how the MCU has mastered character continuity, for the most part. In Age of Ultron we see the same Tony we left in Iron Man, he's most secure and self assured, but still very much  struggling with the trauma he suffered during the first Avengers film. I really like that there wasn't a "quick fix" for his PTSD. He's managing it, but it's still ever present, as we see in his vision. 

That vision tells us so much more about what's really behind Tony's his fear and anxiety. Tony isn't so much afraid of death as he is afraid of losing the people he loves, especially when he alone is responsible for their safety. Tony's need to control EVERYTHING only exacerbates his anxiety.  Not to mention this particular fear hits Tony where he lives. Much like JARVIS is much more than a computerized personal assistance, the Avengers aren’t simply coworkers, they’re Tony's family. Underneath the armor and bravado there is a lonely, insecure emotionally orphaned boy with all the money and the most advance technology in the world who wants to "build a suit of armor around the world" to protect it. In the act of trying to save the world who almost destroys it. Perfectly punctuating the central theme of the movie. 

Vision vs. Ultron
I’m planning to write an entire post about these two, and the metaphors behind them. This is one of the best aspects of the movie that helped elevate it beyond a simple action comedy. It gives me a lot of hope for what Marvel Phase Three has in store for us. 

The Party
It was completely unnecessary, but oh so appreciate. I LOVE seeing all these characters just hanging and existing together. What a wonderful way to add dimension to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while allowing fans to feel like we’re getting a peak behind the scenes of the comic book pages. While I hate a few of the gross jokes made at the expends of women, overall it was wonderful to watch the Avengers relaxing and having fun.

Steve’s Flashback
This is a completely self indulgent fangirl thing. It’s really difficult to coherently communicate what it meant to see Steve and Peggy together again, even if it was in a vision. It was also such a very simple but affective way to show what it really means to be a “Man out of time.” Steve doesn’t just feel out of place the present, he feels out of touch with the person he was in the past. As he said that man who came out of the ice isn’t the same as the one who went in, and that has me all kind of excited to see how they is expanded upon this in Civil War.

5 Things I Would Change:

Introduce Captain Marvel and/or Black Panther. 
I don't think it needs to be justified. It should have already happened. 

Fix Bruce/Natasha
A complete overhaul of the Bruce/Natasha romantic subplot. It is a brilliant idea that was poorly executed. I’ll go into details of this in a future post.

Scrap Hawkeye’s secret family
Not only was the insta-family forced, also way to make a woman exist solely as a feature of a man’s story, but the “down home farmer" cliche doesn't fit Clint at all. It seems like a pretty blatant play on the popularity of the  “American Sniper” esthetic, and feels completely out of place in a superhero movie. Also the MCU already has an All American Soldier, and his name is Steve Rogers.

Deaf Hawkeye 
Imagine Clint adjusting to his hearing loss on top of the emotional and psychological trauma he suffered the first Avengers movie. It would also explain his notable absence in The Winter soldier. Deaf Clint could add some much needed representation for people with actual disabilities, rather than fictional superpowers that are sloppy metaphor for disability. As Matt Frantion’s brilliant run of Hawkeye showed, that Clint’s strength is in just being himself, and I think that’s a far better counter point to all the superpower angst going on with all the other Avengers.

Natasha should give the inspirational speech, instead of Clint. 
This is change so glaringly obvious, I suspect the speech was written for Natasha and later changed to Clint to give him more screen time. The problem is having Hawkeye, a content family man who’s most complex conflict is deciding how to remodel is house, a man who’s career is directly connected to the type violence Wanda and her brother are victims of, having this man deliver this speech comes off as condescending. I’m sure it worked great for every guy in the audience that was tired of Wanda experience “emotions” in the middle of a battle, and just wanted to her to work her magic while the wind blew up her mini-skirt. But for me, it felt forced and out of place. 

The twins felt like Clint and Natasha’s younger counterparts, and when you look at how they behave and their internal conflicts it’s really easy to see. This is only reenforced by Clint and Pietro interactions. Where they both shit-talk and show up each other. Natasha is far better suited to handle and relate to Wanda.

This young, angry, powerful girl is not unlike the girl Natasha once was. Who better to inspire Wanda to be an hero than a woman who has walked a similarly dark path and come out the other side, who is now an Avenger. There are many layers to Natasha saying “It doesn’t matter what you did or what you were.” 

Natasha is not just speaking to Wanda, she’s speaking to the girl she was in her vision of the past. It would be so meaningful for Natasha to step into the role of mentor, it would do some much to help move her beyond the violence and dehumanization of her past. Inhabiting a parental role for a young woman, so much like her former self, and inspire her to believe in herself and become a hero. This is how to make Natasha’s story arc about her, this is a distinctly feminine hero’s journey. Not to mention this is how you handle a cis-woman’s struggle with reconciling her infertility, without implying a woman’s inability to give birth is anything remotely like being a monster.


And that's the list. What were your favorite parts of Avengers: Age of Ultron. What would you have changed if you could? Leave your comments down below and thanks for stopping by.

Stay tuned for my future posts about Vision vs. Ultron, and Bruce/Natasha. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

[REVIEW] Avengers: Age of Ultron

Spoiler Warning: The Full review contains some very minor spoilers, most are hinted at or explicit in the trailers for the films, but if you want to remain spoiler free I suggest only reading the short review. 

Short Review
Age of Ultron is entertaining and promblematic in all the same way as the first Avengers movie. I liked it, but I’m also glad this is Joss Whedon’s last Marvel film. Bring on the age of the Russo brothers!

Full Review
The fear of sequel slump looms large for Age of Ultron considering the success of the first Avengers’ film. There’s a lot of ways to go wrong and very few ways to do it right. On the whole Age of Ultron does it right. It plays it safe with a good mixture of humor and action, but then also goes a step further by exploring the characters.

The first Avengers film centered around the question “can these superheroes really be a team?” The answer was yes, the opening sequence of Age of Ultron echoes it. We seen the Avengers at their best, working together they’re an unstoppable force. There’s even a joke about in the dialogue. 

So with the team established and stronger than ever, the new question asked in Age of Ultron is “what is the difference between heroes and monsters?” This question is the hidden genius that elevates Age of Ultron beyond a paint-by-numbers action comedy sequel, and sets the tone for Marvel Phase Three.

Ultron himself is the embodiment of crossing the line between superhero and monster. He’s a powerful AI created to protect the world, who turns into one of the most powerful villains the Avengers have ever faced. This perversion of good intentions, along with a dash of Scarlett Witch’s powers, forces each Avenger to question their own humanity. The answer is the underlining message of the film. 

In the age of super powers the difference between heroes and monsters is compassion and respect. Two qualities perfectly embodied in the new character Vision, who provides a powerful reminder for the entire Avengers team. Heroes defend the powerless, while Monsters seek to control them.

This theme is echoed through out the movie, in good ways and bad. I’m not going to lie, there’s a lot of stuff in this movie that annoyed the shit out of me. Like a romantic subplot that dominated Natasha’s story arc and felt like a huge step backward after all the amazing character development in The Winter Soldier. To be clear, I don’t have an issue with Natasha having a romantic subplot, and I actually like who she’s paired up with. (I’ve shipped it since the first Avengers film) I have a problem with the execution of it being one of the most cliche superhero tropes, that is not only sexist, but cissexist. TRIGGER WARNING! 

The issues don’t stop there. The only other women from the original Avengers film, Maria Hill, is relegated to a personal assistant, and is the butt of a gross objectifying joke about her being at the center of a tug-o-war between Tony and Fury. Add on top of this the notable absence of the other women of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Jane and Pepper. Who are only mentioned in a joke where they are tokens of achievement for their significant other, Tony and Thor, to use in a pissing contest. While, Wanda “Scarlett Witch” Maximoff is a welcome addition to the sausage fest that is the MCU, and I love how the twins continue laying the ground work for “Civil War,” there is still a lot problems in Age of Ultron. Most of which can be laid at the feet of Joss Whedon.

I don’t want to turn this review into Whedon hate fest, but the things that don’t work for me are all embodied in him refusing to learn new tricks. Joss is that guy who keeps telling the same joke at every party, because it never stops being funny for him. Sadly, we’ve all already seen the first Avengers movie, and while it was great, recycling the humor isn’t. There are too many witty quips that seem out of character for the people saying them, and feel really forced in moments where subtle humor would have been a better fit. 

The initial villain in the film, Baron Strucker is not only a character from the comic books, but he’s established in the MCU, both in the post credit scene of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and in the current season of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but he’s used as a plot device and quickly tossed away. I don’t mind a few throwaway characters, but Age of Ultron is littered with the bodies of human plot devices, more than a few of whom are women. Like Dr. Helen Cho (yay woman of color) who seems to only function as a joke aimed at female fans of Thor and to deliver exposition about new technology that’s important to a male character. Not to mention some spoilery stuff that’s done to spotlight Hawkeye and his importance to the team that employs more throwaway characters and feels so forced it left me rolling my eyes. 

Honestly, they could have cut Hawkeye out of the film, given the significant scenes he has with the Maximoff twins to Natasha, and the scenes would resonated more with Natasha delivering those lines, especially in a crucial scene involving Wanda. Plus, we’d actually have two women talking to each other in a MCU film. As it is, the only reasons this movie (debatably) passes the Bechdel test, despite having 6 named women characters in the cast, is because of a brief conversation in a flashback.

It feels like more time and energy was spent on developing the men at the expense of women, and that includes making the character development of the ONLY woman Avenger about one of her male teammates. *smashes face into keyboard repeatedly* 

Marvel still isn’t any closer to solving it’s downright laughable issues with handling women. These aren’t new issue for Joss Whedon either. So keeping them in mind is important to tempering any expectations one might have of Age of Ultron being a better MCU film, in that respect. It’s more of the same, but at least it’s consistent in both what it does right as well as it’s failures.

What it does right is bring the action and laughs. It delivers jaw dropping visuals, and stunning moments of emotional resonance. We even get indulgent moments where fans get to see all the characters we love coexisting together, as friends and fellow fighters. That’s a big key to the magic of an Avengers film. 

I love this movie, if for no other reason than its flawless introduction and establishment of Vision, and a Steve Rogers moment that made me cry. All that aside, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a fun time at the movies. You’re milage may vary.

P.S. For those of you who are noticing similarities in the themes of Age of Ultron and the latest Batman v Superman trailer. Good eye. Yes, Marvel just threw down the gauntlet.

Age of Ultron is a straight-up slap in the face to the DC Cinematic Universe, and specifically a counter argument to Man of Steel. I’ll even go as far to say that MCU has effectively created a character who is more like comic book canon Superman than DC Cinematic Universe’s own canon Superman. I don’t make the statement lightly.

This is Marvel not only reestablishing that they know how to make great superhero movies, but that they are ahead of the game on every level. While DC is building up to introduce their superhero team, and are just starting asking questions about humanity in the face of super powers. Marvel effectively just kicked in DC’s door, took a big shit on their floor, and walked away whistling “I’ve got no strings on me.”