Words, words, words, art.

The Blatherings Of A Blitherer

The fantasy of being someone else

September6

Kate Harding’s piece on The Fantasy of Being Thin is a really important piece that more people should read. It’s a fantasy I’ve succumbed to myself, both in relation to weight and other things. My life will just be perfect when I finally…loose weight, clear up my skin, find the perfect way of organizing my closet, find the perfect lipstick, find the perfect book shelf, start baking my own bread, get a better job, learn to drive, get a different hair cut, buy better clothing, live in a different building.

If I could just change everything about my life, everything about me, if I could just become unrecognizable and completely different, then I can finally do all the things I want to but am afraid of. Then I can finally be happy.

I used to spend a lot of money on products I never used, mostly make up and skin care and hair stuff. It was like… shouldn’t owning these things count for SOMETHING, even if I don’t actually use them, or only use them sporadically, or use them and then take a shower to wash them out again because I don’t know HOW to use them so just look like crap? I’m making the token effort, here! I’m being an appropriate consumer! Doesn’t that count?

I’ve been fidgety and anxious about my hair lately. About six months after I gave birth, it started dropping out in fist fulls and clumps; a fairly normal post-birth experience that is nonetheless freaky as all hell. I went and got my hair cut from mid-back to jawline. The hairdresser called me “brave.” Then she asked about the bald spots. The shorter hairstyle helped a lot. There was less hair clogging the drain, less hair forming tumbleweeds that drifted forlornly across the floor, less hair for Niko to grab and yank. And it dried faster, out of the shower. It’s down to my bra straps now, and I’m torn between continuing to grow it out and getting it cut short. Very short.

The problem with me and short hair is that my hair, like my nails, grows very very fast. This means that unless I oil my nails regularly, they are very dry and brittle; and this means that it’s very expensive for me to keep a short hair cut maintained. I’d need to go in every two weeks or so or I’d start looking weedy and shaggy. And unlike curly hair which can be very forgiving of home cuts, my hair is very straight (except for the hair that fell out and grew back in) and shows mistakes very, very clearly.

I’m getting to the point. Bear with me.

Someone on my friendslist posted about a haircut recently, very short, with slightly longer bangs. See, you keep the bangs a bit longer, and can play with them and style them. It’s a style that I like. It’s a style I’ve thought of getting before. It’s a style I was lusting after during our recent heat waves where my hair went a week once without ever being dry (it was either damp from the shower or damp from sweat almost the entire week; it was AWFUL). It’s also a style that, to look its best, to look “on purpose,” needs styling and product.

And how likely am I to purchase and use product? To spend time on my hair other than dragging a comb through it and then pulling it back with an elastic?

Do I really want this hair cut, or do I want to be the kind of person who can get a short, edgy hair cut and look good in it, and who has the time and know-how and interest (and money) to maintain the hair cut? Is this where I am, or is this where I want to be because I’m unhappy with something much bigger about where I am?

I’m not sure. I think it’s the latter.

But I need to start living in the now and the reality and stop chasing after the fantasy. What I am, what I have, isn’t bad. I need to take better notice of that.

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Review: “Attachments” by Kate Wilhelm

January4

“Attachments,” by Kate Wilhelm, is the opening story in the Nov/Dec 2017 issues of “Fantasy and Science Fiction,” which is one of my favorite magazines. According to the novelet’s introduction, Wilhelm’s first story in F&SF was in 1962. She’s an established, experienced writer and it really shows in this piece.

“Attachments” opens with a a young woman in a creepy/picturesque ruin in England. We soon see that she’s from the USA and that she’s there with a friend… and also that something is horrifically wrong. As the story unfolds we see that it’s a ghost story, both literally and figuratively. Drew, the protagonist, has 2 ghosts attached to her who want her to do things for them; Drew’s abusive ex boyfriend lurks in the background, a constant threat to her both mentally and physically. Drew has to figure out how to deal with the ghosts on her back, how to solve their problems, and then how to solve the problems in her own life.

It’s a well written story. Drew is interesting and we get glimpses of her life, both current and past. The ghosts’ plan is flawed, but desperate plans often are. She, and they, need to be creative in coming up with a solution. The metaphor isn’t THAT obvious, but it’s there… Drew is asked to free ghosts from a prison, and must also free herself from the ghosts of her past.

It’s a fairly gentle story with a bit of menace that’s quickly neutralized.

“Attachments” is a solid piece that leaves me curious about Wilhelm’s other work.

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Phil Miller and Male Entitlement

March26

NOTE:
This post contains spoilers for the first five episodes of Fox’s Last Man On Earth.

Phil Miller has spent much of his post-virus last man on earth time wallowing in his own filth, drunk, in droopy underpants. In the Before Times, the 41 year old man had a job- not a career- as a temp. Unless the Tuscan, AZ temp market is vastly different from the Chicago, IL temp market, he was making $8-11 an hour, or just enough to afford his shabby apartment, single lifestyle, and not much more.

When Phil, who has given up on personal hygiene, sobriety, and life, meets clean and well groomed (shaved legs, even!) Carol, he stumbles across her clean drying laundry (and bra) first, spinning a fantasy of the sexy young soulmate they belong to. Carol’s less than conventionally attractive appearance puts him off immediately. She doesn’t live up to his fantasy. She isn’t what he deserves. Phil, who has literally been living in a pile of garbage and shitting in a pool, is convinced that she isn’t good enough for him. This despite the fact that Carol, annoying quirks aside, has her life pretty together. She manages to bathe and wash her laundry, for instance. She has plans for the future that don’t involve soaking in an inflatable pool filled with alcohol. And unlike temp Phil she had an actual career as an office manager of a business, which meant she was making significantly more than Phil and also probably had PTO, health insurance, and a 401k. In the old world, there’s a good chance she would have been out of his league, and yet Phil considers himself comfortably superior to her because of her appearance and insistence on stopping at stop signs (which, by the way, ignoring stop signs lead to a car crash when Melissa shows up). But really, which is worse: being a stickler for grammar or shitting in a pool and living amidst literal piles of literal garbage with food crusted on your face and in your beard?

Likewise, when Melissa shows up– younger looking than Carol, more conventionally attractive, more stylish, more made-up, more blonde– Phil feels entitled to her sexually and emotionally. She is more attractive than him, and again, in the before times she had a career as a Real Estate Agent and made FAR more money than he did. She, again, would have been very out of his league and yet he feels entitled to her simply because he exists and he wants her. Melissa can barely tolerate his creepy and predatory company, desperate horniness aside. (And in a world where every single vibrator and battery is free and available, would she REALLY be that desperate for sex with a creepy married dude? That plotlette very much feels like something a group of dudes would come up with.) Phil has nothing to offer her besides sex, and yet he feels he deserves her and if given the chance (no Carol, no Todd) she would realize how great he is and return his interest and attention, even though he has an established history of lying to her and betraying her trust.

This is an example of the same male entitlement that gives rise to the Nice Guys who have nothing to offer save feigned respect and kindness with an ulterior motive, and who deride and berate the women (usually better looking, with better jobs and social skills) who don’t appreciate their greatness and refuse to fuck/date/marry them.

Phil’s attitude is toxic, and dangerous, and creates a hostile and threatening environment for Melissa and Carol to navigate. When Carol pulled a gun on drunk, urine-soaked Phil and demanded to know if he was a nice person or not he said he was. But as his interactions with his fellow survivors show, he isn’t very nice at all.

Will his brief moment of emotional vulnerability and truth with Melissa mark a change in his toxic personality, or will he continue being a barely likable (albeit wittily written) character? I have a sneaking suspicion that “Last Man On Earth” may reflect the reluctance of an increasing number of survivors to put with him and his manipulations.

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Women Gatekeepers of Nerdery

October30

I don’t remember a time when I hadn’t seen “Star Wars.” I grew up with it. The original trilogy is one of my mom’s favorite films, and she took Baby Me into the theater to see “The Empire Strikes Back,” nursing me to keep me quiet. We used to check out the television magazine in the Sunday Tribune and highlight the showings of “Star Wars” movies, and she’d let me stay up late to watch them. She started reading me “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” as a bedtime story when I was so young that it just sank into my conscious. I don’t remember hearing it for the first time, I don’t remember a time without those stories in my blood, although I do remember lying on an inflatable pool float on the floor one hot and sticky summer listening to her reading to me and my brothers. Something was going on with our bedrooms, I don’t remember what, and we weren’t able to sleep in them. So we camped out on the floor upstairs and she read to us by candle light.

My mom introduced me to a lot of science fiction and fantasy, and encouraged me to read and enjoy the genre. She scoured used book stores for out of print books back in the day when out of print books could be very hard to find (no internet!). She took it as given that I could and should love these books, these movies, these tv shows. She shared them with me, shared her love and adoration, her visions of the future and endless possibilities.

I know a huge amount of women who are really deeply invested in science fiction and fantasy books, movies, and tv shows. Most of them were introduced to it by other women, by their moms and aunts and older sisters and cousins and best friends. Paperbacks are circulated, pages worn fabric-smooth, binding creased and bent and chipping away, covers held on with yellowing tape. Read this. Try this. What do you think of this? Have you read this one yet? We induct each other into little worlds, usher each other in, introduce each other to our favorite books and characters and authors and worlds.

More and more the recommendations involve “there’s a female central character!” or “nobody gets raped in this one!”

Science Fiction and Fantasy, like Gaming, has a reputation as being male-dominated, a genre ruled by men: written by men, about men, for men. Women interested in these areas are treated as trespassers, foreigners, creatures suspect and false. This despite the fact that there’s a very long history of women writing Science Fiction and Fantasy… that one could easily argue that the novel in general and Science Fiction specifically were founded/originated by women authors. Women have always been involved with Science Fiction, with Fantasy, with Gaming, with Horror, with Pulp, with all the little islands men set themselves up as absolute rulers of despite all evidence to the contrary.

So let’s have a toast to the women in our lives who introduce us to our favorite nerd things, our geeky tv shows and movies and books and games. Let’s think of our lady friends and their recommendations and our history. Let’s remember each other with fondness and kindness and keep sharing our passion and love.

Women have been a part of every aspect of nerd culture since the very beginning. We aren’t going anywhere. But we’re bringing others with us.

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31 Days of Horror: “Candyman”

October22

“Candyman” is a classic horror movie about racism, abandonment, and Chicago.

I grew up in a really religious household, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I went to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, I went to Catholic school from second grade (CCD classes prior to that) through High School. The way I was raised just felt normal. Most of my friends were Catholic, or came from conservative families, or both. My parents were a little stricter in some ways than my friends’ parents, and I felt very little desire to rebel against them (out of very real fear of rejection/abandonment. Ironically, I got thrown out of the house for doing laundry at the wrong time and not for any petty teenage rebellion or high spirits. In retrospect, I could have lived it up a lot more and gotten the same result.). So when my parents banned almost every movie in existence, I didn’t really question it or try to sneak around to watch them. The upshot is that there are a ton of classic movies I have never seen. “Candyman” is one of them.

“Candyman” is a movie set in Chicago. Like the best urban fantasy and horror the city is a vital, integral part of the story. It’s almost a character in its own right. The movie opens tracking vehicles along the knotted tangle of expressways, moving from the South Side Northwards. Views of the luxurious high rise condos of the Gold Coast through protagonist Helen Lyle’s window; the cop car tooling down Lower Wacker Drive; Cabrini-Green, the setting of much of the horror; the University of Illinois at Chicago, pre-extensive external renovations; the bridges spanning the cold murky depths of the Chicago River; Stroger Hospital. Part of the character of Chicago is racism and segregation, and the movie digs much more deeply into issues like systemic racism and sexism than I was expecting.

Grad Students Helen Lyle and Bernadette Walsh are working on a thesis about Urban Legends, back when your average college student didn’t know what Urban Legends were. Helen’s husband, Trevor, is a professor at UIC. Despite her protests, he touches on Urban Legends in a lecture, cuing in potential interviewees/story tellers about what Urban Legends are and how they spread. He’s also very flirty with a female student, something he seems to have a history with. While transcribing tape recordings about a Bloody Mary-esque character named “Candyman” in her office, a cleaning lady mentions she’s heard about him. Intrigued and hungry for more data, Helen asks her and then another cleaning lady (who lives in Cabrini-Green) questions. They tell her a story about a woman who was killed by Candyman when he came in through her bathroom mirror… waiting in an adjoining apartment, removed the mirrored medicine cabinet, kicked her mirrored medicine cabinet out, and came through the hole. Helen does a bit of research and discovers that this is an actual thing that actually happened, and that the Housing Projects were so poorly made that the medicine cabinets were just set into holes in the cinderblock walls. There was nothing, no barrier, between the medicine cabinets. The victim called the police twice about the intruder, called 911 to report a break in, and was ignored.

I want to point out two things here:

1) Bernadette and the cleaning women are all Black, and the film passes the Bechdel test with wildly flying colors. Helen listens attentively to the cleaning women and treats them as experts in their knowledge, learns from them… but she’ll also be profiting from their story in a way they can’t, as she has access to academia and publishing and they don’t.

2) The bit about the congruent space between bathrooms? True. People WERE murdered by intruders punching through the bathroom cabinets. “Candyman” is based on a Clive Barker short story, a story written by an Englishman and set in England. Bernard Rose, another Englishman, wrote the script and directed the movie and did a fantastic job localizing the story. At the same time, he’s a white man who is literally profiting off the pain of Black people, sensationalizing actual horrific things that actually happened to actual people and making money off them in ways the people who experienced these things don’t have means of doing. Themes of abandonment thread their way through the film: people call 911 and are dismissed; Helen calls her husband for help and he’s off fucking a student; Helen and other people scream for help and are ignored; Trevor abandons Helen for his sexy perky-nippled student; multiple housing projects holding thousands of people are left to rot and decay, those within written off as unsalvageable human trash.

After a smug, condescending lecture from another man doing Urban Legend work, Helen decides that she and Bernadette are going to gather some first hand data and visit the Cabrini-Green projects, interview some residents, take some photos. This is a shockingly bad idea and Bernadette, who has actual brains in her head, does everything she can to convince Helen not to go. The two women wind up going together. A resident points out that every time white people come by bad things follow them, and this is very true as Helen’s actions rile up Candyman and cause problems for everyone, including herself.

The “real” history of Candyman, which omits his name and date of birth or death, is an absolutely unrealistic bit of unlikely circumstance and convoluted torture and murder, yet is told as unassailable fact by a man who studies Urban Legends and their hallmarks. The Urban Legend of a man breaking through a medicine cabinet is revealed to be true. UIC, a campus rich with Urban Legends of its own (both legends common to any campus with heavy use of Brutalist Architecture as well as more specific ones relating to the Behavior Science Building and Art and Architecture Building), is a wonderful choice as Helen and Bernadette’s college. Helen is attacked, but is not sexually assaulted or raped; she undresses on camera and it’s not titillating or voyeuristic. Her friendship with Bernadette is deep and loving. Helen repeatedly crawls through small openings, emerging from screaming mouths, born again from concrete birth canals. Helen fights to retain control of herself, of her mind, of her actions.

“Candyman” also explicitly questions the function of Urban Legends. Why are they so wide spread? Why are they so important? What do they mean, what do they offer? What if they are religion, a sacrament, something sacred and divine? What if we create god? What if our desires and fears manifest themselves as power and flesh, and become hungry? What if Urban Legends grant a special form of immortality?

It’s a fantastic movie.

It’s also not without its flaws.

One of the themes of the movie is that Candyman, a large Black man who is literally not human, preys upon and controls a white woman. He ruins her character, destroys her mind, posesses her, touches her body, kisses her. This is a pretty common, and pretty racist, fear about scary Black men despoiling white women. This could have been avoided by casting Helen Lyle as pretty much any ethnicity other than white, even made less obvious by darkening her hair. Urban Legends and stereotypes about sexually insatiable white-virgin-deflowering Black men abound. Does the movie knowingly play with this trope, or simply lazily fall prey to it?

Ultimately, I was pretty blown away by this movie and wish I’d watched it earlier. I was aware of its status as “cult classic,” and all too often that means “kind of shitty and very dated” (and so much about this movie IS dated, like UIC’s East Side architecture which as drastically been changed, or the fact that most of the housing projects have since been torn down and the ones close enough to the Gold Coast developed as luxury condos… which were supposed to be mixed-use with a certain percentage going to CHA (Chicago Housing Authority) tenants. That has overwhelmingly failed to happen, and a whole lot of people have been left homeless.). But there’s a lot about this movie to enjoy, to think about, and to unpack.

In my personal rating system for 31 days of horror, 5 stars means “buy this movie, it has good re-watch potential”; 4 stars means “rent this movie, watch it”; 3 stars means “find this movie for free, eh”; 2 stars means “skip it”; and 1 star means “ugh.” I’ve run across one movie that I thought deserved negative stars. “Candyman” is the first movie I felt deserved 5 stars. There’s a lot going on.

5 out of 5 stars for “Candyman.”

I’m really glad. I was getting super burned out by shitty, hateful, shallow gore horror and flapping tits.

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31 Days of Horror: “The Children”

October14

“The Children” is a movie about kids going wild and murdering people, and is boring.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that little kids are creepy. There’s a lot of reasons for that: they don’t think and reason like adults; they don’t have the same morality as adults; they are tiny and easy to over look yet are very strong; they say creepy things; they see and talk to things that aren’t there; they have a hard time separating fantasy and reality; at night their eyes look weird; most of us feel an urge to protect them even when their behavior, if from an adult, would be scary or abusive. Creepy kids are a staple of horror films, and for very good reason. Family tensions and isolated homes are also staple horror fodder. “The Children” combines these elements, gives them a stir, and falls asleep.

The movie starts with a blended family of mom, teen daughter from previous relationship, husband, and their two younger children, driving up in a crappy old car to an enormous house in the middle of nowhere. They’re visiting mom’s sister and her husband and kids. Familial tension is established right away: the sisters’ families belong to very different income levels. The car they’re driving up is a cast off from Rich Sister. Their house is not as big or as nice. Etc. As they get out of the car the youngest child, a boy, wanders into the bushes and barfs. NOTE: there is a lot of barfing in this film so if that bothers you, give this one a pass. I mean, I’d recommend giving this film a miss anyway, but the barf doesn’t help at all. Once inside the house all the kids are excited and running around and screaming. The barf boy launches himself off a counter while screaming for his mummy, and when his dad (uncle? they looked a lot alike) catches him and starts rough housing with him, the kid punches him in the nose. Rich Sister asks Poor Sister if shes seen “that article about the MMR” and talks about her plans to homeschool; there’s mention of how great it is to see one of Rich Sister’s kids up and running around again (apparently she was very ill previously?).

For quite a while, as the other kids each start barfing/coughing up blood/whatever (and not telling anyone), their rowdiness and noise and roughness can be dismissed as kids being kids. Even the first death could easily be written off as an accident. The parents, however, are quick to yell angrily, to put their hands on the kids. The kids are frequently expected to parent the other kids while the parents sit back and drink… both Casey (teenager) and Leah (I think that’s her name?) (pre-teen) are expected to care for the other kids. Leah’s mom tells her that since she’s the oldest she has to act as mummy while mummy gets ready for the party… which consists of family who are already at the house. Both sets of parents think the other pair is stupid and bad at parenting, failing at life. (Both sets of parents, I’d argue, are correct.) The teen girl, Casey, has an incredibly poor quality tattoo on her stomach of a fetus… either because her parents attempted to abort her but she survived, or because they forced her to have an abortion. Her step-father is unrelentingly hostile toward her and her uncle gives her both whisky and pot at different times. The movie would have been a lot stronger if it had decisively selected her as a protagonist and swung behind her, putting focus on her. But it HAS no focus for most of the movie, a bunch of stuff just happening, the characters barely fleshed out except in the broadest strokes. We’re meant to see the murderous children as antagonists but frankly I was rooting for them.

“Child’s Play” managed to make me care about Karen, Andy, and Aunt Maggie in just a few minutes. They were very real characters who cared about each other and had lives and concerns and interests, and it was easy to get invested in them. The kids in “the Children” are a baffling smear of noise and action. They don’t have distinct personalities. Their parents are interchangeable stock asshole characters. One wants to home school her kids. One sells Chinese Medicine. They smack their kids, ignore them, trot them out to lisp out poorly pronounced Chinese phrases. I don’t care about anyone in this ovie, including Teen Casey who is essentially Misunderstood Goth-lite Teen Angster # 305. Forced to attend an unwanted, boring family gathering, she finds herself in the position of having to kill the whiny, loud, ill-behaved young children– a common teen fantasy.

They call the cops, of course, who don’t show up even after several hours and several phone calls. The radio plays only static. The woods are full of vomiting children. Is this how the world ends? If it’s full of people like this, maybe it’s time.

I will never get this time back.

I give this movie 1 star out of 5.

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31 Days of Horror: “Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet”

October7

“Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet” is a movie about how terrifying the menstrual cycle is.

I mean, that is literally what it’s about.

“Mary Hatchet” gets her period for the first time, goes nuts, and tortures and murders her mom then kills her dad while he’s sleeping… a theme throughout the movie, where in general the women are chased and terrorized and tortured before being murdered while the men are killed with one clean stroke. She’s sent to a mental hospital where she’s diagnosed with menstrual psychosis and is violent and awful every time she gets her period. Women, amirite? A fat, slovenly, unshaved guard rapes her and of course she gets pregnant and of course the camera lingers on the squeaking bed frame as the crime occurs. She’s told the baby dies in birth, at which point she murders everyone in the hospital (except for one person) and is shot to death by the police.

But her ghost comes back, of course.

Meanwhile, just as Devil’s Night or Mischief Night is celebrated in some areas, “Blood Night” is celebrated in this area. In it, bros buy out all the stores tampon stocks, paint them red, and hang them up as garland/fling the at people.

Can you imagine being a girl, coming of age, hitting puberty, in that area? Knowing the legend of Mary Hatchet, knowing that menstruation is linked with insanity and murder? Knowing that menstruation, tampons, are a big joke? What would it be like getting your period on Blood Night? How would people react? The people involved with this movie made a choice, they sat down and made a series of choices, and one of those choices involved emphasizing the link between menstruation and insanity/violence. They made a lot of other choices, too, like having Mary walk around naked a lot, and having teen female characters describe their underpants and do strip teases and fuck gross nerds, and having a female character tell a joke story about being gang raped LOL NOT REALLY WOMEN MAKE THAT SHIT UP ALL THE TIME. They made a choice to consistently depict women as sexual aggressors: initiating sex, being on top, discussing their underpants, doing strip-teases in public, joking about their pussies, dragging dudes upstairs. It’s a male fantasy of men being selected and serviced by women. While the women are nominally aggressive, it’s in socially acceptable ways that perform for and cater to male tastes. They made a choice to have the men killed by surprise most of the time, unaware, quickly dead, their gore spattering onto girls’ faces like so much red bukake, while the girls are chased, hunted, terrified, terrorized, tortured, hacked to pieces. The girls have time to scream and writhe in agony, to be dismembered. These are choices that were made, choices that did not occur in a vacuum.

Watching this movie took time out of my life that I will never get back.

I give it 1 star out of 5.

At least it wasn’t Stoker.

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31 Days of Horror: “Stoker”

October6

“Stoker” is one of the worst movies I have ever seen.

This review is rife with spoilers.

For starters, although it’s called “Stoker” there is no reference to Bram Stoker and/or Draculas, which should be a crime. An absolute crime.

Like a lot of horror, the movie is intensely exploitative of female sexuality, and dismissive of female characters. The protagonist, India, is defined primarily by the fact that she has acute senses and knows how to handle a gun. What are her hobbies and interests? They’re never really gone into. Her mother is a spoiled, wealthy woman who does none of the work associated with being a wife or mother. She doesn’t cook or clean, she despises her husband and seems to actively hate and resent her daughter. She speaks fluent French and plays piano and wears fancy, expensive clothing and probably went to finishing school and hates living in the rural mansion staffed with paid help. Her eighteen year old daughter plays piano, but seemingly shares none of her other refinements.

The movie opens with India exploring the immense and well manicured grounds of her large and well appointed home, looking for her hidden birthday present. When she finds it, stashed in a tree, it’s not the pair of saddle shoes she normally gets. Rather, it’s a mysterious key. Conversation with her grandmother confirms that it wasn’t the grandma who stashed the presents every year, as India had assumed. Nor was it her distant mother, nor her recently dead father. Perhaps it’s because this is a horror movie, perhaps it’s because India is surrounded by negligent jerks, but nobody questions who it is that’s been stashing shoes in her size in various hidden places around the house for her entire life. Some people would find that creepy, but not India or her family. It’s just a thing that happens. Perhaps this is a symptom of wealth, to simply take for granted that perfect gifts appear at times from invisible hands?

At her architect father’s funeral, India meets her uncle Charlie for the first time. She didn’t know he existed until that point, but he’s come to help “support” the family. He claims to be a world traveler who’s been too busy traveling to visit the family. Or call. Or email. Or anything. India’s mom doesn’t second guess any of this, because she’s too busy fucking him with her eyes over the newly dug grave. Charlie moves into their enormous house. India sees him arguing with the head housekeeper (they have so much staff they need someone to manage the staff) who later vanishes, which isn’t at all suspicious or unusual. India’s mother reacts with anger. She’s so put upon! How dare the person who’s worked for them for 18 years not show up for work. Doesn’t anyone know how she suffers? Charlie cooks then dinner and sits there, plate full of still-bleeding meat, and watches them eat without eating any himself.

India’s mother discovers that Charlie is staying with them and tells India’s mother that she needs to speak with her about Charlie. Mummy assumes that Granny is an old hag out to split her from her One True Love and refuses to talk to her.

India discovers the housekeeper’s body in the freezer, but doesn’t tell anyone.

Charlie kills India’s grandmother– his mother– who India is close to, and burries her in the back yard.

Charlie lies and tells India’s mom he doesn’t know how to play piano and she “gives him lessons.” Later he plays a grope-y, panting duet with India, his niece, who is only a few days over the age of 18. And I assume she recently celebrated her 18th birthday so everyone involved with the movie can point their fingers and say LOOK. SEE. SHE IS 18. IT’S OK. SHE IS AN ADULT. IT’S ALL GOOD. India doesn’t like to be touched, except by her creepy uncle. India is sexually harassed by bullies at school. A male classmate tries to rape India and Charlie murders him. India helps Charlie bury the kid in the backyard. India realizes Charlie murdered and buried her grandmother.

India, filthy and sobbing, jerks off in the shower as she pictures Charlie murdering her rapist.

This is the kind of movie “Stoker” is. It’s a movie that takes a female character and, professing to be about her sexual awakening or whatever, exploits teen girls, teen sexuality. “Stoker” is a movie comfortable with an adult male predating upon his blood relative. “Stoker” is a movie in love with rape as motivation, as plot piece, as random thing that happens.

India doesn’t tell anyone.

When the Sheriff comes by to question her about her rapist’s disappearance, she lies to protect her uncle, who killed her grandmother.

India realizes the key opens a locked door in her father’s desk. In it, she discovers a cache of photographs of her father and Charlie… and another boy. She discovers a huge stack of letters Charlie wrote to her from her infancy, never delivered to her. They are adoring love letters, love letters written by an adult man to an infant, a toddler, a child, a pre-teen, a teen-ager. Letters of love and sensuality written to a minor, to a blood relative. This is what the movie is. This is what “Stoker” presents to us, the viewer: sexual predation and exploitation as voyeuristic titillation.

India is pleased with and aroused by the letters, because she was written by a Lizard Person who has no concept of how human beings actually work, think, function.

Then she realizes they came not from Africa and Europe and Asia but all originated in the local mental asylum, where Charlie’s been a patient.

She confronts him and he fesses up. He had a younger brother. He killed his younger brother, fairly gruesomely. His parents dumped a bunch of money on the local mental hospital and he’s been living a cushy life there learning French and playing piano and writing fantasy letters to his minor niece and imagining fucking her. He’s been dealing with the head housekeeper, who was giving him India’s shoe size and stashing the gifts and keeping tabs on her and reporting on her to Charlie… and one might ask WHY she did this, what was her motivation, was Charlie paying her and if so where did he get the money, and how did India’s parents, who were receiving the letters, deal with this? How did they not figure out someone in their employ was a super fucking creeper? Charlie gives India a pair of Laboutins, red soles and all, her first pair of high heels.

It’s symbolism, you know. She sticks her dainty feet in those high heels just like he wants to stick his dick in her. She trades her childish saddleshoes for the sexy high heels her uncle gives her. She puts away her childish things.

She decides she’s going to take off with Charlie. Her mom spills bile across her, speaks words of rage and anger and jealousy. Of course.

Charlie tries to rape her mom.

India shoots Charlie.

IT TURNS OUT: her father took her hunting so often so she’d know how to handle a gun so she could shoot Charlie. Because that’s the best way for him to protect her. Not to tell her about Charlie. Not to get Charlie committed some place (he apparently was just hanging out in the asylum because he wanted to and was free to leave at any time). Not to actually deal with the problem. Just teach her how to shoot a gun.

She’s figured out that Charlie killed her father, bashed his head in with a rock, and made it look like a car accident… something nobody questioned. Nobody at all. Because getting your head bashed in with a rock looks exactly like a car crash, and nobody questioned that daddy dearest picked up his insane murderous brother from the mental institute before having his “accident” and brother was nowhere to be found.

She buries Charlie in the backyard.

She doesn’t go to the cops. She doesn’t show them the letters, the photos. She doesn’t tell them that Charlie killed her dad, the house keeper, her grandma, the boy. She doesn’t pin all the blame on him, claim she was terrified for her life, escape scot free.

No. She gets Charlie’s wallet which has money and keys and a map to his pre-paid for one year apartment in New York and speeds away. She gets pulled over and inexplicably, for no reason, murders the Sheriff who pulls her over.

Just because.

Bitches, man.

The only thing in this movie’s defense is that it’s pretty. There’s a scene where blood sprays across a flower, changing its color, and its elegant and beautiful. But everything else about this movie is crap unless you firmly believe that women are vague ciphers who flip out and do murder at no provocation and incest is totes normal and cool PS let’s have some more guilty murderbation in the shower.

I’m trying really hard to figure out why so many people like this movie and I just can’t. It enraged me. It’s all about a girl, a girl barely 18, being preyed upon by her uncle and ignored by almost all the other adults in her life. She doesn’t tell anyone that bad things are happening. There’s hardly any HER there. She has very little personality, very little that defines her. She barely exists, except as a thing for men to prey on, and then to “snap” and murder men. She’s a barely fleshed out male fantasy/fear: the docile naive sex-toy who, it turns out, has teeth. I’m surprised she didn’t castrate anyone.

I originally started a 1-5 star system for these movies. I would give this movie negative stars if I could. This movie is so awful that I went back and bumped up the ratings of other movies because, while they had their flaws, at least they weren’t THIS movie.

I’m really tired of movies, horror or not, that hold women in such contempt.

posted under movies, review | 1 Comment »

Microaggressions In Popular Science: or, why don’t more chicks choose STEM careers?

July31

Nesko and I were watching a run of shows on the National Geographic channel about peripheral vision and sleight of hand and how the brain functions. My breaking point came when a pair of identical twin women “interviewed” for a “job” to demonstrate a study. They were dressed the same, right down to heavy make up and very short skirts. I mean, this was supposed to emulate a job interview, and they looked like they were about to go clubbing. The moment also kind of bought into the “sexy twins” fantasy. They could have used one woman dressed differently each time. They were needlessly sexified. It was kind of a straw that broke the camel’s back moment, though.

Earlier, cheerleaders took their shirts off to demonstrate how when your eyes are tracking something moving you don’t pay attention to stuff in your peripheral vision.

Men were told to use their peripheral vision to pick the “hot” cheerleader out of a pair (one cheerleader was a man dressed in drag) because beauty totally isn’t subjective and it’s easy to discern hotness from a distance. And they were mocked for choosing the “ugly” cheerleader because all men have the same taste and all men prefer feminine looking women.

There’s a very real perception of SCIENCE! as a male field. Statistically it’s true, STEM fields are dominated by men, and women who study/work in them face a lot of explicit and implicit prejudice. There’s been a lot of talk recently about how more women can be encouraged to study STEM fields. Start ’em young, some people say. Increase their access to STEM programs in high school, in grade school, in after school programs, in camps. Offer more mentoring to college students, say others. Make more STEM-themed toys and games advertised toward girls. Add more pink to the mix! Make videos showing women scientists wearing high heels and lipstick and sexy clothing!

One really easy way to change the perception of SCIENCE! as a boys club would be to strip the male gaze out of pop science productions.

Want to make a show about how the brain works? Get rid of the cheerleaders and the shirtless titillation and short skirts. Operate under the assumption that your audience will be made of both men AND women, in equal numbers. Science is really interesting! If you can’t sell how the brain works on its own merits, if you need sex to sell it, you are doing something VERY wrong.

Patricia Briggs, I Am Disapoint.

May10

For those of you unaware, I’m on Good Reads. I enter First Reads contests and was lucky enough to score a copy of Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations, edited by Paula Guran. I’m about 2/3s through and was really enjoying it, my only regret that the Sarah Monette story in it is one I’ve already read, when Patricia Briggs’ “Star Of David” really threw me for a loop. A big old racist loop.

The story is called “Star Of David” even though nobody in the story is, apparently, Jewish. There’s a kid who’s Romany and in the foster care system, and he’s ~~A GYPSY~ and ~~A WIZARD~~ because “Most wizards have at least a little Gypsy blood.” Gypsies: they are magical paranormal creatures, not human beings! Totally fictional fantasy creatures! WITH MAGIC POWERS!!! His great grandmother “survived Dachau because the American troops came just in time — and because she kept her mouth shut when the Nazis wanted information.” Unlike all those dead Romany and Jews who didn’t keep their mouths shut and thus deserved to die or something? I don’t even know. PRO TIP MS BRIGGS: It is Jewish people who were marked with the Star of David, while Romany (and lesbians) were marked with a black triangle.

She also makes a snide comment about how “rich people” don’t foster or adopt kids in the US foster system (which is untrue and a weird thing to say), and that instead they chose babies from China or Romania. Which, ok, the story was first published back in 2008, but Romania outlawed foreign adoption back in 2004 due to concerns about black market babies and ESPECIALLY about babies being stolen (or bought) from impoverished Romany women. Like, the government had straight up concerns that some women were being turned into baby making factories for export and said hey now, enough of that. You haven’t been able to get a Romanian baby for a VERY long time unless you can prove you’re related fairly closely to said baby (or child). Maybe in 2007/2008 babies from Africa and Haiti weren’t a big deal yet so she didn’t mention them? Or maybe she’s buying into the idea that that Romany and Romanian are basically the same thing and just had LOLGYPSIES on the brain?

The main character, Stella, has “milk and coffee skin” and dark kinky hair, but her (werewolf) father who literally tore her mother to shreds, killing her in a domestic dispute, has skin “dark as the night” which keeps him “safely hidden in the shadows where he and people like him belonged.” So you’ve got a dark skinned Black man who literally is a violent animal, who murdered his wife (oops, but it was an accident, he’s really a good guy, HASN’T HE SUFFERED ENOUGH?????), and who needs to stay in the shadows where “people like him” (not WEREWOLVES like him, PEOPLE like him) belong.

This anthology features Jim Butcher, Elizabeth Bear, and Sarah Monette– three authors who’ve had moments of infamy for racism in their work/social media dealings– and WHOMP WHOMP here comes a fourth spouting off about fantasy Gypsies being inherently magical. Good job dehumanizing a group of people already widely dehumanized!

I’m so fucking tired of this. I’m really tired of feeling like I’m walking through a pleasant grassy field studded with daisies and WHOOPS! hidden landmines. Am I going to step on one? Is this the step that’s going to lead me into a racist explosion? How about this one? Whooops, just stepped on a sexist landmine! KABOOM! Consuming media shouldn’t be this fucking stressful. And, you know, I’m a white girl in an acceptably monogamous heterosexual relationship, so racism and homophobia bother me but they don’t get under my skin in a personal way the way they do for other people because they aren’t as personal (duh). But it’s still an issue and it’s an issue I am just so fucking tired of running into. Surely we can do better? It’s the fucking 21st century!

I was really getting into this book, making notes about authors I want to read more of. And now I’m reluctant to read further because if the editor let something like Briggs’ story slip in, what’s to stop there being more of the same?

Briggs also has a fantasy series about a were-coyote who is Native American. I’m sure it’s handled with all the deft grace and sensitivity she’s handled this short story.

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