Posts Tagged ‘review’

Well I better get this one up while it’s still relevant

Something has been kickin around in my head for a while now. With the movie being out and all the hubbub surrounding it, suddenly I have a reason to write about it again, so I’m gonna go ahead and jump on the having an opinion about Fifty Shades of Grey bandwagon before it completely stops being topical.

With all the noise surrounding the film/book, what I want to focus on is what is its value. How Fifty Shades of Grey has had a positive or negative impact on ‘us’ and why. To do this I want to place it in comparison to Twilight.

Normally, I don’t go in for drawing dichotomies between pieces of art (yeah, I’m calling it art). It is rarely productive.

I am making an exception for a couple reasons. First, Fifty Shades of Grey (herin referred to as 50SoG) originated as a piece of fanfiction based on the Twilight series. The direct relationship between the two means 50Sog cannot be completely separated from Twilight and the comparison is fair game.

Second, as a point of contrast. While I could have picked from probably hundreds of examples of pop culture ranging from TV to movies to magazines to GIFs being passed around on Tumbler,  the similarities between these two make Twilight a useful tool for discussion.

Before we get started, I should mention I have not read either 50Sog or Twilight nor have I seen the movies.

I don’t need to because shut up and click on this link so I can excuse myself from explaining.

I have read bits of 50Sog with the help of Pervocracy’s cliff notes, which you should read if you want to know more about 50Sog without having to do the work yourself.

I want to separate this post from their literary merit*, aside from the subjective nature of evaluating art, what people are mostly upset about is 50Sog is the influence it has or maybe at least what it is indicative of as it relates to who we are as a culture.

[*side note: There are good books and bad books. There are books that sell well and disappear from conversation and total flops that become an intrinsic part of our curriculum. I for one am not concerned with the state of literature. Great works will persevere and the bullshit will all be washed away by time.]

Let’s look at some of the criticisms laid against that poor, maligned bestselling 50Sog.

One point people won’t let go of is that it portrays BDSM in a negative light (particularly in regards to the ending).

And it does, fair enough. It gets two major things wrong. First, Kink is seen as a sickness that comes from a history of abuse and worse, something that can and should be cured (kinda like some other things for which people are sent to reparative therapy). This isn’t true and if you want to read more about it, google.

Second, what the characters are doing in this book is not BDSM which refers to a variety of activities which require the participation of freely consenting adults. What happens in 50Sog is not consensual. It is abuse. It is not BDSM (Again, plenty about this has already been written) and that much should be acknowledged. So there.

However, 50Sog is far from the first or only work to contain a “bad” portrayal of kink and it shouldn’t be held to some standard that less successful art is not. It is a work of fantasy, it’s erotica, people fantasize about inappropriate shit all the time. Teacher/student, boss/secretary (I believe there was also a popular film about something like that), rape, incest, the list goes on. Just jump on a tube site or google Kristen archives and see if there’s anything portraying an inappropriate scenario. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

You really wanna go through every bodice ripper, porn scene, and stray thoughts containing kinky fuckery and evaluate it to make sure all the fictional characters are being safe, sane, and consensual?

What seems to really bother people about 50Sog is not that it is a bad portrayal of kink, but that it seems to claim within the work that this is what BDSM is. Grey doesn’t just abuse Anastasia, he does it by justifying it with jargon many self-proclaimed kinksters use in their daily lives and explains it to her as if what he’s saying is the obvious truth.

But this is like any mainstream film which attempts to simplify or alter a subculture in order to facilitate the plot. The best response to this I’ve heard was adult film actress, Nina Hartley, who made an apt analogy, saying 50Sog is to kink what James Bond is to Covert Intelligence. No one expects spies to use Sean Connery and Daniel Craig as mentors & I don’t see the CIA or MI6 or FSB protesting the latest Bond flick.

So those are its flaws.

OK

But what I want to look at are the effects of the work.

It has dragged kink into the main stream. Which has allowed some people to be more open about their sexuality and those that are feel less demonized or weird or fearful.

All points in favor of sex-positivity.

As a result, there has been an uptick in people going to educational events or sex positive stores, or becoming part of the kink/sex-positive community where they can learn & explore in a safer environment, than say, trolling craigslist.

I’m not saying there won’t be anyone who reads/sees 50Sog & does something stupid, but how many kids saw Jackass and ended up in the hospital trying to replicate stunts or read Fight Club and started unregulated sparring under the bleachers or in bathrooms at school? (Also I should point out, that one of those was ‘real’ and one was complete fiction, the ‘credibility’ of the work had no bearing on whether people mimicked them)

However, in all likelihood you’re not going to end up the sex slave of a child billionaire.

So what about the source material, Twilight? All the abuse people cited in 50Sog, still right there. I’d say it’s even worse. Anything wrong with Grey that you might try to excuse as complex flaws, he’s young, he’s ignorant, he’s psychologically damaged, is compounded in Twilight by the fact that the love interest there is three hundred fuckin years old! He should know better by now! No excuses. And talk about an inappropriate age gap. He’s ten times the predator Grey is. Of all the women though all the decades, he thinks, hey you know who I should hook up with? An immature, vulnerable, impressionable, teenager! That’s the kind of gal for me!

The other key difference is that in Twilight, the kind of jealous, controlling, manipulative, shit the vampire pulls is portrayed as what love should look like & most importantly is marketed to children.

Which, for me, is what this comparison all comes down to.

They may call it “YA”, but let’s get real, they mean children. I don’t know what a Young Adult is supposed to be, but the youngest adults are seventeen at most, while these books are actually aimed at middle schoolers, people who, in all likelihood, have little to no experience with romantic relationships (Actual young adults are just that, adults and they’ve already started reading “adult” books.).

Kids see this & it becomes their model for conduct. The stories are absorbed into their archetypes for loving relationships. Also, despite, being heavily sexual in theme throughout the series, Twilight is overshadowed by the sex-negative Mormon worldview of the author. In the book, sex will literally kill you. Twilight takes advantage of kids many of whom can’t then go to a responsible community member and ask for help.

And now it seems I’m in a weird position of defending fan fiction. 50Sog is aimed at grown-ups. That’s why the public started jokingly referred to it as ‘mommy porn’, erotica for bored Midwestern housewives. People who see 50Sog and get all hot ‘n bothered, know it’s fantasy. If it really gets them going, they seek out help, they explore, and they learn. And with all the media hype and writing and discussion that has taken place as a result of its commercial success, it makes it all that much more likely people will become more educated and safe as a result of this film/book.

TL;DR

Twilight has had a negative and pernicious effect overall. While, All in all, 50Sog is a net positive,

Then again, no Twilight no 50Sog…

Oh well.

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Shuffle says: “Psychological Recovery… Six Months” Hans Zimmer Sherlock Holmes

I recently finished Wanted which was brilliant and like most things I like a ballsy as fuck (yes that’s a technical term. Industry lingo and whathaveyou) graphic novel.  Millar keeps up a good pace, spending very little time with the whole training montage schtick, which I very much appreciate. So we get right on to the good shit.

The most important thing Millar does with this books is explore supervillans. There’s still ‘good guys’ or rather I should say protagonists with whom you can sympathize which makes it all the more brilliant when you see just how evil the ‘good guy’s are. In this regard, nothing else I can think of comes close.

We love to root for the bad guy, but we also limit their evil. The Sopranos, Sons of Anarchy, Vampires; these guys are just bad enough to make them sexy, but when you get down to it they are (relative to circumstance) not all that bad. The MC gives back to the community. The mob is ultimately a family friendly business. The psychopath only kills bad people. The Vampire doesn’t feed on humans. The Rebel Alliance, The Crew of Serenity. The list goes on.

Weaksauce ALL. (due respect to some fantastic works that I just listed)

The fact is, they aren’t bad guys. They’re antiheroes and within the diegesis of their respective media, laws and morality are clearly understood as separate entities and they always end up on the side of ‘Good’.

Wanted pulls all the stops. The Fraternity identifies themselves ans supervillians and the mean it in every sense of the word. The main characters steal rape and murder at will without hesitates and are still your protagonists. Though it’s not just a gratuitous romp of sex and violence. Wanted pursues a real exploration about villainy.

My favorite scene revolves around this central theme. The main character, Gibson, has recently began his career as a supervillain [I would like to note at this point that the word ‘superhero’ is accepted by my spell check while ‘supervillain’ is not]. After a heist he returns home to his fuckbuddy Fox after blowing off some steam. By blowing off steam he means stopping at a police precinct and killing every cop inside. Save one. A female that he briefly considers raping before breaking down in tears and running home. He tells Fox, “This supervillain stuff is starting to feel forced”. He didn’t want to kill the cops, wasn’t even looking at them as he blew them all away. Something must be wrong with me, he thinks.

Fox tells him that every supervillain goes through this phase at some point. What’s important to realize is that being a supervillain isn’t about violence. It’s about doing what you want to do. And some days that means raping your favorite A-list celebrity and sometimes that means sitting at home all day and just watching TV.

This argument by Millar is simply wonderful. The whole book he keeps comparing being a bad guy to being a man, juxtaposing Gibson’s old life of getting shit on by his boss, working a dead-end job in a cubical, being constantly cheated on by his girlfriend, his best friend treating him like shit, with a Nietzschen Ubermench version of himself doing whatever the fuck he wants.

The other thing Millar does really well here is addressing the collective understanding of superhero’s (without setting himself up to be sued). Fox is a jewel thief who wears ‘fox’ ears (that’s Catwoman for all of you who never read a comic book). We witness the execution of “the detective” with whom she used to be fuck buddies and his “boy sidekick” (Batman and Robin, but honestly if you didn’t pick up on that one, this blog might not be up your alley). The Professor secretly keeps as his prize possession a red cape that once belonged to the greatest of them all (Superman. Oh did I mentions here be spoilers), That man is now confined to a wheelchair and bear a striking resemblance to Christopher Reeves.

It is a world without superheros. A world where the bad guys won.

They never say their names, but they don’t have to. Your psyche instantly connects you with who they are and you can’t help but feel a sense of loss somewhere deep in your guts.

The end then becomes a liberation and all because Mark Millar was not afraid to delve.

.

Post Script: Since writing this post, I’ve discovered there’s a movie vaguely inspired by this work. I only got in bits and pieces, but from the looks of it, has about fuck all to do with the comic. The one tiny thing it does have going for it, is about 9 seconds of Angelina Jolie naked.

Shuffle says: No Shuffle today instead we’re kicking off the comeback with Amanda Fucking Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra’s new single “Want it Back” off their Million+ dollar album Theatre Is Evil 

If you haven’t seen the music video (Which the repressive shitbirds at youtube have decided to censor), click on the link because it’s fucking brilliant. It’s all stop motion and has nakedness and ink that does this thing that… just watch the video.

She’s one of my favorite allies in the War on Awesome. I never really listened to the Dresden Dolls until I moved to Ireland where I couldn’t go to a house party without hearing her solo hit “Oasis” (which lead to an interesting evening of explaining to a houseful of Irish teenagers what a “40” was). After looking up the video I discovered it had caused her to be been banned from making appearances on the BBC; though I’m not sure exactly why. Perhaps for attaching the name of an English national treasure like Oasis to something a tawdry as rape.

Since then I’ve been an avid follower of her blog and rabid fan of her music. Speaking of the new AFP album I wanted to bring up something that warms the cockles of whatever passes for my soul these days. Kickstarter.

It’s changing the world.

The likes of AFP, Molly Crabapple, and my friends on the Sidewinder project are proving everyday that funding for the arts still exists, but we are no longer held to the whims of wealthy patrons. They’re dropping off record labels, leaving publishers, and distributing art and ideas to the masses.

So here are a couple projects some of my friends are working on. These people are brilliant, young artists who’ve discovered a new way to get themselves off the ground and are tremendously fucking worthy of your financial contributions.

Also I’m a terrible friend for waiting for these things to be posted. They’ve both got about a week left and are fully funded, but MORE MONEY ALWAYS HELPS.

worthy kickstarters

Modular 22 – Is an art installment downtown in my very own Chicago, which takes a creative turn on the display and interface of media.

Sidewinder 2: The Ecstasy of Gold – Is a Space-Western film which continues the adventures of Captain Sidewinder and his crew after their defeat of the evil landlord Volta.

Shuffle says: “Androgynous” Joan Jett (I have such a crush on this woman and the video is charming)

I was considering posting a review of Avengers but I ran into Orson Scott Card’s take on the film so I’ll throw that up instead.

Also, an Ender’s Game film has circled the rumor mill for over a decade, but now (I’ve no idea why i’m just finding out now) it has been confirmed. In this article Card talks about being on the set of the film to record a single line. Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley (these guys apparently get first billing because listing all the fairly unknown child-stars just doesn’t carry the same weight as HanfuckingSolo), and the kid from Hugo are all set to star under the direction of Gavin Hood.

I am now hesitant about the film, as Hood is responsible for the epic fucking disaster that was the Wolverine movie. However, Orson Scott Card supposedly oversaw the development of the script so that may help prevent total failure. The film will also supposedly incorporate parts of the companion novel Ender’s Shadow somehow, though I see  no one currently cast as the dreaded Achilles .

Thanks to Julie Davis at Happy Catholic for posting this

enjoy, true believers!

Original: Avengers and On the Set of Ender’s Game.

In compassion to other texts on its subject, Open is not particularly informative or ‘helpful’. as far as I’m concerned.  I’m sure it could be to someone to whom the concept of openness is entirely alien. it wraps it all up in a soft digestible narrative that can be breezed through fairly quickly. the writing is not terrible, nor is it marvelous, though that’s not its aim.  It’s rife with clichés and half-assedness; filled with “hands going everywhere” and “we talked about nothing and everything”. The root of the book’s problem is that it can’t pick a foxhole. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m all about blending Genres, but here it becomes detrimental. It’s part cautionary narrative, part textbook, part manifesto, part memoir and it carries weaknesses from each and few of the strengths.

What kept me disconnected were the characters. they were weak. In a large part because they’re so uselessly flawed and despite being ‘real-life’, which is never conveniently story shaped and she tries to cram it into one. As a result it is fairly predictable. The problems the author faces are self-created, have very little to do with openness or polyamory and everything to do with her being not self-assertive enough to take care of her own shit.

I don’t mean to condemn her for being human, looking at this as a book, the fact is that I have limited sympathy for someone who self-admittedly grows up with every opportunity to express herself and continually don’t take them. This woman grew up with a liberal mother and feminist father (trust me on the distinction there) who encouraged her to be herself. she had a pretty great run of sexual partners, both male and female in high school and college, who gave her satisfying sex and helped her to understand her own desires, but for some reason she settles for a guy with whom she has little to no sexual chemistry (who is a an asshole to her about it) and then she gets upset that she is unfulfilled, when it was clear that she never was from the beginning of that relationship.She opens up to her husband and instead of standing her ground, she becomes a fucking Stepford wife. Even after she tells her father (a Rabbi) about everything and he validates her concerns.

Throughout the story she  attempts to make it also an academic work by using poignant quotations from a bunch of feminist  texts to make it feel a little more valid. If it wasn’t for the fact that this had been recommended to me and I felt compelled to read it for them, I would have lost patience and tossed it.

Again and again she says the same thing: that this is all the fault of society and women being sold on a contradictory message . Furthermore, she feels the need to restate this yarn each time she has a new metaphor for it “saint on the street/freak in the sheets; virgin/whore complex; kitten in the kitchen/tiger in the bedroom; mother/slut;” and so on… Actually it turns out that her father is the most sensible person we meet in the whole 260 pages.

OK, let’s not be totally negative, especially because I can see why people could like or learn from the book.  About halfway in (page 140ish) they finally open their marriage and at that point shit gets real. from there on out the ‘characters’ feel more human. There are a lot of conversations and discussions about fears, questions, hopes, and desires. There is something people  – especially people new to these concepts, though the lessons can be applied to any relationship – can learn; namely, don’t be a prick, keep an open mind, and listen to what your partner is saying, and keep everyone informed especially  yourself…also don’t be a prick.

(So I guess now you don’t need to read the book)

many of the points she brings up, while important in the grander scheme of things, seem haphazardly thrown in [so I was fucking this young guy and isn’t rape culture terrible] or [so my husband and I were trying to define our boundaries LGBTQ people should have equal rights] oh and here’s a quote.

Once  her marriage is open, there’s a deal of good information and musing on topics like morality and parenting, which by far isn’t very original, but not unworthy of rehashing.  One of my problems with some of her issues is that she is often comparing herself to worst case scenario type situations. Juxtaposing what ends up being for her a relatively tame ‘open’ marriage with radically Christian Right ideals of a woman’s submissive, servile styled marriages and violent homophobia.

The benefit of her story however is in the ‘tameness’ of her relationship. It serves ultimately to make the story far more acceptable or approachable than something that shows the extremes of polyamorous relationships like The Ethical Slut.

Shuffle Says: “Marry You” B.B. King and Eric Claption Ridin with the King.

So, awhile ago I wrote about my last road trip back up here (that was before my plates expired and I ended up with 500 dollars in parking tickets in two weeks while keeping it in the exact same spot on my street) and how wonderful the drive was. This was in large part due to the pleasant company of Neil Gaiman and friends and the new full cast recording of  American Gods. 

For anyone who doesn’t know, Gaiman is a huge fan if audio books and I’m sure he went through a great deal of effort to ensure a fine production. Before the tenth anniversary of Gods Gaiman’s last novel to take an aural turn was The Graveyard Book and before that was The Wolves in the Walls both of which were for children and both of which were read in their official capacity entirely by him. In American Gods (the first version did not feature the dulcet tones of the author’s voice) Gaiman takes a bit of a back seat opting not narrate this one as he believes it would be inappropriate given his accent (an admirable choice). Instead he takes on the “Coming To America” passages, all immigrant stories, which makes far more sense considering he is one himself.  Even for those brief moments, his voice as always was a wonderful, sexy addition to the joy of the story itself.

This book is certainly on my top five and I believe, especially considering its sheer epic nature, is one that always stands for a great reread.

The new edition also features 16,000 more words than the original U.S. version. It gives it a bit of a ‘directors cut feel’, though not changing the story all that much. Gaiman admired that the “original” version has long since been lost. After half a dozen rewrites and numerous edits and editions after the majority of that text was cut, it couldn’t simply be shoved back in without negative repercussions on the story. So Gaiman says he actually did some minor rewriting to slip some extra material in and calls the new version his “preferred” text.

All things considered, however, the added content was so well blended in I had to often ask myself if maybe I had forgotten something or remembered it wrong. Luckily I was driving and couldn’t pull out my old copy to check. There additional scene with Jesus (and I wont tell you any more about it), he doesn’t put back ‘in’ at all, but leaves it as something like a deleted scene at the end. This one was interesting was… nice, a bit queer, and I can see why he left it out.

The cast is stellar, the only actors I had issue with were Shaddow’s wife Laura – there was some strange stop start cadence to her speech that just kept bothering me – and… some other woman (Sam Blackcrow I think and for the same reason)

OK so not much of a review today, but I’m feeling lazy and I really want to get this one off the shelf

Also, after spending this precious time with the book, I feel it is worth giving a half sleeve’s worth of ink to. Anyone who feels like volunteering to design it, feel free to volunteer.

Shuffle Says: “Gentle Violence” The Black Lips, Let It Bloom

Mark Z. Danielewski’s recentish novel Only Revolutions is something that has been sitting on my shelf for about half a year now without much progress.

Here’s a quick summary to start. Only Revolutions follows the journey of two sixteen year old children (herein referred to as Sam&Hailey/Hailey&Sam) as they road trip across the country over a two hundred year span of time (yes, they are sixteen for the whole time). The first hundred years are told from Sam’s perspective (1863-1963) and then the next century through Hailey’s.

There are an infinite number of ways to read any book, but some seem to lend themselves to a certain setting. There are very specific books that are meant to be read in an airport, which are completely different to ones that are meant to be read in an attic, or an armchair with a glass of scotch, or under a tree on a sleepy summer afternoon. The way I really enjoyed reading House of Leaves was waiting for late in the evening, turning out all lights save for the bedside lamp, closing the door and tightening the blinds, sitting up in bed so there was nothing but me and the book and the darkness. I’d let myself get pulled into the book; become part of it, not just read, but experience it and let it affect me, my emotions, my thoughts, my dreams.

This is possible because the book is self-contained. Yes it’s thick. Yes at times you feel like you are having to fight your way through the pages, only to feel like the author is just fucking with you, that whole chapters are nothing but a sick, post-modern, literary joke. It is also certainly a piece that merits re-reading. Reading the piece after studying it would certainly yield a very different perception of it than a single raw run through of the story.

Of course coming from a background of BA or academics you’ll get the book it another way. and while you may flip the book upside down or sideways or continually jump back pages at a time to catch up with the foot/end notes.  but this is part of what makes the book a physical experience. and there is still a compelling narrative to follow that makes you do a mental junkie shuffle to find out just what the fuck is going on. Despite all of this you can follow along without having to consult the outside world. Such is not the case in Only Revolutions.

In Only Revolutions, the whole of the narrative is mired in the historical context which appears in verse form in the margins. Take note that these are not headlines, not explicit summaries, only carefully worded clues, enough for you to search for them as keywords. This suggests that the book was written for a generation who came of age at a late enough date so as to be used to having constant access to Wikipedia.

Danielewski himself commented in several interviews that the book requires some knowledge of what was occurring on the particular date the page takes place. For instance, there is a passage which refers to “sentinels of the pale forest”  staring at them as they passed. This is nothing but a fine piece of imagery unless you know that the day this is occurring happened to be a major turning point in the rise of the Klu Klux Klan.

I am not complaining that the book is simply too difficult to read, moreover that it is overly and unnecessarily complex. between deciphering and researching the history, flipping between the narratives, and attempting to understand the archaic language of two protagonists in can take hours just to trudge through a few dozen pages (keeping in mind that each page is only 180 words).

The result is something that feels less like a story and more like an academic exercise. Some explanation, I would posit might be garnered from his process. Danielewski disclosed that the novel consumed nearly a decade of his life. He describes working twelve hours a day six days a week; many weeks’ hours reaching three digits. According to him, the effort strained ties to his family and wreaked havoc on his romantic relationships. Don’t get me wrong. I am all for sacrificing for your art, but spending this much time shut in a room with nothing but your words, I know from experience, distances you from reality to such an extent, it harms your work. I can only imagine the effects maintaining such a lifestyle for that amount of time. Part of writing is living and it is an important one, I believe.  Letting the world affect you is important and it is not possible when you live chained to a desk.

The poetry of the book is beautiful. This I won’t argue with. So it is all that much more unfortunate, that the rhythm of the text is constantly broken due to its context.  The purpose of a novel is to tell a story, or to educate, or engender a feeling, promote a way of thinking, or simply to be beautiful and while it is unassailable that Mr. Danielewski is a phenomenal writer, his great efforts to create a grand design have only resulted in a form which will drive people away from his work.

Neil Gaiman recently was asked  in an interview about why he believed his work was so popular. To address this he gave his thoughts on post-modernism and its effects in contemporary writing. Gaiman suggested that generation of authors have become so wrapped up in the form and method and stylistic ideals of what it is supposed to be that we are losing our grasp on the simple aspect of storytelling. His own work is popular because it stands in total contrast, by focusing on telling a good story and telling it well.

Only Revolutions suffers a real weakness in this regard because while it may be a good story and it may be extremely deep, and well structured, and all those other wonderful qualifying academic things, it is not told well.  This argument may come under criticism, called un-academic. So allow me to humanize it a bit, can you imagine someone telling a story(a parent, a grandparent, babysitter, teacher, friend, Carney, troubadour, etc… ), but having to stop every thirty words to spend five minutes on a seemingly unrelated tangent so you could “enjoy” it better?