Posted in Current events, Movies, Politics, Pop Culture

The Princess Defense: A Kickass Statistical Analysis

The release and box office success of Wonder Woman has feminist debate on the lips of Geek Nation once again. I haven’t seen it yet, but count me among the fans. I love the idea of a kickass female leading the charge in a summer superhero flick, even if she has to have perfect hair and a one-piece maillot with boots and tiara ensemble to do it.

But here within the happy ranks celebrating the movie, a rallying cry has emerged that is starting to get on my nerves. “My princesses are now generals! Huzzah!” writes one blogger who gets shared around the web. “Princess Buttercup is finally redeemed as an Amazon!” writes another. (I’m paraphrasing the thesis of both, of course; they’re easy to find and very nicely written.) The idea seems to be that these princesses, Leia and Buttercup and by extension every other princess in every other movie prior to the Great Climbing from the Trench was a misogynistic embarrassment to feminists—or at least no more than the sloppy seconds we clung to because popular art, particularly science fiction and fantasy, offered us no one else.

When I called poppycock on this notion yesterday, I got a short course on representation in response—we have plenty of princesses and domestic goddesses, this woman explained, but we need more kickass warrior women. When I suggested that I had noticed a lot more women kicking people in the face in popular art lately than I had non-desperate housewives, intellectual professionals, or princesses who ruled by something other than the sword or dragon, she wrote back that she was specifically referencing blockbuster movies. She’s obviously smart and made her point well, so I decided to cast an analytical eye over the top 5 movies of 2017 so far by box office, the best definition I know of “blockbuster.” (This list came out at the end of last week, just before Wonder Woman’s big weekend, and FYI, even just from presales and previews and such, she came in at Number 11.) I asked the same series of questions about each, and here’s what I found:

  1. Beauty and the Beast

Most prominent female character(s): Belle, the central protagonist. It’s her story.

And she is? A scholarly dreamer and inventor who becomes a princess.

Is she kickass? Well, no, not really. She’s willing to rip up her iconic pretty princess dress to ride to the rescue of her Beast, and she picks up a stick and whacks a wolf or two. But I’d call her more brave and practical than I would kick-ass; she’s a lover and a reader, not a fighter, and she doesn’t seem to have any kind of psychological or identity crisis about being rescued.

Does she have sex? Not on screen, but a growl and a giggle at the end suggest that if not yet then really soon.

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy 2:

Most prominent female character: Gamora, one of the hero’s team of sidekicks and his love interest

And she is? A green-skinned alien hottie in a sexy leather outfit who flies spaceships and shoots people in the face.

Is she kickass? Oh hell yeah

Does she have sex? Oh hell no. In fact, the notion that she might is one of the big running jokes of the plot.

  1. Logan

Most prominent female character: Laura, a MacGuffin

And she is? Another in the long tradition of super special damaged daughter substitutes for heroes in contemporary science fiction, fantasy and horror (see also: Firefly, The Last of Us)

Is she kickass? It is the entirety of her character.

Does she have sex? What’s the matter with you, you sicko! Of course she doesn’t!

  1. The Fate of the Furious

Most prominent female character: Michelle Rodriguez is back as the kickass love interest, but most prominent is Cipher, the villainess

And she is? The Ball Buster

Is she kickass? Oh hell yeah

Does she have sex? She tries to seduce the hero ‘cause that’s what these girls do, but he ain’t having it.

  1. Lego Batman

Most prominent female character: There’s a Batgirl.

And she is? A second string sidekick

Is she kickass? As much as a Lego figure can be, yes.

Does she have sex? No. Did I mention she’s a Lego figure?

So of the five most popular movies of 2017 prior to the release of Wonder Woman, only one has a female as lead protagonist, but all of these women but one are, in fact, kickass. (We’ll get back to that sex thing and why it’s important in a minute.) But this probably isn’t a fair sample; it’s only the first week of the summer blockbuster season. So let’s look back at 2016:

  1. Rogue One

Most prominent female character: Jyn, the protagonist

And she is? A pilot and mercenary with family connections that make her the best and most motivated choice for what turns out to be a suicide mission for the Rebellion.

Is she kickass? Absolutely. She hesitates to get involved with the Rebellion, but she’s been living by her wits and her laser pistol her whole life.

Does she have sex? There’s just no time. There’s a slight suggestion that there might have someday been a romantic connection to her partner in the mission if they had survived, but they die as friends.

  1. Finding Dory

Most prominent female character: Dory, the protagonist

And she is: A sweet, goofy single gal fish with short term memory loss

Is she kickass? Not at all; it’s very much not that kind of movie

Does she spawn? No – she’s more of a spinster auntie

  1. Captain America: Civil War

Most prominent female characters: Black Widow and/or Scarlet Witch, two secondary plotlines with equal time in the background

And they are? Superheroes in sexy leather outfits, one for each side of the central, dude-centric conflict

Are they kickass? Again, that’s all they came for.

Do they have sex? Just a little mostly unspoken emo yearning. Black Widow trades longing looks and oblique dialogue with a sensitive guy who turns into a big green monster, and the red rubber consciousness that looks like Paul Bettany casts a lot of shy glances at the Scarlet Witch—but she’s also got that super special substitute daughter thing going on, so maybe that’s what his deal is. (Only a superhero movie would cast Paul Bettany as a character with no discernible penis.)

  1. The Secret Life of Pets

It’s a kid’s movie, and every character except the background mommy figure and a couple of plot devices in passing is male.

  1. The Jungle Book

It’s a kid’s movie, and every character except the background mommy figure and a couple of plot devices in passing is male.

So again, of the ones that bother to have female characters of any substance at all, only one isn’t kickass. Methinks we might be mis-defining the problem and losing sight of what makes Wonder Woman such a milestone. Wonder Woman isn’t awesome because she’s kickass in the battle sequences; you can’t swing a dead henchman without finding a woman who’s kickass in battle sequences in these movies. She’s awesome because it’s HER FREAKIN’ MOVIE. After making her do her time as the Amazon ex machina in Batman vs. Superman, DC has put her front and center in her own origin story, committing to the project enough to have a great script and great actors and the budget to carry it off. (We’ll leave the debate about how much or little they promoted it for another blog post.) And yes, that is amazing and groundbreaking, and I can’t wait to see it, and I’m so glad it’s doing so well.

But let’s circle back to Leia and Buttercup and sex. In their original incarnations as princesses, they’re pretty kickass. Buttercup isn’t riding off to battle, but she is strong-willed, loyal, staunch in her convictions, and more than willing to face off shrieking eels, shove her kidnapper down a cliff, and go nose to nose with the royal asshole forcing her into marriage—when the confrontation comes, he’s the one who blinks first. And Leia might still be wearing a grotesquely impractical white gown and going by the title “princess” in Episodes IV-VI, but she’s a senator/spy who can stand up under torture, outshoot any storm trooper, and, oh yeah, lead a rebellion against the most powerful empire in the galaxy. So what’s the big evolutionary change in them that is inspiring all these tears of joy at their new empowerment? What was wrong with them before that’s right with them now? Sex—or rather, the elimination of sex. Princess Leia and Princess Buttercup are both objects of desire for men in their story, and each of them reciprocates this attraction when they find their soul mate. They fall in love. But once Buttercup becomes an Amazon general, it’s a pretty safe bet even for someone like me who hasn’t seen the movie  yet that she hasn’t got much time or patience for mawwiage or even twue love. And General Organa has given up romance to such an extent that she doesn’t even kiss Han Solo good-bye as she sends him to his death. I’ve done an informal poll, and pretty much every cis woman and gay man I know would have at least kissed Han Solo good-bye as they sent him to his death. But a nice, platonic hug is all General Organa will muster.

I love all these kickass women; I wouldn’t part with a one. And celibacy is a perfectly acceptable lifestyle choice. (This isn’t about boys, by the way; if some of these women had girlfriends, you’d never hear a peep of dissent out of me. Nor do I think all of these movies need that romantic element, far from it. But the fact that literally the only one that does is the Disney fairy tale movie gives me pause.) But choosing not to take a mate isn’t inherently better or more noble, and it doesn’t equate to empowerment, female or otherwise. Yet this is the message that so many of these popular movies with their celibate beauties seem to be sending, and this particular reaction to the Wonder Woman phenomenon shows that it’s not just Joss Whedon who’s infected. Since the beginning of time, there have been misogynistic jerks who think a woman is always supposed to look sexy but never supposed to have sex. If she doesn’t look sexy, she’s a hag. But if she has sex, she’s a slut. The patriarchy has been using shame to police women’s sexuality since Lilith and Eve, and the women who buy into that patriarchal model have always been their best agents on the street. But as feminists, aren’t we supposed to be better than that? Do we really want to embrace the message that any woman who takes a lover is surrendering, defining herself by that relationship and therefore lesser in our eyes? I don’t think that’s what Wonder Woman means to say; I don’t think that’s what we want for one another. Nobody has to be a princess or dream of being a princess if they don’t want to, or a housewife, or a space pilot, or an Amazon. But nobody has the right to make any of us feel less like a woman if we do.

Posted in Art & Artists, Music, Nostalgia, Pop Culture

John Lennon

So when I was three years old, my absolute favorite show on TV was the Beatles cartoon:

Note, please, the vampire theme.

abbey-roadWhen I was six, my aunt showed me the cover of her Abbey Road album and explained that some people thought it proved that my favorite Beatle, Paul, was dead because the picture was obviously a funeral procession: John in white was the minister, Ringo in black was the undertaker, Paul in bare feet (a lookalike, obviously) was the corpse, and George in denim with his scruffy beard was the gravedigger. I cried for hours.

 

sgt-pepper-movieWhen I was eleven, I met my best friend.  In addition to many other charms and attractions, she had a whole big crate of 45 rpm records that had belonged to her aunt, including all the Beatles’ early singles. We’d stack’em up seven at a time (the limit of my stereo’s spindle) and listen to them over and over and over for weekends at a time, even though by then the Beatles had been broken up for years. We bought every record Wings put out; we even dragged her poor mom to the movies to see this:

So sorry, Alice . . .

Over the course of the next few years, as I acquired most of the Beatles’ catalog on vinyl for myself (including outright stealing that copy of Abbey Road that belonged to my aunt), I slowly realized that while Paul was “the cute one,” John’s songs were more me. My adolescent yearnings were far more stirred by “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and that sexy sigh on “Girl” than by “Martha My Dear” or the hideous “Michelle,” which I loathe to this day. I even tried to like John’s solo stuff, though my first listen to “Cold Turkey” sent me scurrying, and even at my most pretentious, I couldn’t pretend to have listened to “Revolution Number 9” all the way through.

On the morning of December 10, 1980, when I was sixteen, my mom woke me up to tell me to come watch the news and try not to be too upset–John Lennon had been shot and killed in New York. At first I told her she was crazy, that this was obviously another hoax, another “Paul is dead.” But it wasn’t a rumor spread by kids and DJs; it was an ugly truth on the morning news. I was inconsolable. I called my bestie, and we cried together. I’m not even sure I made it to school that day; I know I was at least late. My dad came home that night with a brand new, high fidelity stereo radio for me so I could listen to all the tributes, and slowly over the next few days, I pulled it together. But I grieved like I’d lost someone close to me, someone I really knew, and the world was never quite the same.

Not long after that, I discovered Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen and the Smiths and my heart’s new beloved, Sting and the Police. But I never stopped listening to the Beatles. When I went away to school for the first time, one of the five albums I took with me was that same copy of Abbey Road. Years later when CDs became the thing, the first disc I bought was Revolver. I read Philip Norman’s Shout and The Love You Make by Peter Brown and Steven Gaines. (I did NOT read the Goldman biography of Lennon.) I watched The Beatles Compleat and The Beatles Anthology, and when iTunes finally got the rights to the Beatles catalog, I busted my bank account downloading pretty much everything. But I figured I was a late model baby boomer, one of the masses of nostalgia buffs, that for younger people, the Beatles weren’t really a thing. Just last month I read another, much more recent book about the break-up of the band and their finances and lawsuits, and it read like ancient history, a cautionary tale from days of yore.

Then last week, thinking about Christmas prezzies, I asked my freshly-eleven-year-old niece, Katie, who her favorite singer was, expecting to hear some name I wouldn’t recognize but that Amazon might. Without a moment’s hesitation, she said, “The Beatles.” Her mom, my baby sister, is as big a fan as I am, and the music has been in the background of Katie’s life as long as she’s been alive. But just recently, as adolescence steals over her, she’s “really gotten into it.” I’m trying not to make too big a deal of it, of course. But I got her this for Christmas: beatles-one

On this thirty-sixth anniversary of your death, rest in peace, Mr. Lennon. We still can’t thank you enough.

Posted in Books, Current events, Lucy Blue Short Story, Other People's Awesome, Personal Real Life Stuff, Politics, Pop Culture, Publishing, Short Story

We Are Not This: Carolina Writers for Equality – Press Release

small-we-are-not-thisI’m lucky enough to have a story in this–“The Dark Lady” about a transgender actress in the days of Shakespeare. But even if I didn’t, I’d promote the living juice out of it. Much, much great stuff to read, all profits benefiting a magnificent cause. It’s available as an ebook right now from Amazon here, and print copies are on the way. Get a copy, boost the signal, spread the word. HB2 and the hate it represents are NOT North Carolina. 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CHARLOTTE SMALL PRESS RELEASES CHARITY ANTHOLOGY PROTESTING HB2

For Details, contact John G. Hartness
john@falstaffbooks.com

10/25/16

In an “October Surprise” for Governor Pat McCrory and members of the NC General Assembly, Charlotte-based micro-press Falstaff Books today released We Are Not This – Carolina Writers for Equality. The anthology, a collection of 31 short stories, poems, and essays by North Carolina writers or writers who feel a strong tie to the Carolinas, was created as a response to HB2, the divisive “bathroom bill” passed by the NC General Assembly earlier this year.

We Are Not This includes stories from NY Times bestselling author A. J. Hartley, noted singer-songwriter David Childers, Bram Stoker Award nominee Jake Bible, Charlotte Observer columnist and longtime educator Kay McSpadden, Hugo-award nominated editor Edmund Schubert, and a host of other writers. The anthology is currently available as an ebook, and will be available in print within the month.

In his introduction, publisher John G. Hartness writes “We understand that people are people, and all people deserve to be protected from discrimination. We understand that insuring equal rights for one group does not take away rights from another group. We understand that laws restricting freedom and taking away someone’s chance for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is the opposite of the values that this country was founded upon. We understand that we are stronger together, and that love is love.”

Proceeds from the sale of the anthology will be divided among NC-centric LGBTQ charities, non-profits, and lobbying organizations. The first group of organizations to receive funding will be Time Out Youth, Queen City Theatre Company, and EqualityNC.

Posted in Other People's Awesome, Pop Culture, Sleepy Hollow, TV

4 Ways to Fix Sleepy Hollow Before It’s Too Late

sleepy hollowSleepy Hollow, Season 2, is driving me insane. If the damned show had been horrible from the beginning, I would have watched once and walked away. But Season 1 was flawed but fabulous; even the stuff that was stupid about it was so much fun, I couldn’t skip a single episode. So watching the people who own it systematically dismantle and discard every single good thing about it this year to add in a bunch of crap that just doesn’t work is just about more than I can stand. Since the mid-season premiere, it’s been breaking my heart so much, I find myself spending valuable time and brain energy I ought to be using on my own writing trying to figure out how to fix it. I don’t pretend for one minute that anybody cares what I think or that a post on my little backwater blog will help the actual show in the slightest. But in the grand tradition of magnolias everywhere, I’m hoping having my say will be enough.

1. How do you solve a problem like Katrina?

Love her or hate her, the character of Ichabod’s wife is the single biggest issue unraveling the fabric of the show right now. It’s time for the writers and producers to make two important decisions about Katrina: Is she good or evil? and Will she live or will she die? And they need to share those decisions with the audience sooner rather than later.

Any of these options could work. No, seriously–here, watch:

A good Katrina lives: This seems to be what they want, and they can have it; they just need to do it better. Katrina needs to stop swanning around like an undead supermodel–Morticia Addams is a great character, but she’s been done, and she doesn’t fit in Sleepy Hollow. So we soften her up, get back to more of the sweetly sexy Quaker chick she started out to be in Season One with a generous smattering of the witty girl who was digging reality TV when she first came out of Purgatory. She needs to reconnect with her coven (remember, they’re still around) and start doing more fun witchy stuff and less life or death dark magic that invariably falls short because that shit is just annoying. (For fans of Practical Magic, more Sandra Bullock, less Nicole Kidman.) Most importantly, she needs to get the fuck into the background of the story. The leads are Ichabod and Abbie; the quest (or quests-of-the-week under the new game plan) are ultimately theirs. If Ichabod is happily married, that could be totally awesome. Katrina could provide valuable information and the occasional assist, and their domestic life could add a lot to the whole “man out of time” side of Ichabod’s character–they could be cute as hell discovering the 21st century together if they weren’t constantly wading through sticky bogs of angst. If this is what we’re aiming at, we need to resolve the whole redemption of Abraham and Henry and Hitler and anybody else Katrina wants to save RIGHT THE FUCK NOW, let the Cranes be in love with one another, and move on.

Good Katrina dies: This is a quicker fix that would silence the cries of a lot of haters (and raise the wails of the small but vocal Katrina Fan Club). Let Katrina and Ichabod’s relationship stay ambivalent and angsty, have her working on some big project to prove herself to him or, better yet, save him–maybe she knows something about the spell that resurrected him that she hasn’t told us yet. In the eleventh hour, she enlists Abbie’s help, and Abbie does everything she can to help her. And the project succeeds, but Katrina dies. Maybe she always knew she would; maybe her magic can only resurrect one 18th century hottie at a time. The Abraham Conundrum could be solved as part of this same storyline–he can be redeemed and waiting for her on the other side. This would leave Ichabod and Abbie with a lot of survivor guilt to deal with and doesn’t really seem to fit in with the lighter mood the show’s producers say they want. But it could work.

But let’s say Katrina is a baddie . . . .

Bad Katrina dies: The same scenario as above, except her big project is destructive rather than redemptive. I would introduce this with a flashback from Henry’s point of view to the night Moloch was killed. At some point in the action, while everyone is focused on Irving or Moloch or whatever, Henry sees his mother do something horrible, casting some spell that takes Moloch’s force into herself or something–Henry sees Katrina become the Big Bad. And either he really has had an epiphany where he wants to save his dad and be good as it seems (and has disappeared all this time to whip up a way to beat Mama) or he’s still bad but literally mad as hell to see Mama stealing his thunder. In any case, it all builds to a huge confrontation that shatters Ichabod and kills Katrina. Less survivor guilt, but way more melodrama.

Bad Katrina lives: This is the one that is almost but not quite impossible. Katrina is a bad witch, but not so bad that she has to be destroyed. She shows her hand, and Ichabod denounces her, but either he can’t bring himself to kill her or Abbie convinces him that he’d never forgive himself if he did. And either Katrina would go away and never come back, taking Abraham with her, or she could be a secondary villain next season, Ichabod’s evil ex living in the woods, selling magical beauty products and occasionally causing trouble. I would call this the least satisfying possibility just because it plays into the Katrina-hatred and makes it worse going into a new season – assuming there’d be a new season at all.

My point if I have one is, they can do whatever they want with Katrina and make it work; they’ve just gotta go ahead and do something.

2. So what about Hawley?

Hawley’s gotta die. There’s no hope for it; this Matthew McConaughey as the lost Winchester brother by way of Uncharted has got to go. The actor playing him is just cute as the dickens–and that’s the problem. If they wanted him to be a viable member of the team (and a viable rival for Ichabod in the affections of Abbie and the audience), they needed an Alexander Skarsgard, not a Ryan Kwanten. Edgy as a grilled cheese sandwich, mysterious as corn flakes, the best function he can serve right now is as a blood sacrifice to the plot. The Mills sisters shouldn’t be fighting over this slab of plain cream cheese.

3. Henry? Irving? Jenny? Sheriff Reyes?

All of these background characters have been nicely established, and there should be plenty for all of them to do in a story that still keeps Ichabod and Abbie at its center. Whatever the deal is with Irving, it needs to be dealt with as quickly as possible or conflated sufficiently to make him (or whatever oppresses him) a viable Big Bad for a brand new storyline. Ditto with Henry. I love Jenny; I think she could easily take on the functions of both Katrina (witchy-poo stuff and arcane magical knowledge) and Hawley (kick-ass magical weapons and a little black book full of convenient dark side contacts) while still having an emotional stake in what happens with her sister that can’t be shaken. And Sheriff Reyes has evolved from being another needless cipher to the obligatory exasperated authority figure this kind of story needs.

4. Okay, smartypants, you’re fooling no one,  you ‘shipper, you. What about Ichabbie?

I admit it; I would love to see Ichabod and Abbie become a couple eventually. They have great chemistry; they have great banter; and they look absolutely beautiful together. But with all the Katrina stuff they’ve had so far, even if they pluck Ichabod’s wife out of the equation for good before the end of this season, I think it would take at least another season to work back to that being a viable, non-skeevy plot option.  And if the show lasts and at some point there is an Ichabod and Abbie love connection, I would really, REALLY hope they would get together, stay together, and MOVE THE FUCK ON. These two could be a great couple – but that should never be what this show is about. Whether they’re lovers or friends or just fellow travelers, they’re on this journey together; they’ve got stuff to do, a world to protect, evil to vanquish. Would I like to see them having a little pillow talk between battles? Of course; I’m a freakin romance novelist. Do I think the show needs that to succeed? Absolutely not. And if that ever became the primary focus of the plot, it would kill it faster than Katrina in a little black dress. And the way to make it a non-issue is NOT to create more angst with an on-again/off-again; will they/won’t they conflict but to let them be happy in their relationship and get back to fighting monsters.

I still don’t think any of this is what’s actually going to happen on the show, but I feel better. No one can say I didn’t try. Anybody else got any ideas they need to get off their chest? My comments section is your comments section.

Posted in Personal Real Life Stuff, Pop Culture

The Internet Can’t Love You

Only people. And dogs. And cats if they so choose. And horses, of course. And guinea pigs and sugar gliders and all those other warm, fuzzy creatures people keep as pets, probably, and maybe even snakes. But not spiders.

And definitely not the Internet.

Social media has taken passive aggression to heights the military psychiatrists who first coined the term in 1945 could never have imagined. See if this sounds familiar. Somebody is pissing you off. That meaner has hurt your feelings, stolen your happy thought, danced all over your last damned nerve. But for whatever reason, you don’t want to confront them directly. Maybe they have more power than you. Maybe a confrontation will just turn into this whole big thing, and who needs that? Maybe it’s just in your nature to be a passive-aggressive whiny-ass. Don’t be ashamed; millions share your affliction and parade it daily. In any case, telling the source of your pain to piss off directly is not an option. But even so, you cannot in good conscience allow that blight on humanity to get away with that shit even one more time.

So you take it to the Internet. Without ever actually defining the conflict or identifying your oppressor, you air your grievance. You open a vein and spill. The individual people who read your post and know you will probably hate it.  People (and dogs, etc.) who genuinely care when you’re hurting would much rather know exactly who did you wrong and how so they know where to show up and whether to bring you a nice, consoling milkshake or quick lime and a gun. Those individual people will probably send you some kind of a private message asking some version of “WTF is going on?” If they really love you, they’ll restrain themselves from adding, “You passive-aggressive whiny-ass?”

But the Internet looooooves (or”Liiiiiiiiikes”) your post. Not you; never you; but your passive-aggressive reveal of yourself as the victim of some wrong. Because that allows the Internet to feel one of its favorite things. Pity. Friends of friends you’ve never even heard of will come out of the woodwork to tell you how sorry they are, how rotten those unnamed bastards can be (they know; their lives are full up to the top with unnamed bastards), how deeply they feel your pain. Each one of those individual posts comes from an individual person who is probably quite nice and almost certainly means well. But taken collectively in response to shit they in fact know nothing about, they aren’t people; they’re the swarm that is the Internet.

Which doesn’t mean it can’t make you feel better. That spontaneous outpouring of impersonal pity  can feel like just the balm you need to get you past your pain. But be careful. Because it isn’t love or even empathy.  It’s just pity.

Pity gives the Internet a seemingly benign outlet for its most favorite thing of all:  feeling superior. “Oh, you poor baby!” spoken by a loved one means, “I feel bad because you feel bad.” “Oh you poor baby,” from the Internet means, “Maybe my life is shit and I’m a moron, but at least I’m better off than this poor bastard.”  Passive aggressive pronouncements of pain make this kind of judging effortless.  If you never say what the problem is, the Internet can assume the absolute, wickedest worst. So be careful.

This is why the Internet, for all its, “You go, girl/boy/undetermined gender and that’s your choice and yay for you!” grandstanding, loves the weak and hates the strong. The weak make the Internet feel better about itself. The strong . . . those bitches are just showing off. And it can turn on you faster than you can hit “Send.” The same endless wellsprings of kindness who succored you through your misery will stone you in the public square just as soon as you tell them you’re better.  Because the Internet doesn’t love you.  It loves pitying you. And it loves judging you even more. So be careful. Hipster. Hypocrite. Poseur. Slut.  These are all Internet synonyms for “possibly superior to me in some way.” And they’re far from the worst.

The Internet is a mob, a hive brain, specialized bits and pieces but rarely the whole of all those individuals with an IP address, banded together for the sole purpose of belonging at any cost. Every chat group, every friends list, every hashtag is a different mob with a different focus, but it all amounts to the same thing–be one of us, be no better than the median, or be the Other. The Enemy. That’s how teen-age girls get hounded into suicide. That’s how female game designers get hounded out of their homes.

And of course I know it’s not all bad.  That same hive brain, that same Internet can accomplish great things, raise huge wads of cash for charity, spread awareness of social ills, keep Firefly on the air–wait, not that, but stuff like that.  But it doesn’t do it for love.  It does it to belong. It does it to feel superior.  It does it to judge. The motives of individual people can be entirely altruistic–they genuinely want to help. But the Internet just wants to be so right that all who oppose it are wrong. Meaning it can eat them.

There are wonderful, amazing, kind, brilliant people all over the Internet. I met my husband there. He’s a person; I know him as a person; I trust him as a person. I know the bits and pieces of his character he shows to the digital world, and I know all the other stuff, too.  And I know he loves me, he himself. the individual human.  Not the Internet.

The Internet can’t love you.  Get a dog.

 

Posted in Pop Culture

Sapiosexual Love Monkeys: Lucy’s Own Top 10

I originally posted this list on September 5, 2014. While the two brilliant artists we’ve lost this week were sooooo, soooo much more than crushes, they were crushes, too. RIP David Bowie and Alan Rickman – we miss you both horribly already.

david bowiealan-rickman

My baby sister was the first person I ever heard describe themselves as a “sapiosexual” – someone who’s turned on by brains more than looks, who has to have their intellect stimulated before they open access to their pants.  I was shocked and charmed; what an awesome word!  Apparently it’s been rattling around the interwebs for more than ten years, yet somehow I managed to miss it.  Love monkeys, on the other hand, are all me.  Well, me and my best friend, Petey.  We’ve been labeling our fictional lust objects love monkeys for decades (long before Kyle Smith or Edward Monkton used the phrase as the title for their two very different books).  It always refers to an unreal person in a book, movie, TV show, or videogame, and it means exactly what it sounds like.  Here, I’ll use it in a sentence:  My husband loves Gladiator as an action adventure, but it’s a killer love monkey movie, too.  And another:  All you need to know about the UK in the ’90s is that their ultimate love monkey was Colin Firth in a wet puffy shirt.

So a sapiosexual love monkey is a particular character in a particular story portrayed by a particular actor who by use of his big brains alone makes my breath catch short and my heart (and other less mentionable bits) to flutter in a fashion inappropriate for church.  These guys (my top 10 is all guys, though Angelina Jolie as Maleficent probably clocks in somewhere in the teens) aren’t all handsome; some of them are downright funny-looking.  Right up until they start talking.  Then they’re gorgeous.

So in reverse order . . . .

tom hiddleston as loki10.  Tom Hiddleston as Loki (Thor, The Avengers, Thor 2: We Couldn’t Call It Loki I; We Asked)

Loki is a snarky, dissatisfied, emo child.  He’s also the smartest guy in almost every room.  He’s so smart that he does himself injury with his own smartness – think of how much happier he would have been if he’d never had the brains to figure out his parentage.  Or to realize that his brother is a big ol’ musclehead who shouldn’t be put in charge of changing the spark plugs on the General Lee, much less  Asgard.  But like all the best egghead dreamboats, he’s just gotta know, and once he knows, he’s just gotta act, and once he acts, he’s committed; he can’t back down.  The scripts for these movies don’t really make Loki a love monkey in and of themselves – he’s clever; he’s hilarious; but he’s not necessarily sexy.  But Hiddleston does.  Think about it – in looking for the quote below, I played the devil finding anything Loki says that refers even obliquely to his sexuality, to him having any kind of sexual/romantic interest in anybody else.  He’s all about family and power and Shakespearean identity angst.  But he looks like Hiddleston.  He’s got Hiddleston’s eyes.  Even at his most enraged, there’s a vulnerability there, a need to love and be loved in return.  I hope they do get around to giving him a love interest before Marvel exhausts their narrative; I think he could play the living hell out of it.  But I’m not sure the die hard fangirls would survive.

Incendiary remark:  “Is it madness? Is it? IS IT? I don’t know what happened on Earth to make you so soft! Don’t tell me it was that woman?… Oh, it was. Well maybe, when we’re done here, I’ll pay her a visit myself!”

hugh laurie as house9.  Hugh Laurie as House (House M.D.)

This one is just insane.  Since the 1980s, Hugh Laurie has been the lovable nitwit in everything from Blackadder to 101 Dalmatians, the ultimate English buffoon, Benny Hill for the postmodern hipster.  He was Bertie Freakin’ Wooster in my beloved Jeeves & Wooster, for cryin’ out loud, the ultimate performance of the ultimate expression of the ultimate upper class twit.

But there were always signs.  In Sense and Sensibility, he plays stone-faced straight man husband to Imelda Staunton’s insufferable chatterbox  of a wife and manages to bring real depth and sympathy to a guy who barely gets a word in edgewise.  And have you seen Peter’s Friends?  He and Staunton are amazing together again as a married couple whose child has died.  When he threatens to leave her if she won’t let him into her pain, it’s one of the sweetest, most heartbreaking moments of connection between a man and woman I’ve ever seen in a movie.  (By the by, if you HAVEN’T seen this movie, and you ever get a chance, by all means, watch it – every performance is brilliant.)

So then came American doctor Greg House, who is not sweet or sympathetic in any way, who plays the buffoon for mean-spirited laughs, who makes it no secret that he considers the rest of the world utter morons.  And somehow, he’s sexy as hell.  His love connection with Cuddy may have jumped the shark for the show, may have completely ruined her character (though personally, I blame her V-neck sweaters), and was almost certainly doomed from the start.  But it felt inevitable from the very first episode – how could she NOT fall in love with him, twisted monster that he was?  House M.D. as a narrative may have run out of steam (and bizarro medical conditions) before the end of the second season, but Laurie was always hot.

Incendiary remark:  “The fact that the sexual pleasure center of your cerebral cortex has been over-stimulated by spirochetes is a poor basis for a relationship. Learned that one the hard way.”

Zachary Quinto as Spock8.  Zachary Quinto as Spock (Star Trek, Star Trek: Into Darkness, known in Spanish as ¿Que Es Más Macho En El Espacio?)

Mr. Spock as a character has been holding the fort of hopeless longing for sapiosexual geek girls (and boys so inclined, of course) for more than four decades, thanks to Leonard Nimoy.  He was the epitome of wholly unattainable bliss, the ultimate expression of the guy no girl can get, except every seven years, then you better eat your Wheaties.  But with the new movies, writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman risked life and limb at the hands of purists to put him in a love connection with Uhura.  Lucky for them, somebody had the good sense to cast Zachary Quinto.  With those big brown eyes and that perfect diction, he manages to make us–and Uhura–believe that he can somehow feel nothing and love her to pieces all at the same time.  Witness the dialogue below.  If any other dude fed any other woman this line of convoluted emo crap, she’d toss a drink in his face.  But Uhura melts like butter on pancakes, and so do we.

Incendiary remark:  “You misunderstand. It is true I chose not to feel anything upon realizing my own life was ending. As Admiral Pike was dying, I joined with his consciousness and experienced what he felt at the moment of his passing. Anger. Confusion. Loneliness. Fear. I had experienced those feelings before, multiplied exponentially on the day my planet was destroyed. Such a feeling is something I choose never to experience again. Nyota, you mistake my choice not to feel as a reflection of my not caring. Well, I assure you, the truth is precisely the opposite.”

sting7.  Sting as Sting (MTV in the 1980s)

There comes a time in every prepubescent’s life when she stops wanting cute and starts wanting sexy (or in the case of some contemporary types, starts seeing cute as sexy, which is apparently a thing, and go with God, ladies).  For me, that moment came the first time I saw Sting on MTV.  I was already a poetry-reading, short story-writing, literary-minded smartypants, so the sight of this angelic-looking creature with a sneer on his face and lyrics that referenced Shakespeare on his lips blew my baby mind entirely.  He was smart; he was mean; he was lovelorn; he was mad as hell about it.  He was beautiful in a way that was completely grown up and completely outside the realm of my experience.  I’m from Chester, South Carolina, and there are some fine-looking menfolk to be found there.  But in 1983, there was not no damned body who looked even remotely like Sting.  I gave him my heart entirely.  I committed every song to memory; I saw both Dune and The Bride on the day they opened and actually told people they were good.  I read Anne Rice with perfect confidence that the voice of Lestat was his voice.

A few decades of real world womanly experience on my part and his embrace of karmic sex and MOR adult contemporary have dampened my ardor somewhat.  But “Every Breath You Take” can still make me shiver even now.

Incendiary remark:  “Oh can’t you see? You belong to me.  How my poor heart aches with every step you take?”

Val Kilmer as Doc6.  Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday (Tombstone)

Val Kilmer is a weird case.  He can play smart.  He can play smart pretending to be stupid.  Or he can play dumb as a box of wet mice after a tragic fall, a persona he seems most comfortable adopting on talk shows.  But as Doc Holliday in Tombstone, there is no doubt; he is every sapiosexual woman’s favorite cowboy.  (Any guy who can make Kurt Russell in full snarling gunslinger mode fade into the wallpaper is doing some serious hoohoo voodoo, to borrow a phrase from my ex.)  There are many husbands of my acquaintance who can perk up their whole Saturday night by dropping a single, well-modulated phrase:  “I’m your huckleberry.”  He’s smarter, faster, meaner, deadlier, more articulate and better-humored than anybody else around him, even though he’s the one drowning slowly where he stands.  He travels with a woman more venal than he is and pines for an innocent girl he believes he destroyed.  And oh yeah . . . he’s got a Southern accent.

Incendiary remark:  “You are a good woman . . . Then again . . . you may be the Anti-Christ.”

Bowie as goblin king5.  David Bowie as Jareth, the Goblin King (Labyrinth)

In Labyrinth, a bright, imaginative, dissatisfied adolescent girl who feels misunderstood and ill-used has to choose between saving her infant half-brother and returning to mundane reality or abandoning him and herself to a multicolored fantasy world of her own creation where she can be queen and beloved to a mysterious goblin king in guy-liner and tight pants.  I can’t imagine why it resonated so strongly with me and every other writer girl I’ve ever met.  Not even all those damned Muppets can put me off, mostly because of David Bowie.  Everybody else might be making a Girls Own Dark Crystal, but he’s acting in Bondage for Babies: An Overview.  (Tonight’s Very Special episode of Sesame Street is brought to you by the letters B, D, S and M.)  He offers Sarah her perfect princess fantasy in exchange for nothing but total surrender of her will.  With glam-rocking tunes.

Incendiary remark:  “I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave.”


eccleston dr who4.  Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor (Dr. Who, Season 1 or Season 14.98-5, depending on the age and/or Whoviananity of the person you ask, and yes, I know, he’s the Ninth Doctor, whatever)

Christopher Eccleston isn’t my favorite Doctor; if I’m honest, I like David Tennant better because I like my Doctor more romantic and emotional.  But Eccleston is the one who belongs on this list.  From the moment he says, “Nice to meet you, Rose.  Run for your life,” he is completely in charge of every situation; he knows what’s happening or how to find out.  He’s both more protective and more angry – you can see quite easily why the Daleks fear him and why trees, kids, and Rose all trust him instinctively.  Tennant rages; Smith shouts; but Eccleston seethes.  (All reports indicate that Capaldi is an even angrier Doctor – I can’t wait to meet him.)  When he smiles, he lights up the world, but when he glowers, he can scare the pants right off you.  In the best and worst possible way.

Incendiary remark:  “The TARDIS can never return for me. Emergency Program One means I’m facing an enemy that should never get their hands on this machine. So this is what you should do: let the TARDIS die. Just let this old box gather dust. No one can open it, no one will even notice it. Let it become a strange little thing standing on a street corner. And over the years the world will move on and the box will be buried. And if you want to remember me, then you can do one thing. That’s all. One thing.” The hologram turns to look at Rose. “Have a good life. Do that for me, Rose. Have a fantastic life.”

Robert-Downey-Jr.-in-Iron-Man-33.  Robert Downey, Jr., as Tony Stark (Iron Man 1 thru as many as he cares to make, The Avengers)

Tony Stark is the guy in the room who’s smarter than Loki.  He’s smarter than everybody but Bruce Banner, so he immediately wants to befriend Bruce Banner.  He has absolute confidence in his own intelligence; it’s physical strength that makes him a little self-conscious (witness his pissing contests with Thor and Captain America); that’s why he develops an unhealthy relationship with his Iron Man suit(s).  If he stayed the womanizing bachelor he is when we meet him in Iron Man 1, he’d be attractive, but he’d never make my top 10, much less my top 3.

But he isn’t alone; he has Pepper.  And that’s just . . . . golden.  I love every little thing about their relationship:  the banter between them, the way they look at one another when the other one isn’t looking back, the way they look at one another when the other one IS looking back, the way they seem more relaxed alone together than either of them ever seems when other people are around.  The weird and kind of wonderful thing is, even though Tony NEVER. STOPS. TALKING and when he’s with Pepper to talk is to flirt, the real sexy stuff happens in the tiny slices of silence in between.  I wanted a sexy quote from each of these guys for this post, and Downey as Stark has dozens of awesome one-liners.    But the real moments of connection, the stuff that really toasts my marshmallow happen in the tiny little slices of silence, like the look in his eyes when he wakes from a nightmare and realizes he almost hurt her.  Downey used to make a career (or half of one) out of playing puppy-eyed yearners in rom-coms like Chances Are, Heart and Souls, and Only You (for the ultimate expression of this persona that turns it wickedly on its head, may I direct your attention to Two Girls and a Guy?).  Tony Stark would have no patience with that sappy schmuck, but in those tiny little moments, Downey lets us see he’s still in there, and he loves Pepper with all his bleeding heart.

Incendiary remark:  “No. You’re in a relationship with me, nothing will ever be okay. But I had this twenty years ago when I was drunk, I can sort it out. I fix stuff.”

kinopoisk.ru2. Alan Rickman as Fucking Everybody He’s Ever Played (Every Fucking Thing He’s Ever Done)

Sapiosexuality might as well have been invented to explain the fandom of Alan Rickman.  He isn’t conventionally handsome; properly lit he could haunt a house.  But how many Harry Potter fans do you know whose favorite character was hateful, greasy-haired, hook-nosed Severus Snape long before Rowling revealed his tender, tragic secret?  Blame Rickman – we saw the truth in his eyes halfway through the second movie.  Notions of love monkeyness notwithstanding, the man is one of the great actors of our age; I’ve never seen him put a single molecule wrong, and he can convey more emotion in silence without even moving his face than most of his peers can put across jumping up and down and screaming.  Not for nothing did Kevin Smith cast him as the Voice of God in Dogma. (And if you’ve never seen that one, you should; Rickman’s monologue about telling the boy Jesus his destiny could melt the heart of Bill Maher.  Okay, maybe he’d have to be drunk.  And petting a puppy as he watched.  But still.)  He’s the quintessential English villain in American movies (though in Die Hard, he’s Austrian, right?), the cold, calculating foreign genius who has to be brought down a peg by the plainspoken Everyman American hero (even when that hero is Robin Hood, and who the heck thought THAT was  a good idea?).

But Rickman isn’t always the villain.  For me, his most romantic, sexiest, most love monkey-status-worthy performance is in Truly, Madly,  Deeply, aka Ghost for People Who Read Books.  In it, Rickman plays a modern day cellist who dies unexpectedly, leaving behind Juliet Stephenson, his girlfriend, who can’t stop grieving and move on with her life.  So he comes back to her as a ghost.  Incidents ensue, but in the midst of it all, she finally asks him why he decided to come back.  Here’s his answer – if you haven’t seen it, as you’re reading, imagine it in his voice.  If you have seen it, you won’t have to imagine:

Incendiary remark:  “But, the pain. Your pain. I couldn’t bear that. There’s a little girl I see from time to time – Alice, who’s three. Well, three and a half. Oh, she’s great. Everyone loves her, but she’s not spoiled – Well, wasn’t spoiled. She was knocked over and she died. Her parents, and family, and friends from kindergarten… She used to go to this playground. See, they made an area in the park. Gave ’em money for swings, and little wooden animals, and there are these plaques on the sides of the swing, bottom of the horse: ‘From Alice’s mom and dad. In Memory of Alice, who used to play here’. And of course, Alice goes back there all the time. And when you see the parents take their child from the swing, and see the sign… They hold on to their son and daughter, so tightly, clinging on for dear life. And yet… The capacity that people have to love… Where does it go?”

cumberbatch1.  Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock (Sherlock.  No, really, that’s it, just Sherlock.  Yes, I saw him as Khan.  Just Sherlock.  It’s my damned list, all right?)

And so, inevitably, we arrive here.  Every person I know who describes themselves as sapiosexual started doing so to explain their attraction to Benedict Cumberbatch.  It’s a fair point; I myself have described him as looking like an alien’s well-researched but ultimately unsuccessful approximation of what a human being looks like without ever actually seeing one.  I was already a fan of the first season of Sherlock the first time another woman expressed vicarious passion for him, and my first response to her was, “Dear god, really?  Why?”  It wasn’t that I didn’t think he was brilliant and that I didn’t enjoy every moment of watching him.  He just seemed like a supersmart alien creature, asexual, unattainable . . . . but then, that’s the point, isn’t it?  With “The Woman,” he proved he isn’t asexual at all.  With his relationship with John Watson, he proved he is capable of the deepest, most noble kind of emotional attachment, of real, self-sacrificing love.  (Sherlock and John are the only popular fandom couple where the slash fiction makes the slightest bit of sense to me – for once, I can see it.)  In Sherlock, Cumberbatch has created the ultimate sapiosexual love monkey for this moment right now, as distant and untouchable as Spock, as self-destructive as Tony Stark, as protective as the Doctor, as mischievous as Loki, as angry and as dangerous as Doc.  He’s the ultimate supervillain redeemed by his heart of gold.

Incendiary remark:  “The point I’m trying to make is that I am the most unpleasant, rude, ignorant and all-round obnoxious arsehole that anyone could possibly have the misfortune to meet. I am dismissive of the virtuous, unaware of the beautiful and uncomprehending in the face of the happy. So, if I didn’t understand I was being asked to be best man, it is because I never expected to be anybody’s best friend.”

So that’s my list.  As a romance writer, I have usually tended toward more conventionally heroic heroes, but the odd charming rotter with a beautiful mind has occasionally slipped in.  I’d put Aiden Brinlaw, the wizard hero of my third book, Wicked Charms (published under the name Jayel Wylie), in this list.  Scarlett Cross, the heroine in my Hollywood romance, Alpha Romeo, encounters a big-brained Cumberbatch type near the end of the book who’ll have a lot more to do in the sequel.  And I have a contemporary fairy tale coming out later this year, Christabel’s Tale, with a hero that is very much a sapiosexual’s dream.  And now that I think about it, my pet name for my own husband is Evil Genius.

Looks like I’m a sapiosexual, too.

Posted in Art & Artists, Books, Current events, Pop Culture, Pop Culture I Can Live Without, Publishing

A Letter to Amazon

librarianDear Mr. Bezos,

I was very excited to receive your Email request this morning, asking for my help in your battle against Hachette. Not since Carrie White got invited to the prom has a girl been more pleasantly shocked to be included. And you’re right; those big publisher types are just fuckers. I was a mid-list romance author for Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster all through the 2000s, and let me tell you—

Oh, right, sorry, you want to talk about your thing. No, yeah, of course; it’s totally fine. So anyway, okay, Hachette and its other big nasty “media conglomerate” friends have been being all hateful to you at Amazon about your e-books. I heard about the whole collusion thing – those bastards! You and the Supreme Court are so right; I don’t blame you one bit for being upset. I mean, I know in my heart that if you hadn’t already put every other bookselling outlet that could possibly affect the market at your level out of business, you and those peers you don’t have would never, ever sit down in a New York City restaurant to try to come to some sort of price fixing agreement. I can just see them all in there, smoking their big cigars, drinking their martinis – they probably pinched the pert derriere of the cigarette girl as she passed. Kudos to you and your lawyers for bringing them to justice. So now they’re coming after you one by one, starting with Hachette, and you’ve come to me for my help as a writer to fight back. I’m flattered; I really am.

But let’s talk about the pig’s blood before I put on the tiara. (Sadly, unlike Carrie, I don’t have evil superpowers, but this also ain’t my first prom.) You talk in your email about the “invention” of the paperback “just ahead of World War II” and how some writers like George Orwell didn’t like it and how they were wrong and how the current debate about e-book pricing is just like that. Leaving aside the nagging knowledge I have of yellowback novels being published way back in the 1870s and magazine serials blazing the trail for pulp fiction decades before that, let’s talk about Orwell’s fears about what paperbacks would do to what you call “literary culture.” At that time, there was no such thing as “literary fiction” or “genre fiction;” there was just “fiction,” and Orwell, who wrote dystopian sci fi with straightforward political commentary, was part of it. So were Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. So were the Bronte sisters, who wrote romance, and Sir Walter Scott, who wrote historicals, and Mark Twain, who wrote YA and comic satire, and Mary Shelley, who wrote horror. And all those books from Orwell’s era that we now consider classics too dense, boring, and “literary” for anybody but aging academics and film directors to read, like The Great Gatsby and The Sound and the Fury and Moby Dick and Ulysses, those weren’t considered “literary novels,” they were considered “novels,” and everybody who read novels read them right alongside the lighter stuff.

Paperbacks are awesome; I’ve built my life as a reader and my career as a writer on paperbacks. And they did “rejuvenat[e] the book industry and mak[e] it stronger,” in that a lot more books got published and read because they were so much cheaper, and ultimately publishers and booksellers made a lot more money. (Authors maybe not so much, but maybe so. Bigger business meant bigger demand which meant bigger paychecks for the bigger names, and more people probably got published, too.) But those bigger numbers created the need for some kind of genre categorization, at least in the minds of those publishers and booksellers, which led to the big divide between so-called “literary” fiction and “genre” fiction that plagues every author alive today and threatens to destroy any notion of a “literary culture” in English completely.

So maybe old George was on to something after all.

You (or to be fair, your spambot) also talk about how paperbacks, because of these snooty objections from the literary establishment, were first sold in drugstores and newsstands, casting Amazon as the humble newsstand/drugstore of today’s e-book world. Well . . . maybe. If we’re talking about a drugstore that first puts all the other drugstores out of business. Then sells their paperbacks at somewhat less than cost so they can sell more candy bars and condoms by luring in more customers. Then decides to just give the paperbacks away to special customers who have credit accounts with them to buy their much more expensive prescriptions, explaining to the people who make their living off the paperbacks that they’ll pay them a percentage of the nothing they’re charging, they promise. And when those people who make their living off the paperbacks object, accuses them of wanting readers to die because they’re being denied access to cheap medicine. Then, yeah, the comparison is probably pretty apt.

So in response to your request, I would like to suggest a new marketing model to you and Facebook and Google and all the other companies who hire marketing copy writers (most of whom probably wrote at least the first couple of chapters of a novel at some point) to write this kind of mass communication to me and the rest of us content providers and customers and such; sort of a new mission statement. It’s not a new concept; my grandfather was fond of it, but it has the kind of folksy charm I think you were going for here.

Stop pissing on my shoes and telling me it’s raining.

Love and kisses,

Lucy Blue

(Credit for the groovy writer girl graphic to the brilliant Isabel Samaras)