Thursday, June 15, 2017

American Bitch

Now Playing: Michael O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori - Perchance to Dream

So this is a topic I keep coming back to: change. Impact. Blah.

See, my problem with Lena Dunham's Girls comes down to Hannah and Marnie. While Shoshanna and Jessa made mistakes, felt guilt, felt anger, and were forced to change, Hannah and Marnie are the same throughout the entirety of season 6 as they were in season 1. If anything, Marnie used to be the Straight Man of the four girls and she went on a complete downward spiral.

It's also frustrating to hear Dunham talk about the episodes. On the HBO site, every time an episode finishes, it automatically plays an "Inside the Episode" segment where she and sometimes other creators talk about the events in the show. Half the time, I have no idea what the fuck she's talking about. It's like her actual characters have depth and intentions that are interesting to analyse and figure out, but as soon as I hear her opinions, I want to be like, "uhm. No. That's stupid. I don't think you get it." (And she's the creator).

It's condescending, but the quickest way to explain how I feel it harms her writing is how she's forced a lot of the relationships in the show. More than a few times, she's been like, "there's this girl and this guy and I always knew something sexual/romantic would happen between them." It makes me think not only does she not understand her own characters, she also doesn't seem to understand a man and a woman don't necessarily have to have a sexual  encounter just because they're a man and a woman. (Not even gay characters are safe from this treatment. Or side characters).

I have trouble with the way she develops dialogue and character arcs. It's like I start to see it go in the right direction--a progression that feels both earned and organic. Then she either goes too far or veers off the rails completely.

So when American Bitch aired, I not only did not trust the show to be able to handle the complicated nature of sexual assault and power dynamics, I also made sure not to listen to the Behind the Episode segment. 

It surprised me how much I liked the episode. And I adored a lot of the think pieces that came from it. But as the series continued, I realized that it hadn't been an episode at all. It'd been an essay. Nothing that happened in American Bitch ever affected a single aspect of the show. Not in terms of impacting the plot, not in terms of how it could have affected the characters, and definitely not in terms of themes or issues. 

So I finally watched the Behind the Episode and sure enough, the creator discussion is so vapid that I regret even clicking on it.

(And yet its YouTube comments are a lot more profound. Go figure).

But I try to give Dunham the benefit of the doubt sometimes. It's not like she's a bad writer, after all. Maybe the lack of lingering impact is supposed to be the point. Maybe it's supposed to comment on how the events that transpire in American Bitch are relatable to a lot of women, and no matter how odd, troubling, or even traumatic those can be, they're just snippets of our lives we don't know how to address. So we don't dwell on them--if only because we don't know how or because they're so commonplace--and life goes on.

I hadn't even thought much about the episode until the other day--the day I referenced in my last post, when I talked with one of Flip's friend about the bizarre phrasings we use surrounding sex and virginity. I spoke up about that, and later I wondered if I did it purely because it bothered me or because I had the slight hope he might think critically about the strange ideas we hold of "virginity" in our society.

But if I truly believed I was trying to steer this person into any kind of critical discussion or (and I'm being widely optimistic here) lasting change, I would have addressed the one thing that always bothers me about him: he cannot refer to women as anything except "bitches." 

It's driving me nuts. To the point where I actively avoid being in the same room as him. I stay civil and I'll make small talk when prompted, but it's like as soon as I forget about that habit of his and I decide to be friendly, I immediately regret it when he rambles on about, "if I did X, I'd get all kinds of bitches." (That's a somewhat-direct quote. If I went word for word, you'd think I was making shit up). 

It's such a ridiculous way of talking that it should be cartoonish and therefore easy to dismiss. But it's infuriating because I know he's one in a million who think the same things and say the same things and have it influence so much of what how they perceive and treat other people--especially women.

So why didn't I say anything?

In the moment, I simply forgot. But maybe I don't think we can have any lasting effect on one another. It's one of those things about life that exist and I don't dwell on it for long because I don't know how to address it.

(Although that still makes for shitty fiction. So I guess Girls isn't any more profound for being as crap as real life is).

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Meaning

Now Playing: Rihanna - Desperado

Yesterday, I talked to one of Flip's friends about relationships, sex, boundaries, libido, etc. He'd come over with another one of their mutual friends and they breached the subject and ended up asking me and each other a bunch of questions until it turned into a discussion.

I disagreed with a lot of the points two out of the three boys brought up, but at the very least they seemed to acknowledge a lot of their opinions were completely centered on who they were as individuals. So, like, they hold strong opinions on subjects like sleeping in separate beds or the kind of boundaries they have with strangers vs. girlfriends, but they don't expect those opinions to be universal.

But anyways--at one point, Flip's friend mentioned his girlfriend, and he got to talking about how, despite being a modern millennial Casanova, he's willing to wait for her to be ready to have sex, as she's still a virgin.

AND YET

Based on all he's shared, that label has been shredded to strips until a single, tiny piece remains. They've done a lot together and she's clearly interested enough to progress the sexual aspect of their relationship slowly. But because there's been no "finishing act", she and her boyfriend and her friends maintain the label of "virgin." Which isn't to say that since she's practically not anymore they might as well get the intercourse over with--if she's not there yet or doesn't want to, that's fine, that's her business, no one should impart any judgement.

But broadly speaking, it's odd that in heterosexual relationships that label has to remain firmly attached (with a few asterisks and footnotes of clarification) until the so-called "actual" fucking takes place.

I wasn't going to comment on it. Then Flip's friend said the dreaded words,

"Well, when I take her virginity--"

Cue barf sound.

I don't mean metaphorically. I mean I interrupted him to pretend to gag and roll my eyes and kinda screw up my face like I just saw someone take a dump on the carpet.

I told him then what I'm going to repeat now: I hateee that phrasing. With a passion. The hate only intensifies as I get older.

I always disliked it growing up, since I thought the whole concept of it was arbitrary as hell and I already knew "virginity" was mostly used to shame boys who "had" it and girls who'd "lost" it.

But I hated the phrasing because I hated that it made it sound like some physical thing you could hold in your hands and toss out. Soon as I learned that there's not even such a thing as "popping" or "breaking" your hymen (and how troubling it is that we use such violent language to describe what should be normal sexual situations), I realized there was even less need for that kind of phrasing.

When I read the great Jenny Trout's breakdown of Fifty Shades of Grey, it solidified my dislike for it because in one particular chapter analysis, she wrote:

Why do we talk about the “giving” and “taking” of virginity? Like it’s a tangible object than passes from hand to hand? I don’t understand it, but it’s definitely in the parlance of our society. The woman “gives” and the man “takes”. I’ve always hated that. I don’t feel like I gave anything away when I lost my virginity. I feel like I shared an experience. But then again, the kid who punched my v-card was also a virgin, so maybe in that case we just swapped virginities.

(Emphasis mine because that's just too funny).

Oddly enough, when Flip's friend used that phrase yesterday and I objected, he initially seemed to think I was against the word "taking." He immediately tried to correct himself with, "when she offers me her virginity" and that sounded equally ridiculous.

I had to ask him--does he collect virginities? Does he put them in a jar and then place them up on one of his shelves?

Now I can't stop thinking about that. Like. There's gotta be at least one fantasy novel that does that.

It could even be with witches to play with the old stereotype that women only want sex as a kind of currency or in exchange for favors. Maybe there's a coven out there that preys on unsuspecting boys, takes their maidenhood (? see?! There's not even a male term for it! ARBITRARY), and then puts the virginity in a vial to be used for spells, potions, hexes, etc.

It's the only way that concept would ever make sense.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

From the Past

More like from October 2014--senior year at FSU, fall semester.

I stumbled into an old email exchange from back when I was applying for my last required creative writing workshop. There were two classes I applied to. The one I ended up taking included in its syllabus the disclaimer that writing genre fiction wasn't the same as writing literary fiction and if we chose to attempt the former, we were subjecting ourselves to harsher grading for we had to manage great literary fiction-style accomplishments while also "adhering to the constrains" of genre fiction.

(I never figured out what the hell that meant but at least my grade didn't suffer).

And then the other class, where the application processed asked we include an email talking about ourselves and our influences. I told the professor I was "a speculative fiction and character-oriented writer," who'd been greatly influenced by the likes of Mary Shelley, Octavia Butler, and Isaac Asimov.

I was careful not to include authors I thought would make the professor eye-roll (like megapopular superstars J.K. Rowling or Stephen King--though I did include other popular authors) and instead focused on sci-fi and fantasy writers who are arguably renowned for really shaping their genres. The writing sample was a short story featuring an android and there was only one author on my list who wasn't under the speculative fiction umbrella. So of course, I got this from the professor:

Rebeca,  
You're welcome to take my class, but I must warn you that we are going to be working on character-driven literary fiction. I don't care where you set your work--on Mars, in the future, in the past--but we'll be working on subtext and character.

😑

So yeah. That reminded me why any interest in obtaining an MFA tanked after FSU, despite all I did learn from professors 😒. Not worth it.

That said, as I've mentioned before, grad. school seems to be a real possibility as of late. I'm going for that MLS degree.

Hypothetically (???). I'm still hashing everything out but it's more of a plan than I had two/three years ago 😛

(Yes, I did just discover the emoji tool on Blogger. Why do you ask?)

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Red

When I think about Courtney Summers's All the Rage, two points spring to mind:

1) It's as visceral and unforgiving and brutal as everyone said it'd be--and for good reason; it handles the subject matters of rape, bullying, and victim blaming as unflinchingly as they need to be handled.

2) Romy Grey and her red lipstick and red nails.

The book kept coming back to point two, so I kept coming back to it with it. It was this little detail that formed her personality and a little narrative device that inherently had so many layers to it. The obvious is the use of her surname in contrast to a bold color like red, and what it means for her to not only return to it, but to find strength in it. The other is how we so often frame red in terms of themes--the color of anger, red lips the stereotypical color of a two-dimensional femme fatale, the color used to brand a "sinner" in The Scarlet Letter, the color of blood, the color most often associated with love,  the color of sacrifice and courage, etc, etc.

The fact that it's make-up and nail polish which feel like armor to Romy adds more dimensions to it--the lines of femininity and masculinity meshed and blurred.

I like color in books. I like it in movies too. My college professors and a good deal of fellow readers might find them a little gimmicky, but I have an affinity for them. Maybe because a great deal of superheroes have color associations.

Anyways--it was mostly because of Romy that I finally gave red nail polish a try.

I hated nail polish when I was little. I hated the smell of it and thought it looked tacky and ugly 100% of the time. It didn't matter if my eleven-year-old friends were applying it on each other or whether someone got it professionally done, fake or painted nails always looked repulsive to me. My mom conned me into getting my nails painted for my 8th grade formal, and I hated that salon more than I hated the dentist.

I don't know what eventually turned me into it. I think it was seeing the colors on Ren's hands. It made them a little more vibrant. While writing a particular rough chapter of one of my books, I told Ren I was thinking of painting my nails in an effort to encourage me to write. I thought, if I have something pretty to look at, I'll be more inclined to keep typing.

(Typing is my favorite part of writing. Love for my characters goes in second place).

She ended up agreeing. She said she found she was more productive with her hands when her nails were painted.

Of course I started with black polish, roughly $2.00 a bottle. My mom was horrified when she saw the end result. I'd fucked it up so badly--my hands were shaky and I didn't know how many layers to apply or how thick the consistency was supposed to be when you drew it out of the bottle. The color bled over the edges and tainted my fingers. I tried to use this cheap bottle of perfume I'd bought at CVS a year ago to rub out some of the stains (since I didn't have rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover)  but it barely helped. My mom ran to Walmart (despite my protest) and bought me top coat, q-tips, and nail polish remover. She told me if I was gonna wear black nail polish of all things, I might as well make it presentable.

I'm still not very good at it and it takes me an eternity. But I managed to come to red finally, and even if it now really bleeds over to my fingers, I like it. My hands don't look like my hands. They look like Romy's.

By pure chance, twenty minutes after I painted my nails red, thinking of Romy the whole time, I watched The Handmaid's Tale.

(Red, the color of the handmaids).

I've never read the book, though I have read other works by the great Margaret Atwood. I do think she's a great writer but I find it a little annoying that she so often rejected the label of science fiction for her work (although it's not quite as aggravating as the way Harlan Ellison and Terry Goodkins rejected sci-fi/fantasy). I can almost understand her, in the sense that I can imagine maybe she'd feel the need to make the distinction if she worried her work would be easily dismissed by critics, which they'd be far more prone to do when the writer is not only a woman but writing about deeply feminist issues.

I find it even more annoying that the lead actress behind the Hulu adaptation was a complete chicken shit about the label of "feminism." To a point where I feared any overt feminist themes would be seriously diluted because of it. It ended up taking my excitement for the adaption down a notch and I didn't jump to watch it the day it premiered.

Thankfully, that doesn't seem to be the case for these first three episodes.

 I was hesitant to give it a try without reading the book first, but over at the subreddit AskWomen, shortly after the premiere date someone asked what we all thought about the show. Most people said, "it hurts because it feels real."

Shorty after seeing it, I was talking with someone who said they could not stomach the series. They asked me, a little appalled, why I'd want to sit through something so horrible. And to be fair, people weren't lying: it did hurt. I held out as much as I could then ended up crying at the birthing scene of the second episode.

There's many reasons why I want to keep watching--I think it's well-made, the acting is good, the writing is great, I'm intrigued to see where the characters go and what happens to them, how they'll choose to act, what'll happen to this regime, etc. But I ended up saying, "because I think it's important."

I'm not of the opinion that a story can be saved by a good message. Execution matters more than anything else. But I will be drawn to a story if I get the sense it'll explore themes and ideas I find intriguing. If it does it well, then I've found something truly worthwhile.

When I was talking to this person, they brought up that it's just as valid for them not to want to watch The Handmaid's Tale so not to be subjected to such an overwhelming horrifying portrayal of rape as it is fair for someone not to want to watch Game of Thrones due to the violence.

And in theory I agreed--but then I remembered that this person does like Game of Thrones and has seen every available episode. And Game of Thrones has done something worse with the subject of rape. It's thrown it in there for cheap shock and cheap characterization, it's sometimes ignored or lessen the severity, a few times it's even fetishized an aspect or framing of it. (Which is arguably an issue with all of the writing as the series went on--death and violence are included so often and are so poorly set-up that they no longer carry an impact).

So how could one justify watching the subject be so thoroughly mishandled in Game of Thrones while being put-off by how visceral it's portrayed in Handmaid's Tale? (Which manages to be horrific without any nudity or physical violence).

And they said it's simply because it's not a focus-point of Game of Thrones. It's easier to stomach. It doesn't hurt.

It hurts when it's in The Handmaid's Tale. It hurts in All the Rage. Pretending it shouldn't is such a disservice to the people who have survived it.

But that's just a little too unpleasant for some of us, I guess.
"Science and science fiction have done a kind of dance over the last century... The scientists make a finding. It inspires science fiction writers to write about it, and a host of young people read the science fiction and are excited, and inspired to become scientists...which they do, which then feeds again into another generation of science fiction and science..."
- Carl Sagan, in his message to future explorers of Mars.