Sunday, July 28, 2013

How (and Why) I Became a Whovian

Unless you live in a cave or the jungles of Bora Bora, chances are good you know someone who’s a Whovian. That is, a huge fan (and by huge I mean reaching levels of geekery you never imagined) of the BBC series Doctor Who. For years, I’ve had mixed feelings about Doctor Who.

It's bigger on the inside. Really.
I wanted to like it, I really did. After all, who wouldn’t love the story of a man (who’s really an alien) flying through space and time in a blue police call box (it’s bigger on the inside) with a collection of plucky companions? And it was a bit of a throwback for me because I remember catching bits and pieces of earlier incarnations of The Doctor on PBS as a child - all I could recall was that he had floppy hair and a really cool scarf. I learned later that this was The Fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker, who was pretty nifty.

And who wouldn’t love the concept of a character who, because he’s a Time Lord, never truly dies? Instead, when something really bad happens, he regenerates and changes his appearance - leading to the idea that the show could go on FOREVER, which it practically has.

But I just couldn’t get into it. Sure, I loaded Doctor Who into my Netflix queue, and tried watching a few episodes, featuring The Ninth Doctor, as played by Christopher Eccleston. I just couldn’t get there. Eccleston seemed too goofy, almost as if he was trying hard to be clever, and the aliens were kind of cheesy. OK, some of them were REALLY cheesy.

But my friend Trina, who is a die hard Whovian and even has this awesome TARDIS dress, told me to stick with it. She said, “Give it a chance, just get through the first season. Things will change.”

Meh, okay. Whatever.

So I stuck with it. And you know what? Something very odd happened.

I started into Doctor Who thinking it would be a light and fluffy show about a time/space traveler and some aliens. And instead, it turned into something deeper. Somewhere near the end of Season One - right around the time I began to actually LIKE Eccleston’s Doctor - it stopped being about aliens, and more about friendship, loyalty, love, and sacrifice.

Once I met David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor, it kicked into high gear. Tennant manages to take a character who isn’t even human, and give him some degree of humanity. The Doctor’s Companions - Rose, Donna, the amazing Martha - help him in this journey. As Martha says, at one point, “Sometimes you need someone. You need someone to stop you.”

Sure, sure, it’s a Sci Fi show and you have to spend your disbelief a little - okay, a lot - and the Doctor himself, as a character, does have his faults. He does bad things sometimes, although he tries to tell himself the end justifies the means. But it’s all part of the show’s evolution for me. I never get bored (and I’m wrapping up Season Four), like I normally do when I binge watch shows on Netflix.

Another thing I really love about Doctor Who is the way the show normalizes racial and sexual differences. There are a number of interracial couples - and it’s No Big Deal. No reference is ever made to skin color, because in The Doctor’s world, it doesn’t matter. Likewise, sexual preferences are just another aspect of a character’s personality, but never is used to define them. The absolutely dreamy Captain Jack Harkness is dashing, daring, and will bang anything with a pulse and an interest. He hits on EVERYONE, sometimes with success, other times not so much - and then he simply moves on. Other characters have made references to their same-sex partners, and it’s never anything of great relevance because it’s normal.

Other things to love: the time travel (Shakespeare shouting EXPELLIARMUS or Agatha Christie solving a mystery), the scary monsters (weeping angels had me hiding under a pillow), the gadgets (dude, I need a Sonic Screwdriver) and The Doctor’s jacket, which (like Harry Potter’s Room of Requirement) has an endless selection of Things We Need inside it.

I love the way the female characters, in particular, are given plenty to DO. Obviously, they’re secondary to the Doctor - it is, after all, his story and they are his Companions - but Rose, Martha and the others are perfectly capable of holding their own. Rose, who started out as The Cute Blonde, turns into a formidable force who is integral in the saving of the universe. Donna - who is a bit grating at times - is one of the most important people in the world, and it’s because of what she ultimately does to save the Doctor himself. Martha Jones, medical student, is stunningly brilliant and fearless, and goes on to work for UNIT, a secret agency that monitors alien activity. River Song, who I’ve just met recently but am well aware that I will see again, is incredible and brave and strong. These women don’t kick ass because they are the Doctor’s Companions - they are his Companions because they kick ass.

Finally, I love that watching Doctor Who is like playing Six Degrees of British Actors - so far I’ve encountered cast members from Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, and (be still my heart) The Walking Dead.

Tonight I’m going to watch the final two episodes of Season Four and - I’m reasonably certain - say goodbye to David Tennant. The Doctor will regenerate, and I’ll get to meet Matt Smith. I hope the journey is as great an adventure as it’s been so far.

Even if it’s not… now I get it. I’m not going to run out and buy a TARDIS coffee mug just yet, or wear a pair of Sonic Screwdrivers as earrings, but at least now I understand why people do.

Because it’s been brilliant.

Monday, June 10, 2013

So Game of Thrones Ended...

Yarr, here be spoilers.

So last night was the season finale of Game of Thrones, which, for those of you who have been living under a rock, was actually the end of Storm of Swords, the third book in George RR “All My Friends Are Dead” Martin’s epic series. I’m going to say right now that if you haven’t read the books or watched the show yet (even though Storm of Swords came out in 2000 and the statute of limitations on spoiling that bad boy has expired) there will be spoilers ahead, so if you don’t want to know what happens, turn off the internet and don’t leave your house until you’ve gotten caught up.

Anyway, I wanted to address the idea that some people seem to have that “girls hate Game of Thrones.” I’m not sure who these people are, although they probably spend a lot of time either living in their mom’s basement playing World of Warcraft, or maybe they have memorized every single episode of Sex and the City and can’t be bothered to do anything new. At any rate, it’s well known that there’s a lot of misogyny and douchebaggery on the internet, and when it comes to stuff like GoT, which has swords and blood and boobs and killin' and not an awful lot of attractive men who actually LIVE, apparently being in possession of a uterus makes one want to shut off the telly whenever someone shouts WINTER IS COMING or I AM THE MOTHER OF DRAGONS or YOU KNAW NOTHING JON SNAAWWW.

Here’s the thing though. GoT, and its books, to which the show is pretty faithful, contains a lot of really strong feminist characters. This is one of the reasons I love it.

I know, I know, “Cersei’s a bitch and Sansa’s an idiot and there’s incest and Danaerys is too pretty to be a warrior princess” or some other bullshit. No, seriously. Every one of the women in this show is totally badass, for one reason or another. Let’s take a look at them.

Cersei: The queen you love to hate. Yeah, ok, she’s not REALLY the queen anymore, she’s the queen mom, because her horrible incestuously-begotten son is the king. But let’s face it, Cersei is way tougher than most of the rest of the Lannisters. The biggest shortcoming she’s got (besides being homicidal, sneaky and manipulative) is that SHE’S NOT JAIME. Her brother Tyrion can never be king because their father hates him, and Jaime’s off being the Kingslayer and stuff… but Cersei’s totally qualified to sit on the Iron Throne. She got stuck marrying Robert Baratheon, and now that he’s dead she has to live vicariously through her psycho offspring, because she has no power other than what is granted to her by the patriarchy. Cersei has responded to gender inequality by doing the only thing she knows how to do - pulling the strings from behind the scenes.

Catelyn Stark: I’ll say this for the show - it makes Catelyn a whole lot more likable. The wife and then widow of Ned Stark, Lord of Winterfell, does pretty much everything for the sake of her kids. Unfortunately, her need to save her children ends up dooming the lot of them, because when she frees Jaime Lannister, she sets all kinds of things in motion that have a really bad ending. Way to make heads roll, Catelyn.

Danaerys: Mother of Dragons? Sure, even though in the books she’s about fourteen, gets married off by her pervy brother to a tribal warlord, and is basically treated like property… until her husband’s death, at which point she loses everything. But! She’s Daenarys Stormborn, sister of the late Rhaegar Targaryen, which means she’s got dibs on the Iron Throne too. What does she do? Same thing any other teenage widow would do -- raises an army, collects her dragons, frees a bunch of slaves and begins making her way back to Westeros so she can claim what’s hers. Plus, the men under her command never try to say “But you’re a girl.” Props to Ser Jorah Mormont and Barristan Selmy for that.

Brienne of Tarth: I can’t begin to say how much I love Brienne, because she’s socially awkward, people make fun of her, she’s constantly belittled - even by Jaime Lannister, the freakin’ KINGSLAYER - and yet she remains strong, proud, and undeniably loyal. She’s a badass warrior, but what makes her awesome is not her fighting skills, but her fierce sense of right and wrong. Even when a gaggle of the Brothers Without Banners decide it might be fun to rape the Maid of Tarth, Brienne makes it clear that she might get raped but she’s going to castrate a couple of people in the process. If we were casting RPG statuses here, Brienne would be our Lawful Good warrior. She can’t help it, it’s just who she is.

Asha Greyjoy: Renamed Yara in the show, Asha is a swashbuckling pirate who decides to take the helm of the Iron Islands’ fastest ship with fifty of the best killers around so she can go rescue her poor brother Theon, who really doesn’t have a lot left worth rescuing now that he's being skinned alive by Roose Bolton's bastard. Like Cersei, Asha is fighting against the role that her society dictates for her gender, and because no one is going to give her power, she simply TAKES it. Eventually, teevee watchers will see Asha at the Kingsmoot, where she challenges her uncle for rule of the Ironborn, and while her gender may get in the way, it’s not the primary focus of why she ends up on the losing side.

Arya Stark: I love love love Arya Stark with the love of a thousand lovey suns. Unlike her sister Sansa, she’s managed to escape the hot mess that is Kings Landing and the Lannister family, and now she’s gallivanting around the countryside in the company of Sandor Clegane, the Hound himself. He’s keeping her alive, but Arya does pretty well on her own. She’s already got a couple of kills to her name, and she’s stealthy. She refuses to wait around letting things happen to her, instead Arya is completely pro-active and goes after what she needs and wants. Calm and cool, she tells the Hound, "Some day I'm going to put a sword through your eye and out the back of your skull." AND OMG I CAN'T WAIT.

Sansa Stark: I have to say, reading the books, Sansa was my least favorite character. I really disliked her until about halfway through Storm of Swords, and then I had a sort of Sansa-piphany. Sansa becomes stronger, as do the other female characters, but in a different way. She’s not a warrior, not a schemer, not a manipulator, or even particularly clever. But Sansa, for all her other faults, is a survivor. Like a chameleon, she learns to adapt to whatever horrible situation she is put in by other people - because nothing that happens to Sansa happens BECAUSE of her. She is completely at the mercy of other peoples’ whims - her parents, Joffrey, Cersei, Lord Baelish… pretty much everyone other than Tyrion Lannister wants something from her. And Sansa adapts. She overcomes and she survives.

So, despite the insistence of some bloggers that Girls Don’t Like Game of Thrones It’s Too Hard to Understand, seriously, it’s worth investing some time to watch (or better yet, read) the series. Yes, there’s lots of sex, boobies, politics, blood, beheadings, flayings, and some rapeyness, but it’s a strongly written character-driven series that’s well worth exploring.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

An Open Letter to Steubenville’s Jane Doe

Dear Jane Doe,

I don’t know your name, and most likely never will. All I know about you is that you are one of the most brave people I’ve ever read about. You were victimized and treated horribly and with no regard, and not just by the two boys who raped you when you were passed out drunk at a party.

You’ve been victimized by the people who took your photo as you were violated, turning your rape into not just a sexual assault but a party game while they looked on and did nothing to save you. You’ve been victimized by your own community, where you are receiving death threats for ruining the lives of those “promising young men.” You’ve been victimized by your peers, by other girls who go on Twitter and call you a slut. You’ve even been victimized by the American media, because CNN reporters were practically choking back tears as Trent Mays and Ma’lik Thompson were sentenced to a combined three years in juvenile detention for what they did to you. You’ve been victimized by all the rape apologists who point out that the fault is your own, because you were drunk and went to a party with boys.

You’ve even been victimize by politicians who claim that rape isn’t really rape, and that a woman’s body will “shut down” in the case of “legitimate rape,” whatever the hell that is supposed to mean.

What makes me sad is that none of this is new. While the term “rape culture” is a fairly recent one in our society, the fact is that this has been going on for decades. When I was in high school, long before you were born, Jane Doe, this was happening - especially if you go to school in some little Ohio town where football is king.

I remember overhearing Monday morning whispers about Cheerleader X getting drunk at a party Saturday night and being a toy for the whole football team. “Tee hee, what a whore,” everyone giggled. None of us were smart enough or confident enough to know that this was wrong. But I do know it made me thankful that I was unpopular enough not to get invited to a party full of jocks.

Jane Doe, here’s why I want to thank you. Not just for speaking out, not just for being brave, but for something you may be completely unaware of. Your case has CHANGED things.

Your case is, as one blogger put it, rape culture’s Abu Ghraib. Your case is the one that has people up in arms and - dare I say it - angry. Finally, after all these years, people are saying enough is enough. They’re condemning the news media for the shitty, biased, sympathetic coverage of your rapists (because that’s what Mays and Thompson are, no matter what anyone says), and they’re condemning a society in which children are being raised to have no regard for others.

And for once, it’s not just women that are angry. Men are stopping to speak out too. They’re pointing out, and rightfully so, that (a) not all men are rapists but (b) those who are should be treated as rapists, and not fallen heroes.

Trent Mays and Ma’lik Thompson raped you while you were unconscious and then laughed about it on social media. And still there are people who are sympathetic to their cause. But I’m thankful to say that it looks like finally, the pendulum is beginning to swing the other way. Finally, people are realizing - and not just realizing, but vocalizing - that it doesn’t matter how drunk you were, it doesn’t matter what you were wearing, because NO ONE has the right to rape anyone else.

Your case is one that has parents talking to their children and to each other, about what’s not okay, and more importantly, what to do if you see something happening that’s not okay.

And that, Jane Doe, is because of you.

Someday, you might decide to come forward and tell the world who you are. Or you may not. It's your choice - something you didn't have the night that those boys assaulted you. Either way, you’ve made a difference - and it’s a difference you may not even be aware of, because of all the other people whose lives you’ve impacted.

Let’s face it, it would have been pretty easy for you to keep your mouth shut and never tell a soul, despite the fact that photos were all over Twitter of you being assaulted. You could have pretended it never happened, and let Trent Mays and Ma’lik Thompson go off to college to play football, where they’d have done the same thing to drunk sorority girls.

But you weren’t silent. You spoke out, and when you were ignored and the police department dropped the ball, others spoke for you.

I know things are awful for you right now, and I know that people are being shitty to you up there in Steubenville. I want you to know that Steubenville and your school are only a very small blip on the microcosm of humanity and the world, and someday you’ll be able to turn around and flip Steubenville and everyone in it a big ol’ Fuck You.

In the meantime, understand that as awful as some people can be, there are so many millions more of us who admire you for your bravery and courage, and can only hope that other young people - both female and male - can be as strong as you have been.

Monday, February 11, 2013

I’m Not Bad, I’m Just Drawn That Way

OK, this really irks my tater. A fifteen-year-old Utah girl has been suspended from school because she dyed her hair red. OMG BOTTLE GINGERS!!!

Yes, apparently the school’s principal thinks young Rylee MacKay’s hair is so distracting that no one else will be able to learn. Man, if I had a dollar for every single time I sat in a classroom back in the eighties and thought “Holy crap I’d really love to learn more about algebra but OMG THAT GIRL HAS COLORED HAIR WHARRGGBBLLLLL CAN’T THINK!!”

Rylee has red hair! And it’s not even real! Next thing you know, she might be picking out her own clothes or cutting her own food, and we all know what those things lead to. DANCING.

It must be nice to be the principal at a school that is so full of rainbows and unicorns and lollipops that the biggest discipline problem is a kid’s hair color.

But seriously. Kudos to Rylee’s mom, who was basically like OH HELL NO YOU DON’T, and said, "I absolutely am not going to dye it brown. That is not an option … My daughter feels beautiful with the red hair. Changing her hair really changed her; she really blossomed."

But even more seriously, here’s what gets me going. We live in a society where bullying has become the norm rather than the exception. Schools are constantly addressing the issue of bullying, and for the love of Pete, kids KILL THEMSELVES because they are bullied by other kids.

How in the name of Zeus’ butthole can we say on the one hand “Don’t bully someone because they look different” when a school district is going to suspend a kid BECAUSE SHE LOOKS DIFFERENT?

And the crazy part? Rylee doesn’t look very unusual at all - there are plenty of redheads who were blessed with this shade from birth - but even if she DID, even if her hair was blue and green and she had a glittery horn sticking out of her forehead and a fucking TAIL, it’s not the school’s business to address her physical appearance.

By singling her out for the way she looks, the principal is doing what we call Othering. And if a kid is being Othered for her appearance, chances are good that she’s not the only one. Way to go, Hurricane Middle School, on establishing a culture of acceptance and diversity.

Really, folks. The day we tell teenage girls they can’t color their hair, the terrorists win.