pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
I love to be scared by horror movies, but it almost never happens. The Ring is the high water mark of scary for me, and even that didn't reach great heights of fear, it just lingered for a while. Video games have done better, but I'm clearly the tail end of the bell curve when it comes to scarability. So when I tell you that I watched three movies from Rambling Beach Cat's first list of 10 short scary movies and am afraid to watch more alone, I want you to understand my full meaning.

I'm beginning to think that horror and comedy are alike in that they either need to be short, or serving something else. Everyone knows a good horror movie makes your brain do all the work for them, but I get resentful if I don't feel the movie is doing it's fair share. Maintaining pacing such that I feel the movie is rewarding me for my imagination, but giving suspense time to build, and not relying on jump scares, is almost impossible over a 90 minute movie. But it turns out to be ridiculously possible in a 2 minute period. They give me a seed, I work myself up over a myriad of possibilities, and they pick one before I've had a chance to acclimate, thus simultaneously giving me a sense of closure and one of fear.

It's also much more forgiving. Of the three I watched (Bedfellows, The Closet, and Red Balloon), The Closet was the least impressive. It was tense and then there was a jump scare and that was about it. But that is absolutely enough to sustain 200 seconds without my ADD kicking in.

Coincidentally, I also saw a live stand up anthology act last night (and by last night I mean Halloween, which is when I originally wrote this). The theme was supposed to be "comedians tell their dark secrets", but only some of them got the memo. The ones that did were my favorites. One of the sucky things about doing a lot of open mics and watching a lot of local comedy is that I'd heard a lot of material before. One of the neat things about doing a lot of open mics and watching a lot of local comedy is that I could recognize when a performer is capable of doing traditional stand up, but changed to "emotional story delivered with humor" for the night. I did not laugh the most at her, but I felt more emotionally fulfilled.

This reminded me of why I like British comedy: it's very slow burn. Where Americans are constantly trying to go for the laughs, British comics are constantly just-under-the-threshold funny, punctuated by something absolutely amazing. Like horror, I can appreciate a single short funny thing, and then I'm done. Or it can use horror/humor as a tool to explore something else. Christopher Titus and Mama are in many ways talking about the same thing.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
Eh, it's all right. I wish there were enough decent sex-science writing I could blow it off for not only using Alfred Kinsey's quantitative data, but praising it, but there isn't, so I'm forced to see it's better points: it approaches the subject amorally while respecting the importance of morals, it taught me a fact I so *want* to be true even though I looked up the original reference and it appears to be shakier than he claimed (foot fetishism peaks during STD epidemics), and its consideration of proper moral handling of pedophilia is pretty nuanced.

Actually, let's talk about that. The data is pretty strong that:

  • A sexual attraction to children (pedophilia) is as out of conscious control as any other sexual attraction
  • It is possible to have these thoughts, recognize that acting on them is immoral, and refrain from doing so.
  • The available data is excruciatingly limited, but appears to point to access to child porn leads pedophiles to be less likely to attack an actual child, not more.
  • The stigma against pedophilia makes it very hard to pedophiles to seek out the kind of help that would strengthen their resistance to their urge to act with an actual child.

Hypothetically, what if we legalized simulated child porn (so no actual kids are abused in production), but only for people who registered as official pedophiles? If we managed to keep the consequences to registering reasonable (e.g. it only blocked you from jobs that brought you into contact with children), it could make everyone better off. You might think no one would ever go for it, but if you allow for a concept of pedophiles that includes well meaning people tortured by the corruption of one of the strongest drives in the human soul, it could work. It allows people to simultaneously get some relief while giving their current, morally strong self a way to block their future, weaker self from temptation. And if you ever found an unregistered pedophile in possession of child porn you could feel more justified in throwing the book at him, because the only reason not to be on the list is to have access to children.

Obviously we can't get there from here, but I like it as a thought experiment.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
You're allowed to have novels with strong characterizations but weak world-building, why not the reverse? Twice in the last month I've read books with really interesting settings, settings I would happily have read novel-length descriptions of, but found anything involving the characters' actions or emotions terminally dull. Come to think of it, that's how I read Song of Ice and Fire: I gave up on the novels, but I will spend hours on wiki pages explaining the world. And yet I don't want to name the two books I'm thinking of now, because describing them as "Awesome if you just skip the 1/3 of the book where things happen" feels mean.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
A footnote on the Ginger Snaps thing. If you left that post thinking "man, I want to see werewolves used as a metaphor for something, but I don't want it to be adolescent sexuality, and I want it to be done perfectly.", I cannot recommend Susan Palwick's short story "Gestella" enough. It is about female obsolescence. You can read it in Palwick's anthology The Fate Of Mice, every bit of which is worth reading.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
Ginger Snaps is an extended werewolves:puberty/sexuality metaphor. I'm usually annoyed by overt metaphors, but in this case I think it worked, it part because it was so full of context. The relationship between the two leads is wonderfully nuanced right at the outset,* to the point I think you could base a more talky movie on it all by itself. So when menstruation/werewolfization changes it, it actually means something.

Recently I've talked a lot about how comedy can be used to breech people's defensiveness on sensitive topics to get them to hear points of view they otherwise wouldn't. Ginger Snaps does something... similar? opposite? Basically, I can see myself taking someone who was well meaning but clueless and obstinate** and telling them "you remember how Bridget felt when werewolfism led her sister to push her way? Yeah, puberty can do that all on its own, and it feels exactly like that."

Scare wise, it's okay but not astonishing. It started me and scared my hilariously easy to terrify boyfriend. Most of the actors are great, although one of the two leads is either mediocre or has too strong a theater influence. It is not a great sign that I thought this movie came out 15 years before it actually did. And yet, it did some really difficult, important things that very few movies even attempt, and it did them really well. And its mediocrities hew very close to genre standards. So I'm going to say it's definitely worth watching but I hope that 50 years from now it's interesting as an example of where our culture was at the time, rather than a classic.

*It's also got some brilliant examples of how girls use sexuality/fear of sexuality to police each other, which you do not see very often.

**Again, when obstinance costs you your well-meaning card is a tricky subject.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
I'm going to take a brief break from the heavy blogging to do some nice, easy criticism.

I've really enjoyed Ron White's previous specials: They Call Me Tater Salad, You Can't Fix Stupid, and Behavioral Problems. Please enjoy these clips demonstrating why I like him:

(Ron White: Deer Hunting)

His latest special is called "A Little Unprofessional". This is not a great start. His first (excluding Blue Collar Comedy Tour) special, "They Call Me Tater Salad", had a really great, evocative name that no one else could have used. His second ("You Can't Fix Stupid") could have been more generic, but it was the punchline to a joke that was utterly his, and once you had seen it you couldn't imagine another comedian using the line. Almost everyone in comedy has "Behavioral Problems", and while I'm sure he used the line in the special, I don't remember it.* But "A Little Unprofessional" is so damn generic, and didn't tie into the act in the slightest. Wait, no, I take that back.

His act didn't talk about him being unprofessional, his act was unprofessional. Detecting altered states in comedians is hard: many of them do their best work drunk or high and do so deliberately. Others do it because they're addicts, but have been doing it for so long they've worked it into their act, or at least learned to make light of it. And others stay sober but act altered because it's funny.** So I'm very slow to make guesses about a comdian's actual mental state. But I'm pretty sure White was drunk, that he started drunk, and that it was hurting the act.

One of the things I admired about White was how he made consistency look natural. Like most comedians he doesn't repeat jokes between specials, but between amateur footage, his short Comedy Central Episode, his multiple solo concerts, and the Blue Collar Comedy Central specials, you can find multiple versions of the same joke. Every version you watch looks completely natural, with a lot what look like pauses to think, and spontaneous changes and interesting voices. But if you watch multiple versions, they're fucking identical. Check out this audio-only version of the Drunk In Public bit I posted above.

I am pretty sure that's a different recording, because the mic quality is different, some of the character voices changed, and you can hear other voices on stage with him (presumably it's Blue Collar Comedy Tour). But the timing is so close I can't be sure. The deer hunting bit was on one of his specials too: I can't find a sharable copy, so please take my word for it that it was the same performance on a different night in front of a nicer camera. And you would never know unless you saw the repeated clips, because he looks so natural every time. I can't stop talking about how amazing that is.

Or, was. I can't prove the pauses were genuinely because he forgot the joke, or that he isn't doing the same every other night, but it sure didn't look like it, and it sure wasn't aiding the material. His timing was frequently awful, and I'm pretty sure he dropped several jokes halfway through. Where his act used to be mostly long stories with outstanding transitions between them, it is now a lot of short disjointed jokes.

It still surprises me how much work and feedback you need to take the idea of a joke and turn it into a polished comedy bit. This is why even Jerry Seinfeld still occasionally goes to open mics.*** If a comedian doesn't get that feedback- either because they choose to stop going to open mics, or because audiences are too pre-disposed to laugh at them- you get the comedy equivalent of the writer who's too big to edit. Either Ron White has stopped getting this feedback, or he's stopped listening to it.

I'm not the only one who feels this way. This special is a marked step down from his previous one: the venue is 1/5 the size of this previous special, and the complete absence of crowd shots
makes me think it wasn't full. Or maybe they just didn't want to strain their videographer, who was having enough trouble keeping the top of Ron White's head despite both White and the camera being perfectly still. The lighting was mediocre. And it was produced by Country Music Television, not Comedy Central or HBO or even Netflix.

And while I wanted to take a break from the heavy stuff, I can't let the misogyny or racism slide. He does a joke set in a sushi bar, and caps it off with an impression of the chef's accent. There is no joke except that the foreigner talks funny.

The case for misogyny is more involved. There is a spectrum: on one side lives specific criticism of specific non-gendered traits of specific people, which is clearly okay. On the other lives broad derogatory generalizations about entire groups, which is clearly not. There is an uncertain middle ground where someone is saying something consistent with widespread stereotypes, but about a specific person, or a subset of the group for which it is legitimately true. You can't put noticing when people conform to stereotypes off limits, but you can use those stories to reinforce stereotypes without acknowledging it, or even meaning to.

Up until now, I'd put White on the safe end of the spectrum. I wondered why he kept marrying such high maintenance women, but thought the jokes themselves were okay, and they rested in a larger relationship context. Even the woman he'd already divorced came across as a real person who he remembered loving and why. This time around, he described telling a woman talking at the theater to "shut her cock holder", and ended three or four jokes about being annoyed by his wife with "this dick ain't gonna suck itself."

So in conclusion: not impressed with "A Little Unprofessional"

*Come to think of it, I don't remember enjoying Behavioral Problems as much as the first two. At the time I'd put it down to watching it with my best friend, two weeks after he transitioned from boyfriend to best friend, and Ron White's main selling point was as a way for us to spend time with each other without crying. It didn't seem fair to expect the same laughs/minute under those circumstances. Although I will note that a week later, Christopher Titus's "Love is Evol" was hilarious as I unpacked my boxes the apartment I had moved to but not yet furnished.

**I saw Dylan Moran this summer and thought his hungover thing was an act, until he called an intermission- a thing that is never, ever done in single person comedy shows. I assumed he must be completely destroyed to need that kind of break. I double checked that for this post, found reports of intermissions in lots of cities. So maybe it was an act after all.

***It's also why comedians are so protective/defensive of other comedians when they say terrible things at open mics. It is really easy to misjudge the proper amount of irony and exaggeration you need to layer into a joke, and if the topic is sensitive it's really easy to say something horribly offensive. I've done it myself. Saying you have to get it right the first time is the same as banning all sensitive topics from comedy.

Of course, that defense only works if your response to being told you offended someone is "I am horrified that that is what came across, thank you for tell me so I can correct it."

Lean In

Oct. 21st, 2013 01:38 pm
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
In summary: if a man had written this book, it would be mansplaining.

Sheryl Sandberg is COO of Facebook and was previously an executive at Google. Lean In is not a memoir. That's too bad, because with a good ghostwriter she could have written a really good memoir. Just getting in on the ground floor at Google and Facebook is a good story. Doing so as an older, non-technical woman shows serious chops. And even if it was a bad story, it's hers, and I can't criticize her telling of her story. But her goal for Lean In was to encourage young women to pursue ambitious careers and give them the tools to do the same. As a late-20s female programmer, this topic is relevant to my interests. But the book just isn't very good at either of those things.

As far as encouragement, she tells women not to be held back by people telling them they can't or shouldn't. But she never actually makes a very strong case for why we should want to in the first place. Sheryl Sandberg's network is estimated at $400,000,000. Those estimates could be off by a factor of 100 and it would still be enough money that no amount of additional money could motivate me to work as hard as she does on anything, ever again. She talks a lot about what she sacrifices with her kids to do her job, and all I wanted to do was ask her what she got out of her job that was worth that sacrifice, because it clearly wasn't the money.

That's not rhetorical, by the way. I think the answer to that question would be really interesting. And yes, I ask it of insanely wealthy men too, even ones who aren't complaining about what their jobs cost them.

Skill wise, I can see a good book going one of two ways: pretend there's no sexism and teach women to act like successful men, and let them deal with the fallout, on the theory that it will equalize eventually, or acknowledge that the same action can be read very differently based on the gender of the actor and give tricks for working around it.* Things that we shouldn't have to do, but will help us in this imperfect world. Sandberg gives two of those, one of which is really quite smart. But mostly she lists ways she wishes the world was different. I say that because she does acknowledge that women are punished for behaviors men are rewarded for, and that their "ineffective" behavior is in part a result of this punishment, but keeps listing all the ways women behave ineffectively. It's not helpful.

For a woman who spends a lot of time lauding feminism and imploring women to help each other, her book is curiously devoid of any feminist work more recent than Betty Friedham. Navigating a workplace that is theoretically open but covertly hobbling you is not a novel topic in feminism. Lots of people have put a lot of thought into this. Are these people COOs of major corporations? No, and that would definitely give Sandberg additional insight. But to completely ignore all the work other women have done on the topic, while discussing how women's contributions tend to be undervalued, is pretty disrespectful.

To be fair, for all my age, gender, and job make me the target market for this book, I'm probably much better read in feminism than she had in mind. As a 101 book , you could do a lot worse. But doing feminism 101 is also not a new topic, and she could have used lessons from feminist writers to make her book better at that too. The book talks about how men often get credit for ideas originally pitched by women, and I think this is a perfect example of how gender is not quite the problem, it's just the stand in for it. Sandberg can't help but get more traction than some random blogger, but like we're always telling men and white people, it's your job to use that platform to shine attention on better thinkers who are being ignored.

*I can't find the name of it now, but one such book said something like "Statistics show that no matter how much supportive noise a man makes when you're dating, he will sacrifice your career for his own. The only real defense is to marry someone with significantly lower earnings potential, so neither of you can afford for you to stop working." It sounds creepy and unromantic and Machiavellian, but I respected the honesty.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
As is my custom when sick, I've been watching depressing documentaries on Netflix. Here are my opinions:

Hot Coffee: opinion piece saying tort reform has been driven by corporations, that said corporations have used money to corrupt the justice system to their advantage, and that the popular examples of lawsuits gone awry were legitimate suits distorted by the media. They raise some interesting points that run counter to my existing beliefs, and I want to acknowledge that this makes me defensive. Nonetheless, I think documentaries are a bad medium for disputes of fact, and it fails to do a good job at documentaries' natural role, sharing the emotional truth of something.

Bully: follows five children who were viciously bullied. This did a great job of conveying emotional truth, in that I WILL KILL THAT BITCH PRINCIPLE IF IT IS THE LAST THING I DO HOW DARE YOU TELL A VICTIM IT'S THEIR FAULT FOR BEING BULLIED BECAUSE THEY REFUSE TO PRETEND IT'S NOT HAPPENING. Bully is this illness's winner of the coveted "I'm stupid for watching this when I'm low on cope" award.

The House I Live In: "The drug war is bad and not motivated by genuine concerns of public safety." Somewhere in between. It's definitely advocating a position, but it also works to show some of the feelings of devastation the drug war brings. I was already well on board with its position, but I did learn a new fact or two. I don't have a single friend who isn't already convinced the war on drugs is an excuse to control and destroy poor people, and I can't judge how it would do with the uncoverted.

Lost Angels: Skid Row is My Home: how life feels to residents of Skid Row, Los Angeles. This is what documentaries are supposed to be. It makes me retroactively downgrade The House I Live In because it's so much better at being a documentary.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
This is the opener from Season 3 of Community. Pay particular attention starting at 0:30.

For those of you who haven't watched Community in the past: the black woman in the purple sparkly dress is named Shirley, the bald man in the same outfit is The Dean. Wearing women's clothing, or more properly women's costume's, is The Dean's thing. This clip works on so many levels I can't even contain it all in my brain.

First, it has one of the most outwardly weird characters saying "we're gonna seem like a mainstream dream", while doing one of the thing that makes him the weirdest. Followed by the weirdest character saying "and be appealing to all mankind." It is the biggest possible fuck you to everyone who said the show was too weird* in a song where the lead character is wishing they would be less weird

But it's also a subtle racial critique of... I dunno, someone. The characters? The audience? TV execs? No one thought it was weird that, in a dance number full of people in their normal clothes singing show tunes, there was a black woman in sparkly show choir gear singing gospel. It only seemed weird when the white guy did it. And yes, some of that is because he's a man, but that is bonus social commentary: why is it more offputting for him to be weird than for Shirley to be weird?

It's especially apropo in light of Glee, where the fat black girl has complained multiple times in universe she only gets brought in to sing long, high, loud closing notes despite being a better singer than the white(ish) female lead**, been demonstrated to be in-universe correct every time, and yet is still passed over for lead singer. The in-show explanation is that she's lazy where the other girl works her ass off, which does not really make me feel better about Glee's attitude towards black people. I would love to know what Glee is thinking on this. Does Ryan Murphy not realize one of his writers is calling him racist? Is it confirmation of my theory that the narrative is being rewritten by the glee club director to make himself look good?. The show runners couldn't possibly think that pointing out racism is sufficient to make themselves not-racist, right?

I'd also like to talk about S2E1 of Girls, which brings on Community's Donald Glover to play Hannah's Black Republican Boyfriend. This character was clearly written in response to criticism of Girls as ignoring people of color, and I cannot tell if it is a commentary on that criticism or proof it is justified. The only thing we ever learn about Glover's character is that he's a Republican. Other characters intimate that he's against gay marriage, but he never confirms that, much less explains his position. Nor does he say if he thinks the GOP is less racially problematic than the Democrats, or that they are more problematic but their strengths on other priorities trump that. I can't tell if this is Girls completely failing in an attempt to prove they're not racist, or embedding Hannah's self-absorption in the medium.

Anyways, Community once again succeeds where Glee fails, in that they're multilayered self references both make sense and point in a not-racist direction

*Followed, unfortunately, by a season that I felt overdid the weirdness. Much like Family Guy, the things that made the show wonderful didn't work in large doses, and the creators didn't realize that just because the other bits weren't mentioned in the reviews didn't mean they weren't critical.

**to be fair to Glee, the actress playing the female lead is Sephardic Jewish and the character doesn't know if her biological father was black or ethnic Jewish. She would not have been allowed in most country clubs in the 70s. She is nonetheless waaaay whiter than Mercedes.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
First, a review: I liked it. Some of that is because it required exactly the amount of attention I wanted to give it, but it's also well acted, well directed, and a pretty good plot. It rewards thought. Totally worth your time, but no The Shield or Mad Men. Yet.

Spoilers for both British and American version )

I was going to give the US version credit for having more female agency, but I think it's really a shift from a show focused around a single individual to an ensemble show. At the same time, the show widened its discussion of power tremendously. The only man who consistently understands power is Underwood. Other men are either his victims or his unquestioning helpers. There is a single act of male rebellion in the very last episode, and the perpetrator is black*. Meanwhile, the women are shown to be playing the game, and to either be good at it or getting better. Underwood's wife is as skilled as he is. Each of them try to manipulate a young woman to serve their own ends, and each is facing serious consequences for it by the end of the series.

*Underwood dismisses this man as trading power for money and not understanding the difference in an early episode. He was wrong.
Read more... )
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
I can find neither my post on the game toy continuum nor the article I originally stole the idea from, so I'm going to give a quick recap. Games have specific rules about how you are supposed to play them, toys are things you make up games with. A doll is almost entirely toy, "monopoly" has very specific rules and is very much a game (although the prevalence of house rules makes it more toy like than other, more complicated games). Despite the name, table top role playing games are very toy like. The computer game concept "linear" translates to "game" pretty well.

Which brings me to Civilization 5. I had previously played 2, 4, and Colonization. It is perhaps instructive to note that I loved Colonization to death for letting me make elaborate supply chains, but always quit when they got to the part of the game where you rebelled against your colonial masters. That was partially because it was so unwinnable I assumed I fundamentally misunderstood the game, but maybe also because I just don't care. I was never very interested in the military portions of traditional civ games either, unless it was civ 2 and I was playing the Germans in the World War 2 scenario, because you could just crush everyone.

A lot of people have complained that Civ 5 dumbed down the concept, but I do not think that is fair. I think that what Civ 5 did is move closer to toy. They got rid of a lot of fiddly bits and gave you the choice to automate many others. When I play, I find myself obsessed with harvesting resources. I research technologies mainly with an eye towards revealing and using more resources. Some of these resources have strategic value, but I don't really care. I just like imagining the diversified economy they would create.

Alas, the you can't automate war the way you can automate landscape improvements. This means I either have to stick to the easiest AI levels (who can be bought off or defeated without effort) or invest a bunch of time on a bunch of stupid military units. Their weird decision to make units unstackable doesn't so much make the game harder or easier as make the payoff curve for thought investment really lumpy. For Civ 6, I seriously want them to implement a way to specify military spending, possibly the cities involved in building, and then have the AI worry about building and directing units. This would allow me to focus on my core competency, finding new sources of citrus.

I have several friends who love this toyness of Civilization, many of whom don't otherwise play video games. I have a single friend who really loves 4x games in general, but never warmed to civ. So my conclusion is that Civilization 5 is a mediocre game but a bang up toy. The UI design is fantastic, the graphics are pleasant, and if it's a little slow even on my new 200 gb SSD*, it is a cost worth paying.

*I didn't buy civ 5 myself because it was over my $5 limit on games, a friend bought it for me for New Years. But once I had it, and I accidentally stabbed my OS in the heart around the same time, it totally seemed worth $250 to upgrade to a full size SSD so I could stop constantly fighting to get programs to run from secondary drives. And play civ significantly faster.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
Thoughts on True Blood season 5, three episodes in:
  • Detective Stabler was a weird choice for head vampire
  • Patty the daytime hooker was a excellent choice for werewolf pack mother.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
yay, I have HBO and can watch things that have generated hugely divided critical response, like Girls, and then I can have opinions on them. Before the DVDs come out! Hurray!

For context, I had mostly read Ta-Nehisi Coate's posts + the comments section, plus brief mentions in other blogs. If I could summarize the criticisms: Girls is frivolous, it lacks diversity, and it claims a universality it doesn't have.

I have a couple of thoughts. One, Girls captures some very deep things, but it doesn't explain them very well. A commenter on one of TNC's posts derided the characters as having first world problems like too nice a boyfriend. What actually happened was a girl who stayed in a relationship way past its expiration date but stayed in it, tormenting everyone involved, due to a combination of feeling like she needed a reason to leave, and fear of being alone/the initial depression following even a very necessary break up. That has been an important pattern in many of my friends lives- male and female- and it doesn't show up in art very often. You see that same needing-a-reason in this monologue where Hannah, the protagonist, is getting an STD test*

[summary: Hannah almost kind of wants AIDS so that she has a reason to be mad at the guy she is fucking, because although the relationship is shredding her emotionally, he hasn't done anything she feels she has the right to be mad about]

I will buy that Girls falls short of explaining this feeling to people who haven't experienced it. I don't think it's even what I would point to if I wanted to demonstrate the phenomenon to someone. But that doesn't make it valueless. It doesn't even make it not art.

I will totally validate complaints about how very white Girls is. On the other hand... most of TV is whitewashed, and it doesn't get the same vitriol. The problem is not with Girls, it's with the television industry as a whole, and the solution is more POC and female writers and show runners, not forcing people who can't write good black characters to force them in anyway.** Similarly, you can complain about Hannah being unlikable, and I will immediately agree, but she was always intended to be unsympathetic. Just like every male lead on every art show. Now, Hannah is considerably less awesome than Don Draper or Vic Mackey or Tony Soprano, but I think the stories of people who are just quietly to blame for their own problems are undertold.

They also do a bang up job on weight, with Hannah (played by show runner Lena Durham) being American-normal television-fat, and complaining about it, and her very thin friends trying to comfort her, and yet clearly still believing she's fat. They nailed another character's anxiety over being a virgin in her 20s. The demographic of girls- white, female, early 20s, creative types in NYC- are overrepresented in television, but their problems are not.

Also, this is a fucking brilliant demonstration of male entitlement

Unfortunately, the show takes a deep dive in the second half of the season. They use the man-Hannah-is-fucking
in too many different roles*** so while her reactions to specific are very authentic, his character is a mess. They clearly wanted to the show consequences coming home to roost for the manic pixie dream girl, but don't quite make it work.**** So if the problems I've listed above resonate with you, watch and enjoy. But if you're looking for something to explain those problems, go read The Fate of Mice. Actually, everyone should do that, The Fate of Mice is both shorter and better. But you can watch Girls afterwords.

*which weirdly involves a pelvic exam even though they can test for everything with blood alone.

**I knew that one of the show's writers had, in response to criticism about the show's whiteness, tweeted "What really bothered me most about Precious was that there was no representation of ME." That was problematic, but I was willing to overlook it as an attempt to be clever in <140 characters. But while researching this, I learned that she refers to shitting as "taking Obama to the White House." So one hand, I'm even more glad that I was that this lady isn't writing black characters. On the other hand, they should probably fire her and replace her with someone who can.

***spoilers )

****This could be resolved in season two, or it could get a million times worse.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
The Order of Myths is a documentary about a town in Mississippi with extremely elaborate, racially segregated Mardi Gra celebrations. It is mostly mediocre, but I like it as an example of progress coming not from morally pure, philosophically brilliant people make the intellectual case for it, but when flawed, ignorant people decide it would be easier or less embarrassing to go along with it.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
I've read and watched a few things on the emergence of pornography as part of the sexual revolution, and this is the first one that gave me some insight into what a shift it was. I always thought of this period as "sex moved into the public sphere", and of course Deep Throat was tried for obscenity because it was the most public. This is untrue. The first prosecution of Deep Throat specifically focused on its legitimization of the clitoral orgasm. That is, there was an actual court case in which the government's* argument was "this film teaches women that they can get pleasure from something other than vaginal intercourse, and that is morally corrupting and bad for society."** And they won. This was non just about sex, or non-marital sex, becoming more visible, it was about women participating in sex rather than having it done to them.

Then there is 1970s feminism's relationship with porn. The touch on this just long to reinforce my belief that Hugh Hefner is so close, and yet so far Let me paraphrase an exchange:

Feminists: Playboy will be sexist until you come out with a cotton tail on your rear end.
Hefner: I think I have more in common with the girls than they...
Feminists: women. We're Women.
Hefner: *eyeroll* I have more in common with the ladies.

This is perhaps a very good illustration of the difference between "being an ally" and "having some goals in common."

*I believe this was the local NYC prosecution, but I could be wrong.

**the fact that this was occurring with a mythical throat clitoris, and elevating an act that at a physical level is really about male pleasure, is an interesting complication.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
I am about a third of the way through Empire of the Summer Moon (hat tip: squid314), which is a history/sociology/anthropology of the Comanche Indians, from the time of Spanish contact through around 1900. It is very interesting in ways I so far don't have much to add to, but it does highlight just what is wrong with how American schools teach history.

Like everyone else, I learned history as one thing happening after another. You might have sort sort of causal chain (the classic example being Archduke Ferdinand's assassination leading to WW1), but there's no attempt to understand the system. This tendency to teach isolated facts is why I get actively angry in museums: I feel like I've been handed six pieces out of a 1000 piece puzzle and been told to place them correctly. Even if those are the most interesting pieces, six of them won't show me the larger picture, and with so few pieces "placed correctly" isn't even a meaningful concept. Empire is, more like getting a bunch of pieces from a subset of the puzzle: I may not have the whole thing, but I can at least see how this part works.

Which is useful for all kinds of reasons, some of which are that patterns repeat throughout history but you need to study them in depth at least once in order to recognize them again (ask me about my elves v. orcs theory of the transition from hunter/gatherering to agriculture). The way we teach history is pathologically incapable of providing this. For example, my education was good enough to mention economic uncertainty as a reason for 1930s Germany to turn on the Jews. What I didn't learn until I was 26, and only then because a Jewish friend told me, was that right up until that point Jews were extremely well integrated into German society. Some were more integrated than others and of course there were isolated problems, but their overall position was strikingly similar to, just to pick an example, Jews in America in 2010. Which has some pretty fucking important implications for how Jews, and other currently-embraced minority groups, view and interpret the current situation, and what constitutes an isolated incident versus a portent of terrible things to come.

It's not like history is unique in this. Science education seems to focus way more on teaching specific facts than an understanding of science, much less the scientific method. But we have *got* to do better on this.

Because Empire is focused on the Comanche side of things, it leaves open the question of why European settlers were so willing to move into what was essentially Reaver territory. Which is totally fine: no single book can do all things, especially not at the level of detail I want. And I knew enough history to have some guesses ("too many people in Europe"). But it is interesting that when I discussed this with a friend who knew a lot about European history, he was able to paint a picture of exactly why things were so bad, focusing mainly on the 30 years war. Which I immediately compared to Warhammer 40k ("..the grim nightmare of the far future, where there is only war"), a game I have never even played. And you'll notice my reference point for the raping and torturing done by the Comanches was from a short lived science fiction television show*. And my reaction to reading Nothing to Envy (about North Korea) was "that's post-apocalyptic dystopia bad." Speculative fiction has taught me more patterns than all of my history and humanities education combined. Which I guess is better than not getting those patterns anywhere, but I this is maybe exactly what social studies should have been covering?

*To be fair, the Reavers were almost certainly inspired by the Comanche, at least indirectly
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
So what we've learned is that the threat of destruction of an alien race and/or all of humanity doesn't particularly affect me, but I am absolutely destroyed by the thought that someone's pet rat might be stressed. And I will definitely be seeing Underwater Avatar.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
It looks like the great Ally McBeal experiment is going to end not because the show is terrible (the original prediction) but because of what I like to call "The Scrubs Problem." A show has The Scrubs Problem when it's drama enough for the characters to have real emotions that I care about, but sitcom enough to never let the characters grow. I can't stand watching people I empathize hurt themselves with the same stupid decisions over and over again. I so want to hang on at least until Portia De Rossi shows up, because she is the whole reason I wanted to watch it in the first place, but it is so depressing seeing Ally run into that same wall, dust herself off, and try again.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
I've always defended Sex and the City and the much lesser known Lipstick Jungle against charges of frivolity, because they covered some very important topics that no one else on television touched- women's invisibility as they age, an honest look at what kids cost you in terms of career, and careers cost you in terms of kids (and not in a "ha ha, we're so busy" way. In a "fuck, having this baby will mean never advancing in my career" way). Yes, they also covered frivolous things, and the writing was sometimes terrible, but sometimes it was really good. I'm not saying they're equal to the high concept cable shows like The Wire or The Sopranos, but I am saying it's unfair that they're reduced to walking punchline status, next toJackass or The Jersey Shore. I'm also saying it's a little weird that every single one of those high concept shows has a male lead and a predominantly male cast.*

With that in mind, I'd like to share the following quote from Single Female Laywer Ally McBeal:
. Society drills it into us that women should be married. Society drills it into us: smart people should have careers. Society drills it into us that women should have children and mothers should stay at home. And society condemns the working mother that doesn't stay at home

You could call it trivializing that Ally responds with "We could change it, Renee [...] I plan to change it. I just want to get married first." I call it using humor to acknowledge truths too unpleasant to be faced head on. And from what I've seen (12 episodes in), that seems to be a pretty accurate summary for the show as a whole.

*Although, to be fair, the female characters they do have tend to be extremely well done. And I originally named Mad Men before realizing that was not going to be a winning example of art TV ignoring women's stories. But you'll notice that even Mad Men has a male lead.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
How to Talk so Kids Will Listen...And Listen So Kids Will Talk (Adele Faber, Elaine Mazlish) is very, very good. It is in many ways the For Dummies accompaniment to Brene Brown's work on connection, and that's a good thing to be. It's aimed at parents, but since the whole idea is treating your offspring less like things you are a building and more like independent human beings, it translates to adult relationships very well. It has already made me a better listener.

My one complaint is that it not only doesn't address what to do when the techniques don't work, it explicitly tells you it's going to, and then doesn't. For me, this is uncomfortably close to saying that the techniques will always work if you work hard enough/are smart enough, and that's not fair or helpful even if it's true, which it is not. But beyond that, it's an excellent resource I recommend to parents and non-parents.


pktechgirlbackup: (Default)

May 2014

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