Category: Media

Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir, Pt 2. – Marinette

Here’s an idea, he says, missing PBS Idea Channel So Much Already, Miraculous is a superhero story of a different type because it is girly.

Don’t get at me on this one. We exist in a world with a culturally-accepted, defined and utilised gender binary, and all the Gender Is Fake, and Girly is Fake comments you can throw out there won’t change the fact that it’s part of how we do exist, and in that existing, there is definitely such a thing as girly stuff. And Miraculous Ladybug is very girly.

Girly is in this case a shorthand aesthetic for the things we already signpost as of or relating to girls. It’s in part an aesthetic, choices full of pinks, bright colours, pastels and broadly emotionally approachable signals. In a lot of media these are things that are also coded as being frivolous, or unimportant, or inherently comical. In Season 1 of Ladybug, Marinette is shown focusing on a fashion show, a school play, a babysitting job, and a literal popularity contest, which are all things I’m fairly sure Spider-Man has made fun of caring about.

They are serious though, and Marinette takes them seriously. Taking these things seriously involves looking – seriously – at why we don’t, about what about them makes them Not Serious. Why is babysitting silly? Why is fashion silly? What makes them somehow less worthy a subject for a teen superhero to care about than, say, a chemistry experiment or a baseball game?

Sexism, yes, but think about the specifics. Why shouldn’t these things matter? Why not? When you start to remember these things are competitions or challenges with their own stakes, and the story takes them seriously, they’re just as rich a vein of fodder for the story as anything else. Since they’re inherently low-stakes problems in universe, though, these aren’t spaces you can have things like Out of Control Lab Accidents that make people into monsters, or introduce gunshot-level threats. The problems in Miraculous have to be superhero-worthy while having roots in these very mundane activities we entrust to children, without the framing of being Eventually Important versions of Important Things that we normally code as for boys.

Know what definitely is a real thing that can feel worthy of a threat in those situations? Human emotions. Distress and sadness and anxiety and all these problems that we struggle with as adults, and maybe don’t even successfully handle. When you look at the problems that come up in the first season you have problems like being ignored by your parents when you were right, not being respected by your peers, being given conflicting information when you’re too young to understand it and being rejected and spurned by someone who you realise was much worse a person than you ever imagined. These emotional states are then, through the narrative tool of Hawkmoth (Papillon in the French, which makes me giggle), transformed into open, obvious metaphors for being stuck on that emotional problem.

There’s also how it informs the tension of the story’s protagonists: Adrien and Marinette are both characters who have Got It for each other, but this tension is not arbitary. Adrien is a good looking boy – both in universe, and also in his design. The story doesn’t present a Very Average looking boy as being handsome, and there are boys around him who are also less pretty, showing the story is actually making him exceptional. The boys are presented as needing to be visually interesting, and they are, rather than being more or less templates of one another.

When the time comes, however, that Marinette takes action – as Ladybug, mind you, since this is clearly part of her contention as a superhero – none of the negative traits we associate with Girly are a problem. Marinette is not shown being paralysed by emotions, or wrapped up in indecision. There is a confidence to her actions that typically would be coded as Not-Girly – but this is  story that is so happily and wholly Girly it serves more to ask the question Why Would This Be Out of Type? Ladybug’s behaviour is unlike Marinette’s, but that’s because Marinette isn’t confident – not because she’s a girl.

Let’s take this one to a point of demonstration. In episode 6, the villain, Mr Pigeon, has a whistle that lets him control flocks of pigeons. Oh and spoilers I guess. Point is, in this episode, there’s a moment where three people lunge for it and their hands hit it in a stack – Cat Noir’s hand, then Mr Pigeon’s hand, then Marinette’s hand. And without thinking about it, without a moment of ‘ahah!’ or looking to the characters’ faces or whatever, bam, she just smashes downwards and breaks the object at the bottom of the stack.

Marinette’s problem-solving, the power of getting one Lucky solution in the right time and place, is really excellent as it shows her being thoughtful and confident, quick-thinking and decisive. The story will present her with Oven Mitts and say fix the problem, hero, and she will come up with the solution in some of the most wonderfully silly point-and-click adventure moments in media.

Miraculous is a girly superhero show. It’s about a girl, it’s about the things a girl cares about, and it wants to talk to girls in the storytelling tools of girls. And it’s absolutely great.

 

Shirt Highlight: HUIZINGA!

Link

If you’re like me, you probably hate The Big Bang Theory, and you probably hate it even more when someone references it to you as if you should understand it. Yes, I study or read criticism, or trust science exists, that definitely means I am inclined to the comedic ouvre of one Chuck Lorre. This is our common ground, random stranger, this is the footing on which you and I can build an understanding, a friendship, and perhaps one day, love, blossoming into our lives and binding us together until the shadowy eternities close on us all and I hold your hand while one of us slips away first, murmuring, yes, it was definitely better than Young Sheldon. You sure get me and people like me.

However, if you are like me – and almost painfully specifically like me – you’re deeply amused by the comparison between Huizinga and Bazinga, and the imagery of the Magic Circle. And then, if that’s you? Well, this shirt is totally for you.

Steve.

 

Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir, Pt 1. – The Gush

Holy crap oh my goodness this show is so good people. I’d normally like, try and structure this whole thing somewhat and there will be time for that but for now, I’m just going to gush about some things in this series I really hecking like.

Here’s a thing! Ladybugs are a symbol of luck. I didn’t know that going in, and for a little while I was confused as to why they chose the two characters they had – the black cat and the ladybug and I just didn’t quite get why. Then when you find that ladybugs are good luck, the imagery and meme of the black cat as bad luck and – and that’s good use of imagery and concept space! That gives you space to look at the two characters, gives you a nice, simple place to start from! It anchors characters to existing media spaces and it gives them distinct, interesting visual theming!

That means that when they work together in the same space, despite the fact the two characters are basically the same style of fighter, and move more or less the same way you’re never left confused as to which one you’re seeing in a moment of action because one is bright honking red and the other is black, but neither of their costumes seem to be of a different type to the other!

Also if luck is the thing that defines the two characters it means your solutions to problems can be extremely outlandish or one-time! A character who relies on luck as a theme means that if she only gets a thing to work once that’s enough, unlike characters like Batman who rely on being heavily prepared! This means things can be both more thematically interesting and varied while also showing off the character’s quick wits!

Oh and the enemies! All the enemies are empowered by the real villain when they demonstrate a moment of emotional distress that the can’t handle or process properly – which is to say, this is a series where the big conflict point is processing your emotions properly. Nobody’s sadness or anger is shown as being illegitimate, and nobody’s emotions are used to excuse or justify the things they do – because the villain is using magical powers to take control of them, there’s no need to do that.

This is great because it means you can treat emotional duress as important and worth respecting, you can show characters repeatedly resisting it or engaging with it to show their growth as people, and you can even show how some people’s processing can be inhibited or expressed. Then you get the added dimension that both adults and children fall prey to this power set, for a variety of different reasons – some are meanspirited and cruel, but many of them are frustrated or misunderstood! This means there are stories about handling emotions as a child and as an adult and at no point does the story just say ‘well suck it up.’

So you have these characters who are directly expressing rudimentary metaphors about emotional processing in a way that involves actual cool looking fights with some dynamic, interestingly chosen characters who fight and think and are cool at things, and then the aftermath is about watching the protagonists grow in light of the things they now understand about the emotional process their friends went through, and there’s no guilt or rancor about the times they were turned. There is a legitimate recognition that someone else preyed on their emotional state and ‘made’ them into villains, and that those moments of distress or anger or rage don’t represent who they truly are!

This is romantic storytelling at its most primal, not romance-as-interaction, where people are smoochin’ and doin’ smooches and that’s all the stories are moving about, but romance where human emotion are the driving forces of the universe, where the story is always moving in ways to make human emotion run against other human emotion! Coincidence transpires – and it’s fine, because the story isn’t about the realism of events – and then that brings people’s emotions to bear against one another!

Things don’t need explaining, they need understanding.

Plus it’s funny. It’s funny in a way that doesn’t treat its viewers – who are kids – like idiots. It doesn’t pitch its comedy low, and that means it projects a sense of respect for its viewers. They show things only a few moments, and don’t need to over-explain it – basically it’s like an exact, functional opposite to Suicide Squad, which overstates everything and is also grim and dark and grungy for no good reason.

I have more, but I kind of want to save more in-depth conversation about it until I’ve rewatched some of it, but also to do a bit more of an in-depth read on Marinette as a character and what choosing her has done for this series as a superhero story.

God it’s a good time to like superheroes.

Marvel’s The Defenders

The Defenders is an adequate average of the sum of its parts. At its best it is Luke Cage’s snappy dialogue and Daredevil’s fight choreography in tight, threatening situations with an appreciation of highlight moments, and at its worst, it has Jessica Jones and Danny Rand in it.

Kind-of-spoilers below the fold.

Continue reading

Telling A Story Through A Game Pt. 2

Here’s a link to the first part. I said I had to go to the tank for this one, and boy didn’t I.

When you want to design a game that conveys a narrative without writing that narrative, and when you accept that all games tell stories, you’re left with a need to construct your game’s components so that they’re made up of potential events, or perhaps better expressed, you’re made up of story components.

One of the things that games tend to have that works well for them is the start of the game, the engagement of the player, is a singular instigatory action; the players’ presence change the status quo of the game’s universe before the player arrived. Now, most of the time the game’s narrative doesn’t incorporate that – most games tend to start from a place where nobody has done anything yet, and the game follows that.

That’s sort of all you need: You need the game’s mechanics to represent the movements, actions or reactions of people. People is a nebulous term, by the way: humans will see people in everything around them. It’s actually really hard to keep people from attaching humanity to the things in the games they play – how often do you see people treat the dice like they have motivation?

The trick then comes in making sure that players can all see the same things as having some degree of personality, of agency to them, something that forms the story around them. And to show the example of how this works, we’re going to look at two great games, with similar mechanics and a complete disconnect between the nature of how they tell story.

First we have Dominion, the game I tease as being themeless, and A Few Acres of Snow, a game about the invasion of Canada by America in that war they don’t like to talk about. Both games are deck builders, and both games have some pretty simple mechanics that they then expand outwards.

In Dominion

In Dominion cards are bought from a grid, and there’s a sort of variance in what the cards are, with a very vague idea that you are a ruler, or maybe you are the territory itself, with your deck representing things that exist on your territory.

In Dominion, you add cards to your deck, which then take some time to cycle around into hand. There are cards that represent territory, which is how you achieve victory, there are cards that represent money, which is how you buy cards, and then there are all the other cards that lend some character to your deck.

The thing with totally abstract currency in your deck is that they represent … something. Something maybe. Sometimes, it represents people who work in the territory – silversmiths and blacksmiths. Sometimes it represents objects in your territory – like a moat (even a moat!). Sometimes it represents an object (the throne).

None of these are bad game entities, but when you lay them out, there’s no clear idea for what they all are. Are you building a throne? What do you mean when you have two thrones? Does a blacksmith turning a metal coin into a different metal coin represent something like an actual act of alchemy? There’s no clear explanation, no solid or robust theming. The game has a theme alright, an overtone – it’s one of a sort-of-medieval sort-of-fantasy kingdom, with something like a government, but that’s all.

In A Few Acres Of Snow…

In Acres, the cards represent the actions you as a ruler of the war can take, the actions you can engage with and the ways you can direct troops with a limited range of options – sometimes supplies just don’t show up when you need them, sometimes you have the chance to communicate with three or four cities and don’t have the supplies to direct to them. The mechanisms of that game put the player in the narrative position of a leader dealing with the constraints of a military movement during a time before instant-speed communication.

What this means is that the mechanics of the game become part of the story the game tells you: You’re a leader, you’re making choices, they are all based on communication, and the cards that represent people are people dealing with you and talking to you, people available to you within your limited sphere of communication. One of the best cards in the game for this is the governor – a character that when you buy it, comes into your deck, gets rid of two cards you don’t need any more… and then remains there until you get rid of them with another governor – meaning that over time you can have a deck full of governors, managing beaurocracy, meaning your personal communication is now clogged with fewer bad options but with more dealing with beaurocracy.

Soooo?

The difference between these two games telling stories is that the games’ mechanics require you to change your mental position on what the card entities are pulling your focus to. In Acres, the cards represent opportunities presented to the player, to you. In Dominion, the cards represent things within the player’s space. That’s what keeps Dominion from telling its story; the character cannot be the player, the centerpiece cannot be a thing on the cards.

So, when you want to tell a story through mechanics alone, you need to give the player a through-line they can observe. You need to give them something that can hold the story.


This blog post and subject was suggested, as above, by @Fugiman on Twitter. If you’d like to suggest stuff you’d like to see me write about, please, do contact me!

Donald Duck, The Dork Deputy Dad

What follows here mentions some themes in the 2017 Ducktales reboot. Not an actual spoiler of details in the series, just a mention of some of the themes that come out in the first two episodes. If you think you need to go in cold to the first episodes of a tv series about talking ducks, well, okay. Just so you know.

Donald Duck’s a dork.

Really, Donald Duck is an older generation of media, the same generational space as Mickey Mouse. I’m sure animation historians will be able to point to the specific gaps in between first appearances, or the evolution of a character over time, but the experience I’ve always had of Donald Duck is that he’s something old. There’s something of an older time, a time when cartoons were about… something else. It wasn’t like he really belonged in Ducktales either, which as a kid, still felt old to me – perhaps because I didn’t see it until it’d already existed for quite a few years, perhaps because it still centered Donald as important. Somewhat. Sort of.

In the new Ducktales reboot, though, they’ve done something magical by leaning in to this dorkiness. Donald Duck is boring, and unimpressive, and not cool. Who else is boring, and unimpressive, and not-cool, to most kids the age of the triplets?

Your parents.

Ducktales touches on a really weird space, a space between the places I’m at: The children are at a point where they don’t like their parent figures, and don’t see them as people. The parents are at a point where they can’t really see the kids as people, either.

Now, Donald isn’t a parent. It’s worse than that. He’s not the kids’ parents: he’s a person those kids have to respect, because their parent told them to, but he doesn’t have the authority despite the hard work he does to provide for and care for the kids. What’s more, Donald has a hard time communicating in the most pure way with the kids. They don’t have to like him – they like each other, they have one another as friends, they can conspire and confide with one another.

I didn’t like Donald Duck. Yet here, as the series seems to set up the idea of these kids discovering that their uncle is a person, a person like themselves, a person who’s done things, tried things, a person who has achieved and adventured and still has plenty of fun left to have in him?

I really am cheering for the guy.

Iron Fist Week Part 5: Knowing Yourself

Iron Fist, the 2017 Netflix series, is bad.

Let us, for now, set aside its issues as an adaptation of a source material.

Let us set aside its issues with racial contexts.

Let us set aside the choices it makes heedless of women and culture.

Let us set aside its poor editing and the practical work of cinematography.

Iron Fist is bad because more than anything else, it’s a series that doesn’t know what it is about.

I’ve touched on this in these articles. The fear of the costume and the style of the superhero. The way they hired someone who wasn’t good for the role in any way. The excuses, the endless excuses for why the show isn’t very good, the defensive posture that blames their failings on, amongst other things, a presidential election. The way the took a story about a martial artist returning home to right a dreadful wrong through violence against an old disabled man, and made it about conspiracy and zombies and another hero’s villains. Every single one of these decisions is a bad one and none of them are bad enough to stand on their own as a sign of what made the series break, none of them are this series’ fatal flaw.

But every single one of them could only show up if you, when presented with the series as it exists, had no idea what it was meant to be. The show doesn’t know why it missed or what it missed, because the show didn’t know what it was trying to even be in the first place. Say what you want about Luke Cage’s position on Blackness, it at least knew damn well it was a series about a Black superhero dealing with Black Street problems. The identity of Luke Cage permeates its very being.

Let us then speak of what I feel represents the central coda, the most important and vital flaw of the Iron Fist series and the way it handles its central premise, the characteristic that the series is literally named for.

What is the Iron Fist?

It is the power that Danny has, which the story… sort of doesn’t really explain. It’s just, he has the power of the Iron Fist, and he mostly uses it to punch through walls. It’s not used creatively or cleverly. It is power, a direct application of force, and Danny can’t use it constantly. There is no explanation as to why. At one point he heals Coleen, and then that’s it. The Fist is returned to being vaguely explained. Defenders elaborates on it, but it still is building on the foundations of Iron Fist, inheriting its flaws.

Some comics fans may be seething, shouting at their screens about how the comics handle it and yes, the comics handle it better and you are right, but that is not important. This is not a point of comparison, this is looking at the series and its own message.

When and how does the character use the power? What limits it? What provokes it? What, in this superheroic story, is the thing that sets the character apart from the greater population, and how do they access this power? What, more than anything else, is the Iron Fist about?

I’ve watched this series now, I’ve double checked, and the single common trait with Danny using the Iron Fist is Danny getting mad.

Danny gets angry, and the power comes to him. When the power is not available, it is because he has not gotten mad enough. There is no philosophy, no coda, not even the most rudimentary of koan. The story doesn’t frame the Iron Fist’s power as a result of study, or training, or an emotional centering, or being able to spend his time fighting or charging up or needing to summon the megazords or anything. It connects very directly. Anger In, Power Out.

That is the story this show thinks is interesting. That’s the central idea of this series. Danny needs to find things that make him angry enough to act, angry enough to draw on that power. That’s your story. It permeates. Danny is mad that he is being denied his billionaire status – not because he wants it, but because he’s being denied it. Danny has outbursts of anger, he hates his opponents, he steps to violence in his very first scene for no really good reason. Opposition to Danny deserves violence, because Danny uses violence, and violence is directly and only connected to anger.

This is this world’s Danny Rand. He is angry, not because of things he experienced, or internalised guilt. Not because of self-loathing or cruelty. I’d look at the subtext to work it out, but we don’t have to, because the story just flat-out tells you.

Danny doesn’t feel he has a place in the world, he feels like he doesn’t belong, like he needs something more in his life, a life that already features being an immortal god-fighting dragon-punching superhero billionaire. Danny was picked on a little bit as a kid, but he had loving parents who gave him everything, and even his father’s last words were that he loved him. Danny’s anger puts the loss of his family’s company on the same level as the loss of his parents at the same level as handcuffing him and so on, and it does not feel making his parents’ death an act he could be angry about is worthwhile.

There’s an attempt to represent his violence as like Coleen’s violence, as if the two share some emotional challenge, but it’s never explained because they don’t explain why Coleen is that way, because women don’t need backstories.

Danny’s anger is petulance at a void.

That’s not what the Iron Fist story really is about. That’s a stock character – it’s almost a cliche. Heck, it’s a Disney Princess at the most bland.

This, all of this, is what you get when your story doesn’t really know what it’s about. The people in the story talk about the trappings of kung fu – in a really orientalist way, of course – and about the idea of a business conspiracy or Rand enterprises or all these things, and there’s talk about centering Danny’s chi and connecting him to other stuff, but none of it connects, none of it really makes any sense because there’s no central throughline of the character, the idea of how you attain power, or how Danny relates to power and violence beyond get opposed, get angry, get power.

A final example, from the last episode.

In two scenes, back to back, Meachum forwards that he can do whatever he wants, because he has money. Cut. A different scene. Jill informs Danny that he can’t do whatever he wants, because he has money, meaning his actions will be observed. It literally uses the same funds to represent that Danny is unable to do things, and that Meachum can do anything.

This is a series that doesn’t know what it’s about, and doesn’t know what matters to it. What follows then is things cast down, to land near one another, in the shape of a narrative, ultimately hollow, ultimately meaningless.

There’s a sad irony here in that one of the most basic, well known pieces of actual historical philosophy quotes, a quote you can find on coffee mugs for executives, would help avoid this problem.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”
Sun Tzu’s, The Art of War

Surely even the kind of dinks who wrote this Danny Rand would know that one.

Iron Fist Week Part 4: Doing Poorly Poorly

Iron Fist is bad at doing all the things it wants to do.

We’ve talked in the process about things that will make your storytelling better. We’ve talked about looking at issues in structural ways, and we’ve talked about invigorating characters with character rather than as instruments for the story. We haven’t really dealt with specific, individualised incidents of hecking up execution. And this is a series that hecks up the execution a lot.

The Opening

Hey, remember this dark dynamic? This black arcing?

Why is this here?

Do you see this in the series at all? Does it tie into the colour dynamics of the rest of the series? Can you think of any time that the series does anything that looks like this? Danny has a clear colour dynamic of bright yellow, but dark black never really shows up to contrast with it like in this opening.

This is a visual motif that the show literally never uses except in its opening. In Daredevil, the colour scheme of the opening is a signifier; you see the red in Daredevil’s outfit, in Elektra’s outfit, in background colours and lighting and shots and it’s also a motif of the bloodstains and damage you see on Matt. Luke Cage uses yellow to indicate street signs, and imbalances (like yellow tinted windows, gold of crowns, the warm light of the club looking down on the patrons).

By contrast, Danny gets a yellow fist and that’s it. The Defenders builds on his colour scheme, of course, putting him in green light that helps to contrast him to Matt, while also suggesting a commonality in his space between Luke and Jessica, but in this opening, in this first impression, what is there of Danny that exists. What works?

Nothing.

Also, because this character is both animated and obscured, they can show that character doing a bunch of extremely cool things, as if he had, perhaps, mastered some martial arts, martial arts that let them do something like attain the powers of the Immortal Iron Fist. I hope you’re not attached to this sort of acrobatic motion with lines of energy like this, though, because you’re never going to see it.

The Chi Focus

If you go back and rewatch the first episodes like I did, because I dunno, I make bad life choices, you might remember there was this recurrent visual theme they tried to use for Danny to focus his chi. Lots of vertical lines, blurring and shifting over the film. Remember that? Danny’s inability to focus his chi is an early story beat that fades away, and with it, the effect. It’s not used later to represent when he’s out of focus with his chi despite the fact that his chi is out of whack is used as a story beat.

Remember? It was a whole thing? It was after Danny healed Coleen with Bakuto’s help and – oh, okay, Remember how Danny healed Coleen in the middle of the series? Remember that now he has the ability to do Amazing Healing Moves and he just… doesn’t do it again?

I bring this up because these are examples of rudimentary execution error. If you introduce a power in the second act of a story it should matter, in some way, by the end of the story. If you’re going to introduce a visual aesthetic to a problem, use that visual aesthetic again when you use that problem a second or third time.

In this, the healing is a doorway the story stepped through and forgot when they move on.

As a game, you can probably ask ‘remember when this happened’ about a lot of things in this series and watch people fail tell if you’re making it up or not, because there’s a lot of forgettable stuff here. There’s a reason we talk about repetition and patterns and structure in storytelling: These things make it easier – or possible – for the things you do to remain in people’s minds. It’s like telling a joke. You can’t just state a punchline – without a setup, it’s just a weird interjection pineapple.

Iron Fist’s central plot is mostly made up of about six or seven really short story beats, and the rest, because it is not anchored, it does not reside in the memory, is just… lost. It’s not just bad storytelling – it means much of this story is boring.

The Cu-Cu-Cu-Cu-Cu-Cuts And Edits

The fights in Iron Fist with one exception suck.

The excuse for this style of combat choppiness, with these super-short edits, is that it’s done to obscure the fact that half of the people in this scene can’t fight. Not in the style of the Iron Fist comics, not in the style of this series. Hell, not even in the style of Daredevil, the nearest approximate.

Now, this gets held up as an example of bad editing and I’d say it’s almost the opposite. The editor here clearly did a lot of work to try and turn pillowfist douchebeard into the person who was throwing punches. The editor can only work with what they’re given, and here, they’re given 56 individual components that they had to stitch together to fill 35 seconds. I give the benefit of the doubt, where I think this editor was using as much as they could of each shot, because editing is very hard.

With that, it means this bad scene’s fault falls on the person making decisions, and that means yeah, the director had to direct the fight coordinators and choreographers and camera people and the set managers. Some of these shots require cameras to be in places the characters physically are, meaning this was shot multiple times over.

There is nothing wrong with having Danny have a fight in this space, or even a fight with a bunch of cuts in it. But this way of doing it is bad, and has bad effects. It also gets to be easily held up as an example of a problem. It’s frantic and sloppy.

This is an example of an execution error, and not just stuff like the Line of Action that even a clueless donk like me knows about. I’m not a camera guy! I’m not a cinema guy! If I can look at this and say ‘whoah this is shit’ imagine what it’s like for editors and cinematographers and critics of that form! Imagine how it looks to them!

Oh and by the way, Finn, know what’s a great way to obscure when you change a shot from stunt double to lead actor?

A mask.

Like the Iron Fist wears.

Like he’s meant to wear.

LIKE A SUPERHERO SHOW WOULD USE.

Iron Fist Week Part 3: Fantasy That Mocks Reality

Let’s talk about choices.

There are some writers out there, and yes, I might mean you (and if I do mean you, I am judging you), who regard the story that they are writing as a wild creature that wanders and runs as it goes, and you, the author, are helpless to do anything but document it as the tiger whose tail they hold goes where it will. Which is to say, these people will blame the story for the choices they make about what to put in it. Which is to say, these people are cowards who don’t want to own up to the things they want to put in their story, the things they choose to do.

Choices like, for example, punching a woman in the face for no good reason, and treating an entire school of Asian martial philosophy like it’s a cereal box top. These are problems you can fix, if you acknowledge they are things you are choosing to do, and if you think about what you’re doing; they’re much harder to deal with if you pretend they sort of just magically slithered into the story themselves.

Does K’un-L’un Exist?

In Iron Fist Danny and Coleen talk about the philosophies of their martial studies. It’s a conversation that we see in small, clipped ways. He uses her sword in a way that’s kind of insulting, and the pair spar back and forth about the ideology of their worldviews. She cites this, he cites that. He demonstrates his superiority over her with physical force, imposition of his hand and body, while they discuss, her ideas being presented as tested against the ideas of his way, his way that seems to be winning all the encounters. Her ancient philosophy she learned from her family vs his ancient philosophy he learned from K’un-L’un.

Here’s the problem: K’un-L’un doesn’t exist.

The philosophies of Japanese martial arts are real things with real histories. Danny is talking made up D&D sourcebook bullshit, which is patched together with that special kind of ‘I just heard of this’ problem, things like travelling to a dojo to meet with a sensei to gain their respect as if that’s a practice everyone should know about despite it being a trend from one very specific period of Japanese history. Things like his disdain of shoes, his (unconsciously?) racist language when talking to the students, these are all covered under the heading of being ‘like K’un-L’un.’ Danny acts this way, and it is forgiveable in how it makes the character look in a world that is like our own, because Danny is from K’un-L’un.

But the problem is, again, that K’un-L’un doesn’t exist.

This is a worldbuilding point, this is about making the things you create in a universe feel like they matter, and showing them in contrast to things we know matter. It’s why heroes punch bricks to show how strong they are.

This story wants to juxtapose one culture it doesn’t really seem to understand or respect with a culture it invented. They chose to compare K’un-L’un’s ideals with Coleen’s and then present K’un-L’un as superior. It could have been a non-confrontational relationship; they could have spoken of old teachers together, of connecting to mysterious masters that don’t exist because of Coleen’s association with the Hand. Instead, they made this choice.

And again, K’un-Lun doesn’t exist.

That Time Danny Punched A Pliable Woman In The Face

This example’s been discussed elsewhere but let’s talk about Season 1, Episode 6; Immortal Emerges From Cave. It’s a tournament episode (that’s not a tournament, because Danny just has to fight everyone). That’s where we meet the Bride Of Nine Spiders.

Remember our Daredevil conversation? Here’s the short list of signals that a character isn’t a character but is instead an object.

  • Instrumentality: Does this character exist to explain something about the story?
  • Agency: Does the character have the capacity to make choices for themself?
  • Ownership: Is this character owned by someone else? Do they exist without that character?
  • Fungibility: Is the character interchangeable with other such characters?
  • Violability: Can you visit violence on this character without moral question?
  • Subjectivity: Does the character have a subjective perspective? Their own views, their own desires or values?

The character is not fungible – she’s got a standout design that contrasts with the rest of the Hand. Also, she’s a woman while they’re mostly represented by men. You can maybe read something into her introductory shot suggesting she’s a poison researcher… but you’d have to do a lot of work to claim that’s subjectivity or violability. Beyond that? She gets the whole list. Note that there’s nothing wrong with having a character be an object in your story, objects are useful tools to move things along. There sure is a problem with, for example, having a lot of characters who are just objects, especially if all those characters share a racial grouping.

The Sexually Dangerous Exoticised Woman is a trope so old it’s literally gathering dust, and she’s an Exotically Sexy Acupuncture Spider Lady, which is …Not A Good Look. I’m not against spiders, or sexiness, or associating spiders with sexiness; No, the concern is that The Bride of Nine Spiders isn’t presented as anything but that. There is no question of why she does things, or how she does things. She simply is.

For instrumentality, she does a bunch of stuff that makes no sense when considered as her actions to achieve her ends, and once she fills her role in the story she’s gone. Hypothetically her purpose is to defeat the Iron Fist. What we see is a sequence where she enables and explains things about Danny to the audience, things that the story has not shown to the audience. Somehow, we’re told, the Bride of Nine Spiders knows what Danny really wants, what he really is.

How is she supposed to know?

Why does she try seducing him after poisoning him? Why does she put herself in unnecessary danger? If she can close with him and pin him, why not just poison him more? If she had her own identity, her own personality, you could use that as your reason, but the scene doesn’t do anything to do that. The Bride of Nine Spiders is a tool Iron Fist uses to fill time in the story, to state some things about Danny, and then she needs to be dealt with so the story can proceed.

That’s why we get a full shot of Danny backhanding a pretty Asian lady who’s pressing up against him. It literally takes a beat to show us, oh hey look at Danny punching this woman who was flirting with him in the face.

Now remember: This is not a scene from the comics. This isn’t something in the actress’ contract. This is something they chose to show.

Why.

Who failed to think about this scene twice?

Iron Fist Week Part 2: The Whiteness Of Danny Rand

Why’s Danny white?

We talked about how the truth of the comics is nonsense – they threw out everything in the comics that matters to the origin and structure of Danny. They didn’t even tell a superhero  story with him. They made a Daredevil knockoff, complete with giving Danny one of Daredevil’s villains to oppose.

Why then, is he white? The answer lies at the bottom of this post, but before we go there, a fold, and a conversation about what Danny should have been, in my opinion.

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