Category: Media

I’m a media studies graduate and with that comes a raftload of tools that I’m repeatedly told aren’t actually useful for anything, to which I counter that I like using them and enjoy the experience of applying those tools to all the media around me I partake in and therefore my life is enriched and overflowing with wonderful experiences of interconnectivity. By this point the other person has usually wandered off. Anyway, this is the category for anything that I think of as being connected to ‘media’, whether it’s a type (like TV, music, movies or so on), a brand (like Disney! Hi Disney!). This category also covers my weekly critical engagement column-type-thing currently called Story Pile.

The Dragon As State

It seems only fitting that with Game of Thrones finally spilled out and bleeding its guts on the floor of the greater media community, that I trot this take out that is simultaneously extremely uncomfortable and also right.

Dragons, in most fantasy fiction, are governments.

I’ve talked in the past about how fantasy isn’t about some actual historical place (indeed, no media is) but rather is about how we exist in our world, today and now. Werewolves are things like fear of the stranger, the owlbear is the threat of the unknown in the dark of the woods, witches are a fear of women, selkies are a fear of women, the gorgon is a fear of women and you know it’s possible a lot of our myths that have survived haven’t been very cool about women now I say it out loud. Still, with the idea of these monsters representing things that we can then create and ensoul as entitites that we can interact with, that we can talk to and maybe fight, that is, in most narrative, the job of the monster.

The Dragons in Love of Varna, Bulgaria

And the Dragon, as a monster, is big. Dragons aren’t just materially big, but they affect the world around them in a really big way. They change the way food is made where people give up some of their herds to the dragon. They change where people go and move, they make them move in groups or stick together, they make people set up highways and guards and build castles and keeps, and try to live their lives in the hope of avoiding the attention of the dragon. People don’t forget it’s there, and they are aware of its influence, and they know they do things just in case of it.

Sometimes, the dragon is good, and thanks to that, there are things like cures to terrible disease, and safety from dangerous armies and the people just accept a few missing cows as the nature of their life, and it’s okay. Sometimes, the dragon is bad, and there are times when it comes out to destroy things for no good reason.

We even call them tyrants.

There are even things like kobold cults and draconic servants around some – people who exist to handle the management of things for the dragon’s whims! There are people who live in service of the dragon like beaurocrats and police and seneschals and they too, are referred to like creatures in a government.

Then you should look at the dragon in terms of who kills them. What your story can see as a way that a dragon dies. Does a dragon ever get beaten to death by all the oppressed peasants? No. It’s too big, too powerful. The actions of one ordinary person are too little. There is nothing one person can do, and a thousand nothings add up to nothing.

But a dragon can be felled, by a knight, or a cleric, or a barbarian or a priest. A dragon can be swayed by a lone hero. A dragon can be defeated by a lone individual or small group of those individuals, who represent, to the reader, a right way to kill a dragon. There are even small dragons, individual dragons, who don’t want that power and that scale and that scope, and who define themselves by being one creature, not a dragon like those, a thing of the same stuff but not the same type.

It’s interesting, almost like little anarchist cells, really. When I talked about the Tiefling as an avatar for the beneficiary of historical colonialism, there is a cousin to that idea; the notion of the dragonkin, the person-dragon, the dragon that cannot rule – and that be the individual who can look at the power concentrated in bad governments and say, they know, they know that whatever this is, it can end, and needs to end, and are willing to destroy the ways they are priviliged to do it.

A dragon is a government you can fight, or kill, or fuck, in the right way. The dragonborn and dragonkin? Antifa.

And maybe there need to be more stories of dragons torn to pieces with scythes and thresher’s sticks.

Seems That Game of Thrones Is Bad, Huh?

That Game of Thrones, eh?

Now it might be that someone in the past, once, said that by definition The Game of Thrones was doomed to have an unsatisfying ending, and that someone may have said that the whole story was something like, you know, a narrative lootbox and then Game of Thrones ended and its ending was bad, and the ending being bad resulted in a giant pile of people suddenly going ‘hey, has this… sucked for years?’ and suddenly everyone is arguing about when the whole affair went sour, when this prestige TV show worth millions of dollars they’d sunk their life and fandom into might be bad and they should have known it ahead of time.

The really interesting thing to come out of it, though, is the understanding that part of what made the ending of Game of Thrones bad was not, as I once asserted, that they had no idea where they were going, but that they had an absolute, clear, definite ending, and that meant that accomplishing events in the final season was a matter of ticking things off a list, in order to force the time they had to fit the sequence of events they had to show.

And you know what, that’s fair. Maybe it wasn’t a lack of a plan, the problem was too much of a plan. Or maybe it was an inability to contain what they were making along the lines of that plan. Or maybe it was people’s fault, for being too into it, and it got too popular, forcing those poor creators to ruin it. Or maybe there was a conspiracy. I honestly don’t know, or really care. I don’t think there are lessons from Game of Thrones that are specifically really applicable to you and your creative work, beyond maybe, that if you put a lot of sexual assault in your work, people are going to ask exactly what the fuck is wrong with you, and getting defensive just makes everyone start to draw conclusions about that answer.

That’s the thing. It’s too big a work. And based on watching video of the actors preparing for the show, and the special effects crew and the prop makers and the armour fitters and all that stuff, I think it’s reasonable to say that on average everyone who showed up to make that series did a great job. But not everyone’s effort has an equal impact on the outcome.

I look forward to this future where Game of Thrones dissection becomes our personal rite, where everyone has their opinion about what in this series failed, why it failed, how the real problem the series had was this, or that, or the other. It’s great. It’s wonderful to see this practice turned widely mainstream. Hi, everyone else, this is what anime nerds have been doing since forever.

Turns out the real Iron Throne was the friends we made along the way!

July Shirt: UwUnionise!

Don’t let it be said I don’t listen to my twitter followers. I tweeted this, someone wanted it on a shirt, and here we are.

Here’s the design:

And here the design is on our friendly gormless supposedly unisex Redbubble model:

And here’s the design being modelled by the Teepublic ghost:

This design is available on a host of shirts and styles. If you like the look, I can see about making the individual badges into stickers.

You can get this design on Redbubble or on Teepublic.

Story Pile: Geobreeders

I’ve been talking about anime a lot this year. And because I’m an older anime fan, a fan boy, as it were,it’s easy to reach back into a history that’s older than some of you and point to these old classic works, things that are important and influential and you should feel ashamed you don’t know about them, I guess, if my expectation of generalised anxiety and imposter syndrome is usefully applicable.

Partly, this is because I’m a believer in the idea that remembering art is enough to make it meaningful, and there isn’t really a bottom threshold on ‘worth talking about.’ I watched a lot of garbage back then, some of which I found it fun to ridicule but some of which wasn’t good in a very boring, tedious way.

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I Like: Dave And Jeb Aren’t Mean

I grew up in a bubble of what I refer to as ‘Christian Replacement Media,’ which is this space full of movies and tv shows where the budgets are low, the talent pool is shallow, and there’s a host of very natural and normal things that the shows can’t depict, because it’s a moral evil to have a character swear. It’s not enough that the work shows people who swear as bad, or that swearing be rare, it’s that swearing at all is bad.

These are stories that try to do moral panic and endangerment and horror of the other by such things as ‘someone grabbed my wrist’ or ‘a black person said hey unprompted, with an accent,’ and the romances in them appear at the last instant, as the boy we’re followed meets a girl and she smiles at him and the music swells, implying they are absolutely going to be together forever.

Christian Replacement Media is a lot of things. Mostly it’s surreal, a sort of heightened reality where the story winks at you and says You know how this is meant to work, meaning they don’t have to show you the things they’re hinting at. It’s media by summary.

Anyway, what that means is that when I discovered Dave and Jeb Aren’t Mean, a podcast about two normal humans with normal frames of reference reviewing the movies of the Hallmark network, I was hooked.

Hallmark make movies that are not Christian Replacement Media, but are designed to form part of that space, the spackle of the entertainment media. You know, you don’t necessarily want to appeal only to those consumers, but if your work fits in their landscape, there’s a large market of the no-swears no-offensive-content as-few-black-people-as-possible media.

These stories are weird and unnatural, and this podcast makes them a hilarious part of the landscape that I heartily recommend you check it the heck out.

Story Pile: Snow White and the Huntsman

Back in February, you may remember – because you read everything I write, right? – that I tried to make a bunch of articles about smooch media, and one of my choices was to try and focus on romantic movies that were doing something interesting and cool and not just another Two Extremely Hot Movie Stars Awkwardly Bump Into Each Other In A Predictable Way.

At first I found there was this seam of ‘romance’ movies that were clearly made for men – my iconic example is This Is War, a movie about two super-spies that compete for a hot girl and an action movie breaks out while they’re doing super creepy abuse of surveillance state technology in order to get emotional upskirts of this girl. Now, I felt in my heart that I’d really like an action movie romance if the romance was just between two people of comparative levels of attractiveness.

That’s another thing. Dudes in romance stories are either tremendous people with the emotional capacity of a grape, or they’re potatoes that get girls because they’re in a designated story slot. There are a lot of movies about ugly dudes getting beautiful women to fall in love with them – things in the mould of Knocked Up or, well, any where the central male actor is known primarily as a comedian and not as a ‘leading man.’

I was honestly really hopeful then, when I popped open Snow White And the Huntsman.

And what I got was an amazing sequence of failures.

Spoilers ahead.

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Story Pile: Solo

Disclosure: Someone I know worked for one of the companies that got Solo made. I don’t know the precise details and I don’t want to pry, but there you go. I don’t imagine they care that much if I think the movie is good or bad, and they haven’t spoken to me about the movie’s quality.


With that in mind, some bonafides up front: I am the Doesn’t Really Think That Much Of Star Wars guy. Not a ‘they were better when I was a kid’ guy or the ‘well this stuff lacks the depth of cinema veritate’ guy, but just someone who has for some reason or another never had that much of a high opinion of Star Wars as a franchise. I have had my fair share of Star Wars media – mostly in the form of videogames, books and my fill of watching the movies – so I am not ignorant of it, I just don’t really think it’s very interesting. It’s a bit like Monopoly – I understand that it has a deep cultural impact and lots of people are very familiar with it but I just don’t think it’s particularly good.

I guess the easiest way to explain what kind of Star Wars fan I am is that I think 90% of the movies are boring and the remaining 10% is all full of Ewoks.

Anyway, Solo is a movie seen as ‘controversial’ because Star Wars fans are just the worst kind of joke. There’s just the silliest kind of swirl of ridiculousness around this movie’s box office sales, conspiracy theories that are one step removed from saying ‘the Jews don’t want a movie about a strong white man to succeed!’ and there’s a lot of noise. Since it seemed Star Wars fans didn’t like it, I thought hey, maybe I should check it out. Maybe I’d like it, if it wasn’t something that appealed to the kind of people who thought Star Wars was good. Right? There’s a logic there, surely?

Anyway, I kind of love this awful movie, but I also kind of hate this great movie.

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Goldshire Inn Ethnography

Before there was photography, there was heliography. It was from around the 1820s, and to make a picture with heliography you needed to get a big funnel-shaped distorted mirror to capture sunlight and direct it through a glass lens and onto a plate of chemicals and it created an image. Things had to hold very still while the sunlight ‘etched’ onto the chemicals, and it was pretty quickly outmoded by photography.

The heliograph was used in its narrow window of time in the – haha – sun, to take pictures of naked ladies, who came in and held poses long enough to get shadowy silhouettes made.

In Game Research Methods, Lankoski and Bjork explain a bunch of different methods for studying games academically. It addresses techniques that are unique to games, ways that games fit in with existing research tools, and challenges that games have that people unfamiliar with them won’t necessarily consider. This is where I first got the idea of Stimulated Recall, where recording yourself playing a game, then watching that playback is a chance to talk about and experience your mental state and give a more accurate accounting of the play experience.

This book also includes a really interesting chapter about understanding the ramifications of ethical disclosure in digital spaces as it relates to subjects (people) and their ability to share information. That’s a big sentence but it’s basically a finding from a researcher who was studying people ERPing in WoW.

Now I’m not going to infantalise you and pretend you have no idea what those acronyms are. For the sake of completion, though, ‘WoW’ refers to World of Warcraft, and ERP refers to ‘Erotic Roleplay.’ It’s got a lot of possible terms but the basic idea is using text roleplay in a game’s shared space to roleplay out sex.

Now, some people react to this discovery with incredulity, which I find kinda tiresome, but yeah, if you have literally never heard of this: People do this. In fact, people doing this is as old as the internet itself. In fact, back in the day, before the internet, people used to write dirty letters to one another, to make up a sexy narrative. Like, written with hand. There even used to be a whole range of clever acronyms for those dirty letters, a hidden language that was designed to convey information to the insiders and keep the communication fast and fluid.

A lot of those letters you see people reading in World War 1 re-enactment dramas, a tearful moment as the music swells and you, the audience, reflect on this humanising moment as this soldier is connected to their home country and given a reason to feel just for this moment not here in this filthy trench?

Those letters were really dirty.

Anyway the chapter is interesting and includes a lot of self-examination from the researcher, who realised that their work was not just about examining the interactions of objects in a space, it was the behaviour of people, and reading logs of people boning meant getting insights not just into the practice academically, but also the way people feel about themselves, and one another. About the meaning of our virtual bodies, the bodies we use to express ourselves, and it’s all very good reading and it’s very interesting about designing your data capture so it takes into account the ethical needs of intimate places that players create. It’s really interesting.

It’s also four years old, and built on existing research into ERP. Which is why I know those things about those filthy letters, and about the heliography of naked ladies. People make stories with one another, and people use technology, and one of the most common things people use that technology for, and make those stories about, is, well, sex. Sometimes weird sex, sometimes chaste sex, sometimes circling around not wanting to call it sex.

I guess I bring this up because I still see people using ‘people ERP on the internet’ as a punchline. Sometimes a website like Polygon or Waypoint will talk about it and in a very hamfisted way I get to watch as other people slap at the topic with a lack of nuance that speaks of embarassment.

People do this. It’s not weird. Try and have some chill about other people’s fun.

Gnome Names

Hey, you know Gnome names? Popwhistle, Grindgear, Bombfuse, Fizzlewist.

Why are they like that, you think?

 

In almost any setting I’ve seen with Gnomes, they tend to follow this kind of rule. Sometimes the setting is a little more Tolkeiny and the Gnomes are sometimes Halflings or Hobbits or (god help me) Kender, but there’s this race of small people who are inventive, tinkery, and have these strangely modern compound names.

Now, names that are modern words isn’t unreasonable, in my culture. I know a number of people who have names like Cloud, South, West, Green or so on. But those names are all old and they’re rarely compound like that. What’s really interesting about the Gnome names is that Gnome names are words in whatever non-Gnome language they’re presented with.

It’s a well-accepted piece of modern lore that people’s names have meanings, phrases or terms that they owe their derivation to. Even basic and boring ones like James and John and Peter have some connection to an earlier iteration of the name, some thing you can translate them to. Gnome names, however, come translated already – Cogwhistle Buzzthump is two compound words in the language of the reader (in this case, English).

From this I can derive two things:

  1. Gnome names are some kind of agglutinative language, made up of bits you can jam together
  2. Gnomes think humans are total assholes who will translate their names into English rather than try and get them right

This is, incidentally, a problem that a lot of recorded history of Native Americans in the United States have to deal with. Peoples names get translated like they’re not names, but are rather titles. So instead of referring to when Mo’ohtavetoo’o was betrayed by The Strong And Steady Digger, we refer to Black Kettle being betrayed by George Custer.

I dunno, Gnome names are racist or something (they’re probably not).

The One Good Bit Of Punisher Season 2

I thought, for a while, about doing a Story Pile about Netflix’s The Punisher second season. I mean I watched the whole thing, how bad could it be, I mean, if I spent that time, surely I could divine something to talk about in it. Then I kept finding it was easier to come up with other things to talk about than it, and with the news that Netflix’s MCU is ending, it seemed somewhat pointless.

I mean the most interesting thing to say about The Punisher season 2 was that it was impressive the way it maintained the badness of the first season. Like, normally media this bad is bad because nobody in charge could tell how a thing was meant to work, and the result is unfocused and sluices down to a worst point. The Punisher instead manages to be bad in a way that’s consistent and reinforces the failures of the previous season, and that’s impressive, in a way.

And that’s the problem with an article about it. Because an article about this series would mostly be me telling you how it sucks just like the last one.

Instead, I want to talk about one scene, one snippet of a scene, even, and it’s the best thing in the whole show. You don’t even need to know any of the characters or much context. It’s spoilery, though, so if for some reason you wanted to take the series seriously and avoid spoilers, now is your chance to get out.

(Why, though.)

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Story Pile: Neon Genesis Evangelion

DISCOURSE CONTAINMENT

Neon Genesis Evangelion is twenty-five years old. It is not a new series. It is not a series lacking in exposition or consideration or study. It is an important text but it is also vitally an old text. There is a degree to which the conversations around Evangelion are not just uninteresting, but are now completely tedious.

You might have seen it the first time, ever, this week. You might be planning on watching it. You might be wavering on whether or not you do. After all, it’s a Big Deal, why not?

There will be no meaningful spoilers for Evangelion. I’m barely going to talk about anything that’s in the show at all. But I am going to talk about this series and some of the reasons it matters, and the most important fact, that this series means a lot less than it matters.

DISCOURSE CONTAINMENT

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June Shirt IV: Arcadia Bay

For Pride month, I felt I could have a little Wrath.

I’ve said that Life Is Strange is ‘a really good fanfiction attached to a garbage-ass canon made by tools.

Here’s the design:

And here the design is on our friendly gormless supposedly unisex Redbubble model:

And here’s the design being modelled by the Teepublic ghost:

This design is available on a host of shirts and styles. This design won’t go well on stickers, because the faux-distress is part of it. I recommend if you get it, you make sure your colour choice is high-contrast with the yellow, so a green or a red.

You can get this design on Redbubble or on Teepublic.

Fabula Nova Crystallis

Once upon a time, this was a Game Pile about Final Fantasy XIII-2. Then it became an examination of Final Fantasy XIII, as the grounding work for XIII-2. And then, like an archaeologist probing at the edges of a shape, tenatively touching and nudging, I learned the secret. I learned that beneath the shape of Final Fantasy XIII and all the way through to Final Fantasy XV, there was something.

There was a brand.

I started this examination with the best of intentions, the absolute kindest of intentions, I really did. I just wanted to talk about a big JRPG, maybe play through it most of the way, talk about how modern JRPGs have changed, and compare them to my early experiences. It was gunna be fun. I had a few hundred words on menu-based combat and references to Final Fantasies 5 and 6, the ones I like the best. I was going to lead to this sort of ‘change is good’ conclusion that accepted that just because things weren’t the way they were in 1995 doesn’t mean they’re actually bad. I had a trajectory! I had an arc!

It was meant to be basic!

But as you can tell, thanks to the subject, I didn’t get there.

Instead, we’re going to talk about Final Fantasy XIII-2‘s underlying vision, and the Accidentally Lesbians.

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Background Gaydiation

Content Warning: This is an article mostly about extending trust to corporate media and that means I’m going to mention a crap transphobic joke from a movie that’s pretty well liked. There’ll also be mild spoilers for Deadpool, the movie, and Wynona Earp, the series.

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Unserious Queeriness

My first draft for everything this month has been a series of articles that are mostly me yelling angrily about various fan theories about how queer series aren’t queer, or how easily you could queer a series and improve it (Blacklist), but one thing I’ve been avoiding doing too much is talking about work that you might think of as serious queer media.

I have a couple of reasons for this. One is that I tend to find this stuff really super alienating. I’ve been looking for options of Queer Media to cover that I think I can cover in a way that’s useful or meaningful. It has involved interrogating what I even talk about, or why.

Let’s really quickly mark out three types of Queer Media that I don’t want to talk about here: There’s the two spaces of Horny Queer Media which I hope is just pretty obvious, and what I’m going to shorthand as Painful Queer Media, which is where you get your tragic personal memoirs and personal accountings of abuse or transphobia or lesbiphobia or so on, or how hard it was to get your first gay experience, or that sort of thing. Singular, personal vignettes.

The third type, which I’ve talked about already, is Subtextual Queer Media, where the queerness isn’t there so much as it’s easy to see queerness if you know about it. You know, stuff where it’s Queer, and the Fanbase are very sure it’s Queer, but if you can watch it as someone who doesn’t know what queerness is, or who believes that same-sex people can just be friends, then it doesn’t make you ask questions.

Now, I feel ill-suited to talk about Horny media. I had an explanation, but… nah.

Just nah.

And when it comes to the Painful Queer media, I just don’t feel like I’m qualified or that I can offer a meaningful insight. What’s more, showcasing this kind of work feels like the wrong fit for me. Not that it’s not valuable or meaningful, or that I think you shouldn’t make it if it’s the kind of art you want to make.

The idea that Queer media is confined to this space where the art has to be tragic, has to be painful, or it has to be completely facile reminds me of Hannah Gadsby, in Nanette, talking about how for the people who aren’t beneficiaries of the privilege system of our world, to stand on a stage and lay bare your soul is not an act of humility, it is an act of humiliation. I don’t think that I have a meaningful lens to offer on that.

I want to write about adventure. I want to write about heroics. I don’t want to try and make some way to connect my damaged soul to the writings of say, an enby making a game about the challenges of American medical health care. I’m damaged in different ways, so I can’t really offer my meaningful lense to the matter, and I don’t want to hold up these traumatic experiences of other people as if I’m somehow good for showing you this thing you totally would never have checked out if I hadn’t shown it to you.

That’s not what I want to write about either! I don’t see the value. My damage and my situation aren’t, I feel, taken seriously in queer spaces, so it’s not like me saying ‘here’s how this intersects with my pain’ is meaningful to anyone. Tragic manpain, I’m sure. And if I can’t meaningfully contribute to the conversation, I don’t want to be seen as performatively looking at things that don’t speak to me. It was bad enough to deal with a month of romance games that made me feel gross, after all.

Nah, what I want to talk about is fighting and reasons. Characters and motivations, people who do stuff and why they do that stuff. Slow boiling coffeeshop AUs are for other people. Instead, I want to show you queer adventures and stories about fighting baddies and punching dragons and slaying or being cool monsters, but like actually being a cool monster and not a monster being a metaphor for atypical body types and therefore you just want to play videogames and sleep in. That means that I lose some space for complexity, which I guess I’m okay with, because what I lose is stuff I wouldn’t do a good or meaningful job dealing with. Let’s instead spend our time finding queer media that isn’t About Queerness but is instead about Doing Things where Queerness is an assumed standard. I can do fun and goofy and non-intense.

In the words of Griffin McElroy, This is a ding-dong podcast.

Story Pile: Ranma ½

Ranma ½ is a Japanese manga series in the ‘whacky martial artists doing whacky stuff’ genre starting in 1987 and concluding in 1996. It’s a big work – over those ten years of weekly releases it made almost 38 volumes of stories, which range between classical kung-fu duels, adventure stories, harem anime hijinks, school test drama, pg-rated sex romp and magical-realism short stories. It’s probably one of the most important anime of its time, with an influence that stretched well over two decades, and one of the queerest really straight things in the world.

And if you know me, you had to know that me talking about this series is more of a when than an if.

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June Shirt III: Everyone Plays

The last set of shirts was a bit of a heavy lift, wasn’t it? But it was also very much a trans shirt design for trans people, and I wanted to make a few shirt designs that were clearly trans-inclusive without necessarily being self-declarative. I mean, I’m not trans, but I’d still want to wear a shirt that makes my trans friends feel comforted in a gaming space if they see it.

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CISFORMERS: The Stunticons

You know what let’s trot out a silly personal fan theory based on a tiny window of time. In this TED talk, I will explain to you that the Generation 1 Transformers known as the ‘Stunticons’ are four trans girls dealing with an abusive father figure who wants to keep them closeted.

Content warning, I’m going to talk in a general way about how much Motormaster sucks and about some queer stereotypes, but everything is done in the name of fun and I’m not trying to get you to consider Something Very Serious.

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The Not Quites of Pride Month

This month’s writing was really hard and I say that because I’m not a full month ahead for once. Instead here I am, on the last day of May, rounding out the last of what goes into this month.

Part of the problem with a theme of Pride media is that I’m just not that into the same kind of stuff ‘Queer Media’ tends to be – which is usually elbowing our way into mainstream media that hates us, or scavenging for scraps in media that pities us. Oh, it’s not all bad, after all, there was a bisexual dude in a Marvel series last year, that was impressive, but for the most part, I’m just not that in into the things that queer media wants to talk about. I am outside of (hollow voice) The Discourse for the most part.

Oh, there are also some things that The Algorithm definitely wants to talk about. I could talk glowingly about a small number of Queer Darling Medias and for the most part I’d get to feel bad because hating these things is not a good look, because we don’t get interests, we get affiliations.

There were however a bunch of media I did consider writing about but discarded for a variety of reasons.

I considered writing about Jupiter Ascending, because it’s a great big movie, it’s fairly recent and it’s full of indulgent stuff that just smashes squarely into the ‘interests’ category of a lot of queer women I know. The problem is that it’s extremely straight and despite the fact it’s the product of a pair of queer women with a lot of very obvious textual framing for that, if I didn’t tell you a pair of trans women made it, you probably would never deduce it on its own.

That’s part of the problem with queer media’s current need for subtextual reference. Even when a pair of trans women get to make a movie with millions of dollars behind them, it still could come across as, well, pretty straight.

It is a great, lovely movie for pure self-indulgence, though. If you’re a girl who likes hunky boys and princess intrigue and ballgowns, and want a story that brings things to you on an extremely expensive, stylish conveyer belt, boy does Jupiter Ascending provide.

I also thought about doing a rundown of the album She Will Have Her Way, which is an album entirely of songs by Crowded House, covered by women vocalists. These songs are all transformed to some extent by the change of voice; in some cases, the words are changed, but in almost all they’re not, meaning this set of songs about women’s behaviour in relationships and the ways of their emotional complexity become about the self, about struggles with one’s own masculinity, and sometimes about being in love with a woman as someone read as a woman.

It basically becomes queer as heck.

The problem with this is that I, an unpatriotic monster, don’t actually like Crowded House’s songs. I just don’t! So while this is a good album (I mean, Fox loves it) and it does something I like (regendering voice in conventional pop songs), and I bet you’d like it, random friend reading this, I just don’t like it at all.

The final ‘maybe I’d talk about this’ was Haunting of Hill House. This is a really good series on Netflix, and it was referred to me by a very cool enby. At first I thought this was perfect for the month, because it has a major character who’s gay, and whose relationships are complex and woven through the story.

I stepped back from this at first, though because Haunting is a horror series and it’s a really good one, which means it’s incredibly creepy and filled with scary, horrifying stuff.

Besides, October is coming. Maybe I’ll write about Haunting of Hill House then, when we’re all good and ready for some serious spooks.

Gender Distribution In OCs

Did you know that you’re bad at estimating odds? It’s true!

One way you’re bad at estimating odds is that you overestimate uncommon values. I could do fun kinds of goofy tricks with examples like words or dogs on leashes and break out the Dan Gilbert playbook, but for now, trust me when I tell you that your brain is very bad at reasonably estimating odds. That means things like a chance for things to happen or a distribution of things. That’s why there’s an actual puzzle to things like ‘guess how many beans are in the jar.’

Anyway, we’re not here to talk about cognitive biases and functional memory, we’re here to talk about my OCs.

I roleplay a lot! It’s one of my favourite things to do. I have a lot of yearning for story spaces and I love my friends but I and my friends can’t just interrupt our days to go punch a dragon, so instead, we roleplay and we play in our own little fictional worlds with their own rules. I have a huge pile of characters over the years, and since I have so many, I do what any sensible nerd would do and put them in a spreadsheet.

After all, spreadsheets are cool. 😎

With the shutdown of City of Heroes (and that’s a complicated story now), I took a look at this spreadsheet and did a big crunch, realising that one column in my piles of data I had was pretty consistent. I mostly just made males. I had some nongendered characters, who were robots, and they were mostly referred to as males. At the shutdown of City of Heroes back in 2012, I had a cast of characters that numbered over a hundred characters, and that list was 95% male.

I thought about this but it wans’t until a few years later that I considered this spreadsheet and how I wanted to change that stat. I make characters to play in spaces, and I want those spaces to have cool characters in them, and I want there to be cool women characters in those spaces, and so… why not make more women? Why not write women, especially in the low-key low-impact way of roleplay spaces where I’m primarily playing pretend with friends and not creating a greater coherent text that is going to get reviewed by editors. That ensued a period of revamping some characters that were unused as girls, and making more women characters. In some cases, I even rolled a dice to just check ‘hey, is this character cis?’ because it was a question I’d literally never considered when I’d made them.

Then I thought, after two years of this that maybe I’d gone too far. Maybe my population of characters was massively female dominated and now was just an insight into the Horny of my mind, and I was seized with a pre-emptive embarassment. To the spreadsheet I went, to fill in fields and give myself that balm that is data.

Turns out that this fear that I was wiping out my male character population had resulted in a whopping 33% of the characters now being women. I thought I’d gone too far and I hadn’t even gone half way.

One example from a study of women in meetings shows how we handle stats badly. Dudes polled will often believe women have overwhelmed a group when they represent 33% of it; they will believe women talk 20% more than men when they spoke 20% less. And as with me, I thought I’d gone overboard when I hadn’t even finished addressing my massive bias.

We are bad at recognising stats. We are bad at estimating odds. We are ferociously bad at recognising our own biases. It’s worth checking yourself, and considering just what you’re doing.

The Skin You’re Virtually In

It’s been a weird few months, and there’s been a big issue I hadn’t spared time to talk about because I didn’t know much about what was really going on and didn’t know what would change. I write in advance, so for all I know, what’s stable is going to be overthrown by the time the article goes up.

City of Heroes is back.

Kind of.

Maybe.

Maybe not.

Maybe for good.

It’s on my mind, though, and one thing that’s on my mind is watching friends get back into it, and build their characters, but to build their characters now as the people they are now, and that means for some of these players, it involves confronting a big change in their life.

For some people, we’re talking about a big shift.

See, a lot of the guys I used to play City of Heroes with aren’t guys any more (or never were, really, depending on how they want to talk about their gender). And for a lot of people, the character builder in that game, where you could tailor details about your character, where you could make your girl, and you were expected to make something that was yours was subversive and freeing.

We know that people use performative spaces to perform. We also know that a part of what people do when given anonmity and performance is to play with identity; to play with expressing who they are and what they are.

I talk at times, to students and to friends, about why games matter. One example I give is that games let us practice feelings we’re not ready to deal with yet. We practice grief in losing and we practice joy in winning. We practice being kind and we practice being decisive. Games are the place we make a section of the world where we can deal with enormous, dangerous, powerful ideas that we can be told don’t have a place in our life, that are not to be played with.

Sometimes, games can let you be a cute girl with superpowers.

And you realise that that’s what you wanted, with or without the superpowers.

Games don’t need me to fight for them, not really. Games are well established, they’re financially successful, they have a history of cultural writing and academic consideration centuries long. Some elements of games – the transitory and the seemingly low topics, and yes, the raunchy and the exploratory and the embarassing, the things that maybe make us cringe a little when we say them, like I discovered my queerness by making out with a snake girl in Pocket D?

Those are things I want to fight for, and I want to fight for them because my friends matter and what makes them happy is important.

June Shirt II: Magic: The Gathering Colour Emblems

One of my most popular blog posts is the post, No Magic Colour Is Transphobic, which combines Magic: the Gathering colours and factions with ways those groups can handle and respond positively to trans themes.

A few years ago, someone asked an important flavour developer for the game if there was a bias towards transphobia or trans acceptance in one colour or the other, and the weird thing is I don’t remember the actual answer to that, but it got me thinking about how it’s possible in every permutation or group to make a reasonable, in-character response to the question of gender identity that doesn’t make one colour ‘have’ to be ‘the transphobia colour.’

People have asked me to put those designs on shirts, and I’ve been working on that for a bit over a year. It’s trickier than it looks, and with five colours that can be combined five ways, and designs that can appear on light or dark colours, it means that any given idea for a single colour has fifty permutations which I then have to do across at least two sites, for a hundred uploads.

That’s no fun!

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The Flash: Hetero Habits

I’ve watched a lot of The Flash lately. It’s a cool series, I like it. Amongst its problems though, because everything has problems, there’s this weird way the story accidentally serves as a crystallised minefield of The Heteros.

I don’t just mean ‘oh it’s so straight‘ because it is, I’ve seen three seasons now and none of the major, recurring, important characters are gay or even vaguely hinting at it. This is especially jarring when you remember this series shares space with Supergirl’s sister Alex Danvers and Legends of Tomorrow’s immensely powerful White Canary. These series exist in a world with The Gay, but The Flash basically runs into walls when it starts dealing with relationships, and it’s coincidence that those relationships are a festival of extremely bad tropes that all coincidentally relate to kinda bad ways to view women.

There’s the relationship between Cisco and G_psy, and, you know what, every thing about that character makes me uncomfortable so we’re just going to skirt around this and just say that every single thing the writers do with her makes me wish I had a god to whom I could pray for their souls. There’s a few other relationships – the on-and-off of Wally and Jessie, which has at least the detail that they’re young.

The real tricky thing for me is the way Barry and Iris interact. The big tension of Season 3 is Barry getting a vision that Iris is going to die, then solving that. Part of how they solve it involves a lot of commitment and speeches and it involves Barry and Iris advancing their relationship. That advancement, however, results in them talking about that relationship, talking about their feelings, talking about how they view their relationship. What follows then is a really strange, weird way they talk about their relationship as being permanent, as being destined and enduring.

That is weird and messed up when you’re talking about characters who have been friends since they were ten, and one of them was engaged to someone else.

I think about this a lot, particularly in the framework of the relationships that are designed to fit a mould, and it’s telling the way that the series’ lack of diversity plays into the kinds of relationships it shows. It’s not like they can’t do interesting or fun characters – but every time a woman winds up in a romantic relationship, that relationship is a very classically heterosexual, very classically patriarchal design.

It’s not like it’s an inherent problem of hetero writing. It’s just that when you write to easy and simple things, when you write to the simple archetypes, there are a handful of extremely basic ideas that just sit there. And when you use them, they stand out, big and obvious, and make it clear that you weren’t thinking about relationships, not thinking about romances, you were thinking about narrative chunks that have to bump into each other.

I’m not saying queer media can’t objectify women or reduce women to objects, indeed, it’s a whole different problem. But for all that I like The Flash, it’s still a story where for all that it does good, fundamental narrative fun with cool characters who engage me, when those characters try to engage with one another on a whole axis of human experience, the writers turn to three basic plots that were bad when I was a kid and show they haven’t thought about them at all.

Story Pile: Love Live

Up front: I’m not going to talk about Love Live or its actual stories. Sorry. I tried. I really did. But I kept getting caught up on what I can’t help but think of as Love Live’s Boypocalypse.

This one’s not going to be a happy chat about lesbians.

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Sheith!

Y’know, I’m not actually big on shipping Sheith.

This isn’t because it’s a bad ship or nothing. It’s

You know what, let’s be really quick here for the normals that might wind up reading this. Shipping, which started with the Starsky and Hutch fandom in the 1970s, is the idea of members of a fandom pairing two characters together in a (usually sexual) relationship. This usually, but not always, serves as the basis for some kind of creative media outside the series or book or story that explore or express that.

So you know, if you watch say, Power Rangers and hope that the pink ranger winds up with the blue ranger instead of with the green ranger (and ho boy do I have some news for you on that front) you are, in that time, ‘shipping’ those characters in your mind. If you want to talk about that pairing, you’d refer to that pairing as a ship; ‘the pink ranger/blue ranger ship.’

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Is Blacklist Queer?

I have a love-hate relationship with Blacklist, the NBC tv series that basically exists because James Spader is a charismatic man who looks good in a variety of neat hats. It isn’t a good series. Not really. I don’t think you’ll lose anything by being spoilered on plot points from late in the series, but I also don’t think you should be sinking hours and hours of your life into watching this show to keep up with what I’m talking about.

Still, it briefly opened the window for a queer angle that would have been amazing and exciting and then it didn’t do it, which feels like an enormous own goal. But I need you to understand what I’m talking about, so let’s put that in your hand, and you can meet me after the cut, if you want to.

Spoiler warning for the general plot and some specific details about Raymond Reddington’s identity in The Blacklist, and also some cissexism and transphobia from a show I don’t think that much of.

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Story Pile: Atomic Blonde

At its core, Atomic Blonde is an excitingly familiar type of movie. It’s one of those Sunset Noir stories I like, with contrast-driven high-society low-life all outlined in the bright nimbus of neon colours. Where much of Sunset Noir works around the tension between the extreme wealth owned by powerful criminals, existing in spaces without what we think of as a normal safety net, a society that doesn’t have the protections of society, Atomic Blonde uses that contrast to show us a spy thriller, set in Berlin, 1989, a week before the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

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May Shirt: SPITE

This month, our shirt design is something I made as a single badge for an article, and thought was so neat, I decided to make it into a shirt.

Here’s the design:

And here the design is on our friendly gormless supposedly unisex Redbubble model:

And here’s the design being modelled by the Teepublic ghost:

And here, amazingly, is this shirt being modelled in black by Sasha L H, who bought it because I told her not to, and vol took a picture of it and it’s really cool like holy heck.

This design is available on a host of shirts and styles. If you like the look, I can see about making the individual badges into stickers.

You can get this design on Redbubble or on Teepublic.