Thursday, 6 September 2012

The different camps of Christian misogyny

This was intended to be a survey of the various forms of misogyny seen on the Christian right. However I got to three and then stopped because I realised that I was nowhere near done and had already identified more forms of misogyny than there are breeds of elephant, and the realisation was so depressing I had to go cry in the dark. Intelligent design my arse.

The Hand-Wringer

It's not that this guy thinks women are bad; it's just that the poor, misguided creatures don't know what's good for them. It's not really their fault, though; you see, today's womens have been fooled by immoral Modern Society into acting against their own interests. It's not his own patriarchal standing he's concerned with, of course (perish the thought!); he's all about protecting THEM from their own, naturally destructive feminine desires for "equality", and "respect", which are really just euphemisms for the empty horror of their Godless existence.


What It Sounds Like

Here are Rick Santorum and Tony Perkins, hand-wringing about exactly how the poor womens have been duped by nasty feminism:

  • “Sadly the propaganda campaign launched in the 1960s has taken root.... The radical feminists succeeded in undermining the traditional family and convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to happiness.” - Rick Santorum

  • "This law is a victory for women and their unborn children. We thank Gov. McDonnell and Virginia's pro-life legislators for their work to ensure that women have all the facts and will no longer be kept in the dark about their pregnancies. Ultrasounds are vitally important to doctors when determining the health of an unborn baby. Women considering whether to have an abortion should be just as informed as doctors about the child they are carrying. This law ensures that they are." - Conservative Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. (The law he was talking about was the infamous forced ultrasound bill, which dictates that women seeking abortion must have a compulsive penetrative scan, view their baby, and listen to its heart beat as part of the abortion process. This heartbroken woman didn't feel that the law was, as he claims, a victory for women and a crucial part of being informed about her own body; in fact, she felt it to be a cruel and unusual form of slut-punishment. Then again, she's probably a feminist.)

The Biologist

This guy isn't saying women are inferior: science is. You gonna argue with science? Of course you are, because that's what women do. All The Studies say so.

What It Sounds Like 

  • "It is a curious scientific fact (explained in evolutionary biology by the Trivers-Willard hypothesis — Willard, notice) that high-status animals tend to have more male offspring than female offspring, which holds true across many species, from red deer to mink to Homo sap.... Have a gander at that Romney family picture: five sons, zero daughters. Romney has 18 grandchildren, and they exceed a 2:1 ratio of grandsons to granddaughters (13:5). When they go to church at their summer-vacation home, the Romney clan makes up a third of the congregation. He is basically a tribal chieftain. Professor Obama? Two daughters. May as well give the guy a cardigan. And fallopian tubes. From an evolutionary point of view, Mitt Romney should get 100 percent of the female vote. All of it. He should get Michelle Obama’s vote." - Kevin D. Williamson, National Review editor
And of course, you can't talk biology-based misogynist apologism without:

  • “First of all, from what I understand from doctors, (pregnancy from rape) is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Todd Akin on why sluts shouldn't be allowed baby-killing whore pills, let alone actual abortion.

 The Balls-Out Vagina Hater

This guy is a lot like the two above, except that he doesn't screw around with paternalistic pleading or pseudo-feminist bullshit - he openly hates women and doesn't care who knows it. In fact, he WANTS you to know it: if he could look you dead in the eye while stomping on a vagina, he would, because fuck those bitches. Actually, the only reason he doesn't is because God would be offended

You see, God doesn't like vaginas. You'd think that would make him okay with men stomping on them, but actually He doesn't like them so hard that not only does He refuse to touch one even when impregnating a virgin; He detests the thought of anyone touching one, ever. So He teaches His followers to be on their guard against those evil female wiles. Because they want you to touch their vaginas. They want you to do what God doesn't want you to.

"The fuck do you think He put it under the fig-leaf, you MASSIVE HOE?"

And because women to this man exist solely as receptacles of temptation to men, they must be subject to them, in order that the men can keep all their evil in check. It's In The Bible: Eve convinced Adam to join her in her sin of eating the fruit, therefore God made Adam lord and master over her. And that's why, although all women are evil, it's those who don't accept their subjugation who are the most evil of all.

Women do not exist as autonomous, reasoning beings to this man. Actually men don't either, except as soldiers in the war against vaginas - but women especially don't. So while male disciples of their creed are allowed to be several different brands of stomach-churning, from obedient mindless worshipper to insufferable thundering preacher laying down the law, women come in only one salvationable flavour: housewife/mother. This guy doesn't like women much any way you slice them, but the ones who want - or, even more unthinkably, demand - any more than this from life, are the lowest of the low. In fact, they're downright dangerous, and a threat  in ways that are kind of vague that but definitely involve the destruction of everything good in the right-thinking Christian man's world.

What It Sounds Like

  • "The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians." - Pat Robertson

  • "What does it say about the college co-ed Sandra Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex, what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute.... So Miss Fluke, and the rest of you Feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex. We want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch." - Rush Limbaugh
  • ‘For God reveals himself in male terms. He is our father, not our mother; our king, not our queen; our husband, not our wife (Ba’al, not Astarte). God incarnate had to be a man. An androgynous Christ, much less an effeminate one, would be a distorted image. Christian feminists constantly refer to some statements in the Bible applying feminine terminology to both God and Jesus, implying that in some mysterious way they are bi-sexual and would be thought of more accurately as such.... We are in danger of changing the image of God into a reflection of the sexual confusion of our secular society, a deity who has more in common with Hermaphrodite than with Yahweh, the father of Jesus.’ J. David Pawson (this guy has the distinction of being a British professional dickbag. The principle is basically the same, but with more tea.) 

  • "It's unfortunate that men are so weak, they've been so intimidated that they allow these women to just run wild and screw up everything - including their souls, and their children. [Women] ... have no patience because it's not in their nature. They don't have love. They don't have love.... I think that one of the greatest mistakes America made was to allow women the opportunity to vote. We should've never turned this over to women. And these women are voting in the wrong people. They're voting in people who are evil who agrees [sic] with them, who're gonna take us down this pathway of destruction. And this probably was the reason they didn't allow women to vote when men were men. Because men in the good old days understood the nature of the woman. They were not afraid to deal with it. And they understood that, you let them take over, this is what would happen. Wherever women are taking over, evil reigns." - The utterly batshit Rev. Jesse Peterson.

Monday, 30 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises is a Truly Fucking Awful Movie

So, I enjoyed The Dark Knight. It wasn’t without flaw, but it was engaging, clever in places, and far more sadistic than a film with a 12-certificate had any right to be. However having just watched the follow-up, I can’t level any such compliment at it; in fact, I can’t level any compliment at all. Not a single one. It was quite literally without redeeming feature. 

Not only are there too many reasons to count why it sucked, but I’d have to watch the movie again to catch them all, and frankly there are other things I’d rather be doing with my time. Like licking the handles of public toilet doors. Or contracting VD. 

So, in this spirit, I’ve narrowed it down to the six things that had me grouching the loudest throughout:

The Thinly-Veiled Fascist Apologism

Look, don’t get me wrong: we all know that if the police force stopped brutalizing regular civilians, the latter would start executing each other at will for no good reason. That’s just common sense, and the film does a good job of showing what would happen if those evil social justice movements ever got their way: the citizenry would round up and execute everyone in possession of so much as a pot to piss in, out of SHEER ENVY AND ANARCHIC ANIMAL BLOODLUST. No one’s arguing that.

Pictured: jealous proles being total a-holes over nothing.

But still, this installment upped the cynical-misanthropy-as-justication-for-oppression ante from the previous film to a completely WTF extent. Granted, The Dark Knight ended on the implication that people can't handle the truth, forcing the establishment to feed us consolatory myths For Our Own Good. But at least there was the part with the two boats that the Joker tried and failed to terrify into blowing one another up. The casual misanthropy of the ending was at least balanced with the implication that people – not major characters, but ordinary, everyday, nameless people – are in fact capable of doing the right thing when the mechanisms of state control are stripped away, and they’re left alone in the dark with only their conscience to guide them. 

This roll of the dice, however, alarmist establishment apologism to the effect of "LOOK WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE POLICE AREN'T AROUND TO STOP CIVILISATION EATING ITSELF" edged out any such faith in normal human beings to not murder the shit out of each other.

Except the police, who are so clearly Good that they manage to spend 3 months underground, emerge in clean, freshly-pressed uniforms that make a visual representation of their moral purity, and jump right back into the fray immediately. No time for PTSD, or even allowing their eyes to adjust to the daylight; they are GOOD, dammit, and angels in human form don’t take days off - not even after emerging from a hole they’ve been trapped in for twelve solid weeks. 

And when they and the People face off, the police stand firm, looking noble, in contrast with the proles, who pull savage faces while eyefucking the cops like they’re about to literally devour them. When the two groups finally rush one another, several police officers fall gutshot before they clash (but no civilians; presumably the police aren’t shooting back, which is totally realistic) - just in case there’s ANY doubt who the bad guys are here.

The Dialogue Makes My Three Year Old Godson Sound Like A Master of the Well-Timed Putdown

BANE: So, you came back to burn along with your city.
BATMAN: No… I came back to stop you.

nope, Batman decides to stick with the schoolyard-level trash talk skills of a particularly grim and earnest seven year old. Fuck you, writing staff. You make Joss Whedon weep.

By the way, that subheading isn’t just for decoration: I genuinely suspected that my godson could draft a better response than the caped crusader managed here, so I decided to ask him what he would’ve said to Bane in Batman’s place. His suggestion was, “NO! I camed back ‘cause you’ve got poopie on your face!!”

Okay, so it’s unlikely that this would’ve had bystanders smirking “OHHHH SICK BURN” until someone started a slow-clap. But you know what? At least the kid grasped that when a baddie says that shit to you, THE ONLY acceptable response is a scathing one-liner. Seriously: Nolan got out-story structure’d AND out-wordsmithed, by a toddler whose arsenal of insults deals exclusively with the recipient’s faecal matter. That’s pretty special.

And before you decide I’m nitpicking, the conspicuous lack of awesome quoted above wasn’t just a blip; there wasn’t a single line that had my inner 12 year old punching the air with glee, and in a superhero film, that’s pretty unforgivable. Philosophical sophistication in these movies is scarcer than integrity in upper government; for the most part, explosions and killer trash-talk are all they have.

Catwoman’s High Heels Were Stupid and Unnecessary, and So Was She

I’m not going to pick on TDKR for casting an actress who looks like a stiff breeze would be her Everest, as a character we’re supposed to believe capable of laying the smackdown on large muscular men.

 Sure you know martial arts, sweetheart. And my right testicle is actually Chuck fucking Norris.”

I mean, sure it’s annoying, but they’re hardly the first; this terror of female characters with a waist you couldn’t span with two hands isn’t specific to these guys. Moviemakers and TV writers have always been terrified of casting ass-kicking women who actually, y’know, look like they could kick your ass. 

But did they really have to put her in five-inch heels?

And, while we’re on the subject, did she actually NEED to be in the movie at all? Was she integral  to the plot in any way? I’d venture not. I mean, what does she actually do? … Oh, that’s right – regurgitate tired, patronizing pseudo-feminist tropes like:

UNNAMED HENCHMAN: [makes derogatory comment implying women can’t defend themselves from his might]

CATWOMAN: [kicks henchman’s ass before replying in ironically demure voice]


BATMAN: I need your help.

CATWOMAN: Really? Even though I betrayed you and nearly caused your death like fifteen minutes ago?

BATMAN: Yeah, but you’re a woman, and you’re hot. I think there’s more to you than knavery.

CATWOMAN: Oh my god, you’re totally right. I think I’m birthing a conscience just ‘cause it’s convenient to the plot. I mean, you totally have to have a woman with you when Alfred sees you in the café in that scene right at the end that absolutely everyone saw coming. Otherwise it’ll be inconceivable that you could actually be happy. It’s not like there’s anything more to life than romantic relationships; replacing your bland love interest who died with a bland love-interest who wears leather and is therefore edgy is crucial to showing the audience that you’ve found true peace.

BATMAN: … With the woman who JUST handed me over to be tortured and murdered?

CATWOMAN: Look, I told you, I’m EDGY, but I have a conscience now. Your faith has changed me as a person.

BATMAN: Huh, weird. I thought the idea that sociopaths could be cured with love was debunked like 30 years ago.

CATWOMAN: Oh YEAH? Then how come you’re not arresting me?

BATMAN: I told you – you’re hot. You must have hidden depths. Besides, it’s totally gritty-yet-cute this way. 

Blake’s First Scene With Wayne is Ridiculous and Makes No Sense

Batman’s identity is SUPER-SECRET. NO ONE knows that shit but Pennyworth and Fox. So when a total stranger rocks up and tells Wayne that he knows who he is and he needs to become the Batman again, we can be forgiven for going “Whoaaaa – just how the hell did he find out?!”

… Er, he didn’t. Blake apparently took one look at Wayne and clocked him - orphan to orphan.

That’s right: ORPHAN-RADAR is how Blake (who had never even met Wayne in person before rolling into his house to drop some orphan-moralising on the retired superhero) figured out the Batman’s true identity. And you thought Princess Leia’s “I guess I knew all along, really (that you were in fact my biological brother when I was enthusiastically tonguing your face a while back)” was some weak-ass storytelling. Move over, Lucas; Nolan’s in the motherfucking house.

Speaking of Which, How the Actual Fuck Hasn’t EVERYONE Realised Wayne is the Batman?

So the caped crusader might have kept his identity a secret, but let’s start with what we know:
  • ·    He uses sweet technology, ergo we can conclude that he is a millionaire at the very least.
… Actually, that’s all the policewould really need to know to start digging; and since the Batman has been wanted for the murder of a beloved public figure for the last eight years, it seems inconceivable that they wouldn’t have gotten this far, at least.

... At which point they would have noticed that Wayne’s disappearances and reappearances from public life coincide with the masked vigilante’s. Oh, and by the way, his parents were murdered by criminals – can you say FITS THE FUCKING PROFILE? Seriously - after all that circumstantial, a simple alibi check would’ve narrowed it down enough to start moving on crime-scene forensics. In fact, the more I think about this bullshit, the more I’m starting to wonder if I got the fascist apologism thing wrong; maybe the movies are in fact a critique of the absolute incompetence of a police department unable to identify THE MOST POORLY-DISGUISED CRIMINAL EVER.

It Is Literally Impossible to Create Menace When Your Baddie Sounds Like Falcor from Neverending Story.


I think this one is pretty self-explanatory.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Spiritual Death and Cookies: Pride 2012

So, Pride 2012 has been accompanied by some news stories – some that show how it’s working, and others that show why it’s still necessary.

There are plenty of inclusive, sensitive people who think that battles against –isms have largely been won. Depending on your circumstances, you might find it’s easy to forget sometimes. You learn in school that men and women are equal and that we now know black people are just as good as white, even if some people whose views do not reflect our own treated their ancestors horribly hundreds of years ago. You learn about gay rights, and the massive disparity between the bigotry-ridden past and the progressive present.  You learn that things are different now, and that even if there’s still work to be done, they're getting better and better.

There is a myth of progress afoot in schools and popular history. We are invited to remember the wrongs of our ancestors, to examine them, (believe we) understand them, and make a theatre of warning from them so as not to be repeat them. We learn little of how they are repeated all around us every day. This has the effect of placing them squarely in the past, and we are encouraged to remember them as painful chapters from a history that we use to congratulate ourselves on how far we’ve come. 

Hopefully we wise up a bit as we get older and begin to understand something of how the world works. Still, if we are privileged enough, we can dismiss some of the most noxious forms of bigotry as so much background noise from a lunatic fringe that's on its way out.

Until the hard reality of this "progressive" present intrudes, of course, as it must. So you’re kind of shocked the first time you hear your disabled friend’s stories about the fucking vile shit people have said to him while he’s been out and about. You sit there nonplussed while Carol Sarler tells you what women are for (spoiler: it’s childbearing. Women who don’t want to be baby-machines are “weird”). You listen with growing depression as your younger relatives join the older in tirades of bile against Gays On the Bus, stare when the old white woman in front of you at the train station starts racially abusing the Indian ticket officer. You watch the bubble burst and think, “Have we really not come further than this?” 

Events like Pride are a mixed bag - of both progress made, and endemic bullshit yet to be conquered. Let’s start with the good. JCPenney have been in the news recently: earlier this year, they were publically called out by vigilante homophobes One Million Moms, whose actions here seem to revolve overwhelmingly around their morbid recurrent nightmares about gay sex.

Pictured: a homosexual, after corrupting your children and feeding off of their innocence.

Blogger ThemesOMM weren’t happy that the store was using openly gay Ellen Degeneres as its official spokesperson. JCPenney stood by their choice, telling OMM that Ellen reflected their values of unity and diversity, and politely insinuated that OMM could go fuck itself. Not long after this, the store followed up with a Mothers’ Day advert featuring two moms.

OMM were now really pissed off. When the gloves came off and the bigots came from far and wide to point the trembling finger of accusation, JCPenney responded to the homophobic backlash with a metaphorical finger of their own. This one took the form of a Fathers’ Day advert starring two dads, a real-life couple.

 And not a single fuck was given that day.
However sadly, JCPenney's slightly awesome trolling only tells one half of the extremely nasty story that is society's treatment of the LGBTQ community. Later on June 26th, the Oreo Facebook page posted a rainbow-filled cookie in honour of Gay Pride. And once again, while the response was reported by Oreo to have been mostly positive, it also brought out the people who remind us why Pride is still necessary when this post:

 ... spawned these responses (among others):


Meanwhile, the Salvation Army found themselves at the centre of a shit-storm that has left them tripping over themselves to passive-aggressively, sort-of-almost apologise, after an interview with Major Andrew Craibe, the Salvation Army’sTerritorial Media Relations Director, in Australia. According to the linked article, Craib made the following comments during the radio interview:

Ryan: According to the Salvation Army, [gay people] deserve death. How do you respond to that, as part of your doctrine?
Craibe:  Well, that’s a part of our belief system.
Ryan: So we should die.
Craibe: You know, we have an alignment to the Scriptures, but that’s our belief.
Ryan: … you’re proposing in your religious doctrine and the way that you train — this is part of your training of your soldiers — that because we’re gay, that we must die... I mean, how can you stand by that? How is that Christian?
Craibe: Well, well, because that is part of our Christian doctrine –
Ryan:  But how is that Christian? Shouldn’t it be about love?
Craibe: Well, the love that we would show is about that: consideration for all human beings to come to know salvation…
Ryan Or die…
Craibe: Well, yes.

I love it when people talk about aspects of their faith that make them uncomfortable as though they have nothing to do with them. "Look man, it's not me, it's the CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE". Oh really? Well in that case, fuck you twice, for not even having your own individual reasons for being full of hate.

The SA weren’t done, though – there was still a whole world out there to salvation from its own gayness. The only thing more quease-inducing than the interview itself was the half-arsed "Love us, we're LIBRULLS!!" disclaimer they added to their FAQ afterwards, in response to the controversy Craib’s comments generated:

Do Salvation Army full members believe, as per the Salvationist Handbook of Doctrine, that practising homosexuals should be put to death? Why, or why not?
Salvation Army members do not believe, and would never endorse, a view that homosexual activity should result in any form of physical punishment. The Salvationist Handbook of Doctrine does not state that practising homosexuals should be put to death and, in fact, urges all Salvationists to act with acceptance, love and respect to all people. The Salvation Army teaches that every person is of infinite value, and each life a gift from God to be cherished, nurtured and preserved.
Why include in your handbook the Romans text from The Bible, which indicates that God insists that homosexuals deserve to die?
This is a misunderstanding of the text referred to. The Scripture in question, viewed in its broader context, is not referring to physical death, nor is it specifically targeted at homosexual behaviour. The author is arguing that no human being is without sin, all sin leads to spiritual death (separation from God), and all people therefore need a Saviour.
Isn’t this inherently anti-Christian, to believe people should be put to death?
The Salvation Army Australia Eastern Territory acknowledges that the response in the interview has led to a serious misunderstanding of our teaching and that clarification should have been given during the interview.
The Salvation Army believes in the sanctity of all human life and believes it would be inconsistent with Christian teaching to call for anyone to be put to death. We consider every person to be of infinite value, and each life a gift from God to be cherished, nurtured and preserved.
Do you feel you owe an apology or explanation to all those gay and lesbian volunteers and people your organisation supports?
The Salvation Army sincerely apologises to all members of the GLBT community and to all our clients, employees, volunteers and those who are part of our faith communities for the offence caused by this miscommunication.

"Uhhh... love and respect to all... every human life a gift... *some semi-audible rambling to effect of "why y'all keep going on about butt-sex, clearly the author was referring to SPIRITUAL DEATH"*... All a huge misunderstanding... no human being without sin... apologise to the LGBT community for sounding like we want you to die when actually, we just want to save you from the SPIRITUAL DEATH of your unnatural lifestyles... so, we cool now, guys? Guys?"

Both strides and stark reminders pepper Pride, as they do all marginal movements. But although it's hard to get starry-eyed over the motives of corporations in these times, it's at least nice to know that tolerance is becoming as profitable a line to toe as bigotry. Fuck it, I'm feeling sentimental, and the colours in that cookie up there take me to a world where every food company follows JCPenney’s and Oreo’s example, and the “spiritual death” of sharing a world with PURE GAY EVIL becomes actual death from starvation on the hunger strikers’ own self-righteousness. It will be glorious: rainbows will adorn the sky, and lions will lie down with lambs, and NOT fuck them because the lambs haven’t grown into sheep yet and gay # paedophile.

Happy Pride!

Friday, 13 January 2012

George R. R. Martin’s Identity Politics: Or, The Many Levels of My Hatred of Sansa Stark

***WARNING: contains spoilers for both the TV series and the novels.

A Song of Ice and Fire gives me a big nerdy happy - from political wrangling to zombie hordes to fight scenes that have my inner twelve-year-old punching the air, there’s a lot to like. Pretty high on this list is the brilliant Tyrion Lannister, whose narrative contains some of the most poignant passages to be found about the dehumanizing nature of prejudice, in a culture that is utterly mired in its poison.

Oh yeah, and he talks exclusively in zingers.

In an early exchange with Jon Snow, Tyrion tells him, “Let me give you some advice, bastard: Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you”; when Snow demands to know what he could possibly know about being a bastard, Tyrion replies, “Every dwarf is a bastard in his father’s eyes”. By equating the bastard’s plight with his own, he creates a point of connection against a dominant social discourse that makes outcasts of many, from the whores and the bastards to the handicapped and the queer. And from the illicit gay relationship between Renly and Tyrell, to the company of criminals and unwanted sons turned soldiers known as the Night’s Watch, considerable space is afforded to such marginal voices.

In this spirit, the novels locate heteronormative patriarchal structures as the site of misery: both political and forced marriages are the norm, most of the marriages shown are unhappy in some way, and bastard children both rife and unashamedly marginalized by the culture that creates them. And casual, institutionalised violence against women is a huge part of this culture, in which forced marriage, rape and sexual slavery are common. There’s even a guy who gets his rocks off by releasing women into the forest and hunting them like animals. 

Something I have in no way considered doing to my friend Mike, the next time he shows up unasked, empties my fridge and smokes all my weed.

I don’t necessarily think that Martin always nails these marginal voices. For example, I don’t think he’s particularly good at female characters. He’s not terrible, either: Arya Stark is great, and the Lady of the Thorns is so magnificent I wouldn’t mind being her when I grow up (I have a strange but deep affinity with really crotchety old people).

However Daenerys, Cersei and Catelyn Stark bored me rigid on the page. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed their chapters when something was happening with the story – battles, political wrangling, possibly a bit of pillaging – but when events took a break in favour of the characters’ general inner life, their voices were kind of… bland. To my mind, all three are far more interesting and sympathetic on the screen, mostly because Emilia Clarke and Lena Heady in particular are absolutely brilliant in their roles. In the novels, Cersei starts out with the ghost of a human side (such as it is) buried underneath her villainy; but as things progress this degenerates into a two-dimensional portrait of someone who’s so evil it becomes frankly cartoonish. Heady skilfully draws out this human side amidst the general vileness of Cersei, while Clarke adds a layer of steel to the initial vulnerability of babe in the woods-turned-warrior Daenerys. Both actors vastly improve characters whose narratives were mediocre on the page.

Granted, his depiction of the Dothraki is… orientalist, shall we say.


But this is at least somewhat balanced by the fact that the more European-based culture of the Seven Kingdoms is no less brutal or violent than that of the warrior tribe. Indeed, Daenerys finds an acceptance and identity among the latter that was completely out of reach among her ‘own kind’, whose own culture brutalizes women just as savagely as that of the raping, pillaging horselords.

I'm not trying to claim that it’s a ground-breaking work of identity politics or anything - there are still unfilled spaces and outright problems. Figures from non-European cultures are depicted mostly through their interactions with overwhelmingly white characters from the Seven Kingdoms; the Dothraki, despite being a major presence throughout the series, depend entirely upon Daenerys’s narrative for their place in the story, with no voices emerging from within the horselord culture itself.

In addition, Cersei’s honey-trap with Lady Merryweather is the only significant interlude on lesbian sexuality, and its primary function is to cement Cersei’s status as a scheming whore who will do anything – ‘and Martin means anything’ - to get her way. Meanwhile, the relationship I mentioned between Renly and the Knight of the Flowers takes place entirely off the page. (In fairness, I have no idea whether Martin stayed away from queer sexuality because it makes him uncomfortable on some level, or simply because he had no direct experience and didn’t want to offend by running his mouth on something he knew little about on a personal level. The show added a scene with Renly and Tyrell in an unambiguously homoerotic context, which was welcome and needed.)

But shortfalls aside, there seems to be an honest attempt to bring in marginal voices from all over both the cultures he draws upon, and the elements of prejudice within them which endure today. And in all the brutality and violence of medieval culture, the most disturbing thing of all is its echoes in how we live today. The burnings, lynching, stonings, and hangings which form some of the most savage passages still occur daily around the world, and many of the shocking injustices the series depicts are still going on, from political corruption and exploitation of the ‘smallfolk’, to the rape, child abuse and violent deaths of millions. The series also magnifies the prejudices that recent years have tempered in western society– racism, sexism, homophobia, stigmatization of disability, etc. – into the stark and unapologetic forms that our culture’s own recent past is mired in.

Much of it is sensationalized to the point of gratuity, of course; part of the guilty pleasure of the books is the way they revel in their own excesses of violence, sex, ritual and arbitrary custom. The fight scenes are wish-fulfilment awesome, the fucking’s dirty, and the magic hammy enough to satisfy the most stalwart of nerds.

However, problems aside, I’d at least judge that an honest effort has been made to engage with plurality and marginal voices. And provided a piece of art doesn’t try to pedal ideology that’s outlandishly ignorant or downright offensive, I don’t always disagree with people who defend it against the charge of lacking intellectual substance by going, “Yeah, but it’s not supposed to be a sophisticated exploration of cultural nuances – this right here is about some zombie fucking bears.

Well… all right, only one zombie fucking bear. But still, zombie fucking bear, which I think we can all agree is automatically awesome.

So basically, I accept that with its excesses come problems, but overall I’m generally comfortable with the intent as I perceive it. Yet, when it comes to the character of Sansa, I felt like it just started wallowing in its own excesses to a point that became annoying, given that it’s in her chapters that gratuitous violence and sadism meet the series’ weakest characterization.

If you feel voyeuristic reading Sansa’s passages, it might be because the books offer her up as nothing more than the site of a suffering which is meted out with incessant authorial sadism. We are shown an innocent, who believes in all the ‘right’ things for a girl of her age and class – love, honour, romance, chivalry. Then we are shown her being systematically destroyed before our eyes. First her supposed handsome prince proves to be a vicious sociopathic little shit, who eventually executes her father in front of her; she is nonetheless expected to marry him and lives as a hostage of his scheming mother’s in dread of her first period, at which time she will be wed to him. Meanwhile, he spends their pre-nuptial days days forcing her to look at her father’s head on a spike, trying to publically strip her before his uncle intervenes, and having his knights beat her.

It’s not the fact that she doesn’t fight back physically that makes her character so frustrating – in fairness, she’s cornered and outnumbered. It’s the way she remains mentally passive and naïve throughout, a little too long after she’s learned the hard way that life isn’t fair. Her beliefs are exposed as a sham very early in the series, but she never quite learns the lesson, to the point where it’s starting to become unclear how stupid she could possibly be. She simply continues to exist, clinging to her courtesies, smiling through the tears and hoping for a better tomorrow: a state of affairs that continues long after becoming ridiculous.

And it’s even worse in the TV series. Sophie Turner’s Sansa is just as dull and irritating, but with an edge of spoilt brattiness that was missing from the sweet airhead of the books. While book-Sansa saves her sniping for her little sister Arya and is considered a total doll by everyone else, series-Sansa is petulant and rude to pretty much everyone around her.

 Seriously. Even her face is whiny.

Reading the books, something I noticed is that Sansa doesn’t mentally direct her passages with her own thoughts as much as the other major characters; her chapters generally revolve around protracted accounts of other people’s physical and mental abuse of her, rather than a strong inner voice addressing us. And the potential impact of her horrific situation is diluted by this very blandness of her character. She’s too boring and underdeveloped to really attach to; ergo, it’s hard to care when others brutalize her. It gets old fast.

In A Clash of Kings she’s offered the chance of escape by the Hound, who asks her to flee with him; but she of course merely shits herself on the inside while smiling politely at him, as is her custom. She doesn’t go, because although he is the only person in her new life of horror who has ever shown her any kindness, he’s also a dangerous and downright intimidating figure who often frightens her when in his cups. He is also sexually threatening towards her, to the point where she imagines him to have forced a violent kiss upon her before he flees, and later confesses to Arya that he seriously considered raping her. In fairness, sitting that road trip out might have been one of her better decisions.

 He doesn’t exactly come over as the kind of guy who’d see a girl home safe.

So instead, Sansa sits back and waits for a true knight. However, Ser Dontos comes to her dressed, fittingly, as a fool, and frequently slobbers over and kisses her when drunk. His far more overt sexual interest is masked in courtly language, as he calls her Jonquil and waxes sentimental about her sweetness; but it proves just as predatory (and far less honest) when it is Dontos, this knight who has promised to save her, who betrays her. Instead of being spirited away to the medieval equivalent of a safe house, she is sold out to Petyr Baelish, who paid Dontos to bring her to him.

Also, while all this is being set in motion, Joffrey is regularly threatening Sansa with rape - even after she has been forcibly married to his uncle.

 For the love of god, someone buy the girl some pepper spray.

So the gallant saviour has proven just as much a myth as the happily-ever-after with the handsome and virtuous prince. Yet Sansa still does not reject it completely, believing herself reasonably safe with Baelish, who styles his own sexual interest in her as fatherly concern. She continues to cling to Baelish as her friend and saviour, despite the distinct flickers of sociopathy that even she can’t entirely miss; like the way he lights up when he talks of power and manipulation, and the time he tried to kiss her in the snow.

And the murder. That, too.

That she stays with Baelish even after seeing him kill her aunt is fair do’s - she has, after all, few other options (and to be fair the mad bitch did just try to throw her out the Moon Door). The main problem is that, occasional perfunctory fears for her life and maidenhead notwithstanding, it fails to occur to her with any real clarity that Baelish might not really be her friend. Arya would challenge him, question him and watch him. Sansa on the other hand simply figures, “Well, he’s amoral, sinister and inclined to betray those around him at the drop of a hat, but he’s always been nice to me…” In fairness, we already knew she wasn’t the best judge of character; but it’s still a bit of a stretch to believe anyone could still, after all the betrayals she has experienced, be that naïve.

Sansa is literally nothing but the embodiment of a trite archetype: the gleefully sadistic destruction of the innocent. Which is fine if it comes attached to something interesting: all the content in the world can be written on the back of a postage stamp and all that. But it doesn’t. This function aside, she is completely characterless - even her own mother can’t think of a more potent description of her personality than, “She’s sweet, and she likes songs and lemon cakes.”

Pictured: Sansa’s hopes and dreams.

I guess that’s why her chapters got old for me so quickly. It reminded me of American Psycho; where a characterless narrator directs the story, even content that should be shocking quickly becomes tired and dull. It’s one thing to depict the circumstances of a person utterly trapped by forces they are helpless to fight, or even fully understand; it’s another to make this character so boring.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

I Carp Because I Love: A Disclaimer

So I sat down earlier to write a post about A Song of Ice and Fire. I have an unreasonably deep affection for both the book series and HBO’s Game of Thrones: I love the mountain men, the zombies, the direwolves, the epic battles and gloriously pretentious speeches, the howling landscapes of the North and the Grecian-Medieval opulence of the South. But when I tried to shit out something to that effect, I somehow seem to have ended up with some reflections on the series' identity politics that quickly morph into a lengthy rant on how much I hate Sansa Stark, detailing the ways in which the character sucks and is terribly written. I got to wondering how that happened.

 Apart from the obvious, I mean, like her stupid whiny fucking FACE.
I’ve always believed that it’s important to be critical and interrogative of art in general, and of the things we enjoy most of all. We are all inclined to forgive faults in things we love – which is fine, but we need to know what they are before we can do so with any degree of lucidity. Otherwise, we might find ourselves reaching the point where we can’t tell an artist’s best work from their poorest – it all becomes identical under the umbrella of uncritical habitual loyalty. People simply decide, “Yeah, I like South Park/Doctor Who/whatever”, to the point where they fail to notice the slow slide into stale concepts and overused jokes, or gaping plotholes and rampant self-contradiction. Some even get pissy and defensive if you point them out.

Take the Weeping Angels from Doctor Who, who made their first appearance in the brilliant episode Blink. As well as being some of the most genuinely scary monsters in Who history, these guys have a pretty cool premise: appearing in the guise of stone angel statues, they can only move when no one is looking at them. The statues usually cover their faces, hence the name “the weeping angels”, to avoid accidentally being seen even by one another. As the Doctor puts it, “They're quantum locked. They don't exist when they're being observed. The moment they are seen by any other living creature, they freeze into rock. No choice, it's a fact of their biology. In the sight of any living thing they literally turn to stone. And you can't kill a stone. 'Course, a stone can't kill you either, but.... then you turn your head away. Then you blink - and oh yes, it can.” (Blink, written by Stephen Moffat.)

But here’s his advice in a  later episode, in which Amy is surrounded by weeping angels and is unable to open her eyes: “You can’t stop them in their tracks by looking at them? No problem. Just… pretend like you can see. I’ll guide you on this little monitor thingy. It’ll be just like Knightmare, yo!” (Flesh and Stone, also written by Stephen Moffatt. Well... I may have paraphrased. But honestly, not that much.)

I seriously can’t tell you the arguments I’ve had about this. The other side’s counterpoint is usually some variant of “Well it’s fantasy, rules are fluid, get over it”. I WILL NOT, because they know she can’t see them because if she could, they would be physically unable to move. The very fact that they are not forcibly frozen TELLS them that she cannot see them - those are Moffat’s OWN WORDS and you can take that to the fucking bank. I am right about this and fuck you all for being too dumb to see that you're being taken for FOOLS.

 Pictured: my White Whale, and the ruination of every party I've attended since FaS aired.

However, despite my strong feelings on this and other such pointd, I love Doctor Who with a ferocity that means I'll probably never stop watching it no matter how ridiculous the storylines get, how poor the writing, or how annoying the sidekicks.

My friends often accuse me of being ornery when I pick apart things they (and I) like. I prefer to think of it as refusing to eat shit along with my art, but whatever; you say potato, I say fuck you and learn to distinguish an artist's best work from the product of their withering contempt for you as a person. 

Anyway… that’s essentially my way of telling you that just because I might from time to time tear something apart, ridicule its plot devices or make fun of its stupid name, it doesn’t mean I’m not secretly a massive geek for it. Things should be pulled apart, even if they're things you love. Artists should be called bullshit on if they try to feed you shit that doesn’t make sense within the bounds of their own stories. Suspending disbelief is central to enjoying fantasy, even more so than other art forms, but that doesn’t mean you get to create an intricate world with its own set of rules only to flagrantly ignore them when you can’t be bothered to accommodate them any more. It’s lazy, annoying, and implies very strongly that you think your audience is stupid.

This is what I want to tell people when they get pissy and jump to the defence of plot-holes or annoyingly generic stock characters or whatever, on the basis of “Lighten up”. It’s almost as though the reasoning goes: You are making fun of something I like; therefore, you are making fun of me; therefore, you are being arrogant and treating me like I’m stupid. But this is the whole point of what I’m saying. Take the Doctor Who example above. I love DW too. The subtext of my ranting is not that you’re stupid for liking it; it’s that Moffatt  sure seems to think we’re all freaking idiots, who won’t notice if he just skates over a total change of rules with no explanation. (Speaking of, Walking Dead, I’m coming for you. Just as soon as I run out of weed.)

And in that so-called contrary spirit that isn't really, I should probably note that I consider Moffatt’s work on Doctor Who during the Russell T. Davis years to be among both the best Who and the greatest things ever... fair do's and all that.