Into the Spider-Verse: a Brief Review

Art is subjective, and generally the most thought-provoking and helpful reviews, analyses, and critiques of art are nuanced and highlight various details in new and interesting ways.

With that said, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the best superhero that currently exists.

Uh. The end.

Advertisements

The Uncomfortable Reality of Racism in the Animal Rights Movement

I had this as a tangent in a review of the book Sistah Vegan, and decided to re-post it now as its own thing, in response to the news that Belgium made Halal and Kosher slaughter methods illegal. I made it a little smarter, because new year, new look, new Paige.

new paige


Here are a couple of comments I stumbled upon recently, in response to an animal advocacy group sharing an article that said Canada was badly ranked for it’s treatment of animals (unsurprising).

halal comment

The first comment is frustratingly ignorant. The SPCA can only do so much, because the laws need to be updated. Pay attention to who you’re voting for. The laws also require law enforcement officers who are actually interested in enforcing the laws in order to be effective. Pay attention to who isn’t doing the enforcing and give them hassle when they fail to act.

The second comment is, you know, racist.

It’s ignorant, too, because, really. What is the SPCA supposed to do about an industry practice that is entirely legal and defined as “not animal cruelty” and instead one of the acceptable methods of slaughter?

I should expand on the “racist” thing though because I happen to know some people IRL who would take issue with that label, annoyingly. “It can’t be racist if it’s about a religion” OK Brent, best case scenario you’re a bigot, congrats, but I’m still going to call it racism because Islamaphobia gets directed at anyone who looks vaguely brown.

Why is it a problem that people are against the Halal slaughter method? Well – in an ideal world, it wouldn’t be a problem. Halal slaughter isn’t great, where animals are concerned. It requires animals to be alert during slaughter whereas otherwise the animal would be stunned first – although personally I think it’s not the biggest difference because animals slaughtered for food tend to be at least somewhat aware of what they’re heading for before they get stunned, especially if the slaughterhouse is badly designed or not following the top guidelines. But it makes enough of a difference to the individual animals that really that sort of practice shouldn’t be allowed – in an ideal world, where this slaughter method wasn’t a religious law and freedom.

Why single out Halal? Kosher is exactly the same. Also, why single out either Halal or Kosher? Why not single out the industry standard practice of grinding up male chicks while they’re still alert? That is not done because of religious laws, just for, I don’t know, expedience, maybe. Or what about gestation crates for pig mothers, which is a practice that causes immense suffering for years on end rather than for just a split second at slaughter? How about going after gigantic quotas that lead to massive stress among the already stressed-out workers, which of course leads to physical abuse of the animals, either as a necessity for reaching quota or as an outlet for frustration?

How I deal with Halal and Kosher is that I’m mostly silent about it, because there are, in fact, animal advocates of both the Muslim and Jewish persuasions who are having these conversations within their own communities and it isn’t my place as some rando Catholic to butt in. Why not allow them to take care of their own cultural practices, particularly these days, when their communities are under quite a bit of stress because of certain unmentionable somehow elected officials? Really, ever since September 11, 2001, it hasn’t been the opportune moment to start browbeating Muslim people about one of their cultural practices that isn’t the greatest for animals. Especially when non-Muslim Canadians aren’t exactly lining up to tidy up our own garbage practices.

Canada has plenty of animal rights issues to tackle that are not specific to Muslim or Jewish religious laws. Like the seal hunt.* Like all of those other meat industry standard practices I mentioned. How about the transportation of pigs for slaughter? That was kind of a big deal a while ago.

Also, Islam is in many ways a pretty animal-friendly religion. Sure, Halal requires animals to be alert for slaughter and there are the sacrificial animals during Eid al-Adha, but Muslims are technically not supposed to eat pork ever (good for pigs), and one of the pillars of Islam is fasting, which leads some Muslims to abstain from meat for lengthy time periods each year for their spiritual health (good for food animals in general).

I don’t know this commenter and for all I know “Halal” was just the first thing that popped into their head when it occurred to them to email the SPCA. But probably not. I think it’s more than safe to say that this is an example of someone who probably does care about animals, but who also is upset about Muslim people existing nearby and has decided to kill two birds with one stone and join the two pet causes.

I’m ashamed to say I didn’t speak up here. I seriously considered it. I think things like this hurt everyone, because first of all, it’s racist, which is never good, and then there’s the fact that there easily could be a Muslim person scrolling through these comments, and animal rights needs allies, and to have allies we need to make people feel welcome, and not make them feel like they do anywhere people enthusiastically voted for Stephen Harper and his low key Islamaphobia. Finally, it does delegitimize us. People are looking for any excuse to dismiss animal rights as a thing worth discussing, and if you’re using it as a platform to be racist, you’ve basically handed them a perfect reason, the best possible reason, to stop listening forever.

The reason I didn’t speak up is sort of complicated. The first problem is that Facebook will then plaster that conversation on the walls of my friends, some of whom are my coworkers, and I didn’t want them to see me calling a stranger an Islamaphobe. And that’s basically what it would have been, because the second problem was that I couldn’t come up with anything calm and reasonable to say.

I still think the right thing to do was to think about it for a while and then post something along the lines of, “Hi there – Islam is a pretty animal-friendly religion, actually, considering the fasting and such, and there are lots of other, non-Islamic and totally legal industry practices that cause a lot of suffering to food animals, none of which the SPCA is capable of ending on its own. We need to vote smarter and put pressure on our elected officials so that they know we want animal welfare improvements. And also eat less meat, person who probably eats a lot of non-Halal and still probably inhumanely procured meat. Have a LOVELY non–Muslim-hating day!”

Alas. Next time.


*This was in the Sistah Vegan review without a line through it. I put one through it now because I can’t ignore that activists honing in on the seal hunt hurt First Nations people. It hurt them in the past, it hurt them in the more recent past, and it continues to hurt them now.

still think the fact that the federal government is very loud and perfomative in its support of First Nations people when it comes to the seal hunt but has militia-looking RCMP officers arrest pipeline protesters, who are not only protesting something ecologically damaging but also something illegal, which is a pipeline being built through lands that belong to First Nations peoples and not to The Crown, is more than a little bit important. If the world is moving on from seal products (and it looks like it is, for now), we should just develop a good basic income program and pilot it with people who are trying to sustain themselves on that industry, supplementing their seal income, and also maybe we can not build the stupid pipeline and actually deal with the multitude of other ways the First Nations are still being violated in this country.

Projecting onto the Tudors

I’m one of those people who can’t help but be fascinated by the Tudors and the entire historical era they lived in and shaped. There are just so many questions to ask and events to contemplate, stemming from, in my opinion anyway, the fact that it’s almost impossible to look at the sequence of events of all of these peoples’ lives without concluding, unfairly, with no real evidence, but still pretty soundly, that they were all so miserable.

Henry VIII is the best example of this. Of course he was miserable. His claim to the throne was fine but not unshakable, and he had various enemies. He needed, as all monarchs do, a male heir, but this eluded him for quite some time. His inability to procure one is Shakespearean. Well, it’s not, because Shakespeare wasn’t a thing until Elizabeth I had been queen for a while, and even then he was kind of low-brow during his own time, but, you know what I mean. Henry’s is the perfect story about toxic and fragile masculinity, and it actually happened.

His kids just make everything more poetic. His much desired male heir died far too young without a male heir of his own. Edward was also clearly manipulated by his skeevy regeant who made him remove his sisters from the line of inheritance before he died. Still, one after the other, both of Henry’s daughters, who he’d disowned/disavowed/divorced and executed the mothers of/threatened to execute over the years took her turn on the throne. Mary I had to take the throne by force, riding in with an army and her sister at her side, which is super cool and I want to watch that movie, frankly. That movie is unlikely, though, because Mary managed to become somewhat unpopular by executing Protestants a little too cruelly and by marrying some Spanish guy (xenophobia never goes out of fashion). Much after her own time, history made her even more unpopular as anti-Catholicism came back into fashion in England, harder. That’s one interesting detail. Another is: hey, look, that’s the second Henry kid without an heir, and the question hanging menacingly in the air as she got older without getting pregnant: would she let her Protestant sister, cleverly pretending to be a Catholic, succeed her?

The answer was yes, and everyone is in love with Elizabeth I who is the perfect, absolutely perfect, poetic justice of an ending to Henry VIII’s legacy. Some depictions of the Tudors love to point that out rather bluntly, like the ending of The Other Boleyn Girl.

Elizabeth herself dies without an heir, and isn’t that amazing: all three of his kids managed to hold onto the throne and never provide the heir everyone was always angsting about.

It’s the perfect story. And it really happened.

But so did a lot of other things which were absolutely horrific.

It’s really easy to sympathize with and fully, whole-heartedly love a charismatic actor playing a 1500s monarch who says something about how people shall be allowed to worship as they please in a time of religious strife. The guy behind me in my screening of Mary Queen of Scots did. He said, “YES,” after Saoirse Ronan playing Mary, Queen of Scots, said basically that. And me, too, sure. I as a kid did that thing too, watching Cate Blanchett say something less progressive (because Bess wasn’t as progressive, unfortunately), in the rather unfortunately anti-Catholic Elizabeth I.

[quick sidenote: I’m Catholic and Catholicism should absolutely be critiqued and even made fun at all times, but a) nuance, and b) Catholics had it rough in England during Elizabeth and for a long long time after her, so, nyeh, and c) NUANCE PLEASE and also d) I still love that movie]

But, uh, this same magnanimity was not extended as kindly to Jewish people, and/or Romani people, and/or plenty of other groups at the time. I’m not actually sure how Mary was on the subject of antisemitism, but, I’m just going to assume she wasn’t good.

Watching The Tudors, which is actually the only TV series I have on DVD without regretting spending all of the money, is interesting, because while like most other film adaptations of this historical period, it obviously overdramatizes some most things, it also does provide some amount of nuance. I mean, it also helped to Google stuff as I went along, and to have taken sixteenth century English lit courses which provided a lot academic context, but, still. It’s better than Elizabeth I, at least. One of the most important elements of context that The Tudors doesn’t skimp on is how huge the religion question was to these people, Catholic and Protestant alike.

It seems ridiculous now, so of course the monarchs professing some amount of moderation seem like the best people (even if they did execute their fair share of “heretics” – and I’m looking at you, Elizabeth I). At the time, which denomination you were was high stakes stuff, however much it seems backwards to us in the 21st century.

It was less high stakes if you were royalty. For example, Elizabeth got to renounce her professed Catholicism and be a Protestant queen as soon as she was crowned. Mary I got to be fully Catholic again as soon as she was crowned, despite signing a thing declaring her father to be the head of the Church in England. And although Henry insisted she sign it, his very prominently Protestant adviser Thomas Cromwell supposedly advocated for her to not have to sign it, since everyone knew she was so devout. Mary herself may have been a little naive, but surely she had some inkling that her sister wasn’t really going to keep up the Catholicism when she took the throne. Maybe not. But if she did, then her sister’s incorrect faith didn’t matter enough to Mary to have Elizabeth exiled, or executed.

The implications of that are that people at the time, including the commoners, believed strongly that you had to worship the right way to get into heaven if you were a commoner, but, the higher towards nobility you were, the more God loved you, so, you could do whatever you wanted, really.

That is definitely no stunning revelation. I think we all know that’s how people at the time felt, but I would suggest that most adaptations avoid getting into how, uh, tyrannical some of these monarchs truly were. There are a couple of considerations there. First, they thought they had every right to be, and even most of their subjects thought so too. Paradigms have shifted, so it’s certainly not fair to judge their actions entirely based on current morality. Second, you can’t be honest and show everything – the antisemitism, the torture of the (usually poor, elderly) women they honestly thought were witches, the animal cruelty, and, hey, didn’t colonialism start happening at this point, complete with slavery – and have people actually sympathize with your characters.

Removing the Tudors (and those adjacent to them) from their own historical context just enough to make them palatable is a good strategy for making watchable movies and television. It’s also helpful if you’d like to use their stories to comment on what’s happening now.

But what’s relevant about these people these days?

Go see Mary Queen of Scots to find out, but here’s a short list:

  • comparing Mary to Elizabeth, this movie manages to make a point very, very compellingly: that if Elizabeth had married and had given birth to a male heir, she quite likely would have been deposed and/or betrayed by some useless husband. We can never know, of course. But this movie makes its case, and of the various explanations I’ve seen in fictionalized portrayals of Elizabeth, this is my favourite. It gives her more agency than Elizabeth I‘s “I don’t trust men, they’re all cheaters and also transphobia” does. (There’s more to it than that, but, still). The Royal Diaries series version of Elizabeth has her, at a very young age, declare that she will never become a wife because she was traumatized by watching Catherine Parr run screaming through a hall before being arrested, which was effective and, frankly, excellent children’s literature, but I still like this movie’s version better
  • men are out specifically, purposefully, to destroy women’s political careers because they resent taking orders from women, because they are misogynists. “Not all men” and whatnot but hey, it’s still Trump’s America and this movie noticed.
  • it’s possible to make a movie about actual real-life female rivals, who actually in real life got into some situations that required one of them to have the other one executed, and still have – like – Margot Robbie has this very fictionalized speech where she’s imagining what she would say to Mary if she could and it’s, yeah, very fictional, but also gorgeous. I think both of them cry when they see each other for the first and only time – they have a lot of animosity but they’re also lovely the whole time, fascinated by one another, they love each other, and BLESS this movie for that because OF COURSE they would have on at least some level
  • this movie proves that you can put actors who are people of colour into a British period piece playing historical people who IRL would likely have been white, and the world doesn’t end
  • it also proves you can add in queer characters without being bigoted (coughing pointedly at Elizabeth I) – but I have some caveats to that which are, and I quote, “OK but you put one gay man and one trans person in this movie and both of them are horrifically murdered, wtf”

Anyway, there are probably more, but this movie was very good. It’s good enough just for the actors to do their things in cool costumes (and probably win awards), but it’s also just good, including my multiple caveats, most of which I’m not going to add in here. It was quite refreshing after the anti-Catholicism of Elizabeth I and it’s sequel, if I remember correctly, which handles the Mary Queen of Scots thing quite differently.

I wish I could have written something more insightful about the Tudors and how we keep telling their stories, and maybe one day I will, but for now, this will have to do.

(OK BUT)

(HE EVEN MAKES A NON-APOLOGY THAT SHE SNEERS AT)

(“I REGRET THAT YOU PERCEIVE ME AS A FAILURE”)

(OMG THIS MOVIE IS A PRODUCT EXACTLY OF ITS TIME)

Let Us Watch All Seven Harry Potter Christmas Scenes

Because why goddamn not, right?

(well, maybe because the books are right there and they’re better, did you ever think about that?)

(shh)


Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Christmas

philosopher's stone christmas 2

What do I remember of this Christmas? Well, in the book, Ron makes a comment about turnips and he gets a maroon jumper (… sweater?) and the twins get jumpers too that have the first letters of their names on them, leading to the best joke ever:

“But we’re not stupid. We know we’re called Gred and Forge.”

And for some reason, that isn’t in the movie.

To be fair, it’s the sort of joke that is delightful and amazing while you’re reading it as a kid (and as a half-serious adult, too), but maybe it doesn’t work as well on screen.

So how’s the movie version?

To this movie’s immense credit, it includes a scene of Hagrid dragging in a huge tree.

And wizard’s chess.

This was before Steve Kloves stopped letting Ron be capable of basic human function.

Ron and Hermione are behaving like their book selves. This is the last time it will ever happen.

Ron’s jumper has an “R.” Awwww, they’re cute. They’re actually like real friends in this movie!

Ron knows what an invisibility cloak is. Amazingly, flabbergastingly, they don’t have Hermione show back up from her holiday to explain it while Ron goes, “Uhhh IDK.”

At this point, in the book, everything gets really sad, what with Harry wasting his vacation staring at his parents in the mirror until Dumbledore shows up and kindly convinces him to move on. The movie does it too, somewhat less impressively in my opinion, but it’s all there.

philosopher's stone christmas

Well that was cute. I know this movie is a bit underwhelming, but I am pretty fond of it. At least it tried. And honestly, it’s the closest they ever got, characterization-wise.

Which is… sad.

Moving right along…

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Sugar Plums

chamber of secrets christmas

In this one (in the book) Harry’s a pariah, right? And both Ron and Hermione stay over Christmas because they feel bad for him? Or is that another year… or is that multiple years because they’re such good friends honestly that’s all the movies needed to do right, just that one thing, and wow, did they mess it up.

This one again has lovely Christmas imagery and music.

All the Weasleys stayed? I call a foul.

chamber of secrets christmas 2

Polyjuice Potion. They did that on Christmas. Savage.

They’re still letting Ron be genuinely funny, which is surprising. And this is the only scene where Hermione makes a mistake and we can all giggle at her.

Also, this thing where they still sound like themselves on the potion is so bad.

Draco: “I didn’t know you could read.”

The Slytherin common room is decorated.

Draco: “You think there’s someone here who’s WORSE than Dumbledore?”

Harry: “… Harry Potter?”

Draco: “Good one, Goyle.”

Wow.

This movie is honestly amazing.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Jolly Old Saint Nick

prisoner of azkaban christmas 2

In the book………… is that where Neville loses his slip of passwords and then Sirius breaks in and then Sir Cadogan gets fired as the replacement Fat Lady?

This is the best movie.

Hedwig brings winter in this one, which is beautiful. And this time, it’s Harry watching everyone else go to Hogsmeade. The twins feature, gifting Harry with the Maurauder’s Map.

Or course these two figured out the code to the Map was “I solemnly swear that I’m up to no good.”

Harry: “And that – no. Is that really -”

Fred: “Dumbledore.”

George: “In his study.”

Fred: “Pacing.”

George: “Does that a lot.”

Ron and Hermione are awkward together, which is incorrect, and then Harry terrorizes Malfoy.

prisoner of azkaban christmas 1

Does Christmas not feature in this movie?

It does not.

Instead, Harry yells about Sirius and it’s stupid.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Christmas Pudding

goblet of fire christmas

Oh great, the Yule Ball.

Aww, who put up the garland in the Gryffindor common room? It’s even red and gold! (It was the House Elves, wasn’t it. I’d rather believe it was all the boys though.)

Ron and Hermione’s dynamic is absolute garbage here. It was already bad in the book (deliberately) but man, they made it so much worse.

But McGonagall is here and is great. Where is the festive thistle on her hat though?

Remember how ridiculous it is that Hermione looks no different?

Mrs Norris has red eyes. How did Ginny afford new dress robes? Oh, come on. I wanted to see some vintage Weasley women’s attire, because Ron’s outfit is actually the best one of the night. Actually I now remember something about how Ginny got new ones as a present for something. Still.

The poor Patil twins. Harry and Ron are terrible dates and should have just gone to this dance together. It would have been so much better for everyone involved, but, alas, heteronormativity.

Harry is 100% in love with Ron in this book though. It’s easy to forget because the movie flubs it entirely, but he is so in love with him. As friends, sure, but it’s serious love. And they more or less do go together. They walk around dejected in the rose garden and hide in a bush and eavesdrop on Hagrid together.

I like how in the book, Hermione screams at Ron, gets the last word in, and makes him feel stupid, but in the movie he just makes her cry and then walks off with Harry calling her “scary.”

Oh good, it’s over.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Carol of the Bells

order of the phoenix christmas 2

In the book, Harry attacks/saves Arthur, and then goes to Grimmauld Place for Christmas and feels really guilty about everything. I think this time, the movie does it justice.

Let’s see, then.

Ew, Harry kisses Cho and then tells Ron and Hermione about it. I hate it it’s so awkward.

Christmas the First in Which Nagini Features. She will return. And how.

This is one of the few (movie) parts that does Snape justice, too.

OK the Blacks wouldn’t live among Muggles, would they?

And I love Arthur’s crown.

Ron and Hermione are legitimately cute in this scene – separately, as an eventual couple… they’re just cute.

order of the phoenix christmas

This scene does an excellent job of examining how Harry doesn’t have a family that he can take for granted, and Sirius doesn’t either, and that’s part of why Sirius is so important to him. It’s annoying that this is the first time Harry learns that Sirius’s family owns this house. But it works apart from that.

Christmas is always a good time to highlight how sad it all is, like in the first one with Harry and the Mirror of Erised. It’s an excellent foil, especially with the Weasleys just in the next room.

And Sirius’s speech about morality and grey areas and choice is good.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Reindeer

halfblood prince christmas

This is the worst movie. (But Hedwig went to the Weasleys’ for Christmas, and that’s adorable.)

In the book……… I can’t remember. I think Ron and Hermione were fighting. Did Hermione go skiing?

This movie treats Lavender Brown atrociously. The actress is very entertaining but it’s so hateful.

The book version is, admittedly, a little hateful too, but it’s nowhere near as bad as this. Guys, apart from the actress’s obvious talent, this isn’t funny.

Ron knows what an Unbreakable Vow is, though, so, that’s something.

Ugggggggggggggggggggggggggh Harry and Ginny. It is so awkward. Even if it had gone well, without Ron being clueless, it’s so bad. It’s not cute, it’s not romantic or quirky or anything, it’s just bad.

This is some next-level awful. Why did they write it like this? They must be sadists.

And it only gets worse.

But then the Death Eaters show up, thankfully.

Yeah, this sequence is bad.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Ghost of Christmas Future

deathly hallows christmas

This one, in both the book and film, is burned into my brain.

Oh no.

Oh no.

You are wrong.

I don’t like this either.

AHHHHHHHH.

NO.

NO SHE ISN’T.

OH NO.

IT’S SO OBVIOUS OH NO.

HERMONE IS ALWAYS RIGHT, LISTEN TO HER.

THERE ARE FLY SOUNDS.

NO.

NOOOOOOOOO.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

JESUS CHRIST RUN.

HARRY YOU’RE SPEAKING PARSELTONGUE PLEASE NOTICE.

deathly hallows christmas 2

WHAT IS THIS NO.

I FORGOT ABOUT THE FLY ROOM.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

GET GONE

OK IT’S LESS SCARY NOW

BUT WHAT IS THIS WHITE NURSERY, WHY DID THEY INCLUDE IT, IT’S STUPID.

I THINK WE’RE SUPPOSED TO FEEL BAD THAT SHE HAD A KID WHO DIED WHEN CLEARLY SHE WAS SINGLE AND FINE ABOUT IT, WHY CAN’T SHE JUST HAVE BEEN CHILDLESS, GO AWAY MOVIE WRITERS.

IT’S A CREEPY IMAGE, I’LL ADMIT.

OK THAT WAS THE GREATEST POTTER CHRISTMAS EVER.

NO MATTER HOW IRRITATING OR PERHAPS, BUT HOPEFULLY NOT, SORROWFUL YOUR CHRISTMAS IS, AT THE VERY LEAST YOU’RE NOT GOING TO TALK TO A SNAKE PRETENDING TO BE BATHILDA BAGSHOT BY LIVING INSIDE THE CORPSE OF BATHILDA BAGSHOT.


The end. Harry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Winter Solstice Reading Roundup (Belated)

It’s Frozen. Of course it’s Frozen.


I have no idea what I read during the fall. I know I didn’t get through that much, though, so, go me.

This is not in order and probably incomplete.

the countess conspiracy courtney milan

The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan

Well, it’s Courtney Milan, so, obviously, I really liked it.

It also has maybe my favourite thing from any Courtney Milan and also any romance I’ve read so far:

“‘I know you, Sebastian,’ she said. ‘You like sex, and for me, it’s a complete disaster.’

He simply raised an eyebrow. ‘Let me tell you more about rakus perfectus,’ he said. ‘The whole point of raking is to make sure that everyone is satisfied and safe. There was one night when the woman I was with changed her mind after she came up to the hotel room I had taken for the evening. We spent the night playing vingt-et-un for pennies.’

‘Is that a euphemism?’

He considered this. ‘Yes. By “pennies,” I meant “half-pennies.” It just flows better when you say “vingt-et-un for pennies.”‘

‘Weren’t you furious with her?’

‘Should I have been?’ He shrugged. ‘I won three shillings.’

….

‘When a woman bursts into tears in the bedroom because she’s realized she doesn’t want to go through with it, you’ll make her very happy when you pull out a pack of cards.'”

[Milan, Courtney. The Countess Conspiracy (The Brothers Sinister Book 3) (p. 222). Courtney Milan. Kindle Edition.]

So yeah. That right there is a romance hero.

I’m still annoyed that the costumes on the covers aren’t historically accurate or that the ladies don’t look the way the heroines are supposed to.

I get why it’s like this, obviously. But the reason is stupid, and I’m still annoyed.

witches-abroad-terry-pratchett-new

Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett

Sigh. I did like it for the most part. There are several laugh-out-loud moments, but overall, I’m still chasing the feeling I got while readying The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents.

Um…

That’s it?

I think there was at least one more, but I have no idea what it was.

I’ll finish up by talking about what I’m still currently reading.

how to be alone lane moore

How to Be Alone: If You Want To, and Even If You Don’t by Lane Moore

I’m almost done this. I highly recommend it. Moore’s is a story about a neglectful and abusive family, which wasn’t my experience growing up and isn’t my reality now, but this is still so easy for me to relate to, and I suspect it’s probably essential for our times.

now a major motion picture cori mccarthy

Now a Major Motion Picture by Cori McCarthy

I really like this. It’s a good premise with good characters and I’m halfway through and I have no idea how it’s going to end.

the bear and the nightengale katherine arden

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherin Adren

I was going to give up on this after one chapter. I gave it until chapter two… and then three… and did a 180. Now I think I may also finish the series, if I ever get around to finishing anything ever again.

eleanor oliphant

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Read it last year, and it was my favourite, so I’m re-reading it. Apart from it being my favourite, Lane Moore’s book kept reminding me of it so I had to pick it up again.

dumplin'

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Same as above. I think these two were my favourites from 2017. And while I liked the movie (on Netflix) and have watched it numerous times already, I do prefer the book.

I’m in the middle of some non-fiction as well, but I’ll talk about those later.

And that’s all for this year! Get some cozy winter reading in for me… or get some more cozy winter reading in for me, if you’re already doing that.

Do it more.

Jeez.

A Tag, stolen and changed

I saw this Literary Dinner Party Tag at the Not-So-Modern-Girl blog and liked it a lot. I like most tags, really, but this one is particularly good. I also managed to track down the maker of the tag, NEHOMAS2, and have decided to be extremely boring and answer it with all Disney characters.

I’m sorry.

I do read (a decent amount), but I’m still going to be obstinate and use Disney characters. I even feel like I’ve done this before, but it was a much more intimate dinner party, so I’m going to do it again.

Here’z the rulez:

You must invite 11 guests, and there must be:

1. One character who can cook/likes to cook
2. One character who has money to fund the party
3. One character who might cause a scene
4. One character who is funny/amusing
5. One character who is super social/popular
6. One villain
7. One couple – doesn’t have to be romantic
8. One hero/heroine
9. One underappreciated character
10. One character of your own choosing

Let’s send those invites. To Disney characters.

Someone who can cook/likes to cook

remy ratatouilletiana whipped cream

Well that’s going to be Remy and Tiana. I’ll be dis-inviting someone else so that I can have both. (To be clear – I’m inviting them to a dinner party… but even though they’re the guests, they’re going to cook? I kind of like this idea but I also feel a little bad.)

Someone who has money and will fund the party

charlotte money

Charlotte can come! It won’t be awkward at all asking her to… pay for this party. She will likely be absolutely fine throwing money at the venue.

Someone who might cause a scene

ariel fork

Ariel. Forks everywhere.

Someone amusing

genie applause

The Genie!

Someone very social; popular

tony rydinger

Is there that in Disney? Let’s go with Tony Rydinger.

A villain

(not pictured)

Frollo! Promptly disinvited. He is the worst. I don’t even feel bad.

One couple that doesn’t have to be romantic

kronk and yzma dinner party

love that it doesn’t have to be a romantic couple, so I’m choosing Yzma and Kronk. There, the villain spot is casually ticked as well. (Is it a good idea to invite these two to a dinner party?)

A hero(ine)

mulan

Mulan, the most heroic hero in all of China.

An underappreciated character

srgt tibbs

Sergeant Tibbs is THE most underappreciated character of all time, and he is invited.

Whoever

edna mode

Edna Mode. Obviously.

All right folks, swamp gumbo’s on. It’s a vegan dinner party – keep the comments to yourselves; the chefs are world class and also already down.


If you’d like to do this – the regular book one or the Disney one, definitely go for it.

Caring for an Older Cat — Katzenworld

We’ll always, ALWAYS extol those who care for and adopt senior pets, but it’s important to remember that senior pets require special care that only gets specialer as they continue to age.

It’s also important to remember that when choosing a younger pet. Ideally, your younger pet will one day become a senior. As the villainous, manipulative Scar once said, be prepared!

Here’s a nice post about caring for senior cats.

The post Caring for an Older Cat appeared first on Katzenworld – Welcome to the world of cats!. Caring for an Older Cat As cats age they need a bit of extra care and attention to ensure they remain happy and healthy. Cats are considered elderly when they reach around eleven years old but many…

via Caring for an Older Cat — Katzenworld

The seed never sees the flower

image

We had some lousy (and unsurprising) news about the environmental impact we have had and are having this past month.

I wanted to briefly write about it because the news itself is scary, and frustrating, and after being scared and frustrated about it for a minute I, like many others, I think, just sort of… push it all aside, and try to pretend like everything is fine, because, what else can I do?

I also kept seeing one sentiment bounce around social media, directed at a tweet from CNN listing some things individual people can do to lessen their environmental impact. Anger about how most of the damage is done by a few corporations, and, underneath, sometimes, fear about wanting to take any personal responsibility.

That fear is understandable. The way our world is set up, even small lifestyle changes are difficult. You have to be committed. You have to have means, too, depending on which changes you’re making, and not everyone does, so, I get it. I also wholly agree that voting is the most important thing any of us ordinary people down here on the ground can do (hasn’t been working out for us so far, though).

But I’m always suspicious of anything that outright rejects the premise that individual choices matter. Of course they do. They might not be huge on their own, but they matter, and they add up. They have the potential to add up quite a lot, actually.

Whenever I hear specifics about the horrible state of the world, my salvation is always looking for something to do to help. Often there’s not a lot that can be done. The environment is a bit of a different story. There are so many choices we can all make in a day that are small, and that add up. I’m not going to say what they all are, because I think in this consumerist world, those small things are going to be different for everybody. I know which ones work for me, and which ones I feel safe aspiring to, and that can be enough for now.

Environmental catastrophe is such a demoralizing, disempowering, frightening topic. But as for pretending everything is fine, because, what else can I do? I’m done with that. Instead, I’m going to try to stop being afraid to think about it, try to stop thinking there’s nothing I can do, and try to start doing more.

And ALWAYS listen to this.

So You Found a Box of Haunted Kittens… What Next?

The image source is also a recap.

I can’t help it, I’m sorry.

Episode 2 of The Haunting of Hill House will be spoiled.


Episode 2 of The Haunting of Hill House features a box of kittens, and as far as animal-related horror moments go, it’s not actually that bad. You don’t have to know much about kittens to have an inkling early on that not all is right with this box o’ the kits, and when the horror starts happening with them, the images are brief. There’s no lingering on their suffering, and their deaths are used to examine how child-Shirley’s experiences with death shaped her as an adult. It’s narratively relevant, in other words, and that is usually not the case when the pet dies in a horror film.

But still, I’m a professional, and as much as I was happy to see that animal death wasn’t being used as cheap shocks by lazy writing and direction, I still was watching some people make bad and uninformed decisions regarding a box of kittens (which they later argued about in a refreshing little dialogue scene that also includes the bizarre implication that one of the kittens had to be… uh… shot). So I have some pointers for the next time anyone happens to find a box of kittens, because everything that could have gone wrong in this situation went wrong, and we can all stand to learn a new thing. Just in case.

Step One: Don’t Listen to Mr Dudley

No, you should not leave them there. But not because of the ghost dogs. If you’ve found some listless, thin kittens, they’re probably abandoned or orphaned. Take them. Set a trap in case mom comes back. (You’re going to want to check that trap at least daily while it’s set.)

Step Two: Make a Few Phone Calls

If the box o’ kittens are listless and thin, they need emergency veterinary treatment (which is probably going to be euthanasia, but hey, not always). Vet treatment is expensive, even euthanasia, so, if you’re not made of money, call your local animal shelter. If they don’t have space, call your local animal control. If you don’t have one of those, look. I don’t know. Don’t shoot them, though, unless you REALLY don’t have any other options.

Step Three: Don’t Feed them Cow’s Milk

So you’ve decided to let your child try to raise them. Congratulations. Head to the store for some Kitten Milk Replacement. If you can’t get KMR reliably, there are other, less convenient options.

Step Four: OK But You Have to Make them Pee First

Kittens are pretty helpless, moreso even than human babies. They can’t urinate or defecate on their own, so you have to stimulate their urogenital region to make them do it each time you feed them so they don’t die.

Step Five: OK So Now One’s Dead, Maybe It’s Time to Go to the Vet

There are hotels around, so surely there’s some sort of animal hospital nearby. They may have a serious viral disease or congenital problems. Go get some diagnostic work done (and probably some euthanasias).

Step Six: OK So Now Just One is Left Alive and It… Might Be… Demonic?

It’s probably not demonic; you just live in a haunted house full of black mold. But now you’re pretty sure they should have been euthanized, right? OK, good. Maybe consider other alternatives than walking into the woods and shooting the last one. It’s tiny. Come on. I suppose if there really aren’t any other options, you can technically euthanize a kitten by shooting it, but on a clear day with a perfectly good station wagon in the driveway, just… just take it to a vet.

Step Seven: Try not to be a stubborn pedant when you watch TV

I’m sorry, it’s just that this summer some guy came to the shelter I work at and dropped off two juvenile squirrels that were clearly most of the way through the process of starving to death. He’d been “feeding” them puppy milk replacer, which is actually the correct food, but whether he found them already half-starved or he was just kind of putting the powder in their general vicinity and hoping they would absorb it like some sort of weirdly powerful vacuum, it didn’t work, and I had to euthanize them. And if he’d brought them earlier they could probably have been saved. Also I didn’t shoot them because a) guns are stupid and I am not allowed to have one at work, and b) they’re too small for that.

I couldn’t suspend my disbelief throughout that subplot. All I could do was watch, hearing my Animal Shelter Professional Judgey McJudgerson voice echoing gravely in my brain: “Ooooh, that’s really irresponsible of them to let her do this,” and “Ooooh, she’s feeding them cow’s milk, and way too little of it,” and “Ooooh, she’s not emptying them first, that’s not good,” and “Well they’re either starving or they have FeLeuk, so, this isn’t going to end well,” and “Oh come on, that is an inappropriate method of euthanasia for anything smaller than a coyote.”

But, as I said before, this episode wraps up the doomed kitten subplot with Hugh and Liv having one of their few arguments, each disappointed in one another and themselves about how they (mis)managed Shirley’s naive expectations and her subsequent horror and grief. It’s still refreshing to see the doomed animal element of a horror have actual significance, and while this story certainly won’t teach anyone how to successfully raise orphaned kittens, it does offer a lesson about making mistakes and recognizing them as such.

A Love Letter to The Emperor’s New Groove in Two Parts

~Bewaaaare the groooove~

~Grooooooooove~

This is me in Grade 9 (baby):

  • My best (and sort of only) friends were two girls who were way too intense for any of our own goods
  • Through them I discovered the joy of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in theatres. Seven times.
  • Through them I discovered the joy of Beyblade, a truly ridiculous show
  • I wrote poetry about death because of course I did
  • I still had braces
  • The braces are probably why I wrote death poetry
  • I watched a lot of bad horror movies, because my friends wanted to
  • I watched Holes many more times than was technically necessary, because my friends wanted to (and also I wanted to; who am I kidding)
  • We ate a lot of Chinese food
  • I had to pick a side when my two best friends had a friendship-ending, common decency-ending fight over a guy who, we much later found out, was gay

and

  • Before that fight, they made me watch The Emporer’s New Groove

Despite how tumultuous that year was, I look back on it fondly. Thankfully things got a lot better in the ensuing years, and probably it’s because things got better that I can’t remember defining movies and TV shows that I was watching from, say, grades ten or eleven, when I had other friends whose drama was mostly kept politely off to the side.

My grade nine media consumption was a lot of fun and also kind of all over the place. And apologies to RotKBeyblade (heh), and Holes, but The Emporer’s New Groove is the piece of media from my early high school career that I love the most. It wasn’t just a well-made and/or hilarious distraction. The Emperor’s New Groove is the one that, I think, shaped me the most. I guess I’ll try to articulate why.

Let’s start with Yzma

Yzma is far and away my favourite Disney villain. She’s not the one I think is the scariest, she’s not the one I think is the most compelling, but I do think she’s the funniest, and the one I can actually muster up some sympathy for.

Three and I have gone through all of this before but still, for comparison’s sake:

  1. The scariest villain, according to me, is probably the Horned King from The Black Cauldron, mostly because of the scene where his dragon things chase Hen Wen. Oh and the Gurgi thing. Yzma has nothing, scariness-wise, on him. Honestly, she has nothing scariness-wise on any of the other scary villains either.
  2. The most compelling villain is a bunch of them, but mostly I think it’s Ursula. I like that she manipulates people’s vulnerabilities; there’s a lot to consider there. Comparatively, Yzma is just a disgruntled employee who is also a bad person.
  3. The other funny villain is maybe Captain Hook. His humour comes entirely from being repeatedly injured by Tic-Toc and Smee’s unlikely tag team. Yzma, I think, is funny in her own right at least some of the time.
  4. I have some sympathy for Dr. Callahan from Big Hero 6, but only in that I feel bad for him. None of his actions are justified. Yzma’s murder attempts are not justified and are of course morally wrong but on the other hand, who can blame her, really?

I was recently thinking about how not-all-that-awful apart from murderous intentions she is, and then “The Kronk Thing” occurred to me. “The Kronk Thing,” is, in case you’re wondering, the sort of jokey implication on Kuzco’s part that Yzma has Kronk around because he’s attractive. And, following from that, all of the other implications. Which would make Yzma a sleazy boss figure.

So: Yzma and Kronk

Kuzco says, describing Kronk to us, “Yzma’s right hand man. Every decade or so she gets a new one. This year’s model is called, ‘Kronk.'” And later, at Yzma’s dinner party, there’s an uncomfortable conversation while Kronk runs off to attend to his spinach puffs.

“He seems… nice,” Kuzko says.

“Heh heh, he is,” Yzma replies.

“He’s what, in his early twenties?”

“I’m – uh – not sure.”

And then there’s an awkward silence until Kronk returns.

See, maybe it’s just that Disney wouldn’t let the animators go all in showing an older lady being all over her much younger, easily manipulated employee, but, to me, the Yzma/Kronk relationship reads as a completely professional relationship and/or an oddball friendship. In both instances, one isn’t pulling their weight. Kronk, bless him, doesn’t really have the conniving wits with which to function properly as Yzma’s evil henchman. And Yzma is not doing her part in their supportive friendship. Kronk even tells a squirrel that Yzma has a harsh exterior and is almost impossible to connect with.

Again, to me, that’s friendship and a work partnership. It’s not romantic or sexual at all.

This moment is maybe the most suggestive between them:

I’m talking about Eartha Kitt purring, “Kronk, darling… but now, all is forgiven.”

And, yes, it’s Eartha Kitt.

And she is lounging suggestively on a couch.

But she seems mostly interested in whatever tiny animals’ legs those are that he’s handing her.

And her purring and lounging can entirely be about her feeling content now that she’s the emperor and Kuzco is “dead,” rather than her being attracted to Kronk and wanting to act on it.

Whether it’s Disney being toothless and we’re just supposed to take Kuzco at his snarky implications or if their relationship is not meant to read as sexually exploitative to anyone other than Kuzco, what is on the screen is on the screen, and what isn’t, isn’t.

Soooooo I’m going to read it as a platonic working relationship.

A Note on Sexualizing and Desexualizing Women Characters

This is a nuanced topic (that I once sort of got into). Sexualizing a female character doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and desexalizing a female character also doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Personally, I really liked that Moana didn’t have any romance in her story, mainly because she’s a fourteen-year-old girl and she doesn’t need any. I also really like that Merida actively pushes against marriage for the entirety of her story, finally convincing her mother that she shouldn’t be forced into anything she doesn’t currently (or ever) want.

I do remember the argument made around the time the movie was first out that not giving Moana a romance is like suggesting that women of colour aren’t worthy of romantic love. I think that is a bit of a stretch, but how women of colour characters are treated is a huge complicated discussion, so even though I think it’s OK if for 90 minutes she just self-actualizes and doesn’t worry about dating, I wouldn’t dismiss the argument out of hand.

And then there’s Elsa. She’s THE ice queen, and for most of her life, her reluctance towards marriage is clearly about her fear of her own ice powers. Now that those are sorted out, though, she could theoretically have romance, if she wants some. And considering how popular she is and how her story is already pretty well suited for a queer story, it would be nice if, should Elsa have romance, it’s with a woman. It won’t happen, but it would be nice. In this case, keeping Elsa romance-less, and the creators occasionally walking into interviews uprepared to answer questions about lesbian and/or WLW Elsa without doing the queer-baiting thing, result in all of us being hyper-aware that this particular desexualized female character could have been decent lesbian/WLW representation.

And sexualizing female characters doesn’t have to be bad. I think Esmeralda in Hunchback of Notre Dame is a really good example of where it works. Esmeralda is a complicated person. She’s kind and compassionate, and she acts when she sees injustice. She’s frustrated by people’s apathy in general and sometimes she’s a tad out of line. Just a tad. But a tad nonetheless.

She’s also the “finest girl in France” with entrancing entrances. And while Quasi’s romantic interest in her is depicted as pretty innocent, Pheobus’s isn’t.

Neither is Frollo’s but no one cares about him.

Esmeralda is angelic but also sexy. The movie, in my opinion at least, pulls it off. I think if she’d been too far over into the angelic side of the Madonna-Whore spectrum, the rebuke Frollo gets and keeps getting for being a creepy creep would have mattered less. Esmeralda is sexy, and that’s not all there is to her, and her sexiness doesn’t mean she’s less human. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve to be respected and treated with dignity.

But that doesn’t change that in the greater context of the Disney canon, generally, Disney seems much more comfortable and willing to sexualize women of colour than white women. Compare Wendy to Tiger Lily for the gross child version of sexualizing or not sexualizing characters. Pocahontas and Jasmine show more skin than Belle or Aurora. Yes, there’s Ariel. And yes, there’s Mulan. But the general tendency, at least through most of the 90s, is for women of colour to be sexualized more than white women.

So women of colour being sexualized more than white women is a problem, but there’s also the problem of older women being desexualized entirely. Consider the stoic, high necklines and frowny faces of Snow White’s Evil Queen or Cinderella’s Lady Tremaine or Sleeping Beauty’s Maleficent. Those are three powerful women, definitely, and barely that old. Tremaine is graying, but the Evil Queen is maybe in her mid-late 30s, and Maleficent looks like she’s in her mid-late 30s. But power for them comes with being desexualized, having men scrape and cower before them, and they’re also the picture of evil, so, yikes.

There’s also Ursula in The Little Mermaid, who is fat and somewhat sexualized. Her body is definitely there and she makes it obvious. She also isn’t fussed about being desirable, which puts her on par with the other three desexualized evil ladies. And she sashays around her lair and puts on bright red lipstick and puts mousse in her fabulous hair, so, who really knows. She’s a more nuanced one; there’s a lot to unpack there, as I already said.

Yzma is maybe the oldest of Disney villains, unless Maleficent is ancient (which she probably is but she doesn’t look like she is so whatever). Her age is noted in various ways. Sometimes, it’s noted in jokes where there might be a little sympathy afforded her, like when Kuzco tells her she’s completely obsolete.

But on the other hand, seeing a joke like this one:

is kind of disappointing.

I sort of like the joke at Kuzco and Pacha’s expense, like, “Really, you’d rather be stabbed to death than look at an old woman’s body?!” But it’s clear the joke is actually about Yzma. Yuuuup, horrifying old lady body. Shield your eyes.

The running joke about Yzma’s appearance is that people generally describe her as being “scary beyond all reason,” which doesn’t necessarily have to be about her age or even her appearance more generally, but I don’t really want to make an excuse for this joke. I buy the behaviour from Kuzco but Pacha, who presumably intends to grow old with Chicha, needs to get over himself, as does the world with it’s revulsion towards aging bodies, and in particular, aging female bodies.

Also, the movie is full of a lot of really good jokes, and also the gay panic resuscitation one. Why not cut this one out (and also the gay panic resuscitation one can go too) and put a better one in its place?

So while I really enjoy the nonsexual, nonromantic working relationship/friendship that is Yzma and Kronk, I do think it’s worth noting that the movie’s enthusiastic desexualizing of Yzma is there, and it’s stupid, and it doesn’t need to be there at all.

But, can we talk about Chicha?

Chicha is a pregnant lady and a mom. It’s hard to tell based on her outfit but it looks, to me, like apart from the pregnancy, she may actually be a Disney woman without a conventionally attractive/unrealistically proportioned thin body. Maybe. No matter what her body type actually is, she’s really conventionally pretty, and voiced all sultry by Wendie Malick. Her and Pacha are reasonably affectionate, even while she’s heavily pregnant.

Moms are desexualized all the time. Furthermore, in Disney movies, often they don’t even exist. In this movie, Chicha participates in schemes, gets to be funny and warm and likable, and even endures Yzma exploiting her pregnancy to surreptitiously plot with Kronk.

 

 

 

 

And that is pretty great.


This has been Part One. I don’t know when or where Part Two will show up, but it will, and I’m sure it will make a point eventually.

But until then, bewaaaaaare the groove.

Hilary Swank: Hot or Not?

Boredom causes me to be in the middle of a The Office re-watch. The show is pretty easy to just put on in the background, only occasionally making me think. Recently the part that made me think was that one part where Michael says he’s like Neve Campbell in Scream 2 where she thinks she can just go to college but then the murderer comes back – I think he’s referring to Toby returning from Costa Rica – and then he says that he learned a lot of lessons from that movie. I’m confused about whether that joke is at Michael’s expense or at Scream 2‘s expense or both, and for some reason it’s really bothering me, because – what did Scream 2 do to anyone, ever?

But this one subplot in the episode “Prince Family Paper” has most of the office workers formally debating each other about whether Hilary Swank is hot, and I have a couple of observations, weirdly.

So Stanley complains: he’s been corrected for referring to her as something besides “hot,” intending it as a synonym, and he thinks he can refer to her as beautiful, attractive, hot – it’s all the same, right?

But Kevin says that it’s not the same, because, a painting can be beautiful, but he doesn’t want to have sex with a painting.

Lo and behold, The Office has explained (sort of) the Split Attraction Model.

(That romantic and sexual attraction can be separate things for some people)

(So… that’s not really what Kevin just explained there, but, aesthetic attraction is a thing too – someone can be aesthetically attracted to someone without being sexually attracted to them)

It gets better, though. Jim seduces Kevin as a fantasy Hilary Swank who shows up at Dunder Mifflin to have sex with Kevin.

But Kevin ultimately retains his opinion that Hilary Swank isn’t hot because “is she hot” isn’t the same question as “would you do her.” And lo and behold, The Office has just explained that people can want to and do have sex with people they aren’t sexually attracted to.

At first glance it’s a little absurd – it seems like Kevin is contradicting himself. And maybe he is, just to be stubborn. However, people can want to have sex with people for a lot of reasons besides just being sexually attracted to whichever specific person so, he could also be telling the truth when he says she’s not hot because he “wouldn’t bang a painting” and also when he says the question isn’t “would you do her.”

Kevin isn’t asexual but he could be motivated to have sex with Hilary Swank, even lacking at least some degree of sexual attraction, for various reasons: in this scenario he’s being seduced, so, arousal, which can happen without attraction, desire, which can also happen without attraction – it’s an opportunity to have sex, and he’s clearly one of those guys who buys into the whole “peak masculinity = having as much sex as possible with women” thing, so, there are actually quite a few complex physical and psychological reasons for him to want to have sex with Hilary Swank even if he isn’t sexually attracted to her.

So while Kevin is almost convinced to switch sides when he realizes he would actually have sex with Hilary Swank, he maintains his original opinion because he, on some level, knows he can want to have sex with her but he still isn’t sexually attracted to her, which means, to him, that she’s not objectively hot.

To be clear, I’m 100% positive that The Office isn’t trying to examine all of the grey areas of sexual and other forms of attraction here. Probably instead, the debate is supposed to be whether she is conventionally attractive, which is clearly what Oscar is arguing against when he brings out a facial symmetry chart, but, come on.

This debate is completely pointless, which is something none of the participants brings up. If the question “is she hot” is supposed to refer to someone’s universally accepted sex appeal, as in, the only way we can say “yes she’s hot” is if we prove that objectively, she’s sexually attractive, well, that just isn’t a thing.

Lots of reasons for that: some people aren’t sexually attracted to women; some people aren’t sexually attracted to anyone, and even those people who are sexually attracted to women aren’t sexually attracted to EVERY woman.

“Conventionally attractive” is the sort of concept that’s only useful when we’re interrogating society’s standards of beauty and the fallout associated with them. The term is also not what they’re looking for, because “conventionally attractive” is a broad enough concept that it allows for both the existence of queer people and for the reality that people are attractive in lots of ways besides the socially upheld “conventional” ways of being attractive.

Anyway. Congratulations, The Office, because, I think this subplot was supposed to mainly be absurd and yet, here I am, having spent brainpower contemplating it. Well played.

And the image.

Autumn Equinox Reading Roundup

(I know Coraline takes place in the early spring but it may as well take place in the fall because it is the ONLY Halloween movie)

I’m willing to admit that this was a weird summer. I must, anyway, because my reading list is here and it’s… here.

Kill the Boyband by Goldy Moldavsky

kill the boy band

I have a lot of thoughts about this one. First of all, excellent premise and title.

Things like this, when they emerge every rare and wonderful so often, remind me of Jane Austen’s early work, called the Juvenalia, in which women behave badly. So rarely are women allowed to behave badly in media, at least, rarely are women allowed to behave badly in ways that aren’t designed by and intended for consumption by straight men.

I am a HUGE advocate of things like this. It’s why I eventually gave The Female of the Species a chance, and also why I loved it. Gone Girl is amazing, I’ll hear no argument against it.

This is YA Gone Girl. Instead of depicting a crumbling, toxic marriage, it’s about young women responding in toxic ways to their frustrations with the men at the center of their lives (in this case it’s a boy band). Toxic fandom is described realistically. Familiarly. Kind of frighteningly so. Also the girls in this book are all awful people.

They have mitigating circumstances (well… maybe one of them does). Still.

But as much as I want to be 100% positive, there are certain things I really didn’t like about this book. Let’s do a spoilery list.

  • Fat shaming? I put a question mark because there’s… um… absolutely no reason for it as it shows up in this book. Apple, one of the girls, the most emotional, the most devoted one, is also fat, and it’s treated really poorly. The protagonist at one point thinks that maybe Apple is self-loathing because of her weight and that’s why she’s so fervently in love with the least popular boy in the band, because he’s more attainable and less likely to reject her and also that’s all she thinks she’s worth. But there’s no actual evidence of Apple’s supposed self-loathing, so, if we’re supposed to take the protagonist at her word, that’s stupid. What’s also stupid is that Apple is always eating for comedic effect and also always climbing all over the one boy they kidnap (sexual assault, she commits sexual assault… and I’m not really sure the book is aware of that) and it’s funny because not only is she… uh… sexually assaulting the guy, she’s also fat, so, you know. Every time this came up I rolled my eyes. There’s just no reason. There’s never a reason, really, but this may have been the most egregious example of fat shaming I’ve read, and I’m a huge JK Rowling fan, so. Yikes.
  • … sexual assault. Apple gropes/licks/does other obnoxious things to Rupert P, tied up and helpless. As I’ve already said, partly it’s supposed to be funny because she’s fat, and also it’s supposed to be funny because he’s secretly gay. But… neither of those things actually makes the sexual assault funny. Now, one of the other girls was gray area raped by one of the other boys (this is a mid-late book reveal), and that’s treated fairly seriously, though I don’t think we’re ever supposed to sympathize with her fully, even after the reveal. This isn’t because of the gray area (she took all her clothes off in his dressing room and was otherwise clearly game for it… but she’s a teenager and he’s a grown man, and he took pictures of her and otherwise humiliated her afterwards, so, rape with a side of awful), but instead because she’s taking her revenge waaaay too far. I was really happy with that, but seeing as this book treats that rape thoughtfully, presenting the victim as a victim but also as the actor in her own story in a way that would make the rape-enthusiasts in the Game of Thrones writing room tremble in awe and shame (doesn’t take much, though. To be clear, what I’m saying is, the Game of Thrones writers are horrible), the “funny” sexual assault that Rupert P endures is just. Why?
  • The gay thing. So Rupert P ends up murdered. We’re unsure of which girl did it. They all have motive and are all also horrible people. First thing’s first: he’s one of two gay characters present. The other is his secret boyfriend, whose lover is now murdered. That’s a trope fulfilled, isn’t it. Also, the murderer is his fake girlfriend. At this point I actually can’t remember whether she knew he was gay and was being helpful or if she really didn’t know, but I lean toward the former. Anyway, her motivation for murdering him is that he’s also a horrible person, very inconsiderate of her and her needs. I felt for her right up until it’s revealed that she murdered the gay man she’s been pretending to date to revenge herself of his inconsiderateness. Also, Rupert P is the most hated band member, hated by at least one of the other Ruperts, enduring occasional blackmail and frequent upfront homophobia from him. My thoughts as this story unfolded are basically summarized by this question: Why choose this band member to have as a punching bag and end up murdered?

These are all conversations, and in general I try to remember that everything is problematic. A story where girls get to be gleefully, horrifyingly awful without any meaningful redemption is welcome and necessary…

… but that stuff is… well. It’s certainly there.

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily XR Pan

the astonishing color of after

Sad. Cute. Very sad, very cute, in that order forever and ever.

I wish I had something more to say but here’s maybe all that’s necessary: if you like YA, magical realism, and are prepared for musings on depression and suicide, you will really like this book.

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

dread nation

Why aren’t more dystopian novels like this? Why aren’t more historical fiction/fantasy novels like this?

(I know the answer and it is that most things that get published are by white people)

The setting is Alternate Universe America, where zombies attacked and though slavery is sort of over, it’s not really, because white people have set up this establishment where black and first nations children are taken to a special school where they learn to be zombie fighters. Specifically the ones the book focuses on are girls taken to learn to be body guards for young white girls and women.

If you like zombies and would enjoy a refreshing dystopian book where racism is actually depicted and discussed intelligently, this is it. I also really liked Katherine. Katherine was good.

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

throne of the crescent moon.jpg

finally read this, by one of my favourite twitterers. I was pleased to see characters featured in his short stories collection, which I read last year, were the mains here. Adoulla Makhslood and Raseed bas Raseed are extremely entertaining, and sometimes endearing, with their banter and very different opinion set on the way of the world. And there’s also Zamia, who can turn into a lioness.

Sometimes the violence/references to horrors in the past are stomach turning, at least for me, but not A Song of Ice and Fire levels of horror and our female voices are not in constant fear of rape. So there’s that.

This is definitely for a fantasy reader’s TBR pile.

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

elizabeth is missing

This was INCREDIBLE. A mystery novel where the sleuth has dementia and is mixing up her memories of her present-day friend, Elizabeth, who has gone missing (but no one will take her seriously), and her memories of her sister Sukey, who went missing when they were both young.

It’s so frustrating. It had me on edge. It made me look up this song on Youtube (but I did not leave a comment saying that’s how I got there). And the ending.

Yeah, I’d recommend this one too.

Twice in a Lifetime by Jodie Griffin

twice in a lifetime

This is a nice, mostly fluffy romance about two women in their fifties. Two things: two women, and also, women in their fifties. Apparently it’s a rare thing in and medium, and as I’ve never encountered one of these before, I guess it’s true.

I liked it a lot, but because I was apparently in a mood all summer, all of the fluffiness got to me a little. Which is stupid because, a) That’s what this book is for, so why am I complaining, and b) It wasgood.

My one note is a note I’ve made before (I remember a similar complaint for When Dimple met Rishi): people doing very sexual things in front of their siblings/parents/children isn’t cute. At least, I don’t think it’s cute. I actually think it’s kind of a lot inconsiderate. In this book, whenever it happens (and it happens at least twice), it’s done so that whoever can remark about how happy his or her mother is now, which is great, but they don’t need explicit evidence of the sex their parents are having to know they’re happy together.

Orrrrrrr is that just me? IDK. There are other moments where the kids say things about her newfound happiness with her girlfriend that are about companionship and don’t involve explicit evidence of sex, though, so, I stand by this complaint. But my complaint about the fluffiness is because I was a dark brooding soul this summer and this is the only exception.

Depression and other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim

depression and other magic tricks

I have the unfortunate habit of forgetting large amounts of poetry after I’ve read a collection. But I do remember enjoying this. It was humane and honest and sometimes sad, and I think basically exactly what I wanted when I grabbed it off the shelf.

Read poetry! Start here.

The Witch’s Boy by Kelly Barnhill

the witch's boy

I really like Kelly Barnhill. This book is grim, even compared to The Girl who Drank the Moon, though.

Grim and charming, I think, are the two words for a Kelly Barnhill novel. I’m definitely going to read everything else she’s ever written, because the combination works.

I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya

i'm afraid of men

On the subject of grim…

You really do need to read this. I kind of thought I’d read it and I’d nod along and though it would broaden my perspective a little, mostly it would be things I’ve already thought a lot about (and am currently thinking a lot about, because, current state of the world, and all), but one of the arguments she makes in here caught me by surprise.

She talks about how we need to stop talking about the “good man” because it directly contributes to normalizing abusive behaviours as typical of the “normal man.”

I hadn’t considered that, and she makes her case, and I’m actually not going to do that anymore. But even if she hadn’t made this specific point, this was still essential reading, particularly now, particularly for everyone.

Misery by Stephen King

misery

Woooooooooooooof.

I have a lot of things I’d like to say about this novel, and I think maybe I’ll write a billion-word essay about it one day soon, but for now:

  • of the Stephen Kings I’ve read, this is one of the best
  • like all other Kings I’ve read, the problems I have with it are the same: a little bit of the kind of weird, casual racism that you get in something like The Green Mile which is trying to talk about racism but isn’t really, and is actually contributing to a couple of stupid tropes (I do like The Green Mile, though); fat shaming (there is so much fat shaming in King books. I overlook it in It a little because at least Ben is treated as a fully human character in a way Annie never is, but, still); and a weird demonizing thing he does about maternal affection and control, which is sometimes intelligent and sometimes seems just a bit misogynistic
  • the main character is a biiiiiiiiig woman-hater. Hates that his most successful books are about a woman, that women are his readers and biggest fans. Looks down on them.
  • he’s at the mercy of a woman who will belittle the work he’s proud of, destroy it, even, force him to make something for her, torture him, kill him, eventually. And that… is extremely interesting.

You Were Made for This by Michelle Sacks

you were made for this

I finished this in the early hours of today (the day I’m writing this, anyway). It broke me.

I just.

I picked it at the store yesterday because it had pretty cherries on the cover AND I AM ONLY NOW REALIZING THAT THEY ARE IN WHAT IS CLEARLY A BROKEN DISH WHAT HAVE I DONE

This is Gone Girl without the thrill – because Gone Girl is thrilling, allowing its enthusiastic readers/viewers to see their most selfish, violent fantasies depicted right in front of them in a way that women generally don’t get, because generally, the most selfish, violent women are either Annie Noakes-types or Elle Driver-types that men like Stephen King draw up. A heterosexual man’s idea of a villainous woman. Some of them, like Annie Noakes, are actually kind of interesting. But when we get to see a woman’s idea of a villainous woman, and when we get just a bit of a secret vicarious thrill, that is a rare treat.

But this isn’t thrilling. It’s still entertaining as hell. It’s awful. Awful things happen. And my favourite part is that the male character, Sam, horrible, misogynistic, awful man Sam, is horrible and he thinks that he has all the women around him fooled but he doesn’t. They know who he is, and the two protagonist women are, actually, worse than he is, and that is literally my only solace now that I’m done reading it.

I recommend this one if you have the stomach for it.


WELL.

Now that it’s fall, maybe I’ll read something cheery. Galbraith has a new one and it’s huge and right next to me, so, I’m looking forward to that.

Happy autumn!

You Should Watch American Vandal (and you should definitely watch Season 2)

I *just* finished season 2 of American Vandal and I’m here to say: you should too, if you for some reason haven’t already.

“Why do I like this so much?” I was wondering to myself throughout the whole experience. The final episode really made it clear: this show is emotionally intelligent in a way a lot of TV just isn’t.

There’s also the fact that I find a lot of “true crime” documentaries tasteless and sometimes outright harmful, that I used to watch them anyway and feel skeezy afterwards, that with only a rare couple of exceptions I really wish I’d never watched them and won’t watch new ones unless they’re thoroughly vetted by someone else, I guess. And American Vandal has the same tropes, music choices, aesthetic, and manages to show them all up, which is a lot of fun.

But really, it’s the emotional intelligence. Lately, I’ve been watching a few old episodes of The Office where our favourite characters are actually kind of awful. It’s not always, of course. Jim and Pam are usually kind people and easy to like. But I do keep coming back to the Amy Adams character from seasons 1 and 2 in particular. I can’t remember her name, because, I don’t think the show really wanted me to. I do think the part where Jim is excessively mean when he dumps her is supposed to show that he’s not perfect, but ultimately that episode oozes with syyyyympathiiiiize with poor, friend-zoned Jiiiiiiim and it, uh, works. I do feel bad for him. But knowing it all turns out fine in the end really contributes to watching how Amy Adams’ character is belittled in small ways, how Pam seems to be nice to her but is actually not nice at all, how she smirks privately because she likes Legally Blonde even though Jim has just told Pam it isn’t worthy of being on anyone’s top whatever list, and feeling kind of gross about it.

Happily, American Vandal will show something kind of gross and eventually, or, almost immediately, call it what it is. In season 1, one of the “filmmakers” gets “put on blast” amazingly. It was an amazing moment on its own, made just a little better because I wasn’t expecting it. TV usually allows protagonists to get away with callousness and unthinking dismissals of other peoples’ humanity, but here, not so much. There are always consequences when people do that, even if it’s the “filmmakers” themselves. I don’t want to go into specifics because I think you should just watch the show, but, it’s good stuff.

Season 2 is bigger and smarter even than season 1, and the final episode is a 40-minute long gut punch of a reveal, culminating in a little monologue about social media and Gen Z that is, by far, BY FAR, the smartest thing any TV show or even news media has ever said about either of those subjects and the undeniable link between them.

You should watch it.

Animals. Animation. Pixar. Disney. Nemo. Lion King.

It’s time to talk about different representation of animals in animated movies, and this is mostly because of this article about Andrew Stanton, Pixar filmmaker, on how Finding Nemo is kind of a response to The Lion King.

Stanton says, “‘I liked working with the limitations of the rules of nature, as opposed to breaking the rules and saying everything’s in it for the ‘circle of life.'”

Unsurprisingly, I think 20-something Stanton, and whatever-age-he-is-now Stanton, are both wrong about The Lion King. And also about Finding Nemo. And also about the “rules of nature.”

Quickly, then, on TLK’s opening scene: yes, “Circle of Life” shows a bunch of prey animals bowing to a newborn predator who will be their king. A few scenes later:

Mufasa: Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance. As king, you need to understand that balance, and respect all the creatures, from the crawling ant to the leaping antelope.

Simba: But dad, don’t we eat the antelope?

Mufasa: Yes, Simba, but let me explain. When we die, our bodies become the grass and the antelope eat the grass. And so, we are all connected in the great circle of life.

And sure, the in-universe explanation for how this lion monarchy ecosystem works hinges on lions and all of their prey being philosophically aware of the bigger picture beyond each individual life and death. I guess it’s easy to think that seems a little hokey, particularly if you’re wrapped up in the rampant individualism of our modern times, but The Lion King is actually about human society and its thesis is that a true leader’s core identity is his responsibility for everyone else. Even those he eats. Soooo.

But if you like, we can ignore that The Lion King is completely about humans – or – humans as we should be – and talk about rules of nature and how they do and don’t apply. Why not?

First: Cooperation and Empathy in Animals According to an Actual Researcher

I have a lot of jumbled thoughts about this but here’s an actual expert doing a convenient and entertaining Ted Talk:

And now on to what I, the all-knowing knower of these things,* think.

*No.

The Rules of Nature IMO in Two Parts

IMG_6702

Part 1: Humpback Whales and the Empathy Explanation

Have you heard that thing about how humpback whales, if they see orcas attacking prey, will get all agitated and try to intervene? Well, I have, and I decided that humpback whales and myself are kindred spirits. I like orcas, but orcas are not very nice. They’re not the most humane of hunters, and they kill baby gray whales only to eat their tongues. Jerks.

But as to the humpback’s orca hunt disruption behaviour, biologists and behaviourists are baffled. Is it empathy for the prey that compel humpback whales to try to help orca prey? Some say yes, others say that humpbacks see orcas as a threat because occasionally orcas will kill a humpback. So, the theory goes, if a humpback thwarts an orca hunt, there’s a slight possibility that other humpbacks will be saved.

What.

I know that we need to wait for animal linguistics to be a thing so that we can figure out how to talk to whales before we can know for sure why they do any of what they do, but, come on. The simplest explanation is usually the correct one. Humpbacks are distressed by orcas hunting because anyone decent would be, if they’re allowing themselves to empathize with the prey. They intervene because they are compelled to help out of empathy. Deal with it.

My point here is that, I, a very singular human being, believe that our cultural interpretation of the natural world is incredibly narrow and often wrong-headed. Some of us, educated some of us, look at something like this humpback thing and feel the need to explain it using evolutionary theory. “What’s good for my species specifically is good for me. Gotta get my genes out there.”

Sometimes animals just do things. I know. I am one. So are you. And I don’t know what you did today, but I spent it watching people watch TV shows that I’ve seen to see their overdramatic reactions, and if I was doing that because somewhere deep within me my instincts were telling me that’s what I need to do to get pregnant, well, I think I need to see one of those therapists that specializes in evolutionary Darwinism as the root of all decisions people make (in other words: a very bad therapist) because something has gone horribly wrong.

We’re not always trying to propagate the species, or us, specifically. Even Darwin would be sick of how every little thing has to be explained with Darwinism these days. Relax.

This need that researchers have to fight tooth and nail against admitting that animals might be able to empathize is mind boggling to me, especially considering that their alternative interpretations basically require us all to take, on faith, that animals all have this incredibly complex Machiavellian understanding of their own place in the ecosystem. If you’re arguing that because we can’t prove the whales are acting out of empathy, we must instead state that whales are acting out of self-interest, I’m sorry, but, you need to prove to me that animals are ruthless chess players.

If it really is self-interest that compels humpbacks to disrupt orca hunts, that means we all just have to accept, without any actual research, that humpbacks are thinking through a bunch of different steps of what would be a whole complicated cognitive process. We’d have to accept that humpback whales recognize orcas as orcas, a potential threat to them personally, or perhaps they even recognize them as a threat to their entire family group. Then they also must recognize that the prey animal is whatever species they are, ie, they’re not a humpback whale or an orca. I’m OK with this so far; I’m pretty sure they do this easily.

But then they’d have to understand that it’s healthy and good for the orca pod specifically to kill their prey so that they can eat. And they’d have to understand that it would be bad for the orca pod to miss this particular chance at a meal. And they’d have to be of the opinion that it would be worth it to spend their energy disrupting this one hunt they’ve encountered on the off-chance that, I don’t know, the pod will never get a chance to eat a meal again and they all starve, thus lessening, albeit in a minuscule way, the chance that orcas might kill those individual humpbacks. And so they place themselves in at least a little bit of danger to try to stop the hunt, because maybe these dangerous animals that they know might kill one of them one day won’t get to eat if they’re successful and then the orca pod will eventually starve and then they’ll have preemptively made the ocean a little safer for themselves and themselves only.

WHAT.

HOW DID YOU GET A SCIENCE DEGREE.

RETURN IT. MAYBE YOU CAN STILL GET A REFUND.

First of all, that is incredibly irrational reasoning, if that’s indeed what’s going on in their heads. But really, we can’t even prove that humpbacks can do any reasoning, but when it comes to explaining behaviour like this, where the simple explanation is empathy, instead it’s perfectly fine to just assert that humpbacks are, of course, capable of nonsensical overthinking irrational reasoning.

Anyway, we’re all super sure that animals are too stupid to cooperate or to be driven by things apart from a prototypical jungle version of the profit motive and therefore we say silly things about kids’ movies that feature animals who are allegories of humans. And I think we should maybe rethink that one.

terk

Part 2: Ishmael and the Devaluing of the Natural World

I read a book of modern philosophy once. The blurbs on the back of this book that are trying to sell you on the premise are all really, really out there, like, “This book changed my life entirely!” and “I can’t look at anything the same way ever again!”

Well, I read it too and I can attest: yes, this book is majorly perspective-changing, though I didn’t really agree with everything it argued. Also, it’s more than a little demoralizing. But ultimately, it’s trying to show how the way we tend to perceive our own culture as against the natural world is a huge part of why we’re having so much trouble stopping ourselves from destroying the planet.

It’s about a guy who signs up to take lessons on saving the world. The teacher is a telepathic gorilla named Ishmael. So, yeah, you should probably read this book. But the concept from the book that matters for this discussion about TLK and FN’s depiction of nature specifically is that humans take for granted that human civilization, removed from the wild, is “superior,” and a lot of that is down to how we perceive (and depict) the natural world: as savage, dangerous, brutal. Once, I heard some sort of animal making distressing noises in my backyard, and I figured it was fine, but I wanted to be sure. When you google this stuff I can tell you, a lot of people who know nothing have “helpfully” posted responses to posts describing different shrieks and calls that go something like this, “It was something getting eaten alive.” K no, Brad. You’d be more useful silent. (Ultimately I found out it was a fox. The sound is called a “vixen scream” and it sounds like a woman being murdered, but it’s probably just a mating call.) People do this because they just take for granted that life in the wild is miserable, brutal, and short.

And yeah. Sometimes, that is true. But be honest, whenever you’ve gone out into the wilderness, or even just a little patch of green in some urban or suburban area, the animals you see are mostly just living their lives. You can probably find evidence of predation if you look – spider webs are stationary, so those will do it, but mostly animals are just interacting with their environments, watching you watch them, eating or gathering food, and stuff. You may see fledglings being fed by mom and dad, or flying lessons, if you’re lucky. Sometimes, animals just chill on some perch and make a lot of noise, and sometimes squirrels actually throw acorns at your head, which is nice.

The majority of what goes on in the wild is just life. It’s hard to fathom this, but animals are actually totally fine. Most wild animals, even and especially when they’re in distress, really hate being approached by humans. Sometimes they’ll allow a human to help them without freaking out too much, and sometimes they may actually seem to ask for help, but a lot of them really would rather struggle on their own (I’m not advocating leaving a wild animal in distress alone. Just be sure it’s actually in distress and call the right service). Wild animals, if offered the choice of being zooed or petted rather than having to find all of their own meals and watch out for predators, might surprise you with their answer. I mean. Some of them might take us up on an offer of an “easy” life in captivity, but I’m pretty sure a lot of them are just fine as they are.

This would be a lot clearer if nature documentaries weren’t made almost exclusively by and for people with massive animal death boners, but, alas, we don’t live in a world that kind.

I love animals but until nature documentaries feature more stuff like the following and less of the overdramatic death and suffering scenes, I’m not watching them.

This moose does a little angry dance when he can’t reach the ball anymore and it is the best thing.

Or is the best thing baby moose in a sprinkler set to sentimental music?

Or is it a crow snowboarding on a roof?

Or maybe foxes on a trampoline?

No, it’s actually this:

I love this because they both have exactly the same reaction to almost bumping into each other (although the bear’s reflexes are much better). Who says humans and animals are that different?

It really is important to try to retrain our brains into not thinking of the natural world as bad and brutal and dangerous, because in doing so we make it easier to allow large scale habitat destruction to take place which, it turns out, is super bad for us because we need to breath. Also, there are in fact humans who live in the natural world. Some of them haven’t made contact yet, and hopefully won’t. It seems very strange to think about, but as it turns out there are actually humans out there among other species who need us to protect their homes. And by “need us to protect their homes” I mean, of course, they “need us to stop freaking destroying everything everywhere always because why are we doing that even.”

Pretty cool, right?

(Like. Not that their home is in danger of being wiped out, but that they’re still here at all.)

Ishmael is all about the differences between us and the people who live in this way. The term the book gives them is “Leavers,” because they don’t cause the kinds of destruction that we, the “Takers” do, with our agriculture practices. It argues that we need to live more like them in order to not destroy ourselves, and I think it makes its case really well.

I don’t know how possible it is for us to reduce our environmental impact, but the book definitely makes the case for changing our attitudes towards this way of life, whether it’s humans living it, or other animals, and it asks us to, at the very least, do what we can to not tread on them.

Unfortunately, when we depict the natural world as being inherently brutal and destructive, we end up with the conclusion that we are also inherently brutal and destructive. This causes us to devalue the natural world and all of its inhabitants (including ourselves), because in a brutal, competitive world, it’s only right that the most brutal and most competitive animal rises to the top and can then do whatever it wants with all the rest below it. This, incidentally, is not even a little bit what Darwin meant by “Only the strong survive.” It also causes us to devalue our many, many, many other inherent qualities, such as cooperation and empathy. You know. Those little soft skills that are actually the key to human survival and ingenuity. But who’s keeping track?

If we could just understand that cooperation and yes, sometimes, even empathy are inherent parts of the natural world AND inherent parts of human societies of all kinds, we could begin fostering those good qualities as our treasured qualities. We could begin using them to solve the gargantuan problems caused by the fact that all our prominent loud mouths have been declaring, 24/7 and for the past 500 years at least, that competition and brutality are the only true things in life and that this is the way it should be, “because nature.”

So in that spirit, I’m going to try to explain that The Lion King and Finding Nemo have pretty cool things to say about the natural world, and about predators and prey, and about a broader, natural community, despite what 20-something Andrew Stanton thought all those years ago.

Animated Ecosystems

Finding Nemo is up front about the kind of world its characters are living in. Why shouldn’t it be? It makes ample use of the natural world to heighten the stakes. We meet Marlin and his wife, and their gazillion eggs, right before a large predator fish shows up to eat them all. That neatly sets up everything we need to know. Marlin is overprotective; Nemo is all he has. Quick. Clean.

Our most formidable antagonists are humans, who aren’t even trying to eat anyone when they take Nemo. They’re just “helping.” And while humans are the worst, we do still have sharks, anglerfish, jellyfish, pelicans, seagulls, and, sigh, humans, again, to contend with as well.

If you map out the Finding Nemo story from one specific lens, what you can find is a couple of very small fish battling an enormous ocean of much larger prey until, finally, they return home safe to the anemone.

But that isn’t the full picture.

Finding Nemo depicts the ocean’s ecosystem as a community. The scariest of predators don’t talk, but some of the others do. Bruce and his vegan shark pals all talk. We get to know the pelicans. Seagulls may only say one word, but still. And then there’s the dentist, who has some of the best lines in the whole movie. Seagulls say their word for comedic effect (ps – gulls are smart, don’t believe everything you see in a Pixar movie), but the fact that Bruce, Nigel and co all frequently talk to fish they’d otherwise be eating allows them to empathize with their would-be prey.

Nigel saves Marlin and Dory from the seagulls because he’s met Nemo and has heard all about Marlin’s epic journey. Bruce and his friends are trying out a more compassionate lifestyle. While Chum may not be the most… dedicated vegan shark there is, he is quick to empathize with Marlin when he hears how Nemo was taken. He’s also quick to help try to restrain Bruce while Marlin and Dory try to escape.

The barracuda and the anglerfish don’t talk, which, yeah. That’s an important style choice. If they talked that would not work. Really only predators that don’t eat prey get to talk – but for a movie that does intimidating but talkative predators really well, try Happy Feet. The skuas are good, but the leopard seal is the best.

(Note that he only talks after Mumble gets away) (Still)

(He has a cute smile and gets very soundly insulted but he still manages to be terrifying)

(Happy Feet needs a post)

However, including predators who have long conversations with would-be prey and who empathize with their would-be prey and who go out of their way to help their would-be prey is, in my opinion, pretty forward thinking.

I know Stanton and the rest of the people who made Finding Nemo didn’t add in the discussions and empathizing and helping out each other across species barriers for realism purposes, but the way I see it, the movie basically represents what life in the natural world is really like, just with a lot of anthropomorphism added in.

Here’s the best example of the sense of community we can see in this ecosystem:

No, that doesn’t happen in the wild. That’s a humans-and-social-media thing. But wild animals are all existing in “the great circle of life” together, and while occasionally two individuals might come up against each other with an important clash of self-interest, ultimately, all species are working together to survive as various ecosystems, intricately connected to every living thing on the planet in the web of life.

A sated predator doesn’t generally kill for no reason. Many predators spend most of their time doing things that aren’t hunting or killing. Snakes, even – what do snakes do when they’re not hunting or digesting? I don’t know, but I do know that many snakes don’t need to eat all that often. Most of their time alive is spent not killing things. I’m not saying they spend the rest of their time participating in Disney movie plots, but there is more to a predator than predation.

Finding Nemo admits that, presenting its empathetic predators like new vegans or like sorry-not-sorry omnivores. That may not be natural realism but it is truer to the complexities of predator species than many narratives that have prey animals as protagonists depict, including supposedly true-to-life nature documentaries.

As you know, the ecosystem portrayed in The Lion King is definitely a community.

Predators as Protagonists

Keeping in mind some of the empathetic predators of Finding Nemo, I’d like to present exhibit a: The Lion King’s female love interest.

She shows up for the first time we’ve seen her since she was a cute little cub and she tries to murder Puumba.

She stops when Simba recognizes her and says her name, and suddenly all those teeth and claws are gone.

The real-life version of this and the Simba/Scar fight is here, and it’s a little bloody:

(Why we need slow motion replays, close up images of wounds, and lion mating I don’t know, but as far as violent wildlife videos go, this isn’t bad)

(The females, watching/participating in that second fight: men are traaaaaash)

Back in the fictional world, Timon is unimpressed.

#TimonisAndrewStanton

So Timon shouts about how it doesn’t make sense for everyone to suddenly be friends immediately after a vicious attack and also she wanted to eat Puumba, “and everybody’s… OK… with this?” and Simba’s response is, “Relax, Timon,” and then they move on.

See, Timon. You’re in a movie about predators. We aren’t shying away from the fact that they’re predators – I mean, we’re not going to show them kill anyone. We might show some savage fights, and we might show one of them trying to kill a main, beloved character, but as long as they keep their actual killing and eating off screen all is well.

I’m going to suggest that this is exactly the same tactic that Finding Nemo uses with its predator side characters (despite what Andrew Stanton thinks).

In the end, we have to acknowledge that Nala isn’t a bad guy for trying to eat Puumba. She’s a lion, she’s supposed to hunt. It’s just that certain would-be prey are off limits.

That isn’t entirely unrealistic. In the wild predators occasionally do something weird, like that one lioness that kept taking baby onyxes and keeping them. It’s a sad story, don’t look it up. We see predators empathizing with prey much more often in captivity, though.

Human intervention causes a lot of these strange situations where animals that would normally kill or be killed by one another actually become friends. Even though the human intervention is pretty much essential, it does seem like predators have the inherent ability to empathize with an animal they would normally see as prey. Otherwise, this wouldn’t ever work.

It’s not… impossible, then, for a baby lion to grow attached to a warthog and a meerkat. It’s just very unlikely that all three of them would make it out of that situation alive.

Ultimately, I think the real difference between Finding Nemo and The Lion King in how they work with the rules of nature is that Finding Nemo has small, vulnerable prey animals as its protagonists, and The Lion King has the largest, most invulnerable predators on the Savannah as its protagonists. It’s easier to incorporate a lot of short scenes in which small, vulnerable fish are chased and almost eaten and have your audience continue to sympathize with them than it is to incorporate a lot of short scenes in which your young couple terrorizes singing warthogs and fight brutally and have your audience continue to sympathize with them.

The Lion King pulls of a more impressive feat in this regard, as far as I’m concerned. Lions are a bad species, but it isn’t really their fault that they’re so violent and angry all the time, and I certainly don’t blame Nala for hunting. I don’t blame Simba for attacking Scar. I don’t blame the hyenas for killing Scar. Marlin, Nemo, and Dory do comparatively few violent and murdery things, which makes perfect sense. I just think allowing the more gruesome realities of a predator species to simply be nodded at and kept mostly offscreen doesn’t automatically make The Lion King completely disingenuous about what life is like in the wild.

Would you like one more example? In Simba’s Pride, which is, I know, the sequel, and not the actual movie, and also I hate it, Kiara’s coming of age ceremony is her being sent out to kill something.

Because the plot is something else, it’s easy enough to squeeze in a scene where Simba won’t let Kiara grow up and she gets all angsty about it that also involves predation.

I don’t like the sequel, but I do like that both female protagonists are allowed to hunt and attempt to kill things. It’s probably because the filmmakers were aware that lionesses are generally the hunters of the species, so they allowed the female characters to do things that female characters usually can’t do and remain sympathetic. Especially in kid’s movies.

There’s also the broadway version:

In which Sarabi and the rest of the lionesses actually kill something, on stage.

How’s that for “working with the limitations of nature,” huh?

IN CONCLUSION

We have learned many a thing today.

  1. The natural world isn’t all bad and needs to be protected (by us, from us)
  2. Animals aren’t chess playing Machiavellian strategists who have all also read On the Origins of Species by Means of Natural Selection
  3. Finding Nemo and The Lion King both work within the limitations of nature for dramatic gains, just, differently, because one movie has small prey fish as protagonists, and the other has lions
  4. Both movies depict the natural world as a broader community, which is realistic in a metaphorical sense because of biodiversity and the web of life
  5. Nala tried to kill Puumba in a fairly lengthy onscreen scene
  6. AND MOST IMPORTANTLY:

The Lion King is an animal allegory about people, specifically in the context of leadership, and how benevolent leaders have to respect everyone, even the most vulnerable among us.

(And Finding Nemo is an animal allegory about the struggles of parenthood, which is also important.)

Let’s think more carefully about the stuff we watch and the world we live in, K?

Blogging While Angry: Newspaper Transphobia

Long story short: a few years ago Kathleen Wynne, former Premier of Ontario, replaced an old and outdated sex ed curriculum with one that includes discussions of consent, cyberbullying, sexting, same sex attraction, and transgender peoples’ existence. Some people (we’ll call them “social conservatives;” get all PC about it) were, um, really mad.

Then we elected Doug Ford, partially, one has to assume, because of his promise to get rid of the scary, new, and relevant sex ed curriculum the big bad lesbian Premier put in place. Now his people have promised to replace it again with the old one, although they’ve walked it back a little bit. Now the story is they’re going to have a huge consultation about it first and then do who knows what.

(Why?)

(Just… leave it alone. It’s fine.)

And while I’m angry about all of that mess, most of my anger right now is (helpfully, healthily, usefully, wonderfully) directed at this random opinion piece published in The Globe and Mail by Debra Soh, PhD, who describes herself as “a former academic sex researcher,” and who is very sure that teaching children that gender is a social construct (it is), and isn’t a binary (it’s not) and is instead fluid (it is) is bad (it’s not).

“A curriculum that teaches gender fluidity is misleading and will impair a child’s ability to have an accurate understanding of the world,” she writes.

Look. A statement like that requires some evidence.

I’m going to go ahead and suggest that there isn’t any evidence, at all, ever, to suggest that children learning that gender isn’t a binary and is a construct has confused or otherwise impaired them.

To be fair I’m one of those people who knows that nonbinary people of all different types exist, and I know that at one point they were all children, and that some of them may even live in Ontario. How is learning that their gut feelings about how they embody various gendered spaces are valid going to impair their ability to have an accurate understanding of the world? She asked, facetiously, because she knows that a statement like this, so baldly typed and published in an international newspaper without scientific backing of any sort arguing that the science is actually against what she’s arguing against but without showing it at all, very clearly implies that this writer thinks that nonbinary people are deluded or whatever.

“The backlash is emblematic of a disdain for those who lean right politically, and a desire to rally against Mr. Ford for the sake of political divisiveness. This is evident in the number of media outlets and individuals on social media, angrily pointing the finger at social conservatives,” she writes.

I think my little cutesy crossed out section there is a prime example of what “social conservatives” refer to as “virtue signalling.” In other words, I’m trying to claim some sort of moral high ground because I think nonbinary people are valid and I believe them when they describe their own experiences, and of course in the process I show “disdain” for anyone who doesn’t. And the only reason I would ever do this is because I have a personal vendetta against Doug Ford, probably only because I hated Rob Ford for saying the words “gravy train” a lot.

It was pretty grating, you have to admit.

Ford was elected (probably) in part as a reactionary response to Wynne, her womanhood, her lesbianism, and her really good sex ed curriculum. It’s a little more complicated, of course. He was also likely elected as a reactionary response to upping the minimum wage by almost a toonie an hour, something a frightening amount of people were very, very, very against. Also because of the good chunk of people who would happily elect Trump up north, who call Justin Trudeau “Justine” and still make hair jokes, whose every move is reactionary.

And the rest of it is probably because people are disappointingly apathetic at the best of times and don’t pay attention/apply empathy to the big decisions they make.

My question is, why is it me, and the other people mad that they’d attack good education, who are being needlessly divisive, and not Ford and his people, gutting good education just to make bigots happy?

Anyway. Four years (at least) of Ford is a waking nightmare, so here’s something important:

I don’t think I’m better than anyone else. I’ve just read some stuff. I follow some people. I’ve watched a Youtube video here and there. If the thought of people who identify neither as male nor female, or as femme but not fully femme, or as masc-of-centre, or as male one day and female the next, or as demi-, or simply as nonbinary freaks you out, take a deep breath and read up on it. Do a Google search, use your critical thinking skills and your empathy and grow up. It’s not a big deal.

If you’d rather sit back and watch someone (a cisgender someone, if that helps any) explain some things, there’s a Bill Nye episode that includes a weird ice cream metaphor.

(Are there sex and gender scientists who argue that nonbinary people are deluded and that gender is 100% a biological thing? Sure. Debra Soh is apparently one of them. They’re what we call “bad scientists.” Not because their politics are bad, but because their science is quite clearly informed and shaped by their bad politics.)

(I know that there’s this fear that research that states that gender is just biological sex and that “biological sex” is an all-encompassing thing itself that no one can ever “defy” and that transgender people are mentally ill will be gagged by evil government forces bowing to the mighty will of the SJW. Instead of worrying about that, which is simply the plot of a so-far unwritten really boring right-wing dystopian novel, researchers should try to do better research, get tougher skin about legitimate criticism, and note that what transgender people themselves face from potentially hostile governments, or, if they’re lucky, just hostile fellow citizens, is much worse, and a much more realistic threat.)

Here, read it for yourself. Half of it is about how we need to be sex positive. Just remember, though, we can’t admit that femininity and masculinity aren’t biological realities that none of us can ever defy healthily. That would damage the children, upon whom femininity OR masculinity are thrust based solely on what genitals they were born with, rightfully so, hem hem.

My kindergarten self, age 4, yelled at by the boys for trying to play with dinosaurs and owning a Man-Bat while wearing purple dresses, rolls her eyes at this crap. She doesn’t even need to be nonbinary to know that gender is a construct.

I could end by saying that probably Soh would say that dinosaurs, Man-Bat, and purple dresses aren’t what she means by gender but first of all, we all know that these things don’t magically exist in a genderless vacuum when it comes to our very concerned society, and that when we say “gender is a social construct” this is EXACTLY what we mean, and second of all, I’d rather say this, and only this, forever amen: Man-Bat was my favourite right up until I left him in the driveway and my dad accidentally ran him over, leaving me bereft, but then I forgot about his existence until one day my mom was like “and then dad ran over Man-Bat” and I was like “what the HELL is a Man-Bat.” Life is unfair and tragic, Man-Bat, and children are fickle. I’m sorry.

I’m so sorry.

Fragile Masculinity in Incredibles 2

This right here.

(Also BAO was really cute)

MY JAWBREAKERS

This article contains Incredibles 2 spoilers.

Father’s day is meant to celebrate the males in your upbringing; to honor the special gift of fatherhood and the many life lessons and laughs it brings throughout. These Hallmark holidays are typically warm, sunny excuses to bond with family members and take an afternoon to unwind and smile outside the stresses of every day life.

Which is exactly why we chose to treat my dad to a showing of the sequel to our long-time family-favorite: Incredibles 2. What could be more wholesome? The original Incredibles was a hit for many reasons; the splendor and innocence of a Disney superhero family layered masterfully with adult humor and perspective– in other words, an instant classic. We were practically gnawing our nails in excitement to see the follow-up this Sunday afternoon.

I found Incredibles 2 to teach a valuable lesson in stamina to other animated films…

View original post 777 more words

Summer Solstice (Belated) Reading Roundup

(Parent Trap is the ultimate movie of summer, according to me. It’s got everything: Lindsay Lohan, Linsday Lohan doing a British accent, Lindsay Lohan doing an imitation of Lindsay Lohan doing a British accent, also it’s actually the best and I don’t think anyone could convince me otherwise)

(I think it’s in Spanish)

I’m late but whatever, let’s do this. Spoiler alert: I liked everything.

Spring Equinox

su wild beauty

Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

Well.

I’ve had my complaints about how pretty and poetic McLemore’s prose is when talking about her other two books – because I am boring and have bad taste, maybe. But I really liked this one.

Maybe I was more open to it because of the cover art and the title, but I do think the magical elements in this story are really intriguing, moreso than the magic in the other two.

I liked it.

su the belles

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

I liked this too. People in this world have “teacup” animals as pets – like, people are walking around with teacup crocodiles and lions or whatever they want, and I’m worried that there will be more abuse of them in further installments in what is apparently this series. Other than that I’m looking forward to the sequel because it’s very interesting so far.

Not sure if sci-fi or if everyone is actually telling the truth and it’s fantasy or maybe it’s both! Either way, it’s really cool.

su winter tide

Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys

This was really good. I didn’t expect to like it very much because it’s Lovecraft and I don’t have time for that. The only Lovecraft I’ve tangled with is that DEFINITELY NOT A PARODY BOOK Awoken by Sara Elinsen.

But I liked it.

su pulchritude

Pulchritude by Ana Mardoll

I liked this too. I was expecting it to be a little more (for lack of a better/existing word) gooshy, like the other Ana Mardoll one I’ve read, but it wasn’t.

It was pretty depressing though, and although the cover insert/blurb/whatever warns the reader not to expect what you’d usually get out of a fairy tale, and although I knew it was going to come to a not very nice end, I was still taken aback by it. But it’s what I wanted, so.

su bad girls throughout history

Bad Girls Throughout History by Ann Shen

This was educational. Each woman has a brief little blurb about her, and I did read a few of them with an eyebrow (or two) raised. One specific example I can remember is while I was reading through the inevitable Tudor England portion and the book gushed about Elizabeth (rightfully) but didn’t feature Mary.

And.

OK.

Maybe I’m just Catholic (lapsed) (is there such a thing as a not-lapsed Catholic?), but Mary Tudor has gotten the shaft throughout history.

She’s super problematic but so was Elizabeth, who participated big time in colonialism, if you’d like one example. Mary should have gotten a nod.

Also Jane Grey deserved one too.

And although I got annoyed at that mainly because I’m a Tudor-era nerd, I couldn’t help but wonder what other details were being skipped, and who else maybe should have been included.

Ultimately I still think this is worthwhile, but it’s very Ladies in History 101, which, I think, it’s trying to be.

And I liked it.

su-islands-of-decolonial-love.jpg

Islands of Decolonial Love by Leanne Simpson

I liked it, it was beautiful.

I had a favourite passage I tweeted:

And there you go.

su the heiress effect

The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan

[Insert stock explanation of how much I love Courtney Milan’s romance novels here]

su six of crows

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Yup.

(I do have some concerns about the Nina/Matthias thing but I want to read the sequel, watch the inevitable HBO series/movie/other broadcast series/whatever, force my sister to read it, AND THEN I’ll talk about it.)

All right summer, here we go!

PS: WT ACTUAL F, WORLD POLITICS? W. T. ACTUAL. F.

The animal welfare movement’s #metoo problem

This is unfortunate and unsurprising.

Nonprofit Chronicles

171101-ryan-metoo-tease_ann11kSexual harassment and gender bias in the animal welfare movement have been talked about for years, mostly but not entirely in private. Now the problems are bursting into public view, and not a moment too soon.

Last night, the Chronicle of Philanthropy published my story about the Humane Society of the U.S. It reports that Humane Society’s board of directors has hired a Washington, DC, law firm to investigate an allegation of workplace misconduct against its longtime chief executive, Wayne Pacelle. Among the topics, insiders say, is an alleged sexual relationship between Pacelle and a female employee.

The investigation at HSUS, which is the nation’s most important animal welfare group, comes as women in the animal protection movement are publicly calling out some of the movement’s most prominent leaders, accusing of them of offenses that range in gravity from using language that creates a frat-like “bro” culture to sexual assault.

View original post 1,869 more words

Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling

This show (based on the Robert Galbraith – pseudonym of JK Rowling – book series about Cormoran Strike, private detective extraordinaire) finally premiered in Canada, and now that I’ve watched all three parts (of the first novel), here is the laziest review of life for it:

  • the cast is very good: everyone looks, acts, and sounds as if they walked off the pages of the book
  • some changes in the order of events are weird. Unsurprisingly I prefer Rowling’s pacing/order of events, but her way probably works better in a novel than it would in a TV show
  • still, can’t help but feel like the slow, internal, meticulous novel version of this exact story works at least 70% better than the show version, which makes me sad
  • maybe that will change for Silkworm because that one is a RIDE
  • the most annoying change of events is Strike sleeping with Ciara – I think that happened after he talked in detail with Guy. Even if it happened before, the thing they did where they make it so that Guy points out how good Strike apparently is at sex according to a supermodel who has a lot to compare him with in front of Robin is, like, the heaviest heavy hand freaking ever, and unnecessary. Very, very unnecessary.
  • buuuut it was one thing, whatever.
  • more uncomfortable about this is that in this book/tv series, the [spoiler] two characters who are murdered are black women. It is sort of interesting that the murderer is shown to be racist but not in the cartoonish, unrealistic way that a guy who murders two black women would normally be portrayed. Instead, he’s a relatively normal white person, at pains to be like, “Well, it’s a black fellow in this footage – not that the fact that he’s black makes it suspicious by itself, I’m not – it’s just the time and location that makes it – you know what I mean.” Of course he also murdered his brother when they were both children so race isn’t his motivation, not at all, so it’s this weird thing where he is trying to capitalize off of societal racism in who he tries to point the finger at and in how he thinks he’ll get away with the second murder (I’m pretty sure he almost does, too), and he’s slightly, everyday racist himself, and he murders two black women – one purely out of self-interest, the other out of familial jealousy. The thing is, black women being murdered in real life isn’t really something that can be separated so easily from their being black women, and that aspect of the murders is noted but not the focus. And that can be an interesting thing, it can be a problematic thing, and it is likely both of those things at once. I actually have a lot of thoughts about Rowling’s two murderers in the first and second books. The third murderer is scary and all but he’s also pretty typical. The first two really threw me when they were revealed, made me uncomfortable, and I’m still having trouble sorting through how much of my discomfort is because I think she’s being a little problematic and how much is that she’s being unexpected and brutally honest in ways that make me squeamish. I think it’s a little bit problematic and mostly, she just got me. But unfortunately, the show version didn’t really add to my deliberations at all, apart from reminding me that I already have that going on somewhere in my subconscious.
  • I am excited to see Silkworm but also scared. That book was genuinely disturbing. Strike’s… discovery early on, and the reveal of who the murderer is and all of the fallout… yeah. If the show version has managed to pull it off I will be disquieted all over again, and if not I’ll be pretty disappointed.

lula landry

My biggest disappointment is that all of the little references JKR adds in there about women like Princess Diana, Marilyn Monroe, and Amy Winehouse, and the pressures of fame and objectification and tabloids and all of that garbage on young, talented, beautiful women which flesh out Lula’s story aren’t really present here. It feels like they should have been able to do that much easier in a show, particularly since they play clips of Lula’s Youtube videos. Those nods give the story relevance, depth, and create a real sense of empathy for the fictional victim whose voice is never actually heard in the book. We could have used them in the TV version of events.

Anyway, this has been your late-June reminder to read books.

These books are really nice reads. Financial realities, terrible boyfriends of amazing women who infuriatingly don’t realize that – not even that they deserve better, more that they don’t realize that they don’t deserve such trash in their lives omg Robin what are you doing, slow internal piecing together of the mystery, uncomfortable reveal of a murderer that up until this point has been at least a little bit sympathetic…

But in general, mysteries are great and we all deserve nice things in our lives so pick up a mystery at your earliest convenience.

And me. Hi, me. You’ve read these three books (for pleasure), one by Anthony Bidulka (for school), a bunch of the Lillian Jackson Braun Cat Who books (because you’re a cat person), and that’s IT, despite the fact that a good mystery is just about your favourite thing ever. So pick up a mystery at your earliest convenience.

Thanks.