Category Archives: Things We Need to Stop Doing

Fun (?) With Hate Shipping

Batman and Catwoman

What is this feeling, so sudden and new?
I felt the moment I laid eyes on you?

My pulse is rushing… my head is reeling…
My face is flushing–what is this feeling?
Fervent as a flame
Does it have a name?
Yes… loathing!

Many would say, from both a point of view of literary interest and from one of “ooh, that’s fun”, that the only thing more exciting than hero-villain parallels is hero-villain sexual tension. It’s certainly all over the place, both beamed there by the minds of the audience and planted deliberately by writers and company. Now, as the mantra has become on my little corner of the internet, sometimes this is an interesting thing to play with and sometimes it leads us all into iffy territory. What could possibly be wrong about the idea that two characters who hate or oppose each other secretly (or not so secretly) wanting to make out? Continue reading

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Turtles, Transformers and Thieving Nostalgia

TMNT 2014

I know almost nothing about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and I’m already cringing at the new movie. I first had to do a double take at the fact that they made a movie, the ‘they’ being Michael Bay, who brought us the Transformers films with a varying degree of success and a guarantee of explosions. The TMNT movie seems to very much be in the same vein, the strange new breed of cinema that takes much-loved franchises of toys and children’s TV and reworks them into a badass, sexy, CGI-filled extravaganza. Presumably so, if you’re part of the demographic that enjoyed it as a kid, you can continue to validate your enjoyment of it by sinking your teeth into this new version specially tailored for adults. Hmm.

Now, there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that… but this process can go in weird directions. Or, as in the case of Transformers, just lead to some awful movies. There’s potential for great fun here, as there are with any action movie, especially based on pre-existing things like comics or TV shows so you know that the creators aren’t going to be afraid to be wacky, since they know they’ve already got an audience. If they need to, they can run on the power of nostalgia alone and it will rake in cash, but you don’t want to just lean on that. And you have to keep in mind, also, that a remake like this will draw in new fans—probably actual kids, seeing as they’re still intrinsically linked with their toy lines—and that can lead to a clash of target audiences. Continue reading

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That Thing with Disney and the Faces

Rapunzel/Honey Lemon comparison

Remember when Frozen first came out and the portion of the Intertubes passionate about such things got into a long and detailed fight over whether or not the two new princesses had exactly the same facial design, and as well as that, the exact same facial design as Tangled’s Rapunzel? Well, the argument is back with the newly released posters for Disney’s upcoming CGI movie Big Hero 6, which features all sorts of characters (many of whom have been race-bent away from their original ethnicity, but that’s another kettle of fish), including a white blob in a suit, some superhero kids, and a girl who looks almost exactly like Rapunzel.

Well. This is no longer something that even needs to be argued about, it’s just kind of awkward at this point.

There are some interesting things at play here. “Same Face Syndrome” is a well-known and somewhat damning phrase in the art and animation world, meaning, naturally enough, that all of your character designs have the same face. It’s something, as far as I understand, that’s either associated with beginning artists still getting comfortable with their style and reusing the strokes they know best (fair enough), or, at this point, big industry movies trying to make their princesses look pretty (less fair enough). As this artist points out, it’s much more associated with female characters—Elsa and Anna may look very similar, but the argument that the Frozen character designers were simply conforming to a certain aesthetic falls through a bit when you look at the two male leads of that movie, who are both meant to be handsome but ended up looking very different. So, what, princes and bad guys can be designed differently but pretty, likeable heroines can’t? Continue reading

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Manpain and Moral Ambiguity

Kiritsugu

We take a break from staring moodily out the window to bring you this post

Oops, I’m talking about villains and anti-heroes again.

I read and enjoyed the Harry Potter books, but was never really a die-hard fan at heart… nonetheless, the group that is are always interesting to watch, and one of the areas I note they’re most divided in is the case of Severus Snape. Half of them burst into tears at his very mention and mourn and praise the tragic unrequited love story between him and Lily Potter, the other half recoil at the concept and are in absolute denial that Harry named one of his kids after the sometimes-villainous professor. Both sides have their valid points, but looking at this crevasse-like opinion split I do have to wonder whether JKR succeeded in her attempt to make Snape a likeable, sympathetic and morally interesting character by giving him tragic feelings over a pretty girl.

Which, as discussed before, seems to be a bit of a go-to if you’re looking for emotional growth, motivation explanation or the excuse to get your hero weeping on his knees figuratively or otherwise. Now, when done well this can be fantastic and poignant, when not, it falls a little flat. There’s some genuine pathos and poetry in a tragic love story that the hero must mourn (perhaps leading him down the road to become a villain, even), but as with all things it’s about execution. There’s a difference between setting up a tragic loss in a character’s backstory or current adventure to give him (and I’m using ‘him’ because this post is discussing male heroes and their often but not always female love interests/cute little sisters/doting dead mothers etc.) motivation, conflict or just some emotional depth, and throwing it in there as a hook for sympathy and a quick attempt to humanise a character that does awful things.

Snape’s love for and loss of the woman who shaped his life is sad, yes, and you feel bad for the guy learning all of that as he dies, but does it redeem the past seven years/books worth of bullying and evil deeds? Again, some believe so, some refuse to. At least that was considerably thought out, as far as I remember, and Lily Potter was an important character in her own right and didn’t just exist to die for Snape’s look-he’s-crying-he’s-not-totally-evil redemption. By all means, kill off characters to create a story via cause and effect, but don’t do so in a way that cheapens both parties. Continue reading

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“Should’ve Read the Book” Elitism

'Augustus Waters dies - should have read the book!' t shirt

I like to think I’m a pacifistic and generally nice person, but if one thing makes me want to start throwing furniture it’s people being snobbish and awful to each other in totally unnecessary areas. One of these is most definitely the brand of elitism that comes from people who read books looking down on those who don’t. I mean come on, there are far more grievous issues in this tumultuous world of ours, and you’re making the time to turn up your nose at people who take interest in non-novel forms of entertainment?

It’s a huge and stupid problem that manifests itself in all kinds of forms, reinforced naturally enough in a lot of fictional character types and translating into the real world. It’s almost a classist thing, if you trace its roots back to past eras where only the privileged were literate. Or perhaps it stems from the (perfectly grounded, if you end up among the wrong crowd of cranky schoolkids) stereotype of people being teased for being bookish, causing said bookish people to retaliate and want to protect their safe space, or take the opportunity to rise up and be the bully they always feared. For the record, not everyone does this. As with most forms of isms, it’s only a select and vocal percentage that manage to ruin it for everyone else. But it is something that’s ingrained in us as readers, I think, whether we notice it or not.

A lot of book heroes, for example, are book readers. There’s nothing wrong with this, and it’s totally cool as it gives the real-world book readers an immediate connection with the character because, whatever magic or adventure might make their lives different, at least they share a hobby. And reading is one of those fantastically immersive hobbies, essentially and easily becoming a way of life. However, the distinction we should make is that it’s those who love stories that share this love, not just those who read (though obviously in things written before movies and the internet and stuff, that’s not an option), and also enforce that your heroes can be perfectly relatable and lovable even if they can’t get through a book. Continue reading

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It’s Not like I like You or Anything: The Trouble with Tsunderes

10 Things I Hate About You

Tsunderes, ice queens, female characters hiding their feelings with anger and cruelty, oh my! Whatever name you give it it’s a common trope all over the shop, from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew to Pride and Prejudice (come on, as if that’s not one big game of “It’s not as if I like you or anything, Mr Darcy”) to modern high school comedies from all cultures—not always specific to women and girls, of course, since the ‘bitterness masking embarrassing mushy feelings’ thing is rife in many forms throughout every genre, ranging from cute bickering to outright abusive behaviour. There’s something interesting and occasionally a little iffy going on with this archetype. What does is say about us as consumers that we love seeing this in our media so freakin’ much?

On one hand, it’s definitely wish fulfilment—especially where it appears in things like harem stories/games and romantic comedies where some degree of audience insertion is encouraged—we want to believe that, no matter how awful the person we like behaves, it’s all just a front to hide their True Feelings and beneath all their snarky bravado is a warm, loving caramelly centre that we are special enough to bring to the surface. Hell, the appeal of the ‘tsundere’ (a Japanese term, one who switches between two facets of their personality: ‘tsuntsun’, aloof or irritable, and ‘deredere’, lovestruck) has been full on explained with science:

“Essentially, when someone is consistently unpleasant towards you, it establishes a behavioural baseline that colours your expectations. When that person becomes more pleasant, even if it’s by a tiny amount, you interpret that as progress, which is psychologically stimulating.”

So, science says it’s more rewarding if someone is awful to us at first and then slowly gets nicer, making less of an impression than if they were nice the entire time (and, naturally, capturing our hearts more than if they were consistently a total ass). Fiction-wise, it definitely fits better into a romantic arc. It’s simply more fun and more interesting to watch an icy personality defrost, a golden example for creating (or at least creating the image of) deep, layered characters, and commenting on the human condition of burying our feelings and insecurities beneath protective layers. It feeds into the ‘everyone has hidden depths’ thing as well as the ‘she’s just playing hard to get’ thing, one of which is notably more problematic than the other. Continue reading

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Subtext and Space Hugs

Madoka Magica space hug

I’m really bad at reading subtext, okay. If two characters have got the gay for each other, you have to tell me outright, otherwise I’m going to fall into the complacent mistiness of believing they really are Just Friends. I have no problem believing, for example, that someone would damn themselves to an eternity fighting in a time loop to save someone’s life out of platonic love. Friendship is magic, alright, and we need more narratives that show the power of non-romantic relationships. That being said, we also need more queer representation, and the two can often get tangled up in a weird sort of meta limbo.

On the one hand, I’d love to see a canon queer relationship on TV, on the other, I’d love to not have any fictional relationship in my face without proper build-up—it’s the old conundrum: people adore love stories but aren’t comfortable with couples, and thus writing them goes in all sorts of strange and dramatic directions. It’s better, then, to draw out the possibility of a romance for as long as possible, making the audience believe in the pairing and support it, so that when they do get their happily ever after it’s much more satisfying. There’s an art to teasing something like that out, but, unfortunately, it runs into and can cross over with a nasty little practice called queerbaiting, dangling the possibility of a non-traditional-heterosexual-straight-as-white-bread romance in front of the audience without there ever being a chance of it actually happening.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell where one begins and the other ends. There’s also an important distinction to make between authorial intent and audience interpretation—the audience is quite within their rights to take the relationship between two friends (or enemies, for that matter) and interpret it as something romantic or sexual, and do with it what they will in their own hearts, minds and internet dealings. That’s what fandom is about; taking the source material and playing with it like putty, stretching and squishing it to explore it from every angle, especially ones the writer didn’t or wouldn’t themselves. However, there’s a gulf between the audience reading into things their way and the writers deliberately putting something there to be read. Which they do not always do with the best intentions. Continue reading

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If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Adapt It

Paper Towns alternate covers

A Paper Towns movie? Have I heard these digital whispers correctly? It seems I have. Of course, not every movie deal that gets hand-shook ends up seeing the light of day, and we have yet to see how The Fault in Our Stars, another adaptation of a John Green novel produced by the same people reportedly putting together Paper Towns, goes when it hits cinemas in June. Still, my air of dubiousness has been, regret to say, riled up again on the subject of book-to-movie adaptations. Here we go again, friends.

My number one gripe about this industry is making movies of books not because they would make good movies, but because the book is popular. The fans are calling wistfully for a moving picture adaptation to bring their beloved vision to life. The Hollywood moguls see a potential project to cash in on. Everyone wants to see a book they enjoyed come to life, but the wall that train of thought runs into is that the movie that it becomes will never be the one you saw in your head while reading it, simply because sometimes the magic of a novel comes from the medium it’s in. A good book does not always make a good movie.

At one end of the spectrum (let’s look to YA, because that’s the big market at the moment it seems) we have The Hunger Games, which made awesome movies that are almost complementary to if not more enjoyable at times than the novels. They worked because of the action-packed nature of the plot (though people in the “why do we have to watch her sitting in a goddamn tree” school of thought will disagree with me there) and the quick, snappy style it’s written in, helped by the fact the novels were structured like a screenplay with a three-act framework Suzanne Collins picked up from being a scriptwriter. A quieter, more introspective novel like Paper Towns that revolves around everyday teenagers is immediately not blockbuster fuel. It’s a good book, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to make a good movie, in fact, in making a movie of that you might lose a good chunk of what exactly makes it good in the first place. Continue reading

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The Antihero is Always Right

For the love of God, someone send Nick Fury after Sherlock Holmes.

BBC Sherlock

What are you smirking about, you life ruiner

I have no problem with characters that are terrible, or even just irritating, people. Lots of characters that I enjoy immensely in fiction are people I would either outright avoid or attempt to sucker punch if I met them in real life. It’s why I love villains, and antiheroes, and made-up people whose diabolical behaviour, snark and flaws I can study in a detached sense. But only to a certain point, and that point is where these characters start actually getting called, as they say, on their crap.

When a villain or antagonist acts awfully, we know it’s not alright because they’re portrayed as the villain and (hopefully and presumably) defeated or at least confronted by the hero or protagonist. Their blatant assholery or people manipulation or flat-out evil is pointed out as a bad thing and within the story world it’s brought to justice. The problem arises when these negative traits appear in the heroes of a story, and the story then goes ahead to treat this bad behaviour as, sub-textually or otherwise, the morally right thing. Protagonists will be rude or downright horrid to other characters, make a mess of things and act, whether in sweeping gestures or in everyday circumstances, in ways that we as members of a polite society are pretty sure we shouldn’t if we want to be accepted and not spurned, or at least complained about when we can’t hear.

Yet, these characters will go on like this undeterred because they make up for their behaviour by doing things no other character can do with whatever main character power-up they have, and thus they’re never (or at least very rarely) reprimanded for the things they do, in more ways than one. If the other characters just brush it off, it’s cemented as an okay thing to do in-world, and from a meta perspective, this character is still being portrayed as the hero of the story for all their awfulness, and thus the message being beamed to the audience is that this is the right and proper thing. And that makes me grind my teeth. Continue reading

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The Geek Chorus (Gone Wrong)

The Big Bang Theory art

‘Geek chorus’ being like a ‘Greek chorus’ in that it’s a character or set of characters that is there for aside glances to the audience. I kinda like that phrasing. Can I patent it?

Everyone wants to see themselves in the fiction they consume, and people get a buzz when they do. Relating strongly to a character warms a certain little compartment of the heart and can make a reader or viewer feel at home, which is why wide representation is so important and also why we often end up with these weird and cringe-worthy cut-out ‘geek’ or ‘book loving’ heroes that fans are meant to empathise with.

Because writers/showrunners/creators of fictional things for mass consumption are acutely aware of the cockles-warming nature of relatable heroes it’s understandable they jump on this and try to create one that will connect with their audience, who they think they also acutely know. This can go one of two ways and, I’m afraid to say, does not always end well. The internet has given rise to a new generation of TV writer, for example, that is able to have much more contact with and a better look at the people consuming their shows, whether it’s through chatting with them on Twitter or delving into the fandom circles of journals and blog sites or even, dare they, the world of fan works like art and writing. This exposure can give them an idea of the kind of people that are fans of their series, and that can spark inspiration for a character, be they a cameo or the hero of a new venture, that the audience is sure to see themselves in.

Here’s the thing: while this is ultimately well-meaning (most of the time?), representation of geek culture in media is a world of hits and misses. One only needs to look at the horror that is The Big Bang theory to know that this is how the enthusiastic and nerdy are best perceived on TV. To be fair, they have their fun with pop culture references and there are probably elements of the characters that viewers can see themselves in or be sympathetic with, but for the most part the show stars a pile of stereotypical caricatures with story driven by making fun of fans while masquerading as being relatable to them. Do you see why that’s a problem? Continue reading

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