The Future of DC

DC has gotten some bad press lately for a string of controversial creative and PR decisions, as well as ongoing criticism of their New 52 line and failure to match the popularity of Marvel’s film franchise. Here’s what we have to look forward to as fans for the next few years:

November 2013: in time for Christmas, DC announces new, gritty Santa Clause reboot. Santa is re-imagined as an android bent on revenge. DC does not respond to claims that Futurama has done this already. 

February 2014: a Justice League movie is finally announced. The line-up is Batman, Superman, and Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern. Nobody else. 

June 2014: DC runs a contest for aspiring writers: “send us your most fucked-up torture porn!” The prize is an unpaid internship as a receptionist. 

July 2014: the current Wonder Woman title is cancelled, DC citing that “she’s too difficult to write,” as well as plugging their ears and saying “LALALALALA WE CAN’T HEAR YOU” when fans and former WW writers protest. 

August 2014: In a surprise move, DC does nothing stupid for an entire thirty days. 

September: 2014: Another contest. Draw, write, color, ink, and letter your own comic. You will not be credited on the final product, but if your art is chosen, you’ll be paid with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich signed by Dan Didio.  

November 2014: A new logo is debuted! It’s just a picture of Power Girl shrugging with the letters DC on her boobs. 

December 2014: the Justice League movie is shelved indefinitely. A Batman reboot is planned instead. 

January 2015: The Batman reboot film will be “the grittiest yet;” early scripts feature Bruce Wayne just swearing at everyone through a mouthful of sand. 

February 2015: DC suspends all ongoing series in favor of a reboot using the conceit behind Marvel’s Civil War, which is a great excuse for Superman and Batman to fight. This is a brand-new concept that has never been attempted before. 

March 2015: the six remaining creatives suspend their social media accounts because they can only pretend everything is awesome a certain number of times before having a public meltdown. 

May 2015: DC’s legal department takes to the internet to sue any and all fan artists and fanfic writers, also sends cease and desist notices to bloggers who use copywritten names. 

July 2015: DC finally just sells their assets to Marvel. Warner Bros. retains the film rights to all former DC characters, promises to continue rebooting franchises “until the heat death of the universe.”

 

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Failing Grade in Feminism

The Bechdel test has been around for years, but it’s recently been the topic of conversation in many online circles due to the recent film Pacific Rim.
Pacific Rim features a prominent female protagonist, Mako Mori, who is by any measure a strong, well-written female character, yet the film fails the Bechdel Test because two female characters do not talk to each other. Indeed, there are only two female characters with names present in the film.
The thing about the Bechdel Test is that it’s unfortunately evolved in some feminist spheres as a supposed catch-all test to see if a film is “feminist” or not. That’s not what it’s designed for, and trying to find the holy grail of magical criteria for movies is impossible. It’s really just a measure by which to criticize women-unfriendly media because frustratingly few movies feature more than one woman with a name.
However, that itself is a bad indicator for how “women friendly” a movie is: webcomic artist Noelle Stevenson tweeted pointing out that Kick-Ass 2, a decidedly un-feminist film based on decidedly un-feminist source material, passes the Bechdel Test.
In response, the conversation surrounding feminism and media has given us the “Mako Mori Test,” which by and large features a more open criteria: a) the movie has at least one female character, b) who gets her own narrative arc, c) which is not about supporting a man’s story.
I like it, personally.
But.
It’s still inherently flawed, because like the Bechdel Test, it fails to take into account intersectionality and the overarching narrative of the film in question.
Cool beans; your film passed Bechdel and Mako, but your strong female characters also used racial slurs, so, is that a win? No? Maybe? (No.)
Additionally, the criteria “not supporting a man’s story” is quite broad. The horror movie Antichrist passes the Mako test, and the female protagonist symbolically cuts her own clitoris off, so, you know. Not a super feminist film.
Other tests have been thrown around to measure how well a film does in regard to race, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity, mostly based on the three-pronged Bechdel test. All that I’ve seen come up short in some way because, really, you can’t distill a marginalized group’s issues with society at large into a three question test.
The main takeaway from this entire conversation is that what needs to happen, beyond trying to quantify how feminist something might be, is to create more female characters. Not just more “strong female characters.” More in general.
Try some intersectionality while you’re at it, too.

Get Off My Lawn

Let’s talk about gate-keepers and being better and more real and around longer than everyone else.
 
I’m 25. I was born in 1988 and as such I’ve missed the vast majority of human pop culture. Sorry. I wasn’t around for the Star Trek‘s original series, I didn’t see the original Star Wars in theaters, I wasn’t there for the superhero comics’ Golden, Silver, and Bronze Ages. I missed a lot, and I haven’t had much time to catch up. I’ve had other stuff to do. Again, sorry.
 
As a ‘millenial,’ I have a lot of angry, reactionary thoughts about generational hate. My generation is the punching bag du jour, derided for utilizing the technologies invented by Gen-Xers, and for responding to the economy created by Baby Boomers by complaining about jobs we’re overqualified for (if we can find them at all.)
 
But this isn’t an anti-millenial-hate screed so much as it is a more general piece on how, even when it comes to nerd culture, the bastion for wierdos with wierdo interests, people get dumped on.
 
My theory is that nerds spent so long being abused for their interests in school that when we gain the slightest bit of power (i.e. adulthood, anonymity on the internet, majority demographic, etc.) our first instict is to protect the comfortable niche we’ve carved out for ourselves so carefully. That’s why the myth of the “fake geek girl” is so pervasive. That’s why so many people poop themselves at the very thought of a racebent superhero in a movie. Every deviation from the supposed norm (white, cis-gender, straight, non-disabled, male {unless you’re a love interest; they’re allowed to be female}) is derided as pandering, never mind that this demographic has been pandered to for the entirety of modern western media.
 
While this is obviously the horrible bigoted well from which the stunted status-quo springs, it also works its way in from a more innocent – if still poisonous – place.
 
A 2010 article in Wired magazine (a physical magazine, come on, what is this 1996?) by comedian/author Patton Oswalt focused on the “good old days,” back before the internet allowed absolutely anyone to become familiar with the ins and outs of a particular fandom. Geekery required effort, damnit, and it was a tight-knit, if disparate community.
 
And, honestly, as much as this get-off-my-lawn attitude chafes, I can see this perspective. I’m old enough to remember a time before Tumblr, when we had Yahoo! Groups full of people arguing about fandom minutia. Listserves! Forums! Calling bookstores to see if they had new installments of books and comics! Those were the days; digging up people who shared your interests and probably sharing too much information with internet strangers (sorry, mom.) I’m sure it was even better before the internet, before computers, when you had to like, I don’t know, subscribe to and order things from catalogues or something. Fanfiction has been around forever, but it got a modern start when Star Trek entered the collective imagination, and people had to use fanzines to get their Kirk/Spock fics out there.
 
Nostalgia is great, sure, but it all sucked. It’s nice to be able to say “I was there at the beginning,” (even though you weren’t) and “I was into it before it was cool” (the line between nerd and hipster is non-existent.) But just like it’s so much better to be able to buy and print airplane tickets via the internet, it’s so much better to explore niche interests with the help of like-minded people and a worldwide knowledge depository. And being around longer doesn’t mean much in terms of cred. 
 
Being able to recall every detail of the Song of Ice and Fire universe from memory is really super. It is. But it’s not necessary any more, because we’ve got a wiki to tell us what Rhaenys Targaryen’s cat’s name was. Can’t figure out if that Dragon Priest in Skyrim was supposed to drop a mask and the game glitched? Well, thousands of other people have wondered the same thing, go look.
 
And it’s probably this kind of knowledge availability that’s encouraged the obnoxious fact-based gate-keeping. There’s blogs on blogs on blogs detailing the kind of nonsense marginalized groups go through in nerd spaces. I remember the guy at a convention – the owner of a comic book shop, mind you – who asked me if I’d read all the Adventure Time comics, then scoffed at my negative answer and insulted my Fionna costume. Never mind that I find the cadence, language, and pace of Adventure Time ill-suited to the comic book medium, though I love the show. I have to have consumed everything related to that character, otherwise I was a fake, and I didn’t belong.
 
So what happens when we’re shut out of these places and communities? Well, we create our own, and no matter how big these subcultures get, they’re still ostracized. Most fanfiction, for example, is written by women and girls, mostly around my age and younger, and sneered at by both the general public and other nerds.
 
Why? Because it’s a derivation of an already present work? What’s the difference between a fic on AO3 and Stephen Moffat writing for a show he watched as a kid?
 
Because so much of it is sexually explicit? There’s a bazillion pornographic images of My Little Pony characters created by the adult male Brony fanbase.
 
Because it’s bad writing? Sure, a lot of it is, but what better place to learn the elements of story writing than in a universe you don’t have to worry about creating yourself.
 
The tl;dr of this post doesn’t matter. You’ve probably read this same thing before, worded better, by people who know what they’re talking about. I guess the tl;dr is that that’s what blogging is; complaining at the void until it starts to respond.
 

Welcome to Night Vale: great podcast or greatest podcast?

Aside

Past the lights in Radon Canyon, but before the Whispering Forest, there’s a friendly, if somewhat off-putting community in the desert. Be sure you visit Rico’s Pizza, but do not – I repeat – do not approach the dog park.

It’s called Night Vale, and you should catch up on it.

It’s a podcast that’s been around for over a year, but wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of it. I hadn’t until a month ago, and I only heard of it through word of mouth (or the internet equivalent) on Tumblr. Their fanbase has built itself up this way, with only the most basic social media tools – Twitter, mostly.

Welcome to Night Vale is if H.P. Lovecraft wasn’t racist and also collaborated on Adventure Time. It’s funny, poignant, creepy, and adorable at the same time. This kind of Eldritch humor (eh? eh?) dispenses with Lovecraft’s 19th century racial grossness and takes place in the ethnically diverse American Southwest, and introduces a canonical queer romance in the very first episode, a topic that mainstream media is still hesitant to broach.

Because it’s auditory-only, it’s inspired a bevy of fan-works to fill in the visual blanks; art has sprung up all over the internet depicting Cecil Baldwin (with or without tentacles) and Carlos the Scientist (and his perfect, perfect hair,) as well as other characters, situations, and locales. In fact, the only two characters who have ever been physically described are Carlos and Hiram McDaniels, the five-headed dragon mayoral hopeful, leaving all other characters open to interpretation.

This fandom collaboration has also brought about a serious discussion on racial representation in media; the voice actor for Cecil is white, but his character has never been described physically, lending this fandom the opportunity to explore a level of diversity that’s unfortunately rare in science fiction/fantasy.

Even outside of this discussion on ethnic representation, Welcome to Night Vale is largely unique, the conceit of a small-town radio show lending itself well to a loosely connected series of non-sequiturs instead of a complex over-arching plot.

In conclusion, if you see something, say nothing, and drink to forget.

Star Trek: Political Commentary on a Future Utopia

First, a note on canon: when dealing with science fiction, time travel and alternate universes can often make establishing absolute facts problematic. For the purposes of this essay I will defer to the five television series and all pre-reboot films as “primary sources.” However, I will acquiesce if there is information provided in either the reboot films or other apocrypha (books, guides, etc) that is not superseded by a primary source. Because this essay is extremely scientific and scholarly I will be heavily utilizing the Star Trek wikis Memory Alpha and to a lesser extent Memory Beta as I am not being paid for this and therefore have neither the time nor inclination to sift through fifty years of canon and apocryphal information.

I will also be using a lot of fictional dates that are nevertheless on a standard Western timeline. Suffice it to say that all dates I will use, whether they are before 2013 or after, are referring to a fictional event unless explicitly stated otherwise.

There may be acronyms. TOS = The Original Series, TNG = The Next Generation. DS9 = Deep Space 9. Voyager and Enterprise don’t get acronyms. Additionally, the use of the word “people” will denote any sentient life form including humans.

Some pre-canon explanation is necessary for the uninitiated. In the early 20th century, Earth was plunged into a third World War, ending in a nuclear holocaust which killed 600 million humans. This obviously had a deleterious effect on the world economy; what parts of the planet that were not destroyed were rendered proto-industrial. However, this level of decimation did not last more than a few generations. In 2063, human scientist Zephram Cochrane successfully tested Earth’s first warp drive, which enables a craft to surpass the speed of light. This attracted the attention of a passing Vulcan ship, which landed to meet Cochrane, the first “first contact” involving humans. This developed into a Federation-wide system of using warp travel as a yardstick to determine if a planet was ready to accept knowledge of alien life forms. Later, I will discuss the themes laid out here of cultural imperialism. (For more information on this event as well as general shenanigans, please see the film First Contact.)

Economically, the Federation developed into a post-scarcity utopia due to the invention of protein resequencers (present in some form by at least 2130) and later the replicator. This technology is compounded by a rarely-addressed post-WWIII abandonment of human traits like the desire for material wealth, perhaps a society-wide acceptance in some degree of the Vulcan ideal of “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

People within the Federation ostensibly want for no physical good and money is not a necessity, though a currency exists in the form of Federation Credits, which is particularly useful when doing business with non- (or quasi-) Federation individuals, of which there are many that live and work within Federation space. (The Ferengi, in particular, though I could write an entire additional post on the Ferengi.) Information on the exact nature of Federation credits is vague at best as canon sources differ on whether people are “paid” with these credits or not within Starfleet. Regardless, there are countless examples of Starfleet personnel using Federation credits. In many respects, it seems as though these credits are generally props within a given storyline and not a fully-fleshed out currency.

The primary governing body I will be concerning myself with for the purposes of this essay is the United Federation of Planets, formed in 2161 out of a Human-Vulcan-Tellarian-Andorian military coalition against the continuing military threat of the Romulan Empire.

In terms of organization, the Federation is similar to the U.S. or U.K. government. There is a legislative Council made up of representatives democratically elected by each member planet. They in turn elect a President, who is responsible for foreign policy matters, resource distribution, and is the commander-in-chief of Starfleet. There is also a Federation Supreme Court which canonically has “final appellate jurisdiction over Federation laws” but any further role or appointment procedure is unexplained.

Beyond abiding by the few standard regulations set forth by the Federation government, the disparate planets and races within its jurisdiction are free to govern themselves in whichever way they see fit. Many of these regulations seem logical and reasonable to the average person watching Star Trek in the current era, but may require a non-human race to drastically change their culture. DS9‘s exploration of Ferengi culture was a send-up of the cultural imperialism often present in these narratives. While humans (and most aliens) reacted to the Ferengi treatment of women with disgust, it was nevertheless from within Ferengi culture that social change was introduced. 

Although Starfleet is ostensibly under the purview of the Federation, the military “branch” existed first, similar to how the U.S. Marines trace their founding to prior to U.S. independence. The two are quite inextricably linked in ways that render them essentially two co-equal branches of one organization. Though the purported mission of Starfleet was to “seek out new life and new civilizations,” it clearly began as a defense force for the united Earth government that had developed following first contact. This military role was swept under the rug as the Federation developed, but there is no denying that the superior technology and firepower of Starfleet vessels both created and solved issues within the Alpha quadrant.

DS9 and later Voyager introduced and expanded upon two disparate forces at odds with both each other and the stated peaceful missions of the Federation. Previously, most serious threats came from outside forces branded as “bad” within the narrative, with a few exceptions. The Maquis, however, were the first real evidence of civil unrest within the outwardly utopic Federation. Comprised primarily of former Starfleet personnel and disenfranchised Federation colonists, the Maquis formed as a result of a precarious peace treaty between the Federation and the Cardassians, after which many Federation citizens in disputed areas were abused by Cardassian forces while the Federation did nothing out of fear of another war.

Section 31 represented the other side of the Federation Unpleasantness coin. In what is very clearly a parallel to the real-world U.S. Patriot Act, Section 31 is a Starfleet covert-ops organization named for a section in the Starfleet Charter that allows for “extraordinary measures to be taken in times of extreme threat,” conveniently vague wording that produces the kind of Bush Doctrine response to a potential Klingon threat in Into Darkness.

It is precisely this critical narrative of American neo-imperialism that has seeped into Star Trek within the last thirty years. There is political commentary in TOS, of course, but the real-world political stage changed so drastically between 1966 and the mid-90s (not to mention between 1966 and 2013) that the morality plays of Kirk’s crew seem quaint and dated to a modern viewer, especially one that wasn’t alive to experience 20th century threats like the Cold War. 

Interestingly, it is notable that though the Federation is made up of hundreds of disparate races and planets and largely evolved out of a Human/Vulcan alliance, most high-ranking Starfleet officers are human. Additionally, all examples of Section 31 operatives are human.

A Brief Study of the Magical Socio-Political Structures in Harry Potter

(Originally posted on tumblr on May 29, 2013)

Before we begin, I’m going to talk for a few paragraphs about some housekeeping stuff, because it occurs to me that while you probably know at least the basics of the world of Harry Potter, you might not be aware of the ridiculous nuances of comparative politics and intergovernmental relations.

 The term that might be most confusing to Americans is “state” because our version is slightly warped. In terms of world politics, a “state” refers to a sovereign population and government within a set physical boundary, in the modern era usually one that’s been granted legal recognized status in the U.N. For example, United Kingdom is a state. England is not. England can be called a “nation” in that its people generally share an ethnicity, language, and history. “Country” is the most broad term of the three, usually meaning the physical land itself. This is all confusing and I apologize.

 The main difficulty with this project is that fictional governments are usually peripheral to the story itself. This issue is less pronounced in something like A Song of Ice and Fire, which is essentially a global political drama with dragons. The Harry Potter series is a different animal altogether. The narrative is much more narrow; it almost solely follows the adventures of a single teenager, and while these are obviously remarkable adventures, Harry himself has relatively limited contact with and knowledge of his government. (There isn’t a Wizard Government class at Hogwarts, for example. One might assume that this topic is folded into the History of Magic class, but one can’t be sure.) Most actual teenagers are the same way.  Also, this information is usually boring to the average reader, and the author therefore invents only as much information is necessary for world-building purposes, leaving the rest of it up to our imaginations to fill in.

 I could go into a long commentary based on the structure of Wizarding culture, especially in regard to education. Children in the U.K. magical community are accepted into Hogwarts (the only magical school in the country, though not in the world) by their eleventh birthday. We must assume that children are either home-schooled until then, which would place an economic burden on parents, or sent to Muggle primary schools, which might cause a breach of the International Magical Secrecy Act (which I will discuss in greater detail below) considering that small children aren’t amazing at keeping things secret.

We’re told that going to Hogwarts is not generally compulsory; children may be sent to a foreign school or home schooled, but when a student is expelled from Hogwarts, their wand is broken, which seems like an almost cruel and unusual punishment, given that a wizard’s power is almost completely dependent on their wand.

 Wizards in the U.K. are governed by the Ministry of Magic, which in turn functions in a parallel capacity to the Muggle British Government. In fact, the only Muggle who is told of the existence of the magical community (other than family members of Muggle-borns, obviously) is the Prime Minister of Great Britain, a security measure by the Minister of Magic in case of a magical breach of security that may threaten the Muggle population. (As in Half Blood Prince, following the public return of Voldemort.)

Besides this, British Wizards seem to operate completely independently from the Muggle government, a sovereign state that is dispersed among another sovereign state, which is not a concept that has a direct parallel in modern government.

The concept of diplomatic immunity is really the closest analogy I can make to the way witches and wizards operate in Muggle communities. Despite being widely misrepresented in popular culture as a free-for-all pass to break any law in your host country, diplomatic immunity really just refers to a set of relatively banal things a representative of a foreign nation might be protected from, like having their dwelling searched or being called as a witness in a crime. These special rights and protections vary widely based on host nation, nation of origin, and level of importance of the diplomat in question, and have been the subject of a lot of inter-state stress given the sketchy nature of diplomatic relations, but suffice it to say that if you’re a diplomat you really shouldn’t just run people over and claim you were on official government business. You probably shouldn’t do this if you’re not a diplomat either.

The worldwide magical community, under the International Confederation of Wizards, a U.N.- analogous body, is bound by the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy, (ISWS) a law that went into effect in 1692. This law was passed in order to protect both the magical and muggle populations, who were beginning to come to a friction (The ISWS was passed around the same time as the real-life Salem Witch Trials.) and it outlaws the magical population from using magic in front of Muggles, or otherwise drawing undue attention to themselves, unless there are lives in danger. Wizards and Witches are required to dress appropriate to the situation and time period when amongst Muggles, which seems to be a struggle for some since magical fashion – along with technological development – appears to have stagnated around whenever robes and cloaks were stylish.

One must assume there are other caveats to this, given that there are Muggles who live with magical children or spouses, and there is canonical evidence that magic was done in front of Muggle family members with no legal repercussions. It is reasonable to infer, however, that the magical community is bound by the same laws as their Muggle counterparts for the simple reason that breaking them might cause a breach of the ISWS. When a Witch or Wizard has performed magic or otherwise made Muggles aware of their presence, a team of specialists is sent to wipe the Muggles’ memories of the event. Muggles who are already aware of the existence of the magical community presumably do not represent this breach of security.

Additionally, though Britain has a democratically elected government on both a national and regional level, Wizards in that country do not seem to hold any kind of elections. They are governed by the aforementioned Ministry of Magic, lead by the Minister of Magic, who is selected by the Wizengamot, a body that appears to act in both a judicial and legislative capacity and itself does not seem to be elected.

Given the lack of democratic representation and oversight in their government, it is easy to imagine that corruption and incompetence would be rampant within the magical community, and it probably goes a long way to explain the ease with which Voldemort was able to take control over the Ministry in such a short amount of time.

While my knowledge of the British criminal justice system is based almost solely on watching Hot Fuzz and a few episodes of Law and Order U.K. I cannot help but feel that the magical version leaves something to be desired. Even discounting the vicious Death Eater regime that was described in Deathly Hallows, there are several examples from the books that detail a system that could and was easily manipulated.

There is one instance within the context of a “normal” judicial hearing that we as an audience are privy to: Harry Potter’s trial for usage of underage magic. It is clear that while the entire Wizengamot was present for Harry’s hearing in Order of the Phoenix , this is not a usual occurrence for a relatively minor crime like underage magic. I’m going to haphazardly compare this to underage unlicensed driving, which in my state in the U.S. carries a sentence of six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. Having the entire Wizengamot present would be like the U.S. Supreme Court presiding over a standard traffic violation, even with a high-profile individual as a defendant. Other judicial hearings we see are under the Death Eater regime or during what might be called a war-crimes trial, and can’t really be looked at as an example of a standard hearing.

The prison system definitely crosses the line of inhumane treatment, given that the magical community in Britain only has one corrections facility; Azkaban prison. It was staffed with magical creatures called Dementors that literally suck all the happiness out of you and also have the ability to eat your soul. In fact, while the Ministry of Magic does not appear to condone capital punishment, there is precedent for this “Dementor’s Kiss” occurring as a legal punishment, a process that leaves the victim alive and functional, but unresponsive, like the origins of the zombie myth. One would probably argue that simply being executed would be preferable, but this one doesn’t want to open that door. Suffice it to say that if you are sentenced to Azkaban, you are serving time with offenders ranging from petty theft to genocide.

The issue of the actual size of the Magical population also leaves some questions, but may account for what we see as a lack of governmental oversight. Based on this forum thread (though I’ve seen other theories along the same vein) as well as estimates from J.K. Rowling, there are only roughly 3,000 witches and wizards in the U.K. To put this in perspective, I went to an average-sized high school that housed more people. When looked at from this angle, such small infrastructure and splintered communities make sense to a disparate population attempting to stay incognito.

Let’s Pretend

Hi, I’m Kira. I’m trying to consolidate my wildly disorganized web presence into something reasonably palatable. I’ve been using Tumblr to middling success, but with this platform I can have my name in the url and that’s really exciting. My Tumblog can be found through one of the links to the right, but I will be transferring anything decent from that blog to this one.