Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 12:30 on 22-05-2013, Robinson L
@Arthur: I mostly concur, although it was only with this latest season that I began to suspect the writing team was trying to cram 3-4 episodes' worth of material into a single 45-minute episode. It was also with this season I realized just how many of the one-off monsters on the show are used as mirrors for the Doctor (which is not to say that it doesn't work ... some of the time).

Even so, I think the new series is capable of some quite brilliant storytelling, despite the self-referential/reverential quagmire. I don't blame anyone for finding the quagmire too thick to wade, but I don't think it makes the new show incapable of producing good storytelling, if that makes any sense.
at 10:54 on 22-05-2013, Arthur B
The difference between Old Who and New Who, in iconic dialogue:

DOCTOR: (Steps out of TARDIS.) Hi, I'm the Doctor and I'm here to help.
LOCAL: Who are you? Why should I trust you? And furthermore, wh-HUGHAHGHALGUGUGHG oh god i'm melting
(CLIFFHANGER HAPPENS, story spends 3-4 episodes on a slow boil before things get climactic)

DOCTOR: (Steps out of TARDIS.) Hi, I'm the Doctor and I'm here to help.
LOCAL: Oh wow, the DOCTOR! I'm actually meeting the DOCTOR! This is the most amazing thing which could possibly ever happen to me.
(Story wraps up within 45 minutes, with the plot just rushed and incoherent enough to make the viewer suspect that the production team write three-hour Old Who-style stories and then shrink them down by utterly butchering the pacing.)

I mean, there's exceptions in both shows. Old Who would occasionally have the local be all like IT IS OUR AN-CI-ENT E-NE-MY THE DOC-TOOOOOR! EX-TER-MIN-ATE! New Who will occasionally have people be baffled about who the Doctor is, but will usually skip the step where he actually convinces them to trust him and just have them spontaneously start trusting him for no obvious reason because he's just that awesome.

But the fact is that in Old Who the major defining event of most bit-part characters lives is that their planet got invaded by the Daleks and the Doctor happened to save them, whereas in New Who the defining moment is THEY GOT TO MEET THE DOCTOR!!! oh and there might have been Daleks somewhere in the vicinity too. My instinct is to blame this on New Who being run by fanboys who are so absolutely giddy about being allowed to write Doctor Who they end up writing stories about how awesome Doctor Who (the show and the character) is. It's all become rather self-referential and self-reverential and drunk on its own past glories.
at 08:29 on 22-05-2013, Shimmin
Passing thought: I was idly wondering whether some of the differences of opinion about Doctor Who, and especially Old/New Who, come down to dramatic vs. iconic heroes? So I think you could argue that Old Who is basically an iconic hero, and the series is about When Happens When The Doctor Encounters X, whereas New Who is much more of a dramatic hero with stories that tend to be more about The Doctor Experiences X. Except that I don't know the theory well enough to be sure.

I mean, personally speaking I stopped watching it because it started to feel like Eastenders in Space when I felt it should be like Sherlock Holmes.
at 21:58 on 21-05-2013, Melanie
I just found this blog that writes delightfully sarcastic responses to bizarre questions written in to (unrelated) advice columns.

What kind of ignorant shitbag eats 'dinner' at night, indeed.
at 21:49 on 21-05-2013, Arthur B
"Members of subculture based around literally looking like a clown on meth behave in a manner which lacks dignity" is not in any sense news.

That doesn't stop Juggalos of OKCupid from being hilarious.
at 02:02 on 18-05-2013, Adrienne

I have been watching it intermittently, but I'm way behind. I'm looking forward to the finale, though, with that recommendation. :)
at 16:18 on 17-05-2013, Ibmiller
So, anyone watching Elementary? I thought the way the finale played with expectations re: gender, etc, was pretty interesting.

Okay, to be honest, I loved it, but having no idea what anyone else thinks, I was trying to play it cool.

But yeah, I thought it was fantastic.
at 10:55 on 16-05-2013, Shimmin
I don't see the problem. It's magic cheese.
at 23:43 on 15-05-2013, Michal
So a wheel of enchanted cheese reported in Poland in the sixteenth century reappeared in Kent in 1651.

This is where I start seriously questioning my choice of field of study.
at 20:11 on 15-05-2013, Fishing in the Mud
I do expect Yelp to shut that shit down at some point, since a lot of the new "reviews" are from people who admit to never having gone to the restaurant or are otherwise worthless. It's fun and all, but Yelp isn't Reddit or Facebook.
at 19:37 on 15-05-2013, Arthur B
The yelp page is even more enjoyable if you flip the date sorting so it's oldest-first and read it like that, because it really underscores the fact that no, this isn't an act, they've been determinedly alienating people for the past three years or so.
at 18:24 on 15-05-2013, Fishing in the Mud
Also, as a fan of trainwrecks, I'm quite enjoying their Yelp page.
at 18:11 on 15-05-2013, Fishing in the Mud
This is awesome. The husband and wife clearly feed off of each other's egomania to the point where they're obviously completely immune to criticism. They're rich enough that the restaurant likely doesn't need to make money, so they probably won't even have to shut the worthless sink down. I guess if you can afford to live in a fortress of delusion, you might as well.

Also, that waitress was having the best day she'd had in a while. Her grin just kept getting bigger. Good for her.
at 17:31 on 15-05-2013, Axiomatic
So I'm not the only one who took feline as a second language in school!
at 17:22 on 15-05-2013, Arthur B
Those people are just...kind of...scarily glorious? Or gloriously scary.

I know, right? It's nice to see that Klaus Kinski is looking so well for a guy who's been dead for twenty years at any rate.
at 16:31 on 15-05-2013, Kit
I don't know why I watched this. Major trainwreck syndrome, probably. Those people are just...kind of...scarily glorious? Or gloriously scary. Insane, at any rate.

On the other hand, their waitress is incredibly cute. I wanted to give her a hug throughout the whole thing.
at 10:38 on 15-05-2013, Arthur B
Kitchen Nightmares is my televisual comfort food but the latest series finale of the US version is absolutely incredible. One of the restaurant owners combines an utter inability to deal with any criticism with an unshakeable belief that she is a genius chef and anyone who doesn't like her food is objectively wrong. The other is a tyrant who won't let any of the staff use the till, takes all of the (only) waitress's tips for himself, and at one point gets in Gordon's face and starts talking about how he's a gangster.

They also threw an amazing tantrum on Facebook after the episode aired.
at 20:09 on 13-05-2013, Dan H
The initial tweet from Maureen Johnson that started off the Coverflip thing was about boys not wanting to be seen to be reading "girly" books; as someone tweeted back, "Interesting. But is the solution making it "non-girly," or change how men value/perceive female experience/voices (or both)?". And I think that in the long run, the latter is more important.

I think this basically sums up my problem with the whole exercise.

Back when Disney's Tangled came out, I seem to recall that there was a bit of a stink in the feminist blosphere because they'd explicitly decided *not* to call it "Rapunzel" (like they normally would with a fairytale retelling) because that might make boys think it was a "girl movie". To my mind, gendered marketing is at its most infuriating when people avoid putting girls (or girly things) on their products to avoid alienating a male audience.

I'm also just not convinced that Johnson is actually *right* that books by women, all else being equal, get girlier covers than books by men. I think we've established pretty well that it doesn't seem to be true in genre fiction, so that only leaves literary fiction. I've had a quick look a the 2012 Man Booker Longlist and the only even vaguely girly covers are Skios by Michael Frayn and Swimming Home by Deborah Levy. And Swimming Home is "girly" only in the sense of "having a woman on it."

So, yeah, it makes me a bit uncomfortable, because "end gendered book covers" seems to be code for "stop putting girly covers on books."
at 19:00 on 13-05-2013, Alice
Re: gender-swapped book covers.

I'm torn on this one, too, largely because I think the coverflipping exercise looks at the problem in slightly the wrong way. I do think that, generally speaking, books with "girly" covers are looked down on/perceived to be of lower quality, and that books by female authors are more likely to be given the "girly" treatment.

The former is certainly a problem: as Johnson says in the article, "[a] man and a woman can write books about the same subject matter, at the same level of quality, and that woman is simple (sic) more likely to get the soft-sell cover with the warm glow and the feeling of smooth jazz blowing off of it.". And that, combined with the tendency of readers to assume that books with "girly" covers are of lower quality, is a problem.

The latter (books by female authors being "girlified") isn't necessarily a problem: as Dan says, giving "books in genres that are specifically targeted at women" feminine covers isn't necessarily a bad thing.* But that's a bit different to "giving otherwise very similar books in genres marketed to both sexes different covers depending on the gender of the author".

So the coverflip for Jonathan Franzen's Freedom seems pretty reasonable to me (though I say this without having read the book). But as Arthur and Dan both point out, some of the flips, especially for the genre novels, make less sense: crime novels tend to look like crime novels regardless of the author's gender, as do horror novels or sword-and-sorcery books. Of course, there's a separate debate to be had about the perceived quality of those books, and how much of a problem that is.

The initial tweet from Maureen Johnson that started off the Coverflip thing was about boys not wanting to be seen to be reading "girly" books; as someone tweeted back, "Interesting. But is the solution making it "non-girly," or change how men value/perceive female experience/voices (or both)?". And I think that in the long run, the latter is more important.


*And for instance in the romance genre there's an inversion of the "male/gender-neutral nom de plume for female authors" repackaging thing -- e.g. JK Rowling for Joanne Rowling -- that happens in other genres. Male romance writers often write under female or gender-neutral pseudonyms, and I suspect there isn't much difference between their book covers and covers for romances written by female authors.
at 15:47 on 13-05-2013, Arthur B
I like how the cover they did for Carrie in absolutely no sense looks like the sort of covers people slap on the work of female horror/dark fantasy authors, presumably because if they actually provided a cover in that style it would, uh, look remarkably like the original one.

I mean, some of the other comparisons hit a lot closer to home but I'm pretty sure publishers aren't slapping that sort of cover on novels about troubled psychics who murder their entire home town in a temper tantrum.
at 14:56 on 12-05-2013, Dan H
Just found this: what covers of books by female authors would look like if they'd been written by a man and vice versa.

I'm torn about this, because I can't help feeling that it's unhelpful to conflate "perceived quality" with "relative level of girliness."

It's certainly true that books in genres that are specifically targeted at women have feminine covers but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, and I think it's a whole different kind of problematic to equate "girly" covers with "bad" or "low quality" books. A lot of the cover-flips basically take a novel by a male writer in a male-dominated genre, and flip to to make it look (nine times out of ten) like the cover of a romance novel. I think it's a bit problematic to argue that this makes it look like a "worse" book. Similarly, a couple seem to do the reverse, taking something that's clearly a romance, YA or chicklit cover and flipping it to make it look like a crime novel or a thriller. Heist Society, for example, is a YA novel about a teenage girl who is also an art thief, and at least part of it is set in a boarding school. Giving it a cover like something by Chuck Palahniuk doesn't actually help anybody.

If you look in the same subgenre then a lot of these differences disappear. For example:

The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold have perfectly ordinary fantasy novel covers. Some of her covers *are* a bit trashy, but a lot of fantasy covers in *general* are a bit trashy - see for example Summer Knight by Jim Butcher.

Similarly if you look at the works of Val MdDirmid, they just look like regular crime novels (as do the works of Patricia Cornwell).

Hell, even Laurell K Hamilton gets dark, edgy covers these days.

I don't like to point fingers, and I certainly don't want to get up on my minority warrior high horse here, but I can't help but feel that there's a fine line to walk between "books written by women are more likely to be perceived as poor quality" and "books which I perceive as poor quality are more likely to have been written by women."
at 11:01 on 12-05-2013, Axiomatic
That's a strange form of marginalization, though, because while books with "girly" covers don't get a lot of reviews in magazines, or critical recognition or stuff like that...they actually sell better.

I mean, I try not to be a sexist person, but I have to admit I suddenly know how Dracula feels about having a cross shoved in his face when I look at the girly covers of some of those books. I wouldn't pick them up at the library.

But from the publisher's point of view, as a guy who's mostly interested in science fiction and fantasy, I'm actually a very small group to cater to. And the despised* chick lit market is where the real money is.

*despised? Lol - only INSIDE the SF/F fandom will you find the mistaken impression that SF/F is somehow ranked ABOVE chick lit. To normal people who don't instantly devour every The Dragon's Throne Trilogy Volume One: The Sword of War that comes out, it's all the same ghetto, and any pretentions SF/F might have are laughed at.

AND it doesn't even sell that well.
at 18:00 on 11-05-2013, Robinson L
Just found this: what covers of books by female authors would look like if they'd been written by a man and vice versa. If you scroll the video, there's a gallery of nineteen books with their original covers and then the coverflipped version.

I also learned from a link in that article that J K Rowling has announced the upcoming publication of her own Harry Potter encyclopedia. Lovely.
at 21:52 on 10-05-2013, Fishing in the Mud
Unfortunately not, but that would be fun. It's just that he's ruffling his feathers at some (actually pretty mild) comment I made about Americans, which immediately made me think valse de la lune would have a field day with him.