Playpen

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 01:44 on 04-09-2013, Michal
So Redshirts won the Hugo Award. Thoughts, anyone? I thought it was an amusing but otherwise utterly pointless novel.

This, on the other hand, looks amazing. (Dramatic reading here.)
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at 22:35 on 03-09-2013, Alice
My response to anything to do with the 50 Shades film pretty much boils down to o_O -- mostly because I can't see why, (especially?) as an actor, you'd want to be part of it. I mean, on some level I can see the reasoning of "massively best-selling books --> huge ready-made film audience --> profit", but I'm not sure step two necessarily follows from step one.

It strikes me that this is going to be a film meant to please fans of the book, which means that they're likely going to (have to) stick pretty closely to the book!story. But I can't see how that won't restrict their audience - I'm not sure how they can film what's in the book without running into problems vis à vis ratings.

I feel like the (a?) reason the book is so popular is that it taps into people's fantasies of one sort or another. But those fantasies are pretty personal, and it strikes me that a book is a better medium for allowing people to engage with those fantasies than a film would be -- for one thing, a book allows you more freedom to fill in blanks such as what exactly the characters look and sound like. For another (and perhaps more importantly), the fantasies that 50 Shades taps into are, err, ones I'd imagine most people would rather engage with in private, rather than in a room full of strangers.

Honestly, though, I think the 50 Shades phenomenon is just completely lost on me, so I may well be wrong and it'll make squillions of dollars at the box office...

(I will say that a lot the response I've seen to the Charlie-Hunnam-is-Christian-Grey news is people bemoaning his choice as if he were Raleigh Becket. Which I find sort of understandable but mostly a bit weird.)
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at 12:13 on 03-09-2013, Arthur B
I can't wait for the subplot where Ron Perlman is Christian Grey's stepdad who wants to keep Grey Enterprises on a self-serving and overtly criminal bent whilst Christian reads up on anarchist political philosophy and daydreams about steering things in a more idealistic direction but never really follows through on that.
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at 12:42 on 02-09-2013, Kit
So, um, Coriolanus starring Tom Hiddleston, anyone? Please tell me that somebody will be going (and reviewing), so that I may at least experience it vicariously :)
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at 05:42 on 02-09-2013, Alasdair Czyrnyj
I guess if you run a tumblr called "My Dark Appetite" anything which isn't instragram pictures of the organs you remove from the people you Take is probably an improvement...

And as luck would have it, I watched a movie this evening about a girl who did...well, not that, but everything but.
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at 02:32 on 01-09-2013, Arthur B
I guess if you run a tumblr called "My Dark Appetite" anything which isn't instragram pictures of the organs you remove from the people you Take is probably an improvement...
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at 01:04 on 01-09-2013, Melanie
Oh my god it's Dr. Venture.
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at 18:01 on 31-08-2013, Alasdair Czyrnyj
I may not be the target audience, but I think the world would be a better place if this magazine existed.
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at 22:56 on 28-08-2013, Alice
I just finished Gone Home, too, or at least I wrapped up the main story & got to the credits. There are still at least a couple of things I have yet to (literally) unlock, but since I got to the credits, I assumed this means I didn't miss anything majorly important.

(Err, says the complete video game newbie who only recently finished a game for the first time ever. Making this only the second game I've ever finished.)

I'm not sure I could completely honestly say I enjoyed (all of) it (exploring a spooky abandoned house in the middle of a thunderstorm? Bit of a tense experience!), but I'm glad it exists and I'm glad I played it. So thanks for the rec, and for the list of criticism, Bryn!
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at 00:00 on 28-08-2013, Bryn
Great!

If (like I was) you're in 'must read all about it' mode now, Gone Home has attracted a remarkable amount of really interesting criticism and discussion, both from people who have reservations about the game and people who are super-enthusiastic.
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at 21:47 on 27-08-2013, Jamie Johnston
Just swinging by to say I played Gone home and enjoyed it — thanks, Bryn!
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at 20:24 on 27-08-2013, Arthur B
It exists in this sort of weird half-space between tribute concert and self-insert fanfiction. Most tribute bands pride themselves on being able to play the source material but this dude clearly is not the singer Gaga is but casts himself in the lead role of his tribute anyway because Internet Fame.
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at 20:08 on 27-08-2013, Dan H



This seems to be one of those special things which manage to be completely awesome without actually being in any way good.
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at 20:06 on 27-08-2013, Andrew Currall
Trying to think of other films that fail the reverse Bechdel test. I think Arrietty might qualify, unless Spiller has a conversation with Pod (I don't think so). Certainly can't think of many though.
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at 15:04 on 26-08-2013, Bjoern
But then we're on different levels, because then it's a tool for structural analysis. I've seen it used as a yardstick for textual quality far too often for my liking.

So, you've got the Bechdel test and you've got the Russo test and there's the Mako test and potentially there's other tests out there I know nothing about.

Let's take Pacific Rim: One of your links, Michal, stated that the Mori test was most likely introduced because someone liked Pacific Rim but felt bad about it not passing the Bechdel test. So there's another test that it passes and that proves that it actually is a movie that can be enjoyed from a feminist perspective.

But why not just state that PR doesn't pass the Bechdel test and yet it's a story that includes a strong female character (if you think it does, if you think it doesn't, give reasons too)? Instead of going to the textual level, people create another "formula" to prove inherent value.

Yes, the point Bechdel made in her cartoon, very few movies feature independent women as characters, is still valid. But if you just want to point out the central problem, why bring up the test when you discuss a specific piece of art, like Pacific Rim. Either the movie is sexist/masculinist or it has feminist tendencies or maybe both points are valid to some degree. Purely structural analysis oversimplifies the issue.

This text has a lot of points on the issue that I consider very valid.
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at 12:22 on 26-08-2013, Fishing in the Mud
I also had the impression that the idea behind Bechdel was to make it ridiculously simple to call attention to how many movies still can't manage to pass it.
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at 11:28 on 26-08-2013, Bryn
Right, every time I've heard people discuss the Bechdel test, it's acknowledged that any individual movie might have a valid reason to fail the test, but that when you look at all movies or some subset such as the 2012 Oscars, the failure rate is far far higher than is reasonable (often contrasted with the 'reverse Bechdel test', which is failed by Coraline and... um...)

Also, I might just be looking at a different slice of the internet, but I've always seen it noted when discussing it that the Bechdel test is not a high bar, that achieving it certainly does not make a movie 'feminist' on its own (as if that's binary), and that it's possible (e.g. with a very small cast) to have a relatively-feminist movie which does not pass the test.

I quite like Pacific Rim, but it's definitely very far into 'How to be a fan of problematic things' territory, and I certainly wouldn't defend it to someone who's not impressed. Definitely going to hold on to that 'No Award' link, thanks!
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at 08:30 on 26-08-2013, Melanie
I think it's mainly interesting to apply more broadly, as opposed to testing any specific movie/etc. with it. That is, "look how common it is for movies to not even do this small thing".
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at 06:13 on 26-08-2013, Bjoern
I consider the application of the Bechdel test and related tests deeply flawed. At least the way they are used nowadays and especially when people just start creating test after test for each possible subgroup of society.

The problem is that it's a mechanical "let's tick the box" test that in and of itself does not offer any insight into why a movie might actually be sexist/racist/homophobic/orientalist/...

I prefer actual analysis that explains why a movie is problematic (or better yet: why it should be lauded), but I've got the feeling that content factories like Kotaku, Gawker, et al. just perpetuate the idea that such tests are a viable alternative to actually thinking about a movie, the events and characters in it and the context of said things for yourself.
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at 04:37 on 26-08-2013, Alasdair Czyrnyj
It's too late for me to say anything terribly incisive, so I'll leave with a paraphrase of the words of a man much wiser that me that touched on some of the problems I had with Pacific Rim:

"Imagine if Speed Racer had spent the first twenty minutes of its run time explain what exactly a 'car' was in the most minute detail, and how a 'race' worked. That's Pacific Rim. Now think back to the second Hellboy movie, and how the superfluous studio-mandated audience-identification character from the first movie was casually written out. Imagine they had killed off Hellboy instead. That's also Pacific Rim."

I've also seen people arguing that Pacific Rim operates under a fascist narrative, but I haven't seen anything to convince me of that yet. (Or, at any rate, that it's any more "fascist" than a typical action movie.)
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at 01:44 on 26-08-2013, Michal
(Referring to posts from a ways back in the Playpen...)

I have to say, I'm starting to get annoyed by all the Tumblr-love for Pacific Rim. Case in point: this alternative to the Bechdel Test, the Mako Mori Test! Created, I guess, because Pacific Rim doesn't pass it.

Frankly, this article gives a better idea why I'm rather confused by its high status among bloggers. (Incidentally, "no award" is also my choice for the Hugos this year)
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at 23:39 on 25-08-2013, Alasdair Czyrnyj
I'm late to the party here on the female character chat, but I wanted to chime in with something.

About a week ago, I came across a Tumblr post that pointed out a contradiction in the desire for flawed female characters, namely the desire for such characters to be imperfect yet not "problematic." I had a little chuckle over it, and thought that was that.

A few days after that, I was introduced to a manga series entitled Watamote (an abbreviation of the Japanese title, which translates to something like No Matter How I Look At It, It's You Guys' Fault That I'm Not Popular!). It's a slice-of-life series about a high school girl named Kuroki Tomoko and her quest to "become popular", which translates as a quest to overcome her own social anxiety. "Awkward introverted nerd character trying to become more social" is hardly a unique premise, of course, but I found Tomoko more interesting than most characters of her type since her social incompetence often pushes her into genuinely unpleasant territory. Most of the story comes from her own inner monologue, and while she does the typical fantasies of stage-managing scenarios to make her more accepted by the group, she also whips back and forth between contemptuous misanthropy and profound neediness. Her inexperience with interpersonal interaction has left her with a mild manipulative streak; it's tempered by her isolation and her inability to actually manipulate others, but it does lead her to do some rather ugly things. She's also in touch with her sexuality, but it's the sexuality of a 15-year-old girl whose primary understanding of sex comes from animé and hentai games, so you can imagine how that goes. Tomoko generally rides the ragged edge of acceptability (her behavior is generally mollified by the fact that she usually acts out of ignorance rather than malice, and usually hurts no one but herself), but I found I liked her character for the fact that she presents one of the most accurate portrayals of someone who doesn't know how to interact with other people.

A few days ago, one of hacks down at Kotaku lambasted Watamote (well, the animé adptation, which stays fairly close to the spirit of the manga), arguing that the story is based around making fun of the mentally ill. (It's not. At all.) So, yeah, anecdote becomes life.

As for the greater issue, I think my own ideas about what makes a character interesting are far enough removed from the mainstream that I don't think I can comment productively on this issue. When I come up with a person, I want someone who embodies something about me or how I've experienced the world, whether a mood, an attitude, or a worldview, and that's not something I can lock into a rubric of identity or into a procedural setting. I don't know what it says about me, but the female characters I've found the most memorable are those of James Tiptree Jr.'s work, who generally seem...well, upset about their femininity.
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