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 04:38 on 25-09-2009, Rude Cyrus permalink
at 23:19 on 24-09-2009, Dan H
Some days, I'm proud to be a gaming geek.
at 18:00 on 24-09-2009, Robinson L
To be fair it says "one of the most nuanced" and since the competition is (a) people who literally have no personality and (b) people who are really quite two dimensional I think Ballard does actually come out quite well.
Not when he himself is pretty much the archetypal two-dimensional character. He's the "edgy cop on a mission." As for any other qualities which he displays—I think you mistake incoherence for complexity.

People will have different interpretations of *literally* anything.
As you and I are in the process of demonstrating.

And as for Ballard's competition, interchange "admirable" and "likable" in that original quote, and you've got a good description of Topher.

@Kyra: Oh, I'll get around to it, don't you worry. I've skimmed a few parts, and it is indeed awesome.
at 16:25 on 24-09-2009, Wardog
Although I am still struggling with the notion that superior complexity is conferred by the fact people have different reactions to something.

I mean, we have different reactions to a packet of crisps....
at 16:07 on 24-09-2009, Wardog
Read the second article, it's genuinely made of awesomesauce.

I kind of don't want to perform a hack job on the first article because it's like shooting actives in their tabula rasa state (or fish in a barrel if you prefer).

at 15:24 on 24-09-2009, Dan H
Or that viewers react differently to even the most two-dimensional of characters

Even more than "it's not the writer it's the network/publisher" and "well how many books/films/TV shows have *you* created" the argument I have come to loathe the most in the world of pop culture is "people argue about it so it *must* be complex and sophisticated".

People will have different interpretations of *literally* anything. Frequently those different interpretations will have nothing to do with the text and everything to do with people's individual preconceptions. Look the World of Warcraft Bunny Ears debacle, people had massively different interpretations of it, that doesn't make it sophisticated literature.

It's particularly infuriating when it's used as a response to actual *criticisms* of the text. Person A says "I think there is a problem with the show, because the Dolls are effectively raped by their clients, and the text itself fails to engage with this serious issue" and person B says "but that's part of the genius of the show, it supports that interpretation amongst many others".

It takes a special kind of talent to claim that allowing people to think it's shit is itself evidence of quality, but it happens in Fandom all the time (HP is chronic for it).

In which alternative universe was that again?

To be fair it says "one of the most nuanced" and since the competition is (a) people who literally have no personality and (b) people who are really quite two dimensional I think Ballard does actually come out quite well.

Were I feeling cheap (and let's be honest I always feel cheap) I'd suggest that Ballard comes across quite well because Whedon actually writes really good men, and always has. I think it's because he's actually interested in them as individuals, instead of as avatars for their sex.
at 15:00 on 24-09-2009, Robinson L
All right, I've read the first of those Strange Horizons articles. Yes, it is long, and pretentious, and the author seems determined to stuff as many “literary” shout-outs as humanly possible. I've read worse. But having slogged through the whole thing, I wanted to share just a few thoughts I had while reading it:

The core story and adventure assignments combine synergistically in one way: anyone or anything may turn out not to be what the viewer thought. The dolls, especially Echo, manifest memories that are supposedly wiped irretrievably; at least two Dollhouse officials pursue their own agendas, inimical to the organization. Layers of deceit, planned and spontaneously emergent, combine into a gestalt with elements of both noir detective fiction and Philip K. Dickian reality bending.
Wow. I wish I'd been watching that show. (This was basically my reaction to most of the assertions throughout the essay.)

The staff members at the Dollhouse evoke different reactions from different viewers, indicating that they are more complex and less simply stereotyped than many TV characters.
Or that viewers react differently to even the most two-dimensional of characters. (Does anyone else feel like the reviewer is getting just the tiniest bit unhinged at this point in her attempts to defend this nonsense?)

One major accomplishment of the show is that Ballard, admirable but not particularly likable, becomes one of the most nuanced and sympathetic characters.
In which alternative universe was that again?
at 22:31 on 23-09-2009, Jamie Johnston
Hee hee. Love the 'special effects'.
at 13:16 on 23-09-2009, Wardog
Awwww, that's brilliant! ME GO TOO FAR!
at 12:46 on 23-09-2009, Arthur B
I find Dresden Codak to be very hit and miss (and with a lousy ratio of hits to misses at that), but this is brilliant.
at 22:43 on 22-09-2009, Wardog
It's on the DVD and ... available ... elsewhere ... *cough cough*. I am not condoning any searching in that direction you might do and I would buy the DVD but it's not out yet.

Thanks for your vote of confidence in me, Dan =P Yeah, the "it's really boring" line really won me over :) There's a semi-interesting bit in the unaired pilot when Rapetastic Sierra comes back from an engagement and she looks genuinely traumatised. Not in the "I was strong enough to survive this" way that Echo does after that dude tries to hunt her for sport in the second episode but in a "somebody did this to me, it wasn't even slightly empowering and it obviously fulfilled a really sick fantasy" kind of way. It doesn't matter if she was actually raped - it just nicely underscores the utter not-okayness of *whatever* the engagements are, especially when coupled with Adelle's speech about it being so "pure and genuine" for everyone.
at 19:12 on 22-09-2009, Dan H
I had a look at the Strange Horizons articles.

I looked at the first one and went "oh, this is pretentious shit" so I scrolled about halfway down the page to the bit marked "two" to have a look at the good one. "Hey, this is still pretentious shit" I thought "Kyra must have had a good taste bypass". Then I realised that no, it was just the original article and they were still fucking going.

Article two I pretty much agree with on every level, although it does drop the ball a little towards the end by praising the unaired pilot for making one of the Dolls "look like a rape victim" (what, exactly, do rape victims look like?). I'm also rather pleased that one of her central criticisms of the series is "it's boring".
at 18:02 on 22-09-2009, Robinson L
I'll have to look into those. Kyra, where did you find the pilot; is it on the DVD release?
at 16:03 on 22-09-2009, Wardog
And while I'm on a Dollhouse Thang (again), there's an excellent article over at Strange Horizons here. Well, it's actually two articles on Dollhouse, one of which is an exceptionally pretentious attempt to validate the worth of Dollhouse by name-dropping all the other sci-fi texts the author has encountered, but the second is great. I was dubious at first, because it's pushing the rape angle heavily (so to speak) but actually it's just really well-reasoned and insightful. Yay!
at 14:17 on 22-09-2009, Wardog
And now I'm watching the unaired pilot, again it's much *much* better. Not mind-blowingly amazing but it's out of "mediocre-to-bad" territory and into "mediocre-to-good." Also Dr Saunders' scars are way worse and there's much more time given over to the subsidiary cast. Less of Eliza Dushku being a hot hooker.
at 11:58 on 22-09-2009, Wardog
It does, however, contain Whedon's fetishisation of the mad chick. We have Amy Acker, barefoot, pale and dark-eyed, wandering about in a white dress, looking very much like River in several scenes.
at 11:52 on 22-09-2009, Wardog
Also what the fuck went wrong with Dollhouse? I'm just watching the 13th,unshown episode and it's genuinely chilling. Not a pointless rape analogy and/or literal rape in sight. I can't really see how well it fits the context established by the season as a whole but as a "this is what this show should have been about" adjunct to the quite frankly abysmal first season it's kind of almost heartbreaking. Makes me almost *almost* curious for the second season.

It's set in 2019, after the fall of the Dollhouse(s)... good uncomfortable-making not quite sci-fi sci-fi.
at 22:22 on 21-09-2009, Jamie Johnston
Hmm. Yes, that does make sense. And certainly I can't think of any societies that put a high value on female innocence that don't also deny them equal decision-making capacity, which does support your point.

I hadn't thought of it that way round, because I understood Raymond to be saying that the 'women can't make decisions' causes the 'women should be innocent' rather than the other way: the phrase "has its roots in" looks very causal to me, though admittedly "related to" is vague and could work either way. So yes, if Raymond means to say, 'The game places high value on female innocence and this must necessarily imply that the game also regards autonomous female agency as undesirable, which is patriarchal', then that would work.
at 20:36 on 21-09-2009, Arthur B
But Jamie, doesn't the idea that "innocence of social/sexual mores is a positive trait in women, which should be encouraged" inherently lead to a patriarchial situation? After all, if women ideally should be innocent of such things, this would lead to a situation where it is best for women not to make decisions concerning such things themselves - since they could not possibly know enough to make decisions in their own best interests in such fields whilst maintaining said innocence. At which point, you arrive at the premise that in an ideal situation women would delegate such decisions to men - at which point you have patriarchy?
at 20:23 on 21-09-2009, Jamie Johnston

Arthur has mentioned ancient Rome, which of course makes my participation in the conversation inevitable. :)

Actually my point - well, 'point' is putting it too strongly, so let's say 'vague musing' - is related not so much to Arthur's remarks as to something Alex Raymond says in the original article:

Go on any gaming forum discussing her and there will be multiple posts talking about how hot [Liara] is because she is so “innocent." This perception of her seems to stem from her nervousness when talking to Shepard and her implied virginity.

The positioning of innocence as an attractive trait in women has its roots in patriarchy, related to how patriarchy encourages the infantilization of women: women are portrayed as childlike and unable to make decisions for themselves, necessitating a male protector and provider who knows what's good for her (thus maintaining patriarchy, despite how insulting and inaccurate this characterization is).

I'm not convinced by 'innocence = infantilization' in this context. As far as I can tell from the article (because I know nothing else about the game) the innocence in question is mostly sexual or, at broadest, social. That has nothing to do with her ability to make decisions, as far as I can see, but is basically about having, or appearing to have, little experience, knowledge, or calculation when it comes to sexual and social relationships.

In ancient Rome, which certainly fits fairly well the 'women regarded as unable to make their own decisions' model, there's very little evidence, as far as I know (which is reasonably far), of 'innocence as an attractive trait in women'. There was little, for example, of the premium placed on virginity in (for example) medieval Europe. Chastity (absence of sexual activity outside marriage - but remember that Roman marriage was an automatic consequence of any moderately stable cohabiting relationship) was valued, and as a result a woman was expected to be a virgin before her first marriage; but, though innocence (in the sense of lack of direct experience) was an inevitable result, this does not mean that innocence was valued in itself. Though we know very little about what Roman women knew about sex before they were married, there seems every reason to suppose that they must have known at least as much as the average modern woman of the same age. Certainly references to, and even depictions of, sex were at least as pervasive in Roman culture as they are today, from graffiti to popular songs to religious festivals to mythology to sculpture to the theatre. And, whatever the case may have been with women who had never been married before, the extremely high rate of re-marriage (it was perfectly unremarkable for both men and women to be married three or four times), and the total absence (to my knowledge) of any preference by men for women who hadn't been married before, provides a strong reason to think that sexual and social inexperience and naivety were not valued characteristics.

Quite possibly Raymond would say the placing of a high value on 'innocence' is a symptom of patriarchy quite independently of any link it may (or, as I'd say, may not) have with the idea that women can't make independent decisions, and that may well be right, but his or her (can't be bothered to check, sorry) argument as written appears to rely on the equation of the two tendencies in order to get from 'Liara's innocence is regarded positively' to 'the game is patriarchal', and that particular logical move is a dud.
at 19:09 on 21-09-2009, Jamie Johnston
"he was dropping a cricket bat on my friend's head at the time"

I must remember to ask for that anecdote in full next time we meet.

Incidentally, while we're talking about podcasts, on Saturday a friend recommended Rum Doings, and having listened to the first episode I'm inclined to agree that it's quite diverting. Its unarguable premise is that the best bits of most podcasts are the bits when the participants wander off-topic, and its method is therefore to arbitrarily choose a fairly uninteresting topic for each episode and then fail to talk about it.
at 17:15 on 21-09-2009, Andy G
"I think it's incredibly tough to make this call"

That's why I said it was pointless quibbling ... though I think I came across "patriarchy" in the feminist sense by osmosis rather than by ever being explicitly taught about feminism. I think I probably originally came across both terms in some D&D manual, which provided most of my education in my teenage years ...
at 16:35 on 21-09-2009, Arthur B
The Guardian thinks he's being persecuted, but I think that Tesco have cunningly caught out the Sith within our midst. (Read their response to him at the bottom of the article.)