Step aside, because I'm about to get my geek on. There won't be a dry seat in the first three rows. Contains spoilers for Thor, Thor: The Dark World, Thor: Ragnarok, The Avengers, and Avengers: Infinity War. (Basically, any movie featuring Loki.) PS: Everything in the theories expressed below pertains solely to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, and does not take into account the comic books. Now, let's nerd hard.
So last week I finally got to seeStar Trek: Into Darkness. Now it should be known that I look at the 2009 reboot as inspiration. I think that film was beautifully crafted in every way and it is a goal of mine to make something like that. So, I went into the sequel with high expectations. If you don't want spoilers or your own perception of the movie rocked by my strong opinions on the matter, please, click away now. Otherwise, join me below and we can hash out the pros and Khans of the latest in this iconic franchise. This movie is Shroedinger's Cat on celluloid. It is amazeballs. It is shit. At the same time. This movie simultaneously inhabits both spheres of a Venn Diagram describing epic movies and derivative drivel. It blurs the line between Sci-Fi/Fantasy and Unbelievable Bullshit.
I loved it. I screamed and cursed J.J. Abrams' name for being such a predictable bastard who couldn't write to his own potential.
So Star Trek has never exactly been a stickler for science fact, especially the original series. (If you want a show that prides itself on scientific accuracy, watch Babylon 5.) The reboot decided to follow in the original series' well-loved footsteps and ignore a few of the more obvious scientifically based holes in the story. Really, just go read this review. It's entertaining and pretty much sums up my problems as far as factual inconsistency.
Aside from my inability to understand why Dr. Carol Marcus is forced to strip on screen FOR NO REASON, most of my problems with the film are in the third act. J.J. Abrams is usually a very cunning storyteller that smacks me from behind when I least expect it. Into Darkness may as well be subtitled "Chekov's Arsenal" for all the smoking guns he left for us in the first act. So much of the climax was telegraphed! Seriously, cats wiggling their asses before pouncing on a catnip mouse are stealthier than J.J.'s climax!
For starters... now, I'd rather walk on my own lips than say a word against the musical genius that is Michael Giacchino. His scores are phenomenal and I adore his whole body of work. That being said...was it necessary to have the sinister BUMBUMBUMMMMM the first time we see Benedict Cumberbatch on screen? Yes, I know the trailers have set it up that he is the villain and all that shit, but come on. We see him and we have no idea in the context of the story why we should hate this man. He's saving the life of a dying girl. Is he a doctor? Is he The Doctor in some strange fanfic? Why should I hate someone who is saving a child? Allow the moral ambiguity to be there and fuck with the audience, dammit. (Soon, though, we see that Cumberbund Bandersnatch's still nameless character is a domestic terrorist. If we didn't hate him before, we do now because he's just killed Captain Badass Pike. We're sent off to avenge him in such a way that Heath Ledger's Joker would giggle at our adorability.)
Then we have a problem with the Warp Core. Oh, I've seen this one before. It ends with the sacrifice play because the "needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" WHICH MAY AS WELL BE SPOCK'S FIRST LINE! Come on!
As I said before, the real issues, though, come when we get to the third act. The Enterprise is on the ropes, "John Harrison" is Kahn, and Admiral Robocop is psychotic and flying the most badass looking dreadnaught of all fucking time. Through impossible physics and convenient timing, Kirk and Khan end up on the "Killerprise". Khan kills Peter Weller with his bare hands, turns on Kirk and sends the end of the movie careening inexorably toward Zachary Quinto screaming, "KHAAAAAAAN!"
So many people I spoke with said the end was unfulfilling and I think I have an answer as to why. To explain, you'll need to understand a bit about the Hollywood Formula of writing. (Listen to that podcast, authors, it is golden.)
So crash course. In any story you have 3 main characters:
- The Protagonist - this is the good guy. S/he wants something very specific and we are, generally, rooting for him/her to get it.
- The Antagonist - the bad guy. S/he is at odds with the Protagonist and is the one who keeps throwing roadblocks in the way of our Protagonist.
- The Relationship Character - This character takes many forms and is often played by Morgan Freeman. The RC typically has wisdom the Protagonist needs and serves to make the Protagonist's journey both more difficult and easier. Hell, if we just listen to the RC at the beginning, most of the time we don't need the rest of the movie!
A fulfilling resolution comes when the Protagonist and the Relationship Character have a deep/meaningful scene that adjusts the perspective of the journey, the Protagonist and the Antagonist have it out and the emotional wrap-up quickly follows.
Based on this, Into Darkness does not have a fulfilling ending.
Let's first identify our characters.
The Protagonist, I think we can all agree, is Kirk. He wants to be Captain of the Enterprise and he wants revenge on the man who killed his father figure, Captain Christopher Pike.
Now, who is our Antagonist? It is not who the trailer would have you booing. Admiral Marcus is the one who keeps Kirk from his chair. Admiral Marcus is the one who sabotages the Enterprise's warp core. Admiral Marcus is the one who keeps throwing problems at Kirk and his crew. The Admiral is our true antagonist.
That leaves the Relationship Character. This is Khan. Is he manipulative? Is he despicable? YES. But at no time does Khan lie to or attempt to hinder Kirk. In fact, he gives him the exact coordinates of the super secret bunker where the Dreadnaught of Badassery +1 is being kept. Khan is the one who delivers the antidotes.
As it is, this works. The characters are sound and fulfilling all of their roles, doing what they need to do to make the story work. The problem comes when Kirk and Khan board the dreadnaught. From there on, the movie is on a collision course for story disaster.
Like I said up there, satisfaction comes when our Hero defeats the Bad Guy. In this movie? He doesn't. KHAN kills Admiral Marcus while Kirk just stares in horror or picks himself up off the floor. Khan steps out of his role and takes up a new one. This is jarring to the audience in a way that they might not even notice, but it's there. So, Khan--in a way--steps into the role of Antagonist way late in the film. Okay, but then he gets everything he wants. He's killed a bunch of people at Star Fleet and exposed the program that ruined him. He's reunited with his tribe of popsicles and reinserted into the Matrix where he can have happy dreams of genocide.
Khan wins. So, Khan gets all the glory of the Protagonist, the wrath of the Antagonist and the heavy wisdom of the Relationship Character.
What does Kirk get? A blood transfusion. A 5-year mission. No personal sense of having avenged Pike. He gets to stay Captain Kirk (which he was at the beginning of the film).
So, while it is a fun film with pretty effects (lens flare!), a kick ass ship or two and some great one liners, Star Trek: Into Darkness fails at delivering an emotionally satisfying story. The promise is made in the trailer and in the first two acts that we have a clear Antagonist (and we do, it's just not the one we thought it would be) and that he will be dealt with by Kirk. That promise is broken. It's story-telling bait and switch.
So yeah. I loved it. I hated it. If I could tell J.J. Abrams one thing, it would be this:
Listen to Captain Pike from the first film. "I dare you to do better."
No, I'm not going all Mufasa on you. Okay, actually, maybe I am. So some crazy shit went down in Paris, France this weekend. And in Beirut, Lebanon. Suicide bombings, senseless violence. Murder. Death. As we've seen when tragedy strikes--be it hurricanes, terrorists or other disasters--these things can bring out the best of us. People coming out of retirement to be volunteer first responders. Cab drivers giving Parisians a free ride home. Hashtags or social media sites that help victims. Tips on how to deal with tear gas shared to people in Ferguson from people in Egypt.
So, earlier this week I turned 35. I can now run for president in this country, check a new and exciting demographic box on forms, and refer to high school students as "those damn kids". (Get off my lawn.) One of the things that reportedly comes with advancing age is wisdom. And I think I might've gained some recently along with leveling up. It has to do with humor. It has to do with those pesky voices in my head that I'd rather bind, gag and shoot into orbit. It has to do with re-writing 35 years of programming.
So meet me after the jump and listen to the story of how Jamie realized she needs to be kinder to herself.
Now, being good to yourself might seem like a no-brainer. Well duh! *shakes head* It's not for me. It's something I'm still learning. I've been unpacking a lot of old baggage recently (hooray major life changes making you sift through your shit, and forcing you to chuck it!) and I've discovered roots to current behaviors.
One thing you should know about me is my humor. I often use self-deprecation for comedic effect. In fact, I do this so often, it used to be a tagline on this site (and it still is on my business cards): I've used self-effacing humor for decades at this point. At first it was a defense mechanism. You see, I was a fat kid. Look at this picture:
I'm sitting here trying to type the next line and it's killing me not to make some wisecrack. But that's part of it, isn't it? For years I've made jokes about my body because, as the logic went, if I said it first, that meant that the bullies wouldn't get the chance. Yeah, I was bullied a lot because of my body. I was taller than the other kids, that's for damn sure. And I was bigger. I was a perfect target, and kids are fucking cruel sometimes. So "beached whale" was a popular one. Pig, hog, fatso, fatty, thunder thighs, cow, heifer, chunky, chubby, Jabba.... I heard them all.
So, I did what I did best: I made jokes. I started putting myself down before the others could. I started talking smack to preempt their attacks. And even after the attacks stopped, I kept on doing it. Just a few months back, I started jokingly referring to my physique as comparable to a "harpoon-scarred manatee".
It's hard to be nice to myself. So that picture up there? I was 7. When this picture was taken, I'd already started trying to diet and had very conscious thoughts of literally cutting off my fat.
1986. First grade. I think this is when things ramped up in terms of my "education". I don't know exactly when it began, but I was taught at an early age to dislike my body. I was taught that my body was flawed, gross. Something to be hidden. Something to be improved. ("You'd be so pretty if you just....") Something to be ashamed of. And this wasn't just society telling me this. It wasn't magazines or television. It wasn't media. It was personal. Friends, peers, teachers, family members. I was trained to believe that this body of mine was inherently wrong.
As I looked through pictures today for this post, trying to find one that was the best example of how terrible I am, I kept saying, "There's nothing wrong with her. Nor her. Nor her. Why did I think I was so fat? Why did I think I was so ugly? And why the fuck did everyone tell me that?!"
To be fair, I say "everyone", but it wasn't "everyone". However, when some of the most important female role models in your family keep spouting off "You'd be pretty if..." or "you lose X amount of weight, I'll give you $25".... no shit, my grandmother tried to bribe me. And it wasn't just weight loss. I had warts on my hands when I was younger. They went away on their own, but she would always say, "If you get rid of them, I'll give you money." (For the record, freezing warts FUCKING HURT!) Later it was plucking my eyebrows. And it was always $25. So that's the going rate of acceptance, apparently. (sorry, that was a little dark.)
Thing is... other people put such importance on my looks, I started feeling like that's all I was My worth was in my body, in my appearance. And it wasn't good enough. So I couldn't be good enough. I learned better over the years, but sometimes, those old tapes start playing when my voices are nostalgic for the old days.
Point is...those voices have been around for a very long time. Those jokes, those reactions... they're ingrained. And I've always thought that the jokes were harmless because they were self-inflicted and I didn't really mean it, right? I was just joining the crowd or getting one in before anyone else could. So calling myself a "harpoon-scarred manatee" is harmless! Wrong.
Recently, I was having an intimate encounter with my beloved when his hand slid up under the hem of my shirt. Just a little so that it rested on my belly.
Every single one of those voices began shouting 'HARPOON-SCARRED MANATEE!!!'
And thus began the awkward mental tango of self-loathing and trying not to wilt on the spot.
Since then, the phrase "harpoon-scarred manatee" has been banned. Sean has put his foot down on the matter and gets quite cross with me if I make jokes about myself. Friends are calling me out when I make other self-deprecating wisecracks. But as I said above, it's kneejerk. It's reflex. And I'm learning that. I'm trying to undo that. I'm trying to stop, which means not only re-wiring my humor, but it means unlearning lessons that have been in place since before I was in first grade. It means undoing a lot of damage that others started, but that I carried on.
And it doesn't mean that I need compliments or approval or acceptance from others. It doesn't mean I post selfies looking for gratification. No, that's not it at all. In fact, I don't want that. It doesn't mean that I post this blog and get sympathy or apologies. I don't want that either. All of the acceptance and apologies need to come from ME to ME.
It means looking at pictures of little Jamie and saying, "There was nothing wrong with her at all." And it means looking at a picture of me at 35 and saying, "There is nothing wrong with her. Not at all." Most importantly, it means never teaching my child to hate her body. Teaching her instead that she is a work in progress, that she is beautiful and loved and never has to jump through hoops for love or money. There is no, "if you did this, you'd be better".
Self-loathing is learned behavior. So is self-love.
And I'm working on it.
And I think I'm going to need new business cards.
I'm going to voice an unholy, unpopular opinion...
I didn't like the Joss Whedon "Much Ado About Nothing".
There. I said it.
Look, I love Joss Whedon's other works. I find his writing to be impeccable, sharp and entertaining. His direction and filmmaking abilities are some of the best in the current crop of Hollywood. In short, I dig Joss Whedon. However, I cannot say that I enjoyed his take on this particular Shakespeare play. I much prefer the Catherine Tate/David Tennant stage production directed by Josie Rourke. I could write an entire blog post about my issues with the Whedon version, but, in the end it comes down to four words: It's not for me.
Along those same lines, I don't like lima beans, country music, reality television or skinny jeans. I'm not into Clown Dominant BDSM porn. These things and the people who dig them are not inherently bad (though I ask for a slight dram of understanding when I look at you funny for the clown thing). They are, however, not for me.
In general I am a "live and let live" person. If you eat lima beans while listening to your Keith Urban, I'm not going to rage at you or call you names. I'll be over here with my chai, watching the Tate/Tennant version of "Much Ado" for the tenth time in as many days.
But I realized recently that there is one avenue where I have an extreme prejudice. And that arena is BOOKS. I posted on Twitter quite happily that if your book is poorly written (ie riddled with spelling and grammar errors, rife with poor characterization and otherwise chock full of suck) I will rip it apart. I can, when it comes to the written word, be a judgmental bitch.
Now, my personal Facebook account is set to "friends only" for various reasons, the most pressing of which is that I like to have some semblance of space that is for myself, friends, family and close colleagues. Otherwise, I've got a fan page or my Twitter feed or this blog or conventions et al for everyone else. Anyway, I used my personal Facebook account to ridicule a self-published novella for its horrible cover and the atrocious writing quality. I started off being vague about it, not naming names or using the copy/paste function. After a while, however, I posted a link to the book on Amazon to share with others so they would see, "This is why I'm gagging here!"
I have amazing friends. Not only will they laugh with me, they will take me aside and say, "This time, I think you need to check yourself." One such friend sent me a private message offering a different point of view that I had, admittedly, been ignorant of. He suggested that this book was written that way specifically because it was aimed at a particular audience. The book used a cultural language and plays to the values of a specific kind of person.
In short, this book was not for me.
It wasn't written for me. It was written for another woman with a different life experience.
I think what we've seen recently in the news with Ferguson and the like has highlighted that while many of us are trying to live colorblind, we are instead blinded to other experiences. It's not out of anger, hatred or racism, but it is a flaw. In trying to see only people and treat everyone equally, we forget that everyone lives different experiences. Women walk to their cars holding their keys like a weapon. Black men are stopped for carrying a can of tea and Skittles. These are details of every day life for some people that the rest of us do not necessarily understand. A man doesn't know what it is to grow up in rape culture from a woman's perspective any more than I--a middle-class, cis white woman--can truly understand what it must be like to live the life of a black teen in middle America. Or a Latina immigrant. Or a transgender male. I can--and do--have sympathy. I can imagine or put myself in his/her shoes. But I can never truly know what that person's life is with cultural heritage and social conditioning.
That being the case, this particular book was not for me.
And I know that some of you are sitting there shaking your heads wondering how this can possibly be an epiphany for me. Well, I know that there are divisions. I know there are sects, schisms and denominations in the world. I know well that there are cultural/racial divides. But the one place I forget these things exist is in a library. It may be my naivete showing, but I think of libraries as huge, open areas where anyone can peruse any section at length and read any volume they choose. There isn't a room set aside for this class or this color or this creed. Books are accessible to all, in my mind, and I try to make my own writing equally open.
But, yeah... guess what, Jamie. This book isn't for you.
Coming to this conclusion throws the issue of diversity-in-fiction into even sharper relief, and adds new questions to the mix:
When writing The Other (be it People of Color, other genders or sexual preferences etc), where is the line between writing people--fully-generated characters--and ignoring their differences? For example, we don't want our strong female characters to be "men with tits" any more than we want to whitewash PoC. I think we can agree that white-cis-heteronormative male is not the default human setting (regardless of what popular media would show). However, we don't want to have token black characters or Sassy Gay Friends just for the sake of them being there, either. Personally, I write people. Some of my characters are black, some are white. Some are satyrs and gods. Some are bi, some are cis, some are Pan. To me, though, these are things that inform who they are without defining who they are. My characters have fears and desires that resonate on a human level.
However, is this also a problem? Does being colorblind turn into erasure? I'm thinking here of a discussion way back in high school about how shows like Cosby and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air didn't depict "blackness" but black people in white roles. The idea of "the Carlton" being the equivalent of a house slave. (Not my personal feeling or argument, but one I've heard often and take into consideration when developing characters.) That argument stuck with me, though, and it does play in the back of my head sometimes when I'm working on character development. Am I writing a fleshed out character who is black, or am I writing a Carlton?
Where is the line between writing a dialect and poor writing? It's been pointed out to me that African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is considered to have its own rules. If that's the case, and we say that AAVE has its own set of standards, where is the line between "poor writing" and "following a different set of rules"? And along this same line, by deciding that AAVE is acceptable, are we allowing writers to "write down" to people? And to that point, is that good for anyone? It almost sounds like--in some cases--we would lower standards and turn out poorer product for certain audiences. I find that as insulting to both creator and audience as I do seeing men portrayed as having dull minds and uncontrollable libidos, or women used as plot devices.
Now, in my own writing, I look at dialect as something that individual characters have. If writing in first person, I will allow slang and dialect to a point, but not over do. In third person, the prose I keep in standard American English with all the grammatical trappings and spellings of MLA and Chicago Style manuals. If a character is Cajun, or African American, or has a thick Geordie accent, I let that come through in dialogue. Spellings and grammar be damned, if it's what that character would say, so be it. However, I don't let it leak into the prose. (I will admit that my lead character speaks in Internet English sometimes in her prose, but that's who she is.) So don't misunderstand; something like the works of Twain written in Southern American English is not going to be held to the same yardstick as Shakespeare.
Furthermore, if we posit that there are not only books that are "not for everyone" but entire genres written with one subset of humanity in mind, is this in some way segregating? Is it just as limiting as omission? We have black publishers, women's publishers, LGBTQ publishers...groups set aside to make sure all voices are heard. But at what point does that swing the pendulum to separate but equal?
These are more philosophical points, perhaps, and I know that they only scratch the surface of issues. These questions are not going to be answered in a day or Twitter post. But I'm keen to open a dialogue with you about them. I don't pretend to have The Answers to this. I have ideas, but I also will admit that in some matters I'm ignorant.
PS: And no, "Much Ado" is not up for debate. Tate/Tennat FOREVAH!!!