Monday, July 26, 2010

Ritual sacrfice and other trip preparations

My cousin is getting married next week and it's my Daddio's birthday the week after that, so the convergent events mean the BF and I are taking a trip to the inland northwest for familyness. Therefore I'll be out of range of my blog until mid-August, so I'll leave you with some self-congratulatory tidbits.

My short story "Manhattanhenge" is going to be published in Bamboo Ridge Issue 98. I've cleaned up the typos considerably since I posted it on my blog last summer. It's the only piece of creative writing I've actually finished in the past two years, so it's pretty gratifying to have it published the first place I submitted it.

And the editors at Hawaii Women's Journal read my review of "Inception" and invited me to write a movie column for their October issue.
See? I write!

Aloha and see you in August.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Not at San Diego Comic-Con

And sulking a bit because of it. It's Nerd Prom and instead of prancing around in my pretty, pretty shitkicker boots with all the other superheroes, I'm sitting in my underroos in front of the computer, wondering if it's time to do laundry.

Last night, I attended Brooklyn Bridge Park's Movies with a View, in which the city sets up a giant inflatable movie screen on the lawn of the new Pier 1 park and shows us movies. I saw "The Big Lebowski" under the moon and helicopter lights (no stars in New York City's sky) on a blanket on the grass with a bunch of friends. That's four prepositional phrases in a row in that sentence, people; that's how you know it was good.

I sat in front of a friend of a friend who is a cartoonist-in-training, and he, too, was sulking because he's not in San Diego right now. It was worse for him, though, because he had friends who are there with vendor passes. Vendor passes! That's like being at prom with a flask and condoms in your garter belt, a deck of cards in your purse, and water pistols strapped around your waist. You're already miles ahead of everyone else before you walk in the door.

So I've been parked in front of my 'puter the last two days reading live dispatches about SDCC from my fellow nerd writers at AV Club, ToplessRobot, io9, and Comics Alliance, and they all say the same thing: Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church can bite our collective shiny metal asses. The Westboro Baptists are those creeps with the "'G-d hates fags" signs outside of soldiers' funerals. They're haters and they've decided to hate outside of SDCC for some dumbass reason, something about comic characters being idols. Mainly, they're just creeps.

Fortunately, awesome beats creep every time. A counter-protest by con attendees has been happening across the street from the WBC group. The nerds outnumber the Baptists 10 to 1 and their signs and chants are so great I can't decide whether to fall off my chair laughing or weeping with happiness over the triumph of love and the indomitable human spirit. "WHAT DO WE WANT?" "GAY SEX!" "WHEN DO WE WANT IT?" "NOW!" G-d hates Jedi. All glory to the Hypno-Toad. Odin is G-d--See Thor Issue 5. All glory to Darkseid. Fags are Sexy. Buddy Jesus. Magnets--how do they $#@* work?

Superheroes vs. the Westboro Baptist Church, courtesy of Comics Alliance. You can check out the rest of their pictures at the link, and they also have a video interview with comic writer Gail Simone (Wonder Woman, Gen13) and the Buddy Jesus.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Gratuitous Tragedy and the Rachel Explosion

If I was a superhero, my arch-nemesis would be Christopher Nolan, the writer and director of such fine movies as "Memento," "The Prestige," "Batman Begins," "The Dark Knight," and "Inception."

Nolan would be my nemesis for a couple of reasons. First, he's one of the very few storytellers who can surprise me, so I know he could match me in wits and in battle. Not to brag--well, okay, I'm bragging a little--but I'm one of those incredibly irritating people who can almost always guess the ending of a movie or television show ahead of time, because I know what makes stories work. Stories are like math problems to me; once all the variables have been presented, I can make the calculations on my own and see how it all turns out. But except for "Batman Begins," I've never been able to predict where Nolan is taking his characters. Each time, I've had to mutter to myself, "Well played, sir. Well played," as I try and work backwards from the ending to see how it all went down without me knowing.

Nolan wouldn't be my nemesis simply because he can surprise me. Neil Gaiman, Toni Morrison and Steven Moffat (my favorite "Doctor Who" writer) also fall into this category. No, a nemesis has to equal you in power and abilities, AND vex you terribly at every turn. Nolan vexes me terribly. Can you guess why?

*MASSIVE SPOILERS to all of the above movies follow. You've been warned.*

Let me tell you about every one of Nolan's protagonists: a handsome guy is mentally unstable and can't have normal human relationships because the love of his life was tragically taken away from him, and now he lives to rectify that tragedy.

Memento: guy with short-term memory loss is on a quest to find the man who raped and killed his wife.

The Prestige: magician is obsessed with humiliating the other magician who may or may not have killed his wife. The other magician's wife hangs herself.

Batman Begins: Batman's character is so perfect for Nolan's formula that I'm pretty sure Nolan's formula is really just the Batman formula with a dead woman substituting for Bruce Wayne's dead parents. However, perhaps because he's not content unless there's an imperiled women in there SOMEWHERE, Nolan created the character Rachel Dawes and then had her get attacked by the Scarecrow so that when Batman faces him in battle, he's not just fighting some guy in a scarecrow mask--he's fighting his beloved's attacker! It's personal!

The Dark Knight: And speaking of Rachel Dawes, did she get a raw deal in this movie or what? She gets blown up by the Joker, breaking not only Batman's heart, but also the heart of her fiance, Harvey Dent. Dent is so traumatized by the Rachel Explosion (also the name of my new feminist techno dance group) that he becomes Two-Face and goes on a murderous rampage to avenge her death.

Inception: I just saw this movie last night. I highly recommend it. Good stuff. Great scene in a gravity-less hotel hallway, among other things. But again, Nolan's protagonist is a man both haunted and motivated by the loss of his beloved wife, who killed herself and now haunts the hero's subconscious.

What the hell, Nolan? You found one type of character that you really liked and just decided to run with it until the studios stopped giving you money? I know that tragedy is a great motivator, but do your heroes always have to be dudes with dead girlfriends? The BF really likes Nolan's movies because they're intelligent, exciting, feature explosions and gunfights, but DON'T include gratuitous sex scenes, which he hates. I agree with him, but I'd argue that Nolan relies too heavily on gratuitous tragedy, which in some ways is just as anti-feminist as gratuitous sexuality.

You knew that's where this conversation was headed. Don't pretend like you didn't.

Nolan sucks--suckysuckySUCKS--atwriting female characters. Not one of his movies passes the Bechdel Test, which requires 1) at least two female characters, who 2) talk to each other about 3) something other than a man. It's such a simple series of requirements, yet each of Nolan's movies is an epic fail when it comes to the ladies. His women are all either someone's wife or girlfriend, which means they're most likely dead or going to die onscreen. The exceptions are the evil woman in "Memento," the mistress in "The Prestige," and Ellen Page's character in "Inception." You know what happens to those women? Yeah, neither do I. They all just sort of fade out of the story with little to no explanation once they've served their narrative purpose.

And as long as we're talking about that, why was Ellen Page even in"Inception"? She served no narrative purpose except to get the protagonist talking about his dead wife. Try this: watch "Inception" and imagine if Ellen Page wasn't in that movie. See? Almost no difference. The only reason she's there, as far as I can figure, is because she's a woman, and women can get men talking about their feelings and all that other girly shit. It doesn't matter that Cobb, the protagonist, literally just met this woman; he'll totally tell her incredibly personal and heartbreaking things about his past, things he wouldn't tell his male teammates even though they've been working with him for years and already know all about his wife's death and the damage it's caused his psyche. Cuz they're MEN, that's why, and men don't talk about their feelings with each other.

I'm not hating on Christopher Nolan. I'm not a superhero yet, nor even a morally ambiguous anti-hero who commits crimes but with good reason, so we don't need to be nemeses. I don't think that Nolan is a misogynist; if you asked him how he feels about female characters in movies, he'd probably say they're just as important as male characters, and that he tries to write them to be strong, independent, and believable. And he'd probably be telling the truth. But Nolan is a product of institutional sexism. The movie industry is intensely sexist down to its core. (If you need proof, list the last ten movies you saw and check how many of them pass the Bechdel Test.) And because Nolan is male, he has the privilege of maintaining what I like to call a "sexism blind spot," where he doesn't see how he shortchanges his female characters because hey, at least he's not putting them in gratuitous sex scenes like all those other sleazy directors. His women are smart, sexy, kind, and possess emotional depth, no argument there, but they don't have a reason to exist outside of their relationships to the male protagonists. They don't have lives of their own, and what life they do have is most likely going to be tragically cut short to give the heroes a reason to do whatever it is the movie's REALLY about.

So, Christopher Nolan--perhaps smarter and better at storytelling than me, and something of a chauvinist. Yes. He will make a worthy opponent.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bounty of Awesome

Have you ever had one of those days where the universe just keeps heaping scoops of awesome onto your already-loaded plate of awesome until the awesome dribbles down your arms and makes your paper plate get that crease in the middle where the potato salad gets all mushed in with the pulled pork, because of course this awesome is served at a barbecue as G-d and William Shatner intended?

Ever had one of those days, readers?

The Adventures of Dr. McNinja. It's everything you'd expect from a title like that. To your right, Dr. McNinja fights chainsaw nunchucks.

Nerd York City, "NYC for misfits, geeks, nerds, otaku & fanboys." Yes, please.

Batman's Twitter, God_Damn_Batman. "Limitation breeds innovation. If I could turn my head I never would've developed the "No Look-back Punch." A true classic."

I'm not on Twitter. I won't be on Twitter unless and until my ancient phone dies and I'm forced to upgrade to a smartphone, because if you can't update your account as soon as you save Gotham from circus freaks, what's the goddamn point?

Like I said, heaps of awesome.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A day at Edith Wharton's

We all know how much I love Edith Wharton. Remember the fat guy and cake analogy? That's how much. Something you might not know: before Edith Wharton was known for being one of the all-star, all-time-bestest-of-the-bestest American writers, she was a big shot in--wait for it--interior design. She invented the field. At a time when everyone was cramming their houses full of as much Victorian shit as they could find, Edith Wharton advocated clean lines and symmetry, having spent many years on the European continent in well-acquainted villas. (With whom or what were the villas acquainted?)

She put her ideas to good use when she designed, built and furnished her fabulous Berkshire mansion, the Mount, her "true home," though she only lived there for ten of her seventy-five years. Today, the Mount is a roadside attraction a damn sight more classy than South England's Wookey Hole, which isn't what you think, so don't be afraid to open that link. I suppose it would be more appropriate to call the Mount a historical residence, but I visited it with the BF and BFM on our way from Montpelier to New York, and anything one visits on a road trip is, by definition, a roadside attraction.

The vast majority of furniture and decoration inside the Mount is contemporary. When Edith Wharton divorced her husband and ran off to France, the Mount passed through a couple of different owners, including a finishing school for well-bred girls, and all of the original furnishings and decorations were lost. Fortunately, being that Edith Wharton literally wrote the book on interior design, the restorers used the her ideas to recreate a Mount that isn't exact, but would have pleased her greatly. And, since none of the furniture is original, it means we actually got to sit on it!

Of course, the preservationists who manage the Mount are on a never-ending quest to obtain anything from Edith Wharton's original creation. As far as furniture goes, they haven't been very successful. There was a single sofa in her bedroom suite that was roped off as an original piece, but I'm pretty sure that even the bathroom fixtures were later additions. However, the historians did make one incredible find that literally made me gasp when I saw it: they have Edith Wharton's personal library. Her books. The Mount has Edith Wharton's books.
I was once scolded by the tour guide in the Hawaii Supreme Court chambers for cracking open the books behind the special judgey podium, so it's probably a good thing that the Mount people put up an iron fence in this room (you can't see it in that picture, but I'm leaning on it). They knew that anyone who comes to Edith Wharton's house is going to want to get their nasty, oily hand-juice all over those fat, tempting volumes, especially since Wharton liked to write in the margins.

Wharton marginalia. These are the things that get me hot and bothered in the middle of the night.

Friday, July 9, 2010

99 RED BALLOONS--I mean, 100 POSTS!

This is bigislandrachel's 100th blog post spectacularino! Mitzvahs all around! And, as an added bonus, today is also my TWO YEAR ANNIVERSARY of moving to New York City!

Wet yourselves in excitement like ill-trained little puppies!

I know I promised Edith Wharton for this post, but since my New York anniversary and blog centennial coincided like an event ordained by the gods, Edith Wharton's getting bumped in favor of a clip post. That's right, here are, in no particular order, my favorite 10 bigislandrachel blog posts. If you don't see your favorites, leave a comment, preferably in English. Someone's been commenting in Chinese characters and I have no idea what he/she/spambot is saying.

1) On my one year anniversary of moving to New York, I almost lost a limb in the subway door.

2) A double hitter: two pieces of creative work, one about making bullets with my Daddio and one about a jumper on the Queensboro Bridge.

3) The post that inspired my very own blog meme: The viewer is in your mind with your neurosis delusions, or why I'll never escape data entry, or why office work is a feminist issue. Lots to love.

4) We all know how much bigislandrachel loves free stuff, especially if I find it on the street. Just search the tag "urban foraging" in my blog and you'll see references to street apples, street conch shells, street books, and streetwalkers (maybe not the last one). But my ultimate free find was my dining room table and chairs, bequeathed to me by my good friend GreenerPenny, who moved back to Hawaii and left me this, my dowry.

5) G-d help me, I'm such a nerd. I went to the New York Anime Festival. And I liked it. A lot.

6) And cats. I love cats. Even stupid ones that get stuck in the car engine. And I miss my roommate's kitteh Eva, who turned out to be a girl and had to stay behind in my old apartment.

7) The Village Voice hasn't paid me in ages, so while I could link to a post about the awesome times I've had as a member of their Street Team, instead I'm going to link to the absolute worst job they ever gave me. Fuck you, Electric Zoo.

8) Not many places in New York remind me of Hawaii, except the party held in a creepy, wet alleyway underneath the train tracks. That was a lot like home.

9) In which a tremendous amount of snow falls and mushrooms grow in my apartment.

10) I want to end with my favorite post on being a nerd, but I can't decide which one I like best. I could make an entire Top 10 list on my nerdly pursuits. In fact, I think I will, with Roman numerals to distinguish this sublist from its parent list.

I. Here are the Twenty Nerd Commandments.

II. Here's why the "geek chic" fashion movement pisses me off.

III. Here's Batman as a Buddhist thangka.

IV. In which I spend Girls Day binge-reading comics I don't intend to buy and get kicked out of the comic book store. This is probably the first time I blogged about comic books, but it sure wasn't the last.

V. A terrible temp job in Midtown has one ray of hope: the window of my office looks out onto DC Comics' New York headquarters. Propriety stops me from pressing my bare tits against the glass and gesturing suggestively to the DC employees, but only just.

VI. I'm such a big nerd, I played one on television.

VII. A visit to a forgotten New Jersey dumping ground lays the groundwork for at least two new comic book series. DC, you have my contact info.

VIII. Naked Girls Reading Science Fiction. You can try to find a nerdier Valentines Day present for your significant other, but it won't come close to my present to the BF.

IX. What's more nerdy? Emily Dickinson's frilly vagina, or a night in Edith Wharton territory? You decide!

X. This last post on my list is actually my favorite blog post of all time, not just my favorite in the nerd sublist. It's about comic books and the people who read them. This post was different from all the others. Normally, bigislandrachel is just a place for me to tell my Hawaii relatives what I'm up to in New York City, while getting some much needed writing practice. The posts are entertaining and sometimes rather personal, but not necessarily profound, and certainly not as scholarly as "A definitive post on comic books" turned out to be. It started out as a general, all-purpose rant about hard core comic book fans, but then a strange thing happened: I remembered my college education, and remembered that I used to be damn good at textual criticism. Although it's a good deal shorter than most of my college papers, I'd say that "A definitive post on comic books" ranks among my best literary essays, because it doesn't just deal with the texts (comics) in a vacuum, but explores how the readers relate to the texts. I'm not going to take any more of your time critiquing my own critique, but if you missed the post the first time around, I urge you to go back and read it again.

Working two jobs, sometimes back to back, doesn't leave me with a lot of energy or creativity at the end of the day--certainly not the kind needed to crank out intelligent discourse on a regular basis. I sometimes think the greatest conspiracy ever foisted on our society was to keep women so busy just trying to survive that we don't have enough of ourselves left over to reach our full potential. So please enjoy my fun, fluffy little posts about kittens and concerts and weekend trips on the train, but remember my favorite post, and remember that I'm not just a pretty interface with a curvy font.