Friday, August 16, 2019

Links and Updates

It occurs to me that despite having been out since April, I haven't yet posted the latest Star Wars teaser. Whoopsie.

So there are a lot of things we can infer from this trailer, though one can never forget that such things can be very deceptive in their editing (remember when The Last Jedi made it look like Rey was saying: "I need someone to show me my place in all this," to Kylo when it was actually Luke?)
Yet it would seem - and I cross all my fingers and toes on this - that the focus of the film is FINALLY on the trio of Rey, Finn and Poe. It's apparent that at some point they're all on a desert planet together, and then a cross-country trip occurs when they seek out the remains of the original Death Star.
And I am ALL for that. Give me the dynamic, give me the team-work, give me the camaraderie. I don't know what's going to go down, or how things will pan out, but "the trio go on an adventure together" is really all I could wish for from this film.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Reading/Watching Log #43

This is very late, but I've had a busy month. Plenty of books and films this time around, as well as two plays, a handful of miniseries, and a game from the nineties. Naturally the big theme has been The Phantom of the Opera, as every few years I'm drawn back into its glorious Gothic melodrama.
As well as that there's been Shakespeare, superheroes, 19th century lesbians, Spanish princesses, angels and demons, fairies, diviners, and of course, Stranger Things. I think the third season has maintained the quality of the first two seasons, though I found myself a little less invested this time around. Perhaps the influx of material spread my attention a little thin...

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Woman of the Month: Christine Daaé

Christine Daaé from The Phantom of the Opera
For years now I've been meaning to write a big, juicy meta on the character of Christine Daaé: opera singer, orphan girl, and object of obsessive desire.
As the female lead of Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera, she plays an extremely passive role, one that's only mildly mitigated in Andrew Lloyd Webber's famous musical and various other filmic adaptations.
More than that, she's constantly abused by the fandom, which often seems more interested in treating her as an empty vessel upon which they can project themselves in order to enjoy the attentions of a brilliant, tortured, violent man, rather than a fully-formed character in her own right (and who are naturally infuriated that she chooses to abandon him).
There are several extremely bad hot takes regarding this dynamic (here's an horrific one, though thankfully it comes with a rebuttal) and even more recently there was some controversy in the Star Wars fandom over a comic in which a deranged Imperial nurse becomes besotted with Vader, indulging in wild fantasies of them ruling the galaxy together, and considering herself The Only One Who Understands Him.
She ends up dead at his hands, and a lot of readers considered this a deliberate mockery of romantic female fantasies. Look, it got overwrought and silly and more than a little weird, but all you need to know for the purposes of this post is that one panel depicted the woman imagining herself removing Vader's helmet in an image highly reminiscent of the scene in which Christine removes the Phantom's mask. In response to this, certain Phantom/Star Wars fans decided to call the nameless nurse "Daaé" in honour of Christine.
This is a very dubious distinction (they're seriously going to name a deranged fascist after a sweet-natured singer?), but it serves to underline what a lot of fans actually get out of these kinds of stories, regardless of the author's intentions - the kind I usually refer to as "beauty and the beast narratives", but which have also been called "loving the monster", "death and the maiden" or just plain old "all girls want a bad boy" stories: tales in which A Pure Innocent Girl becomes the Saviour of a Dark and Dangerous Man.
Think The Phantom of the Opera, Disney's Beauty and the Beast, the BBC's Robin Hood (in which Marian was caught between Robin and Guy of Gisbourne), the elaborate head-canons that Avatar: The Last Airbender's fandom came up with for Zuko and Katara, the myth of Hades and Persephone, and of course, whatever the hell fandom believes is happening between Kylo Ren and Rey in the Star Wars sequels.
There are thousands of variations on this theme, with male protagonists ranging from fundamentally good-hearted men who are a bit rough around the edges, to full-blown mass-murdering psychopaths, but ultimately there are three distinct interpretations that readers/viewers derive from this subgenre of romantic fiction. 
For some, they're didactic tales about how women should reject their own dark sides and choose the right man over the wrong one. For others, they're self-insert wish-fulfilment stories in which they can indulge their secret desires and successfully tame the beast (or go wild themselves).
But for me, there's a third option that's often overlooked: empowering stories of women who successfully free themselves from a man's control and manipulation. This is Rey rejecting Kylo's nihilistic offer to rule the galaxy, Sarah telling Jareth: "you have no power over me," and Christine finding a way to end her stalker's reign of terror.
That so many readers/viewers want to take these choices away from the heroines, instead forcing them into relationships with men they're clearly desperate to escape, is... well, it's my problem because people can do whatever they want in fan-fiction.
But it remains a constant source of frustration for me, as it so often involves looking at each woman in the context of what she's doing for or to the male characters, rather than what he is inflicting on her, and what she ultimately chooses to do about it.
Let's not kid ourselves here; Christine is hardly a feminist icon, role model, or even hugely three-dimensional character. Rather, she's is a quintessential Gothic heroine: vulnerable in mind and body, beset upon by dark forces, susceptible to psychological manipulation, and almost entirely acted upon throughout the story.
And yet despite all this, she's a precious female character to a lot of people - including myself. So buckle up, this is going to be a long one...

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Review: The Phantom of the Opera

It was time to read The Phantom of the Opera from start to finish, which doesn't sound like a big deal except that I was honestly unable to remember if I'd ever read it before. This is strange considering I've been a fan of the story for so long, and the events of the first chapter (which has little resemblance to the musical) certainly rang some bells. So did other bits and pieces throughout the novel, and yet I still can't confidently say this wasn't my first read-through.
It's also difficult for me to recall just when I became deeply interested in the story: certainly by high school, when a friend lent me her cassettes and libretto from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical (which among other things, led to our cat being named Phantom), but perhaps even a little before this, when my uncle sent us several computer games from Australia, one of which was called Return of the Phantom, set at the Paris Opera House and involving a time-slip adventure/mystery.
But I'll have more to say on that in my end-of-month log. This post is about announcing that I can now definitively say I've read Leroux's original novel. And it was a surprising experience in many ways.
More than anything else, I was hoping to garner more insight into the characters; delving into their backgrounds, personalities and inner thoughts - though in truth it's actually the musical that does a much better job of characterizing Raoul and Christine.
Yeah, I'm astonished too.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Review: Avengers Endgame

Isn't it funny that Avengers: Endgame came out in April and three months later absolutely no one is talking about it?
Okay, that's probably because we were almost immediately hit by the Game of Thrones truck, are now in the afterglow of Stranger Things, and have our eyes on the fast-approaching The Rise of Skywalker... but still, I think it's telling that the hype for the culmination of nearly ten years worth of cinematic storytelling died out pretty quickly.
Because as a movie, Avengers: Endgame is much like all the MCU movies. A solid piece of entertainment that provides all the typical beats: lots of gags, some poignancy, fun character moments, bombastic set-pieces, a dash of romance and a villain (okay, Marvel has always been pretty weak with those last two).
As I've said in the past, I'm a casual fan of Marvel, and (unlike Game of Thrones, which snuck up on me without my realizing it) I can say that sincerely this time. General opinion is that The Winter Soldier is the best of the lot and The Dark World the worst, though to me they're of equal quality when it comes to entertainment value.
Which means it was a blessed relief to go into the movie theater and just... watch a movie. No elaborate head-canons to be crushed, no obnoxious shippers/stans screaming in agony, no dramatic disappointment in the way characters were portrayed, no devastated tears when things didn't turn out the way I had overinvested in...
There are some elements of contention: that the time-travel made no sense, that Steve ignored his own advice and lived out his life in the past, and of course Black Widow's fate - but ultimately I'm not that invested in the MCU and so could enjoy the ride without cross-examining everything.
I don't care, and MAN that feels good!

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Reading/Watching Log #42

My quest to "finish what you started" continues, with new seasons of Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl under my belt, as well as American Gods, Killing Eve and the final season of Into the Badlands.
Bookwise, I've finally completed Sarah J Maas's Throne of Glass saga, the fourth and final book in the DC Icons series, and the second instalment in Michael Di Martino's Rebel Genius trilogy. And I haven't even begun to put a dent in the rest of my TBR pile.
This blog has been a bit slow lately, not because I'm not writing but because I'm writing so many things at once that my time has been spread thin between them. And with Stranger Things just around the corner, things will probably get worse before they get better...

Monday, July 1, 2019

Woman of the Month: Joan Watson

Joan Watson from Elementary
I was on one of my internet walkabouts (which basically involves me scrolling through random pages, reading about obscure fandom lore) when I came across a post on the demise of Superwholock. It makes for a fascinating read, and brought back memories of 2012 when an American based Sherlock Holmes procedural was announced starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu.
To say that the reaction was over-the-top is an understatement. The creators and cast of the BBC's Sherlock treated it like a personal affront, and the fandom was in full-blown hysterics. You'd think the CBS had announced the culling of two hundred puppies the way they carried on, and there was a lot of embarrassing behaviour from all involved. 
If you follow the above link, there are some that believe this had an effect on Superwholock's abrupt disappearance, given the ugly underlying racism and misogyny that was inherent in the criticism. Because of course, Lucy Liu was cast as a gender-flipped Watson, and the fandom that coined the "screw writing strong women; write interesting women, write well-rounded women, write complicated women" meme just couldn't get their heads around it. 
But now, eight years later, it's clear that Elementary got the last laugh. Sherlock crossed the finish line as a crippled shadow of its former self, while Elementary actually delivered on its narrative promise and has since enjoyed seven full seasons of Holmes and Watson adventures. 
Lucy’s take on Joan Watson is that of a disgraced surgeon turned sober companion turned private detective. In many ways, the initial thrust of the show’s story was based entirely around her – Sherlock was HER client, it was HER decision to stay with him after their tenure came to an end, and it’s clear that despite all that she’s learnt from him, SHE’S the one who is of maximum importance to him. You don’t need me to tell you that in a world obsessed with white dude bromances, watching a show in which a man holds a woman of colour in the highest esteem and to the exclusion of all else is truly unique and revolutionary.
But thankfully the show never becomes just about Sherlock’s reliance on Watson. She’s a fully formed character in her own right, who struggles with doing the right thing, doesn’t put up with crap from anyone, embraces her newfound love of solving mysteries, forges relationships with other people in her new profession, utilizes her surgical skills when necessary, and (my personal favourite) is hilariously nonchalant about Moriarty’s obsession with her.
And that fashion sense! I’d leap at the chance to raid this woman’s wardrobe.
All that hand-wringing and boo-hooing about a woman (and a woman of colour, at that) taking over a role that would have otherwise been filled by yet another white guy was both hilariously stupid and gratifyingly unfounded. Schadenfreude may not be the most noble of human emotions, but you can’t say it didn’t feel good when Elementary ended up being a hit.