Responsibility of comedy writers

Although I had never heard of Graham Linehan before, he’s apparently a writer for some fairly popular UK comedies, including one called The IT Crowd.

Now, apparently there was a recent episode of that show that included a sub-plot involving a transwoman named April. The plot was basically that Douglas, the Asshole of the show, goes out on a date with her and during the date he propositions her. She seems reluctant and eventually tells him that she “used to be a man”, to which he says that it doesn’t matter and his offer still stands. Except, the twist is that he misheard her! He thought that she said she was “from Iran”; this leads to a physical fight where she throws the first punch but he ends it by throwing her through a glass window and the last the audience sees of her is her lying motionless in a pile of glass.

All this played up as comedy, mind you.

So, Graham has a blog and on this blog a commenter named Leanne pointed out to him that he isn’t writing in a vacuum and the kind of violence he used as humor has a real life correlation.

The first comment after hers? A guy telling her that she’s “oversensitive”. So far he’s been the only one and no flame wars have been started, so I suppose that’s something.

Graham’s response to her comment was as follows:

Thanks for the letter, Leanne. I’m sorry you didn’t like the show.

I don’t really feel the need to defend it further as it’s a very silly show, and not meant to be taken seriously. But thank you for remaining polite on a matter that obviously means a lot to you.

Ignoring all the other problems with the response, I find his claim that “it’s a very silly show, and not meant to be taken seriously” to be just another cry of “it’s just a television show!” that I’ve debunked in the past. Not only that, but framing it as an issue of being “taken seriously” or not completely misses the point. Just because people aren’t going to look at the show as something 100% true to life, it doesn’t mean that they won’t find truth in the themes.

Graham’s depiction of violence involving a transwoman that resulted from a sexual encounter where the man thought she was a ciswoman draws from real life situations which are prevalent enough that men who commit these violent acts defend themselves using something termed the trans panic defense. It is with this underlying theme that’s rooted in reality that Leanne was speaking to, rather than the “silly” comedy trappings of the final depiction.

In fact, I would go even further and argue that the humor of the scene is dependent on the audience, at least a little bit, sympathizing with Douglas*. While April is upfront about her past (and I do give Graham minor points for not making her “trick” him into having sex under “false pretenses”), it’s significant that she throws the first punch. By initiating the violence, it lessens Douglas’ fault in the assault and one could argue that it even goes so far as to justify said violence***. And, since the violence is played for laughs, the audience doesn’t have to actually think about sad/scary things like how the same kind of violence happens in real life but with tragic consequences.

Ultimately, Graham is right; he doesn’t have to defend his work. He can write whatever he wants to write as long as the networks are buying it. But I find it to be rather intellectually dishonest for him to use “it’s a very silly show, and not meant to be taken seriously” as an excuse to try and weasel out of the responsibility his writing, as part of a fairly popular television show, plays in not only shaping popular culture but also in reinforcing the beliefs of his audience.

* Darren, the commenter who called Leanne “oversensitive”, argued that it was Douglas who was meant to be the butt of the joke**. While this would seem to fit the way that the show treats Douglas’ character in general, it’s hard to agree that April “gave as good as she got and got the better of him in the end” when he threw her through a glass window and that was the end of it. Or am I missing a part where he actually faced some real consequences like jail time for assault (doubtful since she threw the first punch)? What about even some in-show criticism of his actions from the characters we’re supposed to see as sympathetic?

** Darren also argued that we were supposed to see Douglas’ actions/opinions as bigotry, but I don’t buy that as his views are fairly common. One might argue that those opinions are more extreme than that of the average person, but I’m not so sure. In my experience (which has been backed up by the various research I’ve done into trans* issues) most people I’ve talked to about transwomen believe that transwomen are, if not “men”, at least not fully “women”. In the case of the heterosexual men, most of them say that they would not only not date a transwoman, but if they slept with one and found out later that she was trans they would be “disgusted” and more than a few said that they would want to do violence to her. And, mind you, most of the people I have access to, while not anti-oppression activists, are left-leaning and at least try to be conscious about issues of oppression.

*** For evidence to back up my assertion, I cite Andrew’s comment, where he says, “Leeane – if you recall in the episode, April threw the first punch. She started it and so deserved everything she got.”

Debunking the "profits come first" myth

If you have ever criticized an ad campaign, commercial, or anything that’s even remotely related to marketing for pushing a bigoted viewpoint, you will undoubtedly have come up against the argument that of course the reason the product is being marketed that way is because it’s more profitable. A company would never do anything to compromise its profits!

Which is, of course, bullshit. Many people have demonstrated how such campaigns hurt profit margins, rather than help them. The response is, of course, “but it doesn’t make sense for companies to put bigoted agendas over profits (and therefore they must have some secret knowledge about why it’s more profitable to discriminate against non-privileged groups)”. Before now I had never really had a good response to that argument (I was too busy being shocked at the leap of faith required to continue to believe that marketing is doing the best thing in the face of pretty damning evidence). But, thankfully, BetaCandy has recently blogged about her experiences learning to be a screenwriter, which has given rise to a discussion about how a non-profitable system perpetuates itself among industries that are supposed to be driven by profit.

In her post Why discriminate if it doesn’t profit?, she takes on the mindset that explains why the “profits come first” argument is, in fact, a myth:

The question this brings to mind is: why would they discriminate against a group when there’s more profit to be made by doing the right thing? That’s a good question, and one that deserves an answer.

n comments on the above-linked entry, I explained that I think it boils down to ego. Even greed is fueled by ego – it’s the ego that wants more than enough so it feels safe or better than its neighbors. It’s the ego that wants to feel important, unique, successful. Eliminating entire clumps of humanity from the “race” your ego thinks it’s in is a quick way to get rid of competition. It’s the same question you have to ask about store owners and restaurateurs who refused to serve African-American patrons whose money was as green as everyone else’s. They sacrificed profit, and for what? Ego.

But that’s not necessarily the only answer. Laziness is also a factor.

I would highly recommend reading the full post.

Hollywood, please stop shitting on my childhood

While on vacation, I went to see the Fantastic Four movie (the only reason it was worth it was because it was the first move I had seen in theatres in over a year) and had the dubious pleasure to see a preview for the Transformers movie. Now, despite the pretty CG, I knew I wasn’t going to want to see it because the only woman I saw was The Hot Love Interest, and really that’s an archetype that has been done to death and then some.

But I didn’t know how bad it was until reviews started popping up.

On Racism:
Nora on Angry Black Woman wrote More stereotypes than meet the eye (she has the same post up on her LJ) where she talks about the various racial stereotypes used in the film:

So the nostalgia in this version of Transformers seems to have also resurrected some old-school not-so-hidden messages: black women are nagging mammies who deserve the label bitch; black men are thugs, rappers, cowards, or crooks, and are stupid even when they’re supposed to be smart; Latino men are effete idiots; and even alien robots aren’t safe from token black guy syndrome. Oh, and I almost forgot the moronic Indian customer support guy who symbolizes the real dangers of outsourcing — it’s not only bad for our economy, it’s bad for our troops in wartime — and the Arab villagers whose sole purpose in the film is to be rescued by the tough-talking American soldiers. (Also see discussion on the Wiscon panel “What These People Need is a Honky”.)

On Sexism:
After finding out that Arcee wasn’t in the movie because they would have to “explain” her apparent female-ness and they were afraid of being seen as “trying to appease women with a pink Transformer”, Ragnell wrote In case you forgot, I hate everyone.:

Why is being a girl so fucking special? Why is it that every other fucking robot has a male fucking voice and no one questions why they have gender coding but the fucking second you bring in a female voice and god forbid you put it in a feminine color you have to suddenly explain why everyone has gender?

Oh, I know. We automatically assume everything is male. Male is the default. Male is neutral and being a girl is some sort of freakishness that can only be explained as thrown in their to try and appease the women.

Ariel wrote about the problematic handling of The Hot Love Interest, Mikaela, in the post Transformers: Sexism in Disguise:

I started off with a sour taste for Mikaela. During the first hour, she does two cool things: she knows how to fix Sam’s car and she walks away from her boyfriend (for good) when he calls her his little bunny. But also within that hour, the film establishes that Mikaela is oblivious to Sam is despite being his schoolmate for years, dates jerks because she likes guys with big arms and tight abs, admits she hides her knowledge about cars from guys so they’ll like her, with a vacant facial expression asks Sam if he thinks she is shallow, and is called a jock concubine and hoe by Sam’s friend. It’s a nice guy trope: nerdy but deserving Sam is overlooked because girls are shallow. The traits don’t especially set her up sympathetically unless we’re supposed to desire her for her body and Sam’s unsettling infatuation.

And in Transformers Skye wrote about her decidedly mixed feelings regarding the character:

I’d also rather see a movie where we don’t have to go through the “I’d do her” phase with a female character before accepting her as a person. Granted, this was from the point of view of the horny boy who saves the world and may have been correct characterization for him, but I don’t give out stars for that. Finally, I’d like to have seen more women in speaking roles. We get one who’s beautiful and one who’s brainy (but also beautiful), and that’s it.

So, yeah. Not planning on seeing that movie, unless it’s on cable TV when I happen to be in North America and I have an urge to write a scathing movie review. I can’t say I’m surprised that the movie seems to have exceeded even my expectations of awfulness, as I agree with Nora’s assessment of Hollywood in the second to last paragraph of her post (you did read it, right?), although I would add that it obviously extends to gender issues and other anti-oppression issues as well.

But, still, as my standards for entertainment go up and the quality of available entertainment goes down, it’s becoming harder and harder to find ways to escape from the hurts, injustices, and annoyances of real life. As hard as it might be for some people to grasp, there are times when I just want to watch mechs destroy each other without having to sit through “plot” that reminds me of how bigoted the world really is.

Sigh. I just know that at the ripe old age of 25 (my birthday is only 9 days away! well, 9 days if you live in Japan, anyway) I’m going to become one of those crotchety old people whose sole entertainment is reading books and complains about how these newfangled inventions like the tee-vee are ruining civilization…

Good Children and Better Women: Lessons Learned from Nanny McPhee

On New Year’s Eve, tekanji and I watched Nanny McPhee, a British fantasy movie for children. In the film, the magical Nanny McPhee comes to the Brown Estate to help Cedric Brown, widower and mortician, manage his seven unruly children, free of charge. Since the death of their mother, the Brown children have driven away seventeen nannies.

Nanny McPhee is a movie that tells both women and children how they ought to be. I want to analyze the messages in this film because I’m interested in the power dynamics between children and adults. Even powerful people were children once. I’ll explore some of the lessons I “learned” from this movie in this post.

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Silent Hill Movie

Silent Hill MovieYou would think that a movie that has women as the main protagonists would be a progressive step forward in terms of the portrayal of women in film. With Silent Hill, you would be wrong.

I went into the movie with the skepticism of a fan who has seen many of her favourite video games (not to mention books) ripped to shreds when they reach the big screen. I had heard that the movie was pretty good, and I was cautiously optimistic over the female protagonist who didn’t seem to fit the “sexy woman who kicks ass” paradigm that seems to have become a requirement for female heroes. I was even more interested when it was shown that the other protagonist would be a cop who, it seemed, just happened to be female.

Despite the lack of the lead pipe (I know, how could someone say they were being true to the series and not give the lead pipe some airtime??), I remained cautiously optimistic as the storyline got going. The cinematography was excellent. It was fun to recognize the monsters populating the town. The plot was both close enough and far enough from Silent Hill 1 to bug me a bit, but I never got the chance to play through all of the game so I could take it.

But, then, near the middle I started getting a sinking feeling in my stomach when I saw the themes that were emerging. By the end of the movie I wanted to throw something at the screen. Spoilers and mild rape triggers follow! Continue reading

Feminist SF Carnival: 4th Edition

Welcome to the Fourth Edition of the Carnival of Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy Fans! We’ve got quite a collection here this time, a whole host of topics organized by medium: Comic Books and Novels, Film and Television, and (my favourite) Video Games!

Comic Books and Novels

Feminist Superheroes
Transexual Fury: Summer Camp Special!

Starting this edition off with a bang are two posts talking about comic books in general. First, reappropriate‘s Jenn entertains us with her post, Meme: the Comic Book version.

Peachblossom of A Libertine‘s post, Feminist Superhero Books, talks about how the issue of feminism in comic books was tackled in the book, Wonder Women: Feminisms and Superheroes, by Lillian s. Robinson.

This one is a bit old, but it’s too good to leave unremarked on. Elkins of Notes from the Tundra examines the very real problem of girl on girl hostility in fandom and the world at large with her post Paranoia in Online Fandom: CMC, Girls’ Aggression, and Overanalyzing the Texts.

My assumption about this paranoia and the behavior that it engenders always used to be that it was simply a side-effect of the nature of CMC itself. The other week, however, while I was at the beach, I read a book someone had recommended to me on the subject of girls’ particular modes of aggression–Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, by Rachel Simmons–and it was really shocking to me just how well many of the things that this book described were things that I strongly associate with online fandom dynamics. That in turn has made me wonder to what extent much of the “paranoiac” behavior that I’ve been seeing in on-line fandom might be an artifact not only of CMC, but also of the predominantly female demographics of the fandom circles in which I’ve travelled.

Ampersand of Alas, a Blog connects this phenomenon to the feminist blogsphere at large in his post, How Girls Express Aggression and Online Fandom Dynamics.

In another instance of relating comics and feminism (this time with a superhero twist), this one Charlie Anders of othermag comments on a talented artist who is using comics as a medium to explore the anti-trans policy of Michfest, a popular women’s festival. The post, Superheroines team up to fight the real enemy, is worth a read, but don’t forget to check out the comic itself as well. It should be noted, however, that since the publishing of the comic, the festival that is alluded to has changed its policy and is now inclusive of all women.

Can I be like you when I grow up?Moving away from independent comics and into the world of The Big Two, Kalinara of Pretty, Fizzy Paradise says that she can’t find it in her heart to hate someone who brought such a touching moment of female solidarity in Darn You Geoff Johns.

In the wake of both the wedding between the X-Men’s Storm and Black Panther, as well as the Black Panel at Comic Con, it’s no surprise that bloggers are still talking about issues surrounding gender and race in comics. Starting us off is Ragnell of Written World and her post, It’s still bothering me…, where she writes about her disappointment in the way that the more popular Storm has taken a back seat to Black Panther. She continues her analysis of this issue over at Newsarama by discussing the implications of the cover art in her post, Amateur Art Appreciation: The Groom

Tackling the issue head on in her livejournal, I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, spiralsheep discusses sexism towards black women in comics in her post, In which our heroine asks, “What would T’Challa do?” , she has this to say:

But when a writer takes an achievement, a genuine victory, away from one character and gives it to another then there’d better be a good reason, when a writer takes away a female character’s self-determination and gives it to the men around her there’d better be a good reason, and when a writer turns a black victim of white crime into a black perpetrator of crime against a white person then there’d better be a !%@%! good reason.

The eponymous blogger Tlönista has written, Rebels from the waist down, a post on the portrayal of women in her favourite dystopian novels:

It gets scary-depressing when you read the feminist blogs and take in a piece on Joe Francis one day and teen virginity pledges the next and realize that the pressures on women in 1984 and Brave New World still exist simultaneously here, so that resisting one is giving into the other.

And what better way to end a section on comic books than with everybody’s favourite hero? Yes, that’s right, Planet Karen has a very special strip about Mars.

Film and Television

Fembots and the men who love them
Fembots (and the men who love them)

Over at Real Men Are Not, Luke dissects an essay on “Fembots” in his post, We’ll Pick You Up: Fembots and the Idiot at Enterprise [eta – broken link removed].

I don’t care if you say that fembots are some male-created extension in science of an already patriarchal culture but don’t tell me that that’s really the “perfect male fantasy”? Talk about something original and actually news-worthy.

Superwomen, not Fembots, are the subject of Ide Cyan’s post over at Feminist SF – The Blog!. In My Super Ex-Girlfriend [Caution! Spoilers in link.] she explores the movie of the same name from a feminist perspective.

The use of oversensitivity to sexual harrassment in the workplace as a running joke is particularly odious and tiresome. In the mouth of the protagonist’s Black, female boss, it adds to the caricature of women in positions of power as unreasonable and unjust towards the poor hapless (White) males.

Earthsea?And We Shall March laments yet another bastardization of Leguin’s Earthsea series in the post, And Then Ghibli Screwed Earthsea.

What sci-fi carnival would be complete without some Trekkie-loving? First we a post on the original series of Star Trek: heavenscalyx of The Calyx of the Heavens touches on (among other things) the treatment of Marla McGiver in, Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan! But TOS isn’t the only of the Star Trek series deserving of attention! On the Hathor Legacy, a blog devoted to the portrayal of women in the media, Revena discusses the fluid gender expression of the character in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Jadzia’s Gender.

Kirylin of Kirylin’s Voice muses on Traits of a strong female character, looking at shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer in contrast with shows of her youth, like G. I. Joe:

Thinking about Elisa; Gloria and Vanessa; Lady Jaye, Scarlett, and Cover Girl; R.C.; Tea and Alexisa… it makes me wonder what defines a “strong” female character.

And to wrap things up with this section, another post from Charlie Anders at othermag: So much for the feminist take on Doctor Who [Caution! Spoilers in link.], which discusses the relationship between the Doctor and his companion.

Video Games

Beyond Good and Evil
Feminist Video Games: Beyond Good and Evil?

Jeff of our very own kicks off this section by questioning why “feminist video games” didn’t pull up any matches in his post, Feminist Video Games?

Of course, there’s the larger question of what would make a game good from a feminist perspective. In addition to being good from a gameplay perspective, I’d say such a game would include female characters who are full agents in the game world, and who are treated as subjects rather than objects. I think a variation of the Mo Movie Measure applies as well, in that female characters should interact with other female characters in ways that aren’t centered around men.

And, speaking of feminism and games, you know it’s going to spark some controversy when Sony announces that it’s going to release a pink console. Ariel of New Game Plus discusses the politics of pink PS2s and PSPs in her post, Feminists and Pink Game Consoles.

In a more personal expression of feminism and video games, Brinstar of Acid for Blood asks her readers to help her live like a pro-gamer for a weekend in Send Me to Stockholm.

So why do I want to go to Stockholm to learn how to play FPS games with a professional Quake 4 clan? Because it sounds fun. I’d totally blog about it, too. And there would be pictures.

In a less personal post, Brinstar looks at the gender differences in the survivors of a new video game in her post, No Weapons for Women in Dead Rising. While all of the men players have encountered thus far will take a weapon to defend themselves, most women are offered a hand and ushered off to safety. Although I doubt anywhere is truly “safe” when zombies are involved.

And on an unrelated subject, in response to an e-mail I received, I call for readers’ opinions on the where they think the responsibilities of privileged groups lie when choosing avatars in roleplaying games. My post, Race and Video Game Avatars, is on Official Blog and is reproduced over at Alas, A blog, so be sure to check out the discussion at both sites.

Final Words

This concludes the Fourth Edition of the Carnival of Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy Fans. Ragnell is hurting for hosts, so please e-mail her here and volunteer!

Pirates of the Caribbean II and the Tradition of Racial Oppression

I was very excited to see Pirates of the Caribbean II: The Dead Man’s Chest Friday night; I loved the first film and used to work at the Magic Kingdom theme park where I frequented the Florida’s abbreviated version of the ride. Beyond watching the trailers, I’d remained spoiler free and didn’t know what to expect from Pirates. While queueing at a small town American theater, I studied the poster for the film and saw three brown-skilled men with jeering and perplexed looks on their faces in the lower left-hand corner. Uh-oh, I thought. What am I getting into?

Here ye be warned, this post contains some mild spoilers for Pirates of the Caribbean II.

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