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Forced whimsy of Paul Jenkins’ Curioddity

Forced whimsy of Paul Jenkins’ Curioddity published on No Comments on Forced whimsy of Paul Jenkins’ Curioddity

Curioddity by Paul Jenkins is about a P.I., Wil, who killed his imagination long ago when his kooky scientist mom died. He lives his days in miserable routine until he is hired to recover a box of levity missing from the Museum of Curioddity. Standard Issue Modern Fantasy Plot 11-J-X5 ensues, in which blah blah blah his eyes are opened blah blah blah to a second world of wonder blah blah blah that only a gifted few can see blah blah blah and he embraces the world of imagination blah blah blah and brings back joy and adventure to his days blah blah blah and his mom’s not dead after all blah blah blah. Well, okay, I’m only on page 64, so I haven’t confirmed the last supposition, but I betcha anything it’s the case.

I’m down with Standard Issue Modern Fantasy Plot 11-J-X5 if it’s done with verve, originality, a sense of humor, writing skills, talent, and/or some combination of the foregoing. Shame that Curioddity doesn’t just lack these qualities, but contains their antitheses in such quantity that it’s an actively sucking vortex of badness. Reading this book is the literary equivalent of watching someone, convinced that he’s an expert with guns, repeatedly blow bullet holes in his feet. Though Jenkins believes himself a talented writer, he’s actually not, although I suppose the argument could be made that his delivery of consistently excruciating prose could be some kind of anti-talent.

There’s something wrong on nearly every page. Here’s a sampling:

P. 4: “Wil settled into a medium-paced trudge, which soon took him across an old stone bridge in the center of town. … Each passing vehicle rattled the bridge in such a way that Wil was reintroduced to every single one of his silver filings as he crossed. Up ahead, an old brown edifice loomed on the skyline like a fungal growth of brick and mortar: the Castle Towers. Wil’s office on the nineteenth floor was the only place in town where he could afford the rent, and from which he was under constant threat of eviction. He glowered at the Towers, and they glowered back at him. It was Wil who blinked first. He sighed, feeling inadequate. If his life had a soundtrack, he imagined, it probably sounded something like this: Trudge, trudge, trudge…KLONNG.”

Jenkins often tries to be witty with his descriptions, but they end up as abstract vacuities. Case in point: Castle Towers. First described as drab and hulking, it then takes on characteristics of Wil’s melancholic worldview and becomes a “fungal growth.” Okay, fine. But then he has a staring contest with the building, and it wins. This might make sense if Jenkins personified the building, establishing that Wil perceived it as an enemy with personality, before it glared at him. But all we have to go on is a prior comparison to fungus, and fungi are not people. Fungi have many traits to use in metaphors — their quick growth, their sudden appearance, their proliferation during damp, the close resemblance of edibles with poisons, their smoke-like spores — but they have neither eyes nor temperaments. I’m left puzzling over contrafactual mushrooms with eyes, which do not exist and, as such, provide no interesting or useful metaphoric information about Castle Towers.

And then there’s that bit about Wil’s life’s putative soundtrack. I can understand the source of trudge trudge trudge, since Jenkins uses the verb in relation to Wil a godawful number of times in the first few pages alone. However, while the word does have a heavy, dull sound, it’s not really onomatopoetic. Thus it doesn’t work as a soundtrack element. By contrast, a verb like galumph, being imitative, would fit as an element in the music of someone’s life.

While I see where the trudge comes from, I have no idea about the KLONNG. Obviously, this particular word is onomatopoetic, but what is it referring to? It sounds like a ringing noise, but there are no clocks, bells, or any metal-on-metal impacts in the preceding paragraph to which it might conceivably be associated. And it’s certainly not the cars on the bridges or Wil’s filings in his teeth making that sound. These are portrayed as rattling, not issuing a sonorous single tone. At first, I thought that Wil had walked into one of the bridge pylons and conked his head, but nope. I suspect Jenkins might be trying for an Existential Knell of Doom, but there’s not enough textual information to support this interpretation.

Pp. 5-7: Wil visits Mug o’ Joe’s, “an isolated pool of happiness in his world” [p. 5]. Jenkins notes that Wil resented the cafe’s temporary name change to Ye Olde Towne Cafe so much that he boycotted the cafe till it changed its name to Koffee Korner. Wil orders coffee, rejecting the cafe’s lingo [Hefty] and insisting on a “large” [p. 6]. “I’m not using your terminology because it doesn’t make any sense. … Just because someone in marketing happens to own a thesaurus, and just because your shareholders insist all of your drink sizes must appear bigger than they are, and just because you are between liberal arts colleges … , it doesn’t mean I have to join in[,]” he says. Less than a minute later, he’s “glowering in the general direction of the Castle Towers,” reflecting that the “daily dose of caffeine confrontation … was beginning to grate” [p. 7].

What we have here, folks, is a paragon of self-serving entitlement whose unhappiness stems from the fact that the world nastily refuses to cater to his whims. Plenty of people roll their eyes and/or make jokes about the size of fast-food drink containers and their names. However, only a very few take these corporate decisions as a personal affront and upbraid the counter staff. And you know why only a few people deliver venomous rants to clerks who are doing a demanding, thankless job, earning minimal pay, and exerting no control whatsoever over their business’ beverage names? Because most people have a modicum of politeness, decency, and care for their fellow human beings that prevents them from spewing bile on others. Also most people understand that the fast-food restaurant that they choose to patronize does not have a personal vendetta against them, as expressed through product names that people might find absurd. That’s because most people have some small understanding of the relative priorities of the world, which, amazingly enough, does not revolve around them. Wil’s pointless boycott of Ye Olde Towne Cafe is accompanied by the sententious observation that “one had to make a stand somewhere” [p. 6], so Jenkins is trying to make Wil an acerbically witty, admirable teller of those little truths that are universally acknowledged, but never spoken. Nope, sorry, Jenkins — your protagonist is just an asshole who flies off the handle at innocent college students trying to do their jobs.

P. 20: The source of the KLONGG finally appears: an off-kilter clock tower that raises a cacophony and doesn’t keep proper time. “Wil hated this monstrosity more than he had ever hated anything in the known universe, not to mention a substantial portion of the undiscovered bit.” I dunno — he seems to hate the old stone bridge, Castle Towers, Mug o’ Joe’s, baristas, coffee, and all that is virtuous, shining, good, and happy a whole hell of a lot! Also the clause about the undiscovered bit doesn’t help. I’m sure it’s supposed to be a witty authorial flourish, but it just brings me out of the story and onto a tangent about the concept of the known universe — which, now that you mention it, is a lot more interesting than this book.

P. 34: Mr. Dinsdale, curator of the Museum of Curioddity, introduces himself. I’m beginning to think that Jenkins had one good idea — the portmanteau word of the title — and decided that was evocative enough to build an entire book around. Sure, it’s a great foundation…but only if you have more than a single good idea.

P. 42: Wil finally encounters the Museum itself: “ornate Ionic pillars … wide marble steps … massive lead-lined windows [suggesting] an expanse of space within. The building screamed ‘museum’ in much the same way a stadium with a diamond-shaped playing field might scream ‘baseball.'” You’d think Jenkins was being paid per word or something, as the whole last sentence could be replaced with It looked like a quintessential museum. Nothing would be lost, except for Jenkins’ odd preoccupation with failed personifications.

P. 47: Inside the museum, Wil feels intimidated by the sexy, but blase, desk clerk: “He’d never been very good at talking to members of the opposite sex, and whenever he attempted a genuine compliment it usual led either to a slap across the face or worse, an angry and enormous boyfriend approaching from the opposite direction.” Socialized masculine entitlement rears its head. He wasn’t hitting on them, honest! He was just “genuinely” telling them how nice they looked, and then they slapped him for no reason he could figure out. They just can’t take a compliment — too uppity. Or they sicced their hulking boyfriends on him. Women are so mean. How’s a Nice Guy like Wil supposed to get any action? This insufferably arrogant whingeing reads like the author’s self-insertion.

P. 49: Mary, the cruel desk clerk, strikes again: “His lifetime of reading women’s disdainful body language told him that Mary Gold’s ‘uh-huh’ could roughly be translated as, ‘You’re off the hook for now but one false move and I’ll call the nearest security guard employment agency and hire one just so that I can have you thrown out on your ear.’ Quite a mouthful, Wil thought, considering so little had actually been said.” Apparently it’s not enough for Jenkins to mention Mary’s loud, obnoxious gum chewing, her “disdainful” stare [p. 48], and purposely limp handshake [p. 49]. No, he has to go further and explain in painfully minute detail just how hostile Wil perceives her to be. Lacking confidence in the reader’s ability to draw conclusions from the information provided, Jenkins explicitly informs them exactly what conclusions they should make. Translation: he thinks the reader is a dolt. Strangely enough, I don’t particularly like it when my fiction insults me.

P. 65: “To Wil, events were now flashing by like a pudding-filled Lamborghini Gallardo that had been driving off the edge of a cliff. The whole thing was moving too fast, and while everything appeared to be headed directly toward a very damaging conclusion, he reasoned that the experience might at least be fun in the few moments it would take to arrive.” This simile makes no sense, and it’s not even interesting or entertaining nonsense. It’s just inane. I assume that pudding is supposed to connote fun here, but the author seems to have overlooked an obvious result of his hypothetical wacky scenario. Namely, it’s impossible to have fun in an out-of-control car, even if it is filled with dessert, for the simple reason that the car is out of control and will soon become a fiery explosion of death and dismemberment. I don’t know about you, but, if I were in this situation, I would be too busy screaming and flailing to enjoy any of the mousse slopping all over the passenger’s seat. In other words, a pudding-filled sports car en route to the bottom of a gorge is a mess, a terrifying mess…you know, kinda like this book.

What the fuck topped with fuck with a side of fuck?!?

What the fuck topped with fuck with a side of fuck?!? published on No Comments on What the fuck topped with fuck with a side of fuck?!?

I bought the latest lite version [Manga Studio 5] of what was formerly Manga Studio, and the creators REMOVED the word wrap feature within text balloons that was available in Manga Studio EX4. I don’t care if Manga Studio 5 can import 3D models and allow people to poses proprietary puppet-like figures in the panels; it’s a useless piece of shit if it doesn’t have such a basic feature as word wrap, which is STANDARD on all other comic software I’ve run across. I am extremely frustrated.

Pete Burns’ lips, Angelina Jolie’s breasts, my hair, and the gender police

Pete Burns’ lips, Angelina Jolie’s breasts, my hair, and the gender police published on No Comments on Pete Burns’ lips, Angelina Jolie’s breasts, my hair, and the gender police

Now that Pete has died, the usual commentary about his appearance has renewed with a vengeance. Pete had a long, long history of cosmetic surgery. He started off with a rhinoplasty around the time that You Spin Me Right Round peaked and continued with more facial mods. He suffered complications from his rhinoplasties, as well as extensive infection, hospitalization, bankruptcy, and depression following a thoroughly fucked-up lip job. [He appeared on UK TV’s Channel 5 Celebrity Botched Up Bodies with some truly disgusting details of how his body started disintegrating after surgery of dubious quality.] He also had countless reconstructive operations, and pretty much everyone on the Internet thinks that he looked much sexier before said surgeries, and they’re not afraid to trumpet this belief in offensive terms.

Anyway, a certain segment of the post-Pete mourning appears to be nothing more than the usual “He was so ugly when he died!” whingeing. The Mirror [UK] provides some representative samples. “Pete Burns was so handsome before surgery!”: fans shocked by his appearance as a young man, for example, contains quotes from irrelevant people saying things like, “Such a good looking chap back then. What possessed him?” Another Mirror article, One of the last pictures of Pete Burns shows shocking changes that left him like “Frankenstein” before his death takes the judgmental tone, with the author describing his recent fame for his “shocking” appearance as “sadly for the wrong reasons.” Thank you, Mirror — I was waiting with bated breath for your magisterial pronouncements on the moral acceptability of Pete’s more recent notoriety.

Those who condemn Pete’s latter-day appearance do not care about his bodily autonomy, bodily integrity, or his self-directed, informed choices. He explicitly stated on Celebrity Botched Up Bodies, “I realized that I was a visual entity and that I had to look good.” For him, the pursuit of this goal entailed surgical body modification. He seems to have been motivated in part by anxiety about his formerly broken nose [which left him “self-conscious” in front of photographers], the aforementioned belief that he “had to look good,” and the desire to keep his face from falling off after the bad lip jobs. Though his self-modification seems to have had its origins in deep dissatisfaction, Pete said, “I’m Frankenstein [sic!]. I’m feeling wonderful. … People might think I’m the ugliest son of a bitch alive, but I want to maintain this appearance.” In other words, he emphasized his conscious choice and embrace of his body.

This proprietary bloviation about Pete’s body pisses me off because, at base, it’s a form of gender policing. He was publicly acceptable “back then,” i.e., in the mid-1980s, because he was performing masculinity in a culturally acceptable way. Though his long curly hair and pouty lips were often read as transgressively feminine, his deep voice, dick-accentuating tight pants, and mediocre hit of heteronormative desire You Spin Me coded him definitively in the masculine category. His style in later years disrupted this coding. With his extensive plastic surgeries, he participated in an activity designated as feminine. Furthermore, the results — cheek and lip implants — altered his face in ways that were considered feminizing. His interests in wigs and heavy makeup were also seen as feminine. Thus, as he abandoned symbols of culturally acceptable masculinity and began performing in ways associated with culturally acceptable femininity, he messed up people’s nice, neat binaries. They felt uncomfortable and projected their discomfort onto him by calling him ugly for transgressing unspoken strictures on gender roles. Hey, look, folks — that’s some industrial-grade transmisogyny right there!

Gender policing like this happens pretty much everywhere. For example, when Angelina Jolie had an elective prophylactic double mastectomy in 2013, some people mourned the death of her boobs as if they themselves were personally entitled to them. In my own experience, when I first began to cut my hair shorter and shorter, some people reacted with sadness, insinuating that I was “prettier” with longer hair. Well, I was “prettier” insofar as “prettier,” a comparative of an adjective that is gendered feminine, connotes feimininity. I offer no coherent conclusion beyond frustration.

Pete Burns est mort.

Pete Burns est mort. published on No Comments on Pete Burns est mort.

57. Cardiac arrest. My heart goes crack crack crack crack…

The Guardian’s obit says the following:


Burns became famous for his androgynous style and his progressive approach to gender. He often wore women’s clothes and, speaking to the Guardian in 2007, said: “Everyone’s in drag of some sorts, I don’t give a fuck about gender and drag. I’m not trying to be a girl by putting on a dress – gender is separated by fabric. I was brought up with an incredible amount of freedom and creativity. Society has put certain constraints on things.”

I find this quote curious because it’s not quite true. He evidently gave a whole bunch of fucks about gender…or at least his, since he defined his own and performed it with great joy, consistency, and relish until the day he died. More precisely, I think he didn’t care for the inevitable labels [crossdresser, drag queen, transsexual, f****t, etc.] that I’m sure accompanied public notice of his gender. I think this quote is more about him saying, “Y’all are so hung up on what I am or am not. You think I’m some weird deviant pervert. Well, I’m me, and you’re the weird deviant perverts for being so obsessed about it.”

Also The Guardian’s comment that he “often wore women’s clothes” doesn’t make any sense either. Reminds me of the Gender Aptitude Test in Kate Bornstein’s Gender Workbook. One of the questions was as follows:

Have you ever worn the clothes of “the opposite sex?”
a. Hey, give me a break. No way!
b. Yes, but when I wear them, they’re for the right sex.
c. What sex in the world would by opposite of me?
d. Several of the above.

I think D would apply to Pete here.

P.S. The Gender Aptitude Test has lots of entertaining answer choices, but I especially like this one:
Which of the following statements most nearly describes your feelings about gender?
a. My what about gender?
b. I guess my feelings range anywhere from anger and frustration to happiness and exhilaration.
c. Gender confuses me. I don’t know why it is the way it is.
d. I feel… I feel… I feel a song coming on!

“You reanimated my dissection cat?! Nice going, Dr. Frank N. Furter.”

“You reanimated my dissection cat?! Nice going, Dr. Frank N. Furter.” published on No Comments on “You reanimated my dissection cat?! Nice going, Dr. Frank N. Furter.”

This mini universe digital photostory first came to me when I heard that Hivewire 3D was developing a new house cat model. Cat-loving digital artists rejoiced, as the models that we have been using, the Poser 4 Cat and/or Daz’ Millennium Cat, are woefully inadequate for today’s current standards of articulation, texture detail, and sculpting.

Anyway, the idea further began to cohere when I decided that Jennifer had a lab where she practices her questionably scientific experiments. Though Jennifer’s primary interest lies in chemistry, rather than biology, I figured that her curiosity could impel her to dissect one of the animals commonly used for dissection, i.e., a cat.

The idea really got rolling when I thought of Jareth poking in Jennifer’s lab and seeing a cat in mid-dissection. Being exactly who he is, he would do exactly what he has done below. In other words, The Cat Came Back was inevitable! ^_^

Continue reading “You reanimated my dissection cat?! Nice going, Dr. Frank N. Furter.”

Missed opportunities in Adam Cohen’s Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck

Missed opportunities in Adam Cohen’s Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck published on No Comments on Missed opportunities in Adam Cohen’s Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck

This year, Adam Cohen came out with Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck. Buck, a white, working-class Virginian, was raped by the nephew of the Dobbses, the bourgeois couple in whose house she was working. The Dobbses thus had her categorized as “feebleminded” and institutionalized in the Colony for Epileptics and the Feebleminded. There she attracted the attention of various assholes [Albert Priddy, director of the Colony, Aubrey Strode, the lawyer who drafted the Virginia law, and Harry Laughlin, veritable Nazi who served as expert witness for the prosecution] who wanted to use her as a test case to secure the constitutionality of Virginia’s recently passed eugenics law.

Like many other states at the time, Virginia was caught up in the burgeoning enthusiasm over eugenics. Ostensibly about improving the human race through selective breeding, eugenics was actually about breeding more straight, white, cis, able-bodied, rich, smart virtuous WASPs like us and keeping those defective, vicious, disabled, vacuous, non-white people out. Anyway, Virginia’s law allowed state-sponsored sterilization of people with various “mental defects.” Despite the evidence being made up entirely of unscientific, sexist, racist, ableist, classist lies, the Amherst County Supreme Court upheld it.

The assholes, however, wanted their law to be ratified by even higher authorities. Buck’s “defense” lawyer, who was so in cahoots with the opposing counsel that his picture appears in the dictionary under the definition of moral bankruptcy, appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. The higher court upheld the appeal in 1925, and still the assholes carried bravely on. In 1927, Buck v. Bell went before the United States Supreme Court. The highest court in the land ruled in favor of state-sponsored rape, with a ringing endorsement coming from Chief Justice Asshole Oliver Wendell Holmes: “Three generations of imbeciles [Buck’s mother, also institutionalized at the same colony, and Buck’s daughter included, though no one had really tested Buck’s daughter’s mental abilities] are enough!”

Buck was re-institutionalized, given a nonconsensual salpingectomy, and not at all informed about the consequences of the operation. She was also deprived of the chance to form a relationship with her kid, who, for some reason, was being raised by the Dobbses, who institutionalized Buck in the first place. She was eventually released from the institution; she then worked intermittently as a household cleaner and seasonal orchard picker, married twice, apparently loved her husbands, and, when she heard about what the salpingectomy had done to her, always grieved her inability to have kids.

Laws such as the one tested in Buck v. Bell gained popularity, peaking in the late 1920s. The stock market crash of 1929 drew attention away from “mental defectives” and toward a horrendously tanking economy. It also didn’t help that the guy who served as eugenics expert witness in Buck v. Bell, Harry Laughlin, enthusiastically sucked up to the rising Nazi regime. Despite these factors and the expose of eugenics as junk science, legal eugenic sterilization persisted in the United States till at least 1983, when Oregon finally dissolved its Board of Institutionalized Bigotry Social Protection. In fact, Buck v. Bell remains “good law,” according to Cohen, and courts continue to cite it, even in this millennium, as justification for sterilization of disabled people. Indeed, the current fetishization of the genome and the rising popularity of genetic testing for disease markers both raise the unsettling possibility that the eugenics movement will pop up again.

Anyway, not only is reproductive rights a timely topic, but Buck’s story is a dramatic one, so Cohen has potent, pertinent material here. In measured, well-documented prose, he tells the story of Buck v. Bell with two chapters each on Priddy, Laughlin, Strode, and Holmes, bookended on either side by a chapter on Buck. He applies keen analysis to some aspects of the story, but totally misses other significant opportunities. Thus it’s an uneven book.

Cohen excels at his treatment of socioeconomic class, his analysis of Strode, and his takedown of Holmes. In terms of class, he is always attentive to the ways in which class pressures and expectations shape the players’ lives. He observes that the Dobbses’ push for middle-class respectability required the disposal of their working-class servant in a “colony” for the “feebleminded” when she had the audacity to be raped by the Dobbses’ nephew. He also demonstrates the influence of class in Holmes’ life; born among the socially conservative, neo-Puritan snobs of the Boston Brahmin class, he owed every single advancement in his life to the behind-the-scenes connections fostered by this good ol’ boys’ club. With details like these, Cohen ably proves that Buck v. Bell exemplified contemporary concerns about social class — in particular, the nasty poor people, with all their vices and feeble minds, becoming too numerous and steamrolling the awesome rich people, who were naturally smart and good.

Also particularly strong is Cohen’s portrayal of Strode, the lawyer who drafted the original Virginia bill and followed it all the way up to the Supreme Court. Scion of one of Virginia’s elite families and avowed Confederate sympathizer, Strode might at first glance seem to be a garden variety Southern bigot, especially with his hand in having nonconsensual sterilization enshrined as the law of the land. However, Cohen shows Strode as a complex figure, progressive in the areas of women’s rights and higher education, who probably didn’t even support eugenics at all. He purposely drafted the initial law to be as narrow and restrictive as possible, and, unlike Holmes, who wouldn’t shut up about his magnificent majority opinion, barely mentioned the whole subject of eugenics in his life afterward. Cohen makes these points not to garner sympathy for Strode, since Strode clearly chose to draft the bill and serve as prosecutor for the case, all the way up to the Supreme Court. Instead, Cohen’s portrayal of Strode’s ambivalence neatly encapsulates the country’s own ambivalence on the subject of eugenics.

Finally, Cohen does a masterful job of replacing the saintly ideal of Holmes with a more accurate picture of the man’s full character and motivations. While Holmes may be remembered for his aphorisms on free speech, Cohen argues that his upbringing as a member of the hierarchical, ancestry-obsessed, self-important Boston Brahmins largely shaped his political views. He was actually more of a pro-business, anti-civil rights conservative who regularly struck down or dissented on cases of reducing work hours for laborers or improving working conditions. He had an essentially passive, reactive view of the law, which was basically that it shouldn’t be socially activist in a way that changed policy, but that it should just execute whatever was passed until someone stepped forward to challenge it. This passive, socially disengaged perspective extended throughout his life; for example, he bragged about never reading newspapers and seemed to make a virtue of being clueless to events and trends occurring beyond the tip of his nose [except for eugenics]. Enamored with his self-concept as a brilliant, eloquent, accomplished genius, he chose to ignore the fact that his brilliance was completely untempered by compassion and social consciousness, his eloquence called into service for arrogant, venomous, mean-spirited opinions attacks, and his accomplishments largely the result of the socioeconomic class in which he was born. Cohen uses both close analysis of Holmes’ opinions and a close reading of Holmes’ private letters to effectively puncture the myth of Holmes as practically perfect. It’s very satisfying.

All this said, Cohen only tells part of the story. He fails to include material that would make his book even stronger and more convincing. His treatment of Buck, disability, and race are ultimately unsatisfying. In terms of Buck, though she has two chapters, just like all other major players, they are ultimately scant. For example, though Cohen refers to Buck’s elementary school report cards as evidence of her average mental capacity, he quotes them only once. Even more egregiously, when he has the chance to use Buck’s own words, he doesn’t take it. He uses the most direct quotes in the final chapter, describing Buck’s later years, including her efforts to have her mom de-institutionalized. Yet he also refers to Buck’s letters in general, commenting on the neat penmanship and only sporadic grammar mistakes. This leaves the impression that Buck produced a lot of firsthand documentation of her post-trial years that Cohen omitted, except for a superficial comment on Buck’s ability to hold a pen. For someone so insistent that Buck’s voice was never heard at all in these cases [beyond her statement at the initial trial “that her people” would “take care” of her, which suggests that she had no clue what was going on], Cohen certainly devalues Buck and her experiences.

My close reading of Cohen himself reveals telling details about why he silences Buck. He wants to depict her as a pathetic, innocent victim who did nothing wrong whatsoever and was totally betrayed by mean, rich men. To this end, he is obsessed with the adjective “helpless,” one of his most-used descriptors for Buck. Indeed, Buck was helpless before the straight, white, rich, cis, WASPy men who used their privilege to rape her, but she also had agency in other areas of her life. I understand that this book focuses more narrowly on the Buck v. Bell case, but Cohen’s exaggeration of Buck’s supposed helplessness turns her into a bit player in her own life.

Cohen not only fails Buck personally, but he also fails in his portrayal of eugenics in general by inadequately addressing the ableism and racism at work in its rise. Yes, I am aware that Cohen is telling the story of a white woman, Buck, who has no intellectual or physical disabilities. That doesn’t excuse, however, his omission of the ableist and racist implications of eugenics, as well as the ableist and racist purposes to which the United States put eugenics laws.

Beyond being a way for rich people to try to literally cut poor people out of existence, sterilization — and indeed the whole eugenics movement — was also against people with mental and physical disabilities. Cohen gestures toward this when he follows the history of sterilization laws, in which blind, deaf, and or “crippled” people were sometimes included as eligible populations. For the most part, though, he strenuously avoids a disability rights analysis. For example, his preoccupation with arguing that Buck wasn’t “feebleminded” seems particularly wrong-headed. Her mental capacity is important insofar as all the pro-eugenics people flat out lied in their claims that she, her mom, and her daughter had intellectual disabilities. But even if Buck and her family members were intellectually disabled, re-raping her via salpingectomy would be morally repugnant as a breach of her right to bodily integrity. Again, Cohen alludes to such ableist violations when quoting some anti-eugenics rulings, but he doesn’t face the infantilization and objectification of disabled people head-on. He seems more interested in stoking reader outrage by harping on Buck’s average intelligence, the implication being that institutionalization and forced sterilization of a person without disabilities is worse than the same fate for a disabled person. I smell ableism — and not just in the historical record, but in the historiography itself.

Finally, the whole concept of eugenics is a racist fallacy, pitting white/Anglo-Saxon/Aryan proponents against people of other colors with other racial identities. Cohen illustrates this well in his discussion of Laughlin’s sucking up to the Nazis, who, inspired by eugenics work in the United States, expanded the racism to genocidal proportions. Strangely enough, however, Cohen leaves out the racist practices fostered by Buck v. Bell that occurred in the U.S. As Nancy Gallagher capably shows in Breeding Better Vermonters: The Eugenics Project in the Green Mountain State, eugenics/sterilization laws disproportionately burdened not just poor people and/or people with [real or imagined] disabilities, but also people who weren’t white. In Vermont, the Abenaki Indians were seen as the racial undesireables and so particularly pursued for sterilization, but, in other states, other populations were victimized. Lack of attention to the racial minorities in the U.S. who were persecuted gives the unfounded impression that eugenic racism only happened over there in Germany, with those evil Nazis. No, it happened here too, and it’s vital to emphasize that it happened in the U.S. — indeed, pretty much started in the U.S. — because part of Cohen’s conclusion warns that the currents of eugenics may be at an ebb right now, but could easily swell again.

P.S. Cohen’s title, Imbeciles, also really rankled me. As I mentioned earlier, Buck was never categorized as an “imbecile,” but as a “moron,” both of which were official categories back then referring to putative mental age and ability. I assume that Cohen’s title derives from Holmes’ “three generations of imbeciles” bullshit and also the fact that “morons” just doesn’t flow off the tongue like the slightly longer “imbeciles.” Still, it’s a rhetorical flourish that’s factually incorrect. Furthermore, the placement of “the Supreme Court,” a group of individuals, right after the colon transfers connotations of “imbecility,” along with contempt and negative judgment, to the justices. Thus Cohen uses the tired ableist tactic of turning a term of intellectual disability, albeit outmoded, into an insult. In conjunction with Cohen’s problematic treatment of Buck’s intelligence and his general omission of eugenics’ ableist consequences, the title exemplifies Cohen’s own problematic perspective on disability.

Back to Manga Studio?

Back to Manga Studio? published on No Comments on Back to Manga Studio?

Getting tired of the limited options available in Adobe PhotoShop Elements, mostly the lack of tails on speech bubbles. I’m thinking that it might be time to return to Manga Studio. It’s up to version 5, and it has apparently much improved since the previous version, with its obtuse GUI and complete lack of helpful documentation. There are also English-language reference books [something I didn’t encounter for version 4], such as Manga Studio 5 Beginner’s Guide and Manga Studio for Dummies. Hmmmm…Given that I do lots more photostories, doll and digital, than I used to, this may be a sensible investment.

EDIT: Okay, I’m convinced. There were very few tutorials online for Manga Studio 4, but a search quickly turned up hoards for version 5. For example, this tutorial in template creation is not only easy to follow, but it’s also by a fellow online comics artist who was previously using an Adobe product before switching to Manga Studio 5.

Makeup = paint!

Makeup = paint! published on No Comments on Makeup = paint!

No one ever taught me how to use makeup. I therefore have always approached it as FACE PAINT. I don’t believe in makeup that idealizes one’s features subtly and does not advertise its presence. I believe in makeup that screams, “Look at me — I’m paint for your skin! Look at my nifty colors and specularities and textures and special effects! Aren’t I awesome?!” I also believe that, as long as you’re painting your face, you should put paint all over it. None of this dusting of eyeshadow and slash of lipstick business; I want layers. I want lipstick and lip liner and lip gloss and lip sealant [which, if it doesn’t exist, should] AND foundation and blush for the highlights and blush for the lowlights AND mascara and eyeliner and eyeshadow AND eyebrow pencil. Show off the PAINT!

NB: I also don’t use makeup on myself. I seem to really like designing it for my characters, however.

The “Gene Hackman in bad drag” song

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I have had a deep and unrestrained loathing for the song Celebration by Kool and the Gang, ever since I saw it in the 1996 English remake of The Birdcage, for which I also have a deep and unrestrained loathing. The song is now indelibly associated in my mind with the climax of the movie, in which the conservatives disguise themselves to escape paparazzi staking out the gay bar — hence the Gene Hackman in bad drag. I must say that he did very good bad drag, along with truly memorable Oh, sweet Jesus, what am I doing here?! body language, but I still hate the song…and the movie, the plot of which is predicated on a venomous level of internalized homophobia. Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack.

Taking the Carrara plunge

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Excerpted from an intro post on the Carrara section of the Daz boards:

I’m a longtime Daz Studio user who just took the Carrara plunge last night. PC+ brought 8.5 Pro < $30.00, and the PA sale send-off allowed me to get Maple Meadows and World Gardens Maze very affordably. With all the included content in 8.5, plus its varied capabilities, I figured that was a deal too good to pass up.

I blame Howie Farkes for bringing me to Carrara. :p Maple Meadows, for example, is the only digital set I’ve ever seen that accurately replicates the area where I live [the Champlain Valley of Vermont], with its gentle, rolling, rounded hills. I am also a huge labyrinth [and Labyrinth] fan, so I just had to get World Gardens Maze. I haven’t seen any landscapes like these two matched anywhere else by any other software, so you might ultimately say that it was Maple Meadows that did me in. 😀

After using Daz Studio for several years, I have great familiarity with it. I basically use it as a way to play with digital dolls that I dress up to my liking, then place in various settings to act out multi-panel sequential stories [oh okay, comics!]. I’d love to use my Daz [and Poser] content in Carrara for the same effects. And here I come to my questions…

I read the Carrara 7 manual [except for the parts about animation, which does not interest me], but note that it does not cover using Gen1 and G2F content in Carrara. Are there tutorials specifically about using these new figures in Carrara? Do duf files even work in Carrara, or would I have to set up my characters from scratch in Carrara? Are there Gen1 and G2F things that DON’T work in Carrara?

I have to say that I’m really excited about using Carrara. After reading the manual, I think that the program seems clear and logical and maybe even intuitive in a way that Daz Studio isn’t. Daz Studio does so much, but its lack of documentation makes getting beyond a beginner level challenging. It also hides things in illogical places. Carrara’s rooms, plus its wizards to help you make terrains, for example, just make the software more approachable. Of course, a manual helps too, even if it is for 7. After reading that thing, I want to run my characters through World Gardens Maze and design some fantastical trees with heart-shaped leaves and do some spline modeling of jewelry and make some snowy terrain and import 3ds files… You get the idea. 😀

Fictional firms and other entertainments

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I amuse myself sometimes by making up fictional companies, usually of three surnames, the names of which throw entertaining connotations.

For example, in LHF, Anneka worked as an admin/copyeditor for a marketing firm called Popinjay, Curry, & Fawn. Curry and Fawn are, of course, legitimate surnames, but Popinjay is an obsolete term for a conceited airhead. Thus the company name suggests a ridiculous level of groveling and sucking up.

I thought up another one recently: Steele, Irons, & Paine. This is either an engineering firm doing sinister things in their basement or an aggressive, mercenary team of lawyers.

Gray and other color names

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I recently encountered a person with the first name Gray. English language mostly reserves color-based names for feminine first names [Rose, Violet, Pearl, and other floral or jewel names] or surnames [Black, Brown, Gold, Gray, Green, etc.], so I wondered the story behind their name. The answer was that their birth name was some “hippie” moniker that did not represent them, so they made a new name of their parents’ surnames. In this case, Gray was a surname transposed to first-name status.

This immediately made me think of a character who started off with a very unusual name like Rainbow Sunflower and then, as soon as legally possible, traded it out for Grey in an attempt to reduce noticeability. However, since the name Grey is unusual, just in a different way, the character would still gain attention for their name.

Recent digital acquisitions

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Daz recently had its annual Orgy of Consumption Premier Artists’ Festival, during which new products and related old ones hit the stands with a variety of deep discounts. I got quite a few things that I’ve been desiring, the following of which are my favorites:

  • DG Toon Style Hair Shaders. Combining ease of use with flamboyant color combinations, this product allows me to indulge my love of meretricious hair shades on pretty much any hairstyle in my runtime.
  • Any G3F pose collection by ironman13. I picked up Road Trip, Chat Collection, Steakhouse, Implications, Ornate Bathroom [with poses], On the Rails, and Emotions Running Wild. Though I dislike the feet on tiptoe and the arched back endemic to nearly all G3F poses, this diversity of poses makes translation of images from mind to screen much easier. G3F has way more bones than older Daz figures, so pose conversion utilities only get me part of the way there. I have found it much more expedient to stock up on poses designed for the G3F [or G3M] base.
  • DesignAnvil’s DA Let It Snow Shader. Haven’t used it yet, but it looks like a great way to easily add snow to existing scenes without a lot of tedious retexturing.
  • Oskarsson’s G3F/G3M Autumn Jackets. Finally, some realistic winter clothing for the digital Vermont winters that my people can wear when the Let It Snow shader attacks.
  • Faveral’s Medieval Market. I’m not really interested in the medieval part, so much as I am in the baskets of produce, with which I could conceivably make a convincing produce section, as part of my ongoing quest to replicate a realistic grocery store in digital.
  • Luthbellina’s G3F Broken Doll. A little bit frilly, a little bit silly, a little bit militaristic, and a little bit mecha, this outfit — with bonus robo arm! — is a whole lot of cool.
  • Valea’s Gen1 Pretty Basics Ballerina Flats. Simple, easy, widely applicable.
  • Arki’s G3F/G3M Eagle Guard Armor and G3F Rune Outfit. I normally don’t go for armor, but the Eagle Guard claws and shoulder pads, as well as the Rune cape, made me spring for these. Both sets in combination look like something from the Goblin King’s closet, if he were a little pointier and more vicious. ^_^
  • ImagineX’s Cozy Breakfast Nook. When I first saw this, I immediately knew that, with a different backdrop, this glassed-in booth formed part of Jareth and Jennifer’s pied a terre.
  • Blondie9999’s Gen1 Sports Clogs. I might as well have a pair of the kind I wear as house shoes all the time.
  • Stonemason’s Streets of Old London. In my ongoing quest to approximate downtown Burlington in digital, I have called into service the 19th-century brick buildings in this set, modeled by the master of built environments. Consumption Orgy discounts brought down the price from $42.95 to ~$18.00, making it much more attractive.
  • RawArt’s G3F Silent Sally. Totally tentacular and eeriely faceless, this character is a beautiful exemplar of sculpture, texturing, and poseability. Long segmented things don’t have a great track record of being easy to manipulate digitally, despite the so-called E-Z Pose technology that allows for mass rotation of segments. However, Silent Sally’s tentacular arms are relatively easy to position in realistic ways. I’m currently working on some hierarchical poses for her and her tentacles, and she’s just so much fun to play with!

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