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Straight white cis dude writes sexist, racist, classist, ageist jeremaid.

Straight white cis dude writes sexist, racist, classist, ageist jeremaid. published on No Comments on Straight white cis dude writes sexist, racist, classist, ageist jeremaid.

“Do teens read seriously anymore?” asks the title of David Denby’s New Yorker screed. Of course not! answers the author, blaming “most of all, screens (TV, Internet, games, texting, Instagramming).” “Screens” have killed teens’ interest in self-development through “serious” reading, turning them into superficial shlubs with no attention span. I’m dying to know how Denby deduced this, since he’s so out of touch with the under-21 set that he refers to them as “teen-agers.” Why should anyone listen to this irrelevant person?

I also can’t help but notice that Denby’s idea of “serious reading” is gendered, racialized, and classed. He cites “Shakespeare, Mary Shelley, Poe, Hawthorne, Twain, Stevenson, Orwell, Vonnegut” as exemplars of the genres that today’s “teen-agers” putatively avoid. Elsewhere in his word vomit, J.D. Salinger, Charlotte Bronte, Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury, Joseph Heller, and Allen Ginsburg appear as sadly neglected greats. “Wilde, Nabokov, Updike, Vidal” also garner mentions as “sophisticated” author-critics of the 20th century.

Of these 18 authors, all are from the United States or Great Britain, and 16 are white cis dudes, 2 white cis women. There are 2 gay dudes [whoop de fucking doo] and 0 queer women. There are no non-honkies or people of color. All of this “literature” issues from the privileged socioeconomic classes. By contrast, the fantasy, dystopian, vampire romance, and graphic novel genres that he shits on feature a much larger representation of women and/or POC and/or various socioeconomic classes and/or national origins. And Denby hates it.

Shorter Denby: “Waaaaah, my straight cis white dude privilege is being threatened!”

Oh shut up and go hang out with Simon Doonan, another rich old cis white dude master of ageist, sexist, racist vituperation.

Hat tip to Katy Waldman for her criticism of Denby’s crap on Slate.

Wait…that was supposed to be a smart sci-fi film? or, Ex Machina and Smug White People Feminism

Wait…that was supposed to be a smart sci-fi film? or, Ex Machina and Smug White People Feminism published on No Comments on Wait…that was supposed to be a smart sci-fi film? or, Ex Machina and Smug White People Feminism

I have no idea where all the reviewers of Ex Machina get off, thinking that it’s some novel, philosophical, highly intelligent piece of sci-fi movie making. It’s not. The first two thirds contain the insufferable misogynist bloviation of two straight cis dudes, objectifying all the female characters in the most blatant, unoriginal, and uninteresting ways possible. I mean, seriously — one of the robots, Kiyoko, is so objectified that she has no language, thus making her the ultimate silent, submissive, docile Asian woman stereotype. The last third of the movie contains the supposedly narratively inevitable consequences of their assholery, in which the women become scary and murder the dudes. Then all the women of color either die or sacrifice themselves so that the white woman can escape to her dreams of white-collar big-city life, and it’s all so tedious and sludgy and dull…except for the hotel where it was filmed. That was pretty. But aesthetically pleasing scenery cannot compensate for raging misogyny and racism.

This enraged critique of Ex Machina owes much to Sharon Chang’s incisive analysis, which goes into much more depth.

EDIT: And here’s a perfect example of someone analyzing queer subtexts in Ex Machina and completely failing to call out the racism and sexism. Sorry, Jeffrey Bloomer. I really don’t think that a white woman reconstituting herself from the bodies of women of color is merely a moment of queer transformation that should be celebrated. It’s also a reification of an ongoing colonialist project that should be acknowledged and critiqued.

How not to write, part seven zillion in a neverending series

How not to write, part seven zillion in a neverending series published on No Comments on How not to write, part seven zillion in a neverending series

I just finished Libba Bray’s latest doorstop trilogy opener The Diviners. Set in New York City in 1926, it follows a group of teenagers with magical powers as they pursue and attempt to thwart a murderous fanatic who wishes to cheat death by bringing about Hell on Earth [or something — this point wasn’t entirely clear]. Characters include protagonist Evie, an obnoxious flapper wannabe and burgeoning lush, who can learn about owners by holding their possessions; her best friend Mabel, whose major conflict in this book is about whether she should bob her hair; Evie’s new friend Theta, a Zeigfield girl and apparent pyrokinetic; Memphis, Theta’s boyfriend, who has healing hands and a possessed little brother; Will, an absentminded professor stereotype, who heads a museum of the occult and ostensibly watches over Evie; Sam, a pickpocket and male version of Evie [only with less alcohol], who can become invisible; Jericho, a tragic cyborg with the power of hulking menacingly; and Naughty John, the aforementioned murderous fanatic. Shenanigans ensue.

I’m going to finish this series because Bray knows how to write mindlessly engaging entertainment. I am not, however, finishing this series for its literary merit. In fact, the book presents many beautiful examples of how not to write. I have gathered them in a list below for your convenience in no particular order.

1. Perpetuate the very racism you’re clearly attempting to avoid. Bray strains so hard to be modern and non-racist by making Memphis, an African-American kid who wants to be a poet in the Harlem Renaissance, a point-of-view character. Furthermore, she takes pains to demonstrate that Will is enlightened enough to disapprove of the Ku Klux Klan and that Jericho is liberal enough to detect the racist and classist subtexts of the eugenics movement. In her occasional overview vignettes, in which Bray tries to capture a cross-section of the country in its anxious modernity, she even regularly mentions Native Americans. See? See? She’s progressive!

Actually, she’s not really. Memphis’ world, while convincingly realized, also comes across as an info-dump truck that the author uses to haul in and show off all the research she did about Jazz Age Harlem. [See my note on the perils of research below.] Furthermore, for all her direct engagement with some of the racist currents of the day, Bray uses an offensively coy, glancing euphemism — “a name he didn’t like” — for “n****r,” without even trying to evoke the rage, shame and vulnerability that Memphis might feel upon hearing himself called that. This omission that makes it clear that she doesn’t really care about her characters of color.

Bray’s treatment of New York City’s Chinatown also demonstrates racism. Evie and Will go there for unknown reasons, and Evie, the terminally ignorant, sees what the denizens are doing — worshipping, placing protective charms, etc. — and asks Will what’s going on. Will answers her with textbook-worthy, objectifying explanations that make the practices in Chinatown seem like inscrutable, laughable superstitions. Apparently Bray spent all her empathy on her depiction of Harlem and had none left over to make Chinatown as robust and sympathetic.

To add to the dehumanization, a young Chinatown woman who can see the future appears at least three times in the book. Given the fact that Naughty John’s victims are named, biographically sketched and given interior monologues before being bumped off, I assumed that this prophetic woman would rate the same treatment. Nope. She doesn’t even get a name. In fact, she suffers the indignity of being referred to only as “the girl with the green eyes,” a fetishization of her mixed-race heritage. We never learn what’s going on in her head either, though I’m sure it’s much interesting than what’s going on in Evie’s.

2. Perpetuate the very anti-gay bias you’re trying so hard to avoid. Theta’s best friend Henry is also a struggling artist. He plays the piano, writes show tunes and serves as Theta’s Best Gay Friend [TM], providing moral support when she has relationship difficulties. Could he be any more stereotypical? In a truly unrealistic display of acceptance, Theta has no problems whatsoever with Henry’s being gay. Bray loses the chance to accurately portray the rich and secretive gay subculture of Jazz Age New York City by shoehorning a modern stereotype into the 1920s and leaving him at that.

In another example of homophobia, Bray introduces one of Naughty John’s victims as a gay Mason who lovingly thinks of giving his partner cufflinks for his birthday. Then he’s killed. What’s the point of taking pains to establish a character as gay if he’s just going to die two pages later? This comes across less as a bit of humanizing characterization and more as yet another tired example of The Queer Character Bites It.

Also there are no lesbians.

3. Perpetuate ableism. Jericho’s backstory is rank with it. Jericho got polio at an early age and had to be put in an iron lung. His parents abandoned him in the hospital [Tragic Cripple stereotype]. Then some secret government project recruited him with the promise that he could escape the iron lung and walk once more [Obsession with Ambulation stereotype]. Jericho joined other men, including veterans of the Great War, in becoming cyborgs, but he was the project’s only success. The other test subjects had mental and physical breakdowns. In fact, Jericho’s friend, a veteran with no legs and one arm [described as “less than half a man” — the Disabled Person as Less than Human stereotype], asked Jericho to help him commit suicide [Mercy Killing of the Tragic Cripple stereotype], which Jericho did. Jericho now hides his cyborg innards and his dependence on an unidentified blue serum from everyone except Will [Disability as Shameful Weakness stereotype]. The reader falls asleep from the sheer unoriginality of it all.

4. Make your protagonist a) exceptionally obnoxious and b) dull compared to everyone else.
As I mentioned, protagonist Evie spends much of the book getting drunk, having hangovers and using every single piece of Roaring Twenties slang that Bray could possibly scrape up. Evie’s also a self-centered, manipulative, whiny person who requires being the center of attention. Her momentary insights that she probably parties too much and that she regularly steamrolls her supposed best friend do not redeem her because they do not prompt any lasting change in her actions. I think Bray means for readers to be attracted to Evie’s insouciance, but she comes across as an insensitive brat who doesn’t know when to keep her mouth shut.

Furthermore, Evie has the least interesting backstory and interior monologue of nearly all the main characters. Her parents send her to Will’s house because she scandalizes her small Ohio town when she reads an object and learns that the village’s golden boy had sex with a servant of his. I’m actually much more interested in her relationship with her brother, who died in the Great War, and why she keeps having vivid dreams of being on the front, watching charges ignite and people’s faces melt. These points are not really enlarged upon, except insofar as the dead brother gives Evie a Tragic Past [TM] that activates a key plot point during the climax.

Compared to most of the other cast members, Evie’s pretty flat. I care much more about Memphis, who runs numbers during the day and, by night, hangs out in cemeteries writing about his mom, who he failed to bring back from the dead. I’m also very curious about Theta, an orphan who escaped an abusive adoptive stage mom by tumbling into an abusive marriage with a handsome guy, who she may have inadvertently killed with her pyrokinesis, after which she escaped, had an abortion [?!] and moved in with Henry. Heck, I’m even more invested in the smarmy Sam, the name-changed kid of Russian immigrants, on a search for his missing psychic mom that led him to run away and join the circus. I just don’t care about Evie, and her complete lack of insightful interior monologue just adds to my apathy.

5. Never use a single detail when 85 will do. Bray, as she informs us in the acknowledgements, did copious research in preparation for this series. Unfortunately, it shows, and not in a good way. Her idea of evoking Jazz Age New York City involves hitting the best-known highlights of the period and hitting them repeatedly. A typical chapter in The Diviners includes flappers, bee’s knees, a hot tomato, the berries, the cat’s pajamas, Bolsheviks, Wobblies, Sacco and Vanzetti, the Klan, Langston Hughes, Lost Generation malaise, speakeasies, police raids, Zeigfield girls, Rudolph Valentino, etc., etc., and then all of these elements mentioned again at least five times elsewhere in the book. Bray does not write with parsimony or suggestiveness. She writes with anvilicious brute force, and it’s painful.

Bray’s worst offense appears in her use of 1920s slang. Evie cannot say a sentence without at least two period terms. I’m not talking about period terms that remain intelligible today, like “baby” for “sweetheart,” “heebie jeebies” for “goose bumps” or “nifty” for “great.” I’m talking “cheaters” for “glasses,” “chin music” for gossip and “giggle water” for “booze.” Bray seems to go out of her way to toss about terms that do not remain intelligible today, thus giving the impression that the 1920s were a strange place where people spoke a foreign language. The indiscriminate slang slinging does not impede my understanding, but it’s certainly distracting. It’s also a huge irritation. I positutely swear — if Evie says, “You betski” one more time, I’m going to beat it and get ossified, since that’s much niftier than this baloney. I’m under the distinct impression that Bray set The Diviners in the 1920s merely because she thought it was cool.

6. Use the wrong word. As I wrote above, the antagonist of the book is referred to as Naughty John. To me, “naughty” means “bratty” or “mischievous,” sometimes “risque.” It is entirely too mild a word to describe a creepy, merciless weirdo who kills people and eats their selected body parts in a bid to gain immortality and rule the world. Wicked John, Evil John, Creepy John, Cannibal John, even the rather generic Bad John — all of these would work. Naughty John just makes the guy sound less evil and more silly.

7. End abruptly, in the middle of a scene, without resolving anything. I know about the narrative requirements of trilogies, as well as the narrative requirements of cliffhangers. In trilogies, the first book almost always sets up the major players and storylines, resolving some important B plots by the end, while leaving the larger A plots for future development. In cliffhangers, the story builds up enough tension to draw the reader in, then frustrates their expectations by cutting off at or just before the climax, thus forcing the reader to wait for the next installment.

All of this is to say that the end of The Diviners is neither appropriate for a first book of a trilogy or a cliffhanger. It resolves no significant B plots, thus depriving readers of any intermediary satisfaction and sense of reward that would propel us to continue with the series. It also does not cut off at a moment charged with suspense. It ends when Evie kisses Jericho in an attempt to forget for a moment the impending doom of unresolved plotlines. I have to assume that this passes for a conclusion since Bray, exhausted from larding her doorstop with 1920s slang, had no energy left for an actual ending.

Are you kidding me?

Are you kidding me? published on No Comments on Are you kidding me?

[Thanks to Sparky at Racialicious.]

This “reverse discrimination” bullshit got funded?! WHY?

Re plot summary: SNORE. Also…saddest song, smallest violin.

P.S. I’ve started swearing in my LJ again. There’s too much bullshit in the world that needs calling out as such.

EDIT: Wow, it gets worse. First off, the author says that she wrote this bullshit because anti-gay bigots need to “to feel, through the love story of Chris and Carmen, the wrenching horror of being denied the person you love.” Yeah, somehow, reading about a persecuted straight couple will make anti-gay bigots more sympathetic to queers. Given that many anti-gay bigots believe that they are personally being persecuted right here and now by the “homosexual agenda,” I doubt that a book making queers the majority will promote empathy in said anti-gay bigots. They’d read it as a cautionary tale of what will happen to this civilization if we let those evil queers have their so-called “rights.” No, Preble, your book does not challenge anti-gay bigotry. It supports anti-gay bigotry.

Second of all, she thinks she’s some sort of fearless crusader with a message from “the Universe” to “[l]ive your truth.” Hey, Preble…your truth is that you’re full of heteronormative privilege. Also self-aggrandizing bullshit.

Third, she’s laboring under the misconception that her book is “LGBT fiction.” News flash for the clueless — in order to be classified as “LGBT fiction,” your book has to feature some lesbian and/or gay and/or bisexual and/or trans characters as sympathetically portrayed individuals whose experiences are worth sharing. You can’t just write a story¬† with some lesbian and/or gay and/or bi and/or trans characters who function not as characters, but as poorly wielded anvils to hammer home the Important Theme [tm] that Anti-Gay Bigotry Is Wrong. “LGBT” fiction requires valuing, promoting and centering various varieties of “LGBT” experiences, which Preble obviously can’t do.

Fourth and most disgustingly, Preble feeds us some argle-bargle about writing this book in support of her gay son. Jesus Christ, if she really wished to support her son, why didn’t she help to organize her local city’s Pride celebration, join PFLAG, staff the fundraising phones at a marriage equality organization [since that’s one of her pet causes]? At least do something directly related to queers. As mind-blowing as it may be to hear this, Preble, writing about straight people does not further the cause of queer civil rights. In fact, it just reinforces the broad societal assumption that the only stories worth telling are heteronormative ones. Get it? You’re not helping. Shut up; bug off, and stop colonizing my subgenre. We don’t want you here.

I can’t expect Preble to get it, though. Her brain is so stuffed with straight privilege that there’s no room for any critical thought. I mean, look — she apparently doesn’t think queers exist. She addresses her blog audience [and putative readership] as follows: “If the way you are, ie, attracted to people of the opposite sex, was criminalized, how would you feel?”

Three things, Preble: 1) You appear to be operating under the strange and old-fashioned notion that sexes have “opposites,” a concept that is both factually incorrect and incoherent. What do you even mean here?

2) I AIN’T STRAIGHT. I am not attracted to people of the “opposite” sex. Amazing, huh? Not everyone in the world is just like you.

3) It ain’t a conditional for me. The way I am is criminalized in some places, maybe not where I live, but elsewhere. Though I might have certain freedoms that people in more restricted places do not, we all suffer from the same societal biases. Don’t tell me and others like me that our lives are speculative fiction. You don’t get to dictate my reality.

Oh wait…I have a fourth thing. 4) I read your sample chapter of this book, and you can’t write for shit.

Have I mentioned that I loathe public proposals?

Have I mentioned that I loathe public proposals? published on 1 Comment on Have I mentioned that I loathe public proposals?

Warning: Coercion, disregard for autonomy, objectification, misogyny, etc., etc., etc.

I just read about yet another one in Slate, wherein technology columnist for the New York Times David Pogue made a fake movie trailer about his relationship with his girlfriend. Then, as the Slate columnist L.V. Anderson writes,

"In case you don’t have the inclination to watch the video: He produced a five-minute movie trailer for a fake romantic comedy based on his relationship with Dugan (starring two good-looking Broadway actors in the lead roles), which he convinced a movie theater to play for Dugan (and all of their families, plus some unwitting strangers) before a feature-length film. He hid three cameras around Dugan’s seat before she sat down so that he could record her reaction. At the end of the trailer, he led her to the front of the theater, gave a short speech about how wonderful she was, and asked her to marry him."

Longer coverage [and the horrible video] here:

So, not only was it a public proposal, but it was a secretly recorded public proposal. She was under SURVEILLANCE. Even ickier, as Anderson points out,

"Pogue timed the filming of his faux trailer in such a way that Dugan had to say yes in the span of about two seconds, or else the trailer would stop making sense. (He’d humbly pre-recorded a jubilant celebration.) "

There…the subtext has become the text. Pogue [and, by extension, all of the other guys who engage in this public proposal crapola] expects his fiancee to agree. At the same time, with Pogue's proposal, as with others, the assent from the fiancee is actually irrelevant. As the rigid structure of Pogue's fake trailer demonstrates, it's all about the happy day of the one who proposes. The expectation of the fiancee's yes gives her no room to say anything else. The show must go on! Let's have a party, for the guy has just acquired a new accessory [=wife]!

Ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh.

Estate planning, part 3

Estate planning, part 3 published on 1 Comment on Estate planning, part 3

Well, it looks like I can't use Unsworth Law after all. Though I had a very good experience with the legal assistant, the primary lawyer says in his bio that he is on the advisory board of the Salvation Army, a disgustingly militant and profoundly anti-queer organization.

Guess they don't really care about us after all.

Heteronormativity at the dentist

Heteronormativity at the dentist published on 8 Comments on Heteronormativity at the dentist

Following up on my entry earlier this year about sexism on a customer service line, I present the following conversation, which happened between me and the dental hygienist this morning. I was actually finding the poking, scraping and drilling much less annoying than usual, thanks to the hygienist's sense of humor and skills. Then we started talking about mouthwash.

I asked for recommendations of alcohol-free mouthwash. I mentioned that "my fiancee" used mouthwash with alcohol, which I did not like because of its strong odor.

Hygienist: "What kind does he use?"

Me: "I don't know what SHE uses."

Conversation continued with recommendations.

So she automatically assumed that I was engaged to a guy because a) I look like a woman and b) the majority of marriages are between a man and a woman. However, given that spouses are not always 1 man + 1 woman, people should know better than to make that assumption, especially in Vermont, which is on the vanguard of marriage equality in the US. The definition of marriage has changed yet again, people. Get with the program!

P.S. My FIANCE?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!? What fiance?

P.P.S. Holy crap, the hygienist was not the only one behind the times. Just out of curiosity, I typed "define marriage" into Google.

Merriam Webster's online dictionary says:

"(1) the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law (2) : the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage"

FAILURE. Just say "the state of being united to a person as a husband or wife…blah blah blah." says something similar:

"1. a. the social institution under which a man and woman establish their decision to live as husband and wife by legal commitments, religious ceremonies, etc. Antonyms: separation.
b. a similar institution involving partners of the same gender: gay marriage. Antonyms: separation."

FAILURE. It's all the same institution.

Google's first dictionary result has the same problem:

"1. The formal union of a man and a woman, typically recognized by law, by which they become husband and wife
2. A similar long-term relationship between partners of the same sex"

THREE STRIKES AND YOU'RE OUT. It's not "a similar long-term relationship." It's the same thing!

Not until Wiktionary do we get a more accurate definition, talking about an exclusive union between two or more people. Subdefinitions clarify that, in some jurisdictions, marriage is defined as being between 1 man + 1 woman, while other jurisdictions allow 2 partners of any sex to marry. But the main thing is the exclusive union.

I actually like the Wikipedia entry the best, as it seems to capture the concept and purposes of marriage that have remained stable over time: "Marriage (also called matrimony or wedlock) is a social union or legal contract between people called spouses that creates kinship." Marriage is a grouping of people to create social units. Everything else varies. If you don't like that, you're on the losing side of history.

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