Friday, 28 October 2011

I'll Take My Young Adult Fiction Dark, Please

I try to keep track of the debates surrounding fantasy and young adult fiction in the internet. You know, for thesis. ;)

The two that caused a stir recently were a) whether or not the young adult genre had themes that were too 'dark' or 'mature,' and b) the dire lack of young adult novels featuring queer characters in main roles. Two separate discussions, but overlapping on many levels (as some people in the 'young adult novels are too mature' camp seemed to consider gay characters 'too mature content.' Morons).

The thing that prompted the Are Young Adult Novels Too Dark hubbub was this gem from the Wall Street Journal: Darkness Too Visible. Read it and laugh at how grossly out of touch it is. THINK OF THE CHILDREN, THEY'RE READING BOOKS THAT CONTAIN THE WORD 'FUCK'!!!!!!!! *swoon*

The Real World is a scary place, and I understand the desire of parents to want to protect their children from the scary place for as long as possible. But here's the thing: the Real World is going to find teenagers whether their parents like it or not. If you were a parent, wouldn't you rather your kid find out about the scary side of the Real World in a novel rather than experience it first hand?

Because that's just it, kids are experiencing the Real World first hand. Okay, so they might not be killing each other in an arena for the entertainment of the corrupt estabishment a la The Hunger Games, but most teenagers will experience at least one Real World Issue in their life before reaching adulthood. I know I did, and my adolescence was comparitively sheltered. Kids do take drugs and have sex, gay teens are bashed to death, fourteen year old boys are being abused, twelve year old girls do have eating disorders. To think teenagers aren't already dealing with these issues in their lives when they pick up a young adult novel is wishful thinking at best, and ignorant at worst. It's sweeping serious issues under the rug and pretending they don't exist (or rather, that they happen to 'other people,' not ever to your kids), and that's despicable.

In the end, I think most of this discussion isn't about young adult fiction at all, but rather about parents' fears about their children facing 'adult' issues and needing an easy scapegoat to blame it all on. It's much easier to blame little Susie's coming out as lesbian on a book she once read than to accept that your child is a lesbian because that's just who she is. In addition, all of these articles seem to be written by people who haven't been teenagers for a very long time, and therefore have a rose tinted memory of their own adolescence and have conveniently forgotten that for the most part, being a teenager kind of sucks.

Which leads me on to the other discussion: the dire lack of young adult novels that feature queer protagonists, or even queer main characters.

Malinda Lo and Sarah Diemer, both fantastic authors of lesbian young adult fantasy novels, have written great articles on this issue that explain things far better than I ever could, here and here.

In summary, there's very little out there. And that's really sad.

I am Not Straight. I'm bisexual. And while I've been out of the closet for little under a year, I've been bisexual my whole life. It wasn't a recent development. I was convinced I was straight until I was about sixteen when I started questioning my sexuality, but I'd had crushes on girls for years, and it really confused me. It honestly didn't occur to me why I could daydream about Hugh Jackman one minute and Kirsten Dunst the next, until it hit me that "Oh yeah, bisexuality exists. Duh."

Why did it take me so long to reach that conclusion, when it should have been obvious? Probably because there was so little mention of bisexuality in the popular culture I consumed as a teenager. I didn't encounter a single book with a bisexual character in it in my teens, and the first book I read that featured a lesbian protagonist was Sarah Waters' Tipping The Velvet, which is a fantastic book but certainly not one that is marketed towards young adults.* So I just thought that my attraction to people of either gender was weird, and I tried to deny it for a while until one day I just decided that fuck it, I like women too.**

I would have loved a young adult book that had a bisexual or lesbian protagonist. If Malinda Lo's Ash or Sarah Diemer's The Dark Wife had been written when I was in my teens, I would have adored them.*** And not because I was ashamed of my feelings and needed to be reassured that they were okay. I'm very lucky in that I have a several gay and lesbian family members, so I never thought that homosexuality was wrong myself, nor did I have any fears about coming out to my family. I couldn't have come out to my classmates, but that's another story.

And as I said, mine is a very lucky position. Many queer teens don't have the luxury of coming out without the risk of severe bullying and in some extreme, but sadly far from uncommon cases, the risk of being cut off from their families or even death.

You can imagine how important a book with a young queer protagonist would be for these kids. The knowledge that they are not alone, that there are others out there who understand what they're going through and, above all, that it's okay to be queer, is absolutely vital. As for the straight kids, they will benefit from reading books with queer protagonists because it shows them that the so-called 'gay agenda' may not be so evil after all, or even an agenda for that matter. That queer kids are, oddly enough, just as 'normal' as straight kids (they do their homework, they sleep in on weekends, they worry about asking their crush to the dance! How about that?)!

Everyone wants a story they can relate to. So if all the stories on the shelves are ones where only straight people and straight relationships exist, you're effectively telling kids who aren't straight that they don't deserve any stories that they can relate to, thus telling them that their sexuality is not 'normal' and should be swept under the rug like all the other 'Dark Themes' that parents screech about in the Wall Street Journal.

It's not that people aren't writing young adult books with queer protagonists. They are. They just need to be published.

* That book contained some of the most graphic sex scenes I'd encountered at that point, gay or straight. Cue little sixteen year old me blushing like crazy and hiding the book in a drawer because I was paranoid. Then I remembered that my parents were okay with me reading The Stories of Eva Luna at the age of eleven and felt a bit silly.

** And lo, it was most glorious.

*** Incidently, I adore Ash and The Dark Wife as an adult and highly recommend them.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

What Annoys Me About True Blood

Vampires are supposed to be an oppressed minority in the True Blood verse. We get this shoved down our throat all the time (especially in the current season). Except all the vampires are white. I can think of only two non-white vamps in the entire series and they were in an episode each and had next to no lines.


Alan Ball has said that all vampires are pansexual, but our main vamps who are regularly given sex scenes (Bill, Eric and Jessica) are all in straight relationships and don't appear to show any real interest in people of the same gender. And it's not like the vampires who are gay or bisexual are portrayed as the bad guys or anything- oh, wait. They are.


So take away the fantasy element of being vampires, and you have straight white people. And that's not an oppressed minority. At all. I know what Alan Ball is trying to do, but I'm very uncomfortable with the major representatives of a so-called minority being straight white men, since they are the most privileged group in society. I mean, really Alan Ball? It didn't ever occur to you that presenting straight white men as being part of an oppressed minority might be a bit problematic? Really?

Also, the idea is that people are prejudiced against vampires because vampires are stereotyped as being violent murderers. Except they are violent murderers. The only vampire to have never killed a human was that vampire Jason kidnapped way back in Season One (was his name Eddie? I can't remember), and the show killed him off pretty quick. So the 'vampires are a symbol for oppressed minorities!' line is made even more offensive by the fact that the apparent stereotypes that are perpetuated by people prejudiced against vampires are in fact very true.

A hint, Alan Ball: Want to show that stereotypes and prejudice are wrong? DON'T HAVE YOUR OPPRESSED CHARACTERS PROVE THE BLOODY STEREOTYPES. Because all I'm getting so far is that prejudice against vampires based on the fact that they're violent killers is actually kind of justified.

So Alan Ball, shut the fuck up. You're making a male gaze oriented, mildly racey soap opera and you have no idea how to write female characters either (this may be a separate rant). Stop trying to make out that it's something it's not.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Top 10 Favourite Fictional Couples

To counteract the more serious and analytical entries, here is some pure, unadulterated fangirl squee. Presenting my Top Ten Favourite Fictional Couples!

10. Spike and Drusilla, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Two words: aww yeah. When it comes to sexy vampire couples, you can't go past Spike and Dru. They were hot, they were twisted, they were more than a little crazy. And they had some really great dialogue, too.

9. Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus, from Sailor Moon.

Yes, I love Sailor Moon. Yes, I'm twenty two. Your point?

These two are great because how often do you find an openly lesbian couple on a kid's show? I wish there were more couples like them. And I had a crush on both of them when I was thirteen because let's face it, they're hot stuff. And you know it.

And Tuxedo Mask/Sailor Pluto. IT COULD TOTALLY HAPPEN.

8. Ryan O'Reily and Dr Gloria Nathan, from Oz.

I hesitated at including this couple because the truth is, they scare the hell out of me. It's not that I want them to get together either. They're just... oddly compelling. If super dark and twisted relationships are your thing, these two take the cake. I think they even beat the most popular Oz couple, Chris Keller and Tobias Beecher, in terms of sheer fucked-up-ness. I can't be bothered going back and counting, but I think the body count that resulted from both relationships was pretty even.

Ryan and Gloria. It's like a trainwreck, you can't look away. You probably should.

7. Angel and Spike, from Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Okay, I was going to only include couples that actually got together in the timeline of their respective canons, but since Joss Whedon pretty much confirmed Angel and Spike as a couple, I'm going to include them.

Yes, the leather-coated ensouled vampire duo themselves. I mean come on, they've known each other for over a hundred years and spent a good part of that hundred years raising havok across Europe. You honestly think they never went there? Please.

6. Willow and Oz, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I wish I had a boyfriend like Oz when I was seventeen. As much as Willow/Tara will always be my favourite Buffy couple, I will always have a soft spot for Willow and Oz. I mean, how adorable are they? You can't not love them!

Plus Oz is probably responsible for the fact that I have a bit of a thing for werewolves (I really, really don't want to psychoanalyse that... ever). Leading me on to the next couple:

5. Nymphadora Tonks and Remus Lupin, from Harry Potter.

I know, I know, it was handled dreadfully in the books, but that's what fanfiction's for, right?

There was no way I could resist this couple. It had all my fandom kinks: angst, adversity, werewolves and age gaps. Seems I also have a thing for couples where the guy is a lot older than the (legally of age) girl, but the girl can totally kick his arse if she wants. Which we know Tonks totally can. Again, not psychoanalysing that with a ten foot pole.

Lupin and Tonks were awesome, and then, well, this happened:

Yeah, that really sucked.

4. Amy and Rory Pond, from Doctor Who.

Everybody say naaaaaaaaaw.

I can't get enough of these two. Rory spent two thousand years waiting for Amy. Two thousand years. It... just... brings a tear to my eye... *melts into a puddle of happy goo*

3. Willow and Tara, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

If I thought the end of Willow and Oz's relationship was rough, it was nothing compared to what Joss Whedon put these two through. It shattered me. And I will never forgive Joss Whedon for it.

Season 5 and beginning of Season 6 they were all happy and shiny and then Willow became addicted to magic and they broke up, and then they got back together and Warren shot Tara and it was horrible. Fuck you Joss.

2. Rogue and Gambit, from X-Men.

Be still, my sixteen year old heart.

Epic romances aren't normally my thing, but these two pull on my heartstrings like no other. I think it's the whole 'forbidden fruit' aspect that makes it so appealling- they can't touch each other, but they're still madly in love and it threatens to destroy them both on various occasions. And in the rare moments when they can touch for whatever reason, the pay off is most excellent. They had sex in a cave while they were captured and Gambit had his arms chained to the wall. Tell me that's not hot.

And my number one favourite couple is:

1. Wash and Zoe, from Firefly.

Now and forever, amen.

Firefly is my happy, shiny place, and Wash and Zoe are at the heart of that happy, shiny place. They have their ongoing issues and they fight, but they work through them because they both realise that their love for each other is more important than the fights they have. It's not an epic romance. It's not all flowers and rainbows. But they're genuinely happy together, and I think it's one of the most realistic happy marriages I've seen on screen.

Plus they're a married couple who are shown to have an active sex life. Heaven forbid!

I know Joss Whedon ruined it all with Serenity, but I remain firmly in denial. DAMN YOU JOSS, STOP RUINING MY HAPPY, SHINY PLACES.

Phew, that took longer than I thought! But it was fun. I'm thinking of doing a Top 10 Favourite Female Characters list at some point.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Strong Female Characters, Women In Fridges and MANPAIN: Some Disordered Thoughts

Ah, the elusive Strong Female Character. How we crave her. How we condemn her.

Ideally, I long for the day where a tv show/movie/book won't be considered an exciting abnormality for having Strong Female Characters. I long for the day where the phrase Strong Female Characters will be obsolete, and there are either good characters or bad characters, regardless of said characters' gender.

But this is not the world we live in. We live in a world where we cling Strong Female Characters with grateful fangirl hands because they're so goddamn rare.

Contrary to what many Hollywood execs seem to believe, there is no checklist for what consititutes a Strong Female Character. Leather pants and a big gun do not a Strong Female Character make.

Of course, there are many butt-kicking female characters who are Strong Female Characters, but giving a girl a machine gun and sticking her on a motorbike does not automatically make them a Strong Female Character (I'M LOOKING AT YOU, FRANK MILLER). I like a butt-kicking woman as much as anyone, but it does create the trope that in order to be considered a strong woman (or a Strong Female Character), you have to reject everything that is traditionally associated with being female- become 'one of the guys' in a sense. While hopefully still wearing leather.

And that doesn't help at all. It still reinforces the idea that women are weak, this woman is just an exception because she's 'one of the guys.' Unfortunately this fictional trope is a reflection of what happens in society: in order to succeed, a woman not only has to be seen as 'one of the guys,' she also has to be tougher and more 'guy-like' than all the men. This is particularly true in business or political situations; in order to be taken seriously, a woman has to essentially beat all the men at their own game, on their terms. Case in point, Margaret Thatcher. And if you don't want to take on the boys club's terms and would rather succeed on your own, have fun trying to crack that glass ceiling.

Personally, I would like some Strong Female Characters who don't carry machine guns. Who are top CEOs. Who are insecure teenage girls. Who are mothers. Who are enthusiastic bakers. Who are sci-fi nerds. Who are trying to break into the job market. Who drive forklifts.

In short, variety.

Strong Female Characters are, however, still at risk of falling into that old standby: Women In Fridges.

The term 'Women In Refrigerators' was first coined by comic book author Gail Simone on her website of the same name. It refers to how female characters, in this case in comic books, are frequently murdered/beaten/raped/maimed/crippled/tortured/sent to parallel dimensions/brainwashed etc for the sole purpose of invoking an emotional response in a male character. The superhero genre is particularly guilty of this (the phrase refers to a particular scene in a superhero comic where a male character comes home to find a female superhero butchered in his fridge), as is the entire science fiction and fantasy genre.

Gail Simone also made an interesting point that much like business CEOs, the superhero fanbase is a massive boys' club and as a female fan you either go along with it or find the comic book store a rather uncomfortable place. Dare to mention the words 'feminism' or 'female empowerment' or even mention that drawing female characters in leather bikinis all the time is kind of sexist, and you will either get a lot of online flames or at best some blank looks before said boys' club keeps salivating over Catwoman's boobs.

So it's no surprise that Women In Fridges continues to be a popular trope.

One of the new Doctor Who series finales is a good example of a Woman In A Fridge: Rose is trapped in an alternate dimension so that the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant in fine brooding form) can angst about it for the next two plus seasons.

Because what goes hand in hand with Women In Fridges? MANPAIN. Which is basically straight white male characters whining about how hard it is to be straight, white and male in today's society and making everything in the world ever all about their ANGST. Because they have ISSUES. Some examples: Tenth Doctor, Batman, Det. Stabler from Law and Order SVU (good god, does he have manpain), Angel, Mal Reynolds, the entire Supernatural franchise. The key element being No One Has Ever Suffered As Much As Me. And the death/torture/other horrible things happening to female characters are written just so they can contribute to the litany of Manpain, ie:

Detective Eliot Stabler: My wife left me and my job is on the line because I can't contain my rage and I'M GOING TO HIT SOMETHING NOW BECAUSE I'M SO DEPRESSED AND NEVER LEARNT A HEALTHY WAY TO EXPRESS MY FEELINGS.

Detective Olivia Benson: Well, my father raped my mother and then she became an abusive alcoholic and I'm traumatised from being assaulted and I'm lonely because my partner and best friend who is my only source of emotional support is an ass who can't see beyond his-


And that, dear readers, is Manpain in practice. Clumsy, ham handed and often rather misogynistic.

Depictions of male characters in emotional pain aren't always Manpain, of course. It descends to Manpain level when said male character's pain is the biggest pain in the room, even if the pain is because his girlfriend/wife/sister/daughter was tortured and therefore the pain that gets the biggest focus should be hers. This combines Women In Fridges with Manpain to create a gigantic sexist trope that is sadly very prevalent in popular culture.

Women In Fridges (and the corresponding MANPAIN) is sexist because it reduces women's importance to how they are valued by men. Their pain is merely a plot device. The audience isn't supposed to feel sad because Jean Grey went crazy and died, we're supposed to feel sad because Wolverine is depressed now, poor baby. Jean Grey becomes That Chick Who Wolverine Angsts About. And I say this as someone who doesn't even like Jean Grey. Manpain is all about how the camera focuses on a male character's pain when there's is hardly the most important pain going on in the room.

I read a blog post by someone who I sadly know only as Thingswithwings who summed up my feelings on Women In Fridges and Manpain in a far better way than I can: "the show runners think that, if we don't establish that a female character is important to men, is in a romantic relationship and kissing a dude, we won't care that she's died."

I've had enough of female characters being reduced to plot devices with boobs. Give me female characters who have agency. Female characters whose feelings are taken seriously for once. Female characters who have their own plot arcs that are separate from their relationships to men. And, like magic, you will have a Strong Female Character.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Twilight Discussion: The Bechdel Test and Gender Stereotypes

There's a thing that's talked about in internet feminism called the Bechdel Test. The way to pass the test is simple: two named female characters talk about something that is not a man.

Now a surprisingly huge number of films fail this test, and that's why the test itself is so often cited. But personally I'm uncomfortable with using the Bechdel Test as some be all and end all measurement of how successful a film is in its portrayal of women, since by its own rules Sin CityShowgirls and Suckerpunch actually pass with flying colours and those films are rife with exploitation.

Okay, small shameful confession time: I actually like Sin City. It's not one my favourite movies by any stretch of the imagination, but from a purely artistic and visual point of view I really like it. It's quite beautiful to look at. But it fails on pretty much every other level (including basic storytelling) and I'm not one of those people who can cry "Oh, but it's art! That makes it okay!" when something is blatantly misogynistic/racist/homophobic etc. So Sin City still fails. Sorry.

Twilight fails the Bechdel Test repeatedly, and while I said that I think the Bechdel Test is has a lot of flaws and is cited as evidence way too often, I think it is significant in this case when examining the novel's portrayal of gender as a whole, and the female gender in particular.

Kathryn Elizabeth made a really interesting point in a comment to my last entry about how stereotypical the female characters are. Most of the time when female characters are this flat you can attribute it to the fact that it's a male writer and/or written for a male audience. But Stephenie Meyer is most certainly female and writing for a female audience, so why does she feel the need to write such a stereotypical character as Bella Swan?

It could be a simple case of bad writing, but I'm not too sure. After all, Twilight is an astronomical bestseller. It must be appealling to some need, emotion or desire within its audience on a very deep level to have gained such enormous popularity. Now, I'm inclined to believe that Stephenie Meyer is one smart cookie. Sure, she can't write worth a damn, but that's never really been a requirement in a bestseller (case in point, The Da Vinci Code). She can't write a good novel. Can she write a good bestseller? Absolutely.

Personally I find Twilight's blatant pandering to gender stereotypes and corresponding views on traditional gender roles to be as condescending as it is insulting. But I'm clearly not in the majority, and it's not like Twilight is an exception. The average pulp romance novel followed more or less the same plot as Twilight for the past fifty plus years. The difference with Twilight was that Meyer tapped into a popular trend- vampires- and got a pretty cover with an apple on it rather Fabio. Also, Buffy the Vampire Slayer had been over just long enough for her target audience not to have grown up watching it, but for vampires to still be a big influence in pop culture.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was and remains the intelligent show for teenagers. It took traditional female stereotypes- the airhead blonde, the awkward nerd, the sexy mean girl- and subverted them. It wasn't perfect, far from it, but Buffy did go a long way in portraying female characters who weren't just shallow cardboard cutouts of their individual stereotypes.

Twilight doesn't do that.

Bella is the typical 'damsel in distress' girl. Throughout the book she has almost no agency. Things happen to her, she doesn't make them happen or play any active role in making things happen. There are times when she has to consider making decisions- whether or not to go near Edward after she discovers he's a vampire is one- but even then the decisions end up being made for her by, you guessed it, Edward. She doesn't have an oppotunity to make mistakes because she doesn't have an oppotunity to do anything. The only decision she's made so far was to move to Forks, and even that was because of somebody else's actions.

The characterisation of Edward really deserves an entry all on its own, but I'll give it a go here. To be fair to Stephenie Meyer, her male characters are as stereotypical as her female ones, which raises more questions. Why is Edward so appealling given that he's basically a blood sucking Heathcliff?

Bella is written to stereotype. But what is also telling is that Edward has a stereotypical view of Bella. From his initial meeting he sees Bella as a self-sacrificing, sainted and oh so helpless little girl who needs to be protected. He falls for a concept, not a person. He doesn't consider her own thoughts and feelings, nor does he seem to care. He never considers that Bella has a choice in what happens in her own life. When Edward decides to stop wrestling with his libido vampiric thirst for blood and talk to Bella, he never considers that she might not want to talk to him. It's not "Do you want to hang out with me," its "You're hanging out with me now."

Edward makes a ton of assumptions about Bella in their very first meeting. Since they're complimentary assumptions (what person doesn't want to be thought of as self-sacrificing when they're actually being self-centred?), Bella is flattered by them and doesn't think to contradict. Which is another key issue- Edward has a gendered view of Bella and Bella doesn't think to contradict him.

Edward and Bella are not real (duh). They are characters who are clearly constructed as people to aspire to. Given the construction of gender in this novel, what message does this send?

That men not only can have stereotypical views of women, but can expect women to behave according to those stereotypes because the stereotypes are true. And women should not only be flattered by this, but should behave accordingly, since this is what men like, and being liked by men is the most important thing for women. This is why the Bechdel Test and the fact that Twilight fails it is significant: women in Twilight are only seen in terms of how they relate to men.

So why the appeal? Twilight reinforces traditional gender roles, so is this what is the most appealling thing to its female readership? I think it's part of it.

I believe that a quintessential part of growing up is making your own decisions and dealing with the consequences of those decisions. And it's hard. It's scary. And I'm sure we all have times where we wish someone else would take care of the decision making for us. It's escapism- a world where someone else makes the big decisions and the central character, which is the audience focus and the character we're supposed to relate to, doesn't have to accept any responsibility what so ever.

I'm sure we all want that sometimes. But you can't live your life that way, and the fact that Twilight panders to this highly unrealistic desire is condescending, insulting and very damaging.

Take Buffy the Vampire Slayer as an example again. I always thought that one of the central messages of Buffy (other than 'high school sucks') was that actions have consequences. Characters made mistakes, those mistakes had consequences, they dealt with, learnt from and overcame those consequences, or they didn't and the consequences grew worse. Buffy made a mistake in not telling her friends that Angel was back in Season 3, she was called out on it, she learnt from it. Willow made a mistake in using too much magic in Season 6, the consequence was that Tara broke up with her, Willow refused to deal with her mistake and thus the consequences grew worse.

Bella doesn't get an oppotunity to make mistakes and learn from them because she doesn't get an oppotunity to do anything at all.

So why, Stephenie Meyer? Is it in fact a subtle commentary on the role of women in society? A dark parody of gender stereotypes? A study of an abusive relationship from the point of view of the victim?

Or just misogynistic bullshit?

I would really like to know your thoughts on this, dear readers, and I invite you to do so in the comments.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Twilight Chapters 6-8: Now With More Foreshadowing!

And now, the plot finally kicks in! We're only six chapters in, Stephenie Meyer must be economical.

In today's review, Bella 'Slow On The Uptake' Swan finally learns that Edward is (SPOILERS!) a vampire. Wow, never saw that one coming!

I'll take this oppotunity to point out one of my main gripes with the book, in case you haven't guessed it already.

It's boring.

There's a whole of lot of stupid, sure, but it's boring stupid. It's not like, say, the Anita Blake series by Laurel K Hamilton, which are at least so bad and high camp that it's entertaining to read them purely for the lulz. Twilight is about on the same level of badness as Anita Blake, but dull. Really dull. I've said previously that it takes a lot for me to declare a book boring, and it's true. So here I am, declaring Twilight boring. Ta da!

Bella learns that Edward is a vampire, but don't worry, we have a whole lot of filler to get through first, so enjoy the stupid.

Chapter 6: Scary Stories

As the title suggests, this is the Exposition Chapter, and therefore not really worth dwelling on unless you're, you know, actually interested in the plot or something. Which I assume no one reading this is, and if you are, I'm not giving you spoiler warnings.

Bella's in Trig class (not Biology for once!). This is completely irrelevant to the review, I just have an America Question to ask: do you really have seperate classes for different branches of mathematics? As in, Trig class, Calculus class etc? Ouch. I thought one Maths class was bad enough. No seriously, I'd appreciate it if an American can weigh in here because it's something that occurs a lot in American fiction.

But onwards!

I'm going to make a separate entry about the Bechdel Test, because while I think the test is hugely flawed, it's significant how so far Twilight has failed it dramatically. The way a novel/film/tv show passes the Bechdel Test is if two named female characters have a discussion about something that is not a man. And Twilight fails. Repeatedly. This chapter is no exception.

Case in point, Jessica, who seems to worship Bella despite Bella being nasty at every turn, asks Bella about Edward and stresses about Mike and that's pretty much the only thing she does before being forgotten about. I'm seeing a pattern here.

Anyway, this chapter is significant for the introduction of Jacob Black, who is (spoiler) a werewolf and supposed to provide the romantic tension of "Ooooo, who will Bella choose?" Except it's completely pointless because it's obvious from the get go that she's always going to be with Edward. I'm sorry, Team Jacob, but did you ever really think he stood a chance of getting the girl? Really?

Jacob makes his entrance (with at least half a page of physical description, of course).

However, my positive opinion of his looks was damaged by the first words out of his mouth.

"You're Isabella Swan, aren't you?"

It was like the first day of school all over again.

"Bella," I sighed.

And we're off to a rousing start!

Why on earth does Bella hate being called by her full name so much? It's not like 'Isabella' is so darn horrible. I guess it could written that way to show how proud Bella is of being an individual, but instead it comes of petty and immature, much like the rest of Bella's thoughts do. It's also really repetitive. Yes, Stephenie Meyer, we know Bella hates being called by her full name and is clumsy. YOU DON'T HAVE TO KEEP TELLING US ALL THE TIME.

After that scintilating few lines of dialogue, Jacob settles into what is his true purpose in this book, at least: exposition. Which we will skip, because it's boring.

In summary, Jacob tells Bella about the 'cold ones' who are enemies of werewolves (FORESHADOWING) and there's a group of them who claim to be civilised and they went away for a long time and then they came back and they could be dangerous even though they promise not to attack humans and their leader is called Carlisle and OMG, could he be talking about the Cullens? Surely not!

*cue spooky FORESHADOWING music*

So after that Jacob asks if Bella has a boyfriend because he's subtle like that, and that's it.

But wait! The best is yet to come! Because now it's time for

Chapter 7: Nightmare

AKA When Bella Discovered The Existence of Vampires Through The Power of Google.

That's right, folks, vampires, whose existence has forever been hidden, are discovered by a sleep deprived teenage girl with an internet search engine. Not only that, on a site called Vampires A-Z.

Wow. Just... wow.

The Cullens do a pretty bad job of living below the radar already, so if Bella of all people can discover their true identity by Googling, it just baffles me that no one else did so before. Which leads me to think that what if Edward made a habit of seducing teenage girls by appealling to their curiosity and what if there were a long line of Bellas throughout history who found out who Edward was and came to a sticky end when he was tired of them- and that would be a very different book. Possibly written by Anne Rice.

Bella finds an entry on 'good' vampires (in Italian! FORESHADOWING):

Said to be on the side of goodness, and a mortal enemy of all evil vampires.


Okay, so I have trouble taking the word 'evil' seriously in a fictional context. It's cliche, it's black and white, it rarely leads to good storytelling and well developed characters. Of course it's in Twilight!

Through my irritation, I felt overwhelming embarrassment. It was all so stupid. I was sitting in my room, researching vampires. What was wrong with me?

The first moment of sensible self-reflection Bella's had so far. Unfortunately, it's also the last. She also wonders if this means she should stay away from Edward.

Bella, honey, if all the evidence tells you to stay away from a person for your own safety, you should probably stay away from that person.

Bella muses on the impossibilities and inhuman qualities for two pages or so, taking care to mention his unearthly beauty, and wonders if the Cullens are vampires. A lot. Like, for the rest of the rather long chapter.

But oh, dear readers. Dear readers! You have no idea the stupid that is yet to come.

Chapter 8: Port Angeles.


I loathe this chapter. Loathe it with the fire of ten blazing suns. Loathe it to the point that if I didn't have to read this book for my studies and therefore future career, I would have thrown the book across the room and given up. Coincidentally, this is about the point where I threw in the towel back when I tried to read Twilight at eighteen.

But for my thesis and for you, dear readers, I keep on. Please appreciate the sacrifices I make for you.

This chapter contains one of least favourite plot devices: attempted sexual assault. I'm sure you've all come across it before. Young Helpless Girl's honour is threatened by Moustache Twirling Villain(s) only to be rescued by Young Handsome Man.

I realise that personal history is probably causing me to project all over this, but I hate it when something as traumatic and violating as sexual assault or even attempted assault (because that it also traumatic) is used as a way of bringing two characters together. I don't have a problem with it if it's done in a sensitive way, acknowledging the fact that developing romantic feelings for a rescuer is a common effect of trauma and can therefore be very unhealthy if not handled correctly. Twilight... doesn't do this.

I'm going to skip straight to the scene in question because the beginning of the chapter is all about dresses and talking about the prom, so it's mostly filler.

The street was lined on both sides by blank, doorless, windowless walls... Lounging against the western building, midway down the street, were two other men from the group, both watching with excited smiles as I froze dead on the sidewalk. I realised that I wasn't being followed.

I was being herded.

I do have to give Stephenie Meyer credit for successfully creating a tense atmosphere in this section, although only to an extent. This scene plays pretty blatantly on the Rapist in the Dark Alley that is every woman's fear, hence the tension. The Rapist in the Dark Alley is something that women are told to fear so much that for many women, myself included, avoiding situations where the Rapist in the Dark Alley can get us is a subconscious part of our routine. All the while society tends to overlook the fact that most sexual assault victims were attacked by someone they already knew. But I'm getting off topic here.

Just as things start to look really bad for Bella; Edward, the Knight In Shining Volvo, arrives to save the day.

And this is where I get pissed off.

Bella has just been through a traumatic experience. Her personal safety was in serious danger. So of course Edward makes this all about him, because he's a creepy arsehole. Observe:

"Are you okay?" I asked, surprised at how hoarse my voice sounded.

"No," he said curtly, and his tone was livid.

"Bella?" he asked, his voice tight, controlled.


"Are you all right?" He didn't look at me, but the fury was plain on his face.

"Yes," I croaked softly.

"Distract me, please," he ordered.

Edward, she was nearly attacked by a bunch of thugs. Shouldn't you be doing the distracting? But no, that would mean you care about someone else's feelings.

I think it's a pretty big reflection of Edward's character that he can't put somebody else's feelings before his own. I'm not drawing this out of one scene either, it's demonstrated in his behaviour from the first moment he appears. It's also implied that he wouldn't care about any of these horrible things happening to anyone other than Bella, even though preventing them isn't any actual effort on his part. Charming.

Since his introduction, Edward has threatened Bella, intimidated her, mocked her, stalked her and dragged her to his car against her will. I'm disturbed that this is the romantic lead and even more disturbed that thousands of teenage girls are swooning over him.

Look out for my next review, because the stupid and the rage just get worse.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Twilight Chapters 3, 4 & 5

In light of my previous review, I feel the need to point out something I have to give Stephenie Meyer credit for: she does manage to portray the mind of an average sixteen year old girl with almost frightening accuracy. Teenagers for the most part are nasty and self-absorbed. I was a teenage girl myself not too long ago, and I know that sometimes if you're forced (or feel you're forced- everyone seems to bend over backwards to please Bella and yet she still thinks everyone's out to make her life hell) to do something you you don't like you will be determined to hate everyone and everything involved with it. It's a teenager's way of saying "Fine, Mum and Dad, you may legally be able to tell me what to do, BUT I DON'T HAVE TO LIKE IT!" *door slam*

In that respect, Bella's initial attraction to Edward despite, or even because of, his stalker-like behaviour actually starts to make some sense. I mean, explaining your feelings to someone is hard, I get it. Therefore it must be a dream come true when someone 'gets' your feelings without you having to say anything, and then also validates them for you rather than saying "Actually, Bella, you're behaving like a brat." Because not all feelings are justified. Sorry, kids. Feeling creeped out because the boy in Biology knows a little too much personal information about you? Justified. Feeling annoyed at someone just because they come from a town you don't like? Unjustified.

So Bella is a fairly accurate depiction of an average teenager. Does this make her a good role model for teenagers? Not in the current state. It would depend on her character development, but I have it on good authority that Bella's character development (spoilers!) is pretty dismal. Does this make her an interesting character? Well, no. I mean, c'mon, if the biggest problem in your life is the fact that the guy you're vaguely interested in happens to be the one guy in school who doesn't like you, you have a pretty great life.

A character being an average Joan does not automatically make them uninteresting, nor should it. My main problem with the depiction of Bella so far is that everyone, Bella included, seems to act like she's so much better than everyone else, and she's not. She's ordinary. Normal. Bland in the extreme, like an underdone piece of dry toast. So why all the fuss, male population?

Since writing the above I have in fact read up to Chapter 9 of this monstrosity, but I'll still only review two chapters this time and split up the rest, since there's a whole lot of stupid to be discussed.

From now on I will also be keeping a tally of the Foreshadowing Moments (because good God, are there many. Stephenie Meyer is about as subtle as a butcher wielding a cleaver) and the Edward Is A Controlling Creep Moments. Let's see the score for this review.

Chapter 3: Phenomenon

Bella is approached by two of her admirers at school, but all she cares about is the whereabouts of the Cullen's Volvo. That's right, folks, Edward Cullen, supposedly the coolest guy on earth, drives a Volvo. Not a BMW, not a Mercedes, not a Lamborghini or any other car that would make the hosts of Top Gear drool. A Volvo.


But wait! What's this I see here? Could it be- yes! It is! Some action at last!

The action being Edward saving Bella from a skidding car with his Awesome Vampire Powers, and despite being moments from death, Bella still has time to observe how unnaturally fast and strong Edward is. In other words, FORESHADOWING!

Bella gets taken to hospital and somehow still manages to be whiny throughout. She asks to speak to Edward alone and confronts him about how he saved her.

"Hey, Edward, I'm really sorry-" Tyler began.

Edward lifted a hand to stop him.

"No blood, no foul," he said.

I see what you did there, Stephenie Meyer. How witty you are!

"Then why does it matter?"

"It matters to me," I insisted. "I don't like to lie."

But earlier on, Bella was saying that she lied all the time... Consistency, you have none.

"Why did you even bother?" I asked frigidly.

"I don't know," he whispered.

See, this is one of the things I had trouble with in this chapter. Are we supposed to think that had anyone other than Bella been in the way of the car, Edward wouldn't have saved them even though he has the ability to do so with no risk to himself? Because that's sure how it comes across. Dear readers, meet your romantic lead. Isn't he a gem?

Chapter 4: Invitations

This is pretty much a filler chapter, so we'll race through it. Onwards!

Bella has a dream about Edward (FORESHADOWING) and is perplexed as to why. I can tell you, Bella: hormones. They appear during puberty and proceed to fuck up your life, forcing you to make stupid decisions like getting married when you're eighteen.

There's some more stuff about Bella being chased by all the boys and it's all a bit of a yawn. Moving on.

Edward and Bella have a conversation again, and Edward offers to give Bella a ride to Seattle in his car while being creepy. So far the interactions between Bella and Edward have been dull and vapid at best and disturbing at worst (and that, dear readers, is me foreshadowing the next couple of chapters. Take note).

And that's the end of this chapter. Thank God.

Chapter 5: Blood Type

The Edward Is A Controlling Creep Moments begin here!

Edward beckons (no really, beckons. With his finger and everything) Bella over to join him at lunch, and this is where things start to go from mildly creepy to really creepy.

"I decided as long as I was going to hell, I might as well do it thoroughly."

"You know I don't have any idea what you mean."

He wants to jump you, Bella. It's not that hard to figure out.

"I think your friends are angry with me for stealing you."

"They'll survive."

"I may not give you back though," he said with a wicked glint in his eyes.

I gulped.

He laughed. "You look worried."

No kidding.

"Yes, I'm giving up trying to be good. I'm just going to do what I want now, and let the chips fall where they may."

Edward, please stop what you're doing and read Schrodinger's Rapist. Now.

Edward Is A Controlling Creep Moment number 1.

"I don't like double standards."

Neither do I. A pity this book is full of them.

And now it's Biology class again, and Edward is ditching. How rebellious of him. Oh, they're testing for blood types in class! FORESHADOWING!

Bla bla, Biology, bla. Seriously, this book loves its Biology classes.

Bella feels faint during class, Edward mysteriously appears and takes her to the nurse's office, scooping her up in his arms despite her protests. Edward Is A Controlling Creep Moment 2.

"I smelled the blood," I said, wrinkling my nose.

"People can't smell blood," he contradicted.

I don't know if this is is Edward's mistake or Stephenie Meyer's, because in fact, people can smell blood, and very easily too, so being able to sniff out blood doesn't make Bella a special snowflake. And just in case you forgot, FORESHADOWING!

Bella skips gym class (I can't blame her, I did that all the time too) and wants to go home.

I veered left, toward my truck. Something caught my jacket, yanking me back.

"Where do you think you're going?" he asked, outraged. He was gripping a fistful of my jacket in one hand.


He was towing me toward his car now, pulling me by my jacket. It was all I could do to keep from falling backward. He'd probably just drag me along anyway if I did.

"Let go!" I insisted. He ignored me.

Jesus Christ! Did Stephenie Meyer honestly not realise that having a man drag a woman towards his car against her will was just a little bit problematic?

I was mentally calculating my chances of reaching the truck before he could catch me. I had to admit, they weren't good.

"I'll just drag you back," he threatened, guessing my plan.


So after Edward Is A Controlling Creep Moment number three (now with added WTF!), Edward successfully manages to drive Bella home without getting any creepier and we get a bit of exposition *cough* I mean deep conversation.

End Chapter Five! Did you have fun? I know I didn't.

Foreshadowing Moments: 4
Edward Is A Controlling Creep Moments: 3

Friday, 22 July 2011

Twilight Chapters 1 & 2

Here goes. *deep breath*

I attempted to read Twilight when I was eighteen and wanted to know what all the hype was about. I remember at the time coming to the conclusion that it wasn't worth the hype and not finishing it because I got bored. And I read Charles Dickens' Bleak House for funsies. It takes a lot to make me declare a book boring.

But my thesis is on female characters in young adult and fantasy literature, so alas, Twilight is inescapable simply for the massive influence it has on the entire young adult genre. A casual glance at the YA shelves in my local Dymocks reveals titles such as Vampire Diaries, Vampire Academy, Vampire Beach-

Wait a minute.

Vampire beach? What is this, The Supernatural Hills? Or were all other settings already taken? Oh dear.

So I admit, I approach Twilight with some trepidation. It's not that I don't like vampires or urban fantasy. I do. A lot. I've been a huge Buffy fan since I was a teenager, and I watch True Blood, albeit more for the hilarity (speaking of which, I'm actually really impressed by the current season. But more on that in another entry). It's more that I find the whole premise of Twilight kind of silly. Still. It's beloved by teenage girls (and older women!) across the entire world, it must have something going for it. Right?


I'd never given much thought to how I would die- though I'd had reason enough in the last few months

Bella darling, maybe you should consider a lifestyle change?

I knew that if I'd never gone to Forks, I wouldn't be facing death now. But, terrified as I was, I couldn't bring myself to regret the decision. When life offers you a dream so far beyond any of your expectations, it's not reasonable to grieve when it comes to an end.

Really? Because to me that sounds like a perfectly good reason to grieve. If I'm having a good life I don't want it to end, thanks.

Oh wait, the prologue's over. So... that was pointless. We know at some time Bella's life is going to be in danger, so good job ruining that tension, Stephenie Meyer. But as the opening two chapters reveal, if there's one thing Meyer loves it's foreshadowing, and therefore killing the plot.

On to Chapter One!

Chapter 1: First Sight 

Giving away the plot in the chapter title will become a recurring theme, so please take note.

A summation of the first three pages: Bella loves Phoenix. A lot. I mean, she really, really does. Bella is moving to Forks, which she really really hates. Why is she going to Forks if she hates it so much? God knows.

Bella leaves her mother, about whom we know next to nothing (but we do know what Bella is wearing!), and meets her dad, who's a police chief. Bella muses that this meeting and subsequent car ride would be awkward. It... really isn't. Or at least not any more awkward than most teenage girls' conversations with their fathers.

Car ride, car ride, Bella's lack of decent clothes, car ride...

"He used to go fishing with us during the summer," Charlie prompted.

That would explain why I didn't remember him. I do a good job of blocking painful, unnecessary things from my memory.

Wow. Either the last fishing trip occurred during a hurricane or Bella's kind of a bitch.

"He's in a wheelchair now," Charlie continued

And Bella immediately asks how the man ended up in a wheelchair, how his health is and how's he's coping with such a dramatic change in his life. Oh wait, no. She just wants to know about the truck he can no longer drive.

So Bella gets a car and loves it and we're treated to a full description because anything Bella owns/will be seen in is important, unlike her parents.

Bla bla, Bella's room, bla bla, Bella's pale (translucent, even!), bla bla...

I didn't relate well to people my age. Maybe the truth was that I didn't relate well to people, period.

You think?

Bella gets ready for school, and this takes two full pages. Suddenly I'm realising why this book is so damn long.

Bella goes to school, her classmates stare at her, Bella's read everything on the booklist (this is another recurring theme: Bella is always better than any other mere mortal. Always. She talks about this a lot). A guy tries to talk to her and she's snappy, but he persists with being helpful. The nerve!

"You don't look very tan."

"My mother is part albino."

He studied my face apprehensively and I sighed. It looked like clouds and a sense of humor [intentional use of American spelling- what does that nation have against the letter 'u'?] didn't mix. A few months of this and I'd forget how to use sarcasm.

...I don't think clouds are your problem, Bella.

More people are friendly to Bella (the nerve!) and she is unfriendly back. Then she spots seven curious strangers! DUN DUN DUUUUUUUUUUN!

I'm going to skip the two page description of the Cullens because it's kind of dull and expositiony. In fact, lets skip ahead some more...

Aha, first class with Edward! Edward seems hostile and unfriendly. Bella seems hostile and unfriendly. I see the connection.

Another guy is nice to Bella, but all she can think about is why Edward isn't nice to her. Well, I guess having only having 99% of the guys in school lusting after you must be a bit sucky.

But Edward Cullen's back stiffened, and he turned slowly to glare at me- his face was absurdly handsome- with piercing hate-filled eyes. For an instant, I felt a thrill of genuine fear, raising the hair on my arms.

Behold, Bella, your future husband.

Bella declares that her first day at school was ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE and runs home in tears. And that's Chapter One!

Chapter 2: Open Book

Bla, bla, guys lust after Bella, Bella is nasty...

Bella likes cooking. Ooo look, an interest! Finally!

Bella is condescending to her mother, Bella reads Wuthering Heights. Wait. Bella loves Wuthering Heights. Stephenie Meyer loves Wuthering Heights. IT ALL MAKES SENSE NOW!!!

Bella asks her dad about the Cullens, exposition occurs, Bella goes to school, Bella notices Edward doesn't come to school, Bella cares about this. The first time she's cared about anything other than herself, by the way.

Edward speaks to Bella. Edward is stalker-y. Um.

Biology, biology, Edward has gold eyes, biology... You know, for vampire supposedly living undercover, the Cullens sure aren't very good at it.

They talk, Edward is creepy and socially inept, Bella is also socially inept, Bella is nasty to people who aren't Edward again.

And that's it!

So Bella, our narrator and heroine, is anti-social, hostile, bitchy, no good at sarcasm and completely and utterly self-absorbed. Great. I can't wait to spend the next 400+ pages in her company.


Tuesday, 19 July 2011

X-Men Legacy 249, AKA Screw You, Character Development!

Oh, Rogue. How they mistreat you.

I started reading the X-Men comics solely because I loved Rogue in the animated series and was disappointed by her treatment in the films. So as a disclaimer for this entry, I'll admit that I read X-Men pretty much soley for Rogue.

Rogue started out as one messed up little girl. And I like Rogue a bit batshit; the fact that she has demons is what first interested me in the character. But as I ventured into the comics I got annoyed with her lack of character development.

X-Men Legacy started to change all that. Rogue got some decent character development, she got control over her powers (finally), she moved into a leadership role. It was good. Now, my inner sixteen year old girl will always want Rogue and Gambit to be together forever, but I was cheering for Rogue when she told Gambit that she wasn't mentally or emotionally stable enough for a relationship and wanted some space to come to terms with her issues. She was finally taking control over her life. Now that's good character development!

Enter Magneto. Who is, as we all know, an evil homicidal shithead who is about 80 (yes, I know he looks physically younger. That's beside the point) and has a thing for young girls. Yes, Rogue's not a teenager any more, but that doesn't change the fact that in an alternate universe he married her when she was seventeen and they had a kid together and ew, ew, ew. Long story short, Rogue hooks up with him after saying a speech about how she should hate him but she can't.


Magneto. Magneto. The man who brainwashed her, held her captive and watched her lose her virginity through a camera, had her tortured and electrocuted, murdered her friends, beat her up, had no qualms about her getting killed, mentally raped her, stalked her and kept her locked in a vault for years just three issues before this hook-up occurred, and has yet to apologise or even show regret for any of these things. And this is just what he's done to Rogue, not to mention the entire human race.

Rogue was constantly telling him no. So the plotline of Legacy is "No no no no no YES."

Um. *twitch*

In one issue they've managed to erase years of character development and turn Rogue into a pathetic abuse victim. Jesus Christ. And this all happens after Magneto tells her this sob story about how he killed a doctor who did experiments on Holocaust victims as an example of what a bad person he is, not, you know, all the times he tried to DESTROY THE HUMAN RACE. Manipulative, much?

All of this comes not one issue after Gambit tells Rogue that she's the love of his life and he's willing to wait as long as it takes for her to deal with her problems and it's actually kind of adorable (yes, I'm a Gambit fangirl. Why do you ask?).

So author Mike Carey, a hearty Fuck You from me. You clearly have a) a mid-life crisis and must therefore place beautiful young women with men decades older than them, b) no idea about how to write romance from a woman's perspective, c) no idea about how to write women in general, or d) all of the above. Rogue is not a battered woman you can stuff back into her fridge whenever it suits you. She's a Badass Queen of Badassity and you know it. I mean, this is how you write the woman who had 80,000 different personalities in her head at one time and lived to tell the tale? Seriously?

Basically, X-Men Legacy 249 can be summed up best in the following comment I saw on a comic book forum:

Gambit finally called her out on her wishy washiness and told her to put on her big girl panties. Magneto doesn't care how wishy washy she is just as long as her panties stay on the floor.

It's empowering, folks.

So It Begins...

I'm starting a review blog so that I can keep track of all the ragey thoughts that come into my head as I do research for my Masters. That, and it might be better to rant about things I love or hate in blog form rather than boring anyone within a ten kilometre radius to death with my semi-coherent rambling.

I have to read Twilight for my Masters, and obviously this blog will mainly revolve around my thoughts on that monstrosity. But a variety of things are also on the agenda, including, but not limited to, X-Men, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, True Blood, Doctor Who and scattered thoughts on Women In Fridges and Manpain.

Sit back, pour a cup of tea and prepare for the fanaticism.