Friday, May 28, 2010

"Mommy, You're Good at Killing Monsters."

The other day while my mother had taken my older daughter, B – 3 years old– to the park. I was bouncing my baby son and playing video games, like ya' do, and when the pair returned, my daughter exclaimed with unrestrained joy and excitement:

"Mommy, you're good at killing monsters!"

I was startled and laughed out loud because "Yes, I am good at killing monsters.

Now,  let it be known that I am not going to start playing violent video games daily in front of my daughter, she's a little young for that and as she has begun exclaiming, there are even parts of Scooby-Doo that are scary. But! I was both startled and excited that her walking in on me slaughtering hell beasts was not a moment of panic, but a moment of awe at mommy's ability to vanquish the concerning monstrous horde.

As you know, I feel strongly about challenging and yes, frightening your audience. I am a firm believer that if you face a fear and deal with it psychologically in a safe place, like a child dealing with nightmares at home where mommy and daddy can help put it in context, you'll be more prepared to deal with them later on. That said, I'm not sneaking into my kids' room at night and yelling them awake either.
On mother's day B sat through her her first movie (more or less), and this was really quite exciting for me and my husband, it was Where the Wild Things Are, and she asked a lot of really compelling questions. She was very concerned with how everyone in the movie was feeling, why people were being not nice to one another and the obvious concern of many critics, that the movie simply "wasn't the same story as the book." Which it isn't.

 She was much more bothered by the older kids at the beginning of the movie who made Max cry than she was of the Wild Things themselves, as well as the "Mommy who was Mad-ic and yelling" (for some reason "Mad" is "Madic" in B-language: "Don't be Madic, Calm Down!". Though she did find them "scary" the monsters were really only monsterous to her when they were being "not nice".

The film, and her concern for these characters, had a much more lasting outward effect than walking in on me fighting off the legions of hell in a lava pit, but, what has stuck from that is asking me if I'm going to "kill monsters". I usually say no, because I want to play puzzles with her, or because I was actually going to watch a DVD with her and had picked up the controller, let's be honest, it's easier to do something with her in the moment than play a game then clean up the paint that got all over the floor because I was in the zone.

Overall, I like that B's first reaction was that Mommy was winning, she got very excited about it and cheered me on for several minutes before I decided to stop playing. I chose to stop because my arms were getting tired (bouncing a sleeping baby and working a controller is a surprisingly solid workout) but I'm glad I didn't immediately jump to shut off the console. If I can be a demon-vanquishing roll model to my baby girl, then I will take that and run with it.

I certainly am concerned about raising B to know that violence doesn't solve most problems, let's be fair, it solves the problems of ravening demons invading your cityscape in a video game. It was fun for me to be cheered on as I eviscerated the scary creatures that unflinchingly menaced my avatar as B yelled where they were coming from next. Afterwards, we all had a hearty cuddle and she was excited, not frightened by the experience.

I don't think I'll be letting her play Dead Space or BioShock any time soon, but maybe it's time we started thinking about a Wii.  I'd like her to feel she has the power to overcome scary characters, something I never got as a munchkin, I didn't play video games and the frighting spectres of childhood entertainment were never creatures I could interact with and vanquish on my own. Maybe if I'd been able to take on Freddie Kruger myself and overcome him in the video game setting, I would have been less plagued by nightmares. Or if I'd had the ability to control Jaws on a rampage I'd have been able to laugh him off a little more, I mean, I was hundreds of miles from the nearest large body of water.

 Waaaay less intimidating than my imagination.

The ability to interact directly with the characters who inhabit your nightmares is a gift, and one to which these new generations of kids have unique access. My three year old probably isn't old enough to meet Master Chief or take on the Locust with Marcus Fenix; but I think she's may be ready to be introduced to Mario.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Glee-Cap: Lacy Demon Clothes

LADY GAGA!!! is there anything you can't do?  no. no there isn't.  For all my hating and fears, invoking Gaga (current avatar of creativity on the world celebrity stage) seriously sent some chills up my spine last night. Thanks to you, who I've written about before, the often fractured narrative of Glee managed to tell story that included something about everyone in the Glee club, and turn in some fantastically fun and poignant musical numbers.


Twilight Fever causes all sorts of kerfuffle this week as Tina is banned from wearing Goth clothes. Finn's Mom gets her longest set of lines yet as she and Kurt and Kurt's Dad all surprise Finn and move in together. And Quinn continues to point out to Puck that as long as he acts like the cock of the walk and makes a joke of their unborn child, she's not interested in his participation in the process... THEATRICALITY rears its head on Glee this week.

"My mom says she thinks Kristen Stewart looks like a bitch," and therefore Tina can't watch Twilight.

This, much like other things you might not expect from the whole endeavor is the name of the game with theatricality. Adornment, Spectacle and Theatricality are all fantastic tools in the arsenal of artistic expression, both describing, masking and clarifying visually everything that is hidden beneath.

"And Ladies, I don't want to hear about chafing just because you're wearing metal underwear, not my problem"

 "You see the world with the same fierce theatricality that I do, even the way we're sitting right now is so dramatic that I'm almost uncomfortable with it"

Ok Rachel, you win. I felt concerned that your story might be clumped into 2 episodes and I would feel cheated and you would be less a character for it. I was wrong, you are lumped into 2 episodes with your mother, but you two WORKED. Listen to the song readers, onscreen it was magic. They put so much into this interaction with one another it was beautiful.

What this episode really drove home is that it would be SO WEIRD to meet your mother/daughter at 16. It wouldn't necessarily be a loving huge joyous moment, it might feel wrong, and weird, and truly, unflinchingly real. Neither woman got what they expected, but they can appreciate one another from afar, and bring it.

Thank you, Glee, for not making it into a soap opera cliché... or at least doing something interesting with this.

"We're supposed to have some sort of slow motion run into one another's arms, 
this is all wrong."

On another front:
"I always feel like we're always doing whatever the girls want to do."

Really Finn, Really? I recognize that you're always doing what Kurt wants this week and that's caused a lot of friction, but let's table the "we're always doing what the girls want to do" discussion for another week. It's there next to the disappearing Mrs. Schuster who you may be banging next week.

"What is your problem, Finn?  It's just a moist towelette!!!?!"

"We're not Gaga for Gaga" 
"It's the same thing you do when you go to school in 
                   your football uniform, you're expressing yourself"

Maybe I love this episode because it speaks my language, got my degree in production design (costume specialty):

“I have great respect for Lady Gaga,” (Costumer, Lou Eyrich) told (InStyle). “This episode is a tribute to her genius. The costumes are not replicas; we wanted it look like the kids made them.‘”
 So that’s exactly what they did: “Rachel (Lea Michele) wears two outfits. The first inspired by Gaga’s Kermit the Frog dress: She goes through her stuffed animals at home and staples all of them to her dress. The second is like the dress Gaga wore with the big silver mirrored triangle.” Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) was hand-picked by creator Ryan Murphy to wear the famous bubble dress. “It was really heavy,” Eyrich reported, “and it made a lot of noise. We turned it into a vest so that it would be easier to take on and off, because there was no sitting down in it.” from InStyle

For me, seeing all these lovingly crafted details onscreen really made the whole of these characters stories pop out tonight. The same way, the explosive fights and big situations really served the emotional subtleties that were more grounded than they have been in earlier episodes.

Also, Check out Mike Chang, the mysteriously dialogue-less “Other Asian” on Glee, dialogless no more!

The actor Harry Shum Jr is interviewed over on Vulture and is adorable in the best possible way.

From Vulture: 

... Harry, we are beside ourselves with joy that you have a line this week!
Aw, thank you. And yeah, it’s happenin’! Usually we get the script like a week before and you just take a look at it, but then you look at it and say, “Hey, I get to talk today! Or … this week!” It’s happening slowly and surely a little more for me, so it’s very exciting to be a little more involved.

So why is this week the special week?

Um, I think it just felt right for the writers to involve me and Dijon [Talton].

Whoa, so he talks too?!
Yeah, I’m givin’ away stuff! It’ll be sort of boys versus girls as far as costuming and music go, this week. We’ll be in Kiss getups: the crazy costumes, the makeup, and the really, really, almost-too-tight pants. But it looked okay on us, so it’s cool. And the boots are nuts! They’re so heavy, I don’t know how they wore them all those years. We did a lot more dancing than Kiss would have.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Representations of Women in (Mostly Superhero) Comics

Here's the argument that hits me in the gut most:

People Know That Comics Aren’t Real/Girls Don’t Look to Comics for Body Image Perspectives

No (and that’s a problem that the major comic companies are struggling with, isn’t it?), but boys do.  And boys grow up to be men (well, to be older boys, at least) who are then responsible for making decisions about comic books, television shows, movies.  They have daughters.  Their expectations about what is normal, what is acceptable, what is sexy, are absorbed into the aggregate collective of societal norms.  Women being insecure about their breasts is a product of men wanting women with big boobs, and men wanting big boobs is a product of…what, precisely? ...
I see this over and over, an idea that what boys read doesn't have to give realistic interpretations of female characters... and then people wonder why boys and men don't "get" women. This article is very helpful, in no small way because the arguments hold true for a lot of different media in addition to comics.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Aesthetics of Unique Video Game Characters– Game Career Guide

Everyone working in gaming should read Shaylyn Hamm's article on how to improve the aesthetics of female video game characters. Not only is her research fascinating, her artistic intepretations really capture the core of each character. 
"...My research suggests that it is possible to create distinctive and unique characters that have a generally broad appeal among different ages, genders, and gamer types. The characters I created have body types, features, and ages that do not follow the ideal of what is typically marketed in the video game industry, yet they were well received by the majority of people who have reviewed them. My feedback also suggests that there is a desire among many gamers to see more varied female characters in games, and perhaps when more of such characters are introduced into mainstream games, the perception and role of females may become less limited. This is an area of study that is very relevant to modern gaming, as female characters are found in nearly every game, and they are found by many people, both male and female to be lacking of interest and personality. For further research, I would like to see similar tests by myself and other artists, with characters designed to fit and explore a variety of video games in a variety of genres and styles..."

Phil Lord and Chris Miller... Please Be My Friends?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Glee-Cap: On Absent Mothers...

A lot happened in last night's Glee, Dream On,

There was Neil Patrick Harris as a School-Board, Budget-Cutting, Show-Choir-Anonymous Used-Hummer Salesman. He had some great monologues.

It had Artie (who is in the wheelchair)  got 2 songs, one of which is big dance number.

But the biggest deal in Dream On is the introduction of an actual honest to goodness more than one episode story arc.
I was so shocked I had to slushie myself to snap out of it.

It's shocking, almost more shocking and entertaining that Sue Sylvester and Bryan Ryan's educational-value-off and follow-up anger sex... almost.

The Choir director of Vocal Adrenaline got Jesse St. James to infiltrate the Glee club in order to get to Rachel. I know, GASP!, no one saw that coming at all.

But why would she do this? not because she's just evil and conniving. Shelby Cocoran, The vocal coach of Vocal Adrenaline, the glee club of Carmel High School in Carmel, Ohio, is actually Rachel's MOTHER.

 Super Gasp!

I have to say, this episode made me care a bit more about Rachel, in no small part because Shelby cares about her so much. After watching so much damaged female behavior about pregnancy in the first half of the season seeing a mother who is legitimately trying to reach out to their child is touching and highly affecting.

Also, the emotional resonance really hits in the duet of "the saddest song ever" from Les Miserables, I Dreamed a Dream:

I can't wait to see what happens when they have two female characters with an actually meaty story to work with.

While the subject of motherhood deserves much more page-space than I'm going to give it in this post and I must admit that like the mothers in Glee the subject has been absent at The Mystery of Girls Media because taking on the media's portrayal of motherhood is a daunting task.

Let's cover it in Glee though, I can at least talk about that tonight. There are three mothers who have spoken at all on Glee.

Quinn –yes I'm counting Quinn even though the baby hasn't been born, who is giving up everything else that was important to her.

Mr. Schuster's sister-in-law– who was constantly egging on her sister into bigger lies and horrid behavior.

and Finn's Mom– who until Kurt set up with his dad had selflessly supported Finn single-handedly for over a decade, fighting depression and apparently, not asking anything for herself. I do not count Mrs. Schuster's hysterical pregnancy.

Other mom's have been mentioned, mostly in conjunction with nagging or not letting Quinn eat bacon (Puck's Mom). Kurt's mom, who is dead, has felt pretty tangible in his conversations with his father.  But ultimately, this is the first time a mother has gotten real screen-time, and she has been absent from her child's life for 16 years.

A lot of stories feature absent mothers, or don't feature them, or.... whatever, the point is the mother is just not there. why is that? Is there a perception or anticipation that all the world's problems are solved if the mother is present? That puts a lot of stress on moms when they're just people like everyone else, and motherhood is hard. While I don't disagree that the mom's on the show are generally doing the right thing by their kids I do fear that because they're in the background, they might get forgotten and become caricatures rather than characters as has befallen so many maternal characters before them.

And I don't want them too disappear, you've set up some pins, Glee, knock them down.

To hear me rant about things that aren't Glee, follow me on Twitter: Caitlin_Burns and check in next week when Ra Ra Ruh hah haaaa! LADY GAGA! You can bet money on the fact I'll be talking about adornment, I know, you can't wait.

Later Gleeks.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Glee-Cap: Rachel, it's not you, it's me, except that it's also you.

Hey there blog!

I could not be more excited, because these Glee-Caps are now syndicating on All Things Fangirl, which I think takes my geek cred up a notch or two, I mean, I think I already had some but you can never have too much. You may remember EruditeChick's interview with me and Jeff Gomez  here (and also here). But while me rambing about myself into the aether is probably not why you're here... wait, it's exactly why you're here.

Here's what you missed on the Glee-caps:
----Cue the Music----
Glee-is-a-show-on-Fox-where-a-bunch-of-high-school-kids-join-glee-club. They-spontaneously-burst-into-song-and-dance-numbers. It's-really-entertaining-and-even-when-it-makes-me-angry...
I-HAVE-to-watch-it, I-mean-HAVE-TO-total-fangirl-compulsion. 

So, even-though-the-guys-are-kinda-Mary-Sues-and-the-girls-ride-a-little-close-to-high-school-show-stereotypes-I-like-them-and-feel-like-its-worth-watching. 

-to-yell-at-the-show, and-you-know-this-hugely-successful-TV-show-is-listening
-so-now-that-there-are-TWO BLOGS-where-I'm-taking-it-to-task, 

And that's what you missed last time on the Glee-Cap!

On this week's episode, Laryngitis...

 Rachel Berry, it's not you, it's me, except that it's also you.

For the record I think Lea Michelle is great, and also, I get that weird theatre kid thrill up my spine when she is singing. But, I seriously can barely stand the character of Rachel when she's not singing.
And to be fair, that's part of the point of her character:
"What if he says I'll never sing again?
What will become of me? Without my voice I'm just another spoiled annoying only child..."
"I'm sure he won't say you'll never sing again."
She's entirely and completely about her goals, becoming a famous singer is her unquestioned destiny and to get there she is willing to uncover any obstacle. She is talented, completely single-minded, and even uses MySpace– obsession if I've ever seen it, but yeah, in the first episode it said she updated with video weekly, WHERE ARE THE VIDEOS, FOX???? lame, but I digress. She has many positive traits, including knowing without a shadow of a doubt that she is annoying and single-minded.
"I am like Tinkerbell, Finn, I need applause to live."
This episode only served to highlight these aspects of her character. And, like Tracey Flick in Election, Rachel proves that despite horrible personality flaws, sincere commitment to one's goals can pay off if you have an innate talent for that goal. Also, what she learned in this episode, "that you can be more than one thing" that there's more to Rachel than being a singer.

True, she's also bossy. She's really unpleasant to people around her, all the time. Seriously. She orders people around, puts them down, is really a jerk. Kudos that you know you're a jerk, Rachel, but you're still a jerk.  And being a jerk is just, no way to go through life.

A big part of why I don't like you, Rachel, is because I'm out of high school, I've been out in the world a while, and I'm certain you would appeal to me if I were younger. You're aspirational and cool, and can belt a bit and clearly have a heart...

but yeah, you're also a jerk. Remember last week, when you used three guys to try and seem cool, two of which actually like you and now no one seems to remember that and the two guys still seem to be really into you? You lie, you are so self-absorbed you are usually the last person to realize a piece of juicy gossip, but how many times have you run into the glee club room to share that gossip as soon as you find it out? at least 5.

Generally, I think a character who lies, gossips, etc... is interesting, but is only really interesting when there are consequences for their actions. So far, Rachel's karmic calendar has a huge event coming up, like, Eyjafjallajökull level. Losing your voice and having the cute guy you like take you to the doctor and sing a song about you while your boyfriend is in San Diego does not cut it, Glee

Also this week:

Quinn rocked it, talking to Mercedes about Puck, let's talk about that because that was great. She was totally honest and if someone was keeping me from bacon, I too would not be able to handle conversations about "How Super-Mario Changed Civilization."

Also, I want to call you out, Glee, for framing Mercedes' story almost completely around a guy. At least you kinda gave Rachel some agency this week, but yeah, work on that. 

Honorable mention also has to go to Puck for being amazingly, hilariously desperate for attention throughout the episode. To the point of seriously borderline humor, a charming Sammy Davis Jr. homage, and to Mercedes for shutting him down because she's obviously above all that.
"I'm like a sex shark, if I stop moving, I die"

And so, because I ramble, I'm stopping here. Step it up with the consequences, Glee, you've set up the pins, now knock them down.

Catch up with the older Glee-Caps Here: F U For Making Me Tear Up, The Madonna Episode, Am I Taking Crazy Pills?

Tune in next week for NPH. OMG OMG OMG. Excellent.
And follow me on twitter, Caitlin_Burns 

Monday, May 10, 2010

Twitter Fiction | The Social Robot

Check out my most recent article on The Social Robot.
1400 words on the 140 character format.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Glee-Cap: F U, Glee, for making me tear up

Sorry I didn't get this week's Gleecap together terribly quickly, the show did cast focus on a couple of its female characters this week dealing with the harsh concepts of humiliation and reputation. While it had its share of laughs and ARGHS there were two really strong scenes that shed some light on my two favorite characters and even dealt with consequences.
First, Quinn,
While her big scene came at the end of the episode, it once again called attention to Quinn's depth as a character.

Mr. Schuster confronts Quinn privately about a list of Glee Club Members organized by their sluttiness, which had caused the major conflicts in the episode. The scene reveals Quinn's remorse, but also, the complexities of her social situation. She wrote the list in a hope to be seen again, having lost her popularity, social power, her position on the cheerleading squad, her boyfriend, her lover and control over her body to pregnancy. At the time, she thought having a bad reputation would be preferable to being invisible.
"People would part like the red sea when I walked down the hallway..."
"You're going to give that baby to a family that loves it, that really wants it and you're going to go on to do incredible things"
"You really think I can get it all back one day?"

"No, I think you can get something even better, I mean Come on, You're Quinn Febree, those people didn't move down the halls... you moved them."

"Thanks Mr. Shu', you're a really good teacher, even if everyone is calling you a manwhore"
This scene took me by surprise, especially after:

When Rachel decides to use all they guys she's ever tried to have any romantic relationship with in order to make herself seem desirable, or bad. Possibly real teenage behavior, sure, consequences, sure I suppose, but her response still seems... uncomprehending? There is a real distasteful element to using the guys like that, and I hope that there is some note of how using three girls in a video and playing with them like that would be similarly inappropriate, I can't think of a bit that Glee has done previously that did that... just don't break my heart with a double standard, Glee. I compel you, Glee, with the AWESOME POWER OF THE INTERNET, don't break my heart.

Ms. Pillsbury slut-shamed Mr. Schuster– and while slut-shaming of any gender is lame– he did make out with another woman and she's learning to stand up for herself. The funniest thing about Ms. Pillsbury to me is that she's really learning a lot from the cruel criticisms of Sue Sylvester.

Ah Sue, It's time I talked about you.

Sue is a fantastic villain, she has real skills and is an incredible ability to turn a situation to her advantage. Like in this episode, when she faces humiliation for the first time when an embarrassing video of her is posted to YouTube. She skyrockets to Internet infamy and draws the attention of Olivia Newton-John with whom she makes a response video and earns a boatload of cash.

While Sue's methods are ruthless and often involve blackmail, manipulation, cruelty and other terrible means to her ends, one has to love a good villain. The Glee Club learns more from fighting her than they would otherwise, grow in response and become stronger because of it. Her attempts to take them down to save her insanely large cheerleading budget only help turn them into more refined performers.

Sue is aspirational, she speaks her mind (even when her opinions are repulsive) and she IS the holder of national championships with the Cheerios Squad that bring positive attention and funding to the High School. She gets the best lines and she doesn't hide her opinion of people from them, she's brash and honest (even if her opinion of truth is skewed) and she is fearless.
The true magic of Sue's character though, is that the show gives the audience insight into Sue that no one else sees. Sue has a disabled sister who she cares for, dotes on, confides in and adores.
Throughout this and other episodes, we see scenes where she has sincere, sweet moments caring for her sister. While Sue is often comedic, the sincerity she shows with her sister, and in respecting the disabled as people, adds superb depth to her character and to the show.

In another episode, Sue put a disabled girl on the Cheerios Squad and had to face criticism that she was expecting too much of the girl, which bore out as implying that by expecting her to do the same things she expected of other cheerleaders she was somehow being cruel. Her methods proved to be ultimately brilliant, the girl proved to others and to herself she was capable of the same rigor Sue expected of anyone else. That character is still on the Cheerios Squad and is clearly accepted by her peers.

Sue's interactions with her sister do not seem tacked on, though it could easily have seemed that way, but for the magnificent acting of Jane Lynch. Who really loves the character and brings both the comedy and quiet drama out of a character who could easily have become a caricature.

From an interview:

Q. As awful as Sue can be, one of her great moments this year came when she showed tough love for a Down syndrome cheerleader. Was that one of the highlights of the season for you?
Yes. That was the "Wheels" episode. Sue Sylvester's sister, we find out, has Down syndrome and is in a home. It's a more touching episode, and we get to see a softer side of Sue. I think there's a decency to Sue. There were three or four different moments where you saw a kind of a decency and rationality.
Q. But then, in the blink of an eye, she can turn nasty again.
Absolutely. Good Sue is very short-lived. She just really enjoys being an awful person. She really gets great glee, if you will, out of being a terrible person. I think she just really enjoys shocking people.
I love laughing at and with Sue and I love that the same character regularly brings a tear to my eye.

Previous Glee-Caps: The Madonna Episode, Am I Taking Crazy Pills?