Thursday, February 26, 2009

Review of Episode Two of the Dollhouse (ridiculously long)

I am so excited about having a new Joss Whedon TV show (even though I haven't been able to write anything else, because I've been planning this epic review. I may need to make the reviews a little less epic, if I'm going to ever blog about anything but Joss). Even though dollhouse is not great, by any stretch of the imagination, I've missed having a show to watch every week, and there's huge potential.

I thought this episode was a huge step up over the second pilot (and not as good as the script from the pilot that they scrapped, but that's the great minds of Fox executives for you). In particular the main plotline wasn't deathly boring, and there was some connection between that plotline and what we learned about the dollhouse. It seemed to show exactly how much they could fit in an episode, and how much richer the episodes are when they're full.

Plus it seemed more like a Joss show in general, it was more twisty, and the dialogue was snappier ("Four brother, none of the democrats" being the standout line). I thought the crash cut between the shooting of the deer and the sex, was obvious, but in keeping with the themes of the episode.

Clearly the heart of the episode was about Echo's relationship with Boyd, and how he came to see her as human. I thought they tied the threads in together thematically really well, with the violence of Alpha reflecting (and possibly not just metaphorically) the psychopath's mission. We learnt more about how the dollhouse operated quite organically.

Most importantly I really liked that they showed that Echo and Boyd's relationship had started off with him contemptuous of her. To get explicitly political: The dollhouse was trying to divide it's employees - the actives and the minders - by encouraging the minders pre-existing inclination to see the actives as lesser. To see Boyd and Echo overcome that was pretty awesome.

The big question for me is the politics of the engagement. One of the big questions that other people have asked is: 'what makes depicitions of sexual predatory exploitative?' and 'does the fact that the woman wins in the end matter?'. And I can't really comment that much, because I don't watch the crime shows and horror movies where this sort of stuff happens, so I don't really have a feel for the parameters. As a single episode this didn't bother me from that perspective, although I would have a big problem if it happened all the time. But that might change if I knew just how bad things are in the land of TV and movies I don't watch.

The question I was more interested in was about the psychopath. I saw his psychopathic behaviour as a natural extension of buying the perfect woman. If you see people as commodities to be brought to order then of course you want to test them, of course you see them as yours. But another reading could be to see the fact that he's a psychopath as endorsing what went before. "Well it's a problem now he's trying to kill her, but building her to spec is totally shiny."

Having rewatched the ep, I think the show did actively undermine the second reading and support the idea that wanting to buy someone was part of him being a psychopath. In particular, he comes across as creepy from the first moment and his entitled misogyny is apparent from the way he talks about women with Adele. Although any understanding of this episode is challenged by the revelations about the psychopath's connection with Alpha, and my reading could be uncompatible with what will be revealed in future episodes (which was the one thing I didn't like about the way the stories came together, I liked the psychopath as a psychopath and wouldn't like anything to undermine that).

The point of the story turned out to be that Echo overcame her programming in her relationship with Boyd. I think that that, combined with the fact that the psychopath is portrayed as an extension of men who feel entitled to women's bodies, makes me more generous towards the general creepiness of men writing stories about men who want to kill women. But I would be worried if it was going to be like this lots.

Although this episode was much stronger than the pilot, I think the show still has a long way to go. I'm still unconvinced about Eliza Dushku's acting range. Although I don't think the scripts really helped her. The two male fantasy characters she's played in the first two eps are Faith like (you can imagine either one of them saying "I've got mad skills" like Faith to Robin in the final of Chosen). I think she's doing an excellent job as Echo, unimprinted, but I'm not sure about the idea that she can be anyone.

The FBI plotline just goes from bad to worse. You can tell that the writers on dollhouse have spent their entire writing life constructing plotlines where they get to set the rules "Don't touch the Flabotinum in jar C "*, and don't know how to make plots from real life. It's not just that everything they know about cop-shows they've learned from other cop shows. It's not even that they're telling a story about a cop and have no interest in cops and nothing to say about cops (and I've watched the Wire, they've watched The Wire, there's no excuse). It's that they don't seem to care that they're regurgitating scenes we've all seen hundreds of times before.

I actually enjoyed Lasagne girl AKA Mellie. But I was more than a little distracted that this was the woman who was originally cast as November. The casting description called for:

20’s, any ethnicity, beautiful and heavy.
And like a chump I got all excited, just like I did when Kaylee was described as zaftig in the Firefly pilot(and I'm not saying a word about Jewel Staite who was unbelievably awesome as Kaylee). I knew that they'd cast Miracle Laurie, so I wasn't surprised when I saw her, but I still spent most of that scene going "What?". I think it was underlined by the fact that the costuming people appear to have taken the same tack the Buffy people did with Tara "This is a real person, she will wear real people clothes that emphasise her real-ness".**

I forget what the point of this rant was? I'll be interested to see where Mellie goes, but her character will have to develop quite a way before I stop ranting in my head everytime she's on screen.

It was really noticeable to me that this episode did not pass the Bechedel test (none of the female characters talked to each other). More than that the women in Dollhouse don't seem to have relationships with each other, in the way Topher*** and Boyd do (or Boyd and Echo) do. While I'm hopeful that Sierra and Echo will develop some sort of relationship, that'll be long and slow. All the other female characters seem very isolated from each other. But, unlike on say Battlestar Galactica, where you got the feeling there must have been heaps of relationships between women that existed and the show just really wasn't interested in them, I can believe that the women who work in the dollhouse are atomised, it seems like the place that would do that to people. I think that could be interesting, as long as they show the relationships developing over time (and at this point Adele DeWitt and Dr Saunders could have a huge history, but we wouldn't know abuot it).

I'm worried about different things than I was after the first episode. I think this episode showed that they could write an interesting stand-alone story, that we weren't just going to be bored with a procedural of the week.

But, in my head Echo's coming to conciousness would be about forming relationships with other people.**** And in this episode it seems to be about violence. The first sign we had that she remember everything was the horrific-ness of "shoulder to the wheel/do you deserve to live." It seems to undermine the idea that she's overcoming her programming if all she takes with her is something from one of her programmers.

This episode was, for me, still more rocket launchers than emotional resonance.***** The Echo/Boyd plotline was cool, but it didn't hit me in the gut. It was a story about trust and a growing relationship, but it seems strange and unusual, not resonant. I think the premise is very rich in emotional resonance, but mining it might be a challenge, because the leap to ideniify with an Active, or someone's relationship with one, is a big one.

It's frustrating, because the more I watch and think about the dollhouse, the more excited I am about the premise. Because at it's heart it is a criticism of commodification, and (presumably) a statement that people cannot be commodified. It could be an amazing statement about resistance. And I know Joss's work well enough to be reasonably confident that that will be part of the story he's trying to tell (but probably not all of it). I'm just worried that Fox was more into the sex and violence, and not at all into the collective resistance, and they're going to cancel it before we get to see the bits that I'm most interested in.

* A term the Buffy writers coined to refer to the magic plots which they could just make each week since they controlled the whole universe.

** Although the costumes are in general miles better than Buffy, where all the women had ridiculously large wardrobes and wore even more ridiculous and unsuitable clothes (remember when Willow skinned a muppet and wore it for a vest). On Dollhouse the clothes are stylie and all but they also seem to serve the story, rather than just be things the actresses want to wear. Also I've wanted almost every top Adele DeWitt has worn.

*** Confession: I find Topher really engaging. Clearly he's an absolutely asshole, but particularly in his relationship with Boyd, I find him really watchable. I think it's at least partly because he's an archetype Jossian character surrounded mainly by normal people. I've got kind of addicted to people who talk funny and it's nice having one on my TV.

*** I think this is influenced by the unaired pilot, where the first sign we're given that Echo is coming to awareness is that she's grouping with two of the other

***** For those less obsessed than me in the commentary to Innocence Joss said that the two most important things in the work that he does were emotional resonance and rocket-launchers. Innocence certainly has an abundance of both.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Just because it made me cry

I haven't seen Milk, or any of the other films that were nominated for Oscars. But everyone should watch the speech that Dustin Lance Black gave when he won the best original screenplay for Milk:

via Yes Means Yes

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Tomorrow morning this blog will be blacked-out as part of the Internet blackout against S92a. S92a would require that ISPs cut off access to the internet for anyone repeatedly accused (yes that's accused) of breaching copyright. The law will come into force in six days.

I haven't written about s92a as part of my resolution to only write about things where I feel like I've got something to say (Prisons and Joss Whedon at the moment). So instead I'll post a comic:

Friday, February 20, 2009

Joss Extravaganza: Commentary! The Musical (and the Dr Horrible Sing-a-long-blog DVD)

So continuing my Joss extravaganza I thought I'd review the Dr Horrible DVD, and most importantly Commentary! The Musical.

For those of you who don't know, Dr Horrible's Singalong Blog was Joss Whedon's internet musical phenomena of last year. I don't think it's Joss's best work, but it has some very funny moments.*

The DVD came out just before Christmas, and is absolutely awesome. It's geared very much to the focused fan, with lots of very difficult to find easter eggs (I'm lazy so I just went on-line and found all sorts of pretty things). There's everything you could expect a commentary and making of documentary.

But there's also "Commentary! The Musical", which is what you're sound. If you're a Joss fan I'd recommend getting the DVD even if you didn't like Dr Horrible, because Commentary! The Musical is awesome. They rarely talk about what's actually going on on screen, so it's less a commentary and more a musical radio play, without much of a plot.

But the song are brilliant. Most importantly to me is the song about the writers strike. Clearly Joss songs about strikes are my favourite things.

Most of the rest of the songs are about the personas that various creative people involved take on. Felicia Day's overactive brain is as hilarious as Zak Whedon's who wants to be street wise. Although Nathan Fillion as a self-important asshole is funnier than bother of them (his song is called "Better than Neil, and is just as great as you'd think it would be).

Like the greatest silly humour it's extremely random - there's a song dedicated to the iphone game Ninja ropes. And another song which is about itself ("It has internal rhyme, but not in every instance and the meter is occasionally a little bit bizarre)."

Most of the humour is silly and hilarious (there's a great Nathan joke which revolves around the hammer being his bpenis). But there's also some good satire. Maurissa Tancharoen (one of the co-writers and one of the groupies) sings "Nobody's Asian in the Movies", which I love as much for it's faux resolution as anything else.

Although one of the people who co-wrote Commentary! The Musical, has executive produced 4 TV shows, and written and directed a movie. This gave him some power to determine how many Asians there were on movies and TV. Buffy was on for seven seasons and 144 episodes - and the largest recurring Asian part was Chao-Ahn, a Chinese potential slayer. One of Cordelia's friends was played by an Asian actress, but she was a very minor character. And that's it, in seven seasons (and if I've missed anyone it's someone who was as part was as minor as the Cordette). Angel had precisely one recurring Asian character (Gavin) and Firefly/Serenity had no Asian characters at all (as far as I can tell from imdb - there might have been a small one shot). Writing funny songs about problems is a lot less impressive if you have had the power to do something about those problems and didn't.

Then finally there's Joss's song about creation itself:

I think cavemen probably did get asked why they used the colour red. The division between artist and audience is a new concept, as it was only possible or expected due to the development of one to many technologies such as the printing press, radio, TV etc. That's now been reversed by the many to many technology of the internet. To reify one sort of relationship as the natural state between artists and audience to ignore the material basis for these relationships.**

After listening to Commentary! The Musical, I've decided that should dollhouse fail I want Joss to make an internet radio show. That way I'd get my serial storytelling from him, and it wouldn't need to be massively resource intensive, the way an internet (or actual) TV show is.

* I've been thinking about Penny and the feminist implications of her character. I think I've decided I don't mind the story from that point of view. Jane Espenson makes a great point on her blog that dramatic characters are intentionally funny and comedic characters are unintentionally funny. Penny makes jokes - she's a dramatic character in a comedic series. For me that works with the idea that these ridiculous men are fighting over her (it just doesn't make the story any more resonant with me).

** I still haven't decided how serious this paragraph is, if I figure it out I'll let you know.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Joss Extravaganza continued - the problem with the comic books

I've really enjoyed the Buffy comics, even though I stopped reviewing them. After a while there are so many ways you can say "It's great that Buffy had sex with someone that I don't hate so much I would like to pickle them in brine, but do they have to draw all the women looking the same?"

What draws me back to talking about the Buffy comics isn't the series itself (although it's getting really interesting and exciting), but the letters column at the back of last month's issue (the Harmony issue for those who subscribe). The last letter in the column said:

I'm not loving the way the characters are drawn. I know they're comics and that's how men typically draw women in comics, but why does Buffy have such a tiny waist and such large breasts? Seeing the way she was drawn in #10 was a real let down; Buffy looked more like Heidi Montag of Jenna Jameson than Buffy. I don't have anything against a tiny Waist (I have one myself!) or large breasts (okay, those I don't have, as most women with tiny waists don't have naturally. But it was disappointing to see Buffy have an unrealistic, unattainable, Barbie-esque body type. I don't understand why Buffy's looks are clearly modelled after Sarah Michelle Gellar, but someone decided to inflate her chest.

I wish I had a scanner so I could show you the image she was talking about, but I'm sure you can imagine it. I want to draw attention to how specific the author's point is. You could write, but all she is saying that in the comics female character's waists have got smaller and their breasts have got larger.

You can tell the reply is going to be full of weasaling because Scott Allie immediately turns over the replyto one of the few women who work on the comics.* Sierra Huhn an assisstant editor spends the first few sentances blathering on about how Buffy is much better than other comics, because the women don't have big breasts and itty-bitty waists (she clearly didn't look at the first frame of #10 before she wrote that.

She ends with the mealy mouthed "The last thing we want is for anyone who reads this comic, or works on this comic, to feel like we're in the business of exploiting women" (acutally the last thing she says is 'yay Buffy means more women read comics', which is so irrelevant that I'm ignoring it). Which is nice side-stepping what was actually brought up (the original letter didn't mention exploitative. It's also an interesting rhetorical technique when the facts are against you (the way women look in the comics is limited and emphasises extreme hour glass figures) you say "I don't mean to make people feel that way" - shifting the topic from what exists to other people's feelings.

But it's in the middle that she gets really offensive:
It's true most of the characters are attractive (have you seen the show?), and thin (Slayers ahve to follow a pretty strenuous exercise program...just saying'...), and sometimes Buffy may be more buxom from one issue to the next. It happens. But not unrealistically so, and not all the time.
Because we all know training regiemes give women large breasts and small waists (you think slayers spend hours doing the "I must, I must, I must, increase my bust arm thrusts?). It's a ridiculous and insulting answer to a serious question.

That's not even what I object most to what she says. It's that she's stepping on the greatest moment of the history of TV.

Those of you who watched the show will remember Buffy's last speech. For those who don't Buffy is talking about doing a spell to share her slayer power, with all the potentials all around the world (it's way cooler than I can make it sound in a sentence). And as she was doing this there is a series of images of girls becoming slayers, at school, at home, and on a baseball diamond. It means a lot more if you've watched the show, but you get the idea.

One of the slayers is fat. She isn't not-skinny, she isn't hollywood fat, she isn't a size twelve, she takes up space. And she stands up and uses her body and her strength to stop stops the man who is trying to hurt her. Meanwhile we hear Buffy's voice saying "Everyone who can stand up; will stand up."

Why haven't we seen her in the Season 8 comics yet? Don't tell me that she started a strenuous exercise programme and now she's got a tiny waist (her boobs would presumably be the same size) and is one of the many identical looking slayers you see in the background, because I will hurt you.

* There have been eleven men and one women involved in producing the art of the comics (that's pencils inks colours and letters) and five men and one woman have written scripts. Jo Chen does most of the covers, and the designer has always been female. Listed in the front is three editorial staff and a publisher. The Publisher and Editor are both male, but usually one of the editorial staff is female. I say this not because I necessarily think the comics would look any different if they had more women involved in their creation, but to point out that given how few women are involved in producing the comics to put one forward to justify the way women's bodies are drawn is tokenism of the worst sort.

** Random piece of Buffy trivia - that was the last shot of Buffy Joss ever shot.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ghost - Dollhouse Episode Review

So Joss Whedon has a new show. I've already reviewed the premise. On Saturday night I sat down with my best friend Betsy incredibly excited that I was again watching a Joss Whedon show.

And I was disappointed.

I liked the opening, even though, or perhaps because, it was ridiculous. Clearly I don't find male fantasies that involve motorbike chases and barely present dresses interesting, but it was clearly framed as being a fantasy. And I thought the opening did a really good job of portraying how creepy it was that she went from being this person to being blank. It seemed clear to me what they were taking away from her.

I also really liked the characters who work in the dollhouse. I liked the relationship between Topher (the computer geek) and Boyd (the handler). For the time being the relationships between the people who work in the dollhouse are going to be the main on-going relationships in the show. I think the work they're doing is repugnant, but that doesn't mean that they're not interesting.

I'm interested in what happens to the dolls in their blank state, and thought it was very well done. There have been lots of people question the politics of the show, but I'm not one of them. I'm fascinated with the idea of a story about people who have been so atomised and commodified. The first glimmerings of Echo's self-awareness "I don't remember what fell on me?" and her recognition of Sierra, are great.

Less great, more ridiculous, was the cliched FBI fight argument/kick boxing match. Clearly FBI agents arguing with their superiors is a hard scene to understand on TV, so we needed a second depiction of this where Tahmoh Penikett was shirtless for no reason.

But my main objection to the episode was it's plotline (which is not an incidental part of an episode of TV). Initially I thought the biggest problem with it was that it was deathly boring. If I wanted to watch a procedural about a child being kidnapped I'd watch Without a Trace.

I said in my concept review that I thought it might be difficult for the episodes of the week to engage me. Having watched the first episode I think this may be a bigger problem than I realised. Because the engagements are all going to be about meeting the needs of the obscenely wealthy. And while I do think you can tell interesting stories about the obscenely wealthy, I think it takes work that was missing from this episode.

But my problem with the kidnapping plotline ran deeper. The character that Echo was imprinted with included parts of a woman who had been kidnapped and sexually abused by one of the kidnappers.* Others have commented on the clichedness of this plotline. But I would go further, I would say that it was horrific.

The dollhouse gave a Echo memories of being sexually abused as a child in order to make her a better tool. In doing so they were taking memories from someone who had killed herself because of them. They were doing something obscene both to the woman who hadn't been able to survive those memories, and to Eleanor Penn, who was suffering from these memories they had created.

None of this was given any particular time or weight - they were just plot points, not what the episode was about. I don't think there's anything wrong with telling a story about someone who is imprinted with memories of childhood abuse. But I think if you're going to tell a story where someone is imprinted with memories of child sexual abuse to meet a man's need, then you have to say something about it. Otherwise your using that sexual abuse narratively in the same way Topher is.

I think I saw glimmers of that - Eleanor Penn calling herself a Ghost. But it wasn't central enough, and it wasn't thought through.

I know this episode was probably written in a hurry, as Joss decided Fox needed a new pilot. I understand that there wasn't time to get the script of this episode right, and I'm optimistic that the episodes will get better. But I'm worried about the lack of judgement in including sexual abuse in the opening plotline, when they didn't have time to think it through.**

When my friend and I finished watching it we talked about authenticity and identity until three in the morning. I still think the show is fascinating. But I'm worried about the weekly plotlines.

* Given that Topher did not know who were the kidnappers were this is a coincidence of the laziest sort.

** It seems to me the same sort of 'sexual abuse as plot point' which led to Spike trying to rape Buffy so they could develop his character, and not ever try and say anything about the effect of the sexual assault on Buffy.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Joss Extravaganza Day 2: Premise Review of Dollhouse

So in a few hours Dollhouse will air in the US, sometime after that I will get my hands on the pilot and review that. But I thought, before I did that, I would review the premise of the dollhouse, bec. There are no plot spoilers here for any of the episodes.

For those who aren't crazy obsessed with Joss Whedon (what's wrong with you?) the idea of the Dollhouse is that an evil corporation (see I'm with them already) has people who can be programmed with any personality and ability. The actives (as the imprintable people are known) spend any time when they're not being someone else living in the dollhouse, a very controlled spa. They are supposed to remember nothing of who they are or what they've done. The actives may or may not have volunteered (and in what sense their volunteering involves meaning consent is left very open).

I'll have to admit that when I first heard of the premise I was very sceptical. Why would you care about the dolls? The whole point of television is that you grow to care, love and massively over-identify with characters. If Echo is a new person each week then why do I care

I think there are a couple of reasons I'm no longer worried about that. The minor one is that the non-doll characters seem interesting and engaging. The major one is that I've seen the metaphor - and I'm not sure how I missed it at first.

Joss has described the sort of questions he is asking as about identity, what makes us who we are, what is imprinted by society. And, of course, the main plotline is that Echo (Eliza Dushku's character) is starting to become aware, not as blank as she seems.

And that, though I imagine it will have to be reasonably slow for there still to be a show, is fascinating. So while I remain unconvinced that I'll be that into the procedural episodes of the week aspect of it (this week Eliza Dushku has ninja skills in a circus, but something goes wrong), I think there will be enough else that I love to make me stick around (apparently the episodes start quite stand-alone about engagements and eventually become much more about the dollhouse itself).

The other big question, that has got some attention, about the dollhouse, is the politics of the thing. Or more specifically the gender politics of the thing. The people who were always praising Joss for writing strong female characters, are now criticising him for writing a woman who is powerless in an absolute kind of way. In an article on npr dollhouse was called the anti-Buffy.

Now my love for Joss has never been that he wrote female characters that could beat people up. I love Joss because he wrote female characters that had relationships with each other and who fought misogyny in various forms.

And I don't think there's anything wrong with writing about women who have no power, because there are lots of women have no power. In fact I think it's anti-feminist to write as if it's all happy and awesome and women are free and equal, because that's dishonest. I worry that some of the sorts of criticisms that get dished out on-line, like criticising battlestar for the number of women who die. Women die because of misogyny all the time, and to engage with and depict that is a feminist choice.

Clearly, the point of showing someone so powerless is so that she can come to a realisation of her own power. The point of showing someone so controlled by others is that she can take control. And I think that's an important story to tell.

The final hesitation, is that a chunk of what the dolls are doing is sex, and sex that is quite clearly non-consensual. I have no problems with TV depicting non-concensual sex as long as they let it be creepy. And I think the dollhouse is supposed to be creepy. But that's not necessarily enough. Nothing Joss Whedon's done before about prostitution or non-concensual sex fills me with confidence in his ability to do this.* But the way he has been talking about it has made me feel that there's some hope, and he may have thought this through more than the things I found objectionable in Buffy and Firefly. Apparently Fox wanted him to tone down the sexual themes:

"My problem has always been, what happens is that you get the corporations basically enjoying the titillation of the thing instead of wanting to baldly talk about it," he says. "We really wanted to hit it in the face and say, well, what does it mean? Is it wrong to pay somebody to have sex? How wrong is it to try to create your own perfect experience? When is it appalling? And when is it a part of people becoming increasingly incapable of dealing with other people and living these incredibly insular lives?"

I'm really excited about the show, anyway. I think it's going to be fantastic, the ideas are interesting, the cast seems great, and it's Joss. Watch it tonight if you're in America, I'll let you know what I think of the pilot as soon as I get to see it.

*Clearly there is not time in this post for the problems with how ill thought through Inara's character's position was. There is also not time in this lifetime to describe all the problems of Buffy/Spike in season seven.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Joss extravaganza

So as I said, I'm going to take a break from writing about abolishing prisons and ending violence against women, to write about something else, which is almost as important to me: Joss Whedon.

His new show, Dollhouse, airs tomorrow in the states (well technically it's today, the timezones get complicated, anyway I'll watch it in my tomorrow). So in honour of that I thought I'd put together some of the awesome things Joss Whedon has written or said - a 'loving Joss for beginners'. There's heaps more - I've kind of left out the funny and focused on the awesomely political. But I need to go to bed.


"But that's not the point. There's always a name. Lincoln. Hitler. Ghandi. The name can inspire terror, awe, sometimes great things. But there's milions of people go into making a name. People facing things they couldn't imagine they would. In the moments that matter even our own names are just sounds people make to tell us apart. What we are isn't that.

The real questions run deeper. Can I fight? Did I help? Did I do for my Sisters? My comrades, children, slim slug clan... There's a chain between each and every one of us. And like the man said you either feel its tug or you ignore it. I tried to feel it I tried to face the darkness like a woman and I don't need any more than that."
-The Chain, Buffy Season 8

"Dateline September 2007, things are looking grim in the negotiations between the writers and the studios. AMPTP spokesman Nicholas Counter says quote I will grind the writers guild into a fine paste cut it with baby powder and sell it to underprivileged kids end quote."
Commentary the Musical (there's a strike song, who knew I'd ever get a Joss strike song?)

"You know what? I was wrong. You are an idiot. My life happens to, on occasion, suck beyond the telling of it. Sometimes more than I can handle. And it's not just mine. Every single person down there is ignoring your pain because they're too busy with their own."
- Buffy, Earshot (I know Jane Espenson wrote the episode, but this speech was Joss)

"Get the word out, remind everyone that corporate greed (it's nothing but) is hurting everyone in this country. Not just because they're robbing people of entertainment (and, on occasion, art) and strangling an entire (non-writing) community, but because they're sending a message to every union in the country: you're next. The actors know that in their case, it's literally true, but it's also true for the concept of a unionized workforce. We get a lot of flack for being well-fed, glamorous, rich and powerful. We've worked hard to dispel that stereotype but in fact, a select few of us are wealthy and influential. And we have the support of some of the most famous and beloved (and wealthy and influential) people in the country: TV and movie stars! So the fact that the studios feel perfectly comfortable SPITTING IN OUR FACES in front of the whole world cannot bode well for any other union that works under them -- or under anyone who sees how easy it is to deny the basic rights of workers even so public as we. This is bad for writers, bad for actors, teamsters, teachers, nurses, dockworkers... the shape of this country is changing. The middle class is being squeezed out. We're trundling back to the middle ages, people, and all we can do is lie there and take it.

But of course, that's not what's going to happen. The studios mean to starve us out. They can't. We know what's at stake. We take care of our own, and those around us who aren't our own."
- At Whedonesque on the writers strike.

"It's the only way. For our planet, for our people. For every mother holding her newborn child.

"I don't want it to have my name on it if it doesn't reflect what I want to say. Because once you get to the position of actually getting to say something, which is a level most writers never even get to, and is a great blessing, you then have to worry about what it is you're actually saying. I don't want some crappy reactionary show under the Buffy name. If my name's going to be on it, it should be mine. Now, the books I have nothing to do with, and I've never read them. They could be, "Buffy realized that abortion was wrong!" and I would have no idea. So, after my big, heartfelt, teary speech, I realize that I was once again lying. But I sort of drew the line. I was like, "I can't possibly read these books!" But my name just goes on them as the person who created Buffy."
- Interview with The Av Club

"You have gross emotional problems and things are not OK between us."*
- Willow, Innocence (I've always kind of wanted to say this to someone, which if you think about it is one of the most stupid ambitions ever. My life needs less emo dramas not more.)

Crochet Me interviewer: "So, crafty people often feel like they have to let their materials behave and become what they want to be, even if it's not what we had in mind to begin with. Do you feel that's somewhat similar sometimes in how you write characters and plot lines?"

Joss: "You're going to need to meet the materials halfway. Yes, you definitely want every skein of yarn to do exactly what you have in mind, but they never will. And that's part of what makes it beautiful. That's part of what makes it not working in a factory. And every actor is going to bring something to the party, and I'm going to embrace what they're bringing as fucking hard as I can as long as it doesn't hurt the narrative, so that it becomes something more than just an idea I had that somebody acted out. You have to remember that if the thing isn't slightly out of control, it ain't art. Or [muffled] craft."
- Interview with Crochet Me (I actually just included this one because I knit and it excites me to year of Joss talk of yarn)

"With me? You mean to say, as, sex? Hell with this. I'm going to live."
-Kaylee, Serenity

"Well, you know, I'm sure I'm going to bring down News Corp with Dollhouse. Hmmm—maybe you shouldn't quote that. I'm not a huge fan of Mr. Murdoch's politics, God knows, or his methods. But I've been at Fox on and off for practically the whole of my career. Am I the biggest hypocrite in the world for taking their money? Am I doing any good? Or am I working for Wolfram and Hart?"
- Interview with Mother Jones (listen to it it's awesome, even though the interviewer is idiotic enough to ask Joss who he thinks has suffered more the black man or the white woman).

"In every generation one Slayer is born because a bunch of guys that died thousands of years ago made up that rule. They were powerful men. (points to Willow) This woman is more powerful than all of them combined. So I say we change the rules. I say my power should be our power. Tomorrow Willow will use the essence of this scythe, that contains the energy and history of so many Slayers, to change our destiny. From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Who can stand up, will stand up. Every one of you, and girls we've never known, and generations to come... they will have strength they never dreamed of, and more than that, they will have each other. Slayers. Every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?"
- Buffy, Chosen (Shooting Script)

And finally there's this:

(Transcript here)

Some further thoughts on othering and a break

While I've enjoyed the prison series I have been writing (although not as regularly as I intended to), I've felt that there's a tendancy in my writing to get more and more insular, and get obsessed with exactly what I mean and don't mean. Which is interesting to a point, but I want to go further in this series than doing that would allow. So after this post I'm going to take a break from writing about prisons for a week or two (specifically timed so I can write about the glories of Joss Whedon and his new TV series), so I can come back and stop working on things I've felt like I've said before.

I do want to write a bit of follow-up to my previous post othering rapists, which generated a bit of discussion. Some commenters asked, in a gotcha kind of a way, what this meant for my attitude towards Clint Rickards, or rapists I knew.

How to deal with rapists is a basic question for this series. What would actual justice look like? How can those who have been raped get what they need? What hope is there for change? What about men who don't want to change?

I wasn't trying to answer any of those questions in my previous post. I wasn't thinking about our attitude towards men who have raped, but our construction of rapist. I think how we deal with actual rapists is a vital and complicated question. But the way we construct rapists at the moment, as a dangerous other, doesn't reflect how people react to actual rapists.

There was a suggestion on kiwipolitico that arguing that rapists are not strange scary other people, means accepting and normalising rape. Quite the opposite, the only way to fight rape is to face it as it exists, not as we construct it. The first step to un-normalising rape, is acknowledging it is currently normalised.

Finally there was an awesome discussion of those on labellementeuse's Live Journal. Which I suggest you check out. There was a particularly good discussion there about whether or not it's perfectly legitimate for women to other rapists, as the vast majority of abuse is perpetuated by men. I hope I've made it clearer where I stand with my discussion of the difference between how we treat actual rapists, and our idea of rapists, but I recommend checking out the discussion.

Battlestar Galactica (Spoiler Free)

Political bloggers tend to be geeks. So there has been lots of discussion of Battlestar Galactica among American blogs recently. Including a series of letters to the editor of fleet newspapers about the latest events in season four.

I wrote my own letter to the editor over at Alas. I won't post it here, because obviously many people won't have seen the new episodes. But if you have (or dont' mind spoilers) my view of the BSG world is here.

Note please keep discussion in this thread only to episodes that have aired in New Zealand.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

On being the butt of the joke

I was on the bus this afternoon when I got a text from Julie (my co-blogger from The Hand Mirror):

Hey is everything ok? Farrar has mentioned something about u getting arrested this week
I replied:

What? Where? Only excitement I've had this week is getting a warrant for my car
Which reflected my thought process pretty exactly.

She called me (which was really good, because I have no credit on my phone) and said DPF had twittered that he was wondering if Maia was going to be arrested this week.

I didn't think I was going to be arrested this week. I couldn't think of any reason to be arrested this week as opposed to any other week. I tried to think of a protest that I might be going on, and I couldn't think of one. I've spent quite a lot of time challenging the police these last few years. I couldn't rule out that they'd arrest me for something related (maybe DPF had a source in the solicitor generals office).

I was nowhere near a computer and I was going to get home for hours. I wanted to see the context, check the news, find out what was going on, but I couldn't.

I texted a whole bunch of people, and waited nervously for replied. One friend rang me, and confirmed about the twitter: "I also checked the news and there's nothing breaking about anything you've been involved in, or anything you might have been involved in, or anything the police might have mistakenly thought you've been involved in."

He offered to ring DPF, and I said yes. At this point I just wanted to know what was going on.

A few minutes later my friend rang back, he no logner sounded concerned:
It's all right. I should have guessed. He was talking about Maia from Shortland Street
. And so now everyone is making fun of me.*

I'm not sure what the moral of this story is. Pick from the following:
  1. Try and avoiding sharing a name, or pseudyom with a character on a major Television show.*
  2. Try to keep up with general knowledge and pop culture, you never know when you may need it.
  3. Social networking sites have more pitfalls than you ever dreamed of.
  4. It's better safe than sorry.

*They might be making a little less fun of me if I didn't sort of make a habit of this sort of thing. A while ago I thought there was a serious chance of being arrested any day (I'll leave long time readers of the blog to try and figure out when that might have been). I was living alone and didn't want to get arrested and no-one know that it happened. So each night I set up a text message to ten of my friends saying: "police here, if you don't have another text message in ten minutes assume I am arrested." (You know where this is going right?) But I was tired, I wasn't going to bed early enough and I was finding it hard to get up. My alarm would go off and I'd hit the snooze button. So I stumbled out of bed, picked up my cell phone and accidentally pushed one of the buttons.

I watched the little sending message screen, and I couldn't make it stop. While I was writing a text message explaining what happened, my phone kept beeping with replies, and my home phone rang. Opps

* Talking of which, one of those arrested in the police raids in 2007 is called Omar. I watched the Wire alone, but because I like to talk about TV when I watched it I sent random text messages to my friend Larry who had lent me the DVDs. I started to worry that if the police were collecting my text messages they could completely misunderstand "I love Omar, he fucks shit up."

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The wafer thin line

To follow on from my last post (and some comments on it at The Hand Mirror), I wanted to outline more what I meant by a wafer thin line between opposing prisons and supporting convictions in some cases (not actually deconstruct it yet, just draw where it might be).

As I think I've said before, I've believed in prison abolition for years. In my early 20s I read Jessica Mitford's Kind and Usual Punishment, and was utterly convinced by her argument about the impossibility of prison reform. As I became more of an activist my analysis developed, until I thought I was pretty solidly anti-prison.

Then I actually went to a prison (or four). Now my opposition to prisons is total and visceral. I can barely read stories about prison in the news. I struggle to concentrate as I follow state highway one past Arohata. I couldn't write a post about Brad Shipton not getting parole, because I couldn't say that I thought he should stay in prison.


Before, and still, prison abolition is not the total of my politics. The (in)justice system shapes the way we talk about and understand rape, and it has huge impact on women who have been raped (whether or not they make a complaint). I believe that this impact is almost all negative. I think that if I wished away the prison system by magic tomorrow, then what would be left would be better for rape survivors than what we have now.

I no longer feel any ambivalance about jail itself. I hate jail and don't want anyone to go there ever. But sometimes, although rarely, I think a conviction is important even though it might result in jail.

When? Here's my list:

  • Police Officers
  • Rapists who use a consent defence
  • Police officers who use a consent defence to rape (for the avoidance of doubt, as we used to write in agreement negotiations).
There are possibly other examples, mostly around provocation defences to murder.

I want to make clear that even though I support (I'm not even sure that's the word I'm looking for maybe, hope for, wish for, don't oppose would be better) convictions in those cases, that doesn't mean i support the sentances that sometimes follow.

I'm not going to make any grand conclusions about why. I want to explore that in more depth in the rest of the series. I just wanted to make clear that though the line may be wafer thin, what's on the other side of it is very small.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Oriwa Kemp

Nia Glassie's life and death should not be measured by the length of the prison sentences handed out to those against her. I've made that argument in general, and I make it now, in particular.

She doesn't come back, whether the collective jail time is the minimum of 42 years, or a much larger maximum, her life doesn't get any better.

I don't believe, I don't imagine anyone can believe, that the sentances will act as a deterrant. Whatever the cause of Nia Glassie's death it certainly wasn't

In 17 and a half years (a little less for time served) Michael and Wiremu Curtis will become eligible for parole, they won't even be forty yet. They'll get out. They will probably get partners, their partners may have kids. Prison, years of being controlled and brutalised, won't have made them any less violent and so they will probably beat up their partners, and their partners' kids.*

Murdering a child is horrific, I have actually been able to read very little about the case, because when I get to "clothes dryer" my brain turns off. But prison isn't a line that ends it all. It is part of a system that perpetuates it all.

None of that was what I meant to say, when I decided to write about the sentencing. What I wanted to write about was the sentences given to Oriwa Kemp.

Oriwa Kemp was 17 when she was in a relationship with Michael Curtis, and he was beating her up.

I started this series at least partly in response to feminists who get outraged at short jail terms. I wanted to explore what jail is and what it does, and why I think supporting it, even in that limited sense was not part of women's liberation.** I haven't really done that yet (although I hope to).

But Oriwa Kemp, who has already been in jail for over a year, and has more time to serve, who is in jail because of a relationship where she was being abused, her story should stand as a warning to any feminist who upholds the jail system.

* None of this is inevitable. I don't want to dismiss the possibility of change. But change is much more likely outside of prison as inside it.

** I also wanted to explore the wafer-thinness between my line of supporting convictions, and will hopefully still do that too.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Othering rapists

Wellington City Council are up with the mid 1990s and currently running a campaign called "Safe in The City." Anita wrote about this campaign at Kiwipolitico. I'd seen the comment thread referred to as interesting - although I didn't realise until I went there it was interesting in the sense that you curse someone by wishing them 'interesting times'. If you feel like seeing the depth of denial about rape culture you could check that thread out (there are some really useful comments in there, but they have to fight through people claiming that "women can't rape men" and people denying that they'd ever know a rapist).

The claim that Anita made that so incensed the commenters on that thread as:

The reality is that we all know people who rape, just as we all know people who have been raped. I’m talking about the fact some of the people we know have raped people they know, and they way they’ve talked about sex and dates and partners so we’ve had every opportunity to hear that true consent isn’t an issue for them.
Given the figures I discussed recently about the number of male college students in the US who have admitted to raping someone, and that studies of New Zealand women show a similar rape prevelance to other areas, what Anita said should be uncontroversial.

But rhetorical rapists abound in that thread, and understanding of rape as it's experienced by women is lacking (despite women disclosing their own experiences).

The belief that rapists are different from normal people is linked with the idea that prison can solve rape. This connection was made explicit on the thread by one commenter who says that if he knew anyone he knew was a rapist, that'd be one more rapist behind bars. As I've said before, this line is a basic of upholding the prison system. As long as rapists, along with other 'criminals' are scary others - the reality of the prison system need not concern most people.

This idea is dangerous because when people hear that one of their male friends has been accused of raping one of their female friends, then in order to believe their female friend something has to give. Either people abandon their idea that rapists are all 'bad people' or they abandon the idea that their friend is a good person. But often neither of these things happen, and instead this person (who had been rigorously berating the evils of rape) doesn't believe the woman who was raped.

Rapists don't have horns, sonic signals, or anything else that identifies them. Talking about rape as if they do doesn't help fight rape, and it doesn't help get any form of justice.

* As a side point I've been meaning to write about these ads for a while and could never figure out what to say. While I agree with all the points Anita makes, I think "stick with the girls" is less punitive and more likely to work than the vast majority of anti-rape advice that is given to women. Clearly there is an undertone of "don't have a one night stand you slut." But "marginally less awful policing of women's behaviour" isn't exactly a blog post waiting to happen.