Crossplay vs. the SJW Agenda?

I was recently inspired to write this as a response to some good friends of mine who received some… let’s say, unusual flack for a couple of costumes they made. Without giving away too much information pertaining to anyone’s identities, said friends are part of a planned group cosplay where we’ve made a bunch of female character costumes that are going to be worn by very obviously male cosplayers. After announcing and displaying the finished costumes on social media, an acquaintance of my friends decided to take it upon their-self and confront my friends about it, saying they were questioning my friends’ motives behind this group cosplay and whether it’s “for the right reasons.” Basically, this person (who is not transgendered), thought my cis-male friends were going to offend (specifically) transgendered people by dressing in female characters’ costumes.

One of my first “Crossplay” Costumes. Am I being offensive as Tuxedo Mask?

There is quite a bit to unpack in this situation, but one thing that bothers me the most is how this person, (and some folks in general) seem to think it’s no longer okay to cosplay as a character you don’t resemble. One of the core ideas behind cosplay is to emulate someone you’re not. Crossplay (dressing up as a character whose gender is different from the one you identify as) is even a time-honored tradition in the cosplay community, but suddenly, in the name of political correctness, a man can’t dress as a female character because it might offend someone. I mean, why stop there? By that logic, I should no longer dress as Tracer (Overwatch) because I’m American and not British or Raven (Teen Titans) because I’m 32 and not a teenager. By telling someone they can’t dress as a specific character because they identify as something different than that character is taking away the reason why people like to cosplay in the first place. We cosplay because we want to emulate characters we love, regardless of whether we physically resemble them.

Going back to the issue of possibly offending anyone transgendered in the costuming community, I really have to wonder: wouldn’t conflating cross-dressing with transgendered be more offensive? A transgendered person generally wants to embody and appear as the gender that they identify as, do they not? So would a man who is crossplaying as a female character really offend a trans cosplayer? To even go a step further, my friends who are dressing in these costumes have no intention of trying to pose as trans or anyone other than themselves.

A woman wearing a fake beard: unacceptable behavior? Or just proving to the world how much I resemble my dad?

It also only appears to be men dressing as feminine characters that this acquaintance of my friends apparently has a problem with; women dressing as male characters get a pass. Now that’s a whole other issue about gender politics that can honestly have a whole post by itself, so I won’t dive into it here. I guess I thought that the cosplay/costuming community was supposed to be based in inclusion, and dressing up was supposed to be about having fun with friends and doing things you enjoy. Maybe I’m just way off base.

UPDATE: Review of Full ‘Ghostbusters’ (2016) Film

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Several months ago I wrote an article on my reservations with the new Ghostbusters film that was released this year, and now (after finally getting around to just renting the movie on Amazon Video) I’d like to review my opinion on the subject.

To start off: was this a feminist breakthrough that some had hoped? Frankly, no. At the very least, the movie hits the lowest bar for making a movie “feminist,” in that it passes the Bechdel test. Other than that, I wouldn’t say it was particularly feminist. Does that make it a poor representation of women in a movie? Not by a long shot. What I’m saying is that it skates by just over the bar. It’s neither misogynistic nor overtly feminist. To be completely honest, it’s what would be a completely normal, unremarkable action comedy (that just happens to star women), if seeing a movie starring all women outside of the rom-com genre were more normal. I’ll give it some credit for lightly dancing around some issues women face today, like not being taken seriously as professionals, but the film doesn’t really delve into the problems enough to make a splash.

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My biggest fear after originally watching the trailer was that the film was going to be a “all girls” gimmick. After watching the film in full (the extended cut, even), I’m at least satisfied that the film avoided being a total “Ghostbusters, but for girls!” gimmick. As I mentioned in my previous point, if it weren’t so unusual to see an all-female-led action comedy, Ghostbusters (2016) would be pretty standard fare.

And for the million-dollar question: did I enjoy the movie? Yes, yes I did. It was amusing, and I really enjoyed Kate McKinnon’s Holtzmann and Leslie Jones’ Patty, especially Holtzmann. Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig’s characters were goofy at best (not really my cup of tea, comedy-wise), but I could still relate to them having also grown up as one of the weird kids in grade school. Was it the best or funniest movie I’ve seen all year? Eh, not so much. Would I watch it again? Yeah, it was pretty good. Overall, I agree with this Washington Post article that the whole project would have ultimately been better off as an new, original franchise (as opposed to a rehash of something successful 30 years ago).

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One thing I did notice, something I haven’t heard anyone talking about online much (post links to articles about it in the comments if I’m wrong), is that I think this film was actually set in the same universe as the original 1984 Ghostbusters film. The trailer hinted at it, but then everything else, from the cameos of original movie’s actors to the fact that no one seemed to remember the city being nearly destroyed by the Stay Puft man in the ’80s, pointed towards this being a complete reboot of the franchise.

My fan theory hinges on something one of the government agents told the Ghostbusters when they were first called to the mayor’s office: “the cat has been out of the bag before, and yet, people loose interest and put it back in.” 1984 and Mr. Stay Puft happened, but everyone lost interest and forgot. That’s why Peter Venkman is now a paranormal debunker under the false name “Martin Heiss.” He either lost faith in the truth when everyone turned against the original Ghostbusters or was paid off by the government to suppress the truth. Egon, Ray, and Winston moved on with their lives, possibly changing their names to avoid public ridicule. Egon got a new job back at Columbia University and became a well-known professor with his bust on display in the physics department. Ray and Winston sought out new careers, as a NYC cabbie and the owner of a funeral home. Meanwhile, Dana under the false name “Rebecca Gorin,” decided to pursue paranormal science out of the lime light, ultimately ending up as Holtzmann’s mentor.

But hey, what do I know? It’s just a theory.

Yahtzee!: A look at Harley Quinn as portrayed in pre-New 52 media

Harley_Quinn_0015Image from DC Database

Dr. Harleen Quinzel is a woman of many faces. Depending on the author(s) behind her, she can be merely the Joker’s lovesick fangirl or a brilliant villain/anti-hero with invaluable in-depth knowledge of the human psyche. Because of the former, she can be dismissed as a misguided idiot suffering from battered person syndrome (or even described as a character that promotes domestic abuse), but I am here to tell you that because of the latter, she can be so much more than that.

Originally created by writer Paul Dini and artist Bruce Timm as a one-off Joker henchwoman for the Batman: the Animated Series episode “Joker’s Favor,” she ended up being well-liked enough (by audiences or creators… or both) that Dini and Timm expanded her role by making her a recurring character on the show, as well as giving her a back story in the stand alone graphic novel Mad Love (which was later adapted into an episode of the animated series in its fourth season).

HqImage from Batman: The Animated Series Wiki

In her initial incarnation throughout the run of Batman: the Animated Series, Harley is portrayed as crazy (as she is in all her appearances in the DCU) but somewhat misguided by her affection for the Joker–not necessarily malicious on her own. That’s not to say Harley would be completely on the side of angels without the Joker’s influence, of course; Harley definitely had some criminal inclinations of her own. Though she is most often associated with the Joker, her character in Batman:TAS was paired up with Poison Ivy (as partners-in-crime) just as often as she was the Joker’s number two.

The original Animated Series Harley Quinn was also not above betraying the Joker when she felt he had crossed the line. This is most obviously seen in the episodes “Harley and Ivy,” where she initially strikes out on her own and teams up with Ivy (to great effect), and “Harliquinade,” where she sabotaged and almost succeeded in killing the Joker in order to stop him from blowing up the city and killing her beloved pet hyenas and all “their” friends at Arkham. Like many other iterations of her character, Harley is also shown as having significant intelligence (as evidenced in “Mad Love,” both graphic novel and animated adaptation, where she came closer to killing Batman than the Joker ever had), though vulnerable to emotional manipulation.

Image from DC Database

Another great portrayal of Harley came in her self-titled comic series written by Karl Kesel (and later A.J. Lieberman) that ran from 2000 to 2004. In this series Harley unapologetically focuses on her own solo criminal career, while occasionally hanging with her BFF Poison Ivy. Kesel creates a new duplicitous side to Harley not often seen in other versions of the character. At the end of the series’ first volume, Preludes and Knock Knock Jokes, and continuing into the first part of the second volume, Day and Night, Harley forms her own gang (“The Quinntets”) and leads them around the city on random criminal errands. However, completely unbeknownst to henchmen (and the private investigators following them), she’s secretly leading the P.I. trio on a goose chase and setting up an elaborate match-making scheme for two of them.

Granted, she’s still no role model (it’s criminal enterprise and general deception that she’s succeeding at, after all), but my take away from this comic (more so during Kesel’s run of the comic than Lieberman’s) was Harley’s sheer cunning and brilliance that she subtly hides beneath her goofy clown persona. And ultimately that’s where Harley’s true potential lies as a character. While she will occasionally use her feminine wiles to get what she wants, she’s not some femme fatale one-trick pony. She’s crazy, but brilliant; strong, but vulnerable. With so many facets to her personality, Harley is possibly one of the most well-rounded villainesses to come out of the superhero genre in a while.  Her only downfall is being written by anyone who doesn’t understand her depth and potential.

New Ghostbusters: Why I’m Not Sold

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Last week the first official trailer for the new Ghostbusters reboot was released. Most of the reactions I’ve heard of were decidedly less than positive, though this article has an …interesting argument for liking the new movie. While I won’t disagree that the depiction and general treatment of women in the original 1984 Ghostbusters film is pretty shitty (Venkman is a creeper and Dana deserves better), I strongly disagree about the writer’s call for “gender reparations.” I can’t speak for all women, but frankly, I find the very idea of “gender reparations” insulting. Is remaking every successful movie in the history of cinema that portrays women poorly going to make up for a cultural history of general oppression? No, that’s not only dumb, but also impractical. You can’t make things better by just buying the women of the world a few metaphorical “I’m sorry” bouquets. But I digress.

It’s not that I don’t like the idea of this new film because the cast is all women; far from it. The problem I have is the fact that ‘the main cast is all women’ is the movie’s defining feature. It’s not a movie about four people that get together to fight an supernatural threat who just happen to be women, even if that’s what they’re trying to do. It’s a movie with the primary purpose of cashing in on people’s nostalgia for the first Ghostbusters film. That much is made clear in the first 20 seconds of the trailer, when they remind the audience “30 years ago, four scientists saved New York” (despite the fact that this is a reboot-not a sequel-so in the world of the movie, there were no ghostbusters 30 years ago). To me, the fact that all the characters are now women can’t be seen as any more than a cheap gimmick parading itself as being “feminist.”

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To elaborate, the reason behind my distaste for this reboot is basically the same reason I don’t like things like the Nerf “Rebelle” toy line, or really anything that puts out a second (usually pink) special edition for women. In a way, it’s the same reason why keeping things “separate but equal” is still racist. Taking something that already exists and making a second, almost entirely identical, “girl” version isn’t feminist or promoting equality. All it’s doing is perpetuating the idea that girls are different from boys and should be kept separate. We as a society need to realize that men aren’t from Mars and women aren’t from Venus; we’re all humans and we all come from Earth. So we don’t need a second set of pink shears at the hardware store, or to rebrand a popular toy as pink, purple and flowery just to market it to girls. The way it looks now, the 2016 Ghostbusters film is going to go down in history as no more than the “girl version” of the franchise, and I just can’t support something like that.

All that being said, the trailer isn’t without merit. Kate McKinnon’s character looks hilarious, and Leslie Jones’ “the power of pain compels you!” line was a pretty funny as well. There is some potential there; it could go either way depending on how much these new characters differ from Egon, Venkman, Ray, and Winston.

12245595_oriImage from Rotten Tomatoes

So I suppose that in conclusion, I appreciate what the franchise is trying to do by casting the leads as all women. I just wish it would have been something new, where the cast and crew would have more of a chance to make their own unique classic.

Realist Nursery Rhymes

So this isn’t an article like the other posts, but I thought it was amusing and wanted to share.

I came up with my oddball version of “Little Piggies” when I was imagining the next time I’m visiting a friend who has recently become a parent, and somehow ended up with a baby in my lap to entertain. After thoroughly amusing myself with that, I came up with a few more for giggles.

“Little Piggies and a Valuable Lesson”

This little piggy went to market,
This little piggy went home.
This little piggy had roast beef,
And this little piggy had none.
And this little piggy went “Wee, wee, wee!” until he got all the roast beef, everything on his shopping list, and a nice, safe ride home,
Because the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

“Sing a Song of Sixpence Fines”

Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened,
The birds began to sing.
Now wasn’t that a dainty dish
To set before a king, who promptly called in the FDA and reported that terrible baker.
Because it’s unsanitary to serve someone a pie full of live animals.

“Little Jack Horner’s Pie Preferences”

Little Jack Horner
Sat in a corner,
Eating his Christmas Pie.
He stuck in his thumb
and pulled our a plumb
and said, “What the hell, I asked for chocolate mousse!”

“Baa, Baa, Black Sheep’s Calculated Generosity”

Baa, baa, black sheep, have you any wool?
Yes, sir, yes, sir, three bags full.
One for my master, and one for my dame,
and one for the little girl who lives down the lane,
That way I can get a tax write-off for my charitable donation.

“Jack and Jill and Caution: Wet Surface”

Jack and Jill
Went up a hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down
And broke his crown,
And Jill called 911 and stayed put,
Because she didn’t want to slip and fall, too.

“Little Boy Blue and Slovenly Work Ethics”

Little Boy Blue, come blow your horn.
The sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn.
And where is the boy who looks after the sheep?
He’s under the haystack, sleeping on the job
And wasting company time and money.

“Jack Sprat and Weight Management”

Jack Sprat could eat no fat,
His wife could eat no lean.
And so between the two of them,
They hired a nutritionist and opened a gym membership
To help them both achieve a healthy weight.

“Pop! Goes the Weasel?”

All around the mulberry bush,
The monkey chased the weasel.
The monkey stopped to pull up his sock,
Because socks were just not designed to fit on monkey’s feet.

In Defense of Black Widow and Joss Whedon

Black Widow
Image from Marvel Cinematic Universe Wiki

A couple of weeks ago, the internet was freaking out over how director Joss Whedon quit Twitter, allegedly due to the backlash from how he portrayed Black Widow (a.k.a. Natasha Romanoff) in the recently released Avengers: Age of Ultron. For those of you not already familiar with the situation: many feminists felt that Black Widow was disgraced. Her portrayal was a “hatchet job,” and Joss Whedon had turned the Avengers’ most badass female character into a damsel in distressThe situation escalated when Whedon temporarily suspend his Twitter account, and the people who weren’t already outraged blamed the big, bad straw feminists for making a fuss. While the actual reason why Mr. Whedon suspended his Twitter account is debatable, one thing is clear: there are people out there on the internet who are pissed.

So without having any specific prior knowledge of what to expect, I set out to determine if these rumors I’d heard about Black Widow turning into a damsel in distress were true or not. While watching the film, I paid extra-special attention to all of Black Widow’s scenes and asked myself, is she vulnerable or in distress? Is she singled out among her teammates in this regard? What I sussed out were a small number of scenes where she might have been perceived as weak or (God forbid) womanly, and frankly, I thought calling her a damsel in distress in any of them was a stretch.

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR AGE OF ULTRON

The first instance I took note of was when the team was infiltrating Ulysses Klaue‘s ship, and Black Widow fell victim to Wanda Maximoff’s psychically induced illusion, which essentially incapacitated her. While she did have to be rescued by Hawkeye, so did Captain America and Thor, both of whom were also rendered helpless by Wanda. Rule of thumb: it’s not sexist if everyone is treated the same.

Next was when the Avengers were lying low at Hawkeye’s house, and Bruce Banner shares a moment with Natasha, in which she confesses that upon graduating from assassin school, she was forced to undergo an effective, in her words, sterilization process. Interestingly enough, this was the point most articles critical of Black Widow’s portrayal latched on to. Oh no! She pressed the mommy button! For many, it seems, this focus on motherhood has simply ruined Black Widow’s character. The general assumption that was all the secretive foreshadowing hinted at in The Avengers was that she thinks of herself as a monster because she is incapable of having babies and totally hung up over the whole issue. io9’s article Black Widow: This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things went so far as to postulate that her relationship with the Hulk had become that of a surrogate mother.

The Hulk and Black Widow
Image from Marvel Cinematic Universe Wiki

Personally, I take issue with that last one. If Black Widow is Hulk’s surrogate mother, that give’s Bruce and Natasha’s relationship a whole new Oedipal layer to it, which is just messed up. My take away from that scene is that yes, Natasha has regrets about her past and what was done to her, but I’d like to point out that it was Bruce who brought up the whole “can’t have a family” thing in the first place. With that in mind, Natasha’s confession can be viewed more as an act of solidarity. You can’t have kids, Bruce? Well, guess what, neither can I. The unsaid message there being: don’t be such a whiner, Bruce, and take a chance on our relationship. And as for her being a monster, if you strip her forced sterilization down to a basic level, not counting the connotations of motherhood, it’s still a very disturbing prospect. When she was young, a piece of her body was destroyed and can never be repaired. There’s also the implication behind why she was sterilized. She was sterilized so she could go about her spy business without worrying about getting pregnant. That means that they expected her, a young girl at the time, to be in sexual situations as part of her job. If that’s not monstrous, I don’t know what is.

I also want to address the issue that this line of thinking draws the conclusion that “feminism” means a woman shouldn’t be interested in being a mother. This is an issue I’ve been mentally wrestling with for a long time now. On the one hand, I want to be an empowered woman with a career and not be bogged down with traditional gender roles. Gender normatives are bullshit, it’s true, but on the other hand, there are many women out there who want to be girly, have babies, and be a homemaker. And if that’s something they want (not because it’s what they should do as a woman, but because it’s what they desire as a person) then they should not be shamed for it. As musician and performer Amanda Palmer puts it: being a powerful feminist is doing what you want to do, regardless of what that may be. So really, if Black Widow wants to be sad because she can’t have babies someday, that shouldn’t be something we all should get mad about and resent Joss Whedon over. (Even if I don’t think that was what the movie was going for in the first place.)

Captain America, Black Widow, and Bruce Banner
Image from Marvel Cinematic Universe Wiki

The last instance is definitely the most like a “damsel in distress” situation. At one point in the film, Black Widow is kidnapped and taken prisoner by Ultron. None of the male Avengers are kidnapped, just Black Widow, and she is eventually rescued by Bruce Banner. Here’s why I don’t think this makes Black Widow a damsel in distress: she is captured for a whole of maybe five minutes (after being yanked out of a plane in mid-air–something a person who can’t fly couldn’t escape and survive), during which she gets lectured a bit by Ultron and jury rigs a telegraph out of junk that was laying in her cell. A damsel in distress would not be taking action to facilitate her escape. There is nothing wrong for calling for help when you need it (and let your team know where the enemy hideout is in the process), and I think it’s a testament to Natasha’s faith in her friends’ ability to receive her message and come to get her. A damsel in distress would have also taken up Bruce’s proposition to run away together and forget the fight. Instead, Black Widow gives him a smooch for being adorable, then forces him to bring out the Hulk, because they’re Avengers, and they have a job to do.

So who is Black Widow? She’s a competent, confident female superhero with some regrets about her past (which is almost a standard in any superhero, really), and she is willing to sacrifice her own personal happiness in order to do her job and save the world. Is she the biggest, baddest, strongest Avenger out there? No, but neither is Hawkeye. She sounds pretty feminist to me….

On Elsa in Frozen

Many have lauded Disney’s 2013 film, Frozen, as a groundbreaking film in Disney Princess-feminism. While this sentiment is arguable, I don’t think it’s fair to completely write the film off as having no valuable lessons to be learned.

Dani Colman makes an excellent argument against Frozen being some kind of marvelous feminist masterpiece in her article, “The Problem with False Feminism (or Frozen is not groundbreaking).” One of the points she makes is that the two leads simply cannot be construed as “strong female characters.”

Anna and Elsa
Image from Disney Wiki
For a laugh, check out Kate Beaton’s “Strong Female Characters”

Anna is shallow and a noticeably poor example of an independent, self-actualized woman, being the first Disney Princess in quite a while whose main motivation was to find “the one” or love for the sake of being in love and living happily ever after. In contrast, many of the more recent princesses longed for some sort of adventure, broadened horizons, or to be part of something bigger than herself (for example: Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine) and simply got a prince and/or true love as a bonus prize.

Elsa, on the other hand, may not fall under the same umbrella of weak or underdeveloped female characters as her sister, but provides a poor role model given her near self-loathing and tendency to over-react to her problems and just make them worse.

Elsa
Image from Disney Wiki

Here is where I would disagree with Colman’s view on the characters. True, Anna is a pretty typical adorkable lead without a whole lot of sense, but I prefer to chalk that up to her being, what, sixteen? A sixteen-year-old girl without parents to reign her in. Yeah, I think that pretty much covers it.

With her view on Elsa I both agree and disagree. True, she has some deep-seated psychological issues and that does cause her to make poor choices, ultimately making her out to be a poor role model for young girls to look up to. Despite all that, I think Elsa is an amazing character. I don’t think she was ever supposed to be that woman little girls want to be when they grow up; I don’t think her appeal is to be directed at young girls at all. I think she’s there for adolescents (and adults) to identify with.

Elsa is an eldest sibling that has (or feels like she has) the whole world resting on her shoulders, not an uncommon trait for eldest siblings, boy or girl. Whether it was entirely her parents doing or not, she feels she has to keep herself hidden away to protect her beloved younger sister. It all builds up: the self-inflicted isolation, the pressure to be the “good girl,” the need to hold everything inside for fear of oneself. Then after an unfortunate confrontation causes her glass facade to crack, she has that realization everyone has their first time away from home and on their own: she doesn’t have to adhere to mom and dad’s (or whomever’s) standards.

Elsa
Image from Disney Wiki

While on the one hand she does run away from her problems, a very immature and irresponsible way to cope; if she hadn’t, I don’t believe she would have been able to come to the realization that she did. It’s something that every person who went through (or is going through) a difficult adolescence had to overcome: realizing you don’t have to hold yourself to the standards of others and that you have to be happy with who you are. For Elsa, this comes in the form of accepting her powers as a part of who she is, for better or worse. In the real world we don’t really have to worry about our magical ice powers accidentally hurting people around us, but we do have to deal with accepting our self image and being comfortable with who we are, no matter what our peers think.

That is (at least in part) the lesson Frozen is telling through Elsa’s self-actualization: you have to be okay with who you are. Sure, she’s no adventurous Ariel or headstrong Belle for little girls to look up to, but she demonstrates that in order to be happy forever after, you have to like yourself.