Friday, August 24, 2007

I Really Need a Vacation

Luckily, while I don't get health benefits from either job, I do earn vacation pay (and retirement $) from the library job. So I can actually afford to take some time off. Not much, because I'll still be losing hours at the store, but I can afford an extra long weekend.

I suppose it's a sign that on the day I made up my mind for sure that I was going camping in Sequoia/King's Canyon, we got this into the library:

Doesn't it look yummy?

It's so cool. I love s'mores and this has so many great recipes that I can't wait to try. And the best part is that some of them sound almost breakfast or snack-like instead of dessert-like: croissant with raspberries s'more (is that really any less healthy that the crap I buy far too often from Starbuck's?) and even and stuffed apricot s'more.

I can't wait for my trip!

(Although I'm starting to get really paranoid about packing and eating food while on the trip - Sequoia/King's Canyon is serious bear country. My stained and crumb laden car is getting a thorough washing from top to bottom, inside and out before I go.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Have I Mentioned How Much I Love Sondheim Musicals?


I remember hearing a while ago that they were doing a movie version of Sweeney Todd.

But I didn't hear anything else for a while...

But OMG!

It's coming out this December!

And OMG!

Johnny Depp!

and Helena Bonham Carter

and Alan Rickman

(Harry Potter villains unite!)

Directed by Tim Burton!


What not to love about a Sondheim musical, that's directed by Tim Burton, stars Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and Alan Rickman, and features the subtitle: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street?

Really, what?

Monday, August 20, 2007

News Regarding Yet Another Movie That Seems to Never Actually Get Made

MTV Films optioned Twilight back in 2004. But, despite having "engaged in a heated biding war" for the rights (e_e) they let the option lapse last April.

The rights were recently bought by Summit Entertainment.

Let's hope they actually do something with it, and that they do it right.

Summit Entertainment produced Perfume (ack!) Miss Potter :( and Bridge to Terabithia :) and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants :) . So, we'll see. At least movies based on kid/teen lit are really good. Two of the best out there, I think.

In any case, do check out Stephenie Meyer's just for fun casting suggestions. If for no other reason than to look at all the pretty men.

DC's Secret Campaign to Sell Comics to Woodiwiss Fans


I picked up Black Canary 1 cuz, well it had Black Canary looking kick ass on the cover. I thought the story was fun, but it didn't hold my interest enough for me to have bothered to read #2.

Mommy Canary falls victim to the awesomeness of Kara!

Honestly. Seriously. I bought both (yes, late) and got incredibly distracted by how cool Supergirl was. I had been almost looking forward to reading more of about Mom- er - Black Canary but well, it was like when I was forced to go back to American chocolate after having traveled through Belgium and Switzerland. It was just too depressing. I needed some more time to savor the latter before going back to the former.

Having read pervyficgirl's critique of Black Canary 4, I'm kinda glad I haven't been by the comic book store in the last few weeks. Because omg, if I want to read about a relationship marred by Big Misunderstandings, Alpha Males who do not appreciate the the awesomeness of their women, Heroines that are TSTL*, and everything else that goes along with all that - including bad dialogue, I'll pick up a romance novel, thank you very much. A crappy one at that. (Julia Quinn would ashamed to write such dreck.) At least then I'll be getting beefcake instead of cheesecake.


(with special thanks to ami for teaching me the emoticon for "rolls eyes")

*for non romance readers, this means "Too Stupid to Live." While this term is generally reserved for damsels who can't manage to wake up in the morning without bringing calamity upon themselves, I think it also accurately describes a superhero who breaks down in tears in the middle of fights.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Welcome, Julie!

Finally, we have a new American Girl!

Meet Julie, a girl of the 70's. Yes, you read that right, a girl of the '70s. Yes. The 1970's. Which I think is supercool because so much of recent history doesn't get taught to kids because it's too "controversial."

And the books are written by Megan McDonald. How cool is that!

And OMG! here's the synopsis of the first book:

Julie Albright doesn't want to move away from her San Francisco neighborhood near Chinatown, even if her new apartment is just a few miles away... Julie tries to make the best of it by joining the school’s basketball team, but the coach won’t allow girls to play. She learns that it’s up to her to make positive changes in her new school—and her new life. The “Looking Back” section discusses the women’s movement, divorce, and other issues of the turbulent 1970s.
(emphasis mine, of course)


The second book focuses more on Julie dealing with her parents divorce, and the fact that it wasn't as common back then. The third deals with culture clash between Julie's family and her best friend Ivy Ling's family. It also breaks tradition by being about about New Year's instead of Christmas. (The AG books all follow the same pattern - with the exception of Kaya's: Meet [blank], school story, xmas story, spring/birthday story, summer/heroic story, winter/growing up story.)

It gets better! In the fourth book
Julie and her best friend, Ivy, find a baby owl in Golden Gate Park—and it needs help. At a wildlife rescue center, Julie meets Shasta and Sierra, two bald eagles that will be caged for life, unless money is raised to release them back into the wild. For Earth Day, Julie thinks of a unique way to tell the public of the eagles' plight. The “Looking Back” section explores the beginning of the environmental movement.

Bwhahahahaha. (Sorry, I'm just imagining the reactions of all the conservatives that like the AG series bc it's "good, clean fun.") That is just so cool.

The fifth book is about the bicentennial. (Which is another break in tradition, because the first book takes place in 1974 and the series usually span only a year and a half, if I remember right.) In the sixth book Julie runs for school president. (Nice timing there, AG. ;) )

Although, of course, we are left with one big question, and I hope you are all asking it along with me. (Especially since the American Girl books are supposed to be about the idea of American girls being diverse in all kinds of ways.) Why the hell is this Julie's series and not Ivy's? Did American Girl think that they just didn't have enough blonde girls in their line? Are we ever going to have an American Girl of Asian descent? :(

At least they do give Ivy her own book (written by Lisa Yee), like they did for Samantha's friend Nellie, Felicity's friend Elizabeth, and Molly's friend Emily, when their movies came out. Which makes me wonder if this year's movie will be about Julie. That would be interesting. But I doubt it, since they have a theatrical release movie about Kit coming out next summer.

Maybe the fall doll drawing will feature Julie and Ivy this year? The first one featured Kaya, when she first came out. The last few years have featured the girls whose movies were about to come out. So maybe this year it's back to the new girl since there doesn't see to be a fall movie. Hmmm. I hope they at least keep the drawing as being for two dolls, American Girl and Friend. At least that will mean Ivy will get more exposure than she normally would.

Friday, August 17, 2007


I'm breaking my "no posting from work" rule today because OMG, I don't care that this is just a rumour, I can't not say


in response to the idea of Katies Holmes as Wonder Woman. (via Shakespeare's Sister)

I know that not everyone was thrilled with the idea of Whedon doing Wonder Woman, or some of the ideas he tossed around, and I could see a lot of their points. However, his leaving the project left with the sinking feeling that he and the money people were clashing over the no-brainer stuff rather than Whedon's style.

This rumor does little to reassure me that my suspicions are wrong.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Carnival Notice

So, as I said earlier, I was going to notify all the people that I included in the carnival but who didn't suggest their own stuff, but....I really wanted to get this up on time and I have to go to my second job in about an hour and I haven't had dinner yet and I can't find half your e-mail addresses anyway! So instead, you get this:

If I included a post of yours in the carnival, but messed up your name, your link, misqquoted you, or you just don't want to be included - for whatever reason (and you don't need a reason) - please email me at QMickle[at]gmail[dot]com or leave a comment on either this post or the carnival one and I will fix the problem as soon as I can.

Thanks all!

16th Feminist SF Carnival

Welcome to the 16th Carnival of Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy Fans!

Before we start, I have a confession to make.

I like science fiction, I really do. Fantasy too. I like the world-building and the hypothetical plots, the technology and the magic. All the things that make it science fiction and/or fantasy instead of something else.

But I have to admit that part of my love for scifi/fantasy is really a love for action heroes. More specifically, female action heroes. I spent a lot of time as a kid looking for adventure stories that featured - or at least included - girls, and a lot of them ended up being science fiction and/or fantasy stories. Women with swords, girls with magical powers, heroines with blasters. For some reason, leaving this world behind and building another made it easier for writers - and their audiences - to wrap their head around the idea that girls could love action and adventure.

When I was younger, the main obstacle to finding girl heroes seemed to be the relative lack of them. As I got older, I kept running into the uspoken and rarely broken rule that, when they existed, action heroines must be sexbots first and action heroes last. So when I stumbled across the commercial featuring "chicks with swords" (via The Hathor Legacy), I knew that had to be the theme when I hosted the carnival.

So without further ado, here is the 16th Carnival of Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy Fans, chock filled with sword carrying women and all kinds of other great - or not so great - stuff.

It's a bird. It's a's Supergirl!

My thoughts on the new incarnation of Supergirl lean towards gibberish along the lines of "Pretty. Shiny. Me like. Me want more."

Fortunately, others have been much more loquacious than I.

First off, ami at Super Cute Rants of DOOM XD (totally the best blog title ever) writes about why she loves Supergirl:

Why do all heroes have to be angsty and mean? Why do they all need "reasons" to be heroes?

Can't we have some heroes who are just good ppl and dun have to become good ppl?

Why do girls need to be abused or live on the streets or be hookers in order to be heroes?

Can't they just crash land on a planet and be a hero? :D


Aren't we even allowed a few happy heroes? :)
Indeed, why must heroes always have "motivation"? I like characters with depth, but I don't think that means their reason for being good always needs to be complex.

Anyway, back to Supergirl.

Kalinara is one of the many who loves the latest issue of Supergirl:
Yes. Thank you.

That's what a real teenaged girl looks like. That's even what a real teenaged girl wears....She looks amazing.....Bedard's character is one I want to read about. Guedes's is one I want to see.

Brown Betty's praise is simple but oh so true for oh so many of us:
I just look at it and *siiiiiiiigh* with happiness.

A lot of the gushing over Guedes' art and Bedard's writing has happened in the forums, so I thought I'd include a few quotes from the ones hosted by (which I'm not sure is technically allowed, but I love this Supergirl so much I don't care!):
I have all-around feelings of joy for this issue. ^^

At last, fantastic artwork (only one upskirt shot and it didn't feel like fanservice because of the shorts!). And Supergirl actually tried to do something to fix her mistakes instead of just wallowing in it.

I loved this issue so hard. Supergirl - and the other characters! - looked human, and instead of sulking about her mistakes, which were so very much those of a superpowered teenager with a lot of naivety, she tried to do something about them.

For sure, the art in this was WONDERFUL. And I love how Supergirl and Wondergirl, despite both having blue eyes and blond hair, actually LOOK like two different women.... I really like how Supergirl is obviously a very young girl who is trying really hard to be a good hero.

Which brings us to the very sad news that a new creative team has been announced for Supergirl (via Occasional Superheroine)


(sorry for the interruption, that was my house blowing apart from the sheer amount of despair and rage inside my brain)

However, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't still write to DC (if you haven't already) and tell them how much you are loving Guedes' and Bedard's Supergirl. Occasional Superheroine has some tips. (If you do, please keep in mind that Guedes' and Bedard's run was always meant to be temporary. Their departure is not (necessarily) a reaction to the idiots who think that Guedes' Supergirl is fat.)

Hermione is always right, unless she's being emotional.

(needless to say, do not click any of the links unless you've finished the series or don't mind spoilers.)

Over at Capitalism Bad, Tree Pretty, Maia hones in on one of the main complaints I've been hearing about Deathly Hallows:
'I'm going to leave you because I'm putting you in danger' is my least favourite relationship device ever.....What I find so frustrating about this, is that limiting women's choices for them is portrayed as a romantic act....Loving someone shouldn't mean limiting their agency.

*e, at A Blog Without A Bicycle, ponders the newest movie villian and brings up a good point:
"...I just wish that it wasn't her (overly) stereotypical "feminine" traits that made [Umbridge] so memorable. What if a female villan was just...villanous?"

I'll admit to being one of the many who enjoyed Imelda Staunton's Umbridge, but it does bring up the classic feminist dilemma when it comes to femininity: how does one analyze the limitations created by traditional femininity, or create a feminine villian, without bashing femininity itself? Hopefully with more finesse than the movie manages to have.

Sara of Sara Speaking discovers that sometimes gems do lurk within Amazon forums, after stumbling across this excellent question about power and gender in Potterverse:
I can understand how men would be better at physical fighting than women, but simply waving a wand in the air using spells based on pure intelligence….??? Hello?????......Where was the female equivalent of Dumbledore?
Sara adds:
I find it a very valid question, especially since it’s a fantasy book. Why should it have to conform so closely to the male-dominant standards of the society we already have?....And why, oh why, is it called the wizarding world — when there is a clear gender-based differences between wizards (men) and witches (women)?

I think that fireeyedgirl sums up a lot of feminist fans' feelings towards the series as a whole when she writes that
I don't hate the Harry Potter books because of [it's treatment of female characters], I just am sad because I feel like there was potential in this series, written by a woman who is also the mother of a daughter, for a rebel girl heroine who breaks rules and succeeds.

All of which makes it that much sweeter to learn (via Jessica at Feministing) that Emma Watson, the talented young woman made famous by her role as the always clever Hermione Granger, considers herself to be "a bit of a feminist."

And on that note, Sara also points us to an illustration by makani of one of the few showdowns between female characters in the series.

"No....there is another."

There's a great article over at Jive Magazine about why "Star Wars fans hate Star Wars."

Never is this more true than when it comes to feminist fangirls who love Leia. (ie people like me) The knowledge that Leia was capable of becoming a Jedi, and yet was not the one who brought about the Return of the Jedi epitomizes why being a feminist SF fan is often a bittersweet experience.

Princess Leia was My First Idol, my first hero, the kind of princess I've always wanted to be.
She didn't just wait around and pray to be rescued.....[and] She told the scary bad guy that had us all quaking in our boots to fuck off.

And guess who else loves Leia:

“Outta my way, nerf-herders. Guess it’s up to me to save our skins—again! ZAP!”
- from the always amusing mind of Meg Cabot.

No wonder why Mia is such an awesome princess.

Also, fellow Star Wars fan Sarah (Still Life With Soup Can) made some cool shirts for herself at Cafe Press and was surprised when other people bought them. I'm not surprised that the most popular are her Girl Revan shirts mocking "LucasFolk['s decision] to go and ruin the fun by declaring "Canon Revan" to be a light side male." Revan being a playable character in various Star Wars games, for the two people other than me who are unfamiliar with the name.

"It Slices, it Dices, and Makes Julienne Preacher." - And Other Sharp, Shiny Objects

Yes, I know Buffy's signature weapon was a wooden stake, but let's face it, we all loved her best when she was wielding something sharper than the pointy end of a picket fence. Which may be why Grace's summation of the best and worst of Buffy at Heroine Content features Buffy with a sword, not a stake. Like me, Grace
didn't watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer when it was first aired...[does]not believe the show deteriorated when it moved to the UPN.... [and] loved it from start to finish...
she adds
All that being said, I've never seen anything on television so in need of feminist and anti-racist analysis as Buffy. The show gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, "so close but so far away."

At 100LittleDolls, Shions_Glasses also reminds us that sexism often goes hand in hand with racism. (warning: spoilers for Rogue Galaxy within)
Of course the only woman of color in the game has to hail from a "backwards" tribal jungle planet. .....On top of that, her bow is pretty worthless in combat.
Obviously, Lilika deserves better clothes, a better backstory, and a better weapon. XD

A sword, maybe? ; I

Amber Night finds yet another fantasy game with sword-wielding women sporting unlikely armor.
in the world of WAR, do they just go for the legs? ....You could make an entire suit of normal armor just out of her leg armor. Which…you know…probably would have been a good idea, given that her guild seems to be short on armorers able to craft from the crotch up.

Meanwhile, Tekanji uses a picture of a sword carrying girl to demonstrate (at the dangers of assuming that your good intentions will mean your message is clear, even when the context is ambiguous. (I'm not going to quote the posts because it's more of an audience participation experiment. Just follow the links. It will take you to the girl and her bloody sword and explain who she is.)

"We rule Terabithia, and nothing crushes us!"

Alice, at Wonderland gives us some pictures of the incredibly awesome woman who won BlizzCon's costume contest, and her kickass getup.

BomberGirl (Girl in the Machine) talks about why she loves Heather from Silent Hill:
Throughout her story, we come to root for Heather. She's not perfect; she has flaws, from her short temper to the freckles on her face. She stands as my most favorite video game character of all time (just take a look at my icon!). And here at Girl in the Machine, game developers hand us so much to be negative about, and it feels wonderful to celebrate the positive aspects of women in games.

Kotetsu gives favorable reviews to two recent anime movies, Paprika and Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo. Regarding the former, she writes:
One thing that I love about Paprika, however, is the heroine....Like in all of Kon's movies, a woman takes center stage. Sure, there are lots of male characters, and sure, they're important - but they're only important in the sense that they interact with and support the heroine. It's almost the complete opposite of most Hollywood (and Japanese) movies.

Lyle, at Crocodile Caucus lets us know about an interesting possibility on the upcoming season of Supernatural:
Unfortunately, one thing that’s always kept me from fully getting into Supernatural is the show’s WiR-ness......Now, an interview with series creator Eric Kripke gets me excited about Supernatural for the first time. There’s no money quote, but, at the least Kripke shows an awareness of the problem and seems like he’s looking to correct the course.

Lastly, I'm apparently not the only one that adored Spider-man, Fairytales #1. Pervyficgirl writes:
I love this comic. Possibly I read it six times. Possibly I will be sharing with my eight year old niece. Something I dearly wish I could do in good conscience with Black Canary or current Wonder Woman.

Also, it is implied that Peter is going to make his Spider-costume out of the remains of MJ's red hood. Awwwwww. I love you, Peter Parker. You wear your strong woman's clothes.

"It's just so illogical, you know, about being a Smurf... what's the point of living... if you don't have a dick?"

The latest version of the Smurfette Syndrome is brought to us by the new Transformers movie. Ragnell eloquently rants:
Why is being a girl so fucking special? Why is it that every other fucking robot has a male fucking voice and no one questions why they have gender coding but the fucking second you bring in a female voice and god forbid you put it in a feminine color you have to suddenly explain why everyone has gender?

And the next time someone tries to argue that it's all because girls don't like action and explosions and the like, feel free to spit out the stats from a recent study that says otherwise. Mighty Ponygirl (from Feminist Gamers) summarizes:
While the numbers still show that boys play more videogames than girls, the gap is not as wide as people would like to believe: while 2/3 of boys reported playing a violent video game at least once a week, so did a full 1/3 of girls interviewed. This means that even the remaining 2/3 of girls who play videogames may still play violent videogames, just not as often as once a week.

On a more "high-brow" note, Eleanor at Ambling Along an Aqueduct has some thoughts on why there don't seem to be as many female SF writers:
I think there is a double prejudice operating here. One is a prejudice against the life sciences as opposed to physics and engineering.....
The other, of course being that it can't really be "hard" SciFi if it was written by a woman. (Women being soft and gooey and all, I guess.)

Charleanders at She's Such a Geek! asks us to help Free Julie Delpy!. She also asks:
Why does Steven Spielberg get to make dozens of increasingly braindead films, when Julie Delpy doesn’t get her shot?
Good question!

On a similar note, while the statistics are not about Science Fiction/Fantasy in particular, gillpolack points us to some interesting, but depressing, stats on gender in movies:
72% of speaking character parts are male;
83.5% of crowd scenes are male;
83% of narrators are male.
Ouch. I can't imagine the stats are better when one looks at just scifi/fantasy.

(note: the link to See Jane's research seems to be broken. Their site is currently being reworked, and that may be why. I'll try fix the link when/if I can.)

At Feminist SF - The Blog! lizzard let's us know that
Juno Books’s Paula Guran is looking for stories for Warrior Women [a reprint anthology]...Amazons to warrior princesses to space cadets—strong women who meet the challenge of fighting the good fight.
If you have any suggestions - send them in!

I'll admit that I don't know much about LiveJournal, and many of the postings about the recent controversy over LJ banning various fandoms and fanfiction journals has left me more confused than enlightened. However, Mastor Erestor has some strong words to say on the subject:
"Obscenity" is the perfect tool to weed out everything that doesn't fit in a nice, clean, straight, male-dominated and preferably white world.
(sigh) Isn't that always the case.

Ahh! Curse Your Sudden But Inevitable Betrayal!

Bellatrys, at Nothing New Under the Sun, takes one for the team and reviews the first two Gor books. Her reason?
After about the fifth or sixth reiteration of the (usually-male-made) claim that "the first ones weren't so bad, the misogyny and male dominance stuff didn't come in till later," I resolved, in my Chaotic way, to challenge this dogma and put it to the test.
What she finds is scary in so many ways.

While I'm sure everyone knows by now just why the lamentable Gor series is getting more dicsussion lately, it should also be noted that, as J. E. Remy (Die Wachen) points out, apparently
Dark Horse feels it not only appropriate to support the subjugation and victimization of women by republishing this long out-of-print work, but to market it to “all age groups.”
(emphasis mine)

Remy's posts critiquing Dark Horse's decision also include all kinds of contact information in case you want to write letters to the parties involved.

Because I cannot end this on a bad note, I leave you with 1) Space Invaders Against Sexism!

(Yes, it's from kotaku - but it's space invaders against sexism! - and it's via Jade Reporting. I think......It's been a long couple of days.)

And 2) a reminder that Ragnell is still looking for someone to host the 17th carnival.

That's all folks, thanks for coming!

We Interrupt This Carnival For a Very Special Announcement

Sorry all, the Carnival is coming. I just need to do one last proofread and shoot off warning e-mails to people whose inclusion came about through some means other than self-submission.

But before I do that, I need to get something off my chest. I have a looooooong post hidden somewhere in the drafts about this, but it's just come up far too many times lately for me to not give the short version (which is probably better anyway) and yet still be able to concentrate on the proof-reading.

So here goes:

Television and movies suck because no one knows how to make them. And by no one, I mean us, not the people actually making them.

Better writers make better readers. Better readers make better writers. And an audience consisting of good readers who know how to write always demands higher quality material than an audience consisting of bad readers that don't know how to write.*

The problem with TV and movies are that they are read-only. Don't believe me? Read Amusing Ourselves to Death. Count how many times Neil Postman rants about how the written word is inherently better than moving pictures. Count (on one hand) how many times his argument doesn't include examples of readers also being writers. Ask yourself if moving pictures really need to be read-only. Start yelling at the book. Then start caring about media literacy. And by media literacy, I don't mean "TV bad, books good."

The end.

* pretend there's a detailed caveat here about why this doesn't mean what it seems to mean when it comes to kids books.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Default Setting

I'm trying to track down a source for "Hermione is always right, unless she's being emotional."

Google gives me this:

Did you mean: hermione is always right unless he's being emotional

Stupid google. Stupid google math. Stupid people. Stupid patriarchy.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Girls and Their Shoes.....

So, I'm rummaging around the internets for feminist commentary on the latest Harry Potter and I discover, via the amazing Ms. Watson's website, that there is going to be a movie production of Ballet Shoes.


A "girly" movie for girls that isn't about cliques or fashion! Plus, one based on a great book? Yay!

And it will star Emma Watson? cool!

Oh, it's a bbc production, not a theatre release? Well, at least I won't have to worry about them messing the books up.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Life Isn't Binary, Part 11011

I repeat, "Life isn't binary."

This is the question.

That is the answer.

There endeth the lesson.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie

How did I miss this ?!?!?!

I was rummaging around Mo Willems site (because I have an idea/manuscript for a kid's book and I wanted my fav's advice on how to edit it and market it) and I ran across this:

Q. Just ignore the name and listen. I LOVE your pigeon books.....when will plush pigeon,knuffle bunny, and leonardo be out....?--Kuzco Bang

A. ....By Toy Fair in early 2007....Wow, that's a name alright.--Mo

What? WHAT!? WHAT?!?!?!?!?

Why haven't I seen them. I MUST SEE THEM. I MUST HAVE THEM!!!!!!!!!

They have a plush Pigeon that says "Let me drive the bus!"


And Leonardo is puppet!

Where can I buy????????

Friday, August 10, 2007



when bullies travel in packs, they generally don't give a shit about their targets reaction

they mainly just care about how much their peers will approve of their asinine behavior

and whether that will move them higher up on the pile of dirt they are all fighting over


so don't suggest in my presence that calling attention to such sludge is the same as feeding the trolls

i'm likely to go all ape shit

or at least curse more than usual

especially if you are suggesting this through concern trolling

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Life Isn't Binary, Part 11010

Or: "Shades of Gray" is Still a Binary Construction

Are you a feminist?

Do you

Strongly agree
Not sure
Strongly disagree

that "There is no such thing as a "man's job." It is wrong for men to be given preference for any job position, even if women traditionally aren't in that field.."

Well, obviously, I strongly agree!

Which says so much about how feminist I am.

more blah blah blah about how men and women should be treated and judged.

But wait! Now we are asked:

Women should take an equal role in dating. Women should ask out people they are interested in and take their turn in paying.

So, is this "In an ideal world, women should..." or is this "In the real world, where men are more likely to treat women like shit if they do so, women should...."

-chirp- -chirp-

No answer? Well then, where's my line for "This is a dumb question?"

Wait, you mean there isn't a way to do a write in answer?

phht! Stupid quiz.

In fact, now I want to take back my other answers. If you are asking questions like that, what exactly do you mean by "Women should be economically and socially independent. They shouldn't rely on men to take care of them."


Is that, like, code for "Yes, women should have the right to be stay at home moms. But tough shit if they want a divorce. Alimony? Hah! Get a job!!!"


You Are 90% Feminist

You are a total feminist. This doesn't mean you're a man hater (in fact, you may be a man).
You just think that men and women should be treated equally. It's a simple idea but somehow complicated for the world to put into action.

Um, no.

I mean, yes! I am. I meant no to the 90% since I got 90 instead of 100 because I hate stupid questions.

And yes peoples, I know it's just a dumb, fun internet quiz. That doesn't change my point about the "women should..." questions, which pop up in far more serious situations than silly multiple choice quizzes but are still phrased in ways that imply the only answer is "yes" or "no" - or degrees of "yes" or "no."



yeah, you with the boxing gloves

The fact that even you ask so many dumb questions may be part of the reason why "[feminism is]... somehow complicated for the world to put into action." Despite it being "a simple idea."

just a thought

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


The 16th Carnival of Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy Fans will be held HERE! on August 16th.

(huh. two 16s. I totally didn't notice that the first time.)

You can send submissions to me via email at QMickle[at]gmail[dot]com or via the submission form.

Submissions should be sent by August 13th.

(note: by sundown on the 13th is more than ok.)

Anything written between the 30th of June and the 13th of August that fits these guidelines is welcome - nay, encouraged! The theme for this edition is "women and weapons" (but that's really just there in case you need inspiration).

Thanks to everyone who has sent in links so far - they all look great. Keep 'em coming!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Best Post Title Ever

You know, it's good and all of GWOG! to point out this post to us, but they totally missed the best post tile ever. I am so very disappointed in GWOG!

Beware the Attacking Linkblogs!

This is probably not important enough for a post, but I cannot stop cracking up about this.

I think that the part that keeps giving me the giggles is that they registered a third contributer named "WFA" (who has no profile, as of yet) just so that they could sign the post "WFA" instead of "Kalinara" or "Ragnell the Foul."

'Cuz just when I start to get annoyed at the people that prompted the post, I picture Kalinara and/or Ranell realizing "oh, wait, we totally need to sign this WFA!" and then bothering to create a new contributer just so that they can get the point across. Which is just so awesome and so funny.


(like lolcatz - only, with YA book covers)

From Justine and Scott, guest blogging at Inside a Dog.

Here are the winners.

Here are all the entries.

Baby Bart? On American Idol?

Studies like this - or rather, articles like this - drive me crazy.

'Baby Einstein': a bright idea?

Infants shown such educational series end up with poorer vocabularies, study finds. Researcher says 'American Idol' is better.

By Amber Dance, Times Staff Writer
August 7, 2007

Parents hoping to raise baby Einsteins by using infant educational videos are actually creating baby Homer Simpsons, according to a new study released today.

(emphasis mine)

Studies never say shit like this, and while I realize that newspapers need to try to sell information/newspapers, they can do so while being scientifically accurate. First of all, the writer should have used "may be" rather than "are." (for reasons I'll go into in a bit) and "according to the results of a" rather than "according to a" because the way it's written now makes it sound like they are paraphrasing rather than interpreting the study. Also, the bit about American Idol needs to be crossed off. It's eye catching to be sure, but since the exact quote (found at the end of the article) is:
"I would rather babies watch 'American Idol' than these videos," Christakis said, explaining that there is at least a chance their parents would watch with them — which does have developmental benefits.

(emphasis mine)

it's misleading in the extreme. Headlines should not act like all the adorable newsboys in Newsies.

So, what does the study say? Well, the article has three whopping paragraphs about the actual study (about a third to a quarter of the total story):

For every hour a day that babies 8 to 16 months old were shown such popular series as "Brainy Baby" or "Baby Einstein," they knew six to eight fewer words than other children, the study found.

Christakis and his colleagues surveyed 1,000 parents in Washington and Minnesota and determined their babies' vocabularies using a set of 90 common baby words, including mommy, nose and choo-choo.

The researchers found that 32% of the babies were shown the videos, and 17% of those were shown them for more than an hour a day, according to the study in the Journal of Pediatrics.


Christakis said children whose parents read to them or told them stories had larger vocabularies.

Two things stand out.

First, that half the parents who showed their kids the videos had their kids watch them for more than an hour a day, which (I believe) goes against the instructions on the videos. It definitely goes against common sense. Considering how much time babies/toddlers spend sleeping and eating and how much time they need to spend talking to people and doing physical activity, doing anything other than these four things for more than an hour a day is generally not a good idea. It's not the positive act of watching the videos that's the problem, it's the negative act of not doing the talking and the moving around. So, as long as you make sure your baby/toddler spends a lot of time doing these things, there's really no reason to think that you are dumbing your baby down by popping in a video every once in while. And since the study didn't divide up kids who watched up to an hour and kids who watched more than an hour, it doesn't really tell us more than were already knew, or could have guessed.

Secondly, the way the last sentence is phrased suggests that there are two groups of parents, the ones who show their kids videos and the ones who talk and read to their kids. In reality, there are three, parents who show their kids videos, parents who talk and read to their kids, and parents who do both. (Well, four, there are also parents who do none of these things, but we don't need a study to tell us that this control group would have a lot of developmentally lagging children.)

This is why the "are" instead of a "may be" annoys the crap out of me. My niece and nephew have had both Baby Einstein videos and a crazy amount of books since day one. They've always been read to a lot and have only watched more than an hour of television a day on very rare occasions. I don't know if the Baby Einstein videos have helped or hurt them or neither, but they are most definitely not Homer Simpsons. And since having to sit with them while they watch videos and cartoons would have taken away one on my sister's breaks and made her more frazzled and worn out during the rest of the day, I very strongly disagree that watching American Idol or anything else with my sister would have been to anyone's benefit.

As I understand it, the Baby Einstein videos were not created to make babies smarter so much as they are meant to be media that is developmentally appropriate for babies and toddlers. In my opinion, the Baby Einstein videos are developmentally appropriate as long as you follow these three conditions:

1) no more than an hour a day (preferably less than an hour and not every day) - except on rare occasions.

2) stick to the ages recommended as much as possible (it's ok to bend the rules if your kid is above or below the curve and if your kid as become obsessed with a particular topic)

3) Repetition. Don't buy a bunch and show a new one each day, start with just one or two and show the same one for an entire week - or even month, if you are only showing them videos a couple times a week.

We've already discussed rule number 1. Rule number 2 is there because the concepts in the videos are broken down into age appropriate concepts and matched with age appropriate pacing and dialogue.

The article describes the videos as
The videos, which are designed to engage a baby's attention, hop from scene to scene with minimal dialogue and include mesmerizing images, like a lava lamp.

Which isn't really accurate. They do not "hop from scene to scene" - at least not compared to most TV/movies. They are very slow paced, with much fewer cuts per minute, and tend to include a lot of logical transitions. Seriously, minutes will go by at times without a cut*, which pretty much doesn't happen in regular TV unless you're watching a show by Joss Whedon or the like.

The minimal dialogue is good for the babies, who don't benefit from dialogue on screen the same way they benefit from the conversation around them.** The "dialogue" in the videos for babies is meant to act like a parent consistently pointing to a dog and saying "dog." They pretty much repeat a handful of vocabulary words at appropriate times. Which, no, does not work as well as having the child interact with others, but it is better than lots of dialogue on screen. The videos for older toddlers have more actual dialogue than what babies can follow on screen, and that's part of the reason why it's best to stick to the recommended ages.

Rule 3 is there to remind parents that kids need repetition in order for things to sink in. That's why the videos will repeat the same images and words over and over again. That's also why your kid will ask for the same book over and over again. One of the TV shows that has been proven to increase kid's vocabulary and thinking skills, Blue's Clues, only really does so when the repetition that the creators intended (the same show repeated throughout the week) is followed.

Videos are not a substitute for parent-child interactions or books and stories. But considering how much information adults get from media like TV, it's about time we started thinking critically about how to make our kids media saavy in ways that go beyond "advertising bad" and "TV bad." Part of that includes more nuanced studies than just "reading is better than watching movies!" Well, considering the state of the media, duh. But until we acknowledge that moving pictures can be more than just entertainment, very few of them will be anything other than entertaining.


*A noticeable one, anyway. Some of the videos have skits with puppets, and there will be cuts between the skits when the puppets are offstage, but you have to know what you are looking for to see them.

**A caveat: while still not as good as person to person conversation, dialogue that rhymes a lot (songs, nursery rhymes, poetry, Dr. Seuss books on tape) should work as well as the concentration on particular vocabulary words. The idea is that, because babies have a harder time following dialogue on screen, you want to focus on one thing instead of expecting them to pick it all up together. Having mostly words that rhyme allows them to focus on the sound of language, rather than the meaning of words. This is the one area I think the Baby Einstein videos are lacking in, they concentrate too much on vocabulary and not enough on the other parts of language that babies need to learn.

Monday, August 06, 2007


As usual, I don’t know what the fuck Scott is trying to say here. One would assume that he is either trying to make fun of people who call him names or trying to say that people shouldn’t call hi-….er…other people names, but in a funny way.

But for some reason he’s decided that the insult “misogynistic douche” is, in and of itself, snark worthy. (Which, it kinda is, but not for the reasons he goes into.) So he asks, "What would a misogynistic douche look like?"

A “misogynistic douche” would look like, well, a douche. Seeing as how the premise of the douche is that the most female of female parts is so dirty that one not only needs to clean it out regularly*, but that sometimes it needs to be cleaned out with bleach. (Yes, bleach.)

In case this is news to anyone (other than Scott), here is the PSA: douching is NOT a Good Idea. (Unless your doctor prescribes it.) It tends to cause problems rather than prevent them because it messes up your body's natural defenses. Even when all you use is water. It is even thought that douching may increase the risk of having an ectopic pregnancy and all sorts of other nasty stuff.

The question should not be "what do we need to put in douches to make them misogynistic?" , but rather, "why was using water not misogynistic enough?" and "What in god’s green earth moved Lysol to advertise (once upon a time) as a feminine hygene product?" And "why the fuck would anyone write a post contemplating ways to make douches more misogynistic than they are?"

The insult “misogynistic douche” is a bit redundant, and I can see making fun of it for that reason. But otherwise….as usual, Scott rants just make me very, very glad that I never have to deal with him in person.

*Yes, we all bathe regularly. We do not, however, all have enemas regularly. Or, in general, at all - at least not outside of non-mainstream porn or the doctor's office.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Coolness - and Not So Coolness

While going through the latest Jade Reporting post, I learned about an online clan for XBox that consists of kids ages 8 to 16, chaperoned by an adult. The clan, GR8, is all sorts of cool, giving kids reasons to finish their homework and stay away from gangs and the presence of adults helps the kids learn to be good sports and even pick up school related knowledge (like negative numbers) that would likely have taken them much longer to figure out on their own.

Unfortunately, the articles are all about the fact that various groups of assholes will often come and harrass the kids and parents (often - always? - moms) with all kinds of graphic language - and then report the parent as an abuser when they kick the offending parties out of the room.

Moving Picture Books

A co-worker came and told me yesterday - quite excitedly - that they are making movies of Where the Wild Things Are, Horton Hears a Who, The Tale of Despereaux, and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. (There were a couple others, but I'd either already heard about them - Spiderwick, The Dark is Rising - or I can't remember them at the moment.)

I don't think she got the reaction she expected.

Now, unlike some librarians and teachers I know, I'm really happy that Hollywood has decided to start making kids books into movies. When they are well done (and despite The Dark is Rising's likely suckitude, most of them have been very well done lately) I think they expose kids to good stories they may not have heard otherwise and it gets them interested in reading books they not have read otherwise. If they are done well, they leave the kids wanting more and are true enough to the spirit of the books that kids aren't annoyed by the books when they get a hold of them or, more rarely, are different enough from the books that each ends up complimenting the other.

The problem is, most of the good adaptations have been done on kid's novels. There is one decent adaptation of a kid's picture book, and that was Zathura, and Zathura, being about an adventure that we are given minimal details about, is uniquely adaptable. (And I suspect that, after the success of Jumanji the book and the awfulness of Jumanji the movie, it was deliberately written to be adaptable.)

So, I was skeptical when I heard the news. It's really hard to take a 32 page book with only several hundred words and adapt it well and come out with a commercially viable movie. How good these movies are will depend a lot on who is doing them and how willing they are to break the mold.

Unfortunately, most of what I want to know is not available. How long is the story? Are they intended to be kid's movies, or family movies? Did the filmmakers consider the developmental age of their target audience? Does the movie have not just the same story and characters, but the same pacing and the same age appropriate metaphor and symbolism?

Because , you see, the problem is that most people have no idea how to make movies for little kids. Hollywood can make Disney style movies that are for families really well. They've got that down pat. But they generally don't have any idea how to make a movie that is meant for kids. They don't seem to understand what it is about these books that is so appealing to young children, so the movie adaptations tend to only be superficially the same as the books. Despite appealing to all ages, Where the Wild Things Are and Horton Hears a Who are very much books for little kids, and I worry that they plan to make family movies out of them.

What's the difference between a kid's movie and a family movie, you ask? The same difference there is between a picture book and a good read aloud novel like Charlotte's Web.

First of all, they are shorter and the basic plot is simpler. Because kids are so entranced by TV/movies, the issue of length isn't one of boredom, it's about how much kids are able to understand the first time around. In order to be understandable by preschoolers, as Where the Wild Things Are is, the basic plot needs to be digestible in one sitting. The meaning of the story and nuances of the plot come with repetition, but if the story is most appropriate for their age/development, their answer to "what happened?" will usually cover the most fundamental plot points. Most kids will answer something about Max going to live with the Wild Things, spending time with the Wild Things, or leaving home and coming back. But if you ask a preschooler who just saw Cinderella for the first time what happened in it, they aren't as likely to give you the basic plot. They are more likely to say something about the mice than they are about the stepsisters. It's much harder for them to make sense of something that long and complicated on first viewing.

This isn't to say that kids shouldn't be exposed to longer stories. They most definitely should. However, they need to practice not only following complicated plots, but also understanding what stories mean. Especially in elementary school, the novels that teachers analyze with kids tend to be just a bit shorter and a bit easier to read than what the average student is capable of finishing. (Which confuses parents - who will sometimes be all "but my kid read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in class in fifth grade - it's fifth grade level reading!." Um, NO. It's third/fourth grade level.) This is because it's much harder to read for meaning when you are spending so much time working on the mechanics of reading. The same is true with movies. If preschoolers are spending a lot of time trying to follow what is happening, they aren't spending as much time absorbing the emotions and meaning involved.

Focus and repetition are also important for the same reasons. The side plots with the Cinderella's mice confuse preschoolers, but the various activities that Max engages in do not, in part because Max activities are repetitious, but the side plots in Cinderella are not. Max's activities with the Wild Things are not only all of the same variety (until he says "Stop!"), they also mimic the one side plot in the story - Max interactions with his mother. The former helps kids group them into a single plot point and the latter helps them not get caught up in trying to keep track of irrelevant information. It also makes it easier for them to recognize the metaphor in the story, because it's a pretty damn obvious one.

Last of all is pacing. The repetition in Where the Wild Things are - not just repetition in the text, but between text and the illustrations - makes for really slow pacing, despite the energetic action involved. Kids are given time to let each phrase or sentence sink in before moving onto the next. Part of why a lot of TV fascinates children is because it does the exact opposite. Frequent cuts, fast pacing, lots of stuff going on. They find it interesting largely because it's a challenge to to catch everything, and there is no failure because you are always going to catch something. Kids live for challenges, especially ones that have a high success rate and therefore don't often get frustrating. However, these aren't the shows that kids love. There is a reason why one of the most beloved children's shows, Mister Roger's Neighborhood, is painstakingly calm. If you watch the shows that are popular among preschoolers, you'll notice that a lot of them move much more slowly than shows that are popular among older kids.

There's a lot of good television for children that follow these basic rules, (plus a lot of other stuff): Charlie and Lola, Blue's Clues, and Mister Rogers, just to name a few. But there aren't as many good movies for kids, especially outside of direct to video. Most of the movies that do follow these rules tend to not fit the mold of what makes a successful commercial movie. Such as The Heffalump Movie, which manages to have more going on than the toddlers it appeals to can understand on first viewing, and yet not so much that toddlers walk away not understanding the basic plot: two animals/kids meeting and becoming friends. My niece may have become obsessed with both Cinderella and Lumpy upon watching their movies, but it was the basic plot of Lumpy's story that she was able to understand and therefore chose to constantly re-enact. I really hope that the movie version of Where the Wild Things Are will be the kind of movie that kids want to re-enact rather than just wanting stuff with Max on it.


This is what I've found so far: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is so far back in the pre-pre-pre production stage that we've got squat. It's also the one that I'm worried about the least, because I think it's the easiest of the three to adapt.

Where the Wild Things Are is being done by Spike Jonze. There is one picture available on the web, and I must admit, I saw it and went oooohhhh. Max in his Max suit looks freakin' adorable and you look at (what you can see of) the Wild Things and you think "I can see someone looking at those and coming up with Sendak's illustrations." Which is the right way to go, rather than trying to bring something that looks like Sendak's Wild Things to life. Unfortunately, they've also introduced a character named Alexander to the movie. Which I can only hope is the same idea as the astronaut in Zathura and works better than I fear it will.

Horton Hears a Who is being done by the "creators of Ice Age via Fox. They are far enough along that they have a trailer up. (The IMDB link will take you to it.) The character design looks very well done. The backgrounds....ok. (There is a reason why Seuss' backgrounds are often so minimal, and I'm not sure this movie translates that well.) The personalities are engaging but a bit off. The jokes for adults: "Boooo!!!"

PS - If Spike Jonze does pull Where the Wild Things Off and doesn't get at least nominated for best adapted screenplay, I'm going to be almost as pissed as I will be if he ruins it.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Tick Tock

It occurred to me today (while reading something only somewhat related ) that the Pie Fights happened over two years ago.

My, how time does fly.

It makes me wonder about how much things have changed and how much they've stayed the same.

It also makes me wonder if the MJ Kerfluffle (because, you can't give them serious names) will be the same sort of benchmark event for the comics/scifi blogosphere as the Pie Fights are.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Newflash: Women Not Adults

In the tradition of legislating on abortion, a certain distinction was made out of prudence: On the one hand there may a young, unmarried woman, who finds herself pregnant, with the father of the child not standing with her. Abandoned by the man, and detached from her family, she may feel the burden of the crisis bearing on her alone, with the prospect of life-altering changes. On the other hand, there is the man trained in surgery, the professional who knows exactly what he is doing — he knows that he is destroying a human life, either by poisoning a child or dismembering it.

NRO "pro-life expert" Hadley Arkes, responding to Anna Quindlen's question (via Shakesville)

(emphasis mine - but I'm enough of an idiot that someone else had to point this out the gender division to me)

Women are not moral agents. (Also, apparently, not doctors).

The people that should be punished are those evil men who take away what rightfully belongs to other men.

Of course, I also love the fact that she is unmarried and childless. Which, while statistically likely, isn't always the case. She isn't always young, either. Or, at least, she's usually old enough to die for her country. Although, a lot of women getting abortions are at an age where people tend to not have health insurance, and thus many affordable options for birth control. Hmmmmmm.....

The A Word

Not that anyone who would disagree with me is likely to read this, but having waded through quite a few looooooong threads on the recent Ohio bill (ok I skimmed some) and the inevitable questions of rights, child support payments, etc. I just needed to say a few things just for the hell of it. But I don't really think they'd add much the the several hundred long comment, well, this is why I have my own blog.

1) When it comes to abortion, having equal reproductive rights does not mean that men have "veto power," "a say" (legally), or even the right to be notified regarding pregnancy. Why? because it's not your effing body.

"But, but, but, I have a right to have a say it what happens to my child!"

2) If the state does not have enough of an interest in the fetus' welfare to override my bodily autonomy and privacy, neither do you. Why? Because you only have rights as a parent because you are the custodian of your child's rights. If the fetus' rights don't supersede mine, neither do your rights as a potential parent.

"But, but, but, then I should get to opt out of child support payments!"

3) Child support payments are not a contract with the mother, they are a contract with the child. Not being legally able to override a woman's autonomy does not change your responsibilities as custodian of your child's welfare and rights.

Or, as EG states over at feministing, Your complaint is really that biology is unequal. "[W]omen take on by far a greater burden when it comes to reproduction, and thus the stage of pregnancy falls into the purview of women's bodily integrity rather than men's." In other words, the fact that you are not the one pregnant means that you don't get to make legal decisions about pregnancy, but that has no bearing on the rights your child has. Biology is something that laws can work around (ie, does equal number of bathroom stalls mean equivalent number, or proportional to the number needed?), but it's not something that laws can change.

Cool Stuff!

I love it when we get neat stuff into the store. (My wallet, however, doesn't fare too well.)

We just got in a pop-up version of We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury. I love, love, love this book, but can never tell it well. The kids always love it anyway.

I wouldn't recommend getting the pop-up instead of the original (in any format) because they had to cut stuff to make it fit. Plus, pop-ups and toddlers don't mix well, no matter how much they love them. But it's absolutely adorable and the pop-ups are well done. So it's a nice treat for older kids (preschool-age, at least) or adults who love the book.

(btw, someone gave the board book a one star review on Amazon. I think the review itself is hilarious. And sad.)

We got in book 2 of Judson Robert's Strongbow Saga: Dragons From the Sea a few weeks ago. I haven't had a chance to read the second book yet, but I liked the first, Viking Warrior. More importantly, it was an engaging and well written non-magical adventure story that should appeal to teen boys - and is marketed to them, and not to adults. A rare occurrence indeed.

But of course, what I'm really waiting for is Eclipse, which is due out next week, and Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See?, which is due out a few weeks after that.

And this has nothing to do with cool new stuff, but having stumbled across the one star review of We're Going on a Bear Hunt, I was curious about whether or not other classics had gotten one star reviews on amazon as well. And sure enough, there are one star reviews for Brown Bear, Brown Bear, Goodnight Moon, and Where the Wild Things Are. Of course, the best ones are for kid's novels.

I don't expect everyone to love every classic, but some of these reviews just crack me up.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:

"I hate this book SOOOO much. I was seven when I read it for the first time. It scarred me to irrevocable fear and forced its malicious, acrid depiction of the murder of four innocent children down my vulnerable throat. Many have argued with me and have said that the children didn't die. However, I argue intensely. First of all, Willy Wonka is a liar and anything that expels from his horrid monstrous mouth can be regarded only for the sake of malevolence and remain at that..."

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing:

"Subversive. I swear kids like this book because it is their first introduction to sexuality. The persistent thread of "oh no, this forbidden thing can't be happening" makes for a sort of naughty thrill ride, a sort of prepubescent fantasy about acts of social misbehavior. Covertly sensual acts (like the eating of the turtle, the ultimate "oh no!") and bathroom allusions help charge kids up in ways they can't even grasp themselves."

A Wrinkle in Time:

" an extremely terrible book. Its attempt at science fiction is out of place and corny to the extreme. I read this book expecting it to be a decent novel, but instead I encountered garbage. Oh, and don't pay attention to the Newbery Medal Award that they awarded. They probably awarded it to A Wrinkle in Time because there were no other books published that year, so it won by default. Even then, it was more than likely that the people who gave the award were reluctant to do so. It only says that I gave it one star because there was no choice for 0 stars or lower. This book would be much more entertaining...if it were burnt. "

Bridge to Terabithia:

"My daughter was assigned Bridge to Terabithia as summer reading for 5th grade. Whenever I suggested she read it, she would groan and reply, 'Mom, its SOOOO boring.' Thinking she was stalling and complaining about nothing, I picked it up one night after she had gone to bed. She was right - it was boring. Really boring. The characters are not developed, the plot is superficial, and, in the end, none of the questions that are raised are really answered. I realize that it was an 'award winning book', but the competition must have been truly awful for this book to have been the best. If I may, I would recommend 'A Wrinkle in Time' instead (also on my daughter's reading list and a story we both have found much more enjoyable.)"


So, dear readers, which classic book(s) that everyone loves, did you hate with every fiber of your being?

I have to admit that I can't think of any myself at the moment. Once upon a time I might have said Goodnight Moon (not that I hated it, just that I didn't get The Big Deal), but having studied it in kid lit classes, I know understand why babies and toddlers love it.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Part 2: The Power of Myth

A review/analysis of Into the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst

(Go here for the Intro and links to Part I and beyond.)

As the back of the books says: "Beware the Wild - it bites..."

So, you know how I said in the last post that it would contain spoilers? That goes double for these next two. Seriously. I'm going to give away the two big twists, so DO NOT READ THIS UNTIL YOU'VE READ THE BOOK!

"You can't resist it," the fairy godmother said. "If you find a bear's house, you must eat their porridge. If you go to a ball, you must lose a slipper...."

The Wild that lives under Julie's bed is not just a fairy tale monster, it is the fairy tales - or rather the force that keeps them going. When a wish allows the Wild to escape and grow once more, the people that wander into it - or are swallowed up by it - act out the plots of various tales - over and over again. As Julie travels deeper into the Wild, various helpers explain to her that her mother managed to defeat the Wild before by somehow stopping this unending cycle. That is Julie's task - to follow in her mother's footsteps.

As I mentioned in Part 1, one of the main themes of Into the Wild is free will. The scariest thing that the Wild does is manipulate everyone's memory and personality, bit by bit, until they no longer know who they once were or even that they are repeating the same story over and over again.

"This is crazy," [Julie] said. "You're destroying people."

"On the contrary," it said. "I am giving them meaning."

One goes through most of the story not needing an answer as to why the Wild is doing this. It would be like asking why Julie's bicycle came alive; that's just the sort of thing that happens in fairy tales. Except, not. Because fairy tales and their cousins are full of symbolic meaning, so there must be some reason why the Wild is doing this particular thing.

The Wild acts the way it does because it's not only a metaphor for the stories themselves, it's also an allegory for how stories affect can us.

"Stay clear of stories. Especially Endings," Grandma hugged her quickly, and Julie tried to cling to her.

In the Wild, fairy tales are traps that Julie must avoid, for if she does she will forget herself and her mission. It took hundreds of cycles for the fairy tale characters to break free of the Wild the last time, and they did so at great cost. In order to do this they left clues for themselves so that when the next cycle started, they would remember what had happened before. As a general rule, the Wild does take away people's memories of the previous cycles. But it's not all-powerful, and Zel found a way to break free and encourage others to do the same. It was a chaotic and dangerous time.

Cindy gave [Julie] a sad smile. "Not many people know this, but my stepsisters didn't need the Wild to force them to be cruel. Every time they regained their memories, they hated me anew for their blinding. And I took it, all the work and all the hatred, because how could I blame them? After hundreds and thousands of cycles, there's no way to know what came first: how they treated me or how my birds pecked out their eyes."

In explaining itself to Julie, the Wild argues that "I give rewards to the good and punishment to the bad. I give order and sense to an otherwise arbitrary existence."

But Cinderella's confession, which comes only a handful of pages after the Wild's attempt to persuade Julie, reminds us that there is a dark side to all this order. Stories do give us meaning and order and sense, but they can also trap us into roles we'd be better off not fulfilling. Sisters pushed to violent jealousy. Brides married to men who only care that they are beautiful and silent. Wives desperate to give their husbands heirs. Stepmothers forced to compete with their own children for power and affection. Grandmothers left bitter by a world that does not value their power and wisdom.

In the chapters leading up to the Wild's escape, a large number of former fairy tale characters are presented. The personalities of each have some correlation to the tales they come from, but in many ways they no longer fit the role they once played. In taking parts of their memory and personality, the newly returned Wild transforms them into, at best, caricatures of themselves. The least lucky, such as Julie's grandmother, are consumed by their worst traits and doomed to constantly hurt the ones they love.

The why of the Wild is not the only important part of the metaphor, the how is vital as well. Not just the loss of free will, but the repetition of the stories - each time exactly like the last. For it is the lack of variation that turns real stories into traps, makes archetypes become stereotypes, and messes with our ability to make choices with our eyes wide open.

"Mom's not a hero," Julie said automatically. "She's Rapunzel."

Thankfully, there is another type of story being re-enacted in the Wild, and that is the story of how Julie's mother trapped it under her bed.

Before she ventures into the Wild, Julie not only arms herself with magical talismans from the linen closet, she also heads to the folklore section of the local library. Knowing that fairy tales are real, and knowing that her mother defeated the Wild once before, but having no idea how, Julie logically assumes the tale must be written down somewhere. But alas, having only happened once before, it is a rare tale - the librarian informs Julie that the tome she needs is out on interlibrary loan. So, in the end, Julie's quest is not just to defeat the Wild, but to uncover the other story about her mother.

Julie realized her mouth was hanging open. She shut it. Her mother was in a battle? She pictured Mom with scissors in one hand and a curl brush in the other riding a griffin. "You're joking."

At first glance, Into the Wild appears to be another fractured fairy tale. But not long into the story, one realizes that is is also a story about fractured fairy tales.

Stories do not just give us order and meaning, they also give us hope. Julie willingly braves the danger of the Wild for the sake of the people she loves, but like any new hero, she's often reluctant and uncertain. But unlike Luke or Frodo, Julie has no Obi Wan or Gandalf urging her on and giving her advice. Instead, she has stories of her mother. Throughout her journey in the Wild, Julie slowly learns more and more about her mother's bravery, determination, and cleverness. Whenever she despairs of defeating the Wild, the knowledge that it must be possible gives Julie the strength she needs to carry on.

It's no coincidence that the wide old man archetype most often becomes the narrator in theatrical versions of stories. In many ways that is their true role in myths, to make sure that the new heroes know the tales of the previous heroes. This is the positive power of stories, to give us hope and show us possibilities.

Her eyes flew open, wide awake, as the idea came to her. Instead of trying to escape the stories, she should be trying to live them.

Yes, that was the way to win: follow the tales to the happily ever after of her mother's rescue tale - and avoid the role of evil step-sister who spits toads and has her eyelids pecked out by talking birds. She may not be able to avoid being in the tales altogether, but she could try to be in the right one.

At one point, after seeing her nemesis from school acting out a role in the tale of the Swan Princes, she comes to the realization that she is in a unique position to avoid being captured. Unlike her classmate, she knows the stories and is able to recognize them before they can capture her. And while her mother, grandmother, and their friends are quickly trapped into the same roles they had before, Julie does not belong to a particular story yet.

Julie, in fact, gets to write her own story, just as her mother learned to do.

"Oh, I don't blame them.,"The first dwarf said. "In fact, I envy them. To have always known who you are, to be able to change who you are, to shape your fate, to make your own story...." He nodded at Julie in reference.

The stories themselves become Julie's guide. Rather than becoming trapped by them, she is able to choose among them. But in order to do this she needs to realize that she has the ability to do so and she needs to have a variety of stories to choose from.

The librarian knows this, and this is why she made the wish that set the Wild free. When we first meet Linda she comes across as opinionated and narrow-minded. She lectures Zel on the importance of stories and Zel ignores her because she knows how harmful stories can be. The identity of the wish-maker is kept a secret until the epilogue (although clever readers will guess the answer earlier) and it is assumed that whoever did so was foolish and reckless. But Linda is neither, and though outspoken, she is most definitely not narrow-minded. It's important to remember that when she extols the virtues of the fairy tales, she concludes with "I tell, you, a fresh influx of stories could solve most of the world's problems."

Linda the librarian at first comes across as a traditional gatekeeper, a defender of the status quo - or worse, someone who yearns to turn back the clock. But again she is neither. Linda does not accidentally set the Wild free, nor does she wish to return to the Dark Ages. Instead she wishes for, and gets, an influx of new stories to guide her young charges. Linda knows exactly what she is doing, she trusts Julie to find her way out of the Wild and back into the outside world. Yet another story metaphor, this time about trusting children to both understand the difference between fact and fiction and to be clever enough to take meaning and hope from stories, while avoiding the pitfalls of harmful stereotypes.

In the end, Julie accomplishes what she sets out to do, and, in doing so, she gives the librarian - and her other charges - the inspiration they so desperately need.

Part I: Mothers and Daughters

A review/analysis of Into the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst

(Go here for the Intro and links to Part II and beyond.)

One of the things I've noticed lately is that when movies and TV shows want to depict a meaningful but complex relationship between a parent and an adult/older child, the parent is almost always a father. At least outside of "chick flicks," anyway. (In fact, that rather seems to be the definition of a "chick flick" - a movie that is about the relationships between women, rather than the relationships that men have.)

I think that part of the reason that a lot of girls and women are drawn to fairy tales is because the opposite is true. While the characters in traditional fairy tales are often one dimensional and not always the best representations of women, the relationships in fairy tales tend to include a lot of mothers. Cinderella, Hansel and Gretal, Snow White, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty...while the mother figure is often an evil one, at least she is there, making the stories usually about girls with mommy issues, not boys with daddy issues.

Sometimes there are even other adult women - good and bad - who figure prominently in the story. And they aren't all bad; in Little Red Riding Hood, it is Red's positive relationships with the adult women in her life that provides the catalyst needed for the story to start. (Despite the paternalistic tone of the version most of us grew up with.)

WARNING - massive spoilers below the cut!

Her mom smiled, and Julie grinned back. And for an instant, everything was ok.

The same is true of Into the Wild. Julie's story begins with Julie having to deal with being her mother's daughter and how that isn't always easy. Julie also accepts the call to adventure solely because of her emotional ties to her mother, Rapunzel, and her grandmother. And as we all know, it was Rapunzel's mother who provided the conflict needed for her story to begin as well . While not important to the plot of the story, this tidbit makes it clear that Julie's relationship with Zel, although special, is not unique. Julie's story is part of a larger pattern, and this connection to the cycle of mothers and daughters makes her journey more meaningful, not less so.

So it's no surprise that Sarah Beth Durst dedicated the story to her mother and her daughter. In interviews, Durst has talked about free will being one of the main themes of the book, and it is. The relationships between women is another one. Throughout the story, female friends of Julie and Zel act as helpers and guides, and the relationship between Julie and her mother is central to the action that takes place.

Zel sighed. Sometimes she understood why her own adoptive mother had locked her in a tower. It was hard to watch the person she loved more than her own life grow distant. Each time her daughter rolled her eyes at her, Zel felt her heart twist. She didn't want to wait nine or ten years for Julie to like her again.

Durst does a very good job of not only showing the conflict between Julie, who just wants to fit in, and Rapunzel, who is afraid of losing her daughter to the abyss of teenager's inner turnoil, but also of depicting it in such a way as to make both characters sympathetic to readers of all ages. While most of the story is shown from Julie's point of view, the entire second chapter is spent shadowing Rapunzel instead as she goes about her daily routine at the Salon. This not only provides some necessary world building, as Julie's understanding of the Wild and the past is patchy at best, it also allows kids to step into Rapunzel's shoes and see her as a person and not just a mother archetype.

When Zel and Julie fight, we feel for both. When Julie wonders if she is the cause of her mother's capture by The Wild, we can all empathize with having wished our parents gone at some point, despite the fact that such a wish would mean our deepest fears as well. And even if we haven't been a mother ourselves, we can see that Zel's situation is no easier than Julie's. The stories she refuses to share are do not belong to just her, and intention is obviously to protect Julie, not dismiss her.

Mom went in? In the Wild? In that Thing that ate a police helicopter? Her mom was in that?

When Julie sets off to defeat the Wild, she does so for the sake of her mother and grandmother. Throughout the story she also learns that, in doing so, she is following in her mother's footsteps. Julie learns a lot about her mother during her journey, and she consequently learns a lot about herself, as well. Many fairy and folk tales - and myths and the like - are about the younger generation replacing the older. In very old versions of Little Red Riding Hood, the grandmother stays dead, symbolizing that Red's entry into adulthood is part of a cycle of life and death, of new life replacing old. While neither the grandmother nor the mother die in Durst's book, the story is still very much about Rapunzel having taken on the role of protective mother that her own mother once held - and about Julie beginning her own path towards adulthood.

She looked up at her mother with a fierce expression on her face, an expression that Zel had never seen her wear. For an instant, Julie reminded her of herself. Was that how she'd looked when she'd fought against the Wild?

Into the Wild is an incredibly feminist fairy tale not only because it features a brave and likable female protagonist, but because it recaptures the original spirit of many old fairy tales: the wisdom of old wives and the importance of mothers passing on such wisdom to their daughters.

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I'm going to be fiddling around with the hide/show feature today, so ignore any repetitive posts, and ignore any new posts for today unless you want Into the Wild spoiled.

update hide/show now working. You may now read without any fear of spoilers.