Wednesday, December 12, 2007


I have a post stuck somewhere in draft hell about trust and experience and how people interpret the books they read, the movies they see, etc.

Reading this comment over at Random Thoughts and watching Criminal Minds tonight made me think of it.

The gist of the comment at Random Thoughts was this:

You see, you say something like this and you get messages of support.

I say something like this and get told that I shouldn't be saying women should go out and make comics. Of course, I was a lot more confrontational, but still.

Tammy's response was:

I'm sorry. I know it ain't exactly fair. Sometimes gender does count for more.

Which, a fan of Tammy's books, I hate to disagree with her because it reminds me that she's merely mortal, a fan of comics and scifi and fantasy and books and movies and TV and lots of other stuff, I have to call bullshit.

All reading, viewing, listening, etc. involves a certain amount of interpretation.

So, I don't listen when Tammy says this but ignore people like her commenter because Tammy is a girl and the commenter is a boy, I listen to Tammy because I actually know who the fuck she is. Relatively speaking, anyway. I've read her stuff, both fiction and non-fiction, and I have a general idea of where she's coming from so I can read between the lines a lot better than when I run across some random person I've never encountered before.

Now, it's true that being female generated a certain amount of initial trust back when I started reading her books. Or, well, not trust, exactly, but a certain amount of capital when it came to risk analysis. (Cost of book versus chance it will suck.) Not because of anything to do with biology, but because of socialization. Hers, not mine, that is.

Mickle is quite aware that male authors are capable of writing female characters worthy of mountains of praise. But she has noticed that male authors are more likely than female authors to write books that get lots of fannish praise - but also include female characters that make her want to raise invading armies.

More importantly, unlike the guy who is suspicious of the female mechanic because he's never dealt with a women who knows anything about cars before, logic and basic understanding of the culture I live in support my risk analysis rather than contradict it. A female mechanic, after all, is more likely to have faced a lot of discrimination than oh, say, actually been able to sleep her way into a job. (I've never really gotten that. At least not how common such accusations are, anyway. Are women so completely devoid of logic that we would willingly do two jobs for the price of one? en masse? Anyways.....) However, considering how often the male experience is treated as the default, it unfortunately makes a lot of sense that a not insignificant number of male writers, both good and bad, would write women that sound fake.

Still, despite all that, gender was a tiny fraction of my consideration when deciding whether to spend all of 5 bucks on one of Tammy's books. The main factor was the vast amounts of praise her books always got, and who was giving the praise, and what the praise actually was.

The same logic and risk analysis comes into play whenever I decide how to spend my money and time.

The point of my previous (and now molding) post on trust and interpretation was that while I ignore a lot of stuff that might otherwise piss me off as long as it comes from writers that I know, I don't do this out of some misguided sense of fan loyalty. When Julia Quinn's heroes start acting like jerks, I don't ignore my feminist sensibilities because, golly gee willickers, that Julia person seems like a nice girl! I keep reading because I know from experience that there's going to be a payoff a chapter or two down the line.

As a more accessible example of what I mean (since I'm guessing a limited number of my readers are Julia Quinn fans), tonight's episode of Criminal Minds started out with an opening that would have had me switching channels if I didn't know the show already. Not only is the girl who is kidnapped the silly girl who doesn't listen to all the scary warnings about teen girls gone missing! she's also kidnapped while out alone, at night, with her boyfriend. Making out, of course. With suggestions of much more to follow. Bad slutty teen girl, you broke one the cardinal rules of being in a bad horror flick! You must be punished!!!!!!!!

However, not ten minutes later, my double crush says one of the many true things that are acknowledged more often on Criminal Minds than on any other show I've ever watched - that the evil, bad, monster who is raping, torturing, and murdering women does it (in part) because he hates women. And not "hates women so much it's made him crazy crazy crazy!" But "he's messed up enough to kill and he doesn't think too highly of women." The "is willing to commit murder" and "really dislikes women" are connected but not necessarily dependent upon one another. (Thus the constant reminders that cruelty to animals is part of the homicidal triad.)

Every time one of the characters says something like tonight's "Well, we know what he thinks of women." I want to send the writers a lifetime supply of brownies. Especially when it's followed up by "he's a part of this community" - in other words he's not some monster hiding in the shadows, he's one of you. He's a husband, a father, a co-worker. Then I also want to send them milk to go with the brownies.

-mental reminder to donate to the writer's guild - BAD MICKLE!-

And that's before you get to the subplot of rape victims not being believed, the conversations between the victims that revolve around them worrying what other people think of them, and the conversations between JJ and Hotch about what it's like to be the target of so much violence* and the fine line between not caring enough and being consumed by empathy.

Honestly, I wasn't overly impressed with this episode. But part of the reasons why I love Criminal Minds is because the more I analyze it, the more I agree with it. And the more I re-watch seasons 1 and 2, the more I'm convinced that there's a lot being snuck in there that works as commentary about the bad trends it's supposedly a part of.

Like violence on TV.

I was cringing through a good chunk of this episode. The stuff they were describing? Yeah, I can totally see a victim of that being extremely eager to convince herself that everyone is right, she was lying, it never happened to her. But - they never actually show any of it. It's all suggestion.

Fast forward to the opening of tonight's CSI:NY and one of the many reasons why I stopped watching the CSI's a long time ago: several shots (maybe even a full minute or two of screen time) of a dead guy with a big gaping hole where is mouth, upper chin, and nose used to be. That? DO NOT NEED.

Now, this isn't to say that the CM writers don't fuck up (scroll down to the third *). But it does mean they do so less often. And that when they don't, they sometimes get it really, really right. I'm all for less violence towards women on TV, but I much prefer CM's more realistic portrayals and stats to CSI:NY's statistically negligent man whose mouth was blown off by an exploding cigar.

Anyway, back to the main point.

It may be that there is more back story to the comment on Tammy's post, but, well, to go with the themes laid out so far (or, attempted to, anyway)...this is an argument that I've seen come up several times before. And the people crying sexism** when feminists note the gender of the author, or people listen to the Tammys or even Ragnells of the world more than the random dudes out there....they are often people who can't seem to differentiate experience from discrimination, caution from accusation, example from bullying.

If I ignore you, or even berate you, because I misinterpreted what you said, the fault isn't necessarily mine.

The fact that CM warms my heart - despite my being heartless, bitchy feminist- that doesn't mean that CM's opening scene tonight wasn't stupid.

It was. Very.***

Likewise, if I misinterpret what you are saying because it sounds a hell of a lot like what really stupid people say...that's not really my fault. The likely explanation is not that I'm a mean feminist who thinks less of men, but that I misinterpreted what you said because you began it by making it clear that punishing slutty teen girl with a serial rapist/murder/torturer was considered to be appropriate. Or, it could be that experience, logic, a basic understanding of human nature, and risk analysis predicts that you are blind to the fact that she is being punished at all.

Then again, it simply might be useful to establish a certain amount of trust and understanding before we delve into complicated topics.

*technically, the conversation is about what it's like to have so much in common with so many of the victims. But again, an interpretation that takes past episodes into account - which we are obviously meant to do, what with two echoes of Vigilante!Elle! in the same episode - reminds us that JJ isn't just like the victims. Aside from the FBI training, she is the ideal victim - at least in TV land - and has even, like Elle, played the victim to get the case solved.

**unsurprisingly, such people also tend to call this "reverse sexism" -sigh- I'll just leave that one be for now, 'cuz I'm all out of outrage tonight. Except as directed towards my family and my inability to communicate to them the political and social ideas that are the driving force behind my chosen career path. I really think they believe I just love books that much. Game Nights are apparently just bribes. -sigh- sorry for the digression, I had a long fight with my dad and sister tonight about the writer's strike. not fun.

***It was made less so by the team talking about how well executed the attack was; it's clear that the unsub was, um, talented enough to have found someone to grab. This was cancelled out, however, by the scene where the second victim blames herself for what happened to her, and nothing in the episode contradicts this. Although I guess one could argue that since this is the segue into the victims talking about shame.....And I was already willing to give them bonus points for showing some male flesh.....

No comments: