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Having just finished ‘The Golf War’ in my rewatch leading up to ‘A Tale of Two Stans’, some thoughts on bully culture and narrative influence:

First off, let’s just get this out of the way: Pacifica Northwest is a bully. She actively seeks out and torments a girl, an age peer, and derives entertainment and satisfaction from seeing her suffer. Now let’s get another thing out of the way: Pacifica never apologizes for this, in universe or through the narrative.

One of the problems I continually find with Gravity Falls but can usually work around is its lack of actual adult role models. No, Stan doesn’t count here. Neither does Soos. Wendy is a teenager, and behaves as such, and is definitely not an adult. TvTropes has a term for this, Adults Are Useless. Now, Stan, for instance, has plenty of good moments, and is more or less a decent guardian, and is reasonably supportive of the twelve year olds he’s watching except when he’s not* (but that’s another post altogether). But Stan has been proven, over and over, to not be a reasonable, mature caretaker. “This seems like something a responsible parent would disapprove of. Good thing I’m an uncle!” “Remember, when there’s no cops around, anything’s legal!”

It’s funny, and given the age demographic the show is shooting for, understood and accepted as humorous statements, rather than object lessons. But it sets up a paradigm within the show that the adult with whom the twins are closest isn’t someone to turn to for help in a situation that requires reasoned, measured thinking. Stan’s first reaction to seeing Pacifica insulting Mabel to her face in ‘The Golf War’ is to threaten to punch her, and while I’m sure everyone was pleased at his anger on Mabel’s behalf, it’s obviously not the solution to the problem. This feeds into the much larger problem I have with the power of narrative influence, in this episode in particular and with regards to Pacifica’s treatment of Mabel as a whole.

‘The Golf War’ is framed around rivalry, and its message is focused on how rivalries are silly and mean and pointless. Problem is, Mabel and Pacifica aren’t playing out a story about rivalry, they’re victim and victimizer in a larger story about bullying. At the end of this episode, Mabel apologizes to Pacifica for cheating, and by doing so, inadvertently endangering her, and the story ends with the two of them parting on something of a high note. When ‘Northwest Mansion Mystery’ brings Pacifica back for her second outing in season two, her antagonism towards Mabel is ignored as she interacts almost completely with Dipper. Particularly after NMM, the fandom rallied around Pacifica as the victim of parental emotional abuse, and reframed her relationship with both twins as friendly or romantic. Pacifica moved forward a hero in the fandom’s collective consciousness, and so fandom has largely elected to ignore her behavior in every episode prior.

Just so we’re clear, ‘The Golf War’ infuriates me. After having been bullied for two months, after Pacifica insulted her looks, her clothes, her friends and her family to her face, Mabel apologizes for cheating. The object lesson focuses on the pettiness and ridiculousness of the Lilliputtians’ rivalry and presents Pacifica’s antagonism as a mutual hatred, rather than a one-sided attack. The episode ignores every time Mabel turned the other cheek and forwent revenge and laughed off Pacifica’s attacks, and all because Mabel made one mistake. The moral of the story becomes “The root of your uncharacteristic misbehavior doesn’t matter, because you misbehaved. The fact that you spent all summer forgiving and attempting to placate the person bullying you is irrelevant because you cheated once. It’s only in the nature of bullies to be cruel, but one mistake made by a “good girl” matters more than anything they do and must be punished because you are supposed to be nice.” Calling Mabel and Pacifica’s relationship a rivalry is a retcon and a lie. The point of the episode (or so I’ve heard) was in part to add depth to Pacifica’s character, as many people felt she came across as an unrealistic mean girl stereotype, but in my experience, immature children picking someone to attack is perfectly realistic; there are plenty of kids whose sense of empathy hasn’t developed and whose parents don’t discourage bad behavior.

When NMM reveals the extent of her parents’ emotional abuse and neglect, it seemed to lay to rest all of Pacifica’s cruelty in one go. I would absolutely love a longer storyline with Pacifica defying her parents, running away, and yes, sure, even laying out a sleeping bag in the Mystery Shack’s attic with the twins, but only if and after she apologizes to Mabel. Her own history of abuse contextualizes her reasons to bully, but it doesn’t excuse or overwrite it. Much though I disagree with most of AA’s rhetoric, the concept of owning up to past mistakes, making amends with no expectation or demand of forgiveness, is important. Pacifica needs to be rescued, but Mabel owes her nothing. Befriending her brother doesn’t count toward that apology, and Dipper doesn’t speak for Mabel, much though he staunchly defends her. The only way to stop cyclical abuse is to recognize the pattern and choose act differently than the people who hurt you, to stop lashing out at external targets.

Frustratingly, I highly doubt this is where the show is going. It would be difficult, though by no means impossible, to pull off a nuanced and frank discussion about abusive cycles and the reasons kids bully in a twenty minute episode of an action adventure series, but given the show’s history of tone-deafness when it comes to addressing kids’ phobias, anxieties and insecurities in a sensitive and mature fashion**, I have little hope. Nevertheless, as I rather enjoy Gravity Falls and would like it to continue to improve, I thought I’d add my voice, in hopes of starting a slightly less anemic dialogue about this character and her arc.


*hi ‘Dipper vs Manliness’, ‘Little Dipper’, ‘Boss Mabel’ and every instance of Stan mocking a child for, essentially, not being an adult (and a hypermasculine and aggressive adult, at that).

**you could make a fascinating and compelling case for the ways in which Stan’s blatant favoritism of Mabel speak to a Boomer mentality caused by growing up in an aggressively masculine and probably single-parent household, and how that informs Stan’s “toughening up” Dipper by being harder on him and less willing to stand up for him, but this is a kids’ show and I don’t think one should have to write a dissertation to get to that conclusion.

#gravity falls #mabel pines #pacifica northwest #northwest mansion mystery #bully culture #emotional abuse
gen_is_gone: blue and yellow text icon with the words "I reject your canon and write my own" in blue letters (fandom)
Things I have noticed:

1. The set-building and scenery hold up beautifully. The CG maybe not so much, but since older and more noticeable generated effects is a fondness of mine, that's no issue.

2. The lack of Chinese/Chinese-American cast is very consipicuous. Like, overwhelmingly noticeable.

3. Having spent much of this summer reading the epic-length recovery story of someone in an uncannily similar position to River's, her whole talking-in-riddles mooncalf shitck is coming off more than a might offensive, and deeply frustrating given the story that could have been told, without changing any of her backstory.

4. Ye gods, do I ever want to smack Malcolm Reynolds. It's funny; when I was a wee middle-schooler, watching for the very first time, Mal's whole unpredictable, sometimes angry sometimes funny sometimes affectionate sometimes an asshole routine didn't bother me, and mostly I didn't even notice. Mal wasn't the most interesting member of the crew, but as a kid I sort of understood that he was the Main Character, and had to be there. Becoming acquainted with the shocking notion that the lead role didn't have to go to the straight cis white guy obviously made me question the roles of most of the formative stories of my younger years, but Mal is an interesting case.

He was never my favorite by any means, but I didn't mind him, and I really do remember an attitude of "well, he needs to be there, might as well go with it" in regards to him and his often sideways actions that I didn't feel even for others in his mold, either because I did dislike them, or because I loved them, flaws or not.

These days my response is pretty much "no, he doesn't need to be there, everyone would have had an easier time without him, the only thing he's done is get them all in one place by dint of owning the ship in question, so godsdammit Mal, shut up and go away". That's hyperbole, but damn is he annoying. Between the constant, unending alpha male dominance games and the absurd, truly reprehensible Madonna/Whore complex thing over Inara, he ends up causing half of all of his problems from his own bad attitude.

*grumble grumble bitch moan* The irritating thing is that Firefly really is such a cultural byword now that not having an opinion is next to impossible and having any opinion other than the steadfast belief in its flawless martyrdom as proof that geeks are still getting screwed by the Man is me and my bitchy feminazi hatred of anything cool. (Again, hyperbole, if there's anyone actually playing along at home). And there is still enough to recommend it and make me wistful for the show it could have been, not just because of its cancellation, but because of the directions within the few episodes it has that Whedon didn't have the knowledge or bravery to take.

I'm not saying any of this to Roommate, because I'm tired of being the one jump all over peoples' favorite thing or taint someone's experience before they've had it (try though I might to find an RL friend who feels the same way about the Tenth Doctor as I do, who wasn't a convert of mine). But I'm glad that she likes what she's seen of it, and I haven't asked her for an opinion on the show's many flaws.

I feel I should get a gold star.
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A few days ago I picked up Orphan Black. It's interesting; while I really do love the concept of clones and admire Tatiana Maslany's acting abilities to a ridiculous extent, I keep getting weird, jarring tonal shifts.

I'd heard from various sources that the most deadly character on the show was the Canadian soccer mom, and while that is true, there are parts of Alison Hendrix's storyline that...don't mesh well with the tone of other parts of the series. While Sarah's self-destructive tendencies are played very straight, and continue to be a problem in her life even after all the charades kept up in the first part of season one have fallen apart, Alison's alcoholism and prescription abuse are played almost for laughs. The audience is meant to find the Stepford Wives routine funny as Alison becomes more and more paranoid and her anxiety sends her into a downward spiral that ends with her watching her best-friend choke to death in an accident pretty entirely meant to be seen as black comedy.

I don't have a problem with black comedy, it's that other characters' mental illness and quiet paranoia brought on by the clones being constantly observed and stalked is played for drama, but Alison, suburban soccer mom that she is, becomes the funny neurotic one, obsessed with her image and upholding the status quo.

Another thing that bothers me is Cosima's relationship with Delphine. Now, I'm only halfway through season two, so maybe things change, but from the glimpses of fandom I'd seen, I knew that they were the OTP of Clone Club. When actually watching them though, I just get constantly skeeved out. Delphine is Cosima's monitor, hired by the people who created the clones to insinuate herself into Cosima's life and report on her actions. She's introduced mid-way through the first season since Cosima's new at her university, and Cosima is almost immediately suspicious of her, but continues their relationship anyway. Delphine was implied to have been dating (or just screwing) Dr. Leekie, the scientist behind the clones, and was ordered to get closer to Cosima after Cosima misread a signal and kissed her, freaking Delphine right the hell out. When Delphine returns, she insists she had never thought about bisexuality before (and, to the show's credit, it actually explicitly uses the term bisexual) and the two of them jump right into bed, despite Cosima's suspicions. When she's later proven to be exactly right about Delphine's role in her life, the two fight and and make up within the space of one episode, and Delphine at the end is still working for Leekie, and by her own admission still monitoring Cosima.

I appreciate an actual f/f pairing becoming canon onscreen, and I really appreciate that that Delphine identifies herself as bi, but...I just wish that one of the exceedingly rare canonical f/f pairings available in a show that actually holds my interest wasn't so...blatantly creepy.

Another weird note (and I know this comes off like complaining, but i really do like the show more than I dislike it) is that Sarah's daughter Kira, who's somewhere around eight years old, does not act her age. She's not only ridiculously perceptive, (which in and of itself is far from unusual) she's also aware of adult situations around her in a way not really normal or typical of a child. My mental rewrite is that she's exceptionally Gifted, but even then, Gifted kids are still kids, and don't really tend to pick up on things like an adult who's more or less raised them keeping new secrets, and then be aware of what these are and that Mommy should be told but no one else. Or not even that, but that the language she uses to express herself is isn't just advanced for a child of her age, but rather adult concepts in child-words. If that makes sense. Mostly she's a Mysterious Plot Device Child, which is somewhat annoying. I'm waiting for her to actually act her age.

Eh. I like where it's going enough to keep watching, and the things that bother me have yet to overwhelm my enjoyment of it, so I'm going to at least finish watching season two before passing a full judgement. These are just my thoughts at the 3/4ths mark, I guess.

Also, everyone is very attractive and winds up in next to no clothing at some point or another, so there's that.
gen_is_gone: two one way arrows pointing in opposite directions (Default)
Watching the CNN documentary series on the Sixties over obsessed with the Kennedy assassination is not actually doing much to improve a phenomenally shitty day. Gods above, people back then were even worse about...sensitivity, everything, than they are today, in the era of talk radio and cable news. I like the series so far, but the previous two episodes have been an hour long apiece. This is two hours long and covers one event and the endless conspiracy theories that came after.
gen_is_gone: two one way arrows pointing in opposite directions (cake)
So somebody on an Imdb message board (and wow, nothing good ever comes from a sentence that starts like that), in an attempt to refute the OP's negative review of the HBO miniseries Political Animals, said that the show wasn't meant to be a particularly realistic depiction of modern American politics, and that it was meant to be light fun.

While I too disagreed with the OP that the show was boring/not compelling, I have to ask of the second poster: were we watching the same show?

It managed to pack into six episodes some of the most dense misery I've seen on television recently, outside of the news.

Everyone involved manages to find new and exciting ways to make the wrong choices and accidentally screw themselves over in every. single. damn. episode. Some of them (I'm looking at you, TJ) in life-threatening ways, others simply (or really, not so simply) politically. There are two addicts who are major characters, one of them more or less functional, the other in a not-at-all-contained death spiral of doom and despair. It's fucking awful. Another character jumps off the deep end with a reporter, almost immediately regrets it, and spends the latter half of the series trying unsuccessfully to contain his mistake. There are genuinely good politicians and reporters trying to do right by the American public, and then there are the sleazeballs and the assholes and the ruthlessly ambitious (as opposed to reasonably ambitious, something the narrative takes time to point out) all vying for the opportunity to fuck these people over, often in viciously personal ways. It is emphatically not a "fun" show. It's painful.

It's also much better than I was expecting.

I have my continued issues with the way some plot threads were handled--my thoughts on TJ Hammond alone might deserve their own post somewhere down the line--but by the time I finished I was impressed. I actually really enjoyed all of the credited characters in their own right almost immediately, and while the politics weren't that subtle to begin with, things definitely evened out, and I did find myself disappointed after the end of the sixth and final episode that there wouldn't be any more. It also ended on a pretty massive cliffhanger, which just isn't fair.

One thing I noted while watching is that in the same vein as Puella Magi Madoka Magica the show manages to have an undercurrent examination of a theme entirely unrelated to its surface plot. In Madoka Magica's case, this was the devastating effects of unrequited love; here it's an examination of infidelity, in all of its forms, and viewed through the lenses of every player involved in an affair. Someone cheating on a long-term partner or spouse makes up at least a B plot of four out of the six episodes, and rather pointedly, one character who could be considered the central protagonist (one who'd in the past written quite angrily about how despicable she thought cheating was) is involved in affairs both as the cheated on and as the Other Woman. Fascinating stuff.

On a related note, I think it's hilarious that Sebastian Stan and Dylan Baker are playing basically the same roles they played in Kings, in a show that shares more than surface similarities.

Aaaaand now it's technically tomorrow, and I should go to bed.

Eh.

May. 7th, 2014 10:24 pm
gen_is_gone: highly saturated image of stark tower with most of the letters blown away, leaving the ostentatious A (some assembly required)
Agents of SHIELD is getting more interesting; if nothing else, the pace has certainly picked up post Captain America and the more serialized episodes alone have improved the show dramatically. I continued to be impressed by Chloe Bennet's acting range, and man do I like Ward as a sociopathic HYDRA agent way more than I did as a grumpy SHIELD agent. Oh! Oh! And it was awesome to see Hill again, especially to see her reaction to Ward being dick as well as evil. A thing of beauty.

On the other hand, FitzSimmons continue to be be Written Wrong by people who Clearly Don't Understand. It's okay though, as I've decided to steal them and file off the serial numbers. Not sure how or where to put them yet, but I'm sure something will come to me.

I wonder, given his reaction, what Fitz saw Ward as? Did he have a crush? Did he admire Ward in particular or think him a close close friend? I mean, everyone took the news of his betrayal understandably hard, but Fitz has been on a three episode meltdown since he found out. He friggin' trashed up a room and refused to believe it. Honestly, I think he took it worse than Skye.
gen_is_gone: blue and yellow text icon with the words "I reject your canon and write my own" in blue letters (fandom)
So again talking about Agents of Shield, because I can't get off a topic to save my life, my biggest source of frustration from it is also the reason I'm still watching. Yeah, I'm somewhat curious as to how things play in relation to Captain America 2, but really? not that much. My thing is that I both hate and adore FitzSimmons.

To clarify, they really ping a writers' kink of mine in terms of relationships, at least on the surface. They are, for lack of a better term, incredibly drift-compatible. They orbit each other and complete each others' sentences and communicate almost entirely through techno-babble and playful bickering. They're so close that other people refer to them as a single entity, one name. My problem then stems from a typical case of the Writers Are Writing Them Wrong. It's a common and tragic fan disease.

It might not make sense, given I'm describing a straight couple, but they're being written too heteronormative. Or, erm, perhaps that's not right. They're being written too neurotypical. Or maybe it's some combination of both.

See, the FitzSimmons in my head are much, much less "normal" than the FitzSimmons onscreen. Headcannon dump time: I think they're both bi, and probably lean more towards a grayish asexual than anything. They share the same tastes in people, and oddly enough those tastes don't actually run towards each other. They're both more interested in very cis, standard types of masculine/feminine beauty, but are also more than likely indifferent to actual physical sex. It's a thing they can do or not, and they're just as happy working or watching silly movies as they would be banging. They are a "couple" for a given definition of the word, in that they've both acknowledged that they're in love with each other, and all of the other, more standard couple things come secondary to that. As such, either of them showing interest in someone else is more likely to be met with curiosity, and often mutual interest rather than jealousy, as both of them know that the other comes first.

Unfortunately, that's all in my head, and not on the screen. Fitz gets put out every time Simmons looks sideways at another guy, and they aren't together, and Simmons's interest in Tripplet prompt boring jealousy and unrequited love pining. It's just so standard. Honestly, screw the jealousy plotline. Have Fitz be jealous of Simmons for getting to hang with the hot agent. Have the two of them pause in the middle of making out to babble about some science thought that drifted into their heads and then totally forget about sex and start theorizing. Have the two of them scheme about ways to get Skye into bed. Anything but the oh so common unrequited love/oblivious to love thing going on. I want them to be less normal.

Also, it continues to be Weird and Wrong that I'm talking about a British guy named Fitz who isn't a guitarist from 1963.
gen_is_gone: criminal minds team standing in an elevator (team and family)
...while Agents of Shield (and gods, I'm realizing all of my thoughts have been occupied by Marvel recently; I swear I'm not like this normally) has generally been improving, I continue to make perhaps unfair comparisons to Criminal Minds and end up petulantly mumbling "but Hotch wouldn't send non-combatants to do field work" and "but Morgan wouldn't voice his screaming trust issues in front of strangers"...you get the idea.

The biggest problem I think I'm having in this regard is that procedural-types shows tend to be cut from a similar cloth no matter what their subject matter, and as such have standard character/plot/villain molds from which to work. This isn't a bad thing, just a fact of storytelling, but the fact that Show (in its seasons 1-5 prime) took easy character bases and made real, breathing people from them while Agents of Shield is still writing fairly shallow* characters makes it all the more disconcerting to recognize the underpinnings that both casts share.

That being said, it isn't unwatchable as far as procedurals go, and it's nice to see aliens and comic book science on network tv.


*Shallow isn't to criticize per say, just to point out that Phil Coulson is (to me) a character being written played by an actor saying lines; Aaron Hotchner exists as someone alive to me.
gen_is_gone: two one way arrows pointing in opposite directions (cake)
In more or less a continuation of yesterday's foray into teen not-quite horror, and for more or less the same reasons (i.e. Sebastian Stan being attractive and relevant to my currant interests) I watched the first few episodes of Kings. My response, inasmuch as I have one, is a resounding...meh.

I have something of a history with Kings, in that by complete accident, and without having ever seen it, it inspired one of my original fic worlds. Coming back from a vacation in New York the year it came out, I saw a trailer for it in taxi and was curious, but had no way of accessing it at the time and had already forgotten about it later. I never got around to watching it, or even looking it up, really, and I didn't actually realize it was meant to be a setting update of the story of David until now.

(The world in question isn't at all related to what this show is actually about, and mostly just shares the concept of a modern monarchy with unusual fondness for the color orange. But still.)

I ended up more frustrated than anything, because it's clear that an awful lot of money went into this enterprise, but mostly? the writing is mediocre at best. For a show about modernizing some quite epic biblical stories very little happens for long stretches of time, and for a political thriller it's annoyingly unsubtle. There was so much potential that was sort of left up in the air, and unfortunately it's easy to see how the writing didn't justify the budget. It's a shame too, 'cause the scenery porn is absolutely gorgeous.

Not entirely sure why the past what? three things I've posted have been reviews of some kind, but whatever. I'm not sure why I'm doing this, as nobody's going to read it, so mainly this is just a slightly more socially acceptable way of talking to myself. Works for me.

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