Friday, July 27, 2012

But We Don't Want the Irish!

There has been some furor lately over who's a real "geek" and who isn't - stemming from a seething and immature CNN blog and an eloquent - if a bit naive - response. The resulting meme:
"Nobody gets to tell you if you are a geek."
Nice idea. If only it were truly so.
You see, right now, "geek" and "nerd" are really actually cool things to be - in some circles, and to varying degrees. As I said in a blog a few weeks ago, there are people becoming millionaires by appropriating the word "nerd," and there are supermodel/starlets who "confess" in men's magazines about what big "geeks" they are because they've seen every episode of Firefly.
"I've got heathens a-plenty here."
On the one hand, I'm glad that there is money to be made from embracing geek culture, and I relish the idea of sitting down with a starlet/supermodel and swapping theories about the true history of Shepherd Book. (I espouse the idea that he was a police detective in Greenwich Village for a time.) On the other hand, somewhere right now some brainy kid is defending himself against a physical attack by seven bullies who are calling him a "geek." Somewhere some socially awkward young guy has finally worked up the nerve to ask his crush to accompany him to a film festival screening of Serenity, and she just laughed in his face. Or maybe she was polite enough to say, "sure," knowing that she would cancel an hour before  the show. (Is it just me, or do girls seem to spend a lot of time washing their hair?) Somewhere some bookish young fellow just overheard his father on the phone complaining about his "weird" kid who doesn't want to try out for the football team.
These kids are being called "geek", "nerd", "freak", "brain", "spaz", "weirdo", "dork", and a host of other names that I can't think of right at the moment, because I seem to have misplaced my high school yearbook.
Don't get me wrong, here. I'm not endorsing Peacock's venomous attack on "booth babes." He is way out of line, and I suspect his tirade may have been sparked by being shot down at SDCC by a woman in a Harley Quinn outfit. However, I do understand from where some of that resentment originates.
At the same time, while I agree with Scalzi's indictment of the "geek hierarchy," I can only endorse with certain caveats his assertion that anyone who wants to can be a geek. (And I fully recognize that these caveats may reveal logical and/or emotional flaws on my part.)
When a former reality TV star builds a media empire on his nerd status but continually demonstrates his lack of knowledge about things like Doctor Who and Spider-Woman, I cannot help but bristle a little bit. When Hollywood's "it" girl of the moment goes on a late night talk show and talks about what a big nerd she is, I am keenly aware of just how thoroughly washed her hair looks.
Again, though, I recognize that these reactions are rooted in my own past experiences with the darker effects of geekdom. They are, however, experiences that have been and still are shared by many people in this world who embrace comic and sci-fi cons as opportunities to truly be themselves and as respites from a world in which they are either social outcasts or deeply and unsatisfyingly closeted.
My friend Jessica has a saying/hashtag that I really like: Own your dork. By that she means that you should embrace your geekiness - wear your nerd status like a badge of courage. I wholeheartedly agree.
I am learning to take those words and sentiments that were once hurled at me like weapons and forge them into a suit of armor - or at least a really cool hat. (By the way, if I can be permitted a further gush about Jess: she's wondrous. This is her blog.)
Scalzi is right that geeks should not be exclusive. We've been excluded so often ourselves that we really ought to know better. Peacock's blog post is vengeful, and we should not seek vengeance. So come on in! Come one, come all! We'll talk about Batman, Magnus Robot Fighter, and why Mary Tamm was such a wonderful foil to the Doctor as the 1st Romana. (You are missed, Time Lady. Greatly missed.)
There is no maniacal gatekeeper at a bridge of death who is going to test your level of geekness. You are welcome in this place. Here are your badges labeled "GEEK", "NERD", and "DORK." You can wear them one at a time or all at once, it's up to you. We've filed down the sharp edges, but - out of respect - we've not wiped them completely clean of the blood and tears. Wear them with pride. All that we ask is - before you put them on - you take a second to remember that there have been those who have worn them against their will.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Public A-Dress

Simon Pegg was at the San Diego Comic Con and posted a tweet with a picture that got him into a bit of trouble with a few female members of the cosplaying community. Here's the tweet:

The concern was that female cosplayers are dressing up to be a part of the geek community, not to be ogled by lascivious fanboys. This becomes increasingly difficult because - let's face it - female sci-fi and comic icons tend to wear rather provocative costumes. Wonder Woman - in most incarnations - is in a strapless one-piece swimsuit with boots. Catwoman is in a, well, cat suit. Uhura wore a minidress.  Whether overt or subconscious in the design, women in science fiction seem to be drawn and costumed with ogling in mind - even by female designers.
Often it becomes ridiculous: in the short-lived Star Trek prequel series Enterprise, the Vulcan T'Pol is not an official member of the Starfleet crew, so she doesn't dress like this:

She's a Vulcan, and Vulcans wear this:
Okay, Trekkie question of the day: why do Vulcans wear make-up?

So, naturally, T'Pol dresses like this:
"I couldn't fit any emotions into this costume anyway."

The costume is designed to turn heads, and any cosplaying woman who chooses to pay homage to this character is likewise going to turn heads.
Mr. Pegg meant to offend no one, and he has said as much. Unfortunately, nerd culture is a culture in which female icons wear skin-tight or low-cut or short-skirted outfits or often some combination of all three. It doesn't make their characters any more powerful, tough, intelligent, or competent heroes, but it has - to a segment of the population - made them more appealing.
However, the proliferation and popularity of characters like Torchwood's Gwen Cooper, Firefly's Kaylee Frye, and Battlestar Galactica's Cally Henderson-Tyrol should be evidence that we sci-fi fans of the y-chromosome can admire - greatly admire - without requiring skin or curve showing costuming to ogle. (Of course, we ogle these characters, anyway. We still have a ways to go.)
Now, one final thought on Mr. Pegg's "gaffe": if the women in that photo were wishing to show tribute to one of the most iconic women in sci-fi history - Princess Leia Organa née Skywalker - they had a number of costumes over three films from which to choose.

The costume they chose was the skin-baring outfit she involuntarily wore while enslaved by a lecherous space slug.
Yes, I did make this picture larger than the others.

It's possible - possible - that these particular cosplayers weren't all that bothered about being ogled by Mr. Pegg or anyone else. Possibly.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Senior Moments

I don’t think that what I’m writing about today counts as a “spoiler” per se, but I thought I should just go ahead and turn on the UNSPOILER 3000 anyway, just to be safe. I just got this and I’ve been itching to try it. I’m using the Charles Nelson Reilly audio file. It’s pretty cool. (By the way, don’t order the DESPOILER 3000 by mistake. Friggin’ thing ate all the peaches.)
Okay, so here we go **SPOILER ALERT!!** Yes, “Spoiler Alert.” Okay, so for those of you who have seen **SPOILER ALERT!!**
. . . I think I must have it on the high setting, just a **SPOILER ALERT!!** Um, I think there’s something wrong, I **SPOILER ALERT!!** What the Punky Brewster is going **SPOILER ALERT!!** Oh, for the love of **SPOILER ALERT!!** Seriously? 
Give me just a second . . . 

[Foley effects from Rocky Balboa v. Clubber Lang fight – the second one – in Rocky III. Sound of Nakatomi building roof exploding in Die Hard minus Bruce Willis’s teeth-grinding. Wilhelm scream.]

Alrighty then, let’s get on with this **SPURTY ALOT!!**
Well, that’s inappropriate. One more sec. . .

[That sound when Jerry hits Tom with a frying pan and leaves an impression of his cat-face. Yoko Ono’s second album. Darius Rucker gargling.]

Well, that probably voided the warranty. Okay, shall we go on?

*. . .*

Okay, so, for those of you who have seen The Amazing Spider-Man movie and stayed through the end credits, there’s a scene. Do you remember it? Don’t talk about it out loud in case there are people around you who haven’t seen it yet. Just nod your head if you’ve seen it. Okay, there are a number of theories floating around the internet at the – okay, you can stop nodding your head now. (Really?) Anyway, there are several different theories I have read on the internet regarding that scene, and, frankly, I disagree with those that I’ve seen and heard so far.

I won’t spell out my own two theories in too great detail in the interest of avoiding spoilers. [Looks sharply over shoulder at small plume of smoke in background.] However, I will present two character profiles from the Marvel Universe of two AARP-eligible baddies who have tangled with Spider-Man in the comic books.

Suspect #1:
Adrian Toomes was an electrical engineer who invented both a superhuman-strength-granting harness and a set of really awesome (and, frankly, implausible, but who cares?) wings. Turning to a life of crime to continue to fund his experiments, he became super-bad guy The Vulture, and engaged in some pretty spectacular aerial battles with the young web-slinger. Really, though, only one of them was wearing spandex in an age-appropriate manner.

Suspect #2:
Silvio Manfredi, a.k.a. Silvermane, was a criminal mastermind in the Maggia who also didn’t pay full price for coffee at McDonald’s, if you know what I mean. He forced Dr. Curt Connors (yes, yes, put your hands down) to create a youth serum for him leading to a confrontation with both Spider-Man and the Lizard. Later, he would have his internal organs transplanted into an all-powerful cyborg and became a formidable physical opponent to Spider-Man as well (albeit with his left turn signal on the whole time.)
Ew. Ew. Ew.

Anyway, if you’ve seen the end credits scene, you may see why I figure that one of these two characters factors into that scene and the probable sequel.
Let me know what you think in the comments, but - since the movie has only been out for a little over a week - watch the spoilers.
Also, does anyone know the exact wording of Amazon’s return policy for items that have been, um, struck with a xistera?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Ragged Old Flag

Captain America by Alex Ross

"Ragged Old Flag" by Johnny Cash
(video made by Digitalburn)
I walked through a county courthouse square
On a park bench, an old man was sittin' there.
I said, "Your old court house is kinda run down, 
He said, "Naw, it'll do for our little town". 
I said, "Your old flag pole is leaned a little bit, 
And that's a ragged old flag you got hangin' on it".
He said, "Have a seat", and I sat down, 
"Is this the first time you've been to our little town"
I said, "I think it is"
He said "I don't like to brag, but we're kinda proud of
That Ragged Old Flag

"You see, we got a little hole in that flag there,
When Washington took it across the Delaware.
and It got powder burned the night Francis Scott Key sat watching it, 
writing "Say Can You See"
It got a rip in New Orleans, with Packingham & Jackson
tugging at its seams.
and It almost fell at the Alamo 
beside the Texas flag,
But she waved on though.
She got cut with a sword at Chancellorsville,
And she got cut again at Shiloh Hill.
There was Robert E. Lee and Beauregard and Bragg,
And the south wind blew hard on
That Ragged Old Flag

"On Flanders Field in World War I,
She got a big hole from a Bertha Gun,
She turned blood red in World War II
She hung limp, and low, a time or two,
She was in Korea, Vietnam, She went where she was sent
by her Uncle Sam.
She waved from our ships upon the briny foam
and now they've about quit wavin' back here at home
in her own good land here She's been abused,
She's been burned, dishonored, denied an' refused,
And the government for which she stands
Has been scandalized throughout out the land.
And she's getting thread bare, and she's wearin' thin,
But she's in good shape, for the shape she's in.
Cause she's been through the fire before
and I believe she can take a whole lot more.

"So we raise her up every morning
And we bring her down slow every night,
We don't let her touch the ground,
And we fold her up right.
On second thought
I do like to brag
Cause I'm mighty proud of
That Ragged Old Flag"

Happy Independence Day everyone!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

At Least a Thousand Words

La Famille du Saltimbanque: L’enfant Blessé by Gustave Doré
Okay, I was just going to post the picture of this painting and leave it there. I wasn't even going to put a caption on it. I was just going to leave it there for you to drink in its wordless story, pretty much just as Gustave Doré intended it.
But I chickened out. I wasn't sure that you'd get what I was trying to do - or moreover what Doré was trying to do - tell a story without using any words, which is what visual artists do. 
Doré's other version. I prefer the top one.
I don't know why I didn't trust that you would experience this painting the same way that I did when I first saw it. I was moved by the anguish on the faces of the two costumed adults. Obviously, the anguish was for the child in the woman's arms. Obviously they were the child's parents and, obviously, some great malady had befallen the child who was now either dead or dying. No father looks at his child that way unless the situation is grave. Looking at the costumes, the parents are entertainers of some kind, and the child is in costume as well. They were performing and the child was injured. They must be acrobats of some kind. They may be street performers, desperate for money if they are including their small child in their act and now apparently unable to afford a doctor as they watch their child die.
The story is as clear as if it had been penned by Hemingway or Austen.
The title of the painting confirms part of the story. It translates as "The Family of Acrobats: the Injured Child." The placard next to the painting fills in a few more details that are of trivial note, but they do not  really add to or detract from the impact of the painting. The painting was inspired by an event that Gustave Doré witnessed firsthand. He was so moved by the scene that he actually made two versions of the painting.
This painting is why I so envy graphic artists. Even if enough words existed to convey the true emotional narrative of this story, I don't know that I  - or anyone - could arrange them in a way that would have the succussion of this painting.
I don't really have a point to this blog entry today. I just wanted to share this painting with you. If you'd like to see it yourself, it is currently hanging in the Denver Art Museum. Sixth Floor: European & American Art. It's actually right next to my favorite painting in the museum: the much more sanguine Childhood Idyll by William-Adolphe Bouguereau: