Monday, April 28, 2008

Musicky

I spent a bit of time with my hammered dulcimer over the weekend. One of my books has a custom tabulation scheme that's actually very helpful, and surprisingly enough it has the Black Nag (an extremely common English Country Dance, if you don't know) among the pieces for which it provides music.

I can actually play the Black Nag, now. Not extremely well, mind you, but well enough to build some dexterity on the instrument. I'll have to try to figure out some of the other pieces in the book.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Skeptics' Circle

I haven't contributed to them much lately or even been good about linking to them, but the Skeptics' Circle is still going strong, and issue 85 came out this week.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Poetic Madlib

This is something of an experiment in madlibs. I’m trying to do the usual word substitution in a poem without breaking the rhythm, meter, or rhyme. Consequently, I’ll be looking for particular numbers of syllables, and I won’t be substituting words that make up part of the rhyme scheme.

Verb, 2 syllables, present participle
A place, 2 syllables
Adjective, 3 syllables
Adjective, 2 syllables
Noun, 1 syllable, plural
Verb, 1 syllable, past tense
Noun, 2 syllables, singular
Noun, 1 syllable, plural
Noun, 1 syllable, singular
Verb, 1 syllable, present
Verb, 1 syllable, present
Noun, 2 syllables, plural
Adjective, 1 syllable
Noun, 2 syllables, singular
Noun, 2 syllables, singular
Noun, 2 syllables, singular
Adjective, 2 syllables
Noun, 2 syllables, plural
Noun, 1 syllable, plural
A place, 2 syllables
Verb, 1 syllable, present
An animal, 1 syllable, singular

A Poetic Madlib

This is something of an experiment in madlibs. I’m trying to do the usual word substitution in a poem without breaking the rhythm, meter, or rhyme. Consequently, I’ll be looking for particular numbers of syllables, and I won’t be substituting words that make up part of the rhyme scheme.


Verb, 2 syllables, present participle
A place, 2 syllables
Adjective, 3 syllables
Adjective, 2 syllables
Noun, 1 syllable, plural
Verb, 1 syllable, past tense

Noun, sing, 1 syllable
Noun, 1 syllable, plural
Noun, 1 syllable, sing

Verb, 1 syllable, present
Verb, 1 syllable, present

Noun, 1 syllable, plural
Adjective, 1 syllable
Noun, 2 syllables, sing
Noun, 2 syllables, sing
Noun, 2 syllables, sing
Adjective, 2 syllables

Noun, 2 syllables, plural
Noun, 2 syllables, plural
A place, 2 syllables
Verb, 1 syllable, present
An animal, 1 syllable, singular

Not Quite As Clean

My articles about Allecto have apparently caused the Saga to take a slight hit on its language rating.

The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?
Created by OnePlusYou

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

More Radical Feminist Criticism of Firefly

The train wreck continues in Allecto’s second article on Firefly, in which she reviews the episode “Our Mrs. Reynolds”. This should be interesting, since the episode features a female villain.

I’m going to skip her opening rant about the hate mail she received after publishing her review of “Serenity”. I really don’t doubt she got all the hate mail she describes; this is the internet, and obnoxious people use the anonymity it provides to make jackasses of themselves all the time, so getting a batch of hate mail after bashing a TV show with a fairly large fan cult should surprise no one. (As an example, at Babtech on the Net, we've received a charming array of insults and death threats for our assessments of the fictional technology of Babylon 5.)

She apparently intends to write two posts on this episode, and she sounds like she doesn’t mean to get to her main complaints until part two. Here’s her summary.

Our Mrs. Reynolds is the sixth episode of the television series Firefly. This episode was written by the Great White Feminist himself, Joss Whedon. In this episode, Mal the captain of the ship finds out that he has married a woman when he finds a stowaway on his ship. The stowaway, whose name is Saffron, was traded to Mal as a gift because he helped the inhabitants of a planet to get rid of some bad guys.

Not really; Allecto is making this up. It may seem so at first, but if you’ve actually seen the episode, you know that the villagers did not trade Saffron to Mal in return for his assistance; the whole “wedding ceremony” and stowing away was entirely her idea, as we shall see.

The most disturbing reading of this particular episode is as an endorsement of male terrorism in the home. I’ll talk more about the potential for this reading in the second half of my analysis.

It will be interesting to see how she spins the events of this episode into “an endorsement of male terrorism”, but that will have to wait.

On to the first scene, in which the crew of Serenity are working as hired security for a small settlement that’s been plagued by robbers. Mal has set a trap for the robbers by driving a wagon through the countryside. He and Jayne are on the seat, while Zoe is hidden in the back. Mal, incidentally, is disguised as a woman. Allecto doesn’t find that amusing.

So the ‘woman’ sitting by the driver of the carriage is actually Mal in drag. Shock, surprise, this is real funny **** huh, women? A man in drag, teeheehee. SO radical. And feminist, huh? What do you think, does Joss get a cookie?

Sigh. There has been loads of work done on the anti-feminism of drag and I can’t be bothered to rehash. Suffice to say Jayne gets away with spouting a whole bunch of sexist, looksist crap and it is ‘funny’ because he directs it at a man in drag. Not to mention, joking about rape. Drag is often used by men as a way of expressing woman-hatred and they dress it up as humour. Just a joke girls, now get over yourselves, right?
I’m actually not going to argue about this, because I see it as a justifiable complaint. I don’t find it offensive in the same way as Allecto, mind you, but at least she’s addressing the content of the show in its genuine context instead of making things up or deliberately misinterpreting the scene, so she can have this one.

But there’s more to the whole dress-wearing thing.

A bit later Mal talks about how he likes to wear dresses with Inara. “Like woman, I am a mystery,” he says of his enjoyment of wearing dresses. Sorry, Joss, score zero for that one. Women aren’t a mystery, WE ARE FULLY CONSCIOUS HUMAN BEINGS. And Mal is a wanker and wankers aren’t a bit mysterious. At least they aren’t to me. Maybe wankers are mysterious to unicorns. Who knows. I think I’m starting to hate unicorns.
When did being a fully conscious human being and being mysterious become mutually exclusive? I know that Allecto is a fully conscious human being, but I admit that it’s a mystery to me how she arrived at her current world-view. I could speculate at length, but that would not mean I really understood. Beyond that, is mystery actually a bad thing?

Update: In the comments to her post, there's a clarification. She see's calling women "mysterious" as a sort of hasty generalization, which is a fair enough complaint. Beyond that, why should women be considered any more mysterious than men? Furthermore, she's at least criticizing something that actually happened, so point conceded to Allecto.

Incidentally, “unicorns” is her chosen term for “feminist men”, a concept she apparently considers to be imaginary. She’ll be using it frequently in this post.

So, Mal saves some colonists from the bad guys by killing them all while wearing a dress.
I would like to take this opportunity to point out that Zoe shoots some men, too. This observation will be relevant later.

Mal and the crew get back on the ship. As they take off, Mal surprises a stowaway, who tells him that she is his wife. Mal gets all panicky and calls Zoe.

Now, it is pretty obvious by this point that Saffron has been traded to Mal in exchange for his killing the bad guys. She is a wife in the sense of being a sexual and domestic slave. When Zoe is told that Saffron has been traded to Mal as a wife/slave she begins to laugh. She then calls the rest of the crew and invites them to join her in laughing at Mal’s newly acquired possession. Now, I don’t know about you, but I have never met a Black woman who laughs about slavery. I can’t believe that any woman, Black or white would laugh at an incidence of men trading women. Where the hell does Joss Whedon do his research on women????? What women does Joss know that he can portray them like this????
It certainly appears that the villagers have rewarded Mal with a young wife, and she certainly behaves in an extremely submissive manner. Mal is obviously surprised by this situation, since no one told him about any such arrangement, nor would he have agreed to it if he had been told. In an absolutely bizarre distortion of the scene, Allecto concludes that Zoe is making fun of Saffron, when it’s abundantly clear to anyone who watches this scene with a clear head that Zoe is making fun of Mal. Zoe knows that Mal did not and would not want “a sexual and domestic slave”, so she is laughing at him (with no consequences for doing so, I might add) and sharing her mirth with the rest of the crew. Soon everyone on the ship – except Saffron, who isn’t breaking out of her assumed persona – is having a laugh at the swaggering alpha male’s expense. Yeah, the women are really being shown their place here.

Anyway, Saffron runs off crying, apparently embarrassed because Mal has rejected her. Mal follows her, and in one of the scenes only available on the DVD, the following conversation ensues:

SAFFRON
Are you going to kill me?
MAL
What? What kind of crappy planet is that? Kill you?
SAFFRON
In the maiden’s home, I heard talk of men who weren’t pleased with their brides, who…
MAL
Well I ain’t them. And don’t you ever stand for that sort of thing. Someone tries to kill you, you try to kill ‘em right back. Wife or no, you’re no one’s property to be tossed aside. You got the right same as anyone to live and to try to kill people. I mean, you know. People that are… That’s a dumb planet.
Believe it or not, Allecto finds a way to be offended by this exchange.

Ah Mal, Mal, Mal. So gallant, so kind, so noble. But just one question, Joss. Do you know what happens to women who defend themselves from violent men? Have you heard of Patreese Johnson, Renata Hill, Terraine Dandridge, Venice Brown, Dixie Shanahan, Yana Ladgari, Mary Winkler, Sherry Mariana, Marva Wallace? (This list is by no means exhaustive.) Women who defend themselves from men who are trying to kill them have their children taken away from them and are locked up. That is the stark reality of what equality means for women who live under male supremacy.
That’s right: Mal suggesting that Saffron should defend herself if attacked is bad, because women who defend themselves can suffer social consequences in our misogynistic world. Never mind that those social consequences are probably preferable to being murdered: Joss Whedon proclaiming that women have the right to defend themselves is bad.

If none of those names ring any bells for you, don’t be surprised; I had to do a web search myself. There’s an article about the court case on Wikipedia, and you can probably find more information from both sides with a more determined search. As neither a witness nor a juror, I’m not going to render an opinion on whether justice was done in the case – feel free to dig around and make your own decision on that.

And just a tip Joss, from one writer to another. If you believe that women should kill men who try to kill them then, quite frankly, I agree with you. If you want to show your encouragement and support for women who defend themselves from men, then write a female character that kills a man who is trying to kill her AND GETS AWAY WITH IT.
Remember how Zoe killed some robbers earlier in this very episode? What were the terrible consequences for her from those kills? Hmm… let me see… rewards and acclaim from the local villagers are all I can think of. I know she killed at least one man in “Serenity”, too. Would it be worth it to tally up Zoe’s total male body count over the course of the series? Maybe we should throw in River's list of kills, too.

Now, let’s see, do you actually show women getting away with being disloyal to men? We had Patience, a character in the first episode. How did she fare when she tried to cheat Mal? Hmm… let’s think. Oh, that’s right. You left her trapped under the carcass of a horse. Mmm. I just love that feminist empowerment, Joss.
That’s right; she just said that deceit and treachery should be okay for women, but she seems to have no problem with such double standards. You could legitimately complain about the fact that the villain in that particular scene was female (although I think villainy should be just as equal-opportunity as heroism), but to suggest that villainy should be overlooked if the perpetrator happens to be female is just… what? Deranged? Immoral? Sexist? You decide.

Anyway, after Mal’s conversation with Saffron, he gets a little lecture from Shepherd Book.

BOOK
If you take sexual advantage of her, you’re going to burn in a very special level of hell. A level they reserve for child molesters and people who talk at the theater. (Allecto’s emphasis.)
Remember how I noted in response to her review of “Serenity” that to become a radical feminist you apparently have to sacrifice your ability to detect sarcasm? It comes as no surprise, then, that she interprets this line in the most literal way possible, and then comes to completely unsubstantiated conclusions about Joss Whedon based on it.

Now, that comment right there indicates to me that our dear Mr. Whedon is a porn user. And that it is highly likely that his pornography of choice is Hustler, given that he seems to think it funny to trivialise the sexual abuse of children. How many times has Joss wanked to our degradation in Hustler while chuckling away at Chester the Molester cartoons? I actually really want to know the answer to this question. Joss continues his race hatred by putting this ‘joke’ in the mouth of a Black man.
Allecto, if you’ve never wished you could do something indescribably and undeservedly horrible to someone who was being obnoxious at the theatre, you’ve been far luckier than I. It’s a sort of personalized loathing that inspires thoughts of ruthless torture, even though you know that punishment of that sort – punishment that you might think suitable for a serial killer or child molester – is completely out of proportion to the crime. If you really think Joss is trivializing child molestation, though, you have such a literal turn of mind that I’m surprised you can function.

Edit: I'm not sure I articulated this as well as I would like, so let me elaborate. It's plain to me that Book's line is meant to exaggerate the "crime" of talking in the theatre, not trivialize the crime of child molestation. I do not see how any rational person can misunderstand that, so I can only conclude that Allecto has deliberately misinterpreted it in her obsessive quest to demonize Joss Whedon at every possible opportunity.

A scene follows in which Saffron has made dinner for Mal; naturally this occurrence is an affront to Allecto, but the problem doesn’t end there. Zoe and Wash walk in while Mal is still eating, and Allecto inexplicably finds their behavior demeaning to Saffron, as well.

ZOE
So, are you enjoying your own nubile little slave girl?
MAL
(mouth full) I’m not… nubile… (swallows) Look, she wanted to make me dinner. At least she’s not crying…
WASH
I might. Did she really make fresh bao? (off Zoe’s glare) Quaint!
ZOE
Remember that sex we were planning to have ever again?

Black female wife being jealous of a woman she terms a ‘slave girl’. Anyone else see a problem with this?
This is a leap of illogic that leaves me in total shock. She thinks Zoe is jealous of Saffron? The only feeling I see in Zoe is contempt for Mal and Wash! The only “problem” I see is that Allecto must be delusional if she can misinterpret this exchange so completely. It makes me wonder if Allecto is lying about having watched Firefly and is actually basing her reviews entirely on her readings of online scripts. It might be possible to misinterpret the scene the way she does just looking at it on paper, but I find it difficult to believe that anyone could actually watch it and arrive at her distorted interpretation.

So, we get to the scene where Jayne offers to trade his best gun – named “Vera” – for Saffron. It goes without saying that Jayne is objectifying women in this exchange, and Allecto is quite right to conclude that Jayne is dangerous, although raping the passengers and crew of the ship doesn’t seem to be one of the threats he poses. He would obviously take advantage of Saffron’s apparent subservience – and I won’t dispute regarding that as rape, since Saffron’s persona is clearly “indoctrinated” to be subservient to men to the point that I would not consider her capable of giving informed consent. On the other hand, he has never shown any inclination to force himself on Kaylee, Inara, or Zoe, and apart from one vulgar threat brought on by being told that “Jayne is a girl’s name”, he hasn’t displayed sexual aggression toward River, either (and no, such a threat is not justifiable, but there remains no indication that he would actually have followed through on it). In short, Jayne seems to expect at least apparent willingness from women from whom he wants sex. Consequently, Allecto’s conclusion about Jayne...

If Mal did care about the protection of women, he would have spaced Jayne immediately, or at least locked the ****** up.
... seems to be unwarranted. Let’s hear it for preemptive murder, shall we?

On another level, the trading of women and the naming of Phallic weapons, the sharing of homoerotic tales of male violence (Jayne’s story of how he acquired his gun), this is part of the larger romance of the show, the homoerotic, masculine connection between Mal and Jayne.
Does she have a different definition of “homoerotic” than the one I found in Webster’s? There’s no denying that there’s a lot of macho posturing going around, but I still don’t see how that implies Mal and Jayne are trying to impress each other as some kind of homosexual mating ritual.

The summary of Allecto’s complaints about “Our Mrs. Reynolds” so far:
  • Allecto has imagined that some backwater villagers traded one of their young women to some mercenaries (anyone who has seen the whole episode knows this to be false).
  • Allecto doesn’t think a man disguised as a woman is humorous.
  • Thinking women are “mysterious” is equivalent to thinking they are non-sentient sub-humans.
  • Allecto is offended by the ship’s crew laughing at Mal’s “new wife”, even though they were actually laughing at Mal himself because they assume he was so drunk that he was tricked into a “marriage” he did not want.
  • Suggesting that women defend themselves against attack by men is bad.
  • Women should be allowed to cheat men.
  • Sarcasm is an evil rhetorical trick used for trivializing horrific crimes.
  • Allecto cannot distinguish between jealousy of a subservient woman and contempt for men.
  • Men who pose a risk of sexual aggression should be preemptively imprisoned or killed.
  • Men who seem to be competing for power are actually lusting after each other.
Whether she will actually finish her review of this episode, let alone whether she will publish more, remains to be seen.

UPDATE: Purtek has a very coherent article critical of "Our Mrs. Reynolds" at The Hathor Legacy. She makes some very good points about how the show fails to be feminist instead of spewing nonsense about how it "endorses male terrorism".

Move on to the response to Part 2

Monday, April 21, 2008

Radical Feminism Meets Firefly

The SciFi community has been buzzing for the past few weeks over reviews of the TV series Firefly posted by a radical feminist going by the username Allecto. Its title is A Rapist's View of the World: Joss Whedon and Firefly, so you can probably guess that its generated some backlash from Firefly fans.

I know that not everyone likes Firefly, and Joss Whedon certainly isn’t immune to criticism, even on feminist grounds, but it would be nice if Allecto would criticize based on what actually happens in the show, rather than a bizarre distortion of it. I would say so in the comments of her blog, but she has already expressed that she will unhesitatingly delete critical comments, so I’ll just do it here. I’m sure that my opinion is irrelevant to her anyway, since I’m just another misogynist male.

I’m going to assume that you have some familiarity with Firefly if you’re reading this, so I won’t be explaining characters or plots in any detail (which doesn't mean there will be no spoilers -- you are warned). There is plenty of information available on the internet, and it’s easy enough to rent the series on DVD or even watch it online at Hulu.com if you want to do your own evaluation.


Her first review deals with the Firely pilot, “Serenity” (not to be confused with the movie), which introduces the major characters and the setting. The opening scene shows a couple of the key characters participating in the final battle of a war, and Allecto goes negative instantly.

The first scene opens in a war with Mal and Zoe. Zoe runs around calling Mal ‘sir’ and taking orders off him. I roll my eyes. Not a good start.
Now, you might want to quibble over whether Mal or Zoe is better qualified to be in command of their squad, but it is entirely appropriate for a soldier to call the squad sergeant “sir”; that’s just standard military protocol. This is just the first example of Allecto either getting upset over the wrong thing or being completely unable to express herself.

Update: I've been informed in the comments that it might actually be more technically correct for Zoe to address Mal as "sergeant" at this point; apparently non-commissioned officers don't normally rate a "sir" in some services.

The scene shifts to the crew of Serenity stealing some cargo from a derelict Alliance ship. Wash detects an Alliance warship approaching, and Allecto immediately finds fault with Mal’s reaction.
Zoe says, “This ship's been derelict for months. Why would they –”

Mal replies, (in Chinese) “Shut up.”

So in the very second scene of the very first episode, an episode written and directed by the great feminist Joss, a white man tells a black woman to ‘shut up’ for no apparent reason.
I suppose there’s no reason if you’re a radical feminist, but if you’re the captain of a ship engaged in criminal activity and you need to think of how to react, you might want quiet so you can think and so people can hear orders if you issue them. There’s also the additional worry that, since they’re in space suits, they’re talking by radio, which the Alliance ship might pick up, so any unnecessary talk is also an unnecessary risk. Context is apparently irrelevant to Allecto, though, as we’ll see repeatedly in her reviews.

EDIT: It may be worth noting that Jayne is also chattering in this scene, so Mal's comment is directed at least as much toward him as toward Zoe. Here's the full exchange (according to Browncoats.com):

WASH Captain, we got incoming! Alliance cruiser, bearing right down on us!
MAL (in Chinese)Oh s4@+! (in English) Have they spotted us?
WASH I can't tell if --
MAL Have they hailed us?
JAYNE If they're here for the salvage, we're humped.
ZOE If they find us at all, we're humped. Thievin' ain't exactly --
JAYNE I don't like this.
MAL (in Chinese) Shut up.


After avoiding the Alliance ship, they go to hide the stolen goods in their cargo hold, where we get to meet another crew member: Kaylee, the engineer. Sure enough, Allecto finds fault with the scene.

In this scene Mal and Jayne are stowing away the cargo they just stole. Kaylee is chatting to them, happily. Jayne asks Mal to get Kaylee to stop being so cheerful. Mal replies, “Sometimes you just wanna duct tape her mouth and dump her in the hold for a month.” Yes, that is an exact quote, “Sometimes you just wanna DUCT TAPE HER MOUTH and DUMP HER IN THE HOLD FOR A MONTH.” Kaylee responds by grinning and giving Mal a kiss on the cheek and saying, “I love my Captain.”

What the **** is this feminist man trying to say about women here? A black woman calling a white man ‘sir’. A white male captain who abuses and silences his female crew, with no consequences. The women are HAPPY to be abused. They enjoy it. What does this say about women, Joss? What does this say about you? Do you tell your wife to shut up? Do you threaten to duct tape her mouth? Lock her in the bedroom? Is this funny to you, Joss? Because it sure as **** ain’t funny to me.
Apparently one of the first things you lose when you become a radical feminist is the ability to detect sarcasm, because I would really like to meet a rational person who can watch this scene and conclude that Mal actually wants to duct-tape Kaylee and leave her in the hold. (That’s right, Allecto, I did call you irrational. I’m sure that won’t bother you though, since I’m just a man, and my opinion doesn’t matter to you.)

Moving on, we still have some main characters to meet.

Our first introduction to Inara the ‘Companion’, Joss Whedon’s euphemism for prostituted women, is when she is being raped/******/used by a prostitutor.
Honestly, there’s a lot of room for feminist complaint about Inara’s profession. A lot of people try to defend her job as a Companion, talking about how she’s highly respected in the society, she's wealthy, and she makes her own choices about clients. When you get to the bottom line, though, she is a prostitute. If she accepts a client, she does so with the understanding that there will be sex involved. Calling it rape, though, is excessive, since Inara has obviously chosen this lifestyle knowing full well what it means. She arranges these meetings herself. Of course, Allecto has a pretty unusual definition of rape, which you can find easily enough by reading her blog.

There’s a sex scene here (FOX network-safe, of course), and Allecto’s all over the script’s description of that, too, somehow concluding that Inara’s behavior shows how Joss Whedon likes to depict women enjoying being raped. Leaving aside the question of whether rape is actually occurring, I’d like to meet the person who thinks Inara is being shown enjoying this sexual encounter, because I don’t see it. I don’t think Joss Whedon is glamorizing prostitution, here. I think that in context, Inara’s pleased expression is obviously a show for the client (note that she only smiles when he's looking at her face), and as the series continues, I think it’s also obvious that despite the wealth and “respectability” that Inara receives as a Companion, she is actually deeply dissatisfied with her profession.

The women who ‘choose’ to be ‘Companions’ are shown as being intelligent, accomplished, educated, well-respected and presumably from good families. If a woman had all of these qualities and opportunities then why the **** would she ‘choose’ to be a man’s **** toy?
Good question, Allecto. It was clear to me that finding the answer to this question would be a long-term plot of the show; a long-term plot that would never have a chance to reach resolution, unfortunately, since the show was canceled even before the last episode of the first season aired (but my complaints about how FOX handled the show are a whole other can of worms).

At any rate, Inara’s apparent ‘power’ is merely a figment of Joss Whedon’s very sick imagination. In a later episode, Inara is shown to have set down three very specific rules in relation to her arrangement to hiring one of Mal’s shuttles as her base of operations. 1) No crew member, including the Captain would be allowed entrance to the shuttle without Inara’s express invitation. 2) Inara refuses to service the Captain nor anyone under his employ. And 3) the Captain cannot refer to Inara as a whore.
Mal agrees to all of these rules but he breaks every single one of them. Blatantly and deliberately.

I’d really rather not get to deeply into these “points” since they deal with later episodes that might actually get reviewed, but since she brought them up, I’ll try to make a brief observation. Mal definitely ignores the “no entry without invitation” rule on multiple occasions. On the other hand, neither he nor any other member of his crew receives Inara’s “services” (more on that later). Finally, he does call her a “whore” more than once.

The thing is, Mal obviously likes Inara. In fact, he loves her. At the same time, though, he hates her profession, and he communicates that distaste through his behavior. He wants her to give up being a Companion, but he has no authority to tell her how to live her life, so he expresses himself in other ways. I’m sure all that’s lost on Allecto, though; the possibility that Inara will have an epiphany and turn away from a lucrative and prestigious career in prostitution over the course of a long-term “character arc” is meaningless to her. She wants every character trait and plot point to be radically feminist now, damn it.

Regarding Inara “servicing” the crew…

It is clear from the outset that a large part of Inara’s service involves addressing issues of male inadequacy and fulfilling many other emotional needs of her clients. The ability to do this IS a resource and it is therefore a service that Inara must perform. BUT Inara services all of the male passengers and the Captain in this way. She also services Kaylee but the relationship between them is a little more reciprocal. In any case, Mal makes it pretty obvious that he expects his emotional needs to be serviced by Inara and she willingly obliges. Mal also allows the male passengers to demand her emotional services and does not tell them to stop, despite the terms of his agreement with Inara. Inara is not paid by any of these men for her time, energy and emotional support.
Wasn’t she pointing out just a few paragraphs ago that the defining characteristic of Inara’s profession is that when she agrees to “service” a client, she is agreeing to sex? Why, then, is she going off on this tangent about how Inara’s job is to fulfill emotional needs? She certainly may, but that’s not the real reason someone hires a Companion, and it’s obvious what she was talking about when she said she would not provide “services” for the captain or the crew, and she does not provide that service for anyone on the ship in the entire course of the series. She obviously has a cordial relationship with Kaylee by choice, although there’s no implication of sex. Shepherd Book makes a point of befriending her, and she returns kindness for kindness (not to mention, Book is a passenger, not a crew member, so whether she “serviced” him or not would be none of Mal’s business). She obviously has an attraction to Mal that she tries to deny, which results in their constant butting of heads. Beyond these relationships, she doesn’t “address issues of male inadequacy” or “fulfill emotional needs” for anyone on the ship. By my estimate, she’s not providing “services” for any crew member or passenger (but I'm not a radical feminist, so my estimate is meaningless, of course).

Allecto then makes some defamatory claims about Joss Whedon’s relationship with his wife based on her distorted view of how Inara “services” everyone on Serenity. I’m sure Mrs. Whedon appreciates you calling her a submissive little whore, Allecto.

In the obsessive-compulsive department, Allecto counted the number of lines spoken by the characters so she could get a ratio of male lines to female lines (458 to 175, by her count). Yes, male characters have about twice as many lines as female characters. Coincidentally, there are actually more male characters than female characters in the cast: whether you count just regulars or include guests and extras. River doesn’t even show up until well into the show, and when she appears, she’s too traumatized by past abuse to say much. Kaylee also spends a fair amount of the show unconscious after getting shot. You might find good cause to complain that female characters are being depicted as victims in this show, but Allecto is apparently more interested in the word count.

Then we have this observation…

Men jostle with each other for power. Pushing each others buttons, and getting into scuffles. This intense homoeroticism is present from the outset as Mal asserts his rights as alpha male on the ship.
This just puzzles me to no end. Even granting that there is some significant rivalry between Mal and Jayne, how is that “homoerotic”? There is no indication whatsoever that these guys are closet homosexuals.

In Serenity, Mal enjoys using a character called Simon as his personal punching bag. In one scene he walks up to him and smashes him in the face, without any provocation or logical reason. In another scene Simon asks Mal a question and Mal smashes him the face again. No reason, no explanation, just violence. Violence is a part of the landscape throughout the whole series and Mal is often the instigator. He is constantly rubbing himself up against other men, and punishing wayward women, proving and solidifying his manliness through bashing the **** out of anyone and everyone.
I recall Mal decking Simon a couple of times in this episode. In the first instance, Mal had discovered he had a spy on board (an outgoing message to the Feds had been detected), and he found Simon lurking about in the cargo hold without permission, so he assumed it to be Simon and started to “beat the truth out of him” without preamble. I believe the “question” that resulted in a second punch was Simon’s insinuation that Mal was an agent or spy for the Alliance, a bad suggestion given Mal’s history. Consequently, I wouldn’t regard either of these punches as “unprovoked”, although they were certainly undeserved. So is Mal a rather violent guy who’s likely to throw a punch with little provocation? Yes. It’s called a character flaw: characters who are more than cardboard cutouts tend to have them.

And finally, we have Allecto’s distaste for Zoe, which started when Zoe had the audacity to address her senior officer as “sir” and actually carry out his orders.

Zoe, the token black woman, acts as a legitimiser. Her role is to support Mal’s manly obsession with himself by encouraging him, calling him ‘sir’, and even starting the fights for him. Zoe is treated as a piece of meat by both her husband (Wash, another white male) and the Captain. Wash and Mal fight each other for Zoe’s attention and admiration, both relying on her submission to them to get them hard and manly. In fact there is a whole episode, War Stories, devoted to Wash and Mal’s ‘rivalry’. By the word rivalry, I mean violent, homoerotic male/male courtship conducted over the body of a woman.
OK, Zoe did throw the first punch in a fight in one episode (“The Train Job” -- not “Serenity”), but she was every bit as insulted as Mal. Zoe continues to call Mal “sir” because he’s the captain of the ship, having bought it himself. Does he treat her as a piece of meat? Having a Y chromosome presumably invalidates my judgment, but he did make her second-in-command (with authority over testosterone-laden males like Jayne and Wash), and their relationship appears to be entirely professional. Wash does get jealous because Zoe consistently obeys Mal's orders with little dissent and because their shared military history gives them a lot in common, but there's never been any suggestion that Mal and Zoe ever had a sexual relationship.

And then there’s her insistence that Wash abuses Zoe. This one truly amazes me. Allecto confesses to a family history of bad relationships between black women and white men, so her opinion is understandably prejudiced, but how can we really believe that Wash abuses Zoe when he openly admits (in "Our Mrs. Reynolds") that she could “kill (him) with her pinky”? If there is a personification of male violence in television, Wash is probably one of the characters that is farthest from it.

And in all of this, she barely even touches on the character of Jayne, who really is a violent, crude, misogynistic jackass. I guess she left him out of it because he’s really not a very sympathetic character, particularly in the early episodes.

So, the summary of Allecto’s complaints for “Serenity”:

  • A soldier addressing a squad leader as “sir” is bad if the soldier is female and the squad leader is male.
  • The captain of the ship told everyone to shut up during a crisis to cut off unnecessary radio chatter, and one of the people trying to talk was a woman.
  • The captain made a sarcastic remark about the excessive cheerfulness of his mechanic, and the mechanic recognized it as sarcasm.
  • Consensual sex between a man and a woman occurred; there’s no such thing, of course, and Inara did not look suitably tormented during this horrific rape.
  • A male character finds prostitution distasteful, in spite of how lucrative and prestigious it is shown to be in the depicted society.
  • Inara doesn’t charge her full rate for any social time she spends with crewmembers or other passengers she likes.
  • Female characters don’t talk enough.
  • Mal hits people with little reason.
  • Zoe actually follows the orders of the captain of the ship.
  • Zoe married a white guy and seems to be happy in the relationship.
All-in-all, I'd say it's a classic case of approaching the show with the intent to find offense anywhere and everywhere, taking statements and events out of context whenever needed to make the most outrageous claims possible.

Why do I even bother to read Allecto’s reviews? Why waste time with a response? I don’t know. I guess it’s kind of like watching a train wreck; you know it’s going to be tragic and horrific, but you just can’t turn away.

We’ll return for another look into Allecto’s perspective on Firefly with her review of “Our Mrs. Reynolds”.

Unlike Allecto, I will publish critical comments, assuming that the language is moderated (I like to keep the blog "work safe") and the message is coherent (random "die and go to hell" comments aren't worth the trouble).

Allecto also reviews "Our Mrs. Reynolds".

EDIT: Road Does Not End also has a very coherent response to Allecto's take on this episode.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Opera

Summary of my first impression of Il Trovatori: enjoyable, but a little strange.

Naturally, they're trying to tell an entire story in music, which I can appreciate. To an extent, though, that focus on the music kind of makes other aspects of the story suffer.

What occasionally irked me was just how static a major "action" scene could be. I realize it's not practical to do a major stage-combat scene in an opera, but it was sometimes kind of jarring to have everyone on stage standing absolutely still while one or two people sang about the violence they intended upon one another. I know that the "action" is stylized, but it was sometimes rather bizarre. Further, it didn't really seem like it needed to be that static; there were a couple of "chorus" scenes where the "armies" of the hero or villain would sing in the background while one or two members would engage in some kind of activity in the foreground -- "drilling" in swordwork a couple of times, and a fight between a prisoner and a trainee on one occasion. It seems to me that if you could have a bit of motion, albeit slow and stylized, in these "camp" scenes, you should be able to do something similar in the "battles" without losing operatic feel. After all, the leads frequently take turns singing, and taking a step or two and posing while the other sings shouldn't take the breath out of the leads. It wouldn't be as practical when you have two or three leads singing counterpoint, but obviously you wouldn't do it then. I guess I should note that the leads actually do move around a bit during "drama" scenes, which makes their immobility during "action" scenes all the more glaring.

In any case, I think I'll want to see a few more operas just to see if they all give me that feeling. It was certainly an enjoyable enough experience to repeat. I may want to try for one sung in English next, though, as I think the music might be more powerful if I actually understood it instead of having to read supertitles.

Speaking of which, those responsible for the supertitles have been sacked. They will be redone at great expense at the last minute by Ralph the Wonder Llama. (Not really, but I had a few English-major cringes at some stand-out errors in the supertitles.)

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Coronation and Culture

The King is dead. Long live the King. Same applies to the Queen, too. Coronation is always an opportunity for some amateur acting, and some Crowns ham it up more than others. This time, His Majesty Maximillian and Her Majesty Lethrenn succumbed to “imbalanced humours of the body” that not even three holy relics could cure.

I had the honor of organizing the White Rose Ball for Her Majesty Cecilia. For those who might be interested, the list consisted of Hole in the Wall, Amoroso, Black Alman, The Queen’s Alman, Petits Vriens, Ballo del Fiore, Black Nag, Madam Sosilia’s Alman, Rostiboli Gioioso, Ly Bens Dystony, Hearts’ Ease, Gelosia, Gathering Peascods, Anello, and Contrapasso (which we never actually got around to doing). Although it didn’t go particularly quickly, I think the ball did go pretty well, and it was especially nice to have the Minstrels’ Guild providing live music, even if they did have to give up before the last set because of the weather messing with their instruments.

Having recovered from that trip, I’ll be going to be cultured this evening. Juliana was able to procure free tickets to Il Trovatore at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. This will be my first opera; we shall see if it’s an experience I want to repeat.

UPDATE: I went online to read a synopsis of Il Trovatore. It's a tragedy. Whooda thunk?