Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Invisible Woman — Sometimes Attrition Is Mindnumbingly Slow

The pieces that I did on female movie stars and attrition towards better female placement in movies keep coming back to haunt me lately. That attrition is of course too slow, as all removal of prejudices is, but at least it is understandable that the movie studios, however much we disagree with many of their choices, are the “gatekeepers” for their own projects on which they are spending millions of dollars. There is another kind of gatekeeper who works very hard against attrition, however, who has no justification at all for what they do — the self-appointed guardians of the flames of culture. These people mistakenly believe that culture exists to keep people out of it and appoint themselves the wise folk of the culture and volunteer to man the imaginary fortress doors. Of course, this is useless. They aren’t keeping anyone out of anything and they have no authority to their prejudices, but they do get to throw boiling oil and venom down on their targets and sometimes create obstacles for some of them or at least a hostile social climate. Their targets are inevitably people who are not like them.

Obviously, the really big, systemic problems in society, the big battles of attrition in the world, are far more serious and life and death power struggles than cultural battles of arts and entertainment, but the cultural battles reflect those bigger battles, contribute to them, and often require some extra attention, precisely because people often think they aren’t terribly serious. One of the most pervasive in the world of SFFH creative expressions, in all media forms, is the invisible woman. Women — and girls — have been involved in SFFH during its whole existence in human history. They are fans, scholars, organize conventions, create SFFH or help produce and promote it. And yet, despite this, there is a persistent, non-factual belief that the women are not there. Why? For the same reason the movie studios drag their heels on women in film and filmmaking — it means sharing power, credit and money with more people and having less control thereby. Of course, again, the movie studios actually have power and control over something. The culture guardians most of the time do not. (Yes, the same can be said for other groups in SFFH, such as non-whites, but we’re going to concentrate on women here for a particular reason below.)

Attrition nonetheless does its work. The women refuse to leave, and as they have more equality in general society, more openly express themselves and their roles in SFFH, no longer following rules by self-appointed guardians, no longer hiding under male pseudonyms or attributing credit to males, with young women joining them in their turn. This causes the self-appointed guardians (not always male,) to suddenly notice that some of the women are there, where they’ve been all along. These women, however, are declared rare, exceptions, and usually not particularly welcome but grudgingly over time accepted as existing and occasionally interesting. The women continue to assert themselves openly, to carry over to generations, to climb over obstacles put in their way by the self-appointed guardians. Attrition does its work and the guardians have to admit the existence of more women, so they immediately divide them into good girls and bad girls — girls we allow to do things and be with us and girls we still think are not allowed in.

The good girl and the bad girl is one of the oldest, hoariest chestnuts of attempts to control women and reduce them to objects. The madonna and the whore, Eve and Lilith, Mary and Mary Magdalene, the virgin and the femme fatale — the woman who behaves in an approved manner for women and the woman who does not. It’s a way, in culture, to attempt to keep some control and power, to keep the myth of the invisible woman going just a bit longer, to keep women there but not important. Attrition has to chip, chip, chip away at this, but it’s terribly hard to get rid of it completely because the dichotomy is far too attractive.

We were given a spectacularly awful example of this in a column for CNN’s website by Joe Peacock, a self-appointed guardian of the flame, or as John Scalzi termed it, self-appointed Speaker for the Geeks. Peacock is apparently involved with video games, and, despite the fact that women have been involved with video games from the beginning, the gaming world is certainly well behind on the attrition front compared to other SFFH media, and in fact really likes to fling the venom around when it comes to women in a desperate belief that they can keep them out. Mr. Peacock’s piece is chockful of good girl-bad girl ideology. He goes after teenage girls dressing in costume and professional models doing a job and gives them what-for, while praising good girls for recently entering a world in which they’ve actually been all along. He even divides up actresses he doesn’t know into helpful good girl and bad girl categories. Mr. Peacock has finally recognized that the invisible women are there, and unless they follow his orders exactly, he’s desperate to get them out. He even thinks up handy thought processes for them to have to establish that the teenage girls are in fact evil, which instead sort of make you wonder about Peacock’s sex life.

It’s an astonishing bit of open sexism by a guy who quite clearly thinks he’s defending good girls and his beloved supposedly male culture that he will share with only those who are worthy. Many annoyed rebuttals have been made on the Net on bigger blogs than mine that you can check out. I particularly recommend Nick Mamatas’ pointing out that not only have women not been invisible in SFFH, but that the idea that SFFH geekery is an outcast subculture is a ridiculous myth (and his earlier geek pride essay on the damage of self-appointed guardians.) Jezebel‘s response wasn’t bad either, though it does accede a bit to the geekery wasn’t popular before and women weren’t there a lot myths.

I do actually see Peacock’s piece — and most of the responses to it — as a good sign that attrition is working in SFFH when it comes to women. If it wasn’t, Peacock would have seen no need to defend the culture he has no actual say in. He would not have bothered to couch it as a defense of women while he attacked them. But given the venom in it, it is unfortunately also a sign that attrition is going very slowly, too slowly, that backlashes against women on the Net are getting nasty, and that news sources like CNN are now so used to bashing women and their behavior as women that they thought nothing of putting this piece up and getting the controversy hits.

It’s very, very tiring to have to continually tap guys — and unfortunately also some women as well — on the shoulder and say, “we’re here, we’ve always been here and you are not actually in charge of us” over and over. Luckily, that herd of teenage girls in sexy costumes whom Peacock so despises are very good at it. They’re going to run right over the man and right past him. Because the one who is really invisible in SFFH is Peacock. Maybe one day he’ll figure that out.

Below are some related articles on this subject of invisible women (cause I happened to have them saved up):

http://www.salon.com/2012/06/14/lara_croft_battles_male_jerks/

http://yuki-onna.livejournal.com/675153.html

http://whatever.scalzi.com/2011/08/31/the-sort-of-crap-i-dont-get/

http://www.jimchines.com/2012/05/questions-i-never-get-asked

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/laurie-penny-a-womans-opinion-is-the-miniskirt-of-the-internet-6256946.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/17/tribeca-film-festival-women-starring_n_1430917.html

http://www.hugoschwyzer.net/2010/07/09/words-are-not-fists-on-male-strategies-to-defuse-feminist-anger/ 

http://www.kateelliott.com/wordpress/?p=571

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/17/tribeca-film-festival-women-starring_n_1430917.html

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More Song Stylings from Briannah Donolo!

A brief cover performance of “If I Ain’t Got You” acapella style from young and talented Briannah Donolo:

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You Cannot Defend Your Balloon — Author Abstinence

 

“All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend. Art isn’t your pet — it’s your kid. It grows up and talks back to you.” – Joss Whedon

 When you release a written fictional work into the pubic marketplace, either on your own or through a publishing partner, it is like sending a helium balloon up into the air. It is floating off across the sky and how it will be seen is no longer under your control. Ever. Forever. Nor are reactions to you personally, as the author and therefore as a public figure of a sort, by people who may have no real knowledge of you and might not have even read your work, only heard of it.

It is very hard for authors to learn to sit still and not rush to try to defend their balloons — or themselves for launching them — when they feel someone is taking potshots at a work or misunderstanding it completely. No matter how much you may want to defend your work, however, you cannot. It will never have the effect that you want it to have. Because you are the one who launched the balloon, what you think of the balloon means nothing in the wider world in which it floats. And your rush to defend the balloon – even to those who agree with you about it – will be seen at best as a sort of whining, quaint idiocy and at worst as you being a raging jerkwad whose work they no longer have any interest in trying. Even if you have a cheerleading group of fans who are encouraging you to take action and give the critic what for, they are wrong. It will not work and it will drive other potential readers away. It does not matter if you are a bestselling balloon launcher, an award winning balloon launcher or a new balloon launcher. Snarl that people don’t have the right to make comments about your balloon and yourself as author of it and you’re toast. Because the reality is that they do have that right. Always. Forever. And just because you decided to launch a balloon does not give you any say in how they use it and talk about you with it. You released the balloon – it’s theirs now.

I was reminded of this back a few months ago, when the Clark Award nominations came out. It is tradition when award nominations are announced for there to be tirades against the nominees, along with suggestions as to who else would have been much better as a nominee. These tirades serve several useful purposes. They get people to be aware of the nominees, curious about them and talking about them – which is one of the main purpose of the awards themselves – and they get people to be aware of, be curious about and talk about suggested alternatives. And often they start other discussions that bring up other interesting works. For the Clark Awards, we got a goodie – a rant from noted author Christopher Priest, to whom the word “pithy” is certainly apt. His tirade created a side discussion started by author Cathrynne Valente, not about Priest’s views, but about the resistance women get on the Internet and elsewhere for making critical views like Priest’s or even mild observations, resistance and reaction that is framed entirely or almost entirely on them being women and ranges from violent threats to unconscious slams based on the feminine aspect. In the course of that issue, Valente mentioned a female blogger who is known for courting controversy who had jumped on Scott Bakker’s fantasy novels and on Bakker for being a sexist while not really having read his books. Valente did not agree with the blogger’s rants, but was looking at the framing of the reactions to her doing them. And this is how I learned that Scott Bakker had apparently been engaged in a war of words with this woman over his work.

Which surprised me. Bakker, who is a smart cookie and whose stories are actually I’d say subversively feminist, is obsessed with neurolinguistics and related issues. So you would think he’d understand the concept that the author cannot also effectively be the defender and cannot avert any “toxicity” from one person being critical, only compound it by trying to take on a role that the author cannot play. Perhaps he is going on the notion that it’s at least attention and attention is good, controversy sells, etc., but given that there is now a substantial chunk of people who now think Bakker is horrible and won’t touch his stuff, the trade off doesn’t seem very effective.

I was reminded of this again recently when I heard that a gang of bullies from Goodreads is now attacking reviewers they don’t like and think are too mean and critical on Goodreads in a separate site, identifying their victims and giving out their personal info. Every author I’ve heard tell of regarding this idea is appalled by it. While passionate arguing over works is all to the good, having vigilantes viciously attack others who disagree with them in the authors’ names is a disaster for the authors. (Plus, as the authors note, it’s just plain nasty.) It’s again a claim that others don’t have the right to make opinions, unfounded or otherwise, which is never going to sell a work or effectively defend it.

So how do authors deal with negative criticism if they can’t defend their balloon? They accept it. If the criticism is about the writing or the story and the criticism is not directly addressed to the author (i.e. they are not physically or electronically approached,) the simplest approach is to ignore it. Let it stand. It is your job as an author to send out a set of words into the world. It is not your job as author to critique the words that others say about your words. If you are directly approached with negative criticism of your writing or story, the response then is to say that you’re sorry that they didn’t like it, and hope that if they try something else of yours in the future, that they will like it better.

In such situations, gentle humor in you, the author, accepting, even celebrating, critical reactions as part of the joy of literature and the learning experience of being a writer may also help. When directly approached for his reaction to Priest’s scathing, brief commentary on his Clark Award nominated novel, author Charles Stross made T-shirts celebrating that Priest had called him an “Internet puppy.” Scott Lynch wrote about his bad reviews with humor and gratitude. John Scalzi celebrated his 1-star negative reviews for his new, bestselling novel Redshirts.

When the criticism is about non-writing issues like sexism and racism, the situation gets more complicated – and usually more personal. Reactions such as these are not just negative; they denote pain. There is a much stronger desire to defend the balloon, to defend one’s person and to deny another person’s right to have experienced pain on the grounds that the person is wrong to have that reaction to the work, is just trying to create controversy, etc. If that criticism is not directly given to the author, however, the best response is again to ignore it, to let it stand unacknowledged by you and not try to effect it or deny it with author commentary. It is an issue that every reader and potential reader decides for themselves and you won’t change that. Others may argue it for you – and hopefully will not do so as bullies or stalkers, but for you, the balloon has flown. You can widely discuss in interviews, essays and elsewhere not negative reactions to your work, but what you were trying to do in the story and positive reactions to it. Talking about your work from an author’s perspective usually is more likely to interest potential readers than arguing with a stranger about what sort of person you are.

If you are approached directly or asked about criticisms of your work based on issues such as sexism, the response is similar to that for writing criticisms: that you are sorry the person had that reaction, that this was not at all your intent in the work (because you didn’t want to cause people pain that way,) that you will think carefully about what the person said (because it’s usually a good idea to consider that reaction outside your own experience,) and that you hope that if the person decides to try any of your other works in the future, that he or she will feel that they are better. That’s about all you can do, and it may in no way change the critiquer’s mind or what that person says about you. It does, however, acknowledge that you heard what was said and that you accept your balloon is in the sky and is going to be seen in different, perhaps uncomfortable ways.

There are authors who may object to this whole idea, who like being magnets of controversy, who delight in vigorously defending their creations, who assert they are gods of brilliance or at least being unfairly picked on. After all, many vaunted literary figures in history have been lauded for the wit of their literary feuds and withering putdowns of critics. Such an approach, however, (besides being from a dated time,) does not remove criticism, nor weaken it. The balloon has flown and all who encounter it, or even hear of it in the sky, will judge it. Any argument you make, you make in your creative work, and that’s all you get. Beyond that, you’re simply preaching to the choir of those who already think you’re right and your work is golden, and snarling at those unsure, uncaring or upset. That’s your right to act that way. But you still are not actually defending your balloon. You don’t have that power. You’re the author. You gave it to the world.

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Today, in the wake of the Colorado and Toronto shootings, I am spending the weekend holding my loved ones tight, enjoying silly things with them, and eating Indian food. I hope you all also can be with friends and family, wherever you are in the world.  I hope the families of the victims can hang on and can heal. And as always I hope that those going through mental trauma will find help instead of turning to rage.  Life is a fragile gamble, but there is joy in it.

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Some Fun From the 2012 San Diego ComicCon

Some stuff I like from the current ComicCon:

John Scalzi does a skit off his new satiric novel Redshirts at W00tstock, a series of events held at the ComicCon with the help of fantasy bestselling author Patrick Rothfuss and a surprise cameo appearance.

John Barrowman, of Doctor Who and Torchwood fame, interviews Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvil from Doctor Who up on a platform above the main floor.

Joss Whedon, Tim Minear and most of the cast of Firefly do a 10th year reunion panel in Hall H where there is a lot of crying. Also giggles.

Also, because I forgot it before, not a video and not from ComicCon, but an article where Joss Whedon at Whedonesque pens a heartfelt thank you to fans in the wake of the success of The Avengers.

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How Are You Ladies Doing?

So, way back in February, due to a blog post by Australian author  Joel Shepherd, I did a two part post on whether things were really looking dire for female movie stars or not (and had been in the past.) The second part of that post essay was about the up-coming movie landscape, specifically the blockbuster summer in which women stars are traditionally small potatoes. This summer, a number of moderate to large budgeted films with big buzz were going to be women led, a situation that got the media’s attention. The question was whether the films would do well, reinforcing the idea that women led hits were bankable, in addition to smaller films led by women performing decently and more frequently. So now that we’re headed into the last part of summer and several months down the road, how has it gone?

The answer is, pretty well. We started in the late winter with the Soderbergh spy thriller Haywire, starring Gina Carano. The budget was only $23 million and it made over $31 million. That’s nothing to write home about, but it’s not a flop either. The even smaller thriller production Gone, which had Amanda Seyfried paying her dues, managed to pull in a respectable over $16 million number, even though it was barely marketed. Comic mystery thriller adaptation One for the Money, starring Katherine Heigl, flopped as expected but at $37 million box office, most of it domestic, on a $40 million budget and not that much advertising for it, it wasn’t an utterly horrible flop and doesn’t skew the record that much. What to Expect When You’re Expecting, the woman-filled, non-action “women’s movie” of the season, did over $67 million on a $40 mil budget – okay, especially since it was a mostly domestic audience and an ensemble film, and it should do okay on DVD.

The latest Underworld installment, Underworld Awakening, which brought Kate Beckinsale back to the franchise in the lead, had a fairly big budget for the series at $70 million and did better than any other installment of the franchise so far with over $160 million worldwide. Mirror Mirror, the first, more comic Snow White movie starring Lily Collins and Julia Roberts, had a moderate budget of $85 million and took in nearly $163 million, nearly double its production cost.

Then came The Hunger Games, the adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ bestselling YA novel, starring Jennifer Lawrence. On a budget of $78 million, with a female lead and a SF post-apocalypse story about children killing each other as entertainment and social control, it was considered a huge gamble, even though the series has many male and female fans. If it had done even moderately well, it was going to be seen as a victory, a solid “replacement” in the market for the finishing Twilight series. It did better than well. It’s made over $680 million. Its foreign take started kind of slow – which wasn’t due to having a female lead as female led movies often do well overseas – but has since picked up as the film opens in more and more countries.

Could the run be sustained, though? The next big female “gamble” was the second Snow White movie, Snow White and the Huntsman, starring Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron. With a big budget of $170 million for the CGI, it was going to have to do extremely well to recoup and Mirror Mirror had already had the shot at the Snow White story only a few months before. It made over $354 million worldwide, not as much as cheaper The Hunger Games, but more than enough to probably get that sequel they’re angling for. And then came Brave, Pixar’s “first ever” female lead animated feature, starring a, well sort of Disney princess Pixar-style, red-haired and Scottish. Would it do well, especially with a big budget cost of $185 million? Brave had one of the best openings Pixar has had for a non-sequel feature with $68 million opening weekend. It’s taken in nearly $225 million in only three weeks of showing. Like The Hunger Games, its foreign box office is being broken out slowly and is liable to bring in much more of the total in the next few months.

And as it turns out, although I wasn’t aware of it till it was out in June and I was forced by my family to see it — there was another female-led giant film of the summer – Prometheus, possibly the most expensive nonsensical movie ever made. The Alien prequel stars Noomi Rapace, as an archeologist/biologist doctor who finds out God is nasty, and also had again Charlize Theron playing a major role as resident ice queen. Rapace’s character was no Ripley, but the highly anticipated film bet on a female protagonist again for the franchise and has pulled in over $295 worldwide so far. (The reported production cost was $130 million.)

That’s about it for the female led films for the summer season, though it’s worth noting that Scarlett Johansan, the only female on the team of superheroes in The Avengers (at the studio’s insistence, natch,) looks to be getting a deal that might net her $20 million for the sequel, plus a possible spin-off feature for her character Black Widow. The big boy superheroes take the fore with Amazing Spiderman out now and Batman: The Dark Knight Rises to come out soon. 2012, however, will see the last movie of the Twilight franchise – Breaking Dawn, Part 2, in November, which is notable because Kristen Stewart’s Bella will be going in the last film from prophesied human whom everyone has to protect to super-powered vampire mom protecting her prophesied daughter. And also the next installment of the Resident Evil franchise, Resident Evil: Retribution, comes out in September, starring Milla Jovovich (who also totally stole the picture The Three Musketeers last year.)

Next year, some of the female-led films we know so far are the next Hunger Games film, Catching Fire; the animated feature Epic, with Amanda Seyfried doing the voice of the protagonist; Sandra Bullock’s SF movie Gravity; another YA adaptation, The Mortal Instruments, starring Lily Collins; the adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s SF novel The Host, starring Saoirse Ronan; a remake of Carrie starring Chloe Grace Moretz; another Soderbergh thriller, The Bitter Pill, starring Rooney Mara; Reese Witherspoon’s legal thriller Devil’s Knot; Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring; the drama Very Good Girls; Lasse Hallstrom’s Safe Haven; the The Evil Dead remake that’s more of a re-boot and stars Jane Levy; and the animated Dorothy of Oz. Also, the not female-led but female friendly Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, starring Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner, and Scary Movie 5. 2013 looks to be fairly full of testosterone, with a number of big movies like The Hobbit and the re-boot again of Superman, but the females are not going away, and female directors are in the mix and have a better shot at action films than they did a few years ago. Females are now a staple as secondary main characters in nearly every action film, in slightly larger numbers than before.

So 2012 definitely marks a sea change and from here on, it’s drip, drip, drip for more potentially successful erosion. The future for female movie stars is looking better than it was and less limited to romantic comedies and horror flicks.  Now we just need that Wonder Woman movie.

 

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Interesting Articles for a New House

Instead of just dusting cobwebs out of me old blog, how about some cobweb art from artist Emil “Rocky” Fiore, who takes actual spider webs and funkily preserves them:

I’m happy to say that my new house seems to be mostly spiderweb free, not that I mind them in the garden. Instead, it is filled with boxes. Really far more boxes than one should have. And all apparently have to be unpacked.  So for the moment, here are some interesting thoughts by others about book publishing and fiction publishing:

Laura Miller uses the saga of Harry Potter in “The Making of a Blockbuster” to give one of the most accurate portrayals of how fiction publishing works that has maybe been done in media. No Hollywood bombast, no books are just like fill in the blank failed metaphors. Instead, it talks about the realities of fiction readers and how that translated to a small children’s book purchase becoming the behemoth of fiction.

Richard Parks muses on different ways that people categorize the fiction they love in “Time for Some Name Calling.”

My online pal, author N. E. White, looks at some of the realities fiction authors are grappling with these days in “What It Means to be an Author in the Internet Age.”

We’ve been talking about how one of the things that publishers would eventually start doing with the development of the e-book market is bundling — putting print and electronic material together for sale. Angry Robot Books outlines how they are now doing a bundling program and doing it in partnership specifically with independent booksellers. This and the increasing removal of DRM from e-books marks the beginning of the e-book market headed out of the Wild West of childhood into a solid adolescence and the next stage of development.

Author Charles Stross looks at differences between how e-books and print books operate from different focuses in the market (no, not the price and cost thing,) in “Why E-Books Are Not Like Paper.”

 

 

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