I have a longer, rambling post about my feelings after seeing the movie A Wrinkle In Time last week. There’s a long digression about what the book meant to me as a kid and so forth. And I will finish it and post it soonish. But there are stressful things going on in the lives of people I love, and I’m in a weird headspace.
So, my quick review is this: The movie is awesome, it is glorious, it is moving, it is sincere, and it absolutely sells the truth of the book. There are many dissenting reviews I have seen, many from friends, so I will offer the following caveats:
- If you’re a cynic, you will not like this movie. Don’t bother. I’m giving certain cynics of my acquaintance serious side-eye when they claim, while griping about this movie, to be fans of the book. If you’re a cynic, you completely missed the point of the book.
- If you’re the kind of fan who complained that Tom Bombadil was left out of the Lord of the Rings movies, you will not like this movie. Don’t bother. And if you did see it, don’t post long lists of things they left out. You sound like a small-minded pedant shrilly complaining that they got the stitching wrong on the tunic of that background character from page 76…
- There’s another kind of fan that I don’t know of a way to warn they won’t like it. But their reasons for not liking the movie were summarized best on Twitter by Matt Santori (@FotoClub): “It is earnest and it treats a girl who has low self-esteem with respect instead of ridicule. And I think that bothers a lot of men.”
There was a point, early in the movie, and not when anything that you would expect to make you cry, when I found myself crying so much I kept having to wipe my eyes to see. It was a beautiful scene that was giving me all kinds of feelings, and realized that the people making the movie had captured the wild sense of wonder and joy that I, as a 9-year-old when I read the book the first time, felt at several parts of the book. It’s a feeling that L’Engle herself described at one point:
“It seemed to travel with her, to sweep her aloft in the power of song, so that she was moving in glory among the stars, and for a moment she, too, felt that the words Darkness and Light had no meaning, and only this melody was real.”
― Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time
Adaptation requires elliding things, simplifying things, and in a book that was written 56 years ago, updating things. The movie is only a little over an hour, which is a perfect length for a kids movie. And there are things that work in text that don’t work so well visually, so sometimes directors have to get metaphorical.
One last note: one of the authors I follow on Twitter is Saladin Ahmed. Last Friday he saw the movie with his daughter and a whole bunch of her classmates. I’m going to paraphrase his review: “I don’t usually say ‘screw the critics.’ I will simply say, If you possibly can see A Wrinkle in Time with some kids, do so. They will love it, and you will love being there while they watch.”
But once I got them to listen, they all loved it, too.
I played that album a lot. But vinyl records lose fidelity over time because each time you play them the physical needle that has to run through the groove to vibrate because of the shape of the groove and translate those microvibrations into sound also wears the groove smooth, slowing destroying the sound. I played it enough that, a few years later when the second movie came out and I bought the soundtrack album for it, I could hear the difference in some of the repeated themes, and bought myself a fresh copy of the first album, played it once to make a cassette tape, and put it away. I also made a tape of the Empire Strikes Back soundtrack and stopped listening to the vinyl album. I listened to both cassettes often enough that eventually I had to get the albums out again to make fresh tapes.
And yes, eventually I ended up with a vinyl version of the soundtrack for Return of the Jedi. For many years after that, I would only occasionally play the vinyl albums, relying instead on the homemade cassette copies when I wanted to listen to them. I did this with a number of sci fi movie and TV series soundtracks through the 80s and early 90s: buy the vinyl album listen at least once while I made a cassette copy, then put the album carefully away and listened to the cassette as often as I liked. And I really enjoyed listening to the music for movies and other shows that I loved.
And then along came compact discs. I started buying new music on disc, and as I could afford it, if I found CD versions of favorite old albums, I would buy them. At some point in this period of time, I found a disc that was titled, “The Star Wars Trilogy” as recorded by the Utah Symphony Orchestra (the originals had all been done by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by John Williams) for a very reasonable price, and I bought it.
In 1997, 20 years after the original release of the first movie, a set of three 2-disc Special Edition sets of the soundtracks for all three of the original Star Wars movies were released, so I finally picked up the full soundtracks on CD. These sets had considerably more music than had been included in the old vinyl albums. They had also been remastered. Each of the discs was printed with holographic images of the Death Star and other ships from the universe. Each set came with a mini hardbound book with notes about the music. They were cool. I listened to them fairly frequently for a few years.
When I first acquired what they called at the time a Personal Digital Assistant (a Handspring Visor, to be specific), it came with a disc of software to help synchronize your calendar and contacts with your Windows computer. When I upgraded a couple years later, the new disc of software included a copy of Apple’s new music manager, iTunes (the Windows version), which you could use to put music on your PDA. At the time I often listened to music while working on computer by pulling discs out of a small shelf unit I kept in the computer room and stuck in a boombox we kept in there. The little shelf held only a subset of my library, as the rest of our discs were in a much bigger shelf unit in the living room next to the main stereo. So I grabbed some of the discs from the small shelf, stuck them in the CD drive on my Windows tower, and let them get imported into iTunes. That was the original core of my current iTunes library, from which I created my first playlists—imaginatively named “Writing,” “Writing Faust,” “Writing II,” “Layout An Issue,” and “Writing III.” And several tracks from the aforementioned knock-off Star Wars Trilogy disc were included, because that was the only Star Wars music disc I kept in the computer room at the time.
Many years later, I usually listen to music from my iPhone. I had thought that I had imported all of my music from disc into the iTunes library years ago, and most of the time I buy music as downloads, now. I have new playlists which include the Star Wars theme or the Imperial March. So I thought it was all good. I hadn’t gone out of my way to listen to the entire soundtracks of the original movies in years. I have continued to buy new soundtracks for movies I love. I tend to listen to them for a while, and then pick some favorite tracks that go into playlists.
Because of some articles I was reading about the upcoming films in the Star Wars franchise, I decided that I should re-listen to the original soundtrack, and was quite chagrined to discover that, even though I thought my entire iTunes library was currently synched to my phone, all that I had was the knock-off album. (And the wholly downloaded soundtracks from The Force Awakens and Rogue One.) I was even more chagrined when I got home and couldn’t find the original albums in my iTunes library on either computer.
So I went to the big shelf of CDs in the living room (which my husband was actually in the middle of packing), and snagged the three two-disc Star Wars soundtrack sets and carried them up to my older Mac Pro tower (because it still has an optical disc drive). I now finally have the albums on my iPhone. Sometime after we finish the move, I’ve going to have to go through playlists to replace the versions from the knock-off album with the authentic score. Because, that’s what I should be using!
Also, clearly, after we’re all unpacked at the new place, I need to go through the rest of the discs and see what other music which I thought was in my library is still sitting trapped in a physical disc which never gets used any more so I can import them to the computers. I mean, our stereo doesn’t even have a disc player!
Which is exactly what homophobes have been sniggering and making fag jokes about with Le Fou since Disney released the animated version of the movie. Gaston is a parody of hetero hypermasculinity, and Le Fou is is craven, clownish sidekick willing to do anything at all to get the slightest bit of attention from Gaston. Le Fou’s lack of manliness in the animated film could be rationalized as being there to throw Gaston’s exaggerated masculinity into sharp contrast. Okay. Except that is exactly what the Hollywood sissy/coded gay sidekick has always been: he’s the example of what a “real man” isn’t. His whole point it to prove that unmanly men are jokes, at best. Not real people, but punchlines.
So they are taking the implicit hateful characterization and making it an explicitly hateful characterization. Thanks, but no thanks.There will be people who insist that we shouldn’t judge it until we see it, but they’ve given me enough information that I already know they have messed this up. The fact that they decided to announce it, for one. Just as if a person begins a statement with, “I’m not a bigot, but…” we all know that pure bigotry is going to follow, if you feel the need to announce you’re enlightened and inclusive, you don’t know what those words mean. The director has described the classic negative stereotype (confused, obsessed with a straight man) is what they’re going for. Worse, they’ve referred to it more than once as a moment. Just a moment. You know why it’s a moment? Because they are already making plans to edit that moment out of the international release, because they knew as soon as word got out that countries would start threatening to ban the film. Heck, Alabama is already up in arms about it!
That means that it’s a tacked on joke. It’s not part of the plot. It’s not a meaningful part of Le Fou’s characterization.
Even if they do something with it. Let’s say that at the end of the film they have a moment that implies maybe Gaston is ready to return his feelings? What message does that send? It tells us that hating women (Gaston’s exaggerated masculinity includes a lot of misogyny in the animated feature, just sayin’) or being rejected by women is what makes men gay. And, oh, isn’t that great inclusion?I mentioned that the Beauty and the Beast revelation was the second time this has happened this year. Previously it was Snagglepuss. Yes, DC Comics/Warner Brothers announced that the Hanna-Barbera cartoon character, Snagglepuss, was going to be reimagined in a new comic book series as “a gay Southern Gothic playwright.” Literally my reaction on twitter a nanosecond after I saw the first person retweeting the headline was, “reimagined? But that’s what he already was!”
Snagglepuss was a version of the sassy gay friend from the beginning. He was protagonist of his cartoon series, which wasn’t typical for the sassy gay friend (who is more typically a sidekick to one of the lead characters), but Snagglepuss broke the fourth wall constantly, addressing the viewer with his arch asides and sardonic observations. He was the viewer’s sassy gay friend, in other words. And he was cheerful and optimistic and always trying (but usually failing) to improve his life in some way. Despite the many setbacks, he remained cheerful and upbeat.
So the DC Comic (besides being drawn by an artist who has apparently never seen an athropomorphic character before—seriously, go hit that link above and tell me if that isn’t the worst comic book artwork you’ve ever seen!) takes the happy, upbeat fey lion and turns him into a bitter old queen. Again, thanks but, no thanks!
Coded queer characters have been appearing in pop culture for decades. Their portrayal as comic relief or as villains (and sometimes both) sent a clear message that they were not normal people. They are never the heroes. They can be loathed as villains, or tolerated and laughed at as sidekicks, but they will be lonely and unloved in either case. Neither of these supposedly inclusive announcements changes that homophobic message. It’s not, contrary to what certain evangelical hatemongers are saying, indoctrinating kids to be accepting of gays. It’s instead reinforcing the same old bigotry: we don’t matter, we are jokes, we are never the heroes, we are never loved.
Just another means of erasing the truth of our existence. No thanks!
And I was, as far as I could tell, one of the few kids in my class on the Monday morning after the movie had shown, who hadn’t seen it. If the film was shown on network television in the next couple of years, I didn’t manage to see it. After my folks divorced and my mom, one sister, and I moved 1200 miles away, one of my new friends mentioned that Young Frankenstein had been re-released to theaters and was playing downtown. Back in the days before ubiquitous cable, movies on tape or disc, or the internet, movies were often re-released into theaters.
When I mentioned that I’d never seen it, my friends were aghast. The next thing I knew, we were piling into someone’s car and driving to the theatre. I loved the movie. I loved it so much, that I couldn’t stop talking about it. I kept telling anyone who would listen to me about the grandson of Victor Frankenstein, Frederick, who insists that his last name is pronounced Frohnkensteen, and is ashamed of his crazy grandfather’s work; but upon finding said grandfather’s journal becomes obsessed with bringing a dead man back to life, and the zany misadventures that follow.
My mom thought it sounded fun. And so a night or two later, I found myself standing in line at the theatre once more, this time with my mom and little sister.
The movie has more than a few jokes based on sexual innuendoes, which it didn’t even occur to me might not be appropriate for my eleven-year-old sister, let alone what Mom might think of it. And both of them were laughing at all the same places I was, so everything was going fine. Until we reached the point where the Creature kidnaps Frederick’s fiancé, Elizabeth.
And then, panic started to set in. Because what happens next is that the Creature and Elizabeth have sex (in a scene that is a casebook example of pop culture’s long entanglement with rape culture). During which Elizabeth falls in love with the Creature because he has an enormous “schwanzstucker.”
Mom was a Bible-thumping Southern Baptist. Yes, she was also a science fiction fan, but her open-mindedness only went so far. And I had brought her and my little sister to a movie where a central turning point of one of the subplots is a woman falling in love with a stranger because of the size of his penis.
I was quite certain that I was going to wind up being grounded for life. Obviously Mom was going to be very upset. And I should have realized that she would be and mentioned the scene as soon as she suggested we go see the movie! I sunk down in my seat, bracing for an angry outburst.
The scene with the Creature began, and I just sank down lower in my seat. Then when the sex happens (the movie was rated PG, so you don’t even see either character get undressed, it’s only implied that the Creature unzipped his pants), and Madeline Kahn, who played Elizabeth starts singing in an exaggerated operatic style, “Oh! Sweet mystery of life at last I’ve found you!”
Mom started laughing. I looked over, and she wasn’t merely chuckling. She was guffawing loudly, covering her mouth to try not to disturb the rest of the audience (many of whom were laughing, but not that hard) and doubling over like she was going to fall out of her seat. A minute or two later her laughter subsided and she was wiping her eyes. She leaned over and whispered, “We probably shouldn’t have brought your little sister to see this!”
My sister asked mom what was so funny, and mom started laughing again.
A day or so later Mom had a slightly more serious talk with me about the importance of evaluating shows and books and such I might let my sister see as to whether they were appropriate, but she wasn’t angry. She said the only other thing she was disappointed in about the show was that we couldn’t immediately re-watch the original Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein right afterward.
Some time later a pair of the friends who took me to the film the first time re-enacted the “Need a hand?” “No, thanks! Have one,” scene when Mom was around, and she asked them to do it again. And they started to, but it morphed into a re-enactment of the scene in the blind man’s cottage instead. For the rest of the evening we were quoting funny lines from the film at each other. I think it was that evening that Mom explained her view of all the ways that the original Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein had alluded to love, romance, and even sex. Though we stayed away from any mention of the Creature’s schwanzstucker.
It should come as no surprise that two of the friends who were so aghast that I had never seen Young Frankenstein were the same pair who, a couple years later, dragged me to my first performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. All the sexual situations in Young Frankenstein are hetero and heteronormative, but there was still a strain of the transgressive running throughout. Young Frankenstein didn’t have the same effect on my own self awareness as Rocky Horror, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an important landmark in my understanding of the possibilities of science fiction and fantasy.
And I wasn’t the only nerd to think so. The year after it was released, Young Frankenstein won the Hugo Award for Dramatic Presentation. And the Science Fiction Writers of America awarded Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder a Nebula Award for the screenplay. The film also won four Saturn Awards. The film displays a great deal of fondness for the Universal Frankenstein films (there’s even a line of dialog about how the village elders have endured all of this five times before, though that’s a miscount since the Universal series actually have five: Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, Ghost of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman and House of Frankenstein). Young Frankenstein was a humorous parody, yes, but it also served as both a deconstruction and homage at the same time.
And it’s a funny film! And that’s nothing to sneeze at.
Aunt Kate (played hilariously by Dom DeLuise in drag), meanwhile, has recently changed her will so that Larry inherits everything. Unless Larry predeceases her, at which point the inheritance goes to all the other Abbotts equally. And someone is stalking Kate’s home in a cheesey werewolf mask, and has already killed one person…
I can’t explain why the show works so well for me. Is it the banter and onscreen chemistry between Gilda and Gene (this was the last movie they made together; mysterious pain she kept feeling during filming was later diagnosed as the ovarian cancer that eventually killed her)? Is it Dom’s hysterical performance as Aunt Kate? Especially the song and dance number Kate and Vicky perform in the music room after dinner? Is it Jonathan Pryce’s delicious performance as the slightly sleazy cousin Charlie? Or Eve Ferret’s vampy turn as Charlie’s girlfriend (and Larry’s ex-) Sylvia?
I don’t know. But I love the movie. My husband always makes certain that we have a copy on more than one of our computers when we go on long trips, in case I wind up in a dismal or vicious mood because things go awry.
Last night I watched it, and I enjoyed it as always. But for the first time I was crying at the end. Because yesterday the world learned that Gene Wilder had died the night before.
I love other movies Gene made. I was ten years old when Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory came out. The town we lived in at that time didn’t have a movie theatre. But a mere thirty miles away, just over the border in neighboring Colorado, my grandparents lived in a town that did have a theatre. And I and my sister and Mom all went to see the movie along with my paternal grandmother one summer evening. I loved it, of course. I had read book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a couple of years previously. I remember early on in the movie thinking that they weren’t following the book very faithfully. But once Wilder came out and started playing the mad, bewildering Willy Wonka, I decided that the movie got it right.
I don’t watch this movie as often. Although many people love Wilders’ Willy Wonka even more than I do, my husband had a very different reaction to the film as a child. It gave him nightmares—severe enough that he just can’t watch the show even now as an adult.
And of course I re-watch Young Frankenstein at least once a year. Quoting along and laughing throughout. It’s a brilliant comedy and parody.
The only other of his films I currently own is Blazing Saddles which I hadn’t watched in a long while, so I watched it as well, last night. Gene was good in that, though with not nearly as much screen time as I’d have liked.I love Gene is so many of his roles: Willy, Dr. FRON-ken-STEEN, Larry, the Waco Kid… We have his movies to enjoy again and again. And we need to remember the sentiment his family expressed in their official announcement, along with the explanation for why Gene didn’t publicly reveal his health problem: he couldn’t stand the thought of even one less smile in the world. He put many smiles into the world. And yes, many of us shed some tears yesterday, but I know re-watching his movies will bring smiles and laughs instead of tears again. Just not today.
On the other hand, a friend of mine mentioned that she was getting in line to see the movie again, and immediately her tweets were replied to by a bunch of random internet guys spewing various derogatory comments. Accusing her of getting in line again to “make up for it being a flop” (which it isn’t; Sony is very happy with the numbers), for instance. Explaining to her why she shouldn’t like it, and so forth. Several people have jumped in on it, including some guys claiming to be friends and not disagreeing with her, but upset that she isn’t tolerating the other dude’s opinions.
Why are her tweets getting that response and not mine? I did a little checking around on Twitter and saw several other male friends who have commented how much they liked the movie, and none of them are getting arguments from random internet dudes. But several women I am acquainted with have posted virtually identical comments about the movie, and they’re getting harassed.
And make no mistake: if you tell someone that they are “silencing”dissent when they don’t agree with you after you come into their space (which is what you are doing when you reply to someone’s tweet or blog post, et cetera) and tell them that their feelings are wrong, then you are harassing them. And when you’re a guy trolling through social media looking for women expressing opinions that so you can correct them, you are a mansplaining douche. I know you’re going around looking for women to argue with, because you’re ignoring nearly identical statements from other guys. You may not consciously realize you’re doing it, I’ll grant that, but when you see both my comments and my friend’s, but you only argue with her? Yeah, you’re being that kind of jerk.
And please, Internet dudes, don’t try to mansplain away another dude’s mansplaining.
You don’t have to like the movie. That’s fine. But don’t try to convince someone who has already seen the movie and loves it that they don’t actually like what they like. And don’t try to prove that the movie is bad. When you do that (when we do that) we’re being jerks.
And I say “we” because I slip up and do it, too. A lot. I have explicitly asked certain friends to tell me when I cross the line from trying to discuss something to bullying someone for disagreeing with me. It’s a behavior many of us learned growing up. When someone disagrees, we push back. It is so easy to go from pushing back to pushing down.
Yeah, we made our opinion known publicly. You’re allowed to have a different opinion and express it in public. But don’t be a dick about it. Being a dick is not going to persuade the other person to agree. It isn’t. And here’s the thing: if what they like isn’t hurting you, there’s no reason to try to persuade the other person.
I push back hard on certain political topics because actual people die because of some policies that some people support. People dying, people living in poverty, people suffering injustice, people not being able to get health care… those are all things worth arguing about. But a goofy comedy? Let it go.
I want the new Ghostbusters movie to succeed because I loved it and I want to see more movies like it made. So yes, I’ve recommended it and told people how much fun I had and in some cases I’ve offered to buy people a ticket to see it. Because I genuinely believe they will enjoy the movie, perhaps as much as I did, but even more because I want us all to be able to enjoy more movies like this. I want little girls such as the one whose father posted a picture of the Ghostbusters costume she made with her existing toys to see movies like this and know they can be the hero, too. And yes, I want little boys to see this movie and know that their sisters and girl classmates and neighbors can be just as much a hero as they can. I want everyone to know that they can be someone’s hero.
Even you, dude bros. I want you to be heroes. And the first step is to stop being a mansplaining jerk. Salty is great when we’re talking about snack food (especially parabolic potato chips), but not in social interactions.
I’m used to being disappointed in members of my own gender. Growing up a queer boy in very redneck communities in the 60s and 70s, I learned to be very careful around other guys, since you never knew which ones would turn into bullies the moment you accidentally expressed the wrong opinion, or pronounced something weird, or walked wrong, or… well, you get the picture. So I wasn’t completely surprised when a lot of a certain type of fanboy started spewing hate and rage at the fact that someone was rebooting Ghostbusters with one twist: our four ghost-hunting nerds would be played by women.
I was very shocked when a few male friends, specifically a few gay male friends, joined in. Particularly one who got angry and seething on line after the first trailer was released absolutely insisting it was a bad trailer and this was going to be an awful movie. Because I watched the trailer and couldn’t stop laughing.
One of the differences between me and a lot of the men hating on the movie before they ever saw it was that the original Ghostbusters movie was not part of my childhood. Because I was 23 years old when the movie was released in theatres. I saw it in a theatre with a bunch of my friends. And we laughed, and cheered, and howled with more laughter while watching it. For weeks afterward we kept quoting lines to each other and laughing more. Decades later, I still find ways to slip allusions to that movie into tabletop roleplaying scenarios I create and stories I write. I liked the movie a lot.
But I didn’t love every single moment of the original. I cringed at a lot of Bill Murray’s scenes. I kept wanting him to stop being a sleaze toward Sigourney Weaver’s character. It didn’t matter that most movies at the time featured men behaving in that slimey, sexually-harassing way. I didn’t like it when it happened in the other movies, either. But a lot of movies, especially comedies, have moments that make me feel like I need to apologize on behalf of my gender. While I laughed and cheered when the heroes beat the big bad at the end of the movie, I was always a little bit disappointed that there was no hint that Dr. Venkman had become less of a sexist sleaze ball. I had wanted him to have a redeeming moment with Dana Barrett, but it didn’t happen.
There were other moments, jokes that weren’t quite perfect. It was a good movie. It was a great way to spend some time laughing with friends. But it wasn’t perfect. And when I went back and watched the trailer for the original, I can’t exactly call it a masterpiece, either. It was funny, but actually it struck me as less engaging than the trailer for the new movie. So I figured that at least some of the guys who otherwise weren’t misogynist manbabies but were still reacting so negatively to the trailers, were doing so because they were remembering the first movie through the distortion of it being literally part of their childhood.
My husband and I saw the new Ghostbusters on Friday night. We laughed. We cheered. We applauded. We howled with more laughter.
And so did everyone else in the theatre with us.
It’s a good movie. It’s a funny movie. It is not a retread. It’s telling a similar story in a similar universe, but not the same story. The opening sequence is very creepy. Some of the jokes are in-jokes and allusions to the previous films, but not such in-jokes that they aren’t funny is you don’t know them. Don’t believe me, then read this review: A Ghostbusters Review From Someone Who’s Never Seen the Original Ghostbusters.
There’s also this review that compares the reactions to the Ghostbusters reboot to another sequel to another beloved-by-fanboys movie: What Are You Fighting for When You Fight the New Ghostbusters?. And then there’s this: Sorry Haters – Ghostbusters Might Actually Be Good although this latter reviewer is a lot more mealy-mouthed than he ought to be (I mean, come on, guy, you just watched the movie; you know whether or not you enjoyed it; stop writing this like an insecure person who isn’t sure of your own opinion unless it is validated by other guys!).
And don’t miss this one: Real Men Confirm the New Ghostbusters Didn’t Ruin Their Childhoods After All.
It’s a funny movie. Period. It’s a good movie. Period.
I’m not saying that only misognyist manbabies won’t like this movie… I’m just saying that every single negative review I have seen has demonstrated more than a little bit of a gender-based double standard. Every one.
So, I’m hoping this movie does well. Not just to prove the trolls and manbabies wrong, but because I really enjoyed laughing for two hours without one moment of cringing that made me embarrassed to be a guy. Because that’s an extremely rare thing in movies—but it’s something we need more of.
ETA: Sunday night I went to see the movie a second time with two friends (my husband wasn’t feeling well). I still liked it my second time. The theatre was packed, again. People laughed and cheered and clapped a many points in the movie. It’s a goofy comedy, yes. So was the original. I had a blast the second time, and still recommend it.
Make no mistake, George isn’t saying that Roddenberry didn’t want queer people in the future. George has spoken before about the conversations he had in the sixties with Roddenberry about addressing sexual orientation in the story. Roddenberry thought it would be a bridge too far for the networks. Roddenberry had already fought tooth and nail to get an African-American woman and a Japanese-American man on the regular cast in prominent roles—and he felt he was already skating on thin ice. Also, if you look at some of the writing Roddenberry did in the notes to other writers working on the series and on the first motion picture, you’ll find references to Kirk, at least, having had affairs with men at least at one point in his past. So it isn’t that George thinks Roddenberry and the original vision of Star Trek without queers, it’s that George thinks that Sulu was obviously straight in the original, and that a better option would be to introduce a new character.
There are more than a few problems with this line of reasoning. The most important is simply this: if the first unambiguously queer character introduced into the Star Trek universe is a minor character that no one has ever heard of before, that leads to automatic tokenism. The audience will, regardless of their own feelings about queer people in real life, naturally see this new character as the gay crewman. He won’t be seen as an integral part of the universe who just happens to be gay, he’ll be seen as the character being added for no other purpose than to check off a list. If, on the other hand, a character who is clearly integral to the story is revealed to have been queer all along, that his or her colleagues have known about the same sex spouse all along and none thought anything was odd or remarkable about it, that shows that Star Trek is the future Roddenberry envisioned: where people are accepted on the merits of their character above all else.
The less philosophical problem with George’s argument is the assertion that this is a radical re-imagining of the character of Sulu that throws out everything we already knew about him. I’m sorry, George, I love you, but there is nothing in the way that you played Mr. Sulu in the original series, nor in the scenes, dialog, and actions that we ever saw on-screen, that precludes him being queer. Sure, that’s that one deleted scene from Star Trek: the Motion Picture where Sulu tried to awkwardly come on to Lieutenant Ilia—but first, it’s a deleted scene, so isn’t really canon, and second, a bisexual or pansexual Sulu is still a queer Sulu who might well end up falling in love with a man and deciding to settle down.
I’m not trying to knock George Takei’s acting skills, here. I’m just saying that queer people and straight people often don’t act any differently in the vast majority of day-to-day situations. There are many reasons that a metric ton of Chekov/Sulu fanfic was written long before the motion pictures or the reboot movies existed, for instance.
Finally, if you think that Roddenberry’s original vision is the only way the story of the Star Trek universe should move forward, we should circle back to those odd notes of Roddenberry’s about Kirk’s sexual past. Roddenberry was an adherent of a belief that was prevalent among some liberal thinkers in the sixties that sexual orientation was merely a social construct. That every human was really, deep down, bisexual or pansexual, and any proclivities otherwise were merely the result of social conditioning. That view isn’t accepted any longer; medical science indicates something those of us who have grown up queer in a homophobic society have been saying for a long time, the sexual orientation is an innate quality. Some people are innately hetero, some innately bisexual or pansexual, et cetera.
But if we must rigorously adhere to Roddenberry’s original vision, then having Sulu in one timeline prefer men, and in another be ambiguous is perfectly fine.
Ultimately, I think that Simon Pegg and the current producers are right: the original series is silent on Sulu’s orientation. This isn’t a change or contradiction of anything we knew about the character before. And having a major character who is already part of the canon revealed to have a same sex spouse is the better way for Star Trek to embody a bit of Vulcan philosophy: that the universe is made up of infinite diversity in infinite combinations.
Gizmodo brings us this little story of pianist Tony Ann who has created a short piano piece that incorporates the music of several popular ringtone, transforming them into brief melodic themes that are woven together into a song. It’s pretty cool!
Famous Cellphone Ringtones Played On The Piano (Tony Ann Arrangement):
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
Yesterday a friend asked why I didn’t include anything about Oklahoma Lawmakers Passing a Bill Criminalizing Performing Abortion among the rest of the Friday Links. As I explained in the comments, their was so much ridiculous and outrage-inducing news out of Oklahoma this week (and a few other places), that on Thursday night while I was assembling the Friday Links post I reached a stage where I was seething. I was literally shaking so hard with rage that I could not sit still at the keyboard. I kept getting up and angrily pacing back and forth, muttering about how ludicrous it was. So I skipped over a chunk of the links I had bookmarked for the week and tried to move on to calming news.
Oklahoma was not one of the states I lived in as a child, but both my dad’s and Mom’s side of the family came from there, and I had a lot of relatives living there back in the day. My husband grew up in communities in Missouri and Oklahoma, and many of his closest relatives still live there. The upshot is that I have emotional ties to Oklahoma and keep hoping that it will become a better place than I recall it being. (While I was telling Michael about this update, he said, “There are reasons I always say that Oklahoma is a great place to be from!”) So here are a few other links that I could have included about Oklahoma yesterday:
Since then, there is some slightly better news. Midday Friday, the governor of Oklahoma vetoed bill that would criminalize abortion. And that’s nice. Unfortunately, she didn’t veto it because the law is blatantly unconstitutional. Nor did she veto it because the decision whether to have an abortion should be a matter of conscience for the woman involved. She vetoed it because the law failed to identify the definition of “medically necessary to save the life of the mother” which is the one exception in the law. It probably didn’t hurt that every expert agreed that the law would make it impossible for any OB/GYN to practice in Oklahoma, since any miscarriages or any tubal pregnancies that a patience experienced could be charged under the law. The governor explicitly said that she hopes a president will soon appoint judges to the Supreme Court who will overturn Roe v Wade and make abortion illegal at a federal level.
So it isn’t great news, just less awful than it originally appeared.
Speaking of good news: South Carolina Senate blocks Berkeley anti-transgender bathroom ban. This is the second time since this trans bathroom mania began that South Carolina legislators have killed one of these kinds of bills.
While we’re on the topic of improving news, some months back when the first trailer for the next Star Trek movie went up, it was pretty cringe worthy. It was blatantly obvious that whoever edited it was thinking, “Guardians of the Galaxy was a goofy comedy action movie that was a blockbuster, so how can we edit this to make it look like it is also a goofy comedy action movie?” The new trailer just dropped, and thankfully it looks much, much better:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
I think it was the fall of 1971 (I would have been eleven) when I saw the listing, and the name and very short description had me intrigued. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to convince my parents to let me have the movie trip.
About a year later The Andromeda Strain was broadcast on network TV, probably as a movie of the week (that was a thing back then), and for whatever reason, we didn’t watch the first part of the movie. Probably it conflicted with a show my dad liked, so we watched the other show, first, then switched channels and watched the last half of the movie. So I was a bit confused, but it was still pretty exciting. The last part of the film was very tense and entertaining, even without the beginning.
The following week in school, everyone was talking about the movie. It was one of the few times that I remember kids who usually didn’t know a thing about science fiction talking about a sci fi plot.
Not long afterward, I happened across a battered paperback copy of Michael Crichton’s novel upon which the movie was based. I read it in a single sitting. One of the things that amazed me when I finished was how closely the half of the movie I saw followed the latter portion of the book. My previous experience of comparing movies to the books they were based on was that the movie often bore virtually no resemblance to the book.
The story of the Andromeda Strain is that a space probe is sent into low earth orbit and brought back down. It lands in a small, isolated town, and by the time the retrieval team arrives to pick it up, it seems that every inhabitant of the town has been killed. The retrieval team dies will communicating with their government superiors, and a Wildfire alert is activated. Wildfire is a codename for protocol government scientists have put together to respond to a biological threat from space. A team of scientists are pulled from their regular jobs and rushed to a secret underground facility. Two of the scientists go into the town in hazmat suits, find the satellite, and also find two survivors, an old man and a crying infant. The bulk of the story deals with how the scientists figure out what the infection is, and why those two very different characters are immune.
Before they have quite figured everything out, the extraterrestrial organism (which is neither a virus nor a bacterium) mutates and starts eating the plastics and rubber seals throughout the lab. This sets off an alarm and starts an automatic countdown on a nuclear self-destruct device. One of the things the scientists have determined about the organism is that it is not only immune to radiation, but will actually thrive in the explosion, and probably destroy all life on the planet. Thus we get to the tense ending where the characters are trying to stop the self-destruct and find a way to neutralize the infection.
One of the things that disappointed me about the book was that one of the most interesting characters in the movie, Dr. Ruth Leavitt, was a much less interesting man, Dr. Paul Leavitt, in the novel. I’m not sure if the character in the movie was more interesting because the actress, Kate Reid, played a very believable character, or if the character was just less interesting in the original.Some time later, when I got to watch the movie all the way through for the first time, I was even more impressed with Reid’s character and the way the filmmakers used her. It was far more common for the token female character in either thrillers or sci fi films to be played by a young, glamorous actress, who was there more as eye-candy than to actually participate in the story. Leavitt wasn’t like that. There are some, I’m sure, who will argue that the filmmakers went overboard, putting Reid in those large unflattering glasses, and generally looking dowdy. But the filmmakers didn’t dress up any of the male scientists any differently. Even the casual way she smoked her cigarettes, never doing any of those delicate movie star poses that were more common when actresses were shown smoking at the time, just fit with the character’s personality.
I re-read The Andromeda Strain at least once more after seeing the movie all the way through, and I still found Reid’s version of the Leavitt character more interesting. And this was decades before I’d ever heard of the Bechdel Test!
The Andromeda Strain was a bestseller, and set Michael Crichton on the path of future success that would lead to, among other things, Jurassic Park. The movie was only a moderate success, which is too bad, because it was really well done. The science included was, for the most part, plausible at time. In fact, nothing in the film required any sort of advancement of technology beyond what we had available. Exactly how the life form could convert energy to matter was the only bit of dubious handwaving to speak of. It wasn’t the only time that the movie version of a science fiction story was better than the book, but I think it might have been the first time that I noticed it.