Tag Archive | television

It means what it means and exactly the opposite at the same time—more adventures in dictionaries

“Bugs Bunny accidentally transformed the word <em>nimrod</em> into a synonym for <em>idiot</em> because nobody got a joke where he sarcastically compared Elmer Fudd to the Biblical figure Nimrod, a mighty hunter.” “Etymology is ridiculous and terrifying sometimes.”

“Bugs Bunny accidentally transformed the word nimrod into a synonym for idiot because nobody got a joke where he sarcastically compared Elmer Fudd to the Biblical figure Nimrod, a mighty hunter.” “Etymology is ridiculous and terrifying sometimes.”

I remember very clearly watching an old Bugs Bunny cartoon on TV when I was a kid and Bugs Bunny referred to Elmer Fudd very disparagingly as a Nimrod. And I didn’t know what it meant. At that time, my family didn’t yet own either an encyclopedia set or a dictionary, which means it was before 1970. So when I ask Mom what it meant, she wasn’t sure. So I had to wait until I could go to the school library and look it up in the dictionary where it was defined as “noun, 1 Grandson of Ham, described in Genesis as a mighty hunter 2 a hunter.” Which didn’t seem very insulting, and clearly Bugs meant it as an insult, right? It took me several minutes of thinking about it before I realized that Bugs Bunny was being sarcastic. It was describing someone who he thought was an incompetent hunter by alluding to a Biblical figure who had been a good hunter.

In subsequent years I started hearing the word being used pejoratively on the playground (this would be late sixties and through the seventies), and clearly the word meant either “idiot” or “dork” or “jerk.” By middle school the insult began to be a bit more sexual, but still definitely an insult, sort of a combination of “c*cksucker” and “wanker.”

Many lexicographers express skepticism that Bugs Bunny is to blame for the shift in the meaning of nimrod, but then fail to offer a compelling alternative explanation. Several of them trot out a line of dialogue from the obscure 1933 play, The Great Magoo. The word nimrod is clearly used as an insult, but it is specifically a reference to a man who had fallen in love with the showgirl, and that he’s another in a long line of nimrods pursuing her. The problem is that while it is being used as an insult, clearly the insult is still a reference to Nimrod the Mighty Hunter—in this case someone who sees this woman as a prize to be captured.

And since all of the lexicographers agree that the “synonym of idiot” meaning became common in the early 60s, it’s a little difficult to believe a play that flopped 30 years earlier was the source.

Another example that is trotted out is a series of humorous stories published in a British periodical in the late 19th Century which ran under the pseudnym of Nimrod. Each story is told in the first person and recounts another humorous misadventure while attempting to participate in a fox hunt. But that’s even harder to believe that the 1933 play, first, because of the longer period of time but also because all the dictionaries agree that the “synonym of idiot” meaning is chiefly a U.S. usage.

I’ve seen at least one person simply express skepticism that a single line of dialogue from a single short film could have the effect. I have several responses to that. First, it is three different Bugs Bunny cartoons in which the insult occurs (amusingly enough, only one of them is it used to describe Elmer Fudd, the other two times are both used against Yosemite Sam). The other thing is that from the late fifties through the seventies, Bugs Bunny was everywhere.

In 1956 Warner Brothers licensed the rights to all of their Looney Tunes cartons made up until mid-July 1948 to Associated Artists Productions. A.A.P. began syndicating them to local stations, and by 1958 were able to claim that the highest rated local shows in every metropolitan market were those that included at least some cartoons. No one had cable, and people could only get three to five local stations over the air, so your choices for entertainment were limited. And the syndication deals weren’t exclusive, so I remember that at one point in my elementary school years, where there was one show on one channel that ran every weekday morning around the time we were getting ready for school that included several Looney Tunes cartoons, plus a half hour show that ran every weekday at 4:30 on another channel that was all Looney Tunes cartoons, and another half hour of Looney Tunes that ran on a third channel every weekday at 5:30.

In addition, in 1960 Warner Brothers started producing and selling to various networks a program that combined cartoons made from mid-July 1948 on. First as a primetime weekly Bugs Bunny Show, then it moved to Saturday mornings. As I said, for a while, Bugs Bunny was everywhere.

According to at least one dictionary specializing in slang, the “synonym of idiot” meaning of nimrod appeared was used prevalently by U.S. teens and pre-teens in the 70s and 80s. All of us kids watching Bugs Bunny cartoons in the 60s and 70s could account for the new meaning of the word arising in our age group quite nicely at that time. Whereas the obscure 1933 play and the humorous 19th Century British magazine origins just don’t make any sense as an origin for American schoolyard slang in the 70s, does it?

Finally, another reason to believe the fault lies with misunderstanding a sarcastic usage of the word is because it has happened in English many times. For example, terrific used to mean terrifying (terrific is to terror as horrific is to horror, as a friend so eloquently put it). How did terrific come to mean the opposite? Simple, the sarcastic or ironic use became far more common than the original meaning. Sometimes language just takes a left turn at Albuquerque, eh, Doc?

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She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness — more of why I love sf/f

Anthony Head, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Brandon Nicholas, Allison Hannagan and James Marsters from a BtVS publicity shot.

Anthony Head, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Brandon Nicholas, Allison Hannagan and James Marsters from a BtVS publicity shot.

I am one of the biggest, craziest Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans you will ever meet. But I wasn’t always one. I saw the original movie when it came out, and thought it was very funny. There were some things I didn’t like about it, but it was a good laugh and a fun inversion of the typical teen horror film. Then a few years later I heard they were making a television series out of it, and I was certain it would be very bad. My late husband, Ray, watched it from the beginning when it started airing as a midseason replacement in March of 1997 and told me it was awesome. At the time, it aired on a night when I frequently had board meetings or committee meetings for the chorus, so I wasn’t home while he was watching it.

He managed to get me to watch an episode or two with him that summer, because he had a lot of the season on video tape. I don’t remember hating it, but it also didn’t really grab me. Season two started that fall. I remember one particular evening when I got home for chorus rehearsal that Ray was telling me about the show and how much he was looking forward to next week’s episode, because there had been a cliffhanger.

Two nights later, Ray had a seizure and went into a coma. Then he died, and I fell apart.

Some time after he died, I was alone in the house doing something, and I heard a noise from another room. I went to see what was going on, and one of the VCRs was rewinding furiously, then popped its tape out. In 1997 DVRs didn’t exist. We owned three video cassette recorders, though, and Ray had a complicated schedule of pre-programmed recordings, and a pile of labeled tapes. He would swap out tapes at different times in the week, so that the different machines would record the next episode of whichever series was kept on that tape.

And I hadn’t been keeping up.

This was maybe two weeks after Ray had died. I was still deep in the shell-shocked stage of grieving. So the idea that I hadn’t kept Ray’s rotation going seized me as a terrible thing. I was letting him down! I had let the wrong shows get recorded on the wrong tapes! Who knows what else I had messed up? Never mind that Ray was beyond caring about these things. I wasn’t rational. When someone you love dies, even the most stoic and logical person has some moments of irrationality over take them.

So I tried to sort out what was going on with the tapes. And that’s how I ended up watching all of the season two episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, along with about half of the season one episodes out of order (because his labelling system wasn’t always discernible to anyone but him) in a very short time.

There’s a lot of things that happened to me in those first few months after Ray died that I don’t remember clearly. But one of the few crystal clear moments was one point when I was staring at the TV and I said aloud, “Dang it, Ray! You were right. This show is incredible!”

I was addicted.

Don’t get me wrong, the show has problems. I can rant for hours and hours about how monumentally awful were most of the decisions the writers made in season six, for instance. And the many ways that season seven doubled down on some of the failure. Even before the universally despised season six, there was the incredible frustration of how the first half of season four showed such brilliance and promise of taking things to a new level, then collapsed into a world of disappointment and lost opportunity. And oy! Trying to make sense of both the explicit and implicit contradictions about the nature of magic, demons, the biology of vampires…!

Dru and Spike!

Dru and Spike!

But there were so many things the show got right. One of the things they got most right is casting James Marsters and Juliet Landau as Spike and Drusilla, the Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen of the undead set (and if you don’t know who they are, your life is sadly lacking in Sex Pistols, is all I’m saying). There was a point, after I had acquired the complete DVD set of season two of the series, where literally at least once a week I re-watched the episode that introduced Spike and Dru, “School Hard.” They were evil and cold and vicious and Dru is crazier than a coked out mutt in a hubcap factory. But they were also madly deeply in love. Spike rather proudly proclaimed himself love’s bitch in a later season, “at least I’m man enough to admit it!”

What made the show work was the relationships between the characters. Joss Whedon and his crew created a world in which a small, pretty girl regularly kicked the butts of evil creatures. A world where the real problems that teens try to deal with often made the monsters seem trivial by comparison. Some of the creatures of darkness were metaphors for the problems humans face coming of age, yep. And sometimes the parallel between the mundane story lines and the supernatural ones were a little on the nose.

But then there were the moments of brilliance, such as when everything had been taken from her: her first love turned evil, her best friend lying dying in a hospital, she’s been kicked out of her home, everything she cared about either broken, dying, or lost; the villain has fought her back into a corner and is berating her about all she has lost and all who have abandoned her. “What have you got?” he asks with a sneer, as he thrusts what we think is a killing blow with an enchanted sword. She catches the blade between her hands, looks him in the eye with the most amazing fuck-you glare of determination and says, “I’ve got me.” Then proceeds to kick his butt and save the world.

Those sorts of moments, where a simple refusal to give up in the face of impossible odds, and the many times that various characters in the story sacrificed for their loved ones and found a way out of a hopeless situation—they were what made the ups and downs of the show worth it. And I want to be clear: one of the things they did right more than once was not that the characters found that one last glimmer of hope in the midst of despair and defeat; rather, the characters made their own hope. Yes, Buffy was about empowerment. Buffy was about the damsel being able to rescue herself. Buffy was about turning notions of victims and saviors on their heads. Buffy was about seeing that the questions of good vs evil aren’t always black and white; that part of being a hero (and a big part of growing up) is about learning to make your way through all those shades of grey without losing yourself.

But mostly, Buffy was about love, chosen families, and not giving up.

It’s the most wonderful production number

To get this on vinyl when it was released in 1965, you had to purchase it at either a tire store or a gas station.

To get this on vinyl when it was released in 1965, you had to purchase it at either a tire store or a gas station.

My childhood Christmases were propelled by an eclectic soundtrack of vinyl albums. Dad would have probably been fine with Elvis’ Christmas album, Johnny Cash’s The Christmas Spirit, and The Dean Martin Christmas Album. Mom had much more wide-ranging tastes, so gospel albums of Christmas hymns sat on the shelf next to Christmas albums by Loretta Lynn, the Chipmunks, Brenda Lee, Glenn Campbell, or the Philidelphia Orchestra. There were lots of compilations, such as the 1965 Goodyear’s Great Songs of Christmas (there’s a whole blog devoted to these albums which could only be purchased in tire stores Or at gas stations) or one of the Firestone Your Christmas Favorites albums, and then there were the (usually all instrumental) albums where none of the musicians were identified.

William's first Christmas album was released in 1963. He released four more over the next three decades.

William’s first Christmas album was released in 1963. He released four more over the next three decades.

Among my favorites were two different Andy Williams’ Christmas albums. For the longest time I thought the older album with the red cover had been recorded in the 1950s, because I couldn’t remember a time when it wasn’t in the family collection of records. But also because I couldn’t remember a Christmas where we hadn’t watched Andy Williams and the Williams Brothers (and other guests) perform christmas music along with comedic sketches a couple of weeks or so before the holiday itself.

I don’t think I realized that Williams was the host of a weekly musical variety show until he changed networks in the late sixties. As far as I know, our family never watched his show except for the one Christmas-themed episode each year. There were a lot of variety shows on network TV back then, and there were several that we watched faithfully every week. I’m not sure why Andy’s wasn’t one.

And the Andy Williams Christmas shows were hardly the only Christmas-themed specials and musical programs we watched every year. I know I loved watching all of them. When I was about 10 or so one of my cousins went on a bit of a rant of what a freak I was because I liked watching specials—why would anyone want to watch people sing, for instance? But I realize the Andy William’s specials stuck out in my head precisely because we had the albums, which included some of his own original songs (“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “A Song and the Christmas Tree”), so I could listen to them until I’d learned the lyrics, but also learned a lot of the harmony and counter-melodies and other vocal flourishes. So when those particular production numbers came up on screen, I could follow along.

I understand, now, why the cousin (and other relatives) thought I was a freak. I was the kind of boy who danced and sang along with the big theatrical production numbers in movies and on variety shows. I thought nothing of behaving that way in front of the family television. Which was quite entertaining for my adult relatives when I was a cute four-year-old, but much more disturbing as I got older.

When I got my own record player so I could listen to music in my bedroom, the Christmas season was when I’d close the door and imagine that I was the star of my own musical variety show, with the elaborate sets and costumes and the large groups of dancers and singers backing me up. I was worse than that. With careful use of a portable cassette recorder, the big stereo in the living room (when I was home alone), and some of those studio musician instrumental-only Christmas albums, I recorded my own Christmas shows. Not just me singing along with the instrumental albums, but then playing that recording over the stereo then with the recorder and a second (and third, and sometimes fourth) tape, recording myself singing the harmony parts along with myself.

Freak might have been putting it mildly.

I watched Williams’ faithfully into my teens. Even the really disastrously bad one that involved the cast (along with special guests Captain Kangaroo and Gomez Addams) are transported to Rock Land and Doll Land and I don’t remember where all else in a strange attempt at an original Christmas fable that made no sense…

When Williams’ weekly series ended, he signed a deal with the network to produce three or four seasonal specials a year, and one of those each year was a Christmas special.

Williams’ work weren’t the only Christmas albums I sang along with. And they aren’t the only old albums of that vintage that I’ve since tracked down and added to the insane amount of Christmas music that resides on my computers and phone. But even now when I find newer recordings by modern singers and bands that I like, I find myself imagining those songs performed on a stage in the style of one of the Williams’ Christmas episodes, with the costumes, sets, fake snow, and multi-camera coverage.

And sometimes, especially if I’m listening during the long walk home each night from the office, you may still catch me at least doing jazz hands while I sing along. Might as well make a production out if it, right?

Make the Yuletide Gay.

Make the Yuletide Gay.

Wait, you thought that was subtext?

This Gay Rudolph Shirt can be purchased at PrettyPinkPearl.co.uk.

This Gay Rudolph Shirt can be purchased at PrettyPinkPearl.co.uk.

It seems as if every other year someone somewhere notices that the Rankin-Bass version of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer has some gay themes. The someone then feels the need to write a breathless article about the glittery gay subtext that no one in the world has ever noticed before. This week a bunch of people are linking to an article on Vulture: The Gay Subtext of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I think that Dan Savage said it best on twitter: “More of a gay domtext if you ask me.” Playing off of the kink slang of Dom/sub—in other words, the gay themes seem to be extremely overt, not hidden.

I much prefer some of the earlier pieces written on the topic: 2013’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: A Gay Christmas Allegory, for instance. Or 2012’s Coming Out In Christmastown. Then there’s 2011’s I’ll Never See Rudolph the Same Way Again Less involved is 2005’s Is Hermy Gay? Sixteen serious questions raised by the 1964 holiday classic Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. In Michael Salvatore’s novel Between Boyfriends there is an entire chapter in which his protagonist talks about recognizing at age 6 the gayness of Hermy and Rudolph (and specifically that he was like them).

I even wrote something about it once. I thought I had published it on my Sans Fig Leaf page, but a search of my old archives proved it was even longer ago than that. It must have been when I blogged on Geocities, which means it was sometime before April, 1998! And it also means I don’t have a copy of it any longer. Which might be a good thing.

Hermy and Rudolph sing about being misfits. Photo from the NBC special, much of which is in the public domain, though the original character of Rudolph from the poem is a trademark of The Rudolph Company L.P., while the song has a separate copyright.

Hermy and Rudolph sing about being misfits. Photo from the NBC special, much of which is in the public domain, though the original character of Rudolph from the poem is a trademark of The Rudolph Company L.P., while the song has a separate copyright.

One of the reasons I don’t think of Hermy and other aspects of the 1964 Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer as subtext is because every time my family watched it during my childhood, Dad would make jokes about the “fag elf.” In addition to the annual repeat of crude comments about Rudolph and Clarice when the narrator refers to Rudolph having grown up, at least one year he wondered aloud about the relationship between the “fag elf” and Yukon Cornelius in rather graphic terms.

I was four years old when the Rankin-Bass special first aired on NBC TV. I don’t have specific memories of that first broadcast, but because a few years later I have very distinct memories of being dismayed that one song and scene which I have very clear memories of weren’t in the show, I know that I had to have watched the original broadcast. In the original broadcast, Santa is never shown going to the Island of Misfit toys to deliver them to children. A scene showing that was added in 1965. They made room for it by replacing Rudolph and Hermy’s “We’re a Couple of Misfits” musical number with a shorter song, “Fame and Fortune” and by removing a scene at the end where Yukon Cornelius discovers a peppermint mine. Over the years other changes were made to the original show, including a re-edited and shortened version of “We’re a Couple of Misfits” being added back in. And other techniques to make room for more commercials resulted in the music that remained sometimes sounding warbling and distorted.

But to get back to the subtext question: I think you would have to be extremely naÏve not to recognize Hermy, at least, as gay. Certainly my dad thought it was obvious!

Years later, someone asked Arthur Rankin, Jr, whether there was a gay message to Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, and he denied it. However, while Rankin and Bass ran the studio and were intimately involved in directing and producing the many shows their company made over the years, the actual scripts were almost always the work of Romeo Muller, a gay Jewish man from the Bronx. Mullee, along with artist Jack Davis, and actors Paul Frees and Paul Kligman are usually credited with the many Jewish allusions and subtexts that are obvious in other Rankin-Bass Christmas specials, such as Santa Claus is Coming to Town (the Burgomeister Meisterburger had toys burnt in a town square in a scene that looks a lot like footage of historical Nazi book burnings, and his guards all wear actual Prussian uniforms, for goodness sake; and don’t tell me that the Winter Wizard isn’t supposed to sound like someone’s Jewish grandfather!) or The Little Drummer Boy. So it doesn’t seem that big of a stretch to imagine that Muller wrote Hermy as gay.

In 1964 and for a few decades before that, movies, television shows, and plays often featured a stock character referred to now as The Sissy. The Sissy was a closeted predecessor of the Sassy Gay Friend. Some people argue that Hermy is just another instance of the Sissy, but there’s one problem with that interpretation. The Sissy was never a hero or the sort of supporting character with his own subplot. He might be a friend and ally of the hero or the heroine (much more often the heroine), but he was merely there to deliver jokes or be the butt of jokes. Meanwhile, I think what made Hermy worthy of commentary by my dad (while he almost never made comments about the archetypical Sissy in other shows) is that Hermy in not comic relief. Hermy has his own subplot. He doesn’t just help Rudolph find acceptance, he realizes his dream. He escapes societal expectations of being a toymaker and becomes a dentist.

You can argue that this is just a parallel to Rudolph’s journey from ostracized freak to valued leader of Santa’s team of flying reindeer, but they wouldn’t have had to give Hermy those Paul Lynde speech patterns, bright pink lips, and that very twink-like swoosh of blond hair (when the only other elves who have hair are definitely women) to do that. Hermy was an obvious, if closeted, queer character. And instead of being the butt of other characters’ jokes, he was the secondary lead. He’s the one who defeats the Abominable Snowman, after all!

I won’t get into all the reasons that the actual villains of this story are Santa, Donner, and Comet. Other people have covered that pretty well. Just as many have argued that the lesson of this special (and the 1949 song, and the 1939 book) is that deviation from the norm will be punished unless it is exploitable. Yeah, there are some problematic aspects to a lot of these old stories.

I still love this version, though, and not the least of the reasons is because the “fag elf” gets a happy ending.

Characters (and stories) are more than the sum of their parts

plastic-male-mannequins-4I was reading this blog post: Constantine or when the imitators eclipse the original about why an adaptation of a classic might be well done, but still seem derivative (and not of its source material). It reminded me of once when I read someone’s post about being disappointed about a Theodore Sturgeon book from the fifties, because it seemed to be a rip-off of the X-men. So I explained that it was the other way around: the original X-men comic book was created more than a decade after the Sturgeon works in question, and the same reason many people called Sturgeon’s stories classics, meant that lots of stories written since then have incorporated (and in many cased improved upon) his original ideas.

Once I noticed the phenomenon, I started seeing it everywhere. A story that had first introduced a particular concept or literary technique is hailed as a classic or breakthrough, but a decade of more later when hundreds of stories, movies, television episodes, et al have been influenced by it, the original pales by comparison.

I think Buhlert, the author of the above linked blog post, is correct that this phenomenon is a big part of why the recent television adaptation of the comic book character John Constantine flopped. But I also think there is more to it than that. I complained at the time that the showrunners had explicitly stated that this John Constantine, unlike the character in the comic books, was definitely not bisexual. And I don’t think the decision was a bad one because I think adaptations ought to slavishly follow the original. Nor do I think the decision was bad merely because as a queer person myself I take queer erasure personally.

It was a bad decision artistically because it was a symptom of a bigger problem. The people adapting the character and the character’s story failed to understand the essence of the character. Constantine isn’t merely a mystical version of a noir detective. While the character appears to dwell in that aesthetic, there is a significant difference. The archetypical noir protagonist is alienated and filled with existential bitterness, striving against random uncaring fate. Noir protagonists (and noir story lines) lack hope. Noir protagonists are frequently doomed because they are manipulated by others, traditionally a femme fatale.

The art style of Hellblazer, the comic series that starred Constantine, was very like a film noir. And Constantine’s cynicism looks an awful lot like the typical noir protagonist to the casual observer. But Constantine wasn’t alienated. Alan Moore, who created Constantine, once said that he was aiming for a character who knew everything and knew everyone; a character who was charismatic and never at a loss for what to do. That made Constantine, in several important aspects, the opposite of a noir protagonist. Constantine doesn’t struggle against random, uncaring fate—he often struggles against supernatural forces that are emphatically intentional in their disruption of mortal life—not at all random.

Constantine cares about people; he’s not alienated, he’s connected. And while manipulation happens in Constantine stories, it is usually Constantine doing the manipulation, rather than being the victim of manipulation. His cynicism comes from observing, again and again, that people he cares about always die. The noir protagonist’s cynicism, on the other hand, is usually the result of being betrayed or failed again and again by people they trust.

For example, in one issue of the comic, the King of the Vampires kills a man that Constantine had hooked up with the night before. When the King asks Constantine if the dead man was a friend, Constantine’s reply is, “He’s dead now, so he must have been.”

Sidenote: It has been said that noir’s roots are irrevocably American. I agree with Buhlert’s assessment that Constantine is quintessentially British, and that he works best in a British setting. And even when his stories don’t have a British setting, he is better when being writing by a British author (in my humble opinion). The showrunners’ decision to move Constantine to the U.S. certainly didn’t improve the chances they would catch the essence of the character.

To get back to my main point: You can have a straight character who has all of those characteristics, but the same sort of shallow misunderstanding of the character which leads someone to say, “we can drop his queerness” also led them to miss all the other things that made Constantine different from the noir archetype. When you combine that with the phenomenon that much of urban fantasy has adopted the aesthetic of the original Hellblazer comics, it just increased the likelihood that what they produced would come out as a bland copy of something we’ve seen a thousand times before.

Farewell to Camden County

MV5BMTc2MzQxNDIxMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTk1MDU1MQ@@._V1_UY1200_CR111,0,630,1200_AL_So years ago I was a faithful viewer of the comedy series “My Name Is Earl,” the story of a not terribly bright petty criminal who became convinced that because of all of the awful things he’d done in his life, he was destined to try to make up for them or karma was going to keep punishing him. So he made a list of all the bad things he’d done, and with the assistance of his brother, Randy, and Randy’s sometimes girlfriend Catalina set out to make amends. Earl and Randy are also frequently both helped and hindered in their quest by Earl’s ex-wife, Joy. Everyone is frequently helped and oddly rescued from various situations by Joy’s current husband, Darnell aka “the Crabman.”

The series was a silly look at life in the fictitious Camden County, which was inhabited by a strange assortment of characters. It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, though I was always amused by the fact that the one person I knew who most disliked it said he hated it because it was completely unbelievable, yet he himself is always telling stories about his ridiculous in-laws and the unbelievably stupid problems they got themselves into. Which made me decide that either a) he had a really big blind spot, or b) all those stories he liked to regale people with of his supposed true family misadventures might have been more than slightly exaggerated.

Regardless, I really enjoyed the not-cynical way that “My Name Is Earl” demonstrated in its storylines again and again that most humans are muddling along as best as they can, seldom realizing just how much our lives are interconnected, and how much we contribute (in both good and bad ways) to the lives of others.

Then one spring we learned that it wasn’t going to be renewed for a fifth seasonRead More…

He wants to believe – more of why I love sf/f

THE X-FILES: L-R: Mitch Pileggi, David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and William B. Davis.

THE X-FILES: L-R: Mitch Pileggi, David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and William B. Davis. ©2015 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Frank Ockenfels/FOX

In September of 1993 I tuned in with some hope, but also some trepidation, to the first episode of The X-Files. A show that was going to be about FBI agents looking into mysterious, unexplained, possibly paranormal happenings. The first episode was framed around Special Agent Dana Scully, who was a medical doctor as well as an FBI agent, who was being assigned as much to investigate Special Agent Fox “Spooky” Mulder as to assist him in handling the strange cases—the so-called X Files.

I enjoyed the show. So did my (now late) husband, Ray. We tuned in faithfully each week, chatting about various aspects of the show as we watched. I’d been such a big fan of Kolchak: The Night Stalker that of course I was interested in this show. Ray, on the other hand, barely remembered the other series (and he wasn’t sure if it was because he was a few years younger than I, or if maybe his family simply hadn’t watched it), but he was a fan of mysteries and sci fi and “spooky stuff” so was just as interested in the concept of the show before we had even seen it.

The show’s mysteries were interesting. Sometimes very creepy, sometimes sad. There was just the right amount of human and pathos in the most serious shows to keep you hooked. And then occasionally there were episodes that were primarily funny.

They avoiding the obvious “she’s always a cold-hearted skeptic”/”he’s a passionate true believer” dynamic that he seemed implied from the beginning. Mulder wasn’t a true believer. He frequently repeated the line, “I want to believe.” As we learned about the childhood disappearance of his sister, and the mysterious circumstances surrounding it, we understood why he needed to believe that there were things happening beyond the simple, rational explanations with which so many mysteries are dismissed. And Scully, of course, wasn’t cold-hearted, and while she remained skeptical, she wasn’t close-minded.

The show did a really good job of portraying different ways that a sense of wonder (and sometimes dread) could manifest when we are confronted with situations that don’t have an obvious, simple, and safe explanation.

I really loved the show in the early seasons. I recall especially being on the edge of my seat at the end of the season two finale, barely able to contain myself waiting to learn what the answer to the cliffhanger would be the next fall. Things started to go awry, for me, during the third season, and by the fifth or sixth I was finding myself irritated by the show more often then entertained. I might have given up if not for a friend who suggested this way of looking at it: “I’ve decided to think of it as two completely separate shows happening in parallel universes. They happen to have identically named characters played by the same actors, but they are other wise unconnected. One is the quirky, cool ‘there are more things than are dreamt of in your philosophy’ mystery of the week show that I adore; and the other is the awful, poorly written, contradictory, batshit alien conspiracy/maybe we’re all crazy show that I hate—and I have to put up with the latter in order to keep watching the former.”

And that helped a lot. Don’t get me wrong, the conspiracy related to aliens was there from the very beginning, and I was onboard with watching them confront and explore that. The problem, from my perspective, was that unlike their monster of the week kinds of episodes, they never seemed to have a clear idea of what was actually happening with the conspiracy. Years later we might call their problem the “Lost syndrome,” because like that more recent show, the writers seemed to be throwing contradictory and confusingly cryptic clues at us without a clear idea of what the “real” explanation was.

I think that the show’s original creator did have an idea of what the explanation was, but either he allowed other writers who didn’t know to go off on misleading tangents that couldn’t be reconciled as simply red herrings, or perhaps he didn’t know how to keep the series going if he ever revealed the answer.

So it was with a bit of trepidation that I watched the first episode of the new mini series a few weeks ago. And I have to admit, that opener left me with a lot more dread than hope. Then the second episode was a bit better, like one of the typical mystery of the week shows I used to love.

And then we got to the third episode, “Scully & Mulder Meet the Were-monster” and I was in heaven. It was funny. And with a lot of Easter Eggs that weren’t annoying. Two actors who played stoned teen-agers who witnessed a mysterious event back in the very first season, returned to play the same characters, no longer teens, who are out in the woods huffing spray paint when they witness another event. There was a homage the Kolchak in the story, an incredible amount of humor, yet it was an incredibly dark commentary on real life at the same time. It was really, really good, and included everything I had loved about the best of the earliest episodes. And I was incredibly happy to see, online over the next several days, the number of review sites and sci fi/fantasy enthusiasts who had enjoyed the episode the same as I had.

At its best, the X-Files was about things in life—sometimes awful, tragic things—that don’t fit neatly into our preconceptions of how the world can be. More importantly, it is about the way we try to understand those things—how we confront mystery, tragedy, disappointment, horror, and betrayal—and how we cling to meaning and hope in spite of it. It’s about finding the human connection, finding the reasons to hope, finding the things to cherish, and never losing our curiosity.

And it’s also, sometimes, about really creepy monsters.

Another commentary on ships

A blog post that appeared on my Tumblr dashboard. Click to embiggen.

A blog post that appeared on my Tumblr dashboard. Click to embiggen.

A lot of Tumblr is about reblogging and liking stuff other people have posted. Or more realistically, reblogging stuff someone you follow reblogged from someone the follow who reblogged it from someone else, ad nauseum, that someone else posted.

A certain amount of commentary happens, though the tools aren’t really designed to foster conversation. But that’s another topic for another day.

The post, also shown in the screenshot above, came to my dashboard by one of those multi-reblog chains, and it much more succinctly demonstrates the point I expounded on in Invisible? Refusing to see what’s already there… which I also alluded to a few days ago in Confessions of an incorrigible shipper.

The original post was put up last July, as seen here.

Whether you call it a double standard, unacknowledged straight privilege, heterosexism, or homophobia, it’s all the same.

You don’t have to add diversity—just stop erasing it! (part 2)

I wrote recently about why having queer characters in books, particularly science fiction, isn’t about pandering or finding a good reason to include us, but rather simply of matter of not excluding us. The real world has queer people (a lot more than most people think), and there is no good reason that fictional worlds wouldn’t have just as many of us.

There’s an interesting post going around Tumblr that gathered together this series of facts (originally tweeted by Andrew Wheeler @wheeler) about some current or recent works of fiction based on historical characters. The historical facts are verified, I’m not merely repeating. I include a bit more context on each than Wheeler was able to fit in a short series of Twitter posts:

  • Leonardo da Vinci was almost certainly gay, but the series Da Vinci’s Demons portrays him as (barely) bisexual who seems to be exclusively attracted to women.
  • Alexander the Great was gay, and was known to be gay to the extent that the greek historian Plutarch wrote extensively about the moral way Alexander behaved toward the various men he had loved. The great love of Alexander’s life was a man, Hephaestion. When Hephaestion died, Alexander mourned him for months, refusing to eat for days, and nearly killed himself. The only movies that have ever included Hephaestion doesn’t even hint at the relationship, let alone even showing them kiss.
  • Alan Turing, the genius who decrypted Enigma among other things during World War II, has sometimes been described as the greatest gay hero of the modern age. He was convicted of indecency (and forced to take drugs to repress his libido) because he confessed to being in a long term relationship with his boyfriend. In the recent movie which tried to portray him as a hero, he is instead caught with a male prostitute and portrayed as a loner who had no love in his life.
  • The epic love of Achilles and Patroculus is a keystone of the legends of the Trojan war, but in the recent movie Troy they’re portrayed as simply buddies.
  • John Nash, the mathematician, was sexually active with men throughout his life, getting arrested a few times for it. He was married twice, though both relationships were problematic, and it’s unclear how many of the issues in the second marriage were due to his struggles with mental illness as opposed to his frequent same sex dalliances. A Beautiful Mind omits the first marriage and child completely, and also completely erases the same sex liaisons, which due to the arrests, played a significant role in the tragedies of his real life.

This list focuses on men because Wheeler’s point was that television and movie executives are extremely squeamish about showing men being seductive or explicitly romantic or in any way physically intimate with other men. But it isn’t just “Hollywood” that has that problem.

Lots of people cite the Marvel Comics character Deadpool as an example of a bisexual character. The creators of the character frequently claim that he is bisexual, but the kindest way you can describe those claims is that they are being very bad writers by telling us rather than showing. The more accurate description is that it is a queer-baiting lie. Oh, yes, Deadpool makes all sorts of sexual jokes toward other men, and he seems to be particularly obsessed with Spiderman, but that is all we ever see in the stories: jokes. Deadpool has never ever been shown actually in a relationship with another man. He has had a lot of romantic relationships with women in the comics; loves of his life that have died tragically and so forth, but not one single man.

None.

That isn’t diversity, that’s queer-baiting.

Slightly better is DC Comic’s John Constantine, who in the comics had at least one significant same sex romantic relationship (in additional to several opposite sex romances), and said same sex relationship was integral to the plot of one of the longer story arcs. He’s also been portrayed flirting with men, seducing other men, and so forth. All well and good. Until we get to the television series (which, alas, was canceled last year after only 13 episodes), where there isn’t even a hint of his bisexuality, and the producers and writers said off-screen that he was not bisexual.

And don’t get me started on the epic amount of queer-baiting the creator and producer of the Teen Wolf television series has been doing for six years!

So, to sum up: when we call for diversity in books and movies and television shows, we aren’t asking to be pandered to. We aren’t asking you to shoehorn something into the story. We’re asking you to be realistic. We’re asking you to write believable stories.

Appendix: This blog post, in which a writer explains why he is re-writing some really old sci fi stories by swapping genders and such as his NaNoWriMo project provides some other good points about erasure in fiction: Get Bent – Why Bother?

Monsters Are People, Too – more of why I love sf/f

Promotional photo for the Munsters,

Promotional photo for the Munsters, © Universal Studios and CBS.

The Munsters premiered on CBS the night before my fourth birthday. I don’t remember if we watched it from the beginning. I’m fairly certain we didn’t watch it the first season because the first few months it was up against the Flintstones, and then Jonny Quest moved to that time slot. I suspect we did watch it a few times, and for a while during season two, until Batman! premiered with its twice-a-week format one of which was against the Munsters.

Like a lot of other genre-related shows, The Munsters went into syndication fairly quickly after being canceled, and promptly gained loyal audiences outside of primetime. I suspect most of my memories of the show are from this era… Read More…

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