"Bleah" is the Word Du Jour

I’m awfully glad the Supreme Court didn’t strike down Obamacare, because I got the news yesterday that someone very dear to me (not Gini) may need a great deal of medical treatment in the near future.  So while I’m personally in a decent mood, I am sad for other people.
So no post for today (except for my inevitable post in the Clarion Echo community, since my relentless need to give people a value for their wonderful blog-a-thon donations never stops).
If you need an absolute Ferrett fix, I posted an “Ask Me Anything” over at Fetlife, which already has some interesting questions about my seduction techniques, how I avoid bruising my partner’s feelings, and what my favorite part of a woman’s body is.  If you’ve got an account, check it out, and feel free to ask, of course.

Is Brave's Culture A Patriarchy? Help, Help, Merida's Being Oppressed!

I’ve found a rather interesting discussion of Brave breaking out in my comments stream – mainly, “Was Brave’s culture a patriarchy?”
The reason why this is a question is because I said, “I mean, it’s great showing a Princess fighting the power, but can we have a strong female hero who’s not defined by fighting against frilly dresses and societal expectations?”  And several people said, “Well, it’s Merida’s mother who’s forcing her into that, not the culture.  Her Mom, in fact, is the main antagonist!  It’s not really the men creating these problems.”
(Not that her mother’s a villain, but she certainly is an obstruction.  Sorta.  Go see the movie.  It’s not the greatest, but it’s interesting in how the parts that don’t work, don’t work.)
Leaving aside the historical question of “Yes, the 10th century Scottish tribes were patriarchal,” as I think we can all agree that the Scots didn’t have actual witches and magic bears, I think it clearly was.  I don’t think women warriors were encouraged, nor women generally allowed to choose their free path.  Mainly because, based on my evidence from one showing:
1)  At no point in the movie do I recall seeing a woman warrior within Princess Merida’s culture.
2)  Certainly the three tribes who show up to claim Merida’s hands are all male, with no women (or at least I didn’t see any).
3)  All the women shown in the film (aside from the two female leads and the witch) appear to be either mothers or wives.
4)  Though her dad is clearly proud of her skills with the bow, in the end he backs the mother and actively mocks Merida’s desire to be a free warrior.
5)  When the three tribes show up, full of warriors, there’s not a female warrior to be found in the bunch.
6)  They also don’t bring their wives along.  Nor any women anywhere.
7)  When Merida is dressed up in a useless, tight, form-fitting dress, not one man reacts to find this awkward.
8)  When Merida is not married off, they go to war.
9)  Despite the fact that the mother is clearly overbearing on this topic, not one person in the castle expresses the concern that the queen might be a little forward on this manner.  In other words, she’s enforcing a position that nobody else seems to find unusual.
10)  When Merida proposes a solution to the problem that involves changing the culture, it is the men who instantly approve that change and put it into practice, without consulting a single woman.
Now, the counterpoints are:
1)  The only person we see really arguing for the marriage agreement is the mother.  She proposed it, in fact.
2)  The other tribes clearly respect the mother, calming down only when she lays the hammer.
3)  The dad is the one who gives Merida a bow and teaches her how to fight.
4)  The women warriors from the three tribes could be at home, given the important task of guarding the home front.
To which my counter-counterpoints are:
1)  In medieval societies, the mothers often proposed marriage agreements, but that doesn’t mean those societies weren’t patriarchal.  Women frequently had more power than modern people believe in those days, but it was often kind of a sideways power, filtered through male needs.
2)  The practice of Chinese foot-binding was often the result of intense pressure from mothers wanting their daughters to look beautiful, but the fact that the pressure largely came from women doesn’t mean that the culture wasn’t patriarchal.
3)  I see Merida as perceived as a rebel, and as such Dad’s handing her a bow isn’t the act of a normal father, but rather a quirky King who can do what he wants.
4)  We could suppose stuff like this all day long.
The fascinating thing about this discussion is about how it’s all about perception.  Given the world we see, there’s no definitive answer to the question: after all, we while we don’t see anyone chastising the mother for her actions, we don’t see anyone condoning her, either.  The reactions of the people are a few gasps in reaction shots.  The everyday actions of women are difficult to extrapolate, given that we don’t actually interact with them.
All we can see is this strange little window, trying to judge what’s normal in the middle of a story about three extraordinary people (a King, a Queen, and his daughter) in an extraordinary time.  And yet for all of that, I think it’s clear that Brave is a largely male-run society, where Merida is not rebelling against one woman’s crazy desires, but rather a whole culture that wants her to be pretty and delicate.
Yet the structure of Brave makes it oddly hard to tell!  Which is fascinating.

Flawless Movies?

Over on Twitter, I said that The Dark Knight was a flawed movie, but it had a perfect ending for Batman, in that that film’s ending would have worked for no other superhero.
Which raised the question: is there a flawless movie?
Now, on the one hand, that’s a rather silly question, because of course every movie is flawed: if nothing else, there’s always continuity errors where a glass of water is filled when viewed from one camera angle and then empty when we cut to the next.  But I mean without meaningful flaws.  Which opens up a huge chasm, because somebody somewhere is screaming, “THAT GLASS OF WATER IS DESTROYING MY BELIEF IN THIS FILM’S REALITY,” so “flawless” is obviously a personal call.
In addition, society has this weird belief where “great” == “flawless.”  But some of the best movies in existence are seriously flawed!  Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is a sloppy mess of a dystopia where the romantic leads have zero chemistry, some seriously plot-meaningful lines are stepped on by gags in the background, and some scenes go on for too long.  It is not a flawless movie, but somehow it manages to transcend its flaws.
So when I was thinking of flawless movies, the first one that came to mind is Casablanca.  But it’s not flawless.  Actually, the intro is rather amateurish, complete with 1940s voiceover clunkily info-dumping you about Casablanca, montages of cliched characters, and the inevitable line-drawn-on-a-map.  I’d argue it approaches flawless once Rick comes on-screen, but that’s a surprisingly long time in coming.
My gut reaction says “Galaxy Quest,” because it has everything: comedy, serious adventure, great characterization, a character arc where everybody learns something, and of course Tim Allen.  I’ve watched that movie at least twenty times and there’s always a new laugh squeezed in there somewhere.  And it’s magnificent in how it starts as a Star Trek parody, then ultimately becomes one of the best Star Trek movies ever.
(I’d say “Princess Bride,” but for me there’s a serious flaw in the swamp scene, where the ROUS is attacking.  The first two viewings, I didn’t realize we were supposed to take it seriously, because the rat is such a bad special effect that I thought it was another gag.  To this day, that really bothers me.)
In terms of drama, well, the traditional choices are gloriously flawed.  The Godfather is often slow and takes a long time to get going, so much so that I had to watch it twice before I could get into it.  Gone with the Wind has a lot of good points, but again, with a movie that length there are some seriously draggy bits to go along with the highlights of the burning of Atlanta.  And even I won’t present Star Wars as a perfect film merely because it sings to me.
The flawless drama for me?  “The Royal Tenenbaums.”  For me, the mixture of emotions in it are pitch-perfect, every scene this little ball of interaction between quirky characters that could take place between them and only them, no scene going on for too long.  And there is redemption, but it is not easy, and there’s enough humor to leaven the load.  I just wish someone hadn’t stolen my copy of it.
Then we have the flawless action movie, which I think only has two real choices: Die Hard and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  And I think Die Hard has a few not-great moments, but Indy?  Hell, I’ve been sucked into Raiders more times than I can count, because someone’s watching it and I go, “Oh, I should go – but the fight next to the plane is coming up!  And then, oh God, I can’t miss the car chase scene where he goes under the car!”  And so on.  As far as getting me to the next scene, it’s incredibly hooky.
So.  I ask.  What’s your flawless movie?  And please, I will reiterate, a flawless movie is not “a movie you like so much you’re willing to overlook its flaws,” but rather “a movie that doesn’t misstep in any meaningful way.”

Brave: The Mostly Spoiler-Free Review

Brave is an irony: its singular message is “we make our own fate,” but the plot largely consists of the characters following will-o’-the-wisps to the next action scene.  They don’t get to be particularly clever by creating their own solutions… but they are very, very brave.
Which is not to say that Brave is a bad film.  It’s just that the lead characters are hampered by a certain lack of agency.  The opening is great; the Princess boldly decides to make her own way, making a decision that’s just a little selfish to follow her own dreams.  Emotional complexity results.  And then…
Not the good kind of Pixar magic, but the kind of magic that says, “Well, we want to hand solutions to our characters – so being magic plot devices, we’ll force the characters into the configurations they need in order to solve their personal problems.”  And that is, admittedly, classic fairy tale logic.  But at the same time, the best of those fairy tales had characters making vital choices; when they were lost, they were sometimes lost for years.  When they defeated a monster, it was often because of their own cleverness.  And I don’t really feel that the lead characters of Brave are all that resourceful; mostly, they wander in the woods until they pick up the will-o’-the-wisps, who in this case act as a kind of videogame help system to guide them.
Now, there’s a lot to be said for Brave in that it’s got a lot of emotional and moral complexity for a kids’ film.  Princess Merida’s family feels agreeably real – or perhaps disagreeably real, because they’re a family constantly beset by arguments, and arguments of emotional heft that literally can’t be resolved without serious compromises that no one is willing to make.  But they obviously still love each other, that sort of love that comes from fondness.  And Princess Merida’s choices have political consequences that are usually absent from a film about love.
And Brave is kind of a feminist movie.  Princess Merida doesn’t really need to be rescued from anything but her own bad decisions, so on one level she’s a strong female character.  Yet on the other hand, the storyline is the same hackneyed “Men don’t believe that women can make choices, woman shows them but good,” that sort of reinforces gender stereotypes at the same time it breaks them.  I mean, it’s great showing a Princess fighting the power, but can we have a strong female hero who’s not defined by fighting against frilly dresses and societal expectations?
And the animation is wondrous.  There’s a character who is transformed, and the transformation is heartbreaking simply because they don’t do a cartoonized version of that character.  That character becomes what they’ve been transformed into, a clumsy thing shambling around in a body that’s unfamiliar, and that turns what could be comedy into pathos.
The end is very powerful, when the daughter makes some bold choices, and the family comes together.  But I spent a lot of Brave wishing those powerful, meaningful choices had been made every step along the way to this climax.  I wanted to watch a film where the characters discovered things on their own initiative, instead of following glowing blue dots like Pac-Man gobbling his way through a maze to find the next power-up.  As a result, what you have is a Pixar film that will resonate strongly with some – the feminist messages and the beautiful Scottish landscapes are going to call to people – but for me, ultimately lands somewhere between A Bug’s Life and Cars, which is to say a lesser Pixar offering without being as actively bad as Cars 2.

Want To Win A Dance? Witness The Beauty.

“All lives are stories, and all may be told this way: someone is loved, then someone is dead. Only the writing between varies.”

The Clarion Blog-A-Thon is well underway, with a sketch of the plot already outlined in the Clarion Echo community.  But enough of my writing!  Today involves the first raffle of fabulous prizes!
And the first prize is something awesome that my Clarion classmates Kat Howard and Megan Kurashige are in the process of making.  Because Clarion is the kind of workshop that encourages imaginations to bloom, and I am so fucking proud of my friends creating this awesome project that I want to burst.
To understand how wondrous this all if, you must understand that Megan was famed in our Clarion class for not just her inexplicably charming writings, but her extreme bendiness – as a dancer, you’d find her curled up in a couch like a folded doll, her limbs in inexplicable positions.  Whereas Kat, who wrote these classically-infused reimaginations of things, could be found out on the veranda in her pure white fencing outfit, stabbing stucco walls with a well-worn rapier time and time again.
Witness!  A Thousand Natural Shocks!  The combination of fencing and dance!

To find that they have joined up to create a dance recital based on fencing is, I assure you, remarkably exciting.  They’ve been working on it for a year.  And they have a Kickstarter project to help fund their performances out in San Francisco, which I assure you will be awesome, because I know both of their work intimately.  Their Kickstarter has neat prizes, including hand-written stories and artistic postcards, and I think you should all check it out.
But for today’s Clarion Blog-A-Thon, they have generously donated the book of their dance.  Which is to say that in the creation of their tale, they will create a book stuffed full of photographs and other neatnesses outlining how they made it.  And once that book is printed, every dancer in this company will sign it to you, expressing their good wishes and the joy of making art.
So you should look at their Kickstarter and see if you want any of the prizes there.  And if you want the extra-special prize, donate to today’s Clarion fund.  You’ll get a shot at their book, as well as yet-to-be-announced prizes from such awesome writers as Neil Gaiman, Cat Valente, Mary Robinette Kowal, and many many others.
Since I have so many prizes coming, here’s the way the raffle is going to work: a $5 donation gets you a ticket into the raffle.  (And $10 gets you two entries, and $15 gets you three, and so forth.)  When the Blog-A-Thon is done, I’ll draw someone’s name from the pool, and they get first choice of all the twelve-plus prizes we’ll have!  Then I’ll draw another name, and they’ll get second choice, and so on.  This will mean it’ll take a while for all the prizes to be distributed, but it’s fair.
The only exemption from this: critiques.  If you’ve paid $25 for a critique, you get one raffle entry.  Because I’m going to do $20 of work for you.  (And there are three slots left in the blog-a-thon critique slots, so lemme know!)
To sum up: