Author: DameB

Narrative Soup Links — 7/20/2016

Why Do Pokemon Avoid Black Neighborhoods? This is a fascinating example of how legacy continues and codifies inequity. Knowing that the database came from Ingress players, this was practically inevitable. Niantic should have done their due diligence and corrected this before it went live.

Rewriting the History of AIDS Patient Zero? Not so much.

No One Likes Meg This entire four-part series of essays providing a close-reading analysis of Little Women is brilliant and everyone should read it. But for me, the pieces about Meg was revelatory. In it, we see how one of the main lessons of womanliness is that it should always appear effortless. Meg’s two main chapters are about the “failure” of being shown to work at being perfect. I simultaneously want to go back and re-read it and hide any copies from my daughter.

Along similar lines, this Vox article about Taylor Swift proves that being shown to work at being perfect is still (200 years later!)  the biggest crime a woman can commit.

Mike Pence is a horrible, evil, awful pile of misogyny. The Mary Sue breaks down why ab old op-ed he wrote back in the 90s proves that he’s always been that way.

Kate McKinnon is my everything and also Ghostbusters is totally a feminist movie

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Kate McKinnon in goggles, winking and smiling. 

Almost all the reviews I’ve read of the rebooted Ghostbusters hurry to reassure the reader that this movie doesn’t have a message or an axe to grind. And I was, frankly, a little disappointed. I wanted this movie to be awesome and to make some pointed remarks.

All the reviewers were wrong. This is a very pointed movie.

(Before I get to the spoiler warning, you have to go see this movie if only for Kate McKinnon, who is amazing.)

From here on out, spoilers ahead, though, really, if you’ve seen the original, I’m not giving away much of the plot.

Erin is up for tenure at Columbia. Her boss snipes about her insufficiently prestigious letters of recommendation (from mere Princeton!), and about her clothes. He never says what his problem is with her clothes, leaving her to try to suss it out for herself. “Too sexy?” “Never mind.”

Abby wants soup. That’s all she wants. Soup. Something other people get everyday. But she can’t get any soup until she’s saved the world.

When our fearsome foursome do have an enormous breakthrough, first no one believes them. Then they are told, for the greater good, that they need to be quiet about it.

Our villain is turned into a genocidal mass murderer because he believes he’s been mocked and ignored and not afforded basic human dignity. Most of the abuse he deals with in the movie seems to be very mild and self-afflicted. Nothing like what the women have already had to deal with. But none of them are evil!

Erin tries to warn the Mayor, but he dismisses her.

And in the end, Kevin insists that he was the one who saved the world. They did everything and some dumb ass man is taking the credit for it.

Finally, let’s talk for a minute about Kevin. Chris Hemsworth is amazing in the role which is one-note (he’s so pretty but so dumb) but he still gets more screen time and more depth and much more action than Janine in the original movie. But men are still crying sexism.

Yeah, this is a feminist movie with a message to deliver. And I’m glad.

 

Narrative Soup Links — 7/15/2016

It’s been a rough month or so. Turning on the news is flinch-inducing every day. I’m trying not to get bogged down in the seductive trope that things are falling apart, there’s nothing I can do. It’s not easy.

When it gets bad, I watch sloth videos. Here, it might help you, too. (You need the sound on for maximum mood-lifting effectiveness.)

On to the links!

TV is still mostly white dudes: Variety breaks down the demographics of showrunners and it’s still mostly 90 percent white and 80 percent male.

Fandom isn’t Broken: Some context: after the stupid Captain America “twist”, someone complained the fandom is broken. Here’s a thoughtful refutation of that fairly ridiculous idea.

The Sexism of “Experiences Over Stuff”: This is not the best written refutation of this trope, but it makes some excellent points about how the idea devalues and even dismisses the work that (mostly) women put into “experiences”. Points which I’m pretty sure I’ll find echoed in Who Made Adam Smith’s Dinner, once it arrives from the library.

And finally there is a link I want to include but can’t find. It was a lovely and thoughtful new take on #notallmen. Primarily, it was about why the Stamford woman who was raped by Brock Turner (*) was widely believed and Turner was widely reviled. This is not how these things normally go in America. But, she points out, since men are used to being in every single story, they can feel like they must cast themselves in every single story. And in most rape cases, there are only two roles: the rapist and the woman. So they cast themselves as the rapist and get defensive and disbelieve the woman.  But in the Stamford case, there were the two male heroes. Not only is a man’s word more credible than a woman’s (in their minds) but it also gave them a proxy in the story. They could mentally cast themselves as HEROES! So suddenly, this was a valid story in their minds, because they could be the good guys! The essay is much better than this summary and I’d love it if someone had the link and sent it along.

One of the reasons that I loved the link was becasue it offered a way for me to start to understand those who say that #BlackLivesMatter is a hate group. It isn’t, of course, and I’ve been completely stymied at understanding why and how people see it that way. But if you’re white and used to being in every story, then the phrase Black Lives Matter displaces you from the center of the story. That makes you angry.  (It also explains the backlash against the Melissa McCarthy Ghostbusters.)

Damnit. I really wish I could find that essay.

* Because I write about language and narrative, I am very aware of the fact that English offers no good way to give this woman a noun that isn’t awful. “Victim” reduces her whole being to one night. “Woman who was raped by Turner” gives him a name and the verb in the clause. But for the life of me, I can’t come up with anything better. Taking suggestions in the comments.

 

Navigating the Invisible Fair

I walk everywhere. I own a car, but in my city, walking is usually faster and easier.

People out walking with me for the first time think I’m very strange, sometimes. I walk for a block on one side of the street and then cross the street for three blocks and then cross back. Sometimes I circle a block instead of walking along it.

But not every time. Some days I take a totally different route. Where I circled this block yesterday, today I’ll go straight. Where I stayed on the north side last week, I’ll cross to the south side today.

Of course, this is totally insane. Unless you know why I do it.

I get hot really easily. I hate the heat like other people hate nails on a blackboard. So, if it’s hot, I prefer to walk in the shade. In fact, I’ll go a block out of my way to keep to deep shade. I also know where all the public fountains are and will walk by those for the fine mist. I avoid sunblasted concrete chasms like the plague. Because the sun moves, that means I take on route on a July morning and a very different route on a hot September afternoon.

Once you realize that I’m Shade Walking, suddenly my route becomes obvious. I’m a rat running a maze with walls that you can’t see until you know what they are.

(In the winter, I have a good mental map of who has shoveled and who hasn’t and which storm drains are actually barely-iced-over ponds of boot-topping slush and plan my route via those invisible walls.)

I was thinking of this all weekend as I watched about a quarter of the population of my super-geeky city suddenly start navigating their own invisible fairs. People — singly, in pairs, or in large groups — would walk down the street with their phones out, point at an empty square on the sidewalk, and then hurry forward and making strange gestures at the empty space.

Of course, because I’m a geek, I knew what invisible thing they were navigating. Pokemon Go just came out. But a lot of mundane folks who don’t know about Pokemon Go were totally bewildered at the strange behavior of these people. The Muggle reaction has ranged from annoyed (with good reason sometimes — it’s not a good idea to stand smack in the middle of the busy sidewalk) to bemused to angry to completely unaware of this complex-but-unseen world.

Pokemon isn’t my jam, so I don’t have intimate knowledge of the various spots, gyms, and monsters in my area. But I know that they exist and I am happy that other people are enjoying their hobbies. (Unless they stand in the middle of the sidewalk.)

It’s been a very hard month or so in the U.S. Reading the news is like a body slam. It’s brutal. And it’s hard (or impossible) to have a decent conversation with most people about these issues.

And I realized, watching a bunch of Pokemon Go players all cluster, excitedly, around a tiny historical marker yesterday, that it’s because a lot of people refuse to believe in other people’s invisible mazes.

Most men don’t even recognize all the little things that women do to navigate this world. One day, as an experiment, I decided that I wasn’t going to get out of men’s way when I walked and we both had equal claim to the sidewalk. They crashed into me constantly. All day. They ranged from apologetic to angry to just confused, but I’m willing to bet that none of them realized that they counted on the fact that most women they saw just naturally got out of their way. Women were navigating an invisible maze.

It’s not just who gets precedent on a sidewalk, either. The small things women do every day to navigate this maze are all so ingrained that we don’t really notice them. Couching our words in qualifications. Not going out after dark alone. Gauging the length of our skirts or the depth of our exposed cleavage. Never putting our real names on the Internet.

I’m white, but I’ve read enough articles by people of color to know that they have to navigate a similar, if more deadly maze, when dealing with authorities. Move slowly, be polite, don’t make sudden moves, show your hands.

Similarly, trans* folks make decisions based on things I would never consider — safe bathroom facilities, among them. Gay people have to decide if it’s OK to hold their SO’s hand in public.

In the past month, watched people on Facebook get furiously angry because they insist that they can’t see the maze, so it clearly doesn’t exist.  And nothing anyone can do will make them see it.

There’s no solution that’s ready to hand, of course. There’s no magical app that I can put on their phones and suddenly they see the Pikachu that’s bouncing on the corner. It requires emotional labor, empathy, and imagination to understand that other people even have mazes. Those are qualities that bigots lack, by definition.

But damn, I’m tired of it.

Narrative Soup Links — 6/3/2016

Captain America: Civil War Costume Analysis: I love thoughtful costumes. Because clothing and costumes are coded “female”, I feel like they don’t get the love and respect that they deserve. (Don’t get me started on the near-complete lack of costume featurettes on the LotR special edition DVDs.) Here’s a really smart and insightful breakdown of the costumes in CA:CW. They are much more nuanced and amazing than you’d imagine. Spoilers, of course.

The Male Gaze in a Math Text Book: It’s never just a word problems, just a shirt, just a compliment, just one casting decision. Small choices build to create our culture.

Five Signs that Your Story is Sexist Against Men: The patriarchy hurts men, too. Especially in narratives. This is a decent if very 101 article.

TV is Killing Off So Many Characters These Days: A good post with a great infographic that lets you sort this year’s character graveyard by gender, race, and LGBTQ status. (If you’re not caught up on all your TV shows, there are spoilers here. Beware.) There are some interesting articles on some of the specific deaths too. Here are just a handful:

What Taking My Daughter to a Comic Book Store Taught Me: I’m late to the party with this one, but I think it’s interesting nonetheless. It’s part of the genre of “I didn’t really understand sexism until I had a daughter”, which is a bit tedious but… I’m glad he got there! (Or, you know, started down the road. He’s still not there.) The author also did a follow-up, to detail how surprised he was that he got a dramatic reaction to his first post because he really didn’t understand the issues involved in wading into the geek gender wars.

12 Comics for your 7-Year Old Daughter: (or son!) This is another reaction to the above article. My daughter has read most of these. They are, pretty much, amazing. UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL! (FWIW, everyone is talking about how these are for girls. We need to give them to the boys, too. Please?)

Stuff You Missed In History Class, a podcast, gets regular complaints that they are “just about women.” So the authors broke it out and guess what? The stories are about women approximately 20 percent of the time.Which isn’t even half, but is perceived to be “too many women.” I don’t… I just… /headdesk

Genderswapping and Why I Want Jane Bond

Priyanka Chopra recently declared she didn’t want to be a Bond Girl. “Fuck that, I want to be Bond.” So does Gillian Anderson.

Melissa McCarthy is leading an all-lady cast in the remake of Ghostbusters.

These facts, taken together, have engendered a lot of hate. But, less trollishly, it’s also has lead to the inevitable and seemingly reasonble: “Why you gotta genderswap? Just make a girl spy/girl paranormal comedy!”

The answer, as in most things, is complicated. But it’s to do with Narrative Weight.

(And, because many things that apply to feminism also apply to racial issues, most of this applies to people of color, too. But I will speak mostly about the feminism issue because I know more about it. I’d love a link to a thoughtful essay about race swapping if you can find one, though.)

Narrative weight is a term I just made up this very second but it’s immediately recognizable to anyone who has spent time in literature or pop culture. A well-known character has more weight than an obscure one. A character who has been interpreted many times weighs more than one who is singular. A character gains more narrative weight the more times they are referenced in other works, parodied, copied, or analyzed, whether that’s an analysis in a literary class or on Tubmlr.

So Captain America has more weight than Ant-Man. Falstaff has more weight than Antigonus (the guy who exists, pursued by a bear, in Winter’s Tale). Debating the relative weight of Captain America v Falstaff is an exercise that I will leave to the reader.

Narrative weight takes time to build. And that’s why we need genderswapping.

Choosing Chaucer as a totally arbitrary date, English-language works have about 700 years of history. Most of the characters in those works for the past 700 have been white men. They have had seven centuries in which to build up narrative weight. The inertia of history gives these characters more heft and they distort the fabric of narratives, making all stories roll into their gravitational fields.

Let’s take James Bond, to come back to Ms. Chopra.

Since his debut in 1953, Bond has had 20+ movies, 50+ books, several spin offs. That alone gives him an enormous narrative weight. Add in the nearly infinite pastiches, jokes, quips, imitations, and references. Kingsmen and XXX were directly framed as responses to Bond, and thus were pulled into his orbit, adding to his weight. By now, he’s acquired a presence in spy movies so deep that even choosing not to reference Bond is, in and of itself, a reference to Bond.

Bond has enormous narrative weight.

Even if we stopped making all James Bond movies right now, by dictatorial decree, he would continue to get heavier just because he’s so thoroughly embedded in the canon.  And, of course, we’re not going to stop making Bond movies. Or writing those books. Or fanfics. Or jokes.

So if we just “made a female spy who isn’t Bond,” she could literally never catch up to him. Not even if we decided to make three movies and five tie-in-novels a year for the next 70 years. Which means that he continues to distort the narrative landscape . Part of this distortion is the fact that no one thinks that people would watch those Female!Spy movies, because we never have because Bond…..

So, when feminists agitate for a genderswap and want to cast Haley Atwell (or Priyanka Chopra or Gillian Anderson) to play Jane Bond, we’re trying to claw away some of the narrative weight that dudes have been hoarding for the past 700 years.

If we manage to get enough narrative weight, we can change the landscapes that shape our narratives and regularly exclude women and girls and people of color. It’s  not the only way to do it, but it’s one of the thousands of approaches that we’ll need if we want to approach equality in representation.

I mean, even if we stopped making white dudes the leads in all books, movies, and tv shows right this second — and I don’t know how we’d do that — it would take about 700 years to build an equal weight.

Sometimes these are head canons and that’s important, too. When mothers edit on the fly to make Bilbo a woman, we’re combating the way that girls feel when they are systematically excluded from the vast vast majority of English language books. If you get used to seeing yourself as a main character, it’s easier to act like a main character.

And I think that’s what the people who object to genderswapping are really angry about. They don’t want anyone to take their role as the lead character.

You Can Draw Your Own Metaphorically Resonant Conclusion

My town has recently banned one-use plastic bags. There’s now a 10-cent charge for paper grocery bags and you can’t get the plastic flimsy things at all. This has fundamentally changed the transaction at the check-out counter.

It used to be that, if I wanted to use my reusable bags, the onus was on me rather than the store. I had to be aggressively proactive by making sure that the string bags were the first thing on the conveyor belt. Even then, I had to be sure to use my words and make sure I said, loudly and clearly, to the bagger that I’d brought my own bags, please use those and only those.

Any number of things could screw this up. Sometimes I was tired and forgot. Sometimes the line moved fast and I couldn’t get the bags on the belt in time. Sometimes my bags had gotten buried under groceries and by the time I dug them out, often I’d get a few plastic bags before I managed to stop it. The failures were always MINE.

And, of course, when a failure happened, I rarely asked them to take the groceries out of the craptacular plastic bags and put them in my string bags. It was rude and awkward and the bagger was just doing their job. Trying to do it efficiently, even! They didn’t know any better. People in line would glare at me for taking more time. It just felt weird.

But now, everything has changed.

Now, before anyone starts bagging, sometimes before they even start the transaction, the cashier will ask, “Do you need a bag?”

And I can say yes or no. If I say no, they don’t just stuff things in a plastic bag willy-nilly. They will let me fish around under the lettuce or grope blindly through my purse to drag out my string bags. Or, they will just let me carry my gallon of milk home without a bag! The one time someone accidentally bagged my stuff in a 10-cent paper bag, she apologized right away and stopped doing it the moment she realized what she was doing.

The onus is now on the grocery store and it’s taken all the pressure off of me. The culture change caused by this one law has made my whole shopping experience much easier. They ask first, every time.

Narrative Soup Link List — 5/20/2016

I’m noticing a trend this week.

The New Nancy Drew was “too female”?

The Iron Man 3 Villian was too female. 

Ratings on IMDB are lower for shows that are intended for women

CBS has a “diverse” line up of 8 new shows. Six of them star SWM. I guess any more than that would be “too female”?

The Soft Sexism of Hating on the New Ghostbusters for being too female.

In less depressing news, you can now download the Brooklyn Zine, a fan art zine devoted to all things Stucky. (Stucky isn’t my thing and fan art isn’t my thing but this was just such a beautiful labor of love that I had to link.)

 

 

A Replacement Goldfish: the Problem of Sharon Carter

I loved Civil War. It’s in my top tier of MCU movies, right up there with Winter Soldier and Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy. I have seen it twice now, in the two weeks it’s been out, and I enjoyed the crap out of it. But I’ve been thinking a lot about the problem of Sharon Carter.

Because she is a problem. A big one.

In the deluge of promotional material before the movie was released, there was a featurette about the Women of Marvel. And Emily VanCamp (who plays Sharon) says “Sharon Carter is a little sassier in this one. She gets to do a little bit of fighting. It’s awesome.” Several friends sent me the link to the video and I watched it with a sense of rising hope. Maybe the MCU was going to really invest in its women? Finally?

No.

Sharon does a lot in the movie. In fact, she’s the primary mover of the plot. Cap is unsure about the Accords and she offers up a from-beyond-the-grave pep talk from Peggy, who is seemingly urging him to not sign. She slips Cap the lead on where Bucky is. She presses the button so that Cap can hear the interrogation and when the lights go out, she shouts the location of Bucky’s prison. She steals the famous shield and the bird costume and meets the renegade heroes to hand them over.

She really is one of the prime plot movers. Without her, nothing happens.

But she’s barely in the movie. Given all the plot mechanics she performs, she should be a main character. But she gets about the same amount of screen time (and much less narrative heft) than Scott Lang. She certainly doesn’t get a spot on the poster.

What’s more, and vitally, we have no idea why she does any of it.

Seriously. Why did Sharon risk her future, he career, and her freedom to aid and abet Captain America? We know why Hawkeye does it – there’s that line about “I owe a debt.” It wouldn’t have taken long to write in an explanation. One or two comments, that’s all. And there are lots of excellent reasons she might have done it. I can list five right off the top of my head:

  1. She agrees with Steve that the Sokovia Accords are a bad idea. She isn’t stating her ideological position outright because she thinks she can better serve his agenda by betraying her organization from within.
  2. She is in wuuuuv. Or lust. But her personal feelings for Steve are so overpowering, so strong, that they override her professional ethics and her personal ambition and her desire to stay the hell out of jail.
  3. She’s working on orders from the CIA, which actually thinks the Accords are a terrible idea and prefers the idea of an extralegal team of metahumans running around without the shackles of UN supervision. Her boss has directed her to provide all discreet comfort and assistance, without notifying the Secretary of State.
  4. She’s actually working for Zemo. This seems, after a few minutes of reflection, the most probable. I mean, Zemo’s ridiculously contrived Xanatos Gambit wouldn’t work without her constant help. (I loved the movie but I’ll admit that the plot was a little convoluted.)
  5. WWPD? She is helping him because that’s what she thinks Peggy would do.

And that fifth one – What Would Peggy Do? – is clearly the conclusion that the writers want us to draw. And that’s the problem with Sharon Carter. She is a second-rate replacement goldfish, filling in Peggy’s stylish shoes. (Shout out to Smart Bitches, Trashy Books for the excellently evocative phrase.)

Sharon doesn’t get any real on-screen personality and her emotional connection to Steve is never even sketched in. What do we know about Sharon? She’s a slim, pretty blonde CIA/SHIELD agent who can kick and punch competently and who stood up to Hydra in Winter Soldier. And she’s Peggy’s niece. That’s literally all we know about her. The writers go out of their way to ensure that the audience will mentally slot in Peggy’s personality, her time spent building trust and rapport in The First Avenger, as well as her motivations.

For example, in Civil War, most of her screen time is spent on running errands for the plot, making things easier for Steve and his cohort. But the time that isn’t spent doing that is spent talking with Steve about Peggy Carter, specifically about how Peggy encouraged Sharon to enlist, bought her a thigh holster, and how Sharon didn’t want to force Peggy to keep secrets from Steve. They don’t spend any time building up the imagined chemistry between the two – the use Peggy Conversation instead.

The little bits of flirting that we have seen in Winter Soldier are as part of Sharon’s undercover job. A fact that she emphasizes in Civil War (“Before, when you were spying on me—“ “When I was doing my job?”). I’m almost certain that they don’t have any on-screen contact after he learns that she’s spying on him until that moment during the funeral.  In addition, as far as we know, he doesn’t even learn about her scene in the control room with Hydra. So the time they’ve actually spent together, what they’ve built a relationship on, is almost entirely a lie/undercover flirtation.

But the audience is simply expected to accept it when Steve kisses Sharon. He even says, “That was late.” Really? Why is it late? She was just some neighbor pretending to be a nurse who he awkwardly flirted with for a few weeks two movies ago. And then, an hour ago, he found out that she was his Long Lost Love’s niece.

When that moment is juxtaposed against everything else, especially Steve’s line to Bruce Banner in Ultron (”Look, as maybe the world’s leading authority on ‘waiting too long’, don’t.”), you can’t help but blame me for suddenly wondering if Steve’s become confused as to who he thinks he’s kissing – Sharon or her aunt?

And then, after they’ve kissed, Sharon disappears. We never see her again. We don’t know if she gets caught, and if not, how she avoids it. We don’t know if she just sacrificed her entire career and got fired? Or is she in prison? We know she’s not one of the rescued few from The Raft, but that’s all. Her efforts, her help, get a pleasant thanks and a brief, chaste kiss from Steve and then…. Nothing.

Sharon is wasted in this movie.

All of this packed much more emotional punch for me because Agent Carter got canceled between the first time I saw Civil War and the second. One of only two title female characters in the whole MCU, Peggy was the standard bearer the Women of Marvel and she’d just been eliminated, on TV and on the movie screen in the same week. Watching Peggy’s funeral made me wonder, uncomfortably, if this death of old age counted as ‘fridging? (This during a season when TV was killing off women in hordes.)

And which was worse: how the MCU treated Peggy or how it treated Sharon?

 

 

Grimdark, greyhounds, and the Paucity of Narratives

So, I was talking with Mac and his friend Dave the other day and I made a joke about how, two years ago, if you got any four children together, there was a 50 percent chance at any given moment that they’d break into “Let It Go!” Mac and Dave got that stillness and stared at me the way that they do when I’ve said something foreign to them.

“Yeah, it’s different with boys.” (They both have sons.)

Dave got a grin on his face and did that thing that guys do when they are faced with a Humorless Feminist Type. He made fun of me, downplaying his own sexism by exaggerating it. “Yeah, I think the boys just were, it was a fine movie, just a little boring. They couldn’t relate,” he smirked.

I sat there and made a face that they probably took as a grimace “you win, I’m a humorless feminist, ha ha” and the conversation went on without me while I spent a silent minute or two squashing down my rage.

Because I wanted to punch them. In the teeth. Until they bled. My internal narrative went something (though much less coherently and with much more swearing) like this: These men are raising boys that my daughter might, soon, date. And they think it’s funny that their sons can’t be bothered to give a shit about a narrative that happens to be female led. Not, you know, majority female in cast. No. Frozen has four speaking female character (two of whom are trivial) and nine male roles. But the girls got slightly more than half the dialog and you guys are making fun of the movie and are glad and a little smug that you are raising boys who can’t muster the energy to care about half the human race? And you are making fun of me about it? And also, have you fuckers ever read “How to Suppress Women’s Writing”? Because you seem to have some those techniques down fucking pat.

Since punching them is uncivilized and since screaming at them is useless on every single front, I did was all good girls do and swallowed it down and began to formulate a comeback for next time this comes up. It has to be balanced, of course, because too much snark or anger and they will reject it out of hand. Too much levity and they won’t take it seriously. I find a withering analogy is perfect, though sometimes too obscure for these guys.

After a few hours of thinking I came up with this:

“You know, I have a friend who owns a greyhound. Trembling little coddled thing. All greyhounds need special food, perfectly balanced to their exact needs. Greyhounds have like no gut to speak of, so it’s essentially pre-digested for them. Like, anything more than 5 percent fiber and they just can’t handle it. Won’t even eat it. They just reject it out of hand.” *

Delivered in the right tone of voice, I suspect they might have gotten it. But maybe not. It’s not my most subtle analogy comeback, but they aren’t subtle dudes. Straight white males in America are the greyhounds of the narrative world. They can’t consume any narrative that isn’t a straight white male’s narrative.

(#notallmen, of course. I know lots who read more widely.)

But it’s kind of hard not to consume mostly SWM narratives. Because, in my now-very-strained analogy, greyhound food is the only food that gets put on the shelves at Costco and Stop and Shop. You need to go to a specialty shop to find non-greyhound food, with more complicated flavors. Especially in movies, video games, or TV.

Not only that, but they take the same SWM story and they even prepare it in the same way, over and over and over again. Many narratives about SWM offer them one of a three flavors: A. A SMW is motivated by daddy issues. (You can substitute father figure/boss/chief/captain/king/thane.) or B. He is motivated by the loss of a (usually female) loved one, or C. He is brilliant at X but fails at basic human functions.

So not only are we limiting ourselves to just one ingredient, we’re only preparing it in a few ways.

I realized, thinking about it, that I’d stretched the analogy way too far for it to be useful in casual conversation and I wasn’t sure it was going to get through to Mac and Dave. Despite that, it stayed with me for a few days. In fact, I was thinking about it when a review of Batman V Superman came on the radio. Now, in a moment of random feminist anger after some stupid debacle (I can’t remember which one), I declared that I won’t give my money to DC until Wonder Woman has as many movies as Batman. Or at least Superman. So, frankly, I’m never seeing a DC movie again. And listening to the review I realized that this was definitely not my cuppa. Two SWM beating on each other in grimdark grayscale, larded with angst and anguish? Yeah, no. Thanks.

But Dave was so excited about this movie that he could just explode. He was excited, he explained, because this is the movie he’s wanted all his life. “It’s got Batman and Superman, and it’s liberally based on Batman from Frank Miller which is the best Batman, I love long, drawn-out superhero slugfests, and I love dark and grim. It’s PERFECT!”

As I listened to this review, which confirmed it was a movie I personally wouldn’t want to see but was just up Dave’s alley, I thought about my analogy again: SWM have been fed a steady diet of SWM narratives for decades. The same bland, predigested, simplistic pabulum every god-damned meal.

The thought popped into my head: I’d need a pile of hot sauce to choke that crap down, too.

And suddenly the preponderance of grittiness in popular narrative makes more sense to me. It’s the Sriracha of the narrative world.

Think about it. Hot sauce doesn’t really add nutritive value to your meal. It doesn’t add complexity or depth. It doesn’t add fiber or protein or carbs. Hell, it doesn’t require any effort on the part of the chef. It just adds overwhelming flavor by popping open a bottle. Grimdark narratives are almost always SWM stories. The violence and blood and bleak color palate just adds a strong flavor to the SWM narrative. It doesn’t provide any variety or complexity to the diet.

Suddenly, the preponderance of gritty and dark stories makes sense to me. These guys don’t even realize that they are getting fed the same old story over and over again. They think that’s all there is and they crave variety, even if they don’t know it, so they keep adding more sex, blood, death, and violence.

The obvious cure is to consume different narratives. And, happily, the narrative machines seem to have realized this, a little bit. They are adding variety, though slowly and very carefully. (You can’t change their diet too fast, otherwise you get intestinal distress.)

For example, you get stories like “Sleepy Hollow” and “Elementary” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and Guardians of the Galaxy where there’s a diverse cast… but of course the lead is still a straight white male.

You can gently ease them in with “Person of Interest,” which starts with two SWM and a woman of color and then you add in two women. Okay, they are white and pretty and flirting with each other. But a candy-coating of hot lesbian sex seems to the other way to get these guys to swallow anything.

Then we coax them into slightly more complex diets like Fury Road. Still a simplistic story delivered in a very familiar formula but there’s a woman at the lead. Still white, thin, pretty, and presumably straight, but … you know… a woman. And she’s missing an arm! Hell, if you put it on the pizza that is the Star Wars franchise, you can squeeze in a woman and a black man.

They will complain, of course. But they may eventually learn to enjoy it.

 

*I do, in fact, have a friend who owns a greyhound. He would like me to point out that, “While they do need a kibble that is higher in protein than other dogs, they aren’t that delicate. Well, most of them aren’t. Some have food sensitivities.”