I WRITE THINGS: Representation and Me Talk

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In my last blog post about Mission Impossible: Fallout I touched on something that I haven’t ever really engaged with before, mostly because in the immortal words of Rick Springsteen, the point was probably moot. By which, I of course mean, contrary to what Springsteen thinks he is singing, there is almost too much to say on this particular topic. I don’t feel that I am able to adequately address it in a way that I’m comfortable with in a 500 word blog post.

 

The topic is, of course, representation.

 

Representation is one of my favourite words and concepts to unpack. As an English teacher, much of what my students and I engage in is discussion of how groups or people are being represented and why it matters. As I alluded to in my prior post, representation does matter to me, and it does have an impact on my life day to day.

 

The reality of my situation isn’t lost on me. I am fortunate enough to not only have a functional literacy level to the point where I am able to write prose and enjoy myself, but also to have the means to do so. That’s a level of privilege many people are not afforded. Even as someone technically a part of a minority, I have never personally faced direct persecution or disadvantage (to my knowledge) for the fact that I am gay.

 

At the end of the day, I am a 20 something year old who writes stories for personal enjoyment and shares them on the internet. It matters to me, I love doing it, but I’m not on the precipice of some astronomical discovery.

 

However, the reason I wanted to discuss the concept of representation, and specifically heteronormativity and writing, was because something sort of funny happened to me this week. I finished a first draft of a novel (yay!) and began thinking about what sort of story I want to write next. For me personally, story almost always starts with character – I find characters more compelling than plot.

 

As I started to plan who my next story would be centred around, I had a moment of hesitation. The question that crossed in my mind was, “if I keep writing stories about lgbtq+ characters, are people going to criticise me for it? Am I being predictable?”

 

Of course, when it comes to writing I do write for myself first and foremost, but reader enjoyment plays into the equation. I was stumped by my own question, not knowing the answer. There is of course the argument that authors like Stephen King typically write about relatively similar characters in terms of those basic features – that is, many of King’s characters are straight white middle aged men.

 

I’m still genuinely stumped on where I stand on this, and whether or not it is an issue at all or if I’m overthinking it entirely.

 

So I throw the question back to you, dear reader – what do you think? What does any of this mean? Am I over thinking the value of representation? Did I leave the stove on?

I WATCH MOVIES: I lived it: I take issue with Mission Impossible: Fallout but still enjoyed the film

night television tv video

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In many instances of my life, I find myself towing a very frustrating line. Film is one of the greatest joys in my life – from a very young age it has been a place of refuge and entertainment alike. As a part of the human condition, I seek myself in film, trying to find the parts that I can relate to, and the parts that help me to not only understand myself but also those around me. However, in loving film, I am also faced with the parts of film that I do not like. The parts that make me question whether it is okay to like a film, even if it has parts that are not agreeable to me.

 

From around the same age, I have been abundantly aware of the inequalities between men and women as a result of being the poster child of gender confusion (credit for that title: The L Word). Many, many times as a child, I was faced with situations where I thought to myself, wait a minute, so boys can do that but I can’t? This is some bullshit. In being a tomboy, the double standards that girls face on a daily basis were especially grating for me.

 

As a result, I was hyper critical of all media between the ages of 17 – 21, before throwing in the towel to try and enjoy certain films just for being fun. It isn’t so much that I didn’t see the issues; it is more that I am emotionally exhausted. It is 2018 and I still see an abundance of misrepresentation (or complete late of representation) for women, the LGBTQ+ community, and other people who belong to minority groups.

It is tiring to have to explain to people time and time again why it matters to me to see LGBTQ+ characters. It is tiring to have to explain why I take issue with misrepresentation of women. It is tiring to have to explain to people that I don’t take issue with representation of men; it is just that I want to see other representations too. Simply put, I am tired and more often than not misunderstood by people who don’t wish to understand.

 

The fact of the matter of this: I had a lot of fun watching Mission Impossible: Fallout (MI:F herein) and enjoyed the film for exactly what it was – a thrill ride. It was entertaining, tapping into our primal love of violence, sex, and an underdog story. There’s no getting past that fact. It was a fun movie.

 

MI:F didn’t sit quite right with me, still. I’m not blind to the fact that I only really consume media with guaranteed representations of the groups I belong to, and I’m also understanding of the fact that it is the job of the media to tell many stories, not only my stories.

 

Still, MI:F came as somewhat of a shock to me – and it reminded me of why I started paying attention to representation in the media in the first place. MI:F is essentially the story of a straight white man saving the world and getting his pick of women. Perhaps this is why I take such issue with this film – the seeming lack of emotional fallout that would be an issue in any other film.

 

Within the film, we see the main character (Ethan Hunt, an unfortunate moniker) with his first love interest, Elsa, then the second, the White Widow, and the third, Julie. I actually found myself laughing at something I wasn’t supposed to, that I’m not sure the filmmakers caught; Elsa and Julie essentially look and act like the same person. They are both the saviour for Ethan – the female character there to lick his wounds, love him unconditionally, and act as a prize at the end of the film.

 

I suppose this takes me to the crux of why the film didn’t sit right with me; why, despite the fact I was enjoying it, I had a bad taste in my mouth. Women in this film are footnotes and are interchangeable. They’re simply objects that Ethan has access to at whim. They are essentially all the same character with different hair colours to indicate easily to the audience what kind of person they are based on familiar tropes. The brunette love interests (Elsa and Julie) = caring loving figures who are madly in love with Ethan. The blonde love interest (The White Widow) = the girl who just wants to bang Ethan, who acts as the femme fatale element and the sexually charged figure of the film.

 

These female characters are a call back to the Madonna/Whore dichotomy that I haven’t had to overtly consume for quite some time. The fact is that all of these characters serve to act as a two dimensional love interest for Ethan. We see all of the typical tropes of female representation in films that I had assumed were extinct.

 

The only outlier in this film is the White Widow, but she still has the same behaviour when it comes to Ethan Hunt. She kisses Ethan, but then when it serves the plot, disappears and her behaviour has no consequence. And because she is the character with arguably the most sexual encounter with Ethan, she does not qualify for his love, because we all know that women who want sex are not proper women and, therefore, do not get the man.

 

Ethan has intimate moments with these women, with no emotional repercussions from any of them. He quite literally flicks between them at will, and none of them seem to care. Ethan himself never indicates interest in them overtly either, and none of them care.

 

The issue I see here is this representation of women as being at a man’s whim. There are all strong, intelligent women, who seem unaffected by the fact that Ethan comes and goes as he pleases in their lives. Even when they see moments of intimacy shared between Ethan and a woman, they are completely nonplussed. Their lack of emotional reaction renders them objects of desire for Ethan, and represents a toxic model that I thought was no longer in vogue: the model of a man being in complete control of the women around him, being allowed to do as he pleases, while the women wait for their turn.

 

Look, again, I liked the film. It was fun. And maybe I’m just sour grapes because there realistically weren’t any characters that I could identify with aside from Benji. But what I got from this experience is that ignoring the problematic parts of the media I consume doesn’t serve any purpose for me, and in being able to acknowledge the problematic parts of MI:F I’m able to once again get in touch with why it is important to be critical of media.

 

We can’t be mindless consumers, for the same reason we can’t be passive bystanders when we see bad things happening. Unless we are critical of our media, even when we enjoy it, things don’t change, and we don’t learn anything.

I WATCH TELEVISION: My half-baked conspiracy theory on the literary value of Sex and the City

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Seriously Carrie, wtf

I have been watching Sex and the City since the ripe old age of 14. Watching Sex and the City was always something that made me feel very grown up (I was and am not), as if I were getting ahead of the game in terms of maturity and understanding of the way the world worked (I still don’t get it). I have watched the series at least 4 times over by now – the only program I have watched more times is Seinfeld.

 

Blindly, for ten years, I have followed the dating advice of a television show that at one point ran out of bizarre sexual fetishes to showcase. As a fourteen year old, watching Carrie Bradshaw bumble through terrible relationships, I thought to myself, I understand this entirely and I am an adult, and also, this is real love that I am seeing. Watching Sex and the City has simultaneously been one of the straightest and gayest activities I have ever engaged in, and is probably in some part responsible for the fact that I have always wanted to be a writer.

 

But this afternoon as I tried to wash out the violet pigment shampoo that stained my hands and hair time after time, I couldn’t help but wonder – why did Carrie find it so easy to rinse and remove her stains before going right back into making the same mistake over and over again?

 

I present to you my case in point: Carrie Bradshaw exists in a state of purgatory for the entirety of the series, including the films. She is doomed to continue repeating her mistakes, and cannot move on to heaven or hell.

 

Exhibit A: Kurt Harrington

 

Right from the get-go of the series, Carrie sets the stage for us with Kurt Harrington. In the very first episode, upon seeing Kurt, she allows the audience into her past follies and fallacies.

 

“It was Kurt Harrington. A mistake I made when I was 26, 29, and 31.”

 

So, Carrie is self-aware – she has made the mistake before. This first episode sets up a premise that we are lead to believe is the truth. Carrie seizes her power, has sex without emotion with Kurt, and goes on her merry way. She is done with repeating her mistakes – she’s ready for real love.

 

Except that she walks right into her next mistake – Big.

 

Exhibit B: Mr. Big

 

I consider Mr. Big to be the worst of the worst. With the benefit of 20+ years since the original airing of Sex and the City, it’s clear to the audience that Mr. Big is a serial user who doesn’t really care about anything or anyone. I hold Mr. Big, at least in part, responsible for a generational acceptance and endurance of subhuman treatment, because that’s what you do for real love, isn’t it?

 

No Carrie Bradshaw.

 

And yet, I was promised by Carrie in an unspoken contract that she was done with the mistakes of her past. She liberated herself from Kurt, didn’t she? Hadn’t she learned her lesson, that once a relationship is done, it’s done? Didn’t Nick Carraway tell us we can’t repeat the past?

 

Not Carrie “Gatsby” Bradshaw. Repeat the past? Why, of course you can.

 

Throughout the entire series, Mr. Big is held up as representative of everything that Carrie wants. No matter how many times they leave each other, no matter how many times she asserts that she’s learned how to be strong now and that she was a different person, she keeps going back. She reverts to being the same person, waiting on Big to call and be ready for her.

 

Exhibit C: Sweet Cinnamon Roll Aidan

 

I have no complaints for Aidan. I always told myself that he was the kind of man I would grow up to marry, something that I still laugh gently to myself about today.

 

But even when graced with the chance to date Aidan (yadda yadda yadda if it’s not right it’s not right I gET IT that’s not my point), Carrie fucks her shit up by going back to Big. Then she goes back to Aidan. Then back to Big.
So not only is Carrie repeating the pattern, but she’s now repeating the pattern two-fold.

 

Exhibit D: Burger

 

Seriously, I think I’ve said enough.

 

You know, literature is supposed to teach us something about the human condition, and when it’s done well it achieves this. I always thought Sex and the City was a television show about how no matter what, true love finds a way. I bought into the Big and Carrie narrative, because we’re conditioned to accept less from people when it comes to dating. Lack of communication is a labour of love, and you should accept it if your significant other drops off the face of the planet without explanation. If they leave you, they’re just not ready, and so you should wait for them to be ready.

 

The same messages about what real love is that I brought into have been flipped on their head. Carrie and Big aren’t a success story; they’re a cautionary tale. No matter what happens, Carrie continues to circle purgatory, unable to stop making the mistakes of lovers past and move forward to get what she deserves. Carrie tells us,

 

“I am someone who is looking for real love. Ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can’t live without each other love.”

 

But time and time again, she accepts less and less. And so, dear audience, I argue that we have been watching Sex and the City wrong – that we must learn from Carrie’s mistakes when she can’t.

 

And as I sat here, sitting alone in my apartment writing another article for my website, I couldn’t help but wonder – why was this life never enough for Carrie?

I WRITE THINGS: on writer’s block and past mistakes

person typing on typewriter

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For one reason or another, I took a hiatus from writing between 2014 and 2018. I had just finished writing my second novel at the beginning of 2014, and was met with a crushing revelation that the novel simply was not good enough for publication standard. My friends at the time tried to tell me otherwise, and encouraged me to press on, but something in me broke. I don’t know what exactly set me off (crippling depression and emotional immaturity), but in those 4 years, none of my ideas came to fruition.

I was writing, don’t get me wrong. I would go through periods of time where I would sit myself and force myself to write. Usually, this resulted in exhaustion on my part. I experienced feeling increasingly tired as I wrote, increasingly depressed, and all of the negative things I’d told myself about my early writing efforts was coming back to haunt me. Sometimes I would write a paragraph and then have to go back to bed, feeling I was at my breaking point all over again. Put simply, the thing that had once brought me immense joy now felt as though it was poisoning me.

Between 2014 to 2018, I decided that I wasn’t a writer and that I never would be. It had been nothing more than a pipe dream of someone not yet grown out of adolescence. Between 2014 to 2018, I went through some of the more difficult personal life challenges that I have faced to date, with many of the issues I encountered being resolved by the end of 2017.

There’s something to be said about the correlation between extreme stress and what we deem to be “writer’s block”. In many ways, I agree with Reynolds’ perspective that, “writers block is a myth” (2015). I never felt as though there was a block to my ideas. Instead, I felt as though the basin had run dry, I was devoid of all creativity, and that I had finally outgrown the ambition to be a writer.

The word itself felt like a loaded gun to me – representative of failure and inability to act, ready to blow me to smithereens anytime anyone asked me how my writing was going. Reynolds goes on to argue that many people experience “writer’s block” when they are exhausted – burned out on their work (2015). Simply put, as far as I see it, I wasn’t able to write for those 4 years. Because I was beyond exhausted – because I felt like I’d been dragged to the brink of total annihilation over and over again.

About a month ago, I read a quote from Louis L’amour.

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

In the past I mostly found this idea absurd and akin to when people tell depressed people to just be happy. While the latter piece of advice remains certified bullshit, L’amour had a point that I can see now. The only thing that started me writing again was the act of writing. But not just any writing; aimless writing.

In 2014, all I wanted to be was a published writer who was regaled for witticism and insights into the human condition. Before that, the only reason I wrote was to impress girls (spoiler: it absolutely does not impress girls). And before that, I wrote because I enjoyed it, and because I liked to create stories and people, and engage in good old fashioned escapism.

I’ve lost the ego I used to wear on my sleeve as a badge of pride, but not out of lack of confidence – rather, because for me, writing is no longer about proving something to someone else. When I write now, it’s for me.

Put simply, there’s nothing I would change about the last four years of my writing career. I had to push myself to the point of completely hating my writing and being exhausted by it to find what I had loved about writing in the first place. I may never be published; by the time this is posted, my website may be dead and gone as far as internet lifetimes are concerned. But I guess I just don’t really care about that so much anymore.

My advice for people going through writer’s block is simple: remember why you want to write in the first place. And if you can’t remember, cut yourself some slack. I am reminded of the immortal words of Alaska Thunderfuck – it’s just drag, and this is just writing.

I WATCH MOVIES: a handful of horror movies I really like in no particular order

As seen in my love letter to Hereditary (2018), I hold the horror genre to a particularly high standard. Of any given weekend, I will usually spend a good hour lurking the internet like a lower level bottom feeder looking at lists of what people deem to be their favourite horror films, before usually eventually reneging to watching reruns of RuPaul’s Drag Race, or one of the following films.

Two things: although it goes without saying, Hereditary will not feature on this list, purely because I gave the film its own whole article some time ago. Additionally, my main criteria for this list was whether or not I’ve had multiple viewings of these films and still enjoyed them.

The Shining (1980)

 

Being a consummate Stephen King fan, watching The Shining is a little bit of a treat for me. I once discussed with my English Literature lecturer how the film is atmospherically different enough from the original narrative that it feels like an extension of the novel universe. This film appeals to my need to be subtly creeped out while confronted with all the terrible parts of humanity. Every time I’ve watched it, I’ve noticed something different.

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The Uninvited (2009)

 

I was 16 the first time I watched this film, and I watched it almost exclusively because it had Emily Browning in it. This was much the same for the second viewing. However, by the third viewing, I thought to myself, damn, this movie is actually really entertaining. Also, I hope I’m not gay.

Don’t get me wrong – I was definitely gay, and The Uninvited is very much a late 2000s horror film in terms of tropes and themes. However, it offers something more than that, and was a genuinely good watch.

Pro-tip:Don’t see this film with someone who’s already seen the film. I made that mistake and 20 minutes into the film my friend asked, “wait a minute, isn’t this the film where…”

Yes it is, and now that I know that I will never get to experience the joy of the ending organically. Thanks, dickhead.

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Let Me In (2010)

Let Me Inis my wildcard for this list. I don’t really feel like it’s exclusively horror, although it has horror themes. It deals with issues that are quite compelling, and presents what I found to be a really unique representation of the awkwardness of adolescence. I typically really hate vampire films because I find them corny and overplayed, but this film was different. While it was released during the vampire film hype, it doesn’t rely on the tropes of the time with a heavy hand, and doesn’t let trend get in the way of good cinema. This is on this list less because it’s a good horror film, and more just because it’s a really good film.

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Photo Credits:

https://geektyrant.com/news/alternate-endings-revealed-for-stanley-kubricks-the-shining-and-why-they-were-changed

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https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0169lsv

I PLAY VIDEO GAMES: Ramblings about the Silent Hills Playable Teaser

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The release of the Silent Hills Playable Teaser (PT herein) is probably the closest I have come in quite some time to childhood excitement levels for any kind of media. I would liken the excitement I felt for my friend to bring over her PS4 so we could play it to be closest matched with when I was a young girl set loose in a video store with (what felt like) an unlimited cash flow. Those afternoons are ones I hold dearly, and ones I mourned along with the death of renting culture. I would spend hours selecting games and movies, planning an evening for myself to the minute. It’s an experience I still try to emulate to this day with very little luck.

PT was an experience I’ve never had before with video games, not only in the sense that my friends and I could only able to play for a collective 20 minutes because of the level of scares we were experiencing. PT melded together everything I love in my literature – the themes of family conflict, mystery, nostalgia, vengeful spirits; you know, that old chestnut. And while I’ve come to expect video games to trade literary merit for 360 no scopes, PT held itself in a league of its own.

And it’s with that nostalgia, I think, that we tap into something very interesting with PT. Throughout the available gameplay, we aren’t necessarily given a definitive timeline for when this is happening. We know it’s suburban America, we see the imagery of a young married couple with the stylings of the late 50s to early 60s. This provides commentary on the death of the American Dream. For me personally, I enjoyed this destruction of the American Dream and the suburban fantasy land, much in the same way I enjoyed the commentary provided by The Great Gatsby. PT was deeper than just a shoot-em-up. It had heart, that it ripped out of the player character’s chest, and then ate.

I think that half of the appeal of PT was that it tapped into something so familiar to people from all backgrounds, regardless of timeline. We have all been to this house; we have all met this couple. We have all had to navigate an unfamiliar setting in the dead of night to get a glass of water, feeling our hearts pounding in our chests, convinced we’re about to get got by something. We have walked that hallway before – not just in the game, but in our lives.

Immediately following PT’s release, eventual removal, and disappointing cancellation, the effects of the demo were apparent in gaming culture. Countless games are paying homage to what could have been: from Layers of Fear (2016) to Resident Evil 7 (2017). But I don’t necessarily find this to be a crime of bandwagon culture in gaming per say. While I am the first to call out bandwagon culture in any media field, this isn’t the case here – at least to my view.

Rather, the horror genre in video games has been given a dramatic facelift, and it stuck! No longer do we need our (often straight white male) characters to be armed to the teeth. Developers essentially said to players, “good luck dickhead, all you get is a lantern and puzzle solving skills.”

And I thank Hideo Kojima for this.

Our avatars are no longer invulnerable bullet sponges, they are reduced to a basic human level. We are forced to think instead of just wildly shooting at enemies and hoping for the best. The greatest gift of all is that we’re drawn into a narrative and an experience more often now, where in the past quite often the key fun of the game was loading lead into the skull of a “monster”. The changes PT has put into motion have been necessary ones, and while I hesitate to use the L word when talking about games, PT has edged the horror genre further from being basic cheap thrills, and closer to being what one could almost consider legitimate literature.

Look, do yourself a favour: don’t eat dairy right before bed, life is full of mains so don’t fill up on entrees, and if you haven’t yet, check out PT.

Image Credit: https://www.gamewatcher.com/news/2017-13-11-hideo-kojima-s-famous-silent-hills-playable-teaser-p-t-is-being-recreated-by-a-youtuber-and-it-looks-fantastic

Note: This video is Silent Hills Playable Teaser without gamer commentary – essentially, it is more of a “film”. PT is quite frightening and can be quite confronting to viewers. I would advise against watching the film if you are quite sensitive to graphic subject matter, and horror in general.

I WATCH MOVIES: You know what? I’m about to say it – Hereditary (2018) is my new favourite horror film

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I have a lifelong love affair with horror. However, as much as I love it, my relationship with the genre has been plagued with periods of animosity followed by dizzying spells of happiness, and ultimately crushing disappointment.

I still remember my first brush with horror. The first two horror films I ever saw were Anaconda (1997) and Scary Movie 3 (2003), after both of which I had chronic nightmares. I was exhilarated. I have since been informed these films are in fact classified as comedy.

But that’s not the point. The point is, I was hooked.

As an adult, however, I simply don’t scare as easily. A jump scare may tickle me and briefly make me feel optimistic, but I’m mostly immune to scares. I’ve felt like I exist in Ezra Pound’s The Bath-Tub– having to tell horror through water devoid of warmth and full of wrinkled skin, it’s not you, it’s me.

But I was wrong. It wasn’t me – it was them.

I’m not into hysteria when it comes to the quality of pop culture, art, and so on. I simply don’t believe that artistic expression is as watered down as people seem to think it is. I have faith in the creativity of human beings. I roll my eyes at “back in my day” sentiments, knowing full well that this is simply nostalgia at play. Have you ever tried to watch something you genuinely enjoyed as a child again? Usually, what you are faced with is a bland predictable narrative designed to sell you toys, and a second hand embarrassment for your younger self.

When it comes to horror, however, I’ve been put through the ringer enough times over these past few years. A lover burned, I’m no longer open to just any promise of fright that walks through my door. I look down on new releases time and time again, uttering with complete malice, “I know your type.”

But not you, Hereditary. True, I was sceptical, but I was wrong. My standards aren’t too high. I can expect actual scares AND a compelling narrative.

Every piece of Hereditary feels purposeful and curated. The soundtrack works perfectly with the visuals. The film is a tour de force. From the opening scene I was pulled into the narrative world, where my lack of knowledge was perfectly balanced with the amount of information they gave away. Where characters felt like real people, experiencing real horror. The film’s depiction and handling of my favourite literary term – the transgenerational phantom – was satisfying, instead of feeling tacked on and cheap. The film had heart – the characters were all of us, dealing with loss, familial conflict, and demonic possession. I for one can relate.

Hereditary, I believe in horror again because of you. Even now, several weeks after seeing the film, it’s on my mind. I’m still reading about it. I’m still talking about it. I’m in love.

Do yourself a favour: don’t bother with people who don’t text you back, get enough sleep for yourself, and watch this damn film.

Photo Credit:

<https://www.flickr.com/photos/89191738@N00/27564342187/&gt;