Arrested Development: Queer Identity 2019

Recently, I tragically had one of my favourite shows of all time, RuPaul’s Drag Race, ruined for me by one of my closest friends. To add insult to injury, he committed what I understand to be a cardinal sin in the realm of addressing queer representation – he is a straight white man. What a dick.

For those of you playing at home, I picked episode 1 of season 6. We watched, I frothed over all the iconic parts of the episode, I explained the entire history of the show and the subculture references, and he was an amazing audience member. He asked clarifying questions and listened. And then he did it: he told me exactly what the show was about in a way that I cannot unhear.

“I get why you like it,” he told me in his typical sweet innocent cinnamon bun man manner, “and I can see why this might feel empowering but, like, isn’t this still just straight people telling gay people what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to being gay? Aren’t they still trying to say that they have to fit into this box?”

Shattered. Absolutely shattered. Face crack of the century.

Look, I still love the show, obviously. That’s a given.

But what he said plays on my mind, and not just when it comes to Drag Race. I feel like a massive part of my queer experience has been trying to behave in a way that is acceptable according to the standards of the norm. I don’t want to say for straight people exclusively because I don’t think it’s fair when the majority of my amazing friends and family are both incredible and incredibly straight, so let’s use a better word: heteronormative.

Whether or not it is realised, there is a spectrum of “acceptable” to “unacceptable” gay behaviour that has been set that I feel like I have to constantly be assessing and addressing within myself. Being confident is toward the acceptable end of the spectrum; talking about my experiences as a queer person is unacceptable in certain settings in my life. Being an effeminate gay man is acceptable if you’re a television personality; being a gay woman who wears “masculine” clothing is not acceptable typically. It’s something I’m constantly aware of, and that is constantly running in the back of my mind.

In addition to this, there is a lot of emotional labour that goes into making sure you’re the right kind of gay, and that you also take up as little space with your gayness as is humanly possible. Essentially, I feel that for a lot of queer people, Marie Kondo is in charge of how much we’re allowed to take with us to different social settings (IE. Not a great deal).

A friend recently asked me what coming out was like, and my honest answer is that it feels like I’m in the process of going through a second puberty – even now, 2 years after publicly coming out. What I mostly remember about my first puberty was constantly being in my head about where I fit in, who I am as a person, worrying about if people like me or not, and figuring out if I’m worthy or not.

When I think about my current place with coming to terms with my sexuality, I would describe it as constantly being in my head about where I fit in, who I am as a person, worrying about if people like me or not, and figuring out if I’m worthy or not. I’m in a state of identity determination – a process that keeps changing and getting easier. But it’s still a challenge. So much energy still goes into making sure people don’t judge me as one of “those” gays – where my whole identity revolves around being gay. It seems so silly even acknowledge it in writing, but it’s a real fear of mine.

I had a conversation recently with a man who has a daughter who is also gay. The whole time he was telling me how she isn’t “in your face” about being gay and that it “isn’t a big deal”, and the whole time I felt like there was an unspoken element of her being praised for not being like me. I’m vocal about being queer, and I talk about it, and it’s an astronomical part of my life experience.

The thing is, it’s not a big deal to me because my identity begins and ends with being gay. It’s a big part of me because the initial decision to come out feels like deciding whether or not to set yourself on fire. It’s a big part of me because the decision to be an openly gay woman marks a change in who I am – from being very socially anxious to being incredibly personable and open to people.

I draw a lot of strength from the experience, because I never thought I would be able to come out. Because I never thought there would be any part of my identity that I would be able to own. I thought I would spend the rest of my life apologising for taking up space. The decision to own being gay marked the decision to begin owning other parts of me that I’d thought were shameful, like I thought being gay was shameful. If not for coming out, I wouldn’t be able to lean on my friends when I need to, to support people when they need someone, or to appropriately address and process my emotions. These all come as a result of coming out; I didn’t get to be the person I am today without coming out.

It’s impossible to separate my sexuality from my life experience, because they are going to forever be linked. I understand where people are coming from when they say, “I don’t make a big deal out of being straight, you don’t need to make a big deal out of being gay” but let me also offer this suggestion: shut the fuck up.

The comparison of being proud of being straight to being proud of being gay is non-existent; there’s a reason why it’s called heteronormative and not homonormative. I have spent most of my life being sent the message by society that being gay is shameful, not normal, and strange. I have to be proud of it, because it has made me a strong person who is capable of taking it when people don’t accept me. When you’ve been told your whole life that gay people end up alone and isolated, it kind of matters to be open about it and connect with people.

So much of what the queer experience entails revolves around doing what is right according to heteronormative standards. It’s exhausting to have to worry about people getting annoyed at me talking about queer issues and experience. But my straight male friend from earlier said another thing that also sticks with me.

He said to me, “I mean, yeah, if a pink elephant walked into the room you’d probably think, ‘oh fuck, that’s a pink elephant,’ but maybe if we spent less time trying to hide pink elephants it wouldn’t be such a big deal.”

I feel like  that quote was inspired from somewhere else, but I digress.

I’m really lucky. My core group of people – friends and family – are mostly straight, and I think that everyone could learn a few things about caring for your gay friend from them. So here are a few things they do for me that you can do for your gay friend!

 

  1. Listen to them and take their experiences seriously, as they take your experiences seriously and celebrate them with you. Keep being a good friend to them.
  2. That’s it.
  3. That’s literally all.
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Gillette: A Close Shave with Genuine Sentiment

Do you see what I did there?

In the unlikely event that you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve just escaped some sort of religious cult and this website was your first stop, or this is your only source of news for pop culture (if so, may I ask, why?), 2019 has come out swinging with Gillette releasing a short film entitled,We Believe: The Best Men Can Be. Before reading this article, you may wish to peruse their wares below:

 

 

As is to be expected in the current climate, an all-out internet civil war has been sparked as a result of the advert being released. I’m at the point where whenever anything to do with gender comes up in a mainstream internet setting, I try to make myself as small as possible and pray for it to be over soon. Not because I don’t care about gender politics, but because I know exactly what it eventually devolves to over the internet. If you are not sure what it might look or sound like, please refer to the video of two foxes screaming at each other previously featured in my article about outrage culture.

We’ve got all the sides coming in to say their two to five cents on the topic of Gillette’s video. I think it’s their god given right to do so, just as it is my god given right to lurk and continue to gain intel on my endless quest to understand human emotions and behaviour. I find you all fascinating.

In one corner, we’ve got men who feel their masculinity is being threatened by an advert for a $10 razor. In another, we have misandrists who continue to call for the blanket punishment of men everywhere, despite the fact that they don’t realise it’s counterproductive for their cause. They’re pro $10 razor, from what I can understand. We’ve got other people saying, “hey maybe we need to just be more committed to all being better people.” Then we have that one corner of people saying, “You’re not my real dad and you never will be.”

I’m not here to talk about gender politics for once in my entire life, nor am I here to defend either side of an argument about a shaving implement when everyone knows that this isn’t Communist Era Russia and you are free to simply buy a different brand. Seriously, Gillette does not have the monopoly on razors and you have plenty of independent companies you can choose from if you don’t believe in corporations. I know Proctor & Gamble is massive, but there are so many other alternatives if you are bothered by it – which you have the right to be. I’m for it. Do what you need to do to maintain your integrity.

The corner that I’m coming from today is the corner with a bit more of a complicated title. This corner is titled: corporations do not care for us and we need to stop allowing them to make us upset and impact upon our wellbeing, though we can still enjoy their products should we choose to without feeling like we’re siding with Darth Vader.

Whenever I have romantic thoughts about corporations, and I do often, I’m reminded of a time before my own, where cigarettes were marketed to men, women, and children alike as healthy. I think about all those scenes from Mad Men, which I use for fodder in imagining my life as a film but set in the 1960s, where the everyone smoked like chimneys, even in the doctors office. It was in the best interest of corporations to keep selling the message that cigarettes were healthy for you. And do you know why?

The answer has four words, features in a famous song from the 90s, and it makes the world of businesses go round. That’s right: dollar dollar bills ya’ll.

Call me jaded or incendiary, but from the first frame of this short film I knew that Proctor & Gamble were trying to get my hard earned money at the expense of my values and beliefs. They were trying to nickel and dime me using the well-known advertising technique of pathos. They made me feel emotions at the expense of my integrity. How dare they! How dare I buy a Gillette Mach 3 Turbo four months ago because it’s a closer shave and my European heritage refuses to let me have soft feminine leg hair and now it’s my feminine shame! I’m going to burn my tube of Oral B while I write this!

This is not the first time we’ve seen this happen, with a recent example of this being the Kendall Jenner Pepsi commercial. Pepsi Co had, unfortunately for them, far more transparency in their advert. The ham-fisted representations of fired up youth who can’t get their protest on without that sugary sweetness flowing through their veins was an exercise in hitting me over the head with, “buy my soda you damn millennial!” and then dragging my corpse back through it.

Clearly Proctor & Gamble learned from this, because here we are, getting angry over a $10 razor. For what it’s worth, I think this is actually a really well put together advertisement. One of my guilty pleasures is that I actually love analysing adverts and derive a lot of joy from figuring out what they’re trying to sell to me, besides the product itself. Sometimes KFC tries to sell me happiness, sometimes it’s just fried chicken. Either way, I’m enjoying the show.

I think the key to P&Gs success also stems from the fact they haven’t made the face of their campaign someone who earns more than most of their customer base will earn in a life time. Sure, they used the footage of the incredible Terry Crews speaking on issues of abuse and toxic masculinity, but it was used tastefully in my opinion. That’s right: I like the way they made this advert. Sue me.

And it’s obviously working, because all anyone seems to want to talk about on the internet is either Gillette or the returning queens for Rupaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4.

I want to impress this upon you: whether you want to boycott Gillette because you think they’re misandrists, or you’re standing with Gillette because you feel like they’re putting women first, or you’re having any sort of reaction at all that will impact upon whether or not you buy this product, I want you to keep in mind what I’ve talked about in this article. It is a corporation’s sole duty to make money. If someone is trying to sell you a product, they will do anything they can to get you to spend your hard-earned cash. No matter what, they want to close the deal. They only care that you buy, and they don’t care how they get you to do it.

My favourite example of how far someone will go to sell you something comes from the Tyra Banks Show. When I first heard about this clip, I assumed that it was a parody, or it was fake, or it was some Mad TV shenanigans, because it sounded so ridiculous to me. But anyway, here’s a video of Tyra Banks giving her viewers Vaseline tubs and everyone freaking out like they’ve been given the elixir of eternal life.

 

 

Yep.

And you know what? That’s the reaction that is desired by marketing campaigns. They want you to buy their products. They want you to be invested in their product and to ensure brand loyalty. They want you to buy into the idea that your quality of life will be better for buying this product. To afford a corporation any sort of moral direction is somewhat laughable. Whatever will sell, they will use.

Believe it or not, this article isn’t put together so that I can tell you whether you should or should not buy Proctor & Gamble’s products. It’s not my job to tell you anything you should buy, unless I think it’s worth endorsing. I think people should have the right to choose what they want to buy and to make informed decisions. That’s the benefit of living in our capitalist society. I don’t have time in this article to consider whether I’m pro, anti, or post consumerist culture and capitalist: I just want a razor that works, and I just want milk that tastes like real milk.

What I’m trying to impress upon you more than anything is to continue to be an informed consumer, and to not allow the efforts of a multi-million dollar corporation to sell a $10 razor to cloud your judgement on issues or products. So often we get caught up in what’s going on in the internet world and don’t really pay attention to what’s going on in the real world. For every caricature in advertising of a dangerous man or a vapid woman, I can guarantee that there are tenfold more wonderful people who in every day  life are a testimony to how good people can be.

That’s right, I believe people are good and have the capacity for great things under this jaded façade. You want to come for me for that?

 

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Anyway, thanks always for reading. Love your work. Remi.

1/52 books of 2019: Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

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Image credit to: Paste Magazine

Please note: this review may contain spoilers for the novel in question.

When I think about what drew me into reading in the first place, a large part of it was being able to be transported to another place and time. To plunge headfirst into a life that I had never and would never otherwise know was something that I kept coming back for. As an adult I rarely have the same experience with a book as I did when I was a child. In some ways I feel like I’ve traded imagination and whole-hearted focus for all the other things I need to be on top of.

Typically, when I’m deciding on a book to read, I either go by recommendation from someone, whether or not I’m familiar with the author, and whether or not the blurb or first few pages grab me. I don’t like to let the popularity of a book influence me when it comes to selecting something, because I feel like that makes it easier to miss what might be a great gem of a novel. I remember years ago reading an article about Die Antwoord in which Ninja (the male counterpart of the duo) was talking about how he didn’t really listen to other rap because he didn’t want to be influenced by it to create something that wasn’t authentically them. Depending on whether or not you consider their music audible, your reaction to this statement may vary. However, my point is, I try to go into selecting books with that same anonymity so as to avoid homogenising the types of things I’m reading.

When picking up Warlight from my local library (and please support your local libraries), I was drawn at first to the fact that this was by the author of The English Patient. This might be me admitting to a cardinal sin of literature, but my only familiarity with The English Patient is the fact that it was the butt of a joke in Seinfeld. Nevertheless, I knew that this would at least probably be a trustworthy novel to read, and one that I would probably get enjoyment out of. While I may not want to make decisions based on popularity, I do like making decisions based on the probability of my enjoyment.

Right off the bat, the narration style of the novel drew me in. I love retrospective story-telling, probably most recognisable from Harper’s To Kill a Mockingbird. As someone who has a preoccupation with the transgenerational phantom and the narrative style of reflecting on youth, I was already going to be sold based on that alone.

But there’s so much more to this novel. To put it lightly, this novel charmed me. To go into it more, I believe that I fell head over heels for it. I read through it ferociously, feeling as though I was enveloped in the world that Ondaatje had created. Even as I read, knowing that it would have to come to an end, this seemed to me to be an impossibility. I didn’t want it to end; I wanted to live in this world forever.

When I finished the novel, I felt as though that little world I had only just become privy to had died, and I mourned that.

Interpret this as you will, but I found myself identifying with the young male protagonist, Nathaniel, quite a bit when it came to navigating a place between childhood and adulthood. I understood the anonymity he felt for his family, the fact that he enjoyed having his own secret life away from his real life, and the heartaches he encountered in the novel. Much like when I was reading The Catcher in the Rye by Salinger, I found so much of my own youthful experiences in Nathaniel – and so much of myself.

Beyond Nathaniel, the narrative’s treatment of the transgenerational phantom was superb. When examining trauma and negative experiences of childhood, very rarely does resolution of these experiences come in a linear fashion. It is ongoing typically, and experienced in layers; a wound that just about heals without ever really going away. In reading Warlight, we see a character who defines himself as without family. However, it is in this definition that we see that Nathaniel’s identity cannot exist without family. Even in the absence of his parents and the estrangement from his sister, he is defined by his feelings of isolation and separation. Even in his discovery of a pseudo family unit, it is defined by the fact that it is not a real family. Nathaniel is an orphan with a family at the ready, who is unable to repair what was damaged in World War II era Great Britain. We see how these experiences shape a person, for better or worse.

As my first novel for the 52 books challenge, this was such a lucky find. Much like when I read novels such as The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald or Revival by Stephen King, I would love the opportunity to read this book for the first time again – to feel it all over again. It stays with me, even weeks later, and I find myself thinking fondly on Ondaatje’s little world.

I definitely recommend giving this book a red hot crack.

Bleeding Hearts of the World Unite: Outrage Culture in the 21st Century

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

We live in the age where everyone is a public figure, no matter how small their reach. Everyone gets to say their two cents on any topic they can think of. I think Banksy said it best:

In the future, everyone will be anonymous for 15 minutes.

One of the topics I’m most fascinated by is that of “outrage culture”. Much like Nick Carraway looking over Manhattan, I am simultaneously entranced and revolted by outrage culture. I can’t look away, and yet I continue to have a foul taste in my mouth.

I’m defining “outrage culture” as being specific to the internet, characterised by a readiness to “cancel” people, engage in witch hunts, and dogged character assassination. A cursory Wikipedia search returns this as a definition of outrage culture: “Call-out culture (also known as outrage culture) is a term for the social phenomenon of publicly denouncing perceived racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of bigotry.”

Typically what results from outrage culture is the following:

 

Anyway, you get the point.

Right off the top I need to stipulate that I’m all for addressing problematic behaviours people exhibit. It’s important to set boundaries, and to re-educate people who might have outdated ideas about things such as race, gender, homophobia, transphobia, and so on. This will always be important to me. I would hazard a guess that it’s important to most people.

I also need to stipulate that this is not an article intended to defend anyone’s actions. It is especially not an article intended to defend people who have been pulled up on damaging behaviours and statements, who continue to demonstrate bigotry because they think it makes them funny or edgy, or because they prefer to be ignorant because it makes them feel safe.

The issue from outrage culture doesn’t arise from the correction of behaviour, or from defending the rights of minority groups to live safely and with the respect experienced by the majority. The issue arises from a culture that determines someone is “cancelled” and lambasted long after they have attempted to rectify their actions.

I see a lot of outrage culture being directed at young content creators, especially young men. One of the most controversial figures subject to this is Felix Kjellberg (better known as Pewdiepie). I know, when will the straight, white man catch a break?

Again, I feel the need to reiterate that I’m not defending anyone. It isn’t my role or responsibility to decide whether or not we should be outraged by Kjellberg’s past mistakes – and boy howdy, they were extensive and career damaging. I don’t hold the key to “forgiving” Kjellberg on a larger level, but for what it’s worth, I do think his experience with the media provides us with an interesting case study.

I also want to acknowledge that at the time of writing this article, Kjellberg has apologised for the unacceptable behaviours he has engaged in, acknowledged the issues with them, and has worked to correct his behaviour while remaining aware of the impact of his actions. In my opinion, this is all someone can do when it comes to saying or doing the wrong thing.

As a recent example of the outrage culture directed at Kjellberg, a Twitch streamer implied that the lyrics of Kjellberg’s parody diss track, “Bitch Lasagna” (what a name), have racist undertones. The lyric is as follows:

I’m a blue eyes white dragon, while you’re just dark magician.”

Now, for those of you who aren’t as well versed in Yu-Gi-Oh as I am, blue eyes white dragon is a very desirable card to have, while dark magician is a relatively common card that isn’t as powerful. It was essentially the deus ex machina of the series. And yes, I was a very cool person in primary school.

While I understand that “blue eyes white dragon” may be misconstrued to be linked to Aryan features, I think you have to perform some pretty extensive mental gymnastics to interpret this as Kjellberg intentionally using a children’s card game to put forward some sort of racist message. When I look at the title of the track itself, I’m not really given to taking this song to be one with particularly deep messages.

To me, the streamer’s interpretation is a clear example of how no matter what Kjellberg does from this point on, his past mistakes will always be dragged back up from the mire and held against him. Where he used to be known for frankly cringy gaming videos with relatively unfunny jokes, people will now seemingly forever associate Kjellberg with “edgy” alt-right ideology as a result of the character assassination occurring after his remarks. Regardless of if there is any concrete evidence to prove that Kjellberg subscribes to alt-right beliefs, that is now who he is to the larger general public. Furthermore, it is easy to assume that if not for the controversies, this rap would have been taken for what it is: a pretty idiotic lark making fun of the 2018-present subscriber war on YouTube.

It isn’t my job to decide whether or not Kjellberg is deserving of the continuous public criticism he faces and the microscope he is under, especially given the severity of some of his more “edgy” internet stunts. But it does work to demonstrate my point about the extent to which outrage culture can affect a person’s career and character.

In outrage culture, no matter how much you correct your behaviour or attempt to make reparations for your ignorance, you are always going to be twisted and misconstrued to reinforce that you are still the person you were when you made the mistake in the first place. There are no second chances on the internet. They think, therefore you are.

On a long enough timeline, we are all bound to say something stupid or ignorant. We’re human, and sometimes we simply don’t know better until someone teaches us. In real life, outside of the internet, most often when the behaviours of people around us are corrected the issue is dropped. We tend to look down on people who call out others for things that are no longer relevant. So why is it that on the internet, everything is fair game?

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Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com

 

What I would argue is that part of it is a desire for people to appear to be on the bandwagon – to be “woke” and “progressive” –  as opposed to a genuine outrage or taking of offense. Sometimes I see a tendency to wait to be told whether or not to be offended by something. What really gets my goat about this is the fact that the very same people who engage in constant public humiliation of people who are trying to fix their mistakes are the same people who preach “only good vibes”; you cannot have both.

For as long  as we keep internet outrage culture alive, we’re going to foster a society where people won’t speak their minds authentically because of fear of being lynched by public majority opinion, and when you do that you eradicate intelligent discussion. We’re going to homogenise culture until we all think, feel, and act the same way out of fear of being completely annihilated.

What it really comes down to is this: yes, address problematic behaviours and opinions. Yes, challenge people’s beliefs and identify gaps in knowledge. But you have to allow people the chance to demonstrate that they’ve changed and that they’ve learned. If you ask me, the cost of someone’s character isn’t really worth the internet points you might gain.

I WRITE THINGS: On using “The Snowflake Method”: moving from stabbing in the dark to stabbing in a pleasantly lit room

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Photo by OVAN on Pexels.com

I am not an effective planner. That’s not to say I don’t plan things – this is an essential part of being a teacher. It’s that key word “effective” that most often trips me up.

However, as an analytical person who is solutions based (use this information as you will), I am particularly adept at finding things I’m not good at and figuring out how to fix it. Again, the application of this skill is often also not very effective.

In the past two months I wrote two first drafts of two different novels. These were both roughly 30 pages long, with about 15 pages devoted to a really compelling and engaging exposition to the novel, and then the remaining pages being akin to the story telling skills of a five year old telling you about a birthday party they went to. The “and then” story telling structure is strong with this one.

With both of these first drafts, I have done what some would call “diddly squat”. I didn’t plan for either of them – I wrote them by the seat of my pants. This has been my method for most of my writing career. I get an idea and I just sort of go for it without stopping. What I end up with is great little bits of writing amongst an otherwise on fire manuscript where the fire extinguisher is also on fire.

Herein lies my problem: at the end of writing something, I’m usually staring down the barrel of something that’s gotten way out of my control and I don’t know how to get it back under control. That sentiment in itself is one I have trouble wrapping my head around. Every time I’ve written something, there comes a tipping point where it feels as though I’ve relinquished control of the narrative and I don’t know how to reign it back in. Here I am, the God of the universe I have created, with no idea how to actually write a compelling plot.

Herein lies another problem: my longer pieces of writing tend to not really have a plot. Or at least, their plot isn’t strong enough to carry the whole novel. I would liken this to playing an RPG game the likes of Fallout or Skyrim: after five hours of game play, I’ve suddenly remembered there’s actually a story buried in there, somewhere.

In the past when I have encountered a problem, I have chosen the Quit and Accept Futility Method, which is 100% ineffective and does nothing to serve me.

Recently, I have been trying a new method, called the Find Help From an Outside Source and Accept That You Are Not Perfect. As a result, I’ve found out about another method, the Snowflake Method. I’m not going to explain it to you because I assume you can read, but I’ve found this planning method to be invaluable to me in my current writing endeavours, and also to stop me from my aforementioned use of QAFM.

It’s forced me to stop and really think about what’s going to happen next in my stories instead of just panicking and hitting the “fuck it” button. Usually, my writing technique is to go with whatever idea pops into my head first and assume that it’s the right one. Have human sized crabs featured in the story up to this point? No, but okay brain, let’s do it!

There’s a lot to be said about the value of writing for the sake of writing and just enjoying the discovery process, and that certainly has it’s place, but I’ve come to realise that the issues I ran into when I first started writing haven’t changed, and that’s because I didn’t plan then and I certainly wasn’t planning when I first picked it back up a few months ago.

There are only so many times one can hit their head against the wall, and I suppose I reached my limit.

So, in adopting the Snowflake Method, have I got a best seller novel on my hands? Probably not. Have I found the hack, the “easy” way to write a novel? Also, probably not. I think what I have got though is a greater understanding of how to construct a novel. I’m being forced to stop and think about my characters more. I’m forced to have to think about, what’s actually going on in this story?

Stephen King once famously said that writing ideas down is a good way to immortalise bad ideas, and maybe he’s right. But an even better way to immortalise bad ideas, I have found, is to write without thinking and excuse it as getting into a “creative” flow.

Change is difficult. It is not easy to change something about yourself. It is not easy to change my mindset that I just can’t write novels, that I have no good ideas, and that what I’m doing is not worth my time. These are all difficult things. But the difference between people that do and do not is just that: it’s up to whether I chose to write or not to write. There isn’t really an in between.

Anyway, I have a head cold so I hope some of this is lucid and understandable.

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

Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com

 

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.