Random Thoughts

The Liebster Award

I’ve been nominated for the Liebster Award by the lovely Jessica at Mind Of A Mermaid. The award is to recognize and welcome new bloggers, as well as encourage them to meet other bloggers.

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The Rules

1. Thank the person who nominated you and post a link to their blog on your blog.
2. Display the award on your blog
3. Answer 11 questions about yourself, which will be provided to you by the person who nominated you.
4. Provide 11 random facts about yourself.
5. Nominate 5 – 11 blogs that you feel deserve the award, who have a less than 1000 followers.
6. Create a new list of questions for the blogger to answer.
7. List these rules in your post
8. Inform the blogs that you nominated that they have been nominated for the Liebster Award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it

I was never actually huge on those Myspace and Facebook surveys of Middle School. But, alas, a blogging moment tis a blogging moment and I will see it through.

Questions from Jessica

1. If you could choose a character from a book to be your best friend, who would it be and why?

I’m torn. Between Jacob from North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley and Fermin Romero de Torres from The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I agree so fervently with both of their outlooks on life. They’re both the personification of the funny-yet-oddly-wise character and I’m very much about that life. Some quotes:

“Destiny is usually just around the corner. Like a thief, a hooker, or a lottery vendor: its three most common personifications. But what destiny does not do is home visits. You have to go for it.” – Fermin

“So I figured if people were going to stare at me anyway, then I would choose the term of their staring. I can dictate what they see.” – Jacob

And a special shout out to Manchee the dog from The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness for one of the best opening scenes I’ve experienced in a novel.

“Need a poo, Todd.” – Manchee

2. What is your favorite breakfast food?

Grits. With butter, pepper, sausage, and egg mixed it. The sausage is required. And I always finish off the meal with some raspberry iced tea  because that’s how I do.

3. What’s your favorite cheesy romantic comedy?

Define “cheesy”. My favorite romantic comedies are probably Love Actually and About Time. They were made by the same people, and they’re both wonderful. The second one’s a romcom about time travel. So. I dig that.   

4. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

In apartment in New York. If we’re meant to be specific here, on June 29th, 2024, I’ll probably be sitting on the couch in my apartment yelling at my computer because I still haven’t finished my manuscript. It certainly isn’t my computer’s fault, but I image I’ll be living alone and I doubt my neighbors will appreciate my knocking on their door to yell at them because I still haven’t finished my manuscript.

5. Favorite smell?

See, what’s weird is I was recently just asked this question. My answer was one of those iffy on the fly things you’re mad you said because you think of ten better things to say later. The answer I received was fabulous, but I don’t think I could quite capture it’s glory from memory.

My favorite smell is actually what happens when I’m in a big book store surrounded by books, but I also have two day old movie theater popcorn and a bottle of raspberry iced tea with me. And my blanket. And my Pooh. And the bookstore is actually in my house so someone is in the kitchen making meat loaf and mashed potatoes. Oh yes.

6. What do you do when you need to relax? Creative outlets?

When I need to relax, I will either a.) Curl up alone and watch a really great movie, b.) Curl up alone and mindlessly scroll through the internet, or c.) Curl up alone and listen to the Shostakovich 8 on repeat. There are a few other things I suppose I could do, but I think I’ve expressed that it universally involves curling up alone and doing absolutely nothing. As for creative outlets, I love to write. I wrote a book once, but it’s terrible. I’ve started and never explored six different screen plays. I have thousands of pages of lore, ideas, and random scenes that will never make it into any of my stories. This actually kind of stresses me out, which then causes me to write more. I also play instruments. Piano and viola are my favorites, I thinks. And I draw. And sing. And dance. Just not all at once.

7. What would your super power be?

I have sat for hours considering this. I’ve always thought that I would need to consider the power I’d really like, and the power I’d actually have. I’d really like to fly. But, I’d actually be able to get into people’s heads and do whatever I want. Some would consider this an improvement. But I’m probably certifiable, so I’d definitely be a danger to myself and everyone around me. And I wouldn’t be a super hero. At least, not on purpose. I’d honestly just use it to mess with people.

8. What is your definition of love. 

Romantic Love is a a chemical reaction within the brain that makes you temporarily incapable of logical reasoning.

I haven’t felt that kind, but I’ve have maternal love and sibling love and friendship love. And all that is basically the thing that people need to have to keep from killing each other. It’s kind of beautiful.

9. What song do you listen to to pump yourself up?

Well, I am quite fond of the Shostakovich 8. But that’s to find my zen. If I need to get something done, I listen to The Killers. Specifically, the album Day and Age on repeat. Some honorable mentions include A Beautiful Lie by 30 Seconds to Mars, Riot by Three Days Grace, and Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen.

10. What would you do different if you lived without the fear of being judged?  

And people think I’m blunt now.

Really, though, I don’t really fear being judged. I fear being alone forever. There is a distinct difference, you see.

11. What was the last thing that made you laugh?

I recently realized that my sister’s life is like an infomercial. I will never stop laughing.

11 Random Facts

And, because this blog post still isn’t long enough, I have to give you eleven random facts about myself that otherwise are not likely to appear on this blog.

1. I have stacks of notebooks hidden away in my house filled with insane ramblings going back to the sixth grade.

2. I will not tolerate watermelon. Or any type of melon for that matter.

3. That being said, honeydew is my absolute favorite smell.

4. I hate flowers. I don’t know why, but looking at them kind of makes me angry.

5. Bake me snickerdoodles, bring me some caramel and milk chocolate lindor truffles, let me talk at you for an undefined period of time without interrupting, and I’ll probably do whatever you want.

6. When I can’t write, I lose all functionality in life. I’ve missed a month of school because I had writer’s block.

7. I do not, nor will I ever, understand flirting.

8. I often argue for a side I disagree with just for the sake of arguing. I really like arguing. Debating. Whatever.

9. You probably have noticed, but I have a truly unhealthy obsession with the video game world of Dragon Age. I know a lot of random lore just off the top of my head. The reason for this is because I can obsess better than anyone I know. The reason for this is because I have a disorder. Several, in fact. I like to think I’m quirky.

10. Gender and sexuality are weird. I don’t believe everyone has a binary. Binary is weird.

11. I went to China once and met a two year old named Christopher. He got adopted, so his name is Nate now. I still miss him, and thinking about him makes me extensively slightly depressed.

My Nominations and Questions

Spilled Ink
my mind reels through film
Tunnel Songs
Write and Day
The Owl

It did occur to me that I don’t actually follow many new bloggers, and I began to fully understand the point of this award. See how that works?

Now, your task, should you choose to accept it, is to answer the questions I am about to list out for you, and then proceed to do all of the other said listed in the rules above. Yeah? Yeah. The questions are as follows:

1. If you could choose any three fictional character to simultaneously hang out with, who would you choose and why?

2. If you could teleport, where if the first place you would go?

3. If you could go through time to witness any event in history, what would it be?

4. What is your favorite blog post you’ve ever written?

5. What if your favorite blog post someone else has written?

6. What is your favorite website other than wordpress?

7. What is your quest?

8. What is your favorite color?

9. What’s in the box?

10. Is there is a single movie, television, gaming, book (etc.) reference you make constantly?

11. Why do you blog?

Have a lovely day. And feel free to answer any of these questions in the comments below.

 

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How We Can Do Better than the Bechdel Test

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Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about the Bechdel Test and the terrible, horrible, misogynistic films that do not pass it. You know, those sexist meat-fests like The Lego Movie and Gravity. And most other films out there.

The Bechdel Test ignores the complexities within film, or whichever media it is being applied. If we apply it to something like Gravity, we ignore that the central character is a woman. There is no ‘honorary pass’ – you pass or you fail. And Gravity, despite its importance to women in science fiction, fails.

So we very well could call this test bunk. However, that would be ignoring the actual point of the test. There are three things I’m going to discuss in the following post:

1) The Bechdel Test is not about passing or failing.

2) It ignores too many aspects of a film to be a real criterion for the worth of a film.

3) A proposition for a ‘better’ system.

The Bechdel Test

The actual test consists of three criteria. It’s been the general idea that if the film does not pass the test, it’s sexist. If it does, more time than not, it is a decent representation of women. This test is as follows:

1) The film must include at least two female characters

2) who talk to each other

3) about something other than a man.

It’s a simple test, so it may come as a surprise that so many films fail it so completely. An important distinction to be made here is the test means what it says – the women cannot be talking about any sort of relationship or thoughts about any male characters. This includes boyfriends, fathers, brothers, cousins, and even friends who happen to be male. The point is to show women existing entirely without the thought of men, even allowing for stereotypically female conversations to occur (i.e. tampons, shoes, etc.). So what does it mean when we have something like Gravity failing the test, and something like Sex and the City passing?

Sandra Bullock in Gravity

Sandra Bullock in Gravity

Well, it certainly means something. But it’s not a simple meaning. It speaks to the roles women play within a film reflecting the role women are perceived to play in society. All this does is point out a couple of the flaws of the test, while leaving space for a discussion of the actual point of the pass/fail rating.

It is meant to create a dialogue. It is not meant to tell you anything about a film so much as bring up a dialogue about society. We don’t need to say “This is bad” to a film that fails because it isn’t always a bad thing in the same way that we don’t need to say “This is good” to a film that passes because it really isn’t always a good thing. We need to ask “Why is this?” and move from there.

When we see films ‘objectifying women’ like The Wolf of Wall Street, a film that very clearly fails the test, the problem here is not the writers so much as it is a true story. It is something that actually happened. So, we have to step back and think “Why is this?” and “What can we do to fix it?” if we find it in a situation that needs fixing.

Thick and Thin Description

‘Thick description’ is a term made popular by anthropologist Clifford Geertz in his book The Interpretation of Cultures. Thick description is, very basically, viewing something within context. The simplest way to describe this way of viewing something is through an example.

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Wyldstyle in The Lego Movie

Let’s talk about The Lego Movie. This film technically fails the Bechdel Test. The following conclusion, ignoring the actual point of the test, would be to call the movie sexist. We start with an observation: the film includes two major female characters, but they never have a meaningful conversation with each other. Now, we must ask ourselves why that is in the context of the story. Did they hate each other? Did they even know each other? Were they friends at all? In the context of the story, Wyldstyle and Unikitty were not friends. In fact, Wyldstyle found Unikitty’s general disposition annoying. So the next question: does it actually mean anything that they weren’t talking to each other? Does it make sense that these characters weren’t spending a good amount of time talking to each other? When we say, no it doesn’t mean anything and yes it makes sense, we have to go deeper still. Why would we need them to speak to one another? The assumption here is that we consider it more important for a woman to talk to another woman about something other than a man than it is for a woman to talk to a man about something other than a man. Why is this distinction important? What does it tell us about the story and the society in which the story was written that women are not talking about men, but we’d prefer it if they weren’t talking about men with other women? Take one more look at the observation: The film includes two major female characters, but they never have a meaningful conversation with each other. Let me rephrase the final question: Why must a woman have a meaningful conversation with another woman for it to count? Why is it less important for a woman to have a meaningful conversation with a man, even when there were other prominent female characters? Why does it matter?

There is a lot more that goes into this than is implied by the questions of the Bechdel Test. I certainly have an answer to that question, but I can’t rightfully put it forth without having to then pose three more questions about the implications and meanings behind my answer. And so on and so forth.

A Different System

Melissa Silverstein, founder and editor of the online publication Women and Hollywood had this to say: “The Bechdel Test is a starting point and not a finishing point. I don’t believe that two women talking to each other [about subjects] other than a man should be the bar we’re setting for our films. I want strong female characters.”

In my mind, this is what we should be attempting to measure. The Bechdel test has a purpose, but there are many more things we should be looking at before we judge the portrayal of women in film. With this in mind, I’d like to propose a different kind of system we may apply to get this across. I am going to draw inspiration from a test used to measure the strength of LGBT characters within media: The Russo Test. This system is also imagined to be put in application across media, include film, television, video games, and literature alike.

Part 1

1) There is a major female character

2) She is tied in the plot in such a way that her removal would have a significant effect on the film

3) She is expressed independently

By ‘independently’ I mean she exists without relying on another character to affirm her existence. The gender of this character does not matter. She is capable of standing alone, and this is made clear in the film. Some examples of a female characters that would pass Part 1 of this system are: Isabella and Aveline from Dragon Age 2, Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars, and Olivia Pope from Scandal.

Part 2

1) The female character is the leader of a major faction or organization

2) OR she is in high command of a faction

3) AND she continues to express leadership and earn reverence

4) AND she gains reverence despite or independently of the actual leader of the faction

Part 1 and Part 2 can exist independent of one another. Not every character is written to be a leader, so it would be ridiculous to apply this part of the test to every female character. However, if you look at the first part, both Aveline and Olivia Pope pass both parts of the test.

Part 3

1) The female character expresses her sexuality despite the will of another character

2) She enjoys expressing her femininity despite the will of society

3) She enjoys wants to be a mother, enjoys cooking, or enjoys any other stereotypically female trait for reasons other than ‘she’s a girl’

4) AND she is defined by more than this trait

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Kerry Washington as Scandal’s Olivia Pope

This part of the test is more about women not being afraid to dive into a stereotype. They do these things not because society demands it, but because they legitimately enjoy doing it. The character does not have to have each trait listed here, and will be considered a pass if she has just one trait in addition to the fourth trait. Isabella from Dragon Age passes Part 1 and Part 3 because she is a hugely independent character that really likes sex, but has thoughts and motivation that go beyond this. Olivia Pope passes in all three parts. This does not make her an inherently stronger character, and we could take three thousands more words finding all the questions we need to expand our description of the importance of these questions to a female character.

I could list out a hundred more questions to fit into this system, a hundred more questions to help us define the way in which we want to look at female characters. But, when it comes down to it, I believe in one extremely important factor that can determine whether an idea can fit within this system.

We don’t need to compare a female character to a male character to determine her worth. Because, the truth of the matter is, the strongest character of any gender is a character that is heavily layered with different thoughts and motivations. Character A should have different thoughts and motivations than Character B. The strength of a character, at this point, should be viewed almost independently of gender. A female character is not weak because a male character is strong. A female character is not strong because she is seen as stronger than her male counterpart. And vice versa.

The Bechdel Test certainly has a purpose, a time, and a place. But it should not be our goal, and the fact that we treat it with this sort of black and white disdain vs. reverence speaks volumes about our society. What exactly it’s saying, I’m not sure I can say. But I do know there is a lot more that we could be talking about, a lot more we should be talking about.

It can begin in the Bechdel Test, but that is definitely not where it needs to end. If we end it there, we’ve cheated ourselves out of the examination of truly strong characters, and we’ve cheated ourselves out of some amazing society-examining conversations. We can do better.

The Seattle Sound (2014)

The Seattle Sound is a documentary aimed at revealing a closer look into the lives of some of the street musicians and buskers of the Seattle Area, specifically Pike Place Market.

This is a wonderfully made documentary by two students, Ryan Lee and Heather Accord. The film focuses on musicians Piper Foulon, Gary Reid, and Emery Carl.

I find this very interesting. Not because I’ve never given this much thought – I usually stop to listen and I always give them spare cash if I have any. I find this interesting because I have never seen these people play before. It seems I’m always at Pike Place at the exact moment they aren’t playing. My sister actually went to school with Piper, and her family has a doughnut booth at the farmers market during the spring and summer. I find this interesting because this is my city and I really feel like I’ve missed something.

My main experience with buskers is what I affectionately refer to as the Piano Man. The Piano Man pulls a mini piano out to Pike Place and plays like a master. I remember once I sat for almost the full hour and listened to him play. I gave him some money, but I didn’t actually talk to him because I’m like that.

Anyway, take a look at this documentary. It’s well made, interesting, filled with great music, and it’s so, so, Seattle. Tell me what you think!

Uniqueness

I despise the idea of uniqueness.

Not the word, or the definition, but the idea. To be unique, according the the dictionary, is to be utterly one of a kind, unlike anything else. The idea, then, is that to be unique is something to strive for. To make yourself completely different from everyone else so you stand out. And I think that’s an awfully lonely way to get by.

Look at The Doctor, in Doctor Who. He’s spent the last couple hundred years of his life sure that he’s the last of his kind (and, you now, it’s his fault). But still. He’s sad, hes lonely, he commits genocide a couple of times and generally leads a destructive lifestyle. And nobody understands. He can’t talk to anyone like they’ve seen it or like they really know what he’s went through. While many people understand the feeling of nobody understanding (as illustrated between Amy and 11) and many people understand pain, they still can’t get it. Not really.

But J.R., you say. When people want to be unique, they don’t want to be completely  different. It’s just the one thing that sets them apart. An idea that no one has had, a way of expression that no one has thought of before.

My response is this: A unique idea does not make a person unique.

You still think and feel like at least a handful of other people on this planet. Even if you’re sure you don’t, the universe is vast and wonderful and I’m sure you’ll find something. Like The Doctor, so fed up with his own people he found a new home with the humans.

You can perceive uniqueness, though, and that’s fine. Someone can be unlike anyone you’ve ever met. One of a kind in your mind. Especially if you love them. But that makes them just a bit like you, if you love them.

I have always been very lonely, being that I am not quite like other people I know, that y brain works just a it differently. If everyone else it on frequency 3, I’m on frequency 3.14. I know a lot of people inhabit frequency 3.14, and I can hear them, but I’ve never met them. And it’s lonely. So I can’t understand why anyone would want their own frequency just to themselves. Who would you talk to? Yourself? I unsure the allure, but a one sided conversation can only go so far.

The other day, I was asked, “How unique do you think you are?”

I was confused by the question and could think think to say “I don’t think I’m unique.”

Everyone is different, and that’s great. But everyone is also the same. We’re made from star stuff. And none of us really want to be completely unique. We want to connect. Even Moriarty has Sherlock.

This has sort of led into a new idea all by itself: That uniqueness doesn’t actually really exist. I’m not quite sure how I can articulate this beyond that statement, but there you go. A thought for the day.

Society is a Fictional Monster

The other day, I was scrolling through iwastesomuchtime as I do, indeed, waste so much time, when I stumbled upon a picture. I had seen this picture several times before, but I typically ignored it and continued on with my day. This time, however, I was in a particularly thoughtful mood so I saved it to my computer and thought I would revisit it. This is the picture in question:

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Well, I guess it’s more of meme. Whatever. It’s not that it was really weird. I mean, people complain about this crap all the time. It’s that it really says a lot about what’s going on in society.

Way back when, people used to be scared by and comforted with the lie that all the monsters, all the bad guys in the world are easy to spot. They are as ugly and frightening on the outside as they are on the inside. This is the way people have thought since the dark ages and an idea repeated frequently in pop culture today (primarily in children’s movies). Form a young age, we are taught that the monsters are out there, but we are also taught that they don’t look like everyone else. And that’s a sort of comfort. Imagine how frightening it would be for a child to look out into the world and know that anybody they see, any random normal Joe on the street, could be the sort of villain they see in the movies.

It’s worth noting, of course, that the pictures in the first column are of bad guys and the pictures in the second column are of good guys. At some point, the monsters started becoming the heroes. Of course, they made the monsters pretty so we would be comfortable dealing with them, even romanticizing about them. But they still aren’t human. Humans have always had a tendency to look down on things that aren’t human, so why the sudden glamour? Or, if you will, wtf happened?

Here’s what happened.

We stopped being comforted by the monsters. As a society where the monsters are obvious and we don’t do a thing about them, where the media tells us every ugly thing going on in the world, we need to feel pretty. We need to believe that there aren’t as many monsters as we thought. That some of these so called monsters can actually become, well, human. In the pictures of the left column, we see clear, smiling faces. And in most of the given examples, the majority of the bad guys look just like the good guys. Two eyes, a nose, a mouth, oddly perfect skin. The works. but even though they look just like everyone else, even though their evil isn’t on display, our heroes still know who to fight. In a world where many people may be losing grasp of who to fight and who to trust, this is something that is very comforting.

Now, you may be shaking your head at this. I’ve read too far into it, haven’t I? You will not be convinced that there is any sense to my ramblings! You want the horror!

Well. Allow me to convince you.

Image this: You are standing on a crowded street. You have been informed that someone on the street is a monster. You have a gun. The monster appears. It is this ugly mangled thing. Your heart is pounding. People are screaming. You pull the trigger. The beast is dead. End of story. Restart. You are standing on a crowded street. You have been informed that someone on the street is a monster. You have a gun. Nothing changes. The monster is there. You feel it, but you can’t see it. It looks just like everyone else, You don’t know who to shoot. You can’t see the monster. Now you have a monster who looks like everyone else in the middle of a big city. Now we have a story.

Yes. My argument is flawed. Sue me.

The point I am trying to make is in the real world, monsters look like people. The creepy-looking guy isn’t always the killer and the princely figure isn’t always the hero. Whatever their original (usually fetish related) intent, movies and books these days are beginning to reflect that. And that is in no way a bad thing.

Let me know what you think in the comments below. Have a lovely day.

That is all.