“Ok, Boomer”

Let’s talk about “Ok, Boomer,” the Zoomer craze sweeping the nation, inspiring delight in Millennials and seemingly incandescent rage in Boomers everywhere.

So a couple of things to start us out:

Class and financial inequality are the main causes of the problems that “Ok, Boomer” is a response to. “Ok, Boomer” is mostly about class.

But “Ok, Boomer” is not not about age.

The main issue is class and inequality, but to pretend that age plays no part in the discourse would be disingenuous, in the same way that trying to talk about class without talking about gender or race would be disingenuous (intersectionality is important, because it’s 2019, friends). A poor white man and a poor black woman have very different experiences of the world, and their poverty means very different things in terms of the way they navigate the world and the way the world responds to them.

A good portion of what I was going to say in this post is made effectively unnecessary by this Facebook post by Kelly Jean and Matt Hershberger, which I will provide in full here because I know none of y’all ever click on my links:

1) “Okay, Boomer” is directed not at a particular generation, but at a class structure and the people who defend it, who are often members of the Baby Boomer generation.

(2) The Boomer mindset is one that offers unsolicited or bad advice to younger people that is based on an economic context that has not been in place for over four decades. The new economic context, in which “work hard and pay off your loans” or “just find a job with healthcare” are absurd things to say, was, in fact, largely built by the Baby Boomer generation.

(3) This bad advice is often uttered condescendingly or dismissively to struggling Millennials or Gen Z “Zoomers,” who do not appreciate it.

(4) For a long time, the only argument a Millennial or Zoomer could offer in response was a long explanation as to why that’s not how it works anymore. This response, usually heartfelt and born of frustration, almost always was ignored, because:

a) the Millennial/Zoomer economic struggles are a direct result of popular Boomer policies, and the only policy programs that could serve as a corrective to these policies would be the center-left wealth redistribution programs that are popular in the modern Democratic Socialist movement,

b) Boomers grew up in a Cold War context which made the vague menace of “socialism” the existential, atom-bomb-is-coming enemy for most of their lives. This childhood fear has been effectively weaponized by the right, who declares any social program to be indistinguishable from Stalinist purges, and

c) The arguing parties are, usually, children and their parents (or older family members), meaning that the arguments will almost always be tinged with parent/child power dynamics, which means they get easily derailed because the child doesn’t feel seen by the parent and the parent doesn’t feel appreciated by the child.

(5) “Okay, Boomer,” is the first retaliatory response to the bad advice given by Boomers that is effectively the same in both content and form. It is reductive, dismissive, condescending, and designed to end conversation rather than start it. Boomers — particularly the leftists who have actually been fighting the current economic context since the 60’s and 70’s — could recognize in “Okay, Boomer,” the same spirit their own bards adopted. For 60’s Boomers, Dylan:

“Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly aging
Please get outta’ the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'”

And for 70’s Boomers, Bowie:

“And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re goin’ through.”

In conclusion, “Okay, Boomer” is a (slightly more concise than usual) iteration of the type of dialectical weapon that always appears in intergenerational warfare. Disclaimer: Academic criticism of or minor quibbles with this thesis will be responded to with “Okay, Boomer.”

See? Maybe I didn’t even need to write this post. Anyway.

The Boomer/Class differentiation is kind of like the thing you learn in school about squares and rectangles: not all Boomers are wealthy and powerful, but (almost) all of the wealthy and powerful are Boomers. And then we run into the “not all men” defense. No, not all Boomers. But enough Boomers that the discourse becomes necessary to have, and it is not necessarily a personal attack on you. As Richard says, “Of course it’s not all Boomers, but if you’re going to center yourself in a conversation about privilege by telling us so, it’s definitely about you.” It’s also important to note that one of the reasons the Venn diagram between Boomers and Wealthy Assholes is so close to a circle is that a lot of the poor Boomers have died or become otherwise removed from public discourse. We’ve lost countless Boomers to poverty, to HIV/AIDS, to mass incarceration, to unaddressed health issues, etc. Most of the Boomers that are left are the wealthy elites by process of literal elimination.

The obvious retort a lot of “Ok, Boomer” respondents have is to this is to tell Millennials to stop getting upset about critiques against Millennials, and to a certain extent, yeah, fair. But (and this may be my Millennial bias showing) I think that there is actually a distinction between the Millennial: Applebee’s Assassin figure and the stereotypical wealthy Boomer that “Ok, Boomer” addresses. That Millennial Assassin doesn’t actually exist (or if they do, many of the things they are accused of are not actually their fault), whereas the condescending, wealthy Boomer does.

Here is a (far from complete) list of things that Millennials have been accused of killing:

  • Home Ownership
  • J. Crew
  • Car Ownership
  • Home Depot
  • Buffalo Wild Wings
  • Napkins
  • Cruises
  • Golf
  • Marriage
  • Diamonds

Now what could all these things possibly have in common? Millennials are “killing” industries because we don’t have any bloody money. Accounting for inflation, today’s minimum wage is worth roughly half of what it was in the 1970s, while the effective cost of college is almost 200% more than it was at that point. And I will literally be Too Depressed if I look up what the difference in housing costs is, so you’ll have to do that yourself. Or imagine it. Napkins are more expensive and less multi-purpose than paper towels. We can’t afford to buy property, and you don’t really need a home repair store if you can’t afford to buy a home. Marriage means combining debts and spending about $30,000 for a party, and is also hard to do when you can’t afford to leave your parents’ house. It’s difficult to buy a car when all your “extra” income is going to student loans. You can’t really go on a cruise when you have no money and don’t have a job with those wacky and rare fringe benefits like “vacation time.” Eating out, buying higher-class fast fashion, and playing a game of golf are all the types of “frivolous” expenses that we don’t have much of a budget for and that we also get yelled at for spending money on because it is “fiscally irresponsible.” And diamonds? Give me a fucking break. The best thing the economic crisis has done is make people break out of the 100-year hypnosis the De Beers company had us in and realize that compressed pieces of carbon are not actually worth three months salary. When Millennials get blamed for “killing” something, it is because the Boomers who run the economy arranged things so that these industries would die. I would happily patronize All of the Stores if I had the money to do so. I would possibly lower myself to buying napkins (especially if they are the cute ones with designs on them). I probably still wouldn’t play golf, but that’s because I hate golf. If a Boomer tells me that I need to work harder to get a “good job,” responding “Ok, Boomer” is code for, “Why did you construct an economy where that is impossible for me?”

There are two other aspects of “Ok, Boomer” that I would like to address that I don’t think the aforementioned Facebook post fully addressed. The first is the role of “Ok, Boomer” as an indictment of inaction.

Have you seen that viral picture of the elderly woman holding up a sign that tells you all the things she never bothered protesting, but then says she’s out here protesting Trump because he’s THAT bad? (I would show it here, but I can’t find it because I have great visual memory but terrible instincts towards saving images, and there are actually so many Trump protest signs that Google image search is unhelpful.) What she’s trying to get across is, “Trump is the worst president possible.” What she is accidentally getting across is, “I have been too complacent to bother protesting injustice over the last fifty years.” The world that Millennials and Gen Z are facing is literally and metaphorically on fire. And we neither set that fire, nor sat back and watched it burn. Billy Joel is lying, Boomers did it. (Again, #NotAllBoomers. Do not @ me, Boomers.) A lot of people spent a lot of their lives being politically inactive, and are just now waking up and going, “Man, maybe we should do something.” I feel guilty for not being as politically active as I could have been in the last ten years. A lot of Boomers were politically inactive for the last 50 years. (And again, don’t @ me. I’m happy for all people to join the revolution, even if it’s a bit late. We need all hands on deck, and I’m not going to spend a lot of time scolding anyone as long as they’re willing to do the work now.) Sure, some Boomers took part in Civil Rights campaigns, in various waves of feminism, and in the LGBTQ rights movement. But a lot of them didn’t. They were so convinced that they were the temporarily disenfranchised millionaires that they let unions sink, made recycling campaigns instead of holding industries accountable for emissions, and allowed the GOP to systematically take charge of nearly every state legislature. And then Millennials get accused of being disengaged.

“Ok, Boomer” is “Cool story bro.” “Ok, Boomer” is “Why do you suddenly care?” “Ok, Boomer” is “Why didn’t you make the world easier for me instead of harder?”

The other thing I want to talk about is the role of “Ok, Boomer” as a sigh of defeat. “Ok, Boomer” is a sign that the speaker has tapped out of the conversation, that they are tired of making the same arguments into the void again and again, and that they acknowledge that the person they are speaking to will never see them as an equal or change their mind on a topic. “Ok, Boomer” is the way I had to excuse myself to use the restroom last time I got into one of these arguments with someone I care about, so that I could cry silently in frustration for a couple of minutes because the person I was arguing with would never admit that systems of oppression, and not personal responsibility or entitlement, kept my friends and loved ones from making a living wage. “Ok, Boomer” is someone sighing, shaking their head, and acknowledging that you are a lost cause. Or at least that they don’t have the time and energy to keep engaging with you.

Do I think that it’s the most productive thing to have inter-generational conflict over nicknames? No, of course not. Do I get at least a bit of schadenfreude about the same generation of people who called my generation snowflakes and protested against the need for “political correctness” that asked them not to use slurs losing their shit over getting called something they call themselves? Yes. Yes I do. I do think that inter-generational conflict is probably a distraction from the actual problem, which is our current class system and distribution of wealth. But “Ok, Boomer” didn’t rise out of a vacuum, and it isn’t totally off the mark. In order to really address the problems in our society, we do need unity. But asking for unity without acknowledging the ways your actions (or inaction) have harmed others, without acknowledging the different lived experiences of various participants, and without acknowledging your own privilege is not really asking for unity, it is asking for forgetfulness.

Signed: (Millennial) Feminist Fury

***

Featured image is a “laser text meme” of the words “ok boomer”

Sexy Halloween Costumes V: Yandy, Are You Okay?

This is my fifth solid year of writing sexy costume roundups. That is… probably not good for my psyche. And honestly, I’m starting to think it’s not good for anyone else’s psyche, either. Because while last year’s roundup made me ask the question, “Do I have Stockholm Syndrome? Am I ok?” this year’s roundup is making me ask, “Yandy, are you ok?” Because I don’t think Yandy is ok. I think they may be a victim of their own success. Because once you have made All the Things sexy… what is left? What can you do besides continue churning out mindless nothingness? What can you do to push the envelope when you have already destroyed the envelope? I mean, they didn’t even have much enthusiasm to be racist this year. (Don’t worry, they were still racist. But their heart wasn’t really in it, I don’t think.)

As usual, I’ll be embedding photos instead of linking, because I don’t need this site flagged as something that is sending Yandy traffic. Also, Yandy doesn’t deserve traffic. Yandy was sent to us to make us contemplate our sins.

First, like last year, there were a few costumes that I actually liked. Fewer costumes than last year, so I think the Stockholm Syndrome faded. But a couple.

I actually liked both of these takes on Beetlejuice (known as “Horror Honey” and “Got the Juice” respectively):

I also liked this take on “sexy Belle,” which is actually labeled “Beautiful Belle,” which means that either they’re actually working with Disney, or they’re about to get sued. (I’m leaning towards the latter; you’ll see why later.)

I also liked this take on the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, appropriately named “Punctual White Rabbit.”

And… that was about it. Not much I liked this year. (Though there was one Wednesday Addams costume that got bonus points for being named “Woman Crush Wednesday,” even though the costume itself was pretty lame.) They of course had their usual crop of racist costumes, but even those were toned down this year. There weren’t as many new racist costumes as there usually are, and they seem to mostly be recycling things they’ve already done in terms of having white women pose in “ninja” costumes and use “Egyptian” costumes as an excuse for a lot of costume jewelry. Feast your eyes on “Violent Warfare Ninja,” “Empress Divine” and “Samurai Jackie.”

But this is where “business as usual” Yandy seems to end. Because honestly, a lot of their stuff this year seems like they’re not even trying. They have some costumes that are clear allusions to pop stars. Among many others there are costumes of Madonna, Lil’ Kim, Cardi B, and Mel B from the Spice Girls, and all of them are… fine. I mean, they’re about as sexy as the original outfits were. They basically just ARE the stars’ original outfits.

As usual, Yandy seems to be trying to spoil our childhoods by going after family friendly cartoon characters. But this year, they picked… Toy Story. and Minions. And no, I never had the question, “I wonder what the aliens from the claw machine would look like if they were sexy,” but I also don’t feel like clutching my pearls. Make Woody sexy. Go ahead. His name is “Woody,” and his friend is named “Buzz,” the costumes design themselves.

As usual, there are some “ripped from the headlines” Sexy (blank object or idea) costumes, but they… aren’t really trying. Like, at all. Not even to the level of “sexy pizza rat.” There’s a “sexy Whiteclaw” called Hard Outlaw. So…. a sexy alcoholic seltzer. And the costume is… meh.

There’s a Beyond Burger costume which is just… a hamburger dress with a “plant based” flag fascinator.

There’s a costume that references the time that Popeye’s sold out of its new chicken sandwich, which… yeah, I guess is a thing that happened? I kinda remember that? Also it’s basically an altered version of the burger dress with “sold out” on the crotch.

They reference the current impeachment crisis with… a beauty pageant outfit? I don’t even understand this. It is “Miss Impeachment.” Is that… they don’t think that’s a pun, do they? And it comes with a whistle. For the whistleblower. I have to show you the ad copy for this one because it makes absolutely nothing better, but is one of the best examples of “trying desperately to make something work” I’ve seen since one of my students tried to take an exam on a book they hadn’t read:
Is that the sound of a whistle blowing? It turns out there are eyes and ears everywhere. Claiming collusion won’t get you any justice, but curves like these will get you sent down in history. Smile and wave while you reflect on your questionable acts in this exclusive Miss Impeachment costume featuring a peach, floor-length dress with halter straps, a deep V-neckline, a sexy high leg slit, a white MISS IMPEACHMENT print sash with peach decals, a rhinestone studded crown, and a silver whistle. No quid pro quo required.

Just…. what?

There’s also a college scandal reference costume, and I’ve got to be honest… I could make a better sexy college scandal costume. Like, an Aunt Becky costume but with handcuffs. That would be kinda clever, right? This… this is not clever.

There is a sexy cauliflower pizza costume and… did I miss something? Was cauliflower pizza a national talking point of some sort? I don’t remember this happening. Also, this is just obviously an attempt to reuse the “plant based” fascinator from the Beyond Burger costume. I think they just ordered too many flags and then scrambled.

There is a…. Tater Thot costume. *sighs deeply*

There is also a tariff costume, which is about the point at which I exclaimed, “You’re not even TRYING.” It is a money dress with “Tariff” stamped on it. That’s it. This is the sexy dress equivalent of Stephen King’s lamp monster.

Strangest of all, there were multiple costumes this year that were not sexy. At all. Just… straight up not sexy. They decided to go with a lot of ponchos, including one that I’m pretty sure is made up of shirts they got from Goodwill, and TWO separate scarecrow poncho costumes. Two.

There were also a rather frightening number of onesies, the best/worst of which was probably this Pumpkin Spice onesie. It looks comfortable as hell, but I’m pretty sure if you wear it to a party, you are never having sex again. Also I’m not sure how you walk in it, because it seems to take Hammer Pants drop crotch to a whole new level, where you ask yourself, “I wonder what it would feel like to shuffle around as if my pants were all the way down, only they AREN’T down?”

And then there is the Guacward Avocado costume. It’s just… it’s just an avocado. That’s it, that’s the whole concept. Not even a sexy avocado, just… like if Whole Foods was hiring someone to dress as an avocado to do some street promotions, this is what they would have you wear.

Now, for those of you who have seen some writeups of Yandy’s merchandise this year, you may feel as if I’m making two glaring omissions. But I promise you I’m not, I’m getting to them. Because even though in most years, these two costumes would win the “Why hast thou forsaken me, oh God” prize, this year I think they’re actually further evidence that Yandy has given up on life. I’m talking, of course, about the Nicest Neighbor and Happy Tree Painter costumes.

Now, do I feel a little bit worse about the world, knowing that these costumes exist and that at least one person probably bought them? Yes, of course I do. But I also feel like they’re the ultimate evidence that Yandy has pushed about as far as they can before they become a Cards Against Humanity meme. They took two of the kindest, most wholesome figures in pop culture and made them sexy. Which means they have nowhere else to go. I have heard more negative things about Mother Theresa than I have heard about either Fred Rogers or Bob Ross. There is no higher peak of outlandish, out-of-place sexiness for Yandy to climb to. We have reached Peak Sexy. (See what I did there?)

Now, because the universe hates me and doesn’t want me to have nice things, this time next year I’ll probably be drinking and muttering, “That wasn’t supposed to be a challenge.” But for this year, I’m genuinely concerned for Yandy. I mean, after spending five years mocking their costumes, I feel like I know them pretty well, and I think they might have a problem. I think they have flown too close to the sexy sun. (Why don’t they have a sexy sun costume?) I think they have become a snake eating its own tail, a victim of their own success. I think they maybe need to call someone to drive them home. Yandy, are you ok?

Signed: Feminist Fury

***

featured image is a goofy jack-o-lantern with the caption “R U OK?” superimposed. Original photo by Douglaspperkins (linked to https://ccsearch.creativecommons.org/photos/4f1342a3-0683-4c98-9d4c-388c32191003), used under a CC-BY 4.0 licence.

Ellements of Film: Joker

Now before I get started, I should admit that I am not the target audience of this film for a couple of reasons. The first is that I’m not a white male who feels disenfranchised. Not to say that only white males with a sense of disenfranchisement are the only ones who could enjoy the film, but that is definitely who it was meant for. The second is that I thought this movie was pointless when it was announced.

For me, The Joker is basically an embodiment of chaos. He is the id of Gotham City. My favorite versions of Joker (namely, Mark Hamill in the animated series and Heath Ledger in the Nolan films) go out of their way to avoid letting us know what Joker’s background is. Ledger’s Joker tells different stories of how he got his scars, and in the animated series, Batman challenges Harley’s belief that she has a connection to the Joker by pointing out that he knows all of the multiple backstories that Joker likes to tell people. One of the more “authoritative” backstories of Joker (and one that obviously influenced this film) is found in The Killing Joke, where Joker was a failed stand-up comedian who ended up turning to crime. But even within that text, Joker tells Batman he remembers different versions of his own backstory, making the entire story unreliable. Pretty much the only origin story I find passable is the Batman movie where Jack Nicholson is Joker, and even then…. I’d kind of prefer it didn’t exist? Like, cool twist bro, Joker is the gangster who killed your parents, but it also makes his character arc harder to track. Like he goes from a slightly unhinged but overall serious gangster to a prank and joke loving supervillain because… falling into a vat of chemicals apparently makes you like jokes, and his calling card was a Joker? It’s not my favorite interpretation of the character, even though I like Nicholson’s performance. And in general, I go with the Patton Oswalt view on prequels that explain villains—I don’t care what they were like when they were kids, or before they were cool. I usually don’t even care when they are explaining the background of heroes. The Song of Susannah is the worst book in the Dark Tower series. Hannibal Rising tells us that Hannibal Lecter likes to eat people because… Nazis. I just… don’t want the Joker explained. I want to see Batman and Joker going against each other, because that is the cool part.

So I admittedly went into this film already not sure it needed to exist. Add to that the mixed reviews, and the fact that the director seems to be completely unaware/uncaring that the way he has presented Joker might encourage ideological violence (and the fact that he’s apparently one of those people who thinks “woke culture” killed comedy) and I was pretty sure that I was not going to enjoy myself.

What I didn’t expect was how much I would hate it.

Before we start, let’s go through a brief summary of the film (partially stolen from Wikipedia, augmented by me.) If you don’t want the summary, skip down to the section titled “The Good,” but know that my actual critiques will probably reference multiple plot points from the movie and basically also be a spoiler. I have given up on spoiler-free reviews.

Summary

In 1981, party clown and aspiring stand-up comedian Arthur Fleck lives with his mother, Penny, in Gotham City. Arthur is presumably a felon (since he isn’t supposed to have guns) and was recently hospitalized for unspecified mental health issues. He takes multiple medications for these unspecified problems as well as the fact that he suffers from a disorder that causes him to laugh at inappropriate times. He goes to a city-provided social worker for therapy and medication. He’s beaten by a gang of teens in an alley, leading his co-worker, Randall, to lend him a gun. Arthur invites his neighbor, single mother Sophie, to his stand-up comedy show, and they begin dating. (Note: I learned Sophie’s name from the internet. NO ONE EVER SAYS HER NAME IN THE MOVIE.)

While entertaining at a children’s hospital, Arthur’s gun falls out of his pocket. Randall lies and says that Arthur bought the gun himself and Arthur is fired. On the subway, still in his clown makeup, Arthur is beaten by three drunken Wayne Enterprises businessmen; he shoots two in self-defense and executes the third. The murders are condemned by billionaire mayoral candidate Thomas Wayne, who labels those envious of more successful people as “clowns.” Demonstrations against Gotham’s rich begin, with protesters donning clown masks in Arthur’s image. Funding cuts shutter the social service program, leaving Arthur without medication.

Arthur’s comedy show goes poorly; he laughs uncontrollably and has difficulty delivering his jokes. Talk show host Murray Franklin mocks Arthur by showing clips from the routine on his show. Arthur intercepts a letter written by Penny to Thomas, alleging that he is Thomas’ illegitimate son, and berates his mother for hiding the truth. At Wayne Manor, Arthur talks to Thomas’ young son, Bruce, but flees after a scuffle with butler Alfred Pennyworth. (Note: This is the worst Alfred I’ve ever seen. Seriously, The Worst.) Following a visit from two Gotham City Police Department detectives investigating Arthur’s involvement in the train murders, Penny suffers a stroke and is hospitalized.

At a public event, Arthur confronts Thomas, who tells him that Penny is delusional and not his biological mother. In denial, Arthur visits Arkham State Hospital and steals Penny’s case file; the file says Penny adopted Arthur as a baby and allowed her abusive boyfriend to harm them both. Penny alleged that Thomas used his influence to fabricate the adoption and commit her to the asylum to hide their affair. Distraught, Arthur goes to the hospital and kills Penny. He returns home and enters Sophie’s apartment unannounced. Frightened, Sophie tells him to leave; their previous encounters were Arthur’s delusions. (One of my friends said that the movie would have been better if Sophie had actually been dating him and had been evidence that “the love of a good woman” is still not enough to “cure” a mentally ill or otherwise unstable/incel-y person, and I’m inclined to agree.)

Arthur is invited to appear on Murray’s show due to the unexpected popularity of his routine clips. As he prepares, Arthur is visited by Randall and fellow ex-colleague Gary. Arthur murders Randall, but leaves Gary unharmed for treating him well in the past. En route to the studio, Arthur is pursued by the two detectives onto a train filled with clown protesters. One detective accidentally shoots a protester and incites a riot, allowing Arthur to escape.

Before the show goes live, Arthur requests that Murray introduce him as Joker, a reference to Murray’s previous mockery. Arthur walks out to a warm reception, but tells morbid jokes, admits he killed the men on the train, and rants about how society abandons the disenfranchised. After calling out Murray for mocking him, Arthur kills him, and is arrested as riots break out across Gotham. One rioter corners the Wayne family in an alley and murders Thomas and his wife Martha, sparing a traumatized Bruce. Rioters in an ambulance crash into the police car carrying Arthur and free him. He dances to the cheers of the crowd.

At Arkham, Arthur laughs to himself and tells his psychiatrist she would not understand the joke. He runs from orderlies, leaving a trail of bloodied footprints.

The Good

So I try to be fair to everything I watch, and acknowledge the good parts. So I tried hard.

There are Super Rats. I freaking love the idea of Super Rats. They have basically no impact on the film, except kinda skittering in the background during the death of the Waynes, but I love them.

Joaquin Phoenix has some moments where he’s actually a very good proto-Joker. His manic laugh is pretty great, and he has amazing facial control—you can tell how much he hates the laughter even as he’s laughing, and can switch instantly between the laughter and being stone-faced. His habit of dancing when he is alone is basically the only sign of the “joie de vivre” that I associate with the Joker.

Frances Conroy and Zazie Beetz are both treasures, and they both deserved much more to do in this film.

I had a fun time going, “Is that… .is that Gary Gulman? Wait a second, is that Chris Redd? That can’t be Marc Maron, can it?” I was right every time.

I actually like the super-clown face makeup style of the Joker look. It’s a lot more “classic clown” than we have gotten used to with Joker designs, and plays well to the moniker of the “Clown Prince of Crime.” It also helps distinguish him from the character design of the Riddler, which some artists make too similar.

I like the reframing of Thomas Wayne as a kind of dickish billionaire who thinks the rest of the world should thank him for being so good to them and should pull themselves up by their bootstraps. I can better believe that the kind of man who would dress up like a bat and decide he needed to save his city with his fists would come from this kind of father than a doting, “I built this train to save the city” kind of father.

Now is an excellent time for an “eat the rich, let’s revolt” message. I think emphasizing this class divide between the “villains” and the wealthy like the Wayne family is really good, and I wish like hell the message had been done better.

The Bad

Well… where do we start.

I think the biggest, and most overarching problem with the film, is that it is joyless. Almost literally. There was one joke I actually found funny, and it was about how Arthur Fleck isn’t funny. When Arthur tells his mother that he is becoming a standup comedian, she responds, “Don’t you have to be funny to be a comedian?” Because Arthur isn’t funny. At all. The closest he gets is slapstick. The fact that he’s a terrible standup comedian is a main plotline. His life is miserable, and the point of the film is to show us Joker’s “one bad day” from the comics only it’s “one bad week.” Though his mother calls him “Happy” as a nickname, he responds that he has never been happy a moment in his life. He seems briefly joyful in the end of the movie, when he’s lording over an adoring crowd or dancing down a mental asylum hallway, but it is way too late, and way too subdued. Joker’s manic joy, his sheer pleasure in destruction and plotting and screwing with things, is one of the core components of the character for me. He’s the antithesis of Batman, and that includes Batman’s broodiness. His sense of humor may be twisted, but he has it.

I’ve heard this film be called both racist and sexist, and I can see where those readings came from. There are actually a number of Black actors in this film, but they mostly stand as either accessories or impediments to Arthur. His social worker, who doesn’t have enough time or patience to be a good therapist, is Black. His love interest, who turns out to have mostly been a delusion in his own head, is Black, as is her child. The mother on the bus who reprimands Arthur for interacting with her child is Black. The MC who lightly mocks Arthur as he introduces him is Black. The nurse who reports him from bringing a gun into a children’s ward is Black. The Arkham worker who tries to keep Arthur from seeing his mother’s full file is Black. The protestor who sums up the ethos of the protest as “fuck the rich, fuck Thomas Wayne, fuck the whole system” is Black. And the Arkham social worker who is recording his final actions (and ends up implicitly murdered) is Black. None of them are fully fledged characters, and I’m pretty sure the child is the only one whose name you learn during the course of the actual movie. (Again, the love interest doesn’t get a name FOR THE ENTIRE MOVIE.) So while they are a presence quantitatively, qualitatively they aren’t shown in the best light.

Meanwhile, women in the film are…. scarce. Off the top of my head, I can think of the two social workers (both unnamed) Arthur’s mother, Penny, his love interest (whom the internet informs me is named Sophie) and her daughter, Gigi, the lady on the bus, the woman who is being harassed by the Wall Street bros before Arthur kills them, the nurse in the children’s ward, the woman who is Murray Franklin’s booking agent (I think she gets a name, but I don’t remember it), Martha Wayne (who gets no lines) and… I think that’s it. I don’t even know if this movie cares enough about women to bother being sexist. The women barely get enough lines for us to have any sense of them, and the two women who talk the most are his delusional mother and a girlfriend who turns out to be a delusion itself, so it’s not like either of them are really representative. I feel like you maybe have to acknowledge women exist to be thoroughly sexist towards them? Like ignoring them entirely is also sexist, but I’d somewhat prefer that if creators don’t care enough about women to give them names, they just leave off writing women altogether rather than muck it up.

I think the second biggest problem with the film is that it isn’t totally sure what it is trying to say (or if it is sure, it has shitty execution). There are two messages that I think the movie attempts to engage with, with pretty mixed results. One is the marginalization of the mentally ill. Arthur is definitely discriminated against, and sometimes even met with violence, due to his tic of uncontrollable laughter. And he presumably has other mental illnesses for which he is taking up to seven medications, leading him to be committed at one point and also leading him to imagine a relationship with Sophie that doesn’t exist. After you find out that he’s been hallucinating a relationship with Sophie, it makes all the rest of the movie also have an unreliable sense of reality. How much of what we just saw was objective fact, and how much was filtered through Arthur’s mental illness? Arthur has a “cog in the system” therapist who doesn’t truly listen to him, merely going through the motions of asking him the questions that she needs to ask based on his release conditions. His journal shows evidence of some sort of learning disability or at least lack of education, given the poor spelling and handwriting. He also seems to have some sort of psychosexual fixation, given that many of the pages have cutouts of women’s bodies from magazines. (I think. That one was harder to tell). One of the more poignant messages he writes is, “The worst part about having mental illness is that people expect you to behave as if you don’t.” As someone with mental illness, that one hit me right in the feels.

There have been pro and con debates going on about presenting Arthur as mentally ill. One of my friends made a compelling argument for including the mental illness, as it can certainly be a contributing factor to someone’s negative behavior and their feelings of isolation. There are also compelling arguments that say that this is further demonizing the mentally ill and associating them with the “school shooter” mentality and making it seem as if the root of violence is mental illness rather than say, hatred of others (when actually, the mentally ill are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators). I’m kind of in the middle. I don’t think you can make a serious argument for any version of the Joker doesn’t have at least something different going on in his brain—that’s kind of his thing. But I also feel like the deliberate vagueness of his mental illness makes it harder to empathize with and harder to differentiate “problems Arthur has as a result of his mental illness” and “problems Arthur has as a result of his own shitty personality.” Even early on in the film, we see evidence of Arthur having problems with anger and violence, kicking dumpsters and destroying a punch-in machine at his job. Is this related to his mental illness, or is he just your average white dude with anger issues? He gets upset and defensive when the Black woman on the bus tells him not to bother her child (in my opinion, a pretty reasonable thing for a Black woman to ask the random white dude on the bus, even if he has “good intentions”). How much is him truly not understanding social boundaries, and how much of him is feeling like he deserves to set his own for other people? How much of his imagined relationship with Sophie is due to his mental illness, and how much is pretty typical male entitlement about “deserving” relationships with women just because the guy wants them? It’s even further muddied when we learn that Arthur was abused as a child, including head trauma. So now we have a third question, how much of this is due to something like CTE? Obviously mental illness and personality issues can intertwine, but it makes it difficult to understand if this movie is trying to say, “We should be kinder to the mentally ill” or “If disenfranchised white men don’t get what they want, they will kill us and they deserve to do so.”

The second message is, “the wealthy have let us down and deserve our anger.” But again, this message ends up very muddled. One of the first things that we learn in the film is that there is a garbage strike going on. Then in some of the most forced and non-necessary exposition I’ve ever seen, Arthur’s therapist draws a connection between the garbage strike and the tough times that are happening outside. (Because we didn’t get that from the literal piles of garbage and the 70’s NYC vibe). Presumably the city government is not responding well to the strike demands, as the strike continues throughout the film. At a later point, the city has cut funding for social services, meaning that both Arthur’s therapy and his medication will be cut off. (I honestly don’t know why it means that his medication will be cut off, as presumably he should still be able to get a prescription filled even if he’s not seeing the same therapist, but apparently in this world only this one therapist gets to give him meds.) Again, The Very Obvious Exposition Therapist comes through, telling him about the higher powers in the city government, “They don’t give a shit about people like you, Arthur. And they really don’t give a shit about people like me.” We get this message again when Arthur goes to Arkham and asks the clerk what it takes to get sent there. The clerk tells him that in some cases it is the performance of crimes, sometimes it is if someone is a threat to themselves or others, and sometimes when someone just has no where else to go. Those who are left in desperate straits are kept side-by-side with the criminally insane, because there are not better mechanisms for social services.

Meanwhile, the uber-wealthy, here presented in the figurehead of Thomas Wayne, seem pretty oblivious to the conditions of class inequality. The three Wall Street bros that Arthur killed were employees of Wayne enterprises, and their death somehow sets off the anger of the citizens towards the rich. This time, Exposition the Newscaster tells us, “There’s a groundswell of anti-rich activity. It is almost like the less fortunate are taking the side of the killer.” (What gave you that sense, Exposition Newscaster? Was it all the people rioting in clown masks talking about “fuck the rich” and reveling in the death of these people?)  Thomas Wayne goes on TV to make things worse, deriding people who hide behind a mask (Get it? It’s irony. Or something. Cuz his son is gonna be Batman.) and says that, “Those of us who made something of ourselves will always look at those who haven’t as clowns.” Because obviously the reason poor people are poor is that they just didn’t try hard enough to make something of themselves. Wayne later says that there is something wrong with all of the protestors, and that he is their only hope. He doesn’t really explain… why. Like, is he going to help fund the government, so that things like the garbage strike and social services cuts don’t happen? Signs are unclear. In probably one of the better shots and moments of the film, protestors gather around the building where a bunch of the uber-wealthy gather to watch a special showing of Modern Times, a Chaplin film that centers around a hapless industry worker who is the victim of modernization, and includes the main character showing sympathy towards other industry workers who are starving and desperate and taking part in a strike. Self-awareness level of the Gotham wealthy = zero.

When Arthur admits on television that he was the one to kill the Wall Street bros, he makes some pretty good points about the way that the system around us assigns value—he says the system decides what is right or wrong the same way the decide what is funny or not. It’s easy to read into this something like, “The system thinks it’s right to make people go to Arkham when they have no other options to take care of themselves, but think it is wrong to riot or revolt against oppression.” He also says that the world is bad enough to drive anyone crazy, and is upset that people care so much about these three deaths but most people would “step over him if he died on the street. He says the rich think that “everyone else will sit and take it.”

But overall, I feel like this message is pretty hollow when applied to Joker himself. He doesn’t kill the rich dudes because they are rich dudes—he kills them because they are drunk assholes who were harassing a girl and then start harassing him. While their actions and sense of entitlement are perhaps enhanced by their wealth, I can speak from personal experience to say that both blue collar and middle class men will ALSO harass women who clearly don’t want to talk to them on a subway, or turn their attention to random loners that they decide to harass as well. Being a dick on public transportation doesn’t really seem confined to class. Arthur even says that when he killed the men he wasn’t trying to start a movement, “they were just awful.” The interpretation of Joker as a “fuck the rich” avenging vigilante is a message that is put on him. And in occasions where Arthur is given a chance to take credit for the riots that build in the wake of the deaths, or even align himself with the message of the rioters, he vehemently denies any participation. When someone asks him if he is part of the protest, he says, “No, I don’t believe in that, I don’t believe in anything.” His anger doesn’t seem to be directed at systems, even though most of his problems are the result of systems. His killings are all personally motivated—he kills the three men on the train because they harassed him. He kills his mother because she lied to him and allowed people to abuse him. He kills his former coworker because the coworker lied about the gun he’d given Arthur and led Arthur to get fired. He kills Murray Franklin because Franklin mocked his standup and crushed his dreams. He kills the social worker at Arkham because… they needed a reason to film him dancing down the hallways while leaving bloody footprints?

Yet he confusingly turns back to society as a cause for his problems before he kills Franklin. The “joke” he tells him before his death is, “What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that treats him like trash? You get what you fucking deserve.” (We’ll come back to this line in a minute.) This language is echoed when the Wayne murder is reframed as an issue of class anger and not a random robbery. After making the super fabulous decision to take his family to a movie on the night of a major riot, Wayne is cornered by one of the mask-wearing rioters who says “Hey Wayne, you get what you fucking deserve” before shooting him. But besides being a bit of a dick on television, Wayne doesn’t really… seem to have done anything worth shooting him over? Like at no point does anyone say, “All of the garbage strike and social service cut problems are attributable to Thomas Wayne not paying his taxes.” The worst thing he clearly does is punch Arthur, and Arthur is the only one who knows that. There’s a possible reading of this that says that Arthur really is his love child and he manipulated things so that Penny was seen as crazy, but most of Penny’s Arkham file doesn’t really support that reading. He just seems to be a rich asshole. Which is cause for a revolution and redistribution of wealth, but not necessarily execution. And despite asserting that he has no connection to the rioters, Arthur is perfectly happy to jump on top of a car and be adored by a crowd of them after he is rescued from his original arrest. So… is he accepting his role as an icon of class unrest? Is he exploiting the message that got built around him for his own gain? Is he just a lonely guy who is glad that he finally sees seen? I have no idea.

The movie also ends up saying things about class revolt that are… not great? I’m not inherently down on violent protest—I think many protests require violence in self defense, and the number of grand social changes that have come about without some amount of violence on the part of the oppressed against the oppressors is… not large. I also don’t necessarily disagree with protests that are somewhat unfocused—sometimes you are just angry, and you don’t have to have an exact solution to your problem (Occupy Wall Street didn’t usually have a cohesive list of demands, but their action was a necessary outpouring of class frustration with the fallout of the 2008 recession.) But this movie combines an unfocused protest with violence in a way that somewhat poses the rioters as the bad guys. Like ok, they are prompted by a violent attack by a crazed clown on some Wall Street Bros—so are they only inspired by the violence? By continuing to hold Joker up as a figure of reverence despite his admission that his act was non-political and non-ideologically motivated, are they showing that they are more concerned with performing violence than enacting ideology? Also, by using this riot as a reason to kill Thomas Wayne… Bruce, the billionaire who decides to grow up and fight crime (often against the lower classes) now has “class-motivated protestor” as his number 1 hated person/cause of all of his nightmares and trauma. But Batman is supposed to be the good guy. So doesn’t that make the people who killed his parents… the bad guy? So the people who are upset about class inequality are the initial bad guys of the Batman mythos. Ok, cool. Cool. That’s great.

Then you get what I call the “edgelord elements.” These are the elements of the film that make you go, “Oh yeah, this was definitely made by someone who thinks that you can’t make comedies anymore because of ‘PC culture.’ That totally scans.” The character of Gary, played by Leigh Gill, seems to exist primarily so that other characters can make little people jokes and call him a midget. Because apparently the last movie anyone involved with this film saw was the second Austin Powers, and they thought it was timely and hilarious. A joke comparing having sex with women to parking spaces includes a comparison between parking in a handicapped space and having sex with a handicapped person, and having the thought, “I hope no one sees this.” …hilarious. And then there is the thing that Joker says to Murray Franklin: “What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that treats him like trash? You get what you fucking deserve.” Honestly, overall this film was less pandering to incels than I’d been led to believe by some reviews. But holy shit, if this isn’t a call to arms for lonely incels who think that no one likes them because they are misunderstood loners and not because they are goddamn asshole incels, I don’t know what is. Again, I’m not necessarily against violent protests. But when the violent protestors are incel assholes who are taking out their entitlement and anger on others, a la Elliot Rodgers… yeah, I have a problem with that. And this scene basically screams, “Hey, are you a Misunderstood Genius? Have people never given you the respect you deserve? Will women not fuck you? You know what they all deserve? A bullet to the head.” And the most upsetting thing is that this line, in the context of the film, is not necessary. Again, while his mental illness and social standing are probably contributing factors to Arthurs state, his killing of Murray Franklin is deeply personal. It could have been a short, brutal “joke”: “Knock knock,” “who’s there?” *shoots him in the head*.  I dunno, I’m not an artiste. But I feel like they could have made this film without making it appeal so strongly to the “mass shooter” demographic.

This movie wanted to be Taxi Driver, The Purge, and Gotham in a world where Taxi Driver, The Purge, and Gotham all already exist and are doing their thing better than this film. It’s a film that didn’t need to exist, because nothing it does is new, or coherent, or even really entertaining. The end.

Signed: Feminist Fury

***

Featured image is a still of the Joker from the film with the words “Ellements of Film” superimposed.

Yes, This Matters

I was going to school in the early days of the wane of Columbus Day as a holiday. For the first few years of grade school, we got the day off. After the second grade, we suddenly stopped. Instead it became a day for teachers to trot something out about how, “in fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” and not much else.

In sixth grade, my teacher split the class into groups. Each group was assigned an explorer that reached North/South/Central America, and we had to put on presentations for other classes to explain why our explorer was the first to find America. The other students would then vote on who they thought was correct. (The Magellan group won, because they were the funniest and the last to go and 11-year-olds don’t have the best attention span. My group was Leif Erikson, and I will die on the hill of vikings being the first European explorers to North America. Plus I had a cool fake fur cloak. Weirdly, “the indigenous people who already lived here/discovered the place obviously first” were not a group that you could choose to be in.) The Columbus group obediently recited the same facts we had all learned throughout school: Columbus thought the world was round, but no one believed him! He was cruelly mocked in his native Italy, and it wasn’t until Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain believed in him that he had the chance to prove his theory. He took three ships, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, and after a harsh journey and mocking from even his own sailors, he discovered America! And that’s why we have Columbus Day today. This was the Truth According to the United States education system.

And then I got to the tenth grade, and my world was rocked.

My tenth grade US History teacher assigned us chapters from Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States in addition to chapters from our textbook. I can still remember sitting at a table in my high school cafeteria during a free period, pressing hard on the book so that the thick text would stay open, and learning that Columbus was a genocidal fuckhead.

I learned that pretty much everyone in the world knew that the world was round in his time.

I learned that Columbus was after gold and spices, not knowledge.

I learned that Columbus was trying to find a way around the Turkish control of the land route to Asia.

I learned that Columbus was terrible at math, and if he’d actually had to sail to Asia, he would have definitely died. But he lucked out and hit the Americas instead.

I learned that Columbus was promised ten percent of his profits and rule over the lands he found.

I learned that Columbus lied to shortchange the man that actually sighted land first, so that he could receive the reward for first sighting instead.

I learned that Columbus and his followers raped, enslaved, and murdered the natives they came across.

I learned that Columbus and his men made impossible demands of the native people, demanding gold that didn’t exist, and cutting off the hands of those that failed to get the nonexistent gold. 

Like I said, my world was rocked. Somehow, in the many years of being taught every few years that all of the previous things I’d learned about history were a lie, I’d never learned about the massive lie around Columbus Day. And as I grew older, things only got worse. I learned more and more, and what I knew about Columbus grew worse and worse.

The Washington Post has an article on Columbus’ time with the Taino, and a from a contemporary account roughly ten years after Columbus first landed.

From the article,


So Columbus tried again for gold, but this time he and his men didn’t go looking for it. They ordered all Taino people 14 and older to deliver a certain amount of gold dust every three months. If they didn’t, their hands would be cut off. At this point, the Taino were refusing to grow crops, and those that didn’t bleed to death after their hands were removed began to die of famine and disease. When they fled into the mountains, they were hunted down by dogs. Many killed themselves with cassava poison.

Columbus and his men also continued to sexually abuse Taino women and girls. In 1500, Columbus wrote to an acquaintance that, “there are many dealers that go about looking for girls; those from nine to 10 are now in demand.”


And from the contemporary account by Bartolome de las Casas in 1502:


They [Spanish explorers] forced their way into native settlements, slaughtering everyone they found there, including small children, old men, pregnant women, and even women who had just given birth. They hacked them to pieces, slicing open their bellies with their swords as though they were so many sheep herded into a pen. They even laid wagers on whether they could slice a man in two at a stroke, or cut an individual’s head from his body, or disembowel him with a single blow from their axes. They grabbed suckling infants by their feet and, ripping them from their mothers’ breasts, dashed them headlong against the rocks. Others, laughing and joking all the while, threw them over their shoulders, shouting, ‘Wriggle, you little perisher.’

Between direct actions and smallpox, 90% of the Taino population was killed following Spanish conquest. Columbus is also indirectly responsible for the growth of the slave trade. When the original Taino and other indigenous people that he transported over to Europe and that he forced to labor on their original land proved to be too “weak” and died too quickly from mistreatment, they began to import African slaves en masse.

In short, Columbus was a monster. He’s directly or indirectly responsible for the maiming, enslavement, rape, and death of thousands and even millions of people. He was, in the words of Eddie Izzard, “a genocidal fuckhead… with bunny rabbit ears.”

Which is why I find it so goddamn confusing that efforts to replace Columbus Day (which never should have happened in the first place, and is a mix between the inventive mind of Washington Irving and a desire by Italian Americans to be a little bit less hated, aka start being considered white) with Indigenous Peoples’ Day often get met with indifference at best and hostility at worst.

Trying to rename Columbus Day in honor of the people that he slaughtered has been labeled a volley in the “culture war.” Throwing paint on statues of Columbus has been compared to ISIS destroying cultural monuments. The people who want Columbus Day renamed have been called hysterical SJWs, cultural terrorists, and idiots.

Notably, almost all of the people slinging that mud are white.

I genuinely can’t imagine the kind of cultural trauma caused by a figure like Columbus, let alone the additional trauma of having a holiday named after him. And I also can’t imagine having people shrug off or even insult that trauma.

It isn’t hysterical to point out that Columbus was a genocidal monster unworthy of celebration. It’s history. And even though his misdeeds happened hundreds of years ago, the results of his actions are still reverberating today. And what we decide to celebrate, whether it be in the form of statues, media, or holidays, says a lot about who we are and what we value. We can’t move forward if we are still glorifying the most terrible parts of our past.

Signed: Feminist Fury

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Featured image is a “the more you know” meme reading “Columbus was a Genocidal Fuckhead.”

Why Would You Accidentally Admit that?



Sometimes you’re reading something, and when you’re done, you stare at the screen. And then, to the room at large, but specifically to the author (who you imagine hears you somehow despite the fact that you’re miles away and have no idea who they are), you say, “Why would you tell on yourself like that? Why would you write something and then show it to God and everyone and let them know that you think this thing?

That is what I thought after reading the article “A Good Man Is Getting Even Harder to Find” by Gerard Baker for the Wall Street Journal. The crux of the article is that, because women are now 57% of college graduates at the bachelor’s degree level and 59% of graduates at the master’s degree level, they are outnumbering the educated men of the world. And since women are very much more discerning than men (according to Baker) we are choosier in picking a mate. We are apparently more picky in our judgment of attractiveness of men on dating apps, and highly value intelligence and economic achievement in our partners. Combined, this means that women will not find acceptable men to mate with and the population is going to decrease and we will not have sex and things will be very bad.

…. So. A few things.

I feel compelled to point out that, for hundreds of years, women were under-represented in universities, or even forbidden from attending universities. Women were unable to obtain certain jobs, or in some cases any job at all. And somehow, men found it within themselves to fuck us anyway. And even marry us. Granted, there were some cultural factors helping this out—things that definitely wouldn’t apply today, like a woman being considered a wasted shell of a person if she didn’t marry, and men relying on women for emotional and domestic labor, and women being seen as an extension of their male partners. (None of that would happen today, would it?) But still, we somehow managed to survive as a species for ages without both partners being seen as intellectual and economic equals.

When Baker is talking about how women are more “discerning” regarding their partners, he’s playing into a few stereotypes. The women get the “model minority” type of stereotype, where something that is supposedly making them “better” than others is still used as a way to pigeonhole and ascribe aspects to a group. Women are more “discerning,” supposedly, which means we’re going to be picky and judgmental about our partners. We’re going to, in fact, “choose” ourselves into a loveless, sexless existence, because we are just so picky. And on the other hand, men are less “choosey” (aka, they will supposedly stick it in anything) which means that they’ll sleep with anyone, and women barely even have to try.  (I mean, as long as they’re attractive. Otherwise… ugh, right?)

But underlying all of this is an assumption. One that I kinda can’t believe Baker is willing to expose: Baker thinks that men have nothing to offer women if they cannot be their equal or superior in education, money, or looks. Baker thinks that a man either has to be a scientist, a stock broker, or a smoke show in order to get a woman. And speaking as someone who has seen married couples literally ever…. No?

People are happily married in couples where the man didn’t go to college, or doesn’t make as much money, or doesn’t meet the same level of conventional attractiveness, as their female partners. Because people have more to offer than their face, their degree, and their pocketbook. Maybe a man didn’t go to college, but he is funny as hell and is super handy. Maybe a man isn’t very conventionally attractive, but he’s incredibly sensitive and supportive. Maybe a man is making less money than his spouse, but he is an absolutely incredible father. Maybe a man is a broke, unattractive dullard, but he’s fantastic at sex. There are a lot of aspects of a person that make them seem like an appropriate or attractive partner. And Baker is admitting that he either thinks men don’t have these aspects, or he thinks that they aren’t good enough or strong enough to overcome the “deficiencies” of being less educated or less wealthy than their partners.

There are things that Baker could advise men to do that would genuinely increase their chances of getting a partner: don’t send women unsolicited pictures of your genitalia on a dating app. Don’t act entitled to sex in exchange for the most basic acts of human decency. Communicate openly and genuinely with the person you are trying to connect with. All of those things are really basic, really helpful, and Baker has no interest in any of them. Because they involve actually talking to men about their behavior and suggesting social change that must be undertaken by men, instead of clutching metaphorical pearls and asking, “But what if women have become too equal?”

Baker obviously has a low opinion of women, but he also obviously has a low opinion of men. Yes, power dynamics are changing. Yes, that is changing the way the dating world works. But that doesn’t mean that men and women will never mate again—it means that some men are going to have to go beyond the general staples of masculinity to appeal to a partner. And to do that, they might even have to treat women like an actual partner and a peer.

Signed: Feminist Fury

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Featured image is of a “Change My Mind” meme with the caption “Men Are Just Trash, Change My Mind.”

When is a Fridge Not a Fridge?


WARNING: SPOILERS FOR “MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN” FOR THE PS4

I’ve wanted to play the Spider-Man game for the PS4 basically since it came out. “It’s so pretty! And it looks so fun!” but I wavered over the price, and my fear that it would go the way of Assassins Creed 3 (me failing to perform the particular sneak/acrobatic trick that was needed enough times in a row I said “fuckit” and made someone come over and do it for me, and then never kept playing because that was not a super workable solution.) When I finally found it on sale I bought it. And it. Was. Glorious. It is my favorite adaptation of the original Peter Parker story, and is very close to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse for my favorite Spider-man adaptation, ever. It’s so good. It leaves core story elements as they are while updating aspects in a fun and interesting way (J Jonah Jameson is an Alex Jones’ Infowars style radio host and it is so perfect I almost cried). It starts after Uncle Ben dies (all Spider-Man adaptations should start after Uncle Ben dies).  It lets you change powers independently of costumes, so you don’t have to give up looking cool just so that you could use the best powers. I could literally spend an hour just swinging around New York City. Even though the collectables element of the game is slightly maddening it is also really thoughtful, with tons of Easter eggs. It handles pretty much all of the characters with depth, and gives the bad guys pathos without forgiving them for their actions. But do you know what the game did to really, truly, win me over forever?

It killed Aunt May.

….kind of a record scratch moment coming from me, right? Let me explain.

Occasionally when I’m arguing with people about the Women in Refrigerators trope, a disingenuous MRA will say something like, “What, are female characters not allowed to have bad things happen to them or be killed?”  (Click here if you’re not familiar with the trope.)  In their view, anyone who complains about “fridging” just never wants any female characters to have anything bad happen to them. And that’s not what I mean—I just want those bad things to mean something, especially to the character that it is happening to. I want the female character to be well-rounded and fully presented, and for their death or injury to have meaning beyond “the inspiration to make the hero go kick some ass.”

Aunt May’s death in this game has so. Much. Meaning.

Well first of all, Aunt May herself has so much meaning. Aunt May, in this game, has a fully realized life outside of Peter. Quick, what do any of the Aunt Mays in any of the recent adaptations do for a living? Is she retired? Does she garden? Does she volunteer for anything? Basically only the Aunt May in the most recent film, Spider-Man: Far From Home, seems to have any life outside of her nephew. The Aunt May in the game is fully fleshed out, and has a life and motivations of her own. Aunt May is a volunteer/staff member at a homeless shelter, one that she has obviously gotten Peter to spend a lot of time at as well since some of the residents know his name. She distributes supplies, talks to residents, and handles situations. She obviously loves Peter and watches over him, while allowing him to be the adult that he is in this game.

In the latter half of the game, a bio-engineered illness is sweeping the city at the same time Rikers’ entire population has been released. Even as civilization seems to be crumbling, with people too ill to do their jobs, hospitals overcrowded, and looting going amok (one of the game’s only failures is it seems to think that all people in prison are actually stereotypical baddies who will immediately start taking over neighborhoods and harassing people, and not like, going home because they’ve been in prison for 10 years for an ounce of weed), Aunt May focuses on keeping the shelter above water, making it a safe haven in the chaos. She cares for the sick who are in the shelter, and makes sure they have supplies and medicine.

And then Aunt May gets sick.

Like pretty much every battlefield nurse, she eventually succumbs to the illness she was helping to treat in others. She powers on, coughing up blood and taking a moment to realize what is happening, before steeling her spine and going back to work.

She is critically ill as Spider-Man goes into his final battle, with the aim to retrieve the antidote to the illness. Eventually he succeeds, but the stakes are high. He only has one vial of the cure; enough to cure one person, or to be used as the basis for a synthesis of enough cure for the whole city. But not both. And Aunt May doesn’t have long enough to live to later receive the synthesized cure.

Spider-Man walks into Aunt May’s room, clutching the cure. He is obviously choked up when he tells her, “You’re going to be okay, ma’am. I’ve got the cure right here.” She replies, “Take off your mask. I want to see my nephew,” revealing that she has known all along that he is Spider-Man. He tells her that he never wanted her to worry—she lets him know that she did worry, but that she is proud of him, and that Uncle Ben would be, too. (I’m not crying, you’re crying.) Obviously distraught, Peter tells her, “I don’t know what to do.” With the bemused smile of every parental figure who has figured something out before their child, she tells him, “Yes, you do.” She starts coughing, and Peter moves to put the cure into her IV line, working himself up to make the selfish but loving choice in the face of his aunt’s pain. He doesn’t. He sets the antidote aside, and the angle moves so that we can see May’s now-unconscious form, Peter kneeling at her bedside, clutching her hand and sobbing. The sound of her EKG gets louder and louder. The scene fades to black, and her EKG flatlines. And I’m crying.

(I am legit crying AGAIN from just writing this and re-watching the scene on YouTube.)

May’s death is poignant, and heartbreaking, and not fridging. Because May’s death is about May, not Peter. A villain didn’t pick on May because of Peter—May got sick doing what she was passionate about, taking care of people at the shelter. May’s sickness didn’t drive Peter to heroism or revenge—Peter was already in search of the antidote before he even knew that May was sick. May’s death wasn’t something to motivate Peter—he was already a hero, and already saving the day. The closest May’s death gets to being “about” Peter is that it serves as something as a test for Peter; but as May points out, Peter already knew the right thing to do.

 Even though the game is focused on Peter, May’s character has a full, fleshed-out arc over the course of the game. Her life and her death have meaning to the character and to the audience.

This is what Avengers: End Game thought it was doing when it killed the Black Widow. (Spoilers, it was not.)

Bad things can happen to female characters in media. In fact, if we want equal representation in media, bad things are bound to happen to female characters, because bad things happen to people, and women are half of all people. But those bad things should be purposeful. They should be doing something for the character and for the story. Women shouldn’t just be sexually assaulted to show how evil the bad guy is. Women shouldn’t just be kidnapped or murdered to inspire their boyfriends or fathers to go on killing sprees. Women should have lives, and character arcs, and meaning unto themselves. Like Aunt May.

Signed: Feminist Fury

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Featured image is a play on Margitte’s “Ceci N’est Pas Une Pipe” painting, depicting a refrigerator with the caption “Ceci N’est Pas Un Refrigerateur.”

I Know It When I See It (“It” Is Sexism)

When discussing obscenity, one Supreme Court Justice whom I am too lazy to look up right now* said that he would “know it when [he sees] it.” Like most moralistic crusades, rules against obscenity, sexuality, and sexually suggestive dress/behavior are usually left vague, opening them up to a lot of subjective interpretation. And wouldn’t you know it, that interpretation almost always winds up punishing women worse than men. Isn’t that just so weird?

Everything from school dress codes to online nipple bans tells women that literally everything about their bodies is sexual or sexualized. Female nipples? Indistinguishable from a male nipple in a closeup picture, but super sexy. A two-inch gap of skin between the end of your skirt and your knees? Super sexy. A bare shoulder? Oh baby, oh baby. A wedgie in your swimsuit? Sexy enough to disqualify you in a swim meet. (Google it, I swear to God.)

Twitch, the popular streaming platform, forbids “sexually suggestive content or activities.” And how they define that seems to be…. broad. And sexist. And subject to pressure from online harassment campaigns. Last week, streamer Quqco was suspended for three days for just such a crime for cosplaying on her stream as Chun-Li, a popular character from Street Fighter whose qipao involves a thigh-high slit. Now, again, this is cosplaying as a character from a game. A game that you can stream yourself playing on Twitch. But not, apparently, stream yourself dressing as.

Twitch’s guidelines seem to be purposefully vague. Cecilia D’Anastasio outlines this vagueness in an article:  

“Attire intended to be sexually suggestive and nudity are prohibited,” Twitch’s community guidelines read. For streams like Quqco’s, they “recommend attire appropriate for public settings, such as what you would wear on a public street, or to a mall or restaurant.”

As anyone who has ever been in public can tell you, “attire appropriate for public settings” covers a very, very large swathe of clothing. Like, all clothing. And Twitch seems to have banned just about all clothing at one time or another, at least when it is being worn (or drawn) by women. Nathan Grayson illustrates a few more recent bans that show that there is actually very little rhyme or reason to the way Twitch enforces its policies:

In addition to Quqco, several other notable streamers have received suspensions or warnings from Twitch about sexually suggestive content in the past few days. Late last week, IRL streamer Bridgett Devoue was given a three-day suspension for “sharing or engaging in sexually suggestive content or activities,” but Twitch did not elaborate any further. Over the weekend, Overwatch streamer Fareeha got hit with a warning (and a 90-day probationary period) after wearing a sports bra and baggy shorts at the gym. Also over the weekend, art streamer Saruei found herself on the wrong side of a warning for drawing “nudes,” despite the fact that her characters—while hentai-inspired and scantily clad—are clothed. Today, Twitch suspended her for three days.

Twitch has given the people it has punished very little in the way of explanation, and the victims of their vague guidelines worry about speaking against the platform for fear of further punishment or deplatforming. A few of them do point to online drama with the subreddit Livestreamfail, and YouTube or Discord channels aimed at harassing streamers, who often mass report streamers they don’t like, increasing the chances that Twitch will do something in response.

It’s my personal belief that much of Twitch’s eagerness to police women’s bodies is due to fears of retribution from FOSTA/SESTA, which would hold the platform accountable if certain vaguely or explicitly sexual content was hosted on it. But while I have empathy with this fear (because FOSTA/SESTA is garbage legislation that is actively harming women and other groups) it doesn’t excuse Twitch for its vague policies, inconsistent enforcement, gendered focus, and willingness to follow the desires of an online mob.

Signed: Feminist Fury

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*Justice Potter Stewart of the United States Supreme Court, in the case Jacobelis v. Ohio, famously said “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that. “

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Featured image is a screenshot of the “Chun Li vs. competitor” screen from the game Street Fighter II for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, with the competitor as the Twitch company logo.

Revisiting an Old Topic


When we started the new site, we started off with a bang (I apologize in advance for this joke). My first piece was on gun control, and was one of the starkest, most-likely-to-piss-off-my-loved-ones posts I’d ever written. Over a year and I-don’t-even-know-how-many mass shootings later, I stand behind most of what I wrote. But I’ve also learned a lot in that time, and I would like to address my changing perspective.

I am very upfront about the fact that I am a middle-class white lady. And while I try to constantly educate myself about various issues and perspectives, I have inherent privilege that means that I overlook things. One of the things I have overlooked is the racial aspect of gun control, and the interplay between militarized police forces and unarmed civilians.

When I wrote my first post, I was legitimately not thinking about (and possibly not aware of, I can’t really remember) the way that gun control laws have historically disproportionately affected Black people, or even been passed with the express purpose of oppressing Black people and other people of color. Following the Civil War, Southern states passed “Black Codes” that ensured that Black people were unarmed. One of the first bans of open carry was signed into law by then-California Governor Ronald Reagan, Patron Saint of Fox Newscasters, in response to the Black Panthers entering a Sacramento courthouse while armed. The next year, in 1968, the Gun Control Act was signed by Richard Nixon, Secret Patron Saint of Fox Newscasters. At the time, the NRA supported these laws, because White People Were Scared. (Kind of like how when the Black lawful gun owner Philando Castile was murdered by police, the NRA was suspiciously silent about the supposed natural rights of gun owners.)

Given the fact that pretty much every law, from prohibitions on weed to bans of “loitering,” are disproportionately enforced against Black people, there’s very good reason to believe that gun control laws will be equally disproportionately applied. And there are studies that back this up (that I am admittedly paraphrasing from an episode of Adam Ruins Everything). “Stand your Ground” laws are often not an acceptable excuse for Black defendants.  An analysis of ten years of ATF stings focusing on gun crimes found that 91% of people arrested were people of color. Stop and frisk policies in NYC allowed cops to just assume they might find guns or drugs on Black men, and thus harass millions of citizens. Gun possession penalization also adds to our mass incarceration problem. And the fact that so many people of color are left with felony records further disadvantages communities of color when it comes to legally purchasing guns.

One of my off-the-cuff responses to someone saying that we need guns because we need the ability to overthrow a dictatorial government is to say, “Well, the government has tanks and nukes, so good luck with that insurrection.” And honestly, I still think I’m mostly right. The police forces in small towns have tanks, SWAT gear, and chemical weapons that aren’t actually allowed in upfront combat but are apparently totally cool to use on protestors. So we’re in a very different situation than that the Founders faced in the 1700s, where both the government and the rebellion had muskets that took 30 seconds to load and about a 30% chance to hit. We simply don’t have access to the same weapons and force that the government does, and it’s (in my opinion) kind of ridiculous to think that your Far Cry 5 Bunker O’ Whiteness and Guns is going to stand up against the force of even a medium-sized suburb.

That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s entirely fair to ask communities to disarm themselves when said militarized police are not doing the same. You’re probably not going to be able to take on a police tank with an AR-15, but you probably have a better chance of it than you would without a gun. And if you are a person of color living in a community with increased chance of police violence or civilian acts of hatred, it seems downright dangerous to ask people to disarm. I don’t necessarily think that the answer to this issue is, “Everyone keeps all their guns!” so much as it is, “Maybe we should ALL have fewer guns, including the police.

As I said earlier, I do think that a lot of the things I said in my original post still stand. I sincerely believe that domestic abusers shouldn’t have access to guns, and that we need to close some of the loopholes that allow people like domestic abusers (or, y’know, white nationalists) to access guns. I really don’t think that it is a good thing that we have such easy access to weapons that are meant for the battlefield. But I also think that there are a lot of different things we also need to be doing. We need to de-militarize the police, so that they are ALSO not using their guns to kill people (namely people of color and mentally ill people). We need to stop treating the NRA as if it speaks for gun owners (it doesn’t) and start treating it as if it speaks for gun manufacturers (it does.) I think we need to have serious conversations about how “open carry” laws mean it is impossible to tell a “mass shooter” from a “responsible citizen.” We need to talk about how we can prevent necessary gun laws from having a disproportionate effect on communities of color, or being used as an excuse to harass men and women of color.

I don’t have all the answers. I don’t think anyone does. But I’m always trying to learn more so that the answers that I come up with are better.

Signed: Feminist Fury

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Featured image is a screenshot of a tweet by Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) reading “the “A” in “USA” stands for ArmaLite.

Stop Getting Mad At The Wrong People


Look what you’ve done. I should be editing my novel. I should be making another trip to the hardware store. I should be plastering a wall. Making dinner. Reading Ibram X. Kendi’s brilliant How to be an Antiracist. But here I am writing a post, because you—maybe not you specifically, but generally you—keep getting mad at the wrong people.

Imagine, for a moment, that you had to suffer through something awful. Let’s say you spent ten years “digging up” to get out of student debt.

Say you finally managed to get to a place of financial solvency. Great. Congratulations. You overcame a massive hurdle and a frustrating ordeal against the odds and at great personal sacrifice, and you should be proud of yourself.

Then someone comes along and says “let’s cancel everyone’s student debt.”

You, a hard-working success story, have two ways to respond, and the reason I’m writing this is because you keep responding the wrong way.

The right way is to say “Fantastic, now nobody will have to go through this unnecessary hardship ever again! The world is becoming a better place, and I am glad of it.”

The other way is to say “Hey! I had to go through this awful experience, you should too!” This is, to put it bluntly, asinine.

No, it isn’t fair that you had to struggle so hard for education, for something that should be a human right. But the reason it’s unfair isn’t that someone else is not going to have to struggle like you did. The reason it’s unfair is because you had to do so in the first place. Nobody should. If you’re going to be mad, be mad that it didn’t get fixed in time for you to take advantage of it. Be mad that you had to struggle. But don’t be mad that others won’t have to in the future.

Education debt isn’t the only place I’m seeing this asinine reaction. I’ve legitimately had to tell people this about healthcare in the past couple of weeks. Healthcare. Someone genuinely said to me that they worked hard so their family could have good health care, and if other people don’t have it, then they should just work hard too. Readers, many curse words were ungraciously sputtered in sheer disbelief. This genuine, bona fide asshole honestly thought that the roughly thirty million people in America who don’t have healthcare just don’t work hard enough to merit it. As though healthcare weren’t something you merit by the simple virtue of being human.

And before you start in on boomers, this mindset isn’t just limited to boomers shouting “back in my day” without realizing that in their day you could afford a house in the suburbs with a two car garage and two cars to put in it on the minimum wage. That would be one thing. But this is Gen X’ers and even older Millennials (such as my 36-year-old self, yes: we’re getting older now) who have legitimate grievances. Yes, we went through hard things. No, we shouldn’t have. NO, this does not mean you can blame the recipients of a better world for the fact that you didn’t live in that world.

I didn’t get Polio as a kid. I didn’t get Polio because I was vaccinated against Polio. It was a nice privilege I inherited because of the hard work of others. They not only invented a vaccine, but pushed for it to be given out for free. At no point would it have made sense for someone who managed to survive Polio to say “I got Polio and overcame it, why shouldn’t you have to?” Why? Because that’s bafflingly unreasonable, that’s why.

Your endurance and survival of negative things does not mean others should have to endure and survive them, too. You’re mad at the wrong people. And if you’re not going to help make the world a better place regardless of its benefit to you? Well at least do us all a favour and get the hell out of the way.

Signed: The Remixologist.

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Featured image is the meme image known as “Side Eyeing Chloe.”

I Don’t Have a New Article, but I’m Thinking About Some



So I haven’t been writing posts very steadily lately. Yeah… sorry about that. I thought the summer would mean that I finally had the mental and emotional energy to do more, and that… well that kind of didn’t happen. But not writing doesn’t mean not thinking, and I have a whole lot of ideas running around on articles I’d like to write. So this week’s post is a reminder to myself of the things I have ideas for. And who knows—if you all like some of these ideas and peer pressure me, I might actually write one of them. (I mean it worked for “Old Town Road.”)

  • Marianne Williamson. There is just… a lot going on there. A lot.
  • My Complicated Feelings on the Disney/Sony fight over Spider-Man
  • Songs that seem to sexualize a girl or woman’s low self-confidence and the fact that she’s not aware of her own value. (“She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful,” “Treasure,” “Little Things,” etc.)
  • A frequent companion to those types of songs I call the Nice Guy Song, about how a guy (or occasionally a girl) would TOTALLY be a better partner than the person the object of their affections is currently with. (“Girl All the Bad Guys Want,” “Flavor of the Weak,” “You Belong With Me,” etc.)
  • The harmful effects of “Chosen One” rhetoric in media.
  • Holy Shit, Literally All of My Favorite Things Growing Up Involved Child Soldiers.
  • The Spider-Man game for the PS4 (This one is actually likely to happen, I made Richard make me An Art for it and everything)
  • A renewed take on my gun control post
  • Ellements of Film posts on Avengers: Endgame or Amazon’s The Boys

I can’t promise returns on any of these (except maybe the Spider-Man game one, I opened a file and everything). But I promise I haven’t forgotten my beloved Feminist Fridays, and I hope you all haven’t either.

Signed: Feminist Fury

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Featured image depicts a fencepost with the text “Technically this is a post.” The original photograph is titled “The fading fencepost,” was taken by DeckerEgo, and is licensed under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.