A Girl Like You Doesn’t Have Time for this Nonsense

Because self-parody is a thing, y’all.

A comedy musician (musical comedian? I don’t know how people identify sometimes) changed the way I listen to love songs. Seriously. Bo Burnham’s song “Repeat Stuff”  points out how vague love songs are, so that multiple girls can see themselves in the song:


Oh, girl, I hope you don’t think that I’m rude
When I tell you that I love you, boo
I also hope that you don’t see through
This cleverly constructed ruse
Designed by a marketing team
Cashing in on puberty and low self-esteem
And girls’ desperate need to feel loved…

I love my baby and you know I couldn’t live without her
But now I need to make every girl think this song’s about her
Just to make sure that they spread it like the plague
So, I describe my dream girl as really really vague,
Like…


I love your hands ’cause your fingerprints are like no other.
I love your eyes and their blueish brownish greenish color.
I love it when you smile, that you smile wide.
And I love how your torso has an arm on either side
.

After I first heard this song, I started paying way more attention to other love songs. What do the songs actually say about their loved one or ideal partner? And I found that Burnham was right—almost every song keeps it very vague. But this was just a “huh, interesting” type of thing until I found Maroon 5’s “Girl Like You.”

“Girl Like You” is “Repeat Stuff,” only it is taking itself seriously. And doing so many more things wrong besides that.

“Girl Like You” is the vaguest, most half-assed song I have heard in my whole life. And I’m counting the really bad songs that I wrote in my teen years. This is worse than 15-year-old Moody Elle. (and I’m just counting the Maroon 5 parts. The version with Cardi B is technically a remix, and since Cardi B is talking about herself, it’s actually quite specific. Also, Cardi. What are you doing? Do not help out these sad little white boys. Stop.)

So here is what I know about the girl that Maroon 5 is singing about by the end of the song:

She maybe smokes a cigar/marijuana combo called a Backwood, she may or may not be sick of Adam Levine’s shit, she “loves fun,” and she may or may not be a better DD than Adam Levine. That is it. The song is called “Girl Like You” and the listener learns next to nothing about what the said girl is like.

Here are the lyrics that get repeated over and over:

Cause girls like you

Run around with guys like me

‘Til sundown, when I come through

I need a girl like you, yeah yeah

Girls like you

Love fun, yeah me too

What I want when I come through

I need a girl like you, yeah yeah

Yeah yeah yeah

Yeah yeah yeah

I need a girl like you, yeah yeah

Yeah yeah yeah

Yeah yeah yeah

I need a girl like you, yeah yeah

The word “yeah” is more common than information about the supposed main subject of the song. Somehow a song called “Girl Like You” still manages to be all about Adam Levine and his own self-hatred. And probably his dick. I’m suspecting at least part of this song is about his dick. This song is basically everything that Bo Burnham is talking about—everything is carefully selected so that any “girl” listening can imagine herself in the title role, and can imagine herself being the one to somewhat “save” the self-effacing Adam Levine from his shitty life choices. He’s a lot more specific about himself and his own type of character (“guys like me”) so that the person that this unknown girl wants is a lot more clearly delineated.

Also, most of these lyrics repeat about 15 times, and by the time the song ends, you never want to hear the word “yeah” again in your life.

And if Maroon 5 had been willing to leave things at the level of just having a vague, crappy song, I probably wouldn’t have cared enough to write this post. But then they did the Video.

I’ve talked before about what Doree Shafrir calls “fempowerment,” the lip service that companies pay to feminism and feminist ideals because it is trendy and commercially profitable. Peter Coffin and his wife, Ashley, also have a few videos in their “Adversaries” series that also address it quite well.  (They call it “empowertizing” but I like “femmpowerment” better). As I’ve said before, I’m begrudgingly accepting of “fempowerment,” because it at least means that feminism has gotten enough public acceptance that it is now more profitable to support feminism than to condemn it.

And this music video is “Fempowerment: The Music Video.”

It features multiple actresses, activists, and athletes, many of whom are having a particular cultural moment right now (Gal Gadot, Aly Raisman, Ilhan Omar, Millie Bobby Brown, etc.). At first they are standing behind Levine, one at a time, while the camera rotates and they dance and mouth the words to the song. They rarely interact with Levine himself, except for when Raisman briefly takes his hand. Then it starts focusing mostly on the women—the camera rotation starts showing us woman after woman in turn, before the “spoken breakdown” moment happens and it’s just Levine again, before Cardi B comes in for her verse and gets all the camera’s attention. Then we’re back to the one-by-one women and the turning stuff, ending with his own partner and their child, whom Levine hugs, before all of the band members disappear and all of the women are featured in two circles.

When the song came out, it made the media rounds as “OMG sooooo empowering, Love This!” fodder. And to its credit, the people that are featured in the video are a pretty wide array of backgrounds, ages, and races. In their own lives a lot of them are doing a lot of work for feminist causes and other activist causes. But this is not really empowerment. This, my friends, is Peak Fempowerment. The women who are shown in this song are all amazing, awesome, and deserving of attention. And with the exception of Cardi B, they are also all basically just set dressing for a dude, which they spend most of the video literally standing behind.

Now, it can be really hard, not to mention hypocritical, to criticize women for the ways that they decide to engage with culture, attention, fame, etc. I’m sure that each of these women received a boost to their public profile, and in at least a couple of cases, their causes. (Mostly when their causes were literally displayed on their t-shirts.) And it is hard to criticize any of these women for the choice to participate in this video when it gave them an opportunity to bring more awareness to their personal brands or causes. But as I’ve said before, choices don’t happen in a vacuum. And it is fair to ask what these women are accomplishing, or not accomplishing, by their participation in this video, and in particular, the way they are participating.  

Again, the women are frequently literally behind Adam Levine. They’re mouthing Levine’s words, dancing, and not even really interacting with the singer or other members of the band. (Name one member of Maroon 5 that isn’t Adam Levine. I dare you.) They aren’t getting to use their own voice, or even take a really active role in the action of the video. This isn’t a “story” type of video, where these individuals could be playing a role—it’s obvious that they are meant to be themselves. Which would suggest that they are supposed to be related to the song itself, and that their role in it is to fit in with some theme of female empowerment.

But the song isn’t really about female empowerment. And with the exception of Levine’s own partner (and Cardi’s verse about herself), the women aren’t thematically connected to the song itself, either. I really doubt that Adam Levine is calling Ilhan Omar at 6:45 to whine about himself (or maybe he does, that sounds like something he would do) or that Olympic-tier athlete Aly Raisman is rolling Backwoods. I sincerely doubt that Ellen Degeneres would “spend the weekend” making things right with Adam Levine. And since Millie Bobby Brown isn’t old enough for her learner’s permit, I doubt that it would be a better idea for her to drive.

So the women in this video aren’t there to take part in the story. They aren’t there to link to the song. They aren’t even there to interact with the band. Which means that they are mostly there to lend their own social cachet to Maroon 5, and prove how “woke” they are. They may be getting something out of this, whether it’s awareness for their campaign, a namedrop during discussions of the song, or hell, even just appearing in a music video. (That seems like a cool thing on its own. I’ve never been part of a music video.) But it is pretty clear, to me at least, that they are giving more than they are getting, and that is not particularly empowering.

The danger of “fempowerment” is similar to the danger of a vague love song—something that seems appealing on the surface is revealed to be at the best, hollow, and at the worst, harmful to its supposed subject.

Signed: Feminist Fury

***

Featured image is a digitally-altered photograph of Adam Levine with his arm around a white cut-out with the words “Your Face Here” written on it.

I Sometimes Hate When I’m Right

With friends like these… [incoherent screaming]

So remember last week, when I said that I wasn’t going to critique Marie Kondo in particular, because critiques of her have a lot of weird sexist and racist undertones? So…. Yeah. I was right about that. And now I have to be sad about the world again. (This post is going to involve a lot of GIFs, because the way I am dealing with my depression and anger at the world is by using a lot of GIFs.)

Barbara Ehrenreich, Katha Pollitt, and Elaine Showalter are all writers who I’ve respected for a long time. When I was teaching, I used pieces from both Ehrenreich and Pollitt. I’ve cited Showalter in my own work, because I apparently can’t stop talking about the concept of hysteria. All of them have, at one time or another, (and to one degree or another) written really insightfully about gender, culture, and class. And when I first saw these comments, I was just gobsmacked. Because these three women that I respected had just done the intellectual equivalent of shouting “PSYCH!” in my face while lighting The Feminine Mystique on fire and tearing pages out of Orientalism.

Orientalism is actually something that I somehow haven’t talked about very much, which means I probably lost a game of SJW bingo somewhere. Orientalism, as discussed by Edward Said in his excellent book by the same name, refers to the stereotypical attitudes people in the “West” have about people from the “East” (most notably the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia). These attitudes are typically both patronizing and sexualized, depicting Eastern cultures as exotic, erotic, and uncivilized. One aspect of Orientalism that is highly relevant to these godawful tweets is the concept of the sexualized, submissive Asian woman. Asian women are often depicted as diminutive, modest, and secretly sexual. She’s often either/all an “exotic” version of the manic pixie dream girl, a submissive wife, and a sexual object. It’s the kind of thing I expect from certain anime and porn, not three well-respected female authors.

Let’s look at the different aspects of Orientalism, often also imbued with sexism, that these three women present. Most of these tweets have this idea of a strict difference between the “East” and the “West,” with the explicit idea that the United States as part of the West is supposed to be superior, but something about the influence of the East has diminished us. (Also, most of these authors use the terminology of “America,” but I’m making a concerted effort to use the phrase “United States” because it is pretty damn presumptive for us to steal a moniker that is applied to two different continents, so I’m going to accurately quote the authors but then use the term “United States” in my discussion of their tweets.) And then there’s all kinds of objectification, but I don’t want to give too many spoilers.

First we have Ehrenreich’s first tweet:

Which… wow.

First of all, the United States is definitely in a decline. I could go outside and point, and I will probably land on evidence that the United States is in decline. But one thing that is definitely not a sign of our decline is that Marie Kondo does not speak English. Does Ehrenreich think that all people who visit the United States should speak English? Because United States citizens definitely don’t follow that logic when we visit other places. Does she think that we should only be influenced by people who should speak English? Because that’s not a really great standpoint, either. There are all kinds of amazing, thoughtful people in the world whose ideas should influence us. And not all of them are going to learn English because we are too lazy to be multi-lingual.

It’s worth noting that Ehrenreich deleted this tweet, and then replaced it with the tweet that I’m about to discuss, because it shows that she’s self-aware enough to know that the way she phrased this was Not Good, but not self-aware enough to know that she just shouldn’t be letting this idea into the wild in any form.

In her second tweet she writes, “I confess: I hate Marie Kondo because, aesthetically speaking, I’m on the side of clutter. As for her language: It’s OK with me that she doesn’t speak English to her huge American audience but it does suggest that America is in decline as a superpower.”

…Ok. So. First of all—as I pointed out in my own post (seriously I do this for funsies and cheap therapy, how am I better at articulating this than a woman with actual publishing deals) the issue is not with Kondo herself, it is with minimalism. Kondo is not breaking into your house and burning all of your clutter. She is saying that you should take a look at your clutter and see how much happiness it is giving you. If the aesthetics of clutter give you joy? Great! Clutter sparked joy. Watch Brooklyn 99 instead of her show.

Second. It is obviously not ok with you that she doesn’t speak English. If it was ok with you, you wouldn’t be fucking saying these things. You are implying that the size of her United States audience should have some influence over the language that Kondo speaks. You know… you know that’s why interpreters and translators exist, right? Like no one made JK Rowling learn Mandarin just because Harry Potter got translated into 60 different languages and there are a ton of Harry Potter fans in China. They have translators for that. (Yes, I did a Google search to make my point. That’s how pissed I am.) It is not incumbent upon Kondo to learn an entirely new language just because a bunch of people in the United States like her work. Second, and I cannot repeat this enough, it is in no way a sign that the United States is declining as a superpower. And honestly, the implications of that thought are suuuuper imperialist and scary. What Ehrenreich is basically saying is that Kondo should have felt pressured to learn English in order to appease the powerful and judgmental people in the United States, who are at the top of the global food chain and thus have no need to do something as petty as “read subtitles” or “listen to an interpreter” or “acknowledge that other languages exist.”

Then Ehrenreich tried to “fix” things in the worst way possible: saying that she was just joking.

…it is the reaction of basically every racist/sexist/etc. to say “I was just kidding!” when they say something upsetting. (Also, they don’t actually decide that they are joking until they determine if their audience is reacting positively or negatively. Then if it’s negative, they were definitely joking.) It’s the reaction of every racist/sexist who is also an asshole for separate reasons to imply within this defense that the audience just “didn’t get the joke.” According to Ehrenreich, she was trying for “subtle humor.” What about her tweet could even generously be described as either subtle or humorous? She is owning exactly none of her own behavior in this tweet.

Moving on to Katha Pollitt’s reply, where we get to move further into the personal Orientalism:

“I think her speaking Japanese adds to her fairy-like delicacy and charm. It exaggerates the diff between herself and her lumpish, clueless American clients. She’s the decluttering equivalent of Queer Eye. Outsider helps insider who’s doing it all wrong.”

Pollitt basically manages to be dreadful to everyone in this sentence. She is dreadful to Kondo, who she turns from a person into a mythical creature while trying to basically say, “Kondo speaking her own language is a feature, not a bug!” Like…. What? Calling Kondo “fairy-like,” “delica[te]” and “charm[ing]” aren’t the compliments that she thinks they are. She is forcefully Othering Kondo, especially when she compares her to her audience. Pollitt is dreadful to people in the United States, who become “lumpish” and “clueless.” I know I was just badmouthing the US a little while ago, but… lumpish and clueless? According to imdb, some of the people that Kondo helps are: a widow, a couple expecting their first child, a retired couple, and some pet owners. They sound like… people? Pretty normal people. She’s also dreadful to the guys from Queer Eye by basically paring down their appeal to an “insider/outsider” dichotomy. I am just so, so done.

Pollitt, unlike Ehrenreich, seems to make at least a half-hearted attempt at actually accepting criticism.


So she starts off kinda bad, basically saying “I wasn’t trying to be racist to allll Japanese women. I was only trying to be racist to this specific Japanese woman,” and then describes Kondo’s experience and demeanor as if this is going to make things better. But she at least acknowledges that she made people angry, and promises to consider the criticism she’s gotten.

And then…. Showalter.

“She is certainly a pretty little pixie, & I am keen on decluttering but I am immune to Tinkerbell teaching me how to fold my socks.”

I just… I mean… how do you get things this wrong? First of all, if you actually don’t mind decluttering, then why the hell are you wading in on this? Just happily continue being ok with decluttering, and don’t say anything about this. Second…. “pretty little pixie?” “Tinkerbell?”

Tinkerbell does not approve of your shit, Elaine Showalter. Showalter is best known as a feminist theorist. She, of all people, should understand the harm in objectifying women based on their appearance, using dehumanizing language, and essentially scolding women for taking part in domestic-sphere type activities. I just….

Even worse, as far as I can tell Showalter is the only one to not even attempt to apologize for her words. I gues she’s just hoping we all… forget? Move on to the next crisis?

Marie Kondo is a person. Not a pixie, not a fairy godmother, not a sign of the decline of the United States. A person. A person who is enjoying a cultural moment right now, and a person who deserves to be critiqued if there are things to be critiqued about her, but these “things” do not include her appearance, her demeanor, or her language skills.

I really can’t fully express how disappointed I am in these three women. It is hard enough right now with all of the alt-right or just generally conservative assholes doing their best to drag women down, suppress our voice, and take us out of the public sphere. When self-professed feminists and leftists (instead of apologizing for being an asshat, Showalter has spent most of the last few days retweeting criticism of Trump and his administration) take part in those activities, it is deeply disappointing. We can’t fight the enemy in front of us when we’re worried about getting stabbed in the back. We are living in dangerous times, and we do not have time for this shit. Everyone who is left-leaning needs to get with the goddamn program, because we are moving forward, with or without them.

Signed: Feminist Fury (with extra fury today)

***

Featured image is of one of the tweets in question with a bunch of “no” written all over it by the generally horrified editor of this post.

Millenials, Minimalism, and Stuff

Why the current fad for minimalism does not “bring me joy.”

NOTE: Before I get started, I want to be upfront with the fact that I have not watched Marie Kondo’s show, or read her book. And I think a lot of the criticism that is directed her way has some weird racist and sexist overtones, and I really don’t want to add to that. And from what I understand, she’s not really a minimalist, minimalists just really dig her. My beef is not with Kondo, who I think seems to genuinely want to help people, but with the entire dialogue around minimalism. Also I’m gonna make some pretty sweeping generalizations in the following work, and I am aware of that. So please don’t @ me with “Not all of the 80s!” and “Not all millennials.” I’m aware. Chill.

Let’s tell a story together. Let’s say that we’re millennials (which at this point is an infantilizing term that means that we were born in the early 80s to the mid-90s, which means that we’re in our early 20s to late 30s at this point.) We were born into… interesting… times. The 80s weaponized conspicuous consumption, and valorized greed. A loosening of broadcast legislation meant that television for children could basically be a 25-minute ad, interspersed with smaller, 30-second ads. We were encouraged to identify with glorified commercials, because that would mean we wanted more Stuff. The watchword was “more.” More TV stations, more stores in the mall, more Stuff.  He Who Had the Most Stuff was the Best Person. Trickle down economics was totally going to work, and didn’t we want to take regulations off so that “job creators” could fix things? That was (after all) the best way to get us more Stuff.

If you were a kid in the 90s, you grew up in a world that seemed to be endlessly expanding, endlessly consuming, and endlessly competing. We got “participation trophies,” not because we wanted them (we knew that they were “thanks for entering, but you sucked” prizes. We weren’t oblivious.) but because our parents couldn’t stand to think that their progeny wasn’t special. That their own parenting wasn’t reflected in an object that could be held and taken home, that could be placed on a mantel and shown to others. How could our parents know that we were good children if we didn’t have Stuff to show for it?

We lived through, and participated in, multiple crazes that focused around two things: gathering lots of Stuff and keeping it forever. We were told that Beanie Babies, Furbies, Pokémon cards, and variant comic book covers were things that We Had to Have. We had to be the person with the most, and the best. And we should hold onto these things for years and years, because they would only grow in value over time.

We were pushed in carts around giant shrines to Stuff—bulk-buying stores were trumpeted as the smartest choice in shopping. Why buy a jar of mayonnaise when you could buy a quart? Why buy a pack of toilet paper when you could buy a crate of it? It would be cheaper, overall, to buy more of the Stuff at once, and again, keep it for a long time.

Behind the scenes, economic changes were happening that we were unaware of. Globalization and trade meant that the market was flooded with more and cheaper Stuff. Sure, a lot of that Stuff was really shitty, but it was cheap, which meant we could get more of it. The economy forcibly moved away from ideas like “repair” and “reuse.” Why repair your vacuum, when it is cheaper to get a new one? And why build a vacuum that will work for many years, when you know that your customer is just going to buy a new one? Planned obsolescence was much better than quality for all of those “job creators.” People wouldn’t complain (too much) about their jeans wearing out after just a year when it was fairly cheap to buy new jeans.

The increased monopolization of various industries meant that what appeared to be different products really, really weren’t, and price was no longer a good indication of value. Those $200 boots were made in the same factory as those $20 boots, and fall apart about as fast. There was no good way to determine how much “bang” you were actually getting for your buck.

We were told that we absolutely had to go to college if we wanted to succeed at life. Coincidentally, Sallie Mae was privatized in the 1990s, encouraging students to take loans that they couldn’t afford, all in the name of profit. Kids who weren’t old enough to buy cigarettes or drink were encouraged to take on loans they couldn’t possibly pay off, and subsequent decades of lobbying ensured that these loans couldn’t be erased like other types of loan, or even dissolved in bankruptcy.

The minimum wage stayed stagnant, even as inflation ballooned. Gas prices rose. 9/11 happened, and the War on Terror seemed to hurt rather than help the economy. But we should still keep buying Stuff, we were told. Buying Stuff would help.

And we did what we were told. We took out loans, we bought Stuff, we went to college, and we waited for the Success to happen to us. The Success that happened to everyone before us. And then the economy tanked. And most millennials still haven’t recovered, and never will recover.

We were raised in a culture that idealized Stuff, and related consumption to success. We have been encouraged our entire lives to purchase and keep things. Our minimum wage is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it’s a better option for us to buy multiple cheap things than try to buy one more expensive thing, because we have no guarantee that the expensive thing will be better. We can’t repair things when they break, either because either it’s too expensive, there’s no one able to repair it, or some multi-billion corporation will void our warranty if we try to fix our own objects. We’re struggling to find jobs, crushed under loans, and doing our best to get by.

We have closets full of cheap clothing, because we know that it is going to wear out but we can’t afford to do laundry at the laundromat too often, and we don’t want to take the chance of spending a day’s paycheck on a single shirt that is still going to fall apart. We hold on to old shoes, computers, and furniture, because we don’t know if the current stuff we have is going to break worse than the old stuff we’re keeping around, and we might need the old thing to replace the new thing at any point. We have shelves full of college books because we weren’t going to get anything near what we paid for them if we tried to sell them back. We buy in bulk whenever we can, because we were taught to, and because it will hopefully ultimately be cheaper for us.

And into this enters minimalism. Getting rid of as much as you can, living “simply,” and de-cluttering your life.

Let me make something clear: there are two ways that you can live “minimally.” You can either (a) be too poor to buy enough things to have clutter (in which case your minimalism is probably not an active choice) or (b) you are rich enough that you don’t have to worry. You don’t have to worry about things like buying replacements when something breaks or wears out, or buying in bulk to save money. It means you have the time, energy, and money to find fewer objects of obvious quality instead of many cheap objects.

Minimalism is either a punishment or a privilege.

And it wouldn’t upset me so much, if it weren’t for the fact that minimalism is going the way of veganism, Paleo diets, natural birth, organic food, breastfeeding, and yoga—in that a lot of people are totally capable of doing the thing without making it a moral judgment about everyone around them, and a different lot of people Are Seriously Not Able to Do The Thing Without Being an Asshole. Minimalism is becoming a purity cult, where enacting minimalism is associated with personal goodness and moral virtue. Which is bullshit.

We were raised to worship Stuff. We entered an economy where we had no choice but to cling to Stuff. And then a lot of the same people who raised us that way, who messed up the economy that way, are now telling us that we’re not good people unless we can live in a minimalist lifestyle. Which is a lot like a bully telling their victim to stop hitting themselves.

This does not bring me joy.

Signed: Feminist Fury.

***

Featured image is of the aisle of a Dollar Store and is released under a CC-BY 2.0 license by Random Retail.

Serving Misogyny

To find out that menstruation is apparently the one aspect of femininity that is “too far” is disappointing on both a personal and an artistic level, because it shows the multiple ways in which Drag Race is not willing to expand boundaries as far as we thought.

 

I’m a big Drag Race fan, though I’ve missed a few seasons due to my lack of cable. (Damn my millennial spirit.) But I try to somewhat keep up with things via blogs and fansites, so I was pleased to hear that one of my all-time faves, Manila Luzon, was going to be on the All Stars series. And then my love grew so large that it nearly actually strangled me when I learned that she had planned to wear this outfit on the show:

 

 

Look at this. Look at it. This is goddamn fantastic. It acknowledges and normalizes periods at the same time it looks amazing. I freaking adore this look.

But you may have noticed that I wrote “planned to.” Manila Luzon did not actually get to wear this outfit on national television, because, as she explained in an Instagram post, RuPaul and the producers thought the look was in “bad taste.”

Now, for completely unrelated reasons, I’m going to show you a few of the looks that have been allowed on Drag Race over the years:

 

For those of you playing WTF bingo, that is, in order: nearly-naked Ziggy Stardust, naked with cardboard censoring bars, gagged BDSM, a “Carrie getting covered in pig’s blood” costume, some kind of nose-job and lip-job costume (?), an outfit with an accessorized oxygen tank (??), a “tribute” to the “Indian” from the Village People (???), pregnancy as a costume (?!), and a horror show I can only assume was meant to be a rotting corpse costume (?!!).

So to be clear, RuPaul and the producers are okay with nudity or near nudity (to the point that pixelation has to be involved,) allusions to BDSM, cultural appropriation, pregnancy and unhealthy beauty standards. They’re even really okay with fake blood in other contexts. And I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with those things (except for the unhealthy beauty standards and cultural appropriation. Please do not waist train, everyone. It is bad for you. Cultural appropriation is also bad for you and should not happen.) So it’s pretty clear that the show has a fairly high bar for “bad taste,” and in other contexts is totally okay with both blood and cisgender female bodily functions, like pregnancy. But a really gorgeous look that normalizes menstruation while still being amazing is too far?

I’ve talked before on the old blog about the stigma against menstruation. (I actually talked about it a lot).

Long story short, as a society we seem to be almost completely incapable of discussing menstruation in a healthy way, avoid punishing girls or women for having periods, or even show blood or say the word “period” in a commercial for menstrual products. (If your menstrual blood is ever blue, please double check that your uterus has not been filled with antifreeze or windshield fluid.) At the same time that young women are sexualized and seen as breeding objects, we stigmatize this biological corollary to puberty and fertility.

Manila also mentions this stigma in her post about the look. In her post she explains, “I was really looking forward to wearing this gown that I think celebrates a perfectly normal human experience! Many of my fans are young women who may feel pressured by society to be embarrassed by periods. It’s empowering to teach young women about their bodies, encourage them to celebrate them AND to question people who tell them not to. My goal with this look was to normalize menstruation by looking sick’ning even if I was on my period!”

 

 

Fellow Drag Race alum Willam showed support for Manila and also advocated for the normalization of menstruation, while at the same time calling herself out for doing things on the show in worse taste than a menstruation dress. Willam might be my id.

This incident is really upsetting and saddening, partly because one of the things I like best about Drag Race is the ways that it discusses and expands concepts of “femininity.” A lot of the cultural advances that we’ve made in dance, fashion, and makeup come from the world of drag. (The Kardashians can thank drag queens for their contouring. Is it kontouring if a Kardashian does it? These are the questions that keep me up at night.) Drag can be a reflection of many cisgender women’s experiences, or a funhouse mirror that exaggerates these experiences. And for many women, menstruation is one of those experiences. To find out that menstruation is apparently the one aspect of femininity that is “too far” is disappointing on both a personal and an artistic level, because it shows the multiple ways in which Drag Race is not willing to expand boundaries as far as we thought.

Signed: Feminist Fury.

***

Featured image is of Manila Luzon in a dress featuring a stylized used menstrual pad on the front.

Baby, It’s a Changing (Cultural) Climate Outside

Because we *do* need to talk about “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” every now and then.

 

Based on the current status of my Facebook feed, it is time to have a conversation that I have somehow managed to not have in my four years as a feminist blogger: the “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” conversation. We get to address the backlash to the backlash to the song, and along the way, talk about authorial intent, reception theory, and other stuff that I went to school to learn. (Wooo, take that student loans, I’m doing something useful with my degree.)

So there are two figures/groups that can be held as the most important when it comes to determining the meaning of a work—the author, and the audience. People who adhere closely to authorial intention say that the most important way of interpreting what a work means is by following what the author says that the work means or says that they intended it to mean. Someone who adheres closely to reception theory says that it is the audience that actually determines the meaning of the work—that how the work is received (aka its reception) is more important than what the author meant.

JK Rowling presents a really good case study as a microcosm of the “authorial intention” vs. “reception theory” argument, and how both sides can be correct at the same time. Rowling is able to state that she wrote the character of Dumbledore with the understanding that he was gay. It’s totally fair for her to say that when she was writing the work, this intention affected how she wrote Dumbledore, and for readers to decide that this means Dumbledore is canonically gay. But it’s also totally fair for the audience to say, “Pics or it didn’t happen.” Few readers automatically understood Dumbledore to be a queer character, and they are justified in saying that however Rowling intended the character, he doesn’t come across with that intention clearly actualized.

Personally, I do find authorial intention to be important, and I’m always interested to hear what an author says about their own work. But I’m more closely aligned to reception theory, partly as a matter of pragmatism. It is very easy for an author’s intentions to be overwhelmed, and very easy for an audience to take a creation and do something new with it, for good or for ill. At this stage it is nearly pointless to huffily declare “Frankenstein isn’t the name of the monster, it is the name of the Doctor!” because in the cultural zeitgeist, Frankenstein is interchangeably used for both figures. No matter what Mary Shelley originally intended, her work has been reinterpreted and re-understood by people to the point that when you hear the name “Frankenstein,” your thoughts are more likely to flash to Boris Karloff than Colin Clive.  In a much more depressing example, the creator of Pepe the Frog killed off his character and had a “funeral” for him after the character was co-opted by the Alt-Right movement. Matt Furie certainly never intended for his creation to be adopted as the mascot for neo-Nazis, but his desires (his intentions) are also nowhere near enough for the character to be reclaimed. Unfortunately, the character will now probably be permanently associated with this movement. And to return to Rowling, announcing post-series that Dumbledore was gay the whole time is a really convenient way to get brownie points for being progressive whilst not losing any of that sweet, sweet homophobe cash when the books were in their heyday.

I give this introduction because I think it’s an important primer for understanding the various levels of the argument over “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”  So now, some facts:

  • The song was first written in 1944, and became very popular after it was featured in the 1949 film Neptune’s Daughterit even won the Academy Award that year.
  • The original writer conceived of it as a husband-and-wife duet, meant to be performed at parties—the composer, Frank Loesser, performed it with his wife, Lynn Garland.
  • On the score of the song, the traditionally-female character is referred to as “Mouse,” and the traditionally-male character is referred to as “Wolf.” (We are presumably supposed to not make any judgment of the relationship between the characters based on this description… None.)
  • In Neptune’s Daughter, the song is first sung with Ricardo Montalbán as the Wolf figure and Esther Williams as the Mouse figure, and then by Betty Garrett as the Wolf figure and Red Skelton as the Mouse figure.
  • The song has been covered by basically everyone ever.
  • There are two main camps in the argument—one which I associate strongly with authorial intent, and one that I associate very strongly with reception theory.

So the side that frequently defends the song usually puts forward something along the following argument (fairly well articulated in this blog post):

The song has to be understood as a product of its time. The phrase “Hey what’s in this drink?” was a common saying that was basically someone implying that they were doing or saying something that they normally wouldn’t, and joking that it was the effect of an overly-strong drink. It also stands as a good cover for a woman who wants to do something outside of the cultural norm. “I’m an alcoholic” is way more socially acceptable in some circles than “I’m a loose woman.” In this reading, the Mouse figure in the song actually does want to stay (and you know, have sex) but is thinking about the social acceptability of the action—all of her objections refer to what others might think of her. The Wolf figure understands that she wants to stay, and is essentially giving her excuses/helping her build a story that gives an innocent explanation as to why she stayed.

The side that is opposed to the song usually puts forward something along the lines of the following argument:

The song is pretty rapey. Or if not rapey, at least a great example of someone not understanding boundaries and consent. The Wolf figure is the poster child for not being able to take no for an answer. The Mouse figure is trying to make her position clear without hurting the Wolf figure or making him angry at the Mouse by stating her intentions and then basically name dropping all of the people that are looking out for her/would be upset if something happened to her/stand in as excuses for why she needs to leave that won’t injure his pride or masculinity. And at this point the whole “What’s in this drink” line is just creepy as hell.

My take: I really do understand the “pro-song” side (and to be honest, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” used to be one of my favorite Christmas songs). It was certainly written with no ill-will, and I think it is a perfectly justified reading of the song lyrics, within the context of the era in which they were written, to see it as a coy back-and-forth between lovers who have a clear understanding of the social mores of their time and the double-speak they have to engage in if they want to have a good time but not leave her with a ruined reputation.

However.

I think that at this point, it takes an (almost overly) generous reading of the song, and understanding of reactions to it, to hold fast to that understanding of the song. Even in the film that made it famous, it’s already kinda iffy. While the characters who are playing the Mouse figure in the song are definitely sending some mixed signals, and both eventually seem happy to stay out of the cold, they also both undergo some pretty troubling things. The characters played by Esther Williams and Red Skelton are both repeatedly, physically prevented from leaving by their Wolf figure counterparts. And even with the mixed signals, just look at that side eye and glaring from Esther Williams. That is a woman who is not super happy to be continually manhandled and redirected.

And at this point, regardless of how it was intended, it sounds a whole lot like a guy pressuring a girl, refusing to take no for an answer, and belittling her concerns. It’s the “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” of Christmas songs. It doesn’t take an easily-triggered “cuck” or an overly-sensitive feminist to see that there’s something pretty messed up about repeatedly telling someone that you want to leave and having them respond by telling you how “delicious” your lips look. This song becomes another entry in a long, long line of media that tells guys that if a woman says no, all you have to do is keep harassing her until she changes her mind just to get you to shut up. There are already a lot of entries in that line, and I don’t know if yet another one also needs to moonlight as a popular Christmas carol that unfortunate retail workers will have to hear roughly two billion times in December. And let’s be real: in the wake of the Cosby trial, I don’t know when, if ever, “hey what’s in this drink” will be taken as an “innocent” joke again.

In my own, humble opinion, I think that the reception theory interpretation is (at least for now) the winner. I just genuinely don’t think that in the current era, we can ignore the implications of a song in which a man repeatedly insists that a woman stay the night and bulldozes over all of her objections. Women already face an uphill battle to have their autonomy and decisions taken seriously, since pretty much all media is against them. Phrases and ideas like “Her lips say no but her eyes say yes,” “She’s playing hard to get,” “Methinks the lady protests too much,” etc. run rampant in popular media. We’re told that if a woman rejects you, you just have to TRY HARDER because eventually you will wear her down, because she secretly always wanted to be worn down. Even when it’s played for laughs or is part of a light-hearted Christmas standard, it sends a dangerous message about ignoring it when a woman tells you no. And that message, the “If at first she won’t fuck you, try, try again” message, is a much more dominant narrative than any potential “It’s secretly empowering to engage in word play with your lover so that you can have sex while still being respectable” message.

Now, despite being an overly sensitive feminist (I don’t think I’m easily-triggered cuck…), I want to make it clear that this is not to say that I fully support a ban on the song, or think that no one should like it, or am secretly judging everyone who hums it, or anything like that. But I do think that it is worth having a conversation, or multiple conversations, about the unintentional messages in the media we consume as well as the intentional ones. And I do think that the situation is more complicated than just rolling your eyes at supposed “snowflakes” who don’t like the song. (Also, in the context of a Christmas song, shouldn’t being a “snowflake” be a good thing? I may be overthinking this.)

Signed: Feminist Fury

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Featured image depicts a snowflake up close. It is by maf04 and is used under a create commons, attribution share-alike 2.0 license.

If You Have To Do “Black Friday,” We’ve Got A Better Way

A “Buy This, Not That” article.

 

Some words and phrases lose their meaning over time. Sometimes that’s through actual physical repetition—try saying the word “surreptitiously” 20 times and see if it still sounds like English at the end. Other times it is because the word themselves become less precise, or stop meaning what they used to mean. Words like “metrosexual” or “mansplain” lost their meaning over time because they were being used to describe things that didn’t fit, or because people misused them, or just because people are weird. I feel like “Black Friday” has joined that category.

Black Friday used to mean three things:

  1. Getting up at 4 AM the day after Thanksgiving to shop for cheap things that you really want.
  2. A singular day of sales.
  3. Newscasters showing footage of seething masses of frantic humans losing their goddamn minds in a Target.

And now it means… not those things. Well, it still means the last thing. I don’t know what newscasters would do without footage of Black Friday “riots.” They might have to actually report the news. Heaven forbid.

But the meaning of Black Friday has started to change dramatically.

The onset of e-commerce meant that we spread into Cyber Monday. Then the fear of big businesses encouraged Small Business Saturday. And then nonprofits were like “we want in on this action” and started Giving Tuesday. Then the day itself started to stretch. First it was starting at midnight on Thanksgiving. Then…. six PM on Thanksgiving? Then pretty much all of Thanksgiving. And now the sales are just basically all of November. Just this evening, I got an ad for a “pre-Black Friday” sale at Office Depot. Office Depot.

And the “cheap things that you really want” thing changed as well. Black Friday sales are often “sales” in the way that garage sales are “sales”: they are opportunities to get rid of shit that the owners don’t want and hope you are stupid enough to take. It’s a way to empty out stock before the heart of Christmas shopping.  And the “cheap” thing is a lie these days, too. Oftentimes the “sale” is the same price that the object already is, but with a new label on it. Last time I partook in Black Friday, I was very pleased to get a copy of Apples to Apples for $15. The next week I saw it in the store for… $10. The hell.

So all of that adds up to one thing: Black Friday is bullshit. It is extra bullshit now, because of that aforementioned time creep. Because capitalism is always gonna capitalism, low-wage workers are being forced to leave their Thanksgiving celebrations early, or miss their Thanksgiving celebrations entirely, so that people who don’t realize that the internet exists can get $5 off of a flat-screen TV. It is bullshit.

So don’t do it. Don’t go out on Black Friday. Don’t give more money to Bezos or the Waltons. Instead, if you want to spend money, buy things from smaller artisans and creators. Like the ones I’m about to show you!

Each of these artists has either made something that is hanging up in my house at this very moment, or was recommended to me by a friend. So they all are beloved by people with excellent taste. Also, all images are the copyrighted property of their creators — I’m just borrowing them temporarily to show you all how cool they are.

And heads up: their sites or shops are hyperlinked in their names.

 

Meghan Rowswell

I’m not 100% sure that there is an art style that Meghan Rowswell doesn’t do. She makes gorgeous ikebana arrangements, crazy cool egg decoration things, textile sculptures, and collages. She honestly does more than that, but if I keep listing her accomplishments, I’m going to start feeling lame about my lack thereof. So instead I’ll just show you one of my favorite pieces, a collage she did. Her site doesn’t have anything currently on sale, but I have it on good authority that if you e-mail her you can totally work out a commission. (This “good authority” comes from having, you know, done that.)

 

The Latest Kate

The Latest Kate is an artist who makes really adorable posters of animals with encouraging sayings on them. LOOK AT THIS MAJESTIC SPACE DEER. The space deer is reminding you that you’re a badass. Thank you, space deer. I am, in fact, a badass.

 

 

CarnivalSix

I need to have about sixteen more children in my life than I do, because I need to buy all of them these adorable fairytale prints from CarnivalSix. They’re all really cute interpretations of classic stories, with key quotes from the story featured as part of the story. The genius behind CarnivalSix, Laurel Shelley-Reuss, is also the co-creator of a fantastic RPG-based comic called The Handbook of Heroes. It also has a Patreon. (Hint, hint.)

 

Emily McDowell

Emily McDowell creates a variety of products, including cards, mugs, and stationary. My favorites are her cards, which are quite outside your average Hallmark, in that they admit that sympathy cards are a fruitless attempt to make people feel better when they can’t be made to feel better. Or give genuine congratulations for a new baby.

 

 

Tea and Absinthe

Tea and Absinthe makes tea, teaware, and other drinkware. It’s all pretty fantastic, but my favorite is this dapper octopus mixer. He has a hat.

 

Kevin Eslinger

Kevin Eslinger makes original art as well as fanart. Because I’m a geek, I’m especially fond of the fanart, especially his splatter-style of fanart. Like this amazing splatter Venom, which seems to really capture all of the messy “WTF-ness” of Venom.

 

Karen Hallion

Hi, my name is Elle, and I’m an addict. It’s been… well like one month since I bought a Karen Hallion piece. I have a problem. Karen Hallion is at the perfect intersection for me of fanart, feminism, art nouveau, and general fun. I have So Many Karen Hallion prints. Like, All. All the Prints. It’s a problem. I’m running out of wall. But one that I definitely have is this one, because it is AMAZING. It is art noveau Spider-Gwen. ART NOVEAU SPIDER-GWEN.

 

Flying Frog Illustration

Flying Frog Illustration does really gorgeous watercolors, both originals and fanart. I have a few of their pieces, but my absolute favorite has to be this piece of the Endless from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. I’m already a sucker for these characters, especially all together like this, but what I’m blown away by is the color and complexity. Most fanart I’ve seen of the Endless tends towards the minimalist, and this is anything but. This is the Endless as seen by Delirium, and I love it.

 

Megan Lara

So the art nouveau thing… it’s happening again. Megan Lara has great original art and fanart, but the pieces that I collect the most are her art nouveau depictions of badass female characters. It is really hard to choose a favorite—Peggy Carter, Princess Leia, and Wonder Woman all hang in their art nouveau glory on my wall. But the centerpiece of my collection has to be this amazing depiction of Shuri. The colors and the details are just so epic, and Shuri herself is so fantastic.

 

C Wilson Art

C Wilson Art specializes in fanart combined with classic styles, like amazing military portraits of Star Wars characters. My absolute favorite, however, has to be this “Creation of Adam” parody starring Cthulhu and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I love it so, so much. So much.

 

 

Leanne Huynh

Leanne Huynh does a lot of amazing original art as well as fanart, and it’s really hard to pick a favorite. But I will probably have to go with this piece of a baby Eeyore, because it is basically the only thing in the world that can make my ovaries clench like I want a child. I don’t actually want a child, I just want to give a child this adorable picture of baby Eeyore. It is that cute.

 

 

MJ Erickson

MJ Erickson does fanart, original art, and also makes pins. Most of the pieces that I actually own aren’t currently up on her site, but I dug through the interwebs to find my favorite, this print of Valkyrie raining down holy hell. Look at this piece. Look closelier. Look more closelier. It’s freaking amazing. And even cooler, Valkyrie herself, Tessa Thompson, saw the pic and gave it her seal of approval.

 

Atomic Pixies

I mentioned that I like art nouveau, right? Well guess what, here is more! Atomic Pixies does really cute art nouveau pop culture pieces. They have an entire series of RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants in art nouveau style and with one of their famous catchphrases. I wanna collect them all, like Pokémon cards.

 

Chrissie Zullo

Chrissie Zullo also does both original art and fanart (sensing another trend?) She has lots of way cool pieces, but the one that I have hanging up in my kitchen is the best, in my opinion—a coffin-shaped pic of a vampire bobby soxer at a death-themed soda fountain. Like, how do you even come up with that? And look at how adorable she is, drinking that refreshing bottle of blood! She has the bat equivalent of a poodle skirt! What’s not to love?

 

Twilight Garden Shop

Twilight Garden Shop makes artisan bath products that look very scrumptious. Literally. Like I would totally be tempted to eat this soap. It’s like what happens when a geode and taffy have a baby.

 

Sweet Pickles’ Designs

Sweet Pickles’ Designs makes pet accessories that are just too adorable. Like this adorable spooky pet bow tie.

 

That’s just a sampling of my very favorites. I encourage you all to show them love (and by love, I mean both praise them and give them money). But there are also literally thousands and millions more artists out there who could use your support and admiration. And you can give it to them without even fully waking from your turkey coma, without making some poor person making $8.00 an hour venture into the cold to get screamed at by someone who has officially spent way too much time with their family and has to take it out on someone, and without making any mega billionaires any more ridiculously wealthy. So win-win, right?

Signed: Feminist Fury

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Featured image shows a storefront from the inside with two naked mannequins looking out. The glass has “50% off” posters stuck to it. It was taken by Kecko and is released under a CC-BY-2.0 license.

Midterm Recap: It Was A Good Night

Because we have to celebrate every victory.

 

So there will definitely be time in the upcoming weeks to dissect the parts of the last election that didn’t go the way that we wanted them to. There will be a lot of time to address and be angry about voter suppression, and races where Republicans ran unopposed, and the fact that Steve King is still a powerful Iowa Nazi. But for just a brief moment, I want to acknowledge the good things that happened.

1. We took the House. We took the goddamn House. Maxine Waters is now going to be a committee chairwoman.

2. A record number of women are going to Congress.

3. Of that record-setting number, we got a lot of firsts and bests. Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland will be the first Native American Women in Congress (Davids is a member of the Ho-Chunk nation and Haaland is Laguna Pueblo). Davids is also openly gay and has some guns that put Van Damme to shame. More like Van Daaaamn. (I only partially regret that.) Ayanna Pressley, from my temporary home in Boston, will be the first Black woman to represent Massachusetts, while Rachael Rollins will be the first Black DA for Suffolk County (aka the county that Boston is in). Jahana Hayes will be the first Black woman to represent Connecticut. Rashida Tlaib and Ihan Omar will be the first Muslim women in Congress. Cindy Axne and Abby Finkenauer will be the first women to represent Iowa in the House, and Finkenauer will share the honor of youngest women ever elected to Congress with the Latinx badass Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Ocasio-Cortez will continue to rep millennials everywhere by sharing the name of the awesome red lipstick she wears (“Beso” by Stila, which is also the color I wear, which makes me feel cool by proxy) and by not really having the money to live in DC despite having just won a Congressional race. Janet Mills will be the first female governor of Maine. (My own state’s Mary Throne unfortunately lost her attempt to be Wyoming’s second ever female governor.)

4. Jared Polis because the first openly gay governor.

5. There are now a record number of Black Lieutenant Governors. (I admittedly don’t totally know what Lieutenant Governors do. Wyoming doesn’t have those.)

6. Massachusetts protected rights for trans citizens.

7. Multiple states took action against gerrymandering.

8. Colorado fully outlawed slavery. Yes it’s 2018, yes it only passed with 65% of the vote, but maybe you didn’t know that slavery is still legal in many parts of America as a punishment and prison labour is a billion-dollar industry.

9. Florida restored voter rights to roughly 1.4 million former felons. This is insanely huge, metaphorically and literally—that is almost three times the population of Wyoming. That includes nearly 400,000 Black citizens (again, almost the population of Wyoming).

10. Voter turnout for the midterms was at 49%, which hasn’t happened since the 1960s.

Like I said, later I’ll let myself be depressed by the bad stuff, and start stoking my anger for the things I need to be angry about. But for tonight, for maybe a whole week, I’m going to let myself be happy about what we accomplished.

Signed: Feminist Fury

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Featured image is of an “I Voted Today” sticker. It’s by Steve Rainwater and is released under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 License.

Ellements of Film: The Last Jedi

Yes, it’s been almost a year. That’s why this is going to be very. very. thorough.

 

Buckle up, kids, this one is going to be a doozy. I’ve been formulating parts of this in my mind for the better part of a year. It’s big enough that it comes in parts. So if you don’t want to wade through the entirety of my word vomit, here is the table of contents. Feel free to skip around and look for certain sections if something strikes your fancy.

Part 1: Confessions and Acknowledgements

Part 2: My Overarching Theory

Part 3: Not-So-Liveblog

Part 4: The Not-So-Good

Part 5: The Freaking Great

Part 6: The Defense

Part 7: The Summation

***

Part 1: Confessions and Acknowledgements

Confession/Acknowledgment 1: The closest that my boyfriend and I have ever come to an honest-to-god, raised voices fight, happened during our attempt to discuss this movie. We were having dinner at a steakhouse and went (almost without me noticing) from calmly discussing our opinions to raising our voices. I decided that we should stop talking about the movie for the sake of peace, and since then this film has been a touchy-to-nonexistent topic between us. We’ve found as much middle ground as we’re going to, which honestly is not a lot. For me, this is one of my favorite Star Wars films. For him, it is the absolute worst Star Wars film, and possibly the worst film ever made. At least part of my delay in addressing this film comes from not wanting to restart an old argument. But what am I, if not self-destructive?

Confession/Acknowledgment 2: I have spent the better part of a year reading thinkpieces, watching YouTube videos, and generally engrossing myself in discussions on this film. In my infinite wisdom, I made absolutely no attempts to bookmark or otherwise keep track of what I’ve read, and at this point the thought of trying to backtrack and rediscover most of that content makes me dizzy and feel like I suddenly need to do absolutely anything else. So for the sake of actually finishing this damn thing, this isn’t going to be as meticulously sourced as say my epically long response to Wonder Woman. I will probably commit the sins of coming up with an idea that someone else has already come up with, using the vague phrase “I read somewhere,” and possibly even using someone’s theory without attribution, all of which I apologize for in advance. I do know and remember that I read many excellent pieces by the writers of The Mary Sue¸ and was in very close agreement with this video from the Pop Culture Detective on YouTube.

Confession/Acknowledgement 3: I do understand that there are sustained and legitimate criticisms against The Last Jedi. I don’t think anyone is automatically a bad person just for disliking the movie. I don’t think that all criticisms of the film can be reduced to simply misogyny or racism. However, I think that a lot of the criticisms against it come down to misogyny or racism, and I think that it is important for those who have other criticisms of the film to look around at the company they are keeping.  If two different people are saying the film “ruined their childhood,” it is pretty hard, if not impossible, to discern the difference between the person who is saying that because they have legitimate critiques of the film versus the person whose fragile sense of masculinity was destroyed. And I think it is important for even the people who have legitimate critiques to examine the sources of some of their feelings and determine whether any of their feelings stem from some of the same sources of toxic masculinity as some of the overt trolls.

(At this point I’ve probably successfully alienated most of my readers, including potentially my own partner. So, let’s get to it.)

 

Part 2: My Overarching Theory

I believe that I understand at least part of the fundamental reason that this film is so polarizing. (So polarizing, in fact, that Russian bots used it to sew dissent in much the same way they used Facebook pages about political groups..) In something that I think is both the work of a mad genius and a hatefuck towards the fandom, The Last Jedi is, in many ways, an attempt to modernize the series by not only refuting much of the memberberries-infused nostalgia of the JJ Abrams film, but also some of the elements of the original trilogy and the George Lucas-directed prequels. Many fans, especially male fans, were upset that this film did not resemble “their” Star Wars. And to a certain extent, they are right. This is not “their” Star Wars: It’s “mine.” This film deliberately de-privileges white, heteronormative, macho-influenced narratives that were the bread and butter of most of the main Star Wars films, as well as (to my understanding) a vast portion of the Expanded Universe/Legends/Whatever You Want to Call the Older Non-Movie Stuff. It’s entirely possible that large groups of people who have built a lot of their identities on the basis of the original style would suddenly not see themselves represented in this new film, and that can be pretty scary. It’s also one of the major reasons I love this film.

 

Part 3: Not-So-Liveblog

The format that most of my liveblog reviews are in is a stream-of-consciousness during my first viewing. My first viewing of this film was almost a year ago, so that ship has obviously sailed. But I’ve been deliberately waiting to re-watch the film until I could work on this post, so we get a not-so-live version of the liveblog that is still pretty fresh, in that it catches my reactions to my second-ever viewing.

  • Hells yes more Billie Lourd.
  • Domhnall Gleeson needs to get better sleep.
  • I don’t entirely get the humor stuff at the beginning. I also don’t know why they didn’t open fire from the beginning. Like, aren’t these the merciless bad guys?
  • Why are the cannons so bad at cannoning?
  • Why didn’t they scramble fighters already?
  • Okay, so hanging up on General Leia is like hanging up on Michelle Obama if she is also a five star general. YOU DO NOT DO THAT. That is insubordination. There are military crime words for that.
  • Ooh, token inclusions of women and black fighter pilots. We have more diversity in the first five minutes of this film than most of the original Star Wars.
  • Okay, so when my grandpa fought in World War II, his job was to be on bomber planes and literally kick bombs that got stuck so they would drop. Are you telling me that is still how you do it on spaceships?
  • Why is there only one remote for “drop all the super important bombs.” Why isn’t that remote on a bungee or something?
  • Okay there are only so many times that the scene of Paige dying is allowed to make me cry. So far that number of times is two.
  • God this scene of everyone celebrating while Leia is looking at the death toll is so, so perfect. So much of Star Wars is about giant explosion and destruction sequences where no one really thinks about the human cost.
  • Again, not getting the comic relief shit. Like, I know Snoke is mad at Hux. But is it really the best idea to make him look like a dumbass in front of all of his troops?
  • I love that they basically put Finn in the storage room, and apparently have no one paying attention to the coma patient.
  • I will admit that I laughed out loud the first time I saw Luke chuck the lightsaber. It’s a moment that looks like it is going to be infused with so much significance, and then nooooope.
  • I know everyone hates on the Porgs, but after I saw the first movie I found out that the reason they exist is that there were already way too many puffins on the island and no one could make them go away, so they just CGI’d over them as Porgs, and that makes me so, so happy.
  • Okay, so Luke should probably have had a better emotional reaction to learning about Han and seeing Chewie.
  • This may just be the fanfiction talking, but I remain convinced that Hux and Kylo Ren want to hatefuck each other very, very badly.
  • Snoke is so disappointing. Like, I didn’t expect him to actually be giant like he is in his hologram, but he looks like a wax figure of Hugh Hefner melted and then got put in a new smoking jacket. All of his guards look way cooler than him.
  • Dude who are you calling a cur? Hux is evil and not good, but Kylo Ren throws LITERAL TEMPER TANTRUMS WHERE HE DESTROYS EQUIPMENT AND RUINS PLANS.
  • Is Snoke just… negging everyone? Is that his plan?
  • Okay I’m with Snoke on the mask thing.
  • Did he repair his scar with like… snake skin? Or tire rubber?
  • “What you think I’m gonna walk out with a laser sword and face down the whole First Order?” ….yep, that seems to have been exactly her thought.
  • To be fair, if there is one thing I’ve learned from all of the movies and all of the video games, it’s that the Jedi Order totally shits the bed about once every 50 to 1000 years and is constantly on the brink of collapse. So Luke is probably right about the galaxy not needing the Jedi Order.
  • ….this milking scene is entirely unnecessary and I don’t like it. I say that as someone who grew up on a ranch and literally has seen cows being milked.
  • I can’t help but think that this version of Luke got at least a bit of the Mark Hamill Joker humor.
  • “Get your head out of your cockpit” is my new favorite thing.
  • “There are things you cannot solve by jumping in an X-wing and blowing something up.” Yaaas Leia tell him.
  • “Dead heroes. No leaders.”
  • Damnit I was just starting to like that token female pilot.
  • Okay, on the one hand, I am A, really glad that Leia did not go out like a chump like this, B, glad to have proof of my longstanding belief that Leia is a badass Force user in her own right, and C, glad to see space being made for Force users that are not Jedi. But on the other hand, holy shit this is a stupid looking scene to have Leia Excelssior-ing back to the ship.
  • RIP Admiral Ackbar
  • Ooooh low blow R2. Well done.
  • What are you straightening up for Dameron, you ain’t coming to leadership.
  • God, 400. I forgot how few people there were left.
  • I really love Admiral Holdo’s character design and I will throw down over this.
  • “We are the spark that will light the fire that will restore the Republic.” How many sparks are there going to be, exactly?
  • “That’s Admiral Holdo?” But she’s so… girl-shaped and mauve. Yeah I know what you’re doing Poe, I see you.
  • “Very kind of you to make me aware.” Admiral Holdo is Every Woman Who Has Ever Been Mansplained to right now.
  • “Not commander, right?” Holdo knows how to play boy brain ball.
  • “Of course you do.”
  • “You’re impulsive, dangerous, and the last thing we need right now.”
  • So I will admit it isn’t super sensical for Holdo to just refuse to share her plan. But I also contend that people would be at least 60% more okay with it if she weren’t a woman with purple pink hair.
  • I know that Finn gets a lot of flack for this move, but I think it is genuinely a good aspect of character continuity. He is a formerly nameless member of a cannon fodder class who was only a hero because there were specific people he was caring about who were in the fight. It absolutely makes sense for him to not want to fight more, and for him to find those specific friends again. He’s not just a random dude, he is a dude with a shit ton of PTSD.
  • “Doing talking” I love you Rose. Rose is every awkward girl ever.
  • Do not talk over Rose, Finn. That is rude.
  • Okay Threepio, go tell on Poe. Right now. Do it.
  • “Exactly one guy I trust.” Exactly. One. Guy.
  • I am Not a Fan of the Kylo/Rey scenes. I am not a fan of the way that they are trying to get us to empathize with Kylo, full stop.
  • I really need some frog nun backstory.
  • “Impressive. Every word in that sentence was wrong.” Things I Wish I Could Have Said When I was Teaching.
  • “That Force does not belong to the Jedi. To say that if the Jedi die, the light dies is vanity.” All of this
  • Again, can admit why it’s weird that Luke would close himself off. But I also kinda think it makes sense.
  • Okay but this raw Force scaring you is how we got in trouble in the first place. If you hadn’t gotten all scared and tried to KILL YOUR NEPHEW he possibly wouldn’t have snapped.
  • I really love Rey’s honestly happy reaction to water. You have to remember how new all of this shit is to her. She’s been living in a totally dry desert planet for years and would probably have never seen vast quantities of water.
  • See, Kylo is very self aware that he is a monster.
  • “Filled with the worst people in the galaxy.” The 1%
  • Parking Porssdhet is getting black folks in trouble for no real reason.
  • Fucking love the worldbuilding in this scene. Also, how do they manage to make everyone dress in a color scheme? Does this casino have a dress code? Is it like Diddy’s White Party?
  • Also kinda love the drunk gremlin trying to play slots on BB8.
  • Cruelty towards animals and children, because quick pathos.
  • “There’s only one business in the galaxy that will get you this rich.” “War.”
  • Dreadful waste of Justin Theroux.
  • “And then two busy parents sent their son to boarding school in his most virulent teenage period, and then we were all very, very surprised when he turned evil.”
  • And this is why we can’t redeem Kylo too much, because he legit went all school shooter.
  • WHY WOULD YOU TRUST THIS MAN? I know we aren’t supposed to judge books by their cover, but there is literally no reason to trust this man. If he could have let himself out at any time, why in God’s name didn’t he?
  • With the exception of showing off the kids and how cool the Fathiers look, this scene is entirely unnecessary and just extra padding.
  • Okay just saying, they are gonna recatch those fox horses in about five seconds.
  • I do not find Kylo’s high rise pants as mockable as most of the internet does.
  • I really like how they manage to do two very different POVs of the same scene.
  • “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you’re meant to be.” Let’s put a pin in that for now.
  • I admit that I do not totally understand the multiple Rey scene.
  • I have mixed feelings about the hand touching scene. Putting a pin in that one, too
  • Fucking love the Yoda scene.
  • “I am gonna throw a tantrum!” “Bitch, please.”
  • “Page turners, they were not.” I’m not the only one who’s tried to actually read multiple religious texts and given up.
  • “That library contains nothing that the girl Rey does not already possess.” Ha
  • “Failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is.”
  • “We are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.” LET THE PAST DIE, LUKE
  • That tree is on purpose burning in the shape of the rebellion symbol, right?
  • This scene on the ship is the only reason to have DJ in this movie.
  • “Made his bank selling weapons to the bad guys. And the good.” MORALITY IS NOT ALL BLACK AND WHITE FINN
  • “Finn let me learn you something big. It is all a machine, partner.” DJ is smart sometimes.
  • I would have paid large sums of money for him to say “Live free die hard.”
  • Maybe don’t put the ship on speakerphone in front of the criminal you found in jail when people are discussing resistance plans.
  • I will admit one of the few spots where I acknowledge that Rey has a touch of the Mary Sue is that she can understand both droid and Wookie.
  • Okay, again Holdo is probably not doing something logical, but THIS IS STILL TREASON, POE.
  • That’s right Leia you shoot that man.
  • Okay DO NOT JUST TALK ABOUT WHAT A SCAMP HE IS, HE COMMITTED TREASON MEN NEED TO BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR ACTIONS.
  • SEE POE THERE WAS A PLAN.
  • I was so, so hoping that this was a chance for Phasma to finally be a badass. I was so, so disappointed.
  • THIS IS WHY YOU DON’T TRUST RANDOM DUDES YOU MET IN PRISON
  • Coolest fight seen. Possibly coolest scene in the movie.
  • Okay I know that this is traumatic for Rey, but I really, really love that her parents were nobodies. Put a pin in this too, we’ll get back to this later.
  • I love BB8 as much as the next girl, but even I can acknowledge this scene is kinda hella dumb.
  • #Justice4Phasma
  • I want a crystal fox now
  • THIS SCENE IS SO PRETTY
  • Sure now Poe understands suicide runs. He also now knows how Leia feels all. The. Time.
  • This romance between Rose and Finn came out of nowhere and I do not accept it. Finn+Poe 4Eva. Also possible Finn+Poe+Rey, because the way you solve potential love triangles is with a threesome
  • “Not by fighting what we hate. Saving what we love.” Okay this is an objectively dumb statement.
  • So he’s… gonna go out there with a laser sword and face down the whole First Order?
  • Hux is like “the fuck kind of person I’m following?”
  • The dust brushing off thing is an objectively boss move.
  • Kylo has to indulge his man pain and ego.
  • The ship driver is like “same shit, different day…”
  • “Did you come back to say you forgive me? To save my soul?” “No.”  (Put a pin in this, too.)
  • Conveniently one (1) crystal fox left to show the way
  • Okay so I know this ending for Luke is disappointing for some people but I love it and I will explain why later (remember to talk about the sun)
  • Hux is like “I cannot believe that I have to listen to this useless egomaniac just cuz he can force choke me.”
  • THERE SHE HUGGED HIM ARE YOU ALL HAPPY NOW?
  • Yeah a threesome is happening
  • Hahaha. Books.
  • “It wasn’t sadness or pain. It was peace, or purpose.”
  • Heck yeah Force kid with broom

 

Part 4: The Not-So-Good

So I think it is both important and fair to acknowledge the things that I think the film didn’t do well. When I’m defending it, I am in no way saying it is a perfect film. And there are some things that are important to call out.

Flaw One: I Have a Secret and I’m Not Telling

It is legitimately nonsensical that Holdo doesn’t tell anyone her plan. Like, straight-up. There have already been multiple attempts at desertion that were only stopped by a mechanic with a stun gun. As far as everyone knows, they’re literally just running until they run out of fuel and die. In-character, Holdo has no real reason to do what she does. As viewers, we know by the end of the film that she basically did this for plot necessity reasons. Poe had to learn his lesson and learn to trust Holdo/women. And that is a good lesson. But there had to be a better way to impart it than, “As far as you know we’re on the Titanic and I’m steering for the icebergs, don’t question me.” Now, granted, I still claim that Poe’s reaction (and audience reaction) would have been less severe if Holdo was a man. We have plenty of fictional and real life examples of male leaders going “This probably won’t kill us, hold my beer” and everyone around them going “Sir, yes sir!” But it’s genuinely a bad move and a disservice to Holdo’s character.

Flaw Two: Large Portions of the Canto Bight Scene

There are parts of the Canto Bight scene that I do love. The worldbuilding it shows, the way it makes Finn and the viewer consider the rot at the heart of glamor, the way it complicates an easy black and white narrative and symbolizes that complication with its color scheme—all good things. But they get in trouble for illegal parking, and some concerned citizen literally tracks them down? The entire damn escape on giant horse foxes that ends in nothing? Yeah, this scene could have been trimmed.

Flaw Three: The Odd Couple, Only With Violence

I genuinely don’t get parts of the dynamic between Kylo Ren, Hux, and Snoke. It was all obviously fraught in the last film, but now it’s almost slapstick, and to a point that doesn’t make sense. Darth Vader would force choke someone, but he would rarely/never slide a general like a Swiffer across a deck. The whole relationship between them seemed off.

Flaw Four: Snoke. Just… Snoke

I was pretty sure even in the last film that Snoke was probably not the giant that he appeared to be in his hologram. I just was not expecting… this. I think I’ve rarely been so disappointed in a villain. He’s just… straight up not scary. He legit looks like a wax figure of Hugh Hefner that melted and then got put in a shiny smoking jacket. We learn precisely 0 about his backstory—where he comes from, what he was doing during the Empire, how he got into Kylo’s head, how he is involved with the First Order… he’s just…there. All melty.

Flaw Five: Chewbacca

Look, why are you gonna make a poor guy dress up in the suit if this is all you’re going to do with him? We learned from Solo that Chewbacca can hold his own as a co-star. There should have been at least some better scenes between him and Luke, and not just him and… porgs.

Flaw Six: Poor Goddamn Phasma

When I first learned about the Captain Phasma character, I was so. Goddamn. Excited. The actress playing her is a badass, her character design is awesome, it would be great to have a compelling female villain…. And then the first movie totally failed her. So when I found out she was going to be in this film, I got excited again. Surely this director would see the shameful way Phasma was treated in the last film and rectify it, right? ….No. No they would not. They took one of the coolest character designs in ages, and totally wasted it.

Flaw Seven: The Assassination of the Character of Poe Dameron by the Coward Narrative Convenience

I really liked Poe in the first film. He was cocky and everything, sure. But he was also warmhearted, and humorous, and brave. And in this film we get to see about… 20% of those good characteristics.

Again, Poe Learning a Lesson is an important plot point in the film, and there are aspects of that plot that I really enjoy because of the way it tackles toxic masculinity (more on that later.) But I feel like Poe was an unfortunate victim of the need to tell that story, primarily because he was the prominent male pilot we had at hand. I like the story that is told with him, but not necessarily that it is told with him, if that makes any sense. And of course, there are some troubling implications in making a character of color suddenly turn into a machismo stereotype in order to tell a story that is much more applicable to the white male characters that normally inhabit the films.

Flaw Seven Subset A: Poe Learns a Lesson Without Really Learning a Lesson

So Poe Learns a Lesson is a big part of the film, but he kind also… doesn’t learn his lesson? He committed insubordination. He held a gun on a superior officer. He endangered the lives of dozens, and while their eventual deaths were not really his “fault” (they are the fault of the people who, you know, kill them) you could probably make an argument for accessory to manslaughter. He took over an entire ship. There are military crime words for this, like… treason. At the least he’d be kicked down to the brig or demoted again. At worst, depending on the military culture he is a part of, he would be fucking executed. And instead Holdo and Leia are like “Aw, he’s such a scamp. I like him.” You get the sense that the writers and director didn’t really know how to make Poe behave badly enough for him to do the Plot Necessary Things that need to happen for his big lesson arc without completely destroying his character or putting him in a position where he would be kept away from the action at the end of the film. So even though he is personally changed by what he went through, he doesn’t really have to face any true consequences of his actions.

Flaw Eight: The Genocidal Fuckhead Just Needs a Hug

Look, I have seen the internet. I understand the woobie status that many attractive male villains have obtained. (When it comes to Loki, I am probably complicit in that woobie-fication. I’m not perfect.) For the last decade or so, we’ve made a concerted effort to make our villains more complex, and even find redeemable or empathetic aspects of them. And that’s fine, even really good and compelling sometimes. But this film goes out of its way to make us want to cuddle all of Kylo Ren’s problems away, to a point that I find nearly dangerous. (I had a similar feeling about the recent season of Handmaid’s Tale and its redemption arc for Serena Joy.) Yes, Kylo Ren has had hard aspects of his life, and a fellow genocidal fuckhead in his brain. I can’t imagine how terrifying it would be to wake up to your uncle trying to kill you. But I also can’t imagine how the reasonable next step is “slaughter a lot of your classmates.” And I certainly can’t imagine how the logical response to that is “well he’s still uncertain, he could get better!” I’ll talk more about this aspect a little bit later, but it was certainly troubling.

Flaw Nine: The Romance Between Rose and Finn

I’m already somewhat troubled by the relationship between Rose and Finn, because in certain parts of the film, Rose is very firmly slotted into the “magic character arc motivator” slot for Finn, where her basic role is to exist and make him a better person. But she gets enough moments of agency and moments that focus on her that I can overlook that. But this romance comes out of… literally nowhere. The most she has shown for Finn is hero worship, and the most he has shown for her is wary acceptance that she is right. They have known each other for (I think) less than 24 hours. So the kiss at the end is just…weird.

(Plus, you know…. Poe+Finn+Rey 4Eva)

 

Part Five: The Freaking Great

Greatness 1: Ding Dong the Toxic Masculinity is Dead

Oh my God, you guys. Oh my God. I have never, in my life, seen a mainstream film from a major action genre that does more to kick toxic masculinity in the teeth. I love it so, so much. (Fair warning, the next section is a mishmash of my own thoughts and thoughts that I have yoinked from the Pop Culture Detective.)

It’s no surprise to fans of the film series that for being a space-faring science fiction universe, it sure looks a whooooole lot like a Western, for all the good and bad that comes along with that genre. And with that genre comes a whole heaping load of toxic masculinity, to a degree that has been largely unexamined in other films in the series.

Here we have The Older Hero Who Has Turned His Back on the World (Luke), The Cocky Hero (Poe), TheCoward Who Must Be Redeemed (Finn), The Belated Addition to the Gang Who Proves His Worth (DJ), The Troubled Baddie Who Was Formerly a Goodie (Kylo Ren) The Greedy Prospector (Hux), and The Evil Gang Leader (Snoke). For the ladies we have The Spunky Love Interest (Rose), The Spunky Girl Who Wants to Do Guy Things (Rey) The Mother Figure Who Doesn’t Want Her Son to Take His Guns to Town (Leia), and then Admiral Holdo is somewhat awkwardly slotted into the role of The Ineffective Government Official Who Can’t Stand Up to the Baddies.

And in most other Star Wars films, these roles would have been fully pulled off, as written, and all of the other tropes that go along with those roles would have happened. Luke would have hemmed and hawed, but would have pretty quickly rejoined Rey and the Resistance. Poe would be celebrated for his daring and courage, Finn would come to his senses on his own (Goodnight Robicheaux, anyone?) and the plan he and Poe cooked up would have totally worked, and DJ would have come through for them because meeting people in prison and adding them to your gang is never a bad plan in a Western. Kylo Ren would probably have been brought around to the good side again (or at least killed after sacrificing himself for the greater good, or just straight up killed as punishment for turning bad) and Snoke and Hux would have gotten their comeuppance. Rey would have done cool but ultimately ineffective things because she wouldn’t want to overshadow the guys, Rose would have hung on Finn’s every word and just followed him around, Leia would have realized that she can’t control the men in her life, and Holdo would have been pushed aside because she was in the hero’s way.

And that (for the most part) doesn’t happen. Luke is legit burned out, and doesn’t change his mind about rejoining the fight until the last minute, and even then not in the predictable gung-ho way. Poe’s cockiness, temper, and certainty in his own correctness turn out terribly, and he ultimately learns that risky heroics are not always the best answer. Finn is a PTSD-stricken former child soldier who truly does need Rose’s friendship to help him look beyond his own immediate desires. The plan he and Poe made doesn’t work. DJ betrays everyone because of course he does he is a random dude you met in prison. Kylo Ren gets plenty of chances to redeem himself and then is like, “nah, I’m pretty okay with being super evil.” Snoke gets murdered, but it’s made clear that he was not the be-all, end-all of badness. Hux gets humiliated, but he’s still definitely trucking along. Rose gets to be a moral center, and even save Finn from himself in her own super heroic move. Leia and Holdo are proven right, and their authority over their male insubordinates is reestablished (And Holdo gets to go out like a goddamn bamf in a self-sacrifice that actually works, as opposed to Finn’s attempt at self-sacrifice that would have definitely not worked.) And Rey gets to have the whole hero’s journey, show both compassion and conviction, and save everyone at the end.

At pretty much every point where another film (even another Star Wars film) would have established or re-established the primacy of the male heroism narrative or sidelined a female character, this film refused to do so or even did the opposite. It took really toxic ideas about masculinity and heroism and just refused to play that shit. And I love it for that.

Greatness 2: The Diversity

This film definitely has its own problems with tokenism, but at the same time it is making major strides for racial and gender diversity. For a film series where the first trilogy had about three named female characters and two named black characters in the entire goddamn galaxy, having Rey, Leia, Holdo, Phasma, Rose, Finn, and Poe is freaking incredible. And it’s not Rian Johnson’s fault that “English brunette” became the default decision for female inclusion in the other new films.

Greatness 3: Thinking About Human Costs

One thing that I’ve noticed in action films lately is that we’re slowly making the swing from “destruction without ever thinking about the human cost” to “destruction where we do think about the human cost.” I was honestly starting to get a little bit troubled by the former, because while I don’t have any scientific evidence to back this up, I think that the scale of destruction we’re seeing in media is actually helping de-sensitize us to human tragedies in real life. How many times do you have to see cities or even planets destroyed before you lose a sense of what that destruction actually means? How many waves of enemy soldiers have to be mowed down before you stop really thinking about the fact that all of those enemy soldiers are people? Now sometimes, that “thinking about the human cost” thing is either clumsily done (Batman v. Superman) or is something that the in-movie universe can’t really afford to think about without the internal logic breaking down (introducing the Sokovia Accords reminds us that in the real world we want guns registered, so we probably would want some kind of way to track or guide people who can shoot lasers out of their eyes. And then we have to think about how we would not be on Team Cap, which is simply unacceptable).

Star Wars was getting particularly egregious at the “destruction without ever thinking about the human cost” thing. The first film destroyed Alderaan, which was shocking in the moment and seemed to have real impact, but then later in the same movie the Princess who lost her home, family, and all of her people is consoling Luke because he just lost the father figure he really liked for the week that he had known him. Each Death Star destruction comes complete with lots and lots of pilot deaths that we basically never get a chance to mourn. In The Force Awakens, the Starkiller destroys five inhabited planets, one of which was the seat of the galactic government. And we barely care. We get one scene of a lady (who apparently originally had more screen time, but it had to be cut so that we could have more scenes of Kylo Ren brooding) facing the oncoming giant laser and looking scared, and Leia looks sad when they hear the news and…. That’s it. Okay, billions of people are dead, better get back to having crazy plans and popping one-liners.

The series actually started to course correct at least a little bit with Rogue One. The Beaches of Normandy-esque scene on Scarif showed a real human cost of gaining even inches of land in a battle, and we were made to care about the loss of even pretty minor fighters. And this film pushes that even further. The scene where everyone is celebrating Poe’s “victory” and Leia is looking at the display that shows all of the lost ships is so, so perfect. Our tension and our concern keeps ratcheting up as each Resistance ship is lost on the slow run from the First Order. We’re told how insanely small the survivor population is, and then we see even more of that small population getting taken out after DJ’s betrayal. We see how bare and worn down the survivors are once they are trapped in the cave. You actually get the sense that these really are diminished, desperate people, and the human cost of each loss feels real.

Greatness 4: The Pretty

Large portions of this film are just gorgeous. The island that Luke is on, the ham-fistedly-symbolic-but-also-really-pretty casino at Canto Bight, the incredibly dynamic throne room fight, that absolutely amazing fight on Crait… so pretty. I love it.

Greatness 5: Kill the Past

So this one is tricky, because I see it as one of the best parts of the film, and it’s pretty obvious that many other fans think of it as the biggest “fuck you” to them. And… well, we’re both right. We get a little bit of what I see as author insert in a line from Kylo Ren: “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you’re meant to be.” He’s specifically speaking to Rey about her past, about the Jedi order, etc. But in my view, he’s also speaking both to the audience and to the Star Wars films themselves.

I don’t think it’s a surprise that the new trilogy is basically a swan song for the remaining cast of the first trilogy. Force Awakens was Han Solo’s chance to be cool and then die off, Last Jedi was Luke’s chance to act cool and then die off, and, God willing, the filmmakers will have enough footage of Carrie Fisher to let the ninth movie be Leia’s chance to be cool and then die off. So on a very literal level, we are killing the past by killing off the original trilogies. But it is more than that, in that (as I discussed earlier with the toxic masculinity) the film is also killing off the old ways of doing a Star Wars film.

Rian Johnson had a few obstacles to overcome, because JJ Abrams really, really likes the old way of doing things, but with a new twist. I think if he hinted any harder that Rey’s parents were super cool, his ability to wink would have been permanently damaged. Everyone was aflutter with theories. Could she be the daughter of Luke? The for-some-reason-abandoned-and-not remembered daughter of Leia and Han? The daughter or granddaughter of Obi Wan? JJ Abrams set it up for some kind of cool, nostalgic twist. And then Johnson went naaaah, screw that noise. Do you know how happy I was to find out that Rey’s parents were nobodies? So, so happy. So happy. And to be fair to Johnson, he only killed the narrative tropes of most of the other films, not all of them. Do you remember how cool it was when Luke was this nobody from Tatooine? This guy who just managed to use the Force because he turned out to be pretty good at it, but Obi Wan also made it clear the Force was all around us, and pretty much anyone could use it? That started to be undone by the whole “I conveniently ran into my twin sister and the bad guy is my dad,” but we still had that first film, and we still had the idea that these narrative conveniences were the particular movements of the Force. But then we got the prequels. And we found out about midi-goddamn-chlorians. Hey kids! Forget all those ideas about how anyone could use the Force, and anyone could be special! Force sensitivity is determined by weird shit in your blood, and there is nothing you can do to determine your own fate. It’s like a space wizard eugenics program. And then we spend a lot of time, like a lot of time, figuring out how the personal drama of one family and their friends screwed over or saved the entire galaxy. Multiple times. I was made so amazingly weary by the idea that one family would basically control the fate of the universe for a third generation. It would be like if the Bush family controlled the galaxy instead of the country, and twenty years from now some long lost stepdaughter twice removed took over. But it seems like this film, and to a certain extent the previous film, are returning us to the egalitarian idea of the Force. Anyone can be a Jedi again! Finn can use a lightsaber, Rey is super powerful with absolutely no wonky, convenient genetics in her background explaining why, and even the little stable boy can use the Force. I love this.

And I think the message extends further, both in the narrative and outside of it. There were and are some really cool things in the Expanded Universe canon that got binned when Disney took over the Star Wars universe. And fans have a legitimate reason to be upset about those losses. But I think fans also have some rose colored glasses about the EU. Coincidentally, as I started writing this piece, Cracked did an article on some of the weirdest things to happen in the EU. In the EU, Greedo’s body is turned into a cocktail (not kidding) Wampas are sentient and the one that Luke maimed unites the Wampa tribes (still not kidding) and the monster in the trash compactor of the Death Star is named Omi and was enslaved to make the trash system work better, is possibly Force sensitive, and was trying to “baptize” Luke instead of eat him (cannot get across how little I am kidding). Pretty ridiculous stuff happens in even the more respectable versions of the Expanded Universe. Darth Maul is rescued by his brother Savage Opress (still refusing to be kidding) but his lower half is definitely a goner, so he’s given first a metal spider body, and then these metal… raptor… legs? And then eventually more normal legs. So. Yeah. I may be struck by Force lightning for this, but I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that it isn’t a bad thing for the universe to be given a clean slate.

Star Wars is learning a lesson from the comic universe—it is occasionally necessary to hit the retcon button. Star Wars is 50 years old, and instead of pressing the restart button at any point, it just delved deeper and deeper into its own mythos, to the point that we are getting stories about the bartender in the cantina and the WAMPA. Marvel and DC have gone through at least ten restarts and reimaginings apiece in that time, and while not all of them were winners, they were interesting, and they were necessary to help characters stay fresh and relevant. I will always love the old Star Wars, in the same way that I love older stories from DC and Marvel. But like comics, its necessary for Star Wars to let go of a lot of its past in order to fit in with what needs to happen these days—like, acknowledging that women and people of color exist. Hell, maybe if we’re really, really lucky, we’ll acknowledge some LGBTQ or xenophilic characters! Maybe if we wish really hard, Lando’s pansexuality can be acknowledged! Someone could bone an alien. Or whatever. But again, in order for Star Wars to become what it needs to be in the modern era, it has to kill some of its past.

 

Part 6: The Defense

So in this part, I’m going to do my best to address what I see as some of the biggest criticisms I hear from others about this film and try to mount some kind of defense. So we’ll see how that goes.

Critique 1: Luke is a Wuss/Luke Isn’t Cool Enough/You Murdered Luke and Thus my Childhood

So this is the big one. The doozy. The one that everyone, even my boyfriend, is upset about. They say that Luke is not nearly heroic enough. That he would never turn his back on Leia and the Resistance this way, that he would never close himself off from the Force like that, that he would never disavow the Jedi, that he would never just send his spirit self to pick a fight. And again, to a certain extent, I can understand. If you’ve had a heroic, blurry version of Luke Skywalker in your head for the last thirty years, and all the extra stuff he gets to do in the EU rattling around in your brain, this Luke could seem off. To which I reply… Look at the fucking text.

Luke in the films has a proven history of being heroic, then running away, then being heroic, then running away. It’s kinda his schtick. And it makes sense! He is a pretty normal farm boy whose masculine version of a Disney “I wish” song gets him plopped in the middle of a galactic war. Dude is dealing with shit. And the fact that everyone decided to shoehorn characters from the original trilogy into the new trilogy means that he has all kinds of extra shit to deal with, in a way that has to be pretty traumatic. In my own estimate (handily backed up by this little timeline) it has only been 30 years between The Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. And in those thirty years, Luke became the hero of the galaxy for destroying the Empire, the First Order somehow went from pulling together the scraps of the Empire to having giant rallies and a system-killing weapon, Leia went from helping to reform the galaxy to having to run a side hustle as a Resistance because the main government has (again) decided to pretend that evil things aren’t happening, Luke briefly attempted to murder his teenage nephew and then had his teenage nephew kill or steal all of his students… Jesus. The guy had a bad few decades. It’s honestly a shame in a lot of ways to have these films come so quickly on the in-universe heels of the original trilogy, because any joy you get from the end of the Empire gets deflated pretty quickly. Yay, we saved the galaxy from the Space Nazis! … what are all those Space Nu-Nazis doing over there?

And the Nazi/Nu-Nazi comparison is one of the things that helps me understand Luke in this film. In a weird way, so does the election of Trump. To a smaller scale, I’ve experienced some of what Luke is experiencing. The Obama years sandwiched between Bush Jr. and Cheeto Satan are my own miniature version of the defeat of the Empire going to a too-brief sense of hope before feeling even worse than before. I’m asking a lot of questions that I feel like in-universe Luke is probably asking: WHY ARE WE DEALING WITH NAZIS AGAIN? Why isn’t the government doing anything? Why aren’t enough people doing something? Why the hell am I so tired? I have been dealing with my feelings for Trump for only two years, and I am goddamn exhausted. If I had a cool Irish island to disappear to, I probably would. And I don’t have nearly the troubles that Luke has. Luke isn’t just a hero—he is a hero who saved the day, at great personal sacrifice, only to watch as the world… proceeded to make the same mistakes that led him to have to save the world in the first place. That has to be discouraging, and exhausting. I can totally buy him retreating from the world. I can totally buy him feeling betrayed by the Force and cutting himself off from it. I can totally see him getting tired of the Jedi Order (who are basically 0 for 1000 for stopping the giant uprisings of evil that happen with alarming frequency). I can see him feeling exhausted and like he has to distance himself from Leia, who has the courage and energy to keep fighting the good fight and who probably makes Luke feel bad for not having the same energy. (This is totally not a statement about me. Nope.)

And to be honest, I think his ending is perfect. He does briefly reunite with his sister. He does get the badass fight. He does get to FACE DOWN AN ARMY WITH A LASER SWORD. How is that not cool enough? You can maybe quibble with the whole disappearing into the ether thing, but again, I think it fits. Luke is trying to find true balance. He’s trying to find a true neutral. He has just expended a lot of psychic energy projecting himself onto another planet. And after succeeding in his mission and saving the remaining Resistance members, he finds peace/nothingness, and he goes out of the film series like he came in, staring at the sun. (Plus, his ship has been sitting at the bottom of an OCEAN for a decade. I know the Force is powerful, but can it reverse-disintegrate wiring? Because I don’t think it can. He was not making it to that fight in person.)

Critique 2: Kylo Ren is Too Lame/Whiny/Moody/Not Cool

One of the reasons that a lot of people were eager to find out more about Snoke was because they were really disappointed in Kylo Ren as a villain. How could we go from Darth Vader, the giant, swaggering, booming icon of evil with the best theme song music ever to this tantrum-throwing, crying, pouting, irrationally angry man-child? To which I say… Welcome to the post-2016 world. And welcome to our new villains.

Again, the Trump era can give us some answers. Kylo Ren and Hux are alt-right edgelords. Hux, at least, seems to be a true believer, so he’s an actually committed Nu-Nazi. He’s a Richard Spencer type. He really does want the pure space races to take over the galaxy and make everyone wear snazzy Space Nazi uniforms. Kylo Ren isn’t even that. Kylo Ren is an incel with anger issues. Kylo Ren is Elliot Rodgers. He is a young man who had some genuinely difficult things happen to him, but was still incredibly privileged. And despite that, he felt that he was entitled to many more things, and gets super pissed and violent when things don’t go his way. He’s a school shooter. He’s a domestic abuser. He is every mundane-yet-dangerous bundle of toxic masculinity that we are currently dealing with. Putin aside, we have very few modern villains in the mold of Darth Vader. Our villains are a lot more complex, and a lot more pathetic, than that. And Kylo Ren is the poster child for them. And like our modern villains, he didn’t have to end up this way. As Rey shows, he could make other choices. And it is tempting to try and do as Rey does, and redeem the villains and bring them back to the good side. But our modern villains, like Kylo Ren, continue to deliberately make the worse and more violent choice because the mental and emotional work of redemption is hard. And at a certain point, Luke realizes that they have to stop him, not write a sympathetic think piece about him. And even though he is pathetic, and broody, and pouting, and impulsive, he is still incredibly dangerous. Kylo is the villain that our current era both needs and deserves.

Critique 3: Okay We Hear You, But We Still Don’t Like the Representation

Okay. You’re entitled to your feelings. But also: welcome to the club. If you are a female geek, a geek of color, or a queer geek, you have been disappointed with representation in almost all the media you love forever. If I didn’t watch things where I was disappointed with some of the representation, I would no longer be able to watch things. There are properties where the representation is so bad that I refuse to engage with it at all, but I’m frequently disappointed in at least some representation in properties I like.

For example, one of my favorite Batman villains is Poison Ivy. She’s brilliant, she’s dangerous, and she’s an activist. While she is often fairly sexualized, it is usually not to the point that I find it super objectionable. This is how they decided to portray her in the Arkham series of video games:

Disney was falling all over itself to congratulate itself on including the first queer character in a live-action Disney film for the live-action Beauty and the Beast. The “queer” character is LeFou (literally meaning “the fool), and he gets about… three seconds of being even potentially queer. Are you ready for the big, daring moment of LGBTQ representation?

There, that was it. Us fans of LGBTQ representation sure must be satisfied after that absolutely incredible moment of romance.

This is Slipknot.

Slipknot is a character in Suicide Squad that is played by very excellent First Nations actor Adam Beach. He is the only member of the Suicide Squad who doesn’t get a full introduction. Guess how long Slipknot survives the movie? (Spoiler: It’s like, two minutes.)

You get the gist. Anyone who is not a white male has had to overcome a lot of disappointment regarding character representation. I’m not saying that we should start making white, straight, male characters as horribly as many female/queer/non-white characters have been made (besides, that already happened, it is called Most Jason Statham Films) but I’m saying that the fans who are disappointed in the characterization of Luke and Kylo despite all my best arguments are getting the merest taste of what it feels like to interact with disappointing media.

Critique 4: Diversity is Bad

You’re wrong. Next?

Critique 5: HOLDO IS THE WORST

So as I discussed earlier, Holdo not telling Poe or anyone the plan is admittedly a stupid move motivated by narrative necessity. You are not going to get any pushback from me regarding the idea that she should have just told everyone the plan. Even doing so could have still led to the conflict they wanted; Poe could have still decided that his and Finn’s plan was better, or that it was better to stay and fight, or whatever. The whole “I have a secret” thing was unnecessary and pointless.

However. Holy shit. Holdo gets so much hatred that just thinking that plot arc is stupid is not enough to explain the motivations. Her deliberately femme-presenting look and the fact that she repeatedly verbally destroys Poe probably does.

I cannot overstate how much I love Holdo’s design in this film. Like Poe, I was originally surprised by it, but then I thought, “why?” They’re on a ship. She’s not seeing field combat. She can dress however she damn well pleases. Is she less good of an Admiral because she has purple hair, or is wearing a dress? Of course not. We’re just conditioned to associate military service with military garb, and she upends our expectations, and becomes a giant, glaring symbol of “Your Masculinity Is Not Needed Here.”

Poe is the fan-insert character of this movie, and he gets the bejesus slapped out of him by Holdo, fate, and one time Leia literally. That makes male fans mad. How dare these lady people tell Poe what to do? He is the big, cool, pilot guy! And it’s even more insulting because of how Holdo dresses. Not only is he being told off by a woman, he is being told off by a femme-presenting woman, which apparently adds insult to injury.

Holdo is a calm, brave, calculating leader. She puts up with a lot of bullshit and is able to dish it right back, all while barely raising an eyebrow, let alone her voice. The silly decision aside, Holdo is an ideal leader for the Resistance, and while I totally admire her bamf exit, I am really sad to see her leave the series.

Critique 6: ROSE IS THE EVEN MORE WORST

Okay, almost all of the people making this argument are fucking monsters. I am an intense fan about a lot of things, but as far as I know, I never took part in any bullying that led someone to leave Instagram, let alone contemplate suicide. One of the reasons that I think Rian Johnson is trying to teach the Star Wars fandom the error of its ways and to let go of the past is that large parts of the Star Wars fandom are incredibly toxic. This image started making the rounds in the last few months, and it is freaking heartbreaking.

I actually loved Jar Jar when I was a kid and before I learned what things like “CGI blackface” could be, and even when I did, I didn’t blame Ahmed Best for the character. I thought that Anakin Skywalker was Mary Sue-ish, but I never would have wanted Jake Lloyd to stop acting. And the fact that John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Kelly Tran all quit social media because of hatred borne of the fact that they are a person of color, a woman, or both respectively is honestly infuriating.

The character of Rose had a couple problems, but most of those problems were in the service of Finn’s storyline being better. Her biggest “sins” in the eyes of the edgelords are that she tells a man what to do, and she keeps said man from committing suicide. Quelle horreur. We are working in a universe, may I remind you, THAT HAS GODDAMN ALIENS IN IT. Literal aliens. We can be totally okay with a race of squid people, but an Asian woman with a speaking role tops our “suspension of disbelief” meter?

The irony, to me, is that the Star Wars fans who engage in this trolling behavior are actually emulating an aspect of Star Wars—just not any of the good ones. As the meme points out, these “fans” are replicating the Empire or the First Order. They are intolerant. They are bigoted. They are close-minded. And they are hateful. And the world of Star Wars would be better off without them.

 

Part 7: The Summation

There’s a reason that Russian bots chose the discourse around The Last Jedi as an opportunity to sow discord. My own boyfriend will probably never read all of this review—even thinking about this movie makes him angry. The opinions on this movie are polarizing, to say the least. But I think that this film is polarizing for the same reason that our current political climate is polarized: the old guard is afraid of losing power. White, heterosexual, male fans have been the top of the Star Wars food chain, (and most if not all nerd food chains) for decades. Media has been created for them, specifically, for the same amount of time. And it is frightening and disconcerting when that is no longer the case.

Could Rian Johnson have made the transition smoother? Probably. But he had no guarantee that he’d have anything more than this movie to work with (and he was right) so he took his chance. In the same way that Johnson had to deal with insertions from Abrams, future directors are going to have to deal with the monumental changes Johnson introduced as they make their films. It’s not going to be impossible to undo the good changes that Johnson made (Trump came after Obama, after all) but it is moving the films, and the discourse around them, in the right direction.

I’m sad that this movie is polarizing. I’m sad that my boyfriend doesn’t like it. I’m sad that I don’t really know how to bridge the gap with the fandom in general if I can’t even bridge the gap with my own partner. But I am happy with The Last Jedi. The last few years at Comic Con, I’ve seen multiple little girls running around as female characters from these films. I’ve seen pictures online of little kids dressed up as Finn, and Jyn Erso. Thandie Newton wore a dress to the Solo premier that payed homage to and pointed out the scarcity of black characters in Star Wars. Change is happening. Critiques are being heard. And for the first time, a new generation of non-white, non-male Star Wars fans get to see themselves represented in a faraway galaxy in a long ago time. And that is priceless to me.

 

Signed: Feminist Fury

Sexy Halloween Costumes IV: The Stockholming

Because at this time of year we witches scream. Not for fright, but in rage.

[cw: mention of sexual assault (in relation to a Handmaid’s Tale-eque costume)]

 

A lot has happened in the past two weeks. But if I let myself start writing about Kavanaugh, voter suppression, or Proud Boy assholes, I am going to start screaming and not stop. Luckily, I have a built-in excuse to not think about those things; my yearly Sexy Halloween Costume Roundup.

I have been writing round-ups of sexy Halloween costumes for four years now. That’s a lot of time spent poring over costume sites, evaluating their wares, categorizing them, and then  thinking of clever things to say about them besides “Sexy costume. Ha.” (It also means that there is about a solid month where my computer cookies mean that basically all of my ad suggestions are for sexy costumes.)

I first decided to get a head start on the costume post for this year back in mid-September. And I started wondering… had I spent too much time looking at sexy costumes? Because while there were certainly plenty of costumes that were objectionable (And we’re gonna talk a whole hell of a lot about racist costumes here in a minute) I found that a lot of them… weren’t bad. And I might even… like? Some of them? I was pretty sure I’d gotten Stockholm syndrome.

 

Don’t worry. The feeling passed. Exactly three days later.

 

But we’ll get to that. First, I think it’s useful for you to come along with me on my journey from hopeful “huh” to despairing “oh my fucking god.”

So first, the costumes that I actually liked. Or at least kind of liked. And because I love you all, you get slightly blurry screenshots instead of links.

Yandy actually did remarkably well with quite a few hero costumes this year.

There is the Avenging Assassin, which is definitely NOT Black Widow, which I think is actually pretty fabulous aside from how difficult it would be to sit in:

There’s also a similar costume for plus size ladies, that I frankly think looks way more comfy.

 

There is a fairly fun if particularly booberific gender-bent Aquaman costume known as Atlantis Queen:

 

There is a pretty damn fantastic General Okoye costume that only fails in that it doesn’t involve pants:

 

There is a pretty spot-on Scarlet Witch costume:

 

There is Toxic Treat, a Poison Ivy costume that, despite being sexified, still manages to give her more clothing than the entire Arkham series of games:

 

There’s a Hornet Honey that actually is a pretty good take on the original comic costume for the Wasp. (And also reminds me of Dr. Mrs. The Monarch):

 

There is a legitimately cute anthropomorphized version of Rocket Raccoon:

 

There’s a pretty good take on Wonder Woman’s Themiscyra outfit:

 

There were also a few interesting video game-based costumes, including this legit fun Assassin’s Creed outfit:

 

And a fairly accurate Lara Croft costume:

 

There’s a cute and kitschy sexy Sherlock Holmes:

 

A sparkly peacock showgirl outfit:

 

A “Jackie the Ripper” costume that would be a really good Steampunk outfit:

 

A couple of Barbie costumes that are only as sexualized as much as… you know…. Barbie is:

 

A Clueless Cher costume that is exactly what it says on the tin:

 

A Jessica Rabbit/Roger Rabbit set that is… actually kind of amazing. I think they actually do a really good job of gender bending the Roger Rabbit costume, and it’s sexy without being insane. And again, Jessica Rabbit is already pretty damn sexualized:

 

This is a genuinely great flapper costume:

 

I would totally wear this bizarre but weird space cadet costume:

 

One of a million pretty passable Wonderland-related costumes:

 

I know I should hate this costume, because there is no reason to have a Prickly Pear costume, but I love it. Look at it. LOOK AT IT. It is so adorable. Look at that hat! Look at that bag. This is amazing:

 

I will be honest, I would totally wear this Pokemon Go trainer costume. Probably with leggings, because damn, but I would wear it:

 

I should not like this costume. I know I should not like this costume. This “Silent One” costume is a sexualized, gender-bent Hannibal Lecter. And no matter what fanfiction tells me, that is not ok. But it comes with a brain clutch. A BRAIN CLUTCH. How can I hate a costume when it comes with a BRAIN CLUTCH?

 

So you can see why I was getting a little confused. Why were there so many good costumes? Was I still on Yandy’s website? What was going on here? Was I actually finally going crazy?

Luckily, there were some costumes that let me know I was exactly where I thought I was. Weird ass trends and half-assed costumes abounded.

For example, there were four deer costumes. Four. Deer. Costumes. All of them new. Someone looked at the world and said, “You know what we need? Multiple forms of sexy deer.”

 

There were no fewer than three Mary Poppins costumes, all of them imaginatively labeled “English Nanny”:

 

Cavewomen were also a new trend, with two generic cavewomen, and two sexualized Flinstones costumes, Bedrock Babe and Bedrock Baby, the latter of which is sexualizing a toddler. Just saying.

 

 

There were some lazy and bizarre news-based costumes, including a Sexy Mystery Op-Ed, and a sexy Newsflash:

     

 

There were a lot of religious costumes, either due to the new Conjuring movie about the scary nun or just…. straight up sacrilegiousness:

 

… I am pretty sure this is what happens when you try to make the Three Wolf Moon t-shirt sexy:

 

And then you have this…. brain breaking quartet. Obviously South Park Characters, they are known as Small Town Erika C, Small Town Kylee, Small Town Stanka (seriously? Stanka?) and Small Town McKenna. I just…. cannot:

 

 

There were two Wednesday Addams costumes, known as Mid-week Honey (cuz her name is Wednesday. Get it? Get it?) and Gothic Child. I mean, I guess if you want to make it super clear that you’re sexualizing children you can but… it’s a weird decision:

 

There is a “Slim Man” costume that seems fine, until you think too hard about what that poor person does when they need to use their hands:

 

And a… Playboy Bunny logo costume. Was the Playboy Bunny costume itself, which is basically synonymous with sex, not sexy enough? Did we need this, too? This is bad. This is worse. It is emphatically less sexy:

 

And then… No. Nononononononono. No.

Do not accept. This is horrendous. It’s lingerie plus a sleep mask. No.

 

So a lot of these were bad. Some of them were really, really bad. But it wasn’t heinous.

I was first looking at this on September 17th. Some of my examples were admittedly added later, because as I found out on September 20th, apparently Yandy hadn’t finished stocking their store for the year. I found this out, because on September 20th, I found out about… this:

 

This… this is the Brave Red Maiden costume. It is a Sexy Handmaid’s Tale costume. A SEXY. HANDMAID’S TALE. COSTUME. This is literally an Onion article come to life. (Or at least Onion-equivalent.) 

It’s also something that actually happens in the show, when June and Fred go to the club/brothel. I am not willing to subject myself to the emotional trauma of rewatching multiple episodes to find the scene, but I promise you there is at least one sex worker in the club who is dressed as a sexy handmaid.

To really explain why this is terrible, let’s relabel it. This is a Sexy Rape Survivor costume. There, I fixed it. And by fixed it I mean revealed how terrible it is. Handmaid’s are subjected to repeated, ritualized rape. And while I believe, to a certain extent, in the concept of embracing sexuality as empowering when you have been subjected to sexual abuse, that is a personal, case by case issue. Not for a company to decide on and sell at $64.95.

Following the outcry about this costume, Yandy did something I’ve never seen it do in the four years that I have been doing these roundups: they responded to the controversy, and took the costume down. It was the right decision. I was able to get angry and have my anger deflate within the same 24-hour period. But it also raised the question: Why in God’s name have they not only not removed other costumes, but continued making them?

 

So: the following is a selection of the worst offenders for new racist costumes at Yandy. Not all of the racist costumes, not even all the new racist costumes. Just the worst ones.

These costumes are named things like “Beautiful Native,” “Chop til You Drop,” “Chief’s Desire,” “Harem Nights,” and a name that I won’t repeat because it involves an actual goddamn slur. The only way that Yandy has improved over past years is that at least a fraction of the costumes are worn by actual women of color in the photos. But in every case, they are replicating racial stereotypes, making cultures into costumes, and again, using slurs.

We should be just as upset about these costumes as we were over the Handmaid costumes.

If you want to actually appreciate other cultures, there are places to start that actually benefit people from the culture you are appreciating. Try Beyond Buckskin for Native-owned online places to shop for clothing and accessories, and this list from Bauce for African clothing and accessories. But please, please don’t go there for Halloween costumes.

At this point it’s clear that we’re not going to stem the tide of sexy costumes. But if the sexy costume trend could involve less cultural appropriation and mocking of sexual assault survivors, that would be great.

Signed: Feminist Fury

***

Featured image of a jack-o-lantern light is by Flickr user Thomas and released under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license.

Get Past Your Magikarp Phase, Or Internalized Misogyny and Pumpkin Spice Lattes

 

Author’s note: Apologies for the two week hiatus. Richard and I both had some Life Stuff happening. This week you are probably expecting me to talk about the Kavanaugh nomination, or Les Moonves, or that Jian Ghomeshi bullshit, or why Ralph Norman should be punched in the face, or the newest evidence of extensive molestation in the Catholic church, or that guy who kidnapped a woman and assaulted her and is getting no jail time, or the assholes who are blaming Ariana Grande for Mac Miller’s death, but literally all of those things make me so angry that I make a sound that I am pretty sure only my dog can hear. So in order to save my blood pressure and her ears, I’m turning my attention elsewhere this week. I’m calling my past self out and defending pumpkin spice lattes. So buckle up.

***

I’ve mentioned before that feminism is a process as much as it is an identity (or, you know, a noun). We are all the products of our culture and of our education, and there is always more learning and growing that a person can do. The feminist I am now is vastly different from the feminist I was even five years ago. (For one thing, I’m even angrier! I wouldn’t have thought that was possible five years ago.) If you’re a nerd like I am, it can be useful to look at the journey like you’re a Pokémon. You’re continually gaining experience, learning new skills, and even getting items to help you along the way. And while you’re on the journey, you feel like you’re pretty awesome at what you’re doing at all times. And then once you hit Celadon City (yes that’s a Pokémon Red reference, I’m old, shut up) you look back at yourself at think, “Holy shit what was wrong with me?” Because while you might be a rocking Gyrados now, you had a few really, really unfortunate Magikarp phases. For a lot of cis female feminists (including myself) that Magikarp phase is also known as “internalized misogyny.”

For basically as long as I can remember, I have found myself at odds with a lot of the dictates of traditional femininity. If I had to describe myself from basically age 6 to… now… I would probably use “smart, large, angry, and awkward.” I was the tallest person in my grade for most of my elementary education, and shot past the size for most of the “cute” clothes other girls were wearing at an early age. When other girls were having tea parties, I was wandering around forests, and learning how to fend off mountain lions in a way that skipped straight to the most disturbing possible option. Most of my friends were boys, and despite my best efforts, I never seemed to fit in well with girls. (The closest I got was when I was used as a bodyguard for the popular girls during our collective “boys have cooties” phase. It’s good to be needed?) While I still did a lot of the things that all the other girls were doing—playing with Barbies, listening to Spice Girls, hanging NSYNC posters on my wall—there seemed to be some kind of fundamental divide between me and other girls, one that I couldn’t bridge no matter how hard I tried.

So I stopped trying, and started hating instead. I entered a prolonged “not like other girls” phase. I decided to formulate my own identity, my own special status, and my own worth, by how different I was from other girls, and by how much I could disdain the girls who alternately bullied and mystified me.

I decided I abhorred the color pink. I closed my eyes whenever I passed the violently pink Victoria’s Secret store in the mall, forcing my mother to take my hand and lead me safely past it before I would deign to open my eyes. I bought long sleeved tees from the boys’ section because they were more “hardcore.” I convinced myself that I liked wrestling and South Park, because that’s what the boys liked. (I didn’t, and I didn’t at the time, though I like it a lot better now.) I wrote poems that mocked girls as airheads. I declared an absolutely unnecessary vendetta against Leonardo DiCaprio, simply because all of the girls in my class were swooning over him. (To be fair, I’m still way more sad when the poor people in steerage die than when Jack sinks unnecessarily into the ocean.) I idolized fictional characters like Daria from Daria, and Kat from 10 Things I Hate About You, fellow smart girls who disdained the “normal” girls and were odd and quirky (and somehow still ended up with the guy). I bragged about having mostly male friends, and talked about how much “drama” other girls were. I also bragged about how I didn’t wear makeup, and could get ready for school in five minutes flat. In short, I did everything I could to prove that I was “not like other girls,” because in my roiling mix of anger, jealousy, and frustration, I misidentified the source of my problem. (Again, to be fair, I hadn’t learned words like “patriarchy” when I was twelve.)

While the girls who confused and abused me were definitely part of the problem, they were the symptom, not the source. I wasn’t truly angry at girls. I was (in the words of one of my friends) angry about girls. I was angry about gender norms, and the patriarchy, and enforced, performative femininity. But it was way easier to hate and make fun of girls, and police the things they liked and didn’t like, than to understand that.

And I’m not the only one. In my piece about Ready Player One, I briefly discussed Lindsay Ellis’ video essay on Twilight, and the points she made about how we have extra disdain and hatred for the things that women (and especially teen girls) enjoy, and how it’s seen as a way for women and girls to gain respect to distance themselves from the “average” girl. I luckily eventually evolved. Or at least got more uh, EXP. I’ve tried to expunge phrases like “I don’t really ‘girl’ well” out of my vocabulary. I am a girl (actually, I am a motherfucking lady thank you very much) and therefore I “girl” just fine. I’ve started wearing dresses way more often. I’ve called a ceasefire on my war on the color pink. I wear bright red lipstick like a confident 18th-century harlot. I like to think I’ve gotten a lot better. But I still have slip-ups.

Which brings me to my second “Magikarp/Internalized misogyny” phase, and the one that I’m hopefully helping myself (and others!) overcome today: the discourse around the “basic bitch.” And of course, pumpkin spice lattes.

I don’t really remember how old I was when the phrase “basic bitch” began to enter the cultural consciousness, but it was probably a good deal after that when it entered my consciousness. I also don’t remember when pumpkin-spice lattes became so… hateable. But I remember leaning into the curve, hard, in my mid-twenties, long after I should have known better. College Humor has a video that pretty accurately sums up the “symptoms” of what was culturally known as “basic,” but in my own mind the phrase is inextricable from leggings-as-pants, Ugg boots, Pinterest, and the ultimate symbol, the pumpkin spice latte.

In my mid-twenties, I apparently hadn’t totally overcome my desire to make myself seem more special by putting down other women. I definitely described more than a few women as basic. And at the time, I didn’t mean it as a compliment. My only (weak) defense of it is that I associated “basic-ness” with a certain class and race consciousness, or rather unconsciousness. For me “basic” was pretty much inextricable from “Becky,” referring to upper-middle class white women who “didn’t see race” and would have kept drinking Starbucks even if the coffee beans were proven to be made from dried orphan tears. But that’s not what most people meant by “basic,” and it wasn’t even everything I meant by “basic.” Luckily, I went from “leaning in to the curve” to “super uncomfortable with the curve” pretty quickly. But it seems other people haven’t made the trip with me.

For whatever reason, I feel like the anti-pumpkin spice latte hate has gotten worse this year (prompting this article). It’s the middle of September, and I’ve already seen multiple articles and Facebook posts that are basically like, “Put down the pumpkin spice lattes and stop being happy about terrible things, IT ISN’T FALL YET YOU WHORES.” And we all just need to take a deep breath, calm down, and stop hating on things that are basic/hating on basic women who love pumpkin spice lattes.

Because if we are not intending it as a critique of willful ignorance (as in my former paltry defense) then we are expressing it as a critique of women. And not in the “women who don’t help other women” sense, but the “the thing you like is stupid because things girls like are stupid” sense. Because when we call someone or something basic, we are letting that word stand in for other words. “Bland,” maybe. “Inoffensive, but not my scene.” “Mainstream.” Most of all, “normal.” When we are calling someone or something basic, we are reliving our desperate desires to be seen as special, or set apart. For those of us who overcame our first Magikarp stage, we’re reliving our desire to be seen as “not like other girls.”

We’re hating things for no reason other than the fact that multiple women performing “traditional” femininity like them. Leggings are comfortable, and we’re basically a couple steps away from returning to the “legging and tunic” days, which would make my inner fantasy nerd happy. Uggs are also comfortable. Pinterest is shiny and addictive. And pumpkin spice lattes are not totally my thing, but they are no worse than any other seasonal thing Starbucks pops out. To steal a quote from another friend, “Liking Doctor Who and craft beer does not make me inherently better than another girl who likes This is Us and pumpkin spice lattes.” These are preferences, not the moral judgments that we frame them as. Ironically, College Humor recently released a new video doing basically what I am doing here, and defending things that are “basic.”

And the things “basic” girls get made fun of are all just as average, and just as popular, as a lot of the things that guys like, but never get called “basic” for. How stereotypical is it for a guy to like cars, or sports? Or beer? But we don’t look at a pack of men shouting at a stadium and sloshing Budweiser and go, “Ugh, oh my god. Look at those basic bitches.” Because again, we’re unfairly angry about things that girls like, and we internalize a loooooot of misogyny.

So learn from my example. Make your Magikarp phases as short as possible. And for fuck’s sake, stop making fun of/using the phrase “basic bitches.”

Signed: Feminist Fury.

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Featured Image of two packets of Dunkin’ Donuts Pumpkin Spice coffee is by Mike Mozart and released under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence.