Believing in superheroes vs. yourself

Mine is not an interactive voice. Mine is a voice pinned down by fear. That begs to retreat to the shadows, the safety of silence and solitude.

Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Writing about fictional characters seemed like a cop-out at the beginning of the semester, but I’ve been wringing it out like blood from a stone. I wrote too many plot summaries and not enough analysis. I glanced off the surface of the issues I wanted to delve into, like rape culture and what it really means to be a feminist in the 21st (or 22nd or 23rd…) century. I wanted to find new heroes, ones created by women, and I more often revisited past loves and male creators.

And when it came time to pitch and plan and promote something of my own, I foundered. I thought about High Fidelity, what Laura says to Rob when he produces his own record: “You, the critic, the professional appreciator, put something new into the world and the second one of those things gets sold to someone, you’re officially a part of it.” And here I have a hard enough time just being a critic. My idea for a web series amused me for half a minute, but the same thing happened that used to happen when I tried to write fiction–I literally lost the plot. What happens to them? Where’s the intrigue? Why do we care?

My best friend–to whom I write long, self-deprecating emails about my daily struggle to cope with seeming hardships in my thoroughly privileged life–recently told me I should be blogging about my experiences with generalized anxiety disorder.

now-im-a-superhero

It’s certainly crossed my mind, in the way that Dave Eggers knew he wouldn’t be able to write anything else before he wrote his memoir of raising his kid brother after his mother died. Searching in vain for his exact quote, I found another that speaks to my concerns about confessional blogging:

“Revelation is everything, not for its own sake, because most self-revelation is just garbage–oop!–yes, but we have to purge the garbage, toss it out, throw it into a bunker and burn it, because it is fuel.”

I embarked on a quest to find a version of myself on screen (or paper). I looked for someone who avoided violence, but what I learned is that everyone fights. It’s the human condition. In the “real” world, we don’t wind up with broken bones, but we all bleed.

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Believing in superheroes vs. yourself

Tropes vs. Women vs. Boys

Tropes vs. Women in Video Games may have started out as a social media campaign, but it quickly turned into a social media minefield. (That’s an understatement.) Almost as soon as Anita Sarkeesian launched her Kickstarter campaign for a five-video series, she became the victim of “organized and sustained” harassment. According to an update on her Kickstarter page on June 7, 2012:

“The intimidation and harassment effort has included a torrent of misogyny and hate speech on my YouTube video, repeated vandalizing of the Wikipedia page about me, organized efforts to flag my YouTube videos as “terrorism”, as well as many threatening messages sent through Twitter, Facebook, Kickstarter, email and my own website.”

The abuse at that time was serious enough that she needed to leave home, but the hatred didn’t become a hashtag until August 2014, when her name became connected with that of Zoe Quinn, creator of the narrative fiction game Depression Quest and victim of a vitriolic tirade by her ex-boyfriend that mushroomed into a cautionary tale about online harassment (another understatement) with Anita as the poster child. Her Kickstarter may have reached its target in the first 24 hours, but ultimately it was the boys trying to crush her who propelled her to become one of Time‘s 30 Most Influential People on the Internet.

For my own web series, I’d work to align myself with Geek & Sundry, the online production company led by Felicia Day and Wil Wheaton. Day’s web series The Guild set the standard for online content, and she and Wheaton are the celebrity darlings of geek culture. They feature a variety of web series on their site, not to mention every social media outlet known to man and one I didn’t even know about–Twitch. Its new editor-in-chief Rob Manuel hopes to “bring the geeky world of games, comics, entertainment, and fashion to a wider audience.” They’re most active on Twitter and YouTube, so that’s where I’ll focus my early efforts.

Tropes vs. Women vs. Boys

The Diamond Age, or part of it

Books have been notably absent from my coverage this semester, and not for lack of material or lack of interest. Octavia Butler, Ursula K. Le Guin and Margaret Atwood are three authors I might have included without leaving my own library. The oversight is merely because I read so damn slowly. You’d think, as an English major and an editor, speed-reading would be one of the tools in my arsenal. Instead, those afflictions made my reading slow and laborious. Every word must be tasted, swilled around in my brain like a sip of fine wine, revisited when errant thoughts snatch away my attention. It’s a labor of love, but a large commitment that I seldom undertake.

I’ve started listening to Audible as I fall asleep, preferably books I’ve heard or read many times before. My library is quite small, so it’s fortunate I don’t mind listening to Wil Wheaton lend his voice to Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One and John Scalzi’s Redshirts repeatedly. Another staple is Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, a book in which I find something new to appreciate with every reading. Y.T. and Juanita are both great female characters, but they’re not quite appropriate for my list. Princess Nell, on the other hand, fits right in.

I noticed The Diamond Age: or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer on a list of Fiction/Novels with Female Protagonists That Aren’t About Love or Romance. I also knew it as the first Neal Stephenson book my husband ever read, inspiring him to read everything else the man has written since. He described it to me as Snow Crash 100 years in the future, and I knew I’d be hooked. I didn’t expect it to practically embody my capstone project. I can’t offer a competent plot summary because I’m still only halfway through the book, and my third-wave heroine hasn’t even come of age yet. But the world she inhabits is so vivid and so relevant for anyone studying Interactive Media.

Nellodee lives in a world filled with “ractives,” down to moving mediaglyphics on their chopsticks. (It seems that emoji have mostly taken the place of reading.) She becomes the unintentional recipient of a unique ractive book created for someone of a much higher class than she. It learns who she is as soon as she opens it, creating a story all about her, with her brother and her four stuffed animals as the main characters. It constantly adapts to her needs and first teaches her to read, then to defend herself and escape from her mother’s abusive boyfriend. The book itself becomes her mother, or rather Miranda, the voice behind the book.

For all the advances in this world, they still haven’t discovered a truly adequate substitute for a real human voice. (Sorry, Siri.) Ractors–with motion-capture grids tattooed onto their bodies–are employed to read the lines and play the parts required of the ractives, often right alongside their customers. Miranda doesn’t know the whole story, and it’s impossible (so far) for her to track the little girl down, but she learns about Nell’s life and realizes her important role in it. I can’t draw conclusions at this point in the book, but the questions are posed about the nature of interacting with someone in this fashion.

My own aspirations for my capstone e-book aren’t nearly as lofty as A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, but they’re thematically consistent. I took a long time to come around to the e-book, and when I did so it was because I thought it could bring more to the reading experience. Features like the built-in dictionary and the ability to track a character’s occurrences throughout the book (spoilers!) offer so much potential, but overall the experience is less. It lacks the tangible experiences of the book, of course, the cover and the spine and the heft of the pages beneath your fingers. A Kindle sitting on your nightstand doesn’t smile and beckon to you the way a dog-eared paperback does. And yet, there’s something else missing in the translation of a novel into raw text that can be viewed on multiple devices and adjusted to suit the reader’s whims. I haven’t figured out what it is yet, but I intend to do so.

The Diamond Age, or part of it

Coraline’s blues

Too many of the characters I’ve featured here were created by men, and today’s is no exception. In fact, it took two men to bring this beautiful feminist character to her full potential:  Neil Gaiman for the book and Henry Selick for the movie. It’s been too many years since I’ve read Gaiman’s horror story for children, but Selick brought the story to life in stylized stop-motion animation. It’s the only movie I’ve ever truly enjoyed watching in 3-D. (The effect is somewhat lost on me being both nearsighted and farsighted. Talk to me when you’ve invented prescription 3-D glasses.)coraline

Coraline is a perpetually misunderstood 11-year-old with dark blue hair and light blue nail polish. Hers is a story of being careful what you wish for. She’s lonely and bored when her overworked parents move her to a 150-year-old house in Oregon where her upstairs and downstairs neighbors are old and eccentric and think her name is Caroline. Her parents are too busy writing a gardening catalog to pay attention to her, much less cook a decent meal and unpack. She has no one to talk to until her new frenemy Wybie gives her a doll he found in his grandmother’s trunk, which looks just like her down to the canary yellow rain slicker. She claims to be too old for dolls but lets this one explore the house with her, including the small, wallpapered-over, locked door in the living room. The door leads nowhere in the daytime, but when night falls the upstairs neighbor’s circus mice lead her through it to a much better version of the home and family she just left.

Her Other Mother prepares a Martha Stewart-worthy meals and, rather than clacking away on an ancient green-and-black computer, her Other Father improvises songs on piano that are all about her. For three nights she’s showered with the kind of attention she craves in the real world, from a magical garden in the shape of her face to awe-inspiring performances from her Other neighbors where she plays a starring role. Of course everything goes horribly wrong, and she has to rely on her wits and a cranky talking to cat to save her parents, a trio of ghost children and herself. The movie is almost completely nonviolent, but that doesn’t mean it’s not scary and suspenseful, at least by little kid standards. Coraline escapes from danger using her problem-solving skills and a well-aimed cat, not by kicking ass. And that’s all too rare, even in movies meant for tweens.

Coraline’s blues

Script: Jyoti vs. the matriarch

JYOTI leans back in a chair with her feet propped up next to her sewing machine, where what appears to be a green tentacle is halfway finished. She holds what we understand to be a phone, but only through context clues. We hear her MOM speaking from it.

JYOTI

Mom, Mom, would you listen to yourself? That’s prejudice!

MOM

Don’t you lecture me about prejudice. I grew up on Earth. That’s the most prejudiced society womankind has ever known. And you know who was behind it? Men.

JYOTI

Justus isn’t like men on Earth, Mom! He doesn’t even remember life off-Gilman.

MOM

And neither do you. You don’t know what men can be like.

JYOTI

I know Justus. And the Committee decreed that the boys weren’t to be treated as second-class citizens. Don’t you trust the Committee?

MOM

Need I remind you that I was part of that Committee? We did our duty for the boys, they were raised and educated well and as men they are fully productive members of our society. That does not mean I have to indulge my daughter in some antiquated notion of romantic love.

JYOTI

You wouldn’t call it antiquated if you knew anything about it!

MOM

How on Gilman do you think you were born?

Script: Jyoti vs. the matriarch

Presenting Jyoti

When the human race left earth behind, no one expected us to last very long. The men dumped the women and children on a hastily constructed space station, the Gilman, like it was the 19th century instead of the 21st century. Then they went off to seek their fortunes, or whatever it is men do. We never heard from them again. As soon as they were gone, the women started to figure things out. We worked with what we had. We made peace with our new environment. And after 20 years, the High Committee decided that it was time to meet our neighbors.

We knew they were out there, of course. The galaxy is a lot smaller than you’d think, staring up at it from earth. There were hundreds of them, but they left us alone and we were focused on survival. We were understandably cautious, since we weren’t sure if they’d killed our men. And we didn’t want to repeat any of the mistakes made on earth, like starting a war. So we waited until we were ready. We did our research. And we made a plan.

The details aren’t important, except for my part. I’m Jyoti, Official Fashion Designer to the Diplomatic Committee. My sisters Julika and Jeneth and I were assigned by the High Committee to learn everything we can about how these aliens dress and put together outfits so our diplomats can show each species the respect they deserve. I was the natural choice for the job because I’ve been playing with the sewing machine my mother rescued from earth since I was knee-high to a trash bot. Julika knows how to make paint out of just about anything. And Jeneth is the brains of the operation. We were all babies when we arrived on the Gilman, and this is our first task assignment. We don’t want to screw it up.

***

I’m Jenny Cliff, and you’ve just heard the origin story of Diplomatic Duds, a new comedy web series brought to you by the Cliff-Hanger Productions team. Our intrepid heroines may be able to get by on nothing but their wits, but for us to hear their stories, we need your help. The first season of Diplomatic Duds features 10 exciting episodes. That’s 10 different alien species and 10 different fashion challenges for Jyoti, Julika and Jeneth to solve–a full 60 minutes of fashion on the final frontier! We’ve brought a lot of talented people together to bring you a fresh take on alien encounters, and all that’s missing is your support. And, don’t worry, you’ll get more for your money than just high-quality entertainment. To show our gratitude for your donation, you’ll also receive one of these fabulous rewards. Haven’t you always wanted to know what you’d look like as an alien? Thanks for listening, and don’t forget to follow us on social media to stay in the loop!

Presenting Jyoti