Archive for the ‘TV/Movies’ Category

Post Transformers: The Movie World

September 18, 2017

So, what struck me about the Transformers cartoon post-“The Movie” is how unlike pretty much every other series that I’ve watched — which to be fair is pretty much G1 and Beast Wars — the most interesting and driving personal conflict in the series wasn’t Galvatron vs Rodimus Prime. For the most part, any real conflict or rivalry they had was shallowly done, if at all, and not a major factor in the series. On the other hand, the conflict between Cyclonus and Ultra Magnus got more direct play and was the more interesting conflict. How did this happen?

First, Galvatron in that cartoon was absolutely insane, which was noted by the characters on numerous occasions. He didn’t have the megalomania and overall evil of, say, G1 Megatron or Beast Wars Megatron, with them being evil and having mental tics but being, overall, competent and manipulative villains. While both had a temper and definitely didn’t brook betrayal or treachery — at least against them — and often went out of their way to repay perceived or real slights, they in general were still competent and not as much of a danger to their own side as they were to the enemy. Far too often, Galvatron’s competence vanished leaving him with only power to recommend him, power that he sometimes used against his own allies in his zeal to destroy the Autobots, as was noted in “Webworld”, the episode where Cyclonus ends up having him committed in an attempt to restore his sanity so that he can more effectively lead the Decepticons. Overall, this led to a general overarching impression and plot where we have the Decepticon lieutenants — particularly Cyclonus — having to work with and work around an unstable Galvatron, made all the worse for Cyclonus because he was the one who set out to recover Galvatron, seeing him as the last hope the Decepticons had after their defeat by the Autobots. Having to admit that his revered leader wasn’t really helping in “Webworld” struck deep at him and brought home to the audience just how serious Galvatron’s insanity really was.

And this can be an interesting line to take, focusing on the Decepticons reacting to an unstable leader who nevertheless is powerful enough that he can’t just be done away with and who is enough of a figurehead that the Decepticons will automatically rally to him for the most part, whereas without him the Decepticons might fall back into fighting amongst themselves again. The problem is that this sort of storyline tends to shift the focus a lot to Cyclonus, and away from Galvatron as leader. But then maybe they could have set up a conflict between Cyclonus and Rodimus Prime, but that didn’t work for two reasons.

First, Rodimus Prime wasn’t all that impressive as Autobot leader. They deliberately set him up as the inexperienced and reluctant leader, not someone who had sought it out and someone who was more impulsive than a good leader should be. And, again, this could work. But it works best against a strong Decepticon leader, one who can try to manipulate those impulsive tendencies and doubts and force Rodimus to overcome them to oppose him, like Beast Wars Megatron. Galvatron is not that sort of Decepticon leader, and Cyclonus is in general too Lawful to pursue those courses most of the time as well. So with nothing to play off of Rodimus comes across as an ineffective leader, not as a worthy leader growing into the role. Second, Rodimus doesn’t have anything that lets us see him as the natural or superior Autobot leader. He is handed the leadership for being the “Chosen One”, but aside from that he’s singularly unimpressive as leader. He doesn’t have Optimus Prime’s or Optimus Primal’s inherent leadership ability and charisma. He doesn’t embody the Autobot principles like Optimus Prime did (sometimes not seeing to care about making peace and peace conferences, for example). He’s not as physically impressive as Optimus Prime and Optimus Primal were relative to the other characters; Ultra Magnus and Springer, for example, seem more overall physically impressive. He’s not regarded as the most skilled fighter on his team, like Optimus Prime and Optimus Primal were; Grimlock and Ultra Magnus are likely better fighters. He doesn’t even have a unique and impressive weapon or abilities like Optimus Prime — his laser rifle — and Optimus Primal — flight — had. So outside of the Matrix choosing him for some reason, we have no idea why he should be leader.

Second, the better counterpart to Cyclonus is clearly Ultra Magnus. As was lampshaded in one episode, Cyclonus and Ultra Magnus are mirror images of each other. Alignment-wise, we have Lawful Evil and Lawful Good. Both of them are dedicated to their leaders … or, at least, Ultra Magnus was to Optimus Prime, although he can be a bit frustrated by Rodimus Prime at times. And, heck, both of them are frustrated by and often have to work around the leadership failings of their leaders. However, neither of them have any interest in leading themselves. The conflict between them and the “Enemy Mine” situations they sometimes enter into is indeed a good conflict between similar yet strikingly different characters. Their conflict is interesting, and any attempt to slide that over to Rodimus would only create a conflict that was less interesting by contrast.

So, what we have is a series where both leaders aren’t the sorts of characters that can carry the main conflict of the series or being the main focus of the series, while their lieutenants in general were. It’s no wonder that, at least to me, some of the more interesting episodes are the ones that focus on Cyclonus and Ultra Magnus and their conflicts with each other, and not on Galvatron and Rodimus Prime.

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Reactions …

September 8, 2017

So, I was watching Chuck Sonnenburg’s review of Technobabylon and had an interesting reaction to it. At one point, the two detective characters are investigating the murder of a married couple, and a flashback shows that the couple is a same-sex couple. And I found myself rolling my eyes and thinking “Of course”, in precisely the same way that I react to clearly pandering attempts to appeal to vocal minority/special interest groups. Except … that wasn’t an obvious case of that. Sure, it’s clearly an attempt to portray that sort of relationship, but since those things happen having it just be in the story shouldn’t have been enough to trigger that sort of reaction. Now, later, Chuck talks about how one of the characters is trans, Asian, lesbian and probably one or two other things as well, which does justify that sort of reaction, but why was I reacting to that there? I’d never played the game and there wasn’t anything that really stood out before that, and my reaction to the revelation that the lesbian character was a lesbian only garnered a “Huh” reaction, so why did that jump out at me? I won’t give myself credit for having seen the obvious pattern and so came to the right conclusion from the subtle signs, so why did I react that way when, objectively, I had no reason to?

I think the reaction comes from the current context around discussions of these sorts of issues. Currently, any game that isn’t seen as being “diverse” enough is criticized, and any game or media that is seen as “inclusive” is praised for being that rarest of the rare and doing something great and modern and sticking it to the Gamergaters and all of that crap. Sure, many of the sites I read — who for the most part aren’t gaming focused, interestingly enough — take on that mindset so I see it more often than a Not-So-Casual Gamer should, but it’s still prevalent in the media and in the discourse. And thus when I see something like that appearing in a game or other work my first reaction is to think that it’s there only to appeal to that market, stifle those criticisms, or because the designers or studios are led by SJW-types who think it is important to make sure that’s in there. And that might be unfair, but more often than not, given the state we’re in, it’s also often right.

And I think this sort of backlash explains some of the public reactions to recent movies and games and the like. From what I can tell, “Wonder Woman” didn’t get the same sort of backlash that the revamped “Ghostbusters” did, and when it did it was more from the women who were going on about how “empowered” it made them feel and somehow knowing what men had been feeling all this time — when most men generally didn’t feel anything like that from the male-led movies — than criticism over it being a female-led movie. And the strongest reactions I’ve seen to “Ghost in the Shell” are from the Social Justice side criticizing it for “white-washing” a character that might well have been white originally, not from people complaining that it had a female lead. Besides Sony and the producers/directors doubling-down on the sexism claims, I think one of the main reasons for the difference in reaction is that neither of those could be seen as pandering. If DC was going to start up a DCCU and do a Justice League movie, Wonder Woman had to be there and had to get a movie of her own. And Ghost in the Shell had always had a female lead, so the adaptation doing that only made sense. But when Ghostbusters did it, there was no reason to think that it wasn’t just pandering, and given the context it seemed pretty likely that that was the reason for it … which may or may not have been the case originally. So the same thing applies to my reaction: I had no reason to think that it wasn’t pandering, so it immediately struck me as pandering given the context that pandering is seen as a good thing by so many people.

So, it seems to me that saturating the landscape with these comments and criticisms and demands is a bad thing, and so the people who actually want more diversity in games would do themselves a huge favour by being more selective when they talk about this. The problem is that if they don’t talk about these things, no one will hear about them and so no one will do anything about them. So they’d have to walk a fine line between mentioning it enough and loudly enough that people will pay attention to them and being so loud and constant that they annoy people. However, I can say that this quote from a review by Carolyn Petit of Tacoma at “Feminist Frequency” is absolutely not the way to go about it:

Tacoma feels bold not just in its speculation about technological advancements, but also in its assumption of a present in which stories with a cast of six people and nary a straight white man in sight can elevate everyone’s humanity. So often when I express the need for broader, better representations in games, I’m met with a response that’s some sarcastic variation on “Sure, why don’t we make a game about a queer black Muslim bisexual trans woman?” As if such a character is inherently less human, less deserving of being the center of a story than a straight white cis man.

Tacoma features a black woman, a Muslim woman, and a queer Asian man, among others, and the humanity of every character is incidental, fully assumed and fully granted by each of the others; the game is full of conflict but none of that conflict is rooted in the specifics of anyone’s gender, race, or sexuality. The game envisions a future in which discussions like the one I’m having right now no longer need to happen, because everyone’s humanity is fully recognized. I look forward to the day when we no longer need to praise a game, film, or TV show simply for who it dares to be about, but although Tacoma imagines such a day, and although we need visions of what that day might look like, we’re not there yet.

A review that is praising diversity in a game for deliberately excluding white men is not, in fact, going to help. First, it’s going to draw attention to that fact, which will lead people to think that it’s pandering. Second, it’s highlighting there not being any white males as a benefit, which strikes against diversity. And third, the over-the-top praise for doing gives an incentive for game companies to do it and thus pander to these interests, giving an inherent reason to think that the company really is just pandering. All in all, all this will do is get people to notice these things and roll their eyes at the shameless pandering.

And the sad thing is that I expect that if I had simply picked up and played Tacoma — which I haven’t — without reading the view I wouldn’t have noticed that there wasn’t a white male character, and if I had it wouldn’t have bothered me, and that that would hold true for a large number of gamers. After all, it didn’t bother me in Fatal Frame, or with the female characters I played in Mass Effect, Dragon Age, The Old Republic and, well, most games I play, and I don’t recall there being this reaction to those games or to Silent Hill 3, which had Heather as the main character. Outside of this context, if the game and/or characters are good few people will care if they are a white male or whatever. It’s when the context is poisoned by either the game or the media making a big deal out of it that it starts to look like pandering and the seams start to appear.

Even if they aren’t there.

Thoughts on “Transformers: The Movie”

September 4, 2017

So, not all that long ago I decided to clean out my closets, which included my collection of DVDs and VHS tapes. In doing so, I tossed out all of my old VHS tapes — since many of them just aren’t playable anymore — and decided to replace them — if I hadn’t already — with DVD or Blu-Ray versions. One of those tapes was “Transformers: The Movie”. And now that I’ve shifted to watching half-hour shows in the evenings, I thought it’d be fun to watch the original cartoon series up to the point of the movie, watch the movie, and then continue on with the rest of the cartoon, as well as “Beast Wars” and “Beast Machines”. I’m now past the point of “Transformers: The Movie”.

The movie was definitely pretty dark and brutal. The first scene is Unicron destroying an entire planet, and we don’t get the “great disturbance” and quick kaboom of Star Wars. We see the inhabitants see Unicron start his attack, panic, try to flee, and even have a ship sucked in with a screaming inhabitant. Then, from there, after a little light banter and plot setting, Ironhide, Prowl, Brawn and Ratchet, at least, are killed in a Decepticon attack … and Ironhide gets deliberately slaughtered by Megatron while trying to make a last ditch effort to stop him from ambushing Autobot City. And then there’s the big opening battle, where a number of characters on both sides are killed, and Optimus Prime and Megatron are both gravely wounded. Then, Optimus Prime dies. Then, Megatron and some other Decepticons are left to die to light Astrotrain’s load. Starscream is eventually destroyed by Megatron. Then Unicron attacks the moon bases and seemingly kills Jazz, Cliffjumper, Bumblebee and Spike. Later, Ultra Magnus is killed by the Decepticons. We see Kranix and an unnamed bot killed by Sharkticons. Eventually, we see inside Unicron and see other bots dissolved in the equivalent of stomach acid before Spike and the others are rescued. Cybertron is decimated by Unicron’s attack.

Now, Transformers was on when I was in grade school. It ran at lunch time and often it was shown at school during lunch. Thus, we can imagine that a lot of relatively young children liked the series and would want to see the movie. All of this was likely to leave them utterly devastated. I believe that Chuck Sonnenberg once commented in one of his reviews that the death of Optimus Prime left children crying, and I can imagine that a number of scenes left them that way, especially since many of them seem to be deliberately crafted to provoke that. While the scenes are well done, this “kill ’em all” approach might not have been a good one for a work that they had to know would largely draw children. A number of parents who took their kids to see the movie, I imagine, were regretting that they did so.

The movie itself, though, is fairly well done, and is pretty well paced. Things move from scene to scene quickly so that you can just follow it along without getting bored or distracted. The fight scenes have the right sort of tension and drama to them, and are written for the most part to take advantage of the typical heroes vs villains sort of conflict. Plot elements are not deep but weave into the events fairly seamlessly and quickly. It’s a movie that I could pretty much watch from start to finish without ever being tempted to read while it was on.

If there is a criticism, though, it’s that the new characters aren’t very well developed at all. Sure, we get some hints as to their personalities and goals, but I have watched all of the cartoon and so know the characters already and still felt that they were two-dimensional, if that. There are flashes of character development, but nothing major and nothing at all outside of Kup, Arcee and Hot Rod. Rodimus Prime is introduced too late to really get character development, and Wheelie and Wreck-Gar get none and only seem to appear as plot devices to get the heroes to the next stage. Given how many fan favourite characters were unceremoniously killed to be replaced by these, the lack of character development makes that a poor trade. But the Dinobots almost make up for that themselves, especially Grimlock.

Overall, it’s actually a pretty good movie, and despite its dark tone seems to capture a lot of the elements of the original cartoon while completely shaking up the status quo. The series that follows this is at least starting off much more dark as well, with the Decepticons fighting over scraps of Energon, but while the shift is there at least some of the main elements seem to be intact. I definitely enjoyed watching it.

Final Thoughts on Sabrina the Teenage Witch

August 21, 2017

So, I finished watching the entire series of “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”. And at the end of the day, I quite enjoyed it.

The main reason is that while it is often very, very, very stupid, and most of Sabrina’s problems are mostly caused by her essentially not learning the lessons she should have learned from previous episodes, the show is, in general, just plain fun and doesn’t take itself all that seriously. I can compare it to sitcoms like, say, “Three’s Company” (although some might not find that a compliment). But, in general, those are sitcoms that are just built around madcap adventures that happen to befall the characters, and if the characters actually learned from previous episodes that wouldn’t happen anymore. So just as Jack and Janet really should just talk to each other instead of trying to hide things from each other and other people, Sabrina really should learn to a) think more carefully before she uses magic to fix something and b) tell her aunts about it when things go wrong, because they are going to find out and, well, she usually needs them to tell her how to fix the problem before it becomes an utter disaster anyway. But I’m willing to be more forgiving of a sitcom than I would be of something else, precisely because the fun would be ruined if they actually did. And, to its credit, the show lampshades this frequently.

There’s also another incidence where the show seems to drop something that wasn’t really working. In season 7, Sabrina graduates from college and sets out to get a job as a reporter, with no success. However, Morgan used something Sabrina had written as a entry to a contest for a hip entertainment magazine called “Scorch”, and wins the contest. This starts off a chain of events that has Sabrina actually ending up working for them despite them thinking of her as, well, essentially a “square” while she sees them and the magazine as not being serious journalism.

Now, clearly the intent here would be to have a situation where the different personalities clashed and so provided conflict, but with the ability to present a nice and simple moral that Sabrina needs to lighten up and they need to take things more seriously. But it just never worked at all. Part of the issue is that Sabrina had already been doing an intern on a paper in season 6, and the boss Mike — played by George Wendt of Cheers fame — had provided an excellent example of the right sort of boss there: he was often nonplussed by Sabrina’s over-enthusiastic personality, but under it all he was a bit of a softie and kinda on her side. Her boss at Scorch (Annie) on the other hand is against Sabrina from the start, mostly because Sabrina was chosen by the publisher despite the fact that Annie disliked her. There’s nothing there, then, to contradict the idea that she was only tolerating Sabrina until she could get a chance to fire her, which was brought up in the final episode with Scorch. Also, in order for the clash to work we needed to see them as somewhat frivolous and not serious, so that Sabrina’s idea that they were slacking had at least some justification. But if you liked Sabrina and her personality — and if you watched her for six seasons you probably did — it was going to be difficult to not agree with her about them and that this is more flash than substance. Add in that most of her co-workers didn’t like her most of the time and jumped to conclusions about her while trying to compete with her for things like covers, and we aren’t likely to like any of the characters at Scorch, which is going to make it difficult for us to tolerate the interactions there, which were a big part of the first half of the season.

However, at about that point they … jettisoned it completely. Sabrina gets all nervous about her performance review, Annie reveals that she now has the ability to fire Sabrina if she doesn’t like the review, Sabrina takes on a spell to make her not make any mistakes, which makes her annoyingly perfect and meddling, Annie fires her for that, Sabrina makes her cases for staying, Annie seems to relent … and Sabrina then immediately goes off griping about how she doesn’t deserve to be treated this way and quits, moving on to do freelancing. Since Scorch figured prominently in the credits, they probably didn’t plan on ditching it this way, and on reflection even the sudden shift seems like a move to drop it even though the original plan would have been to keep her working there. Maybe they saw it wasn’t working, or maybe people didn’t like it, or maybe they just decided that they needed to drop it to have the time to focus on other things, but whatever the reason, like reducing Libby and Sabrina’s fighting over Harvey this move improved the show immensely.

There were also a large number of celebrities featured on the show, and it seems to me that what Scorch added was an easy way to work them into the show. Still, they managed to do it without Scorch and Scorch itself was annoying enough to not be worth keeping.

Typically at the end and the last seasons of shows I end up getting tired of the show and wanting it to end because I have another show in mind and want to get on to that one. That didn’t happen here. In fact, I suspect that I could just start re-watching it again immediately, as I kinda missed it the next day I came to watch something else (Transformers, actually). That almost never happens for me. The only time I can really remember it happening was, I think, with Deep Space 9. And the reason is because the show is just fun to watch. And since I had a hard time reading while watching it, I also managed to, for the most part actually watch it. It’s not a great show, and I could tear it to pieces if I wanted to go all SF Debris on it, but it’s just so much fun that I’m willing to forgive it.

Why Doesn’t Sabrina Count as a Role Model for Girls?

August 16, 2017

As you might be aware, I’m currently watching “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”. And it’s interesting to note that it was a remarkably successful series. It ran for seven seasons and spawned a relatively successful cartoon spin-off. It also managed to outperform a number of male-led contemporaries. And it ended in 2003, so it hasn’t been that long since it was on.

And yet, when people are talking about the need for female role models, they neither mention the series as being an example of a series that worked, nor suggest reviving it to be that series that girls purportedly need. Instead, all the talk is about there not being any such examples and for the need to convert all of the male-led series to female-led ones to promote “diversity” and “inclusion”. Why is that?

In a comment on my post about a female Doctor Who, Nate suggests that what they want is a cultural institution, or at least to have something with that sort of name recognition. However, given its long prominence in Archie Comics, Sabrina has that name recognition, and there are a number of other characters and series that also have that that they could promote, and yet they still don’t. Sure, Sabrina isn’t as well-known as The Doctor, but nothing is, and that hasn’t stopped them trying to convert less well-known properties (like Thor). So I think that there is a simpler interpretation here: they don’t push for these things because they aren’t aware that they exist.

A lot of the recent pushes seem to have something in common: a link to popular culture. When Doctor Who was just a show for science fiction nerds and nerd culture was something to be mocked and avoided, there wasn’t a huge push to make it diverse, or criticisms of its diversity. Sure, they existed, but in general they were small comments inside the science fiction community. But once nerd culture started to become “popular”, then the criticisms started. But those criticisms, then, came from people who were mostly inside pop culture but weren’t at all inside nerd or science fiction culture. Thus, the people complaining about it were people who in general didn’t care for science fiction, fantasy, superheroes, video games, and so on, but were instead people jumping onto the new big thing and criticizing it for not being exactly what they wanted it to be. But their criticisms were, therefore, always shallow criticisms, as they only had a shallow understanding of the field, and so didn’t know what things already existed that they might have liked better. They only got what had broad appeal and then criticized the entire genre for not having things that appealed to them specifically.

This explains why no one is talking about “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”, even though most of them can cite “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, despite the fact that the two series ran at the same time (Sabrina ran from 1996 – 2003, while Buffy ran from 1997 – 2003). Sure, Sabrina is more obscure, but many of these people consider themselves to be insiders who are doing massive amounts of research and making strong, facts-based arguments, and so you’d think they’d come across it at some point. This also explains why Anita Sarkeesian’s research is so shallow and ignores things like Fatal Frame, Silent Hill III (which is the game that Silent Hill: Revelation is based on), Suikoden III, Final Fantasy X-2 and the female City Elf storyline in Dragon Age while being cited by her fans as, well, actually having in-depth knowledge of video games based on stringent research. What gets referenced in pop culture gets noted, and anything else is ignored because it doesn’t exist for them.

Thus nerd culture was criticized as soon as it entered the sphere of pop culture. Never mind that the people criticizing it had no idea what it actually was or entailed; instead, they took the things they had seen as the totality of the field and praised and criticized it accordingly. The same thing happened to anime when it was in vogue, and also spawned the criticisms of violence in video games and the criticisms of hard rock/heavy metal music. In all cases, a bunch of ill-informed people took on what they were now noticing because it was becoming more mainstream.

This explains why most of the attempts to create these new “inclusive” works tend to fail miserably. The people advocating for them are not, in general, people who actually like those things or people who know a lot about the genres, but are instead bandwagon-jumpers demanding that the bandwagon take them where they want to go instead of where most of the others want to go. If they manage to get there, they find that almost everyone else has gotten off already and so it’s not popular anymore … and that it was popular was the only thing that attracted them to it in the first place. Thus, people attempting to follow their directions end up losing their core audience — who were interested in the field in general — while ultimately losing the fickle “Pop Culture Warriors” who didn’t actually like those sorts of works in the first place. If these people liked those genres and simply wanted to add a few more “inclusivity” elements, that wouldn’t be a problem, but they don’t and so don’t know anything about it, and so end up trying to remake it into what they think they want … but which they don’t really want.

You could easily remake “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”, either as a teen comedy, or a normal sitcom, or as horror. That no one even bothers to think of it suggests that they aren’t creative and don’t know what they’re talking about. Either way, these are not the sort of people you should let tell you how to write your stories.

First Thoughts on “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”

August 7, 2017

Maybe I shouldn’t admit to it, but I’ve started watching “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” after picking it up on DVD. At some point, I was reminded that the show existed, and remember watching it off-and-on while it was being broadcast, and finding it entertaining. I went to Amazon and found a collection of the complete series — all seven seasons — for a reasonable price, although it wasn’t exactly cheap. I watched a couple of other things first — I was worried for a while that I wouldn’t be able to just watch it and in the summer there are times when I want all the lights off to keep things cooler — but then decided to just give it a try.

I’m actually really enjoying it. In fact, right now the most annoying thing about it is that the pacing of the show is so good that I have a really hard time reading while watching it, which means that my re-reading of “The Tamuli” is going really, really slowly. While it being a half-hour show certainly helps with that, I think it’s more that when you look up to see what’s going on — inspired by something loud or exploding — the show just keeps moving from scene to scene to scene, one right after the other, so there’s no real downtime that would make you look down again and get caught up in the book.

I think that one of the reasons I liked it was because of its “Multiple Demographic Appeal”. From the TV Tropes entry:

Multiple Demographic Appeal: In her autobiography, Melissa Joan Hart describes the show as this. Younger kids would love the magic, teenagers would relate to Sabrina’s problems fitting in, red-blooded males would enjoy the pretty female cast, and the magic would also appeal to older viewers nostalgic for Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie.

But I also think the show does some things that make a female protagonist more generally appealing, and also manages to avoid some of the more annoying teen sitcom tropes. What’s good about the show is that while pretty much all of the main protagonists are female — except for Salem — the show isn’t really about female protagonists. While the viewpoint character is female and often the show is indeed clear about that, the problems that Sabrina has to deal with aren’t particularly female-oriented. Almost all of her “normal teen” issues are issues that pretty much all teens can relate to, and her fantastical problems also tend to be mostly neutral. Even if someone wouldn’t, say, want to go to the club with all available guys, even guys will understand wanting to go to a place with attractive, dateable people. So, again, while the perspective was female, there weren’t all that many cases where men and boys couldn’t relate to what was going on.

The show starts by setting up the typical “Betty and Veronica” situation with the standard “Veronica is an unsympathetic Alpha Bitch who is just there to annoy and clash with our nice heroine” with Libby. However, physically Libby is no where near as attractive as Sabrina is. The typical situation has the ordinary Betty compared with the more exotic and exciting Veronica, but while Libby is at least in theory richer than Sabrina, she just can’t compete with Sabrina on anything important. Sabrina is more attractive than Libby, nicer than Libby and more compatible with Harvey than Libby, and Harvey isn’t presented as someone that can be impressed by money (a nice car, maybe). To the show’s credit, either they always intended this or they realized it was happening really quickly and this line is quickly dropped, with Libby still trying on occasion but usually only when she has some kind of in, and Harvey makes it clear that he isn’t really interested. At first, he doesn’t notice how mean Libby is because she’s always nice to him, and then later falls into some of her traps because he can’t say “No” or is generally clueless, and then later makes it directly clear that he isn’t interested. Libby remains an antagonist for the first three seasons, but isn’t taken seriously as a romantic rival very often past the first half of season one.

It also manages to avoid the oh-so-common “Incredibly attractive female lead/sidekick can’t get a date because she’s not attractive enough”. Both Jenny and Valerie are attractive, although not as attractive as Sabrina is (Melissa Joan Hart, at the time, was incredibly attractive, even for a TV star). And they are both presented as girls who have a hard time getting dates. But usually it wasn’t their attractiveness that caused the issue. Jenny was eccentric, and seemingly in response to getting ostracized — mostly by other girls — for those traits, embraced the eccentricity and became almost an early hipster, embracing the things that were non-standard and rejecting out of hand those that were popular and making that an important part of her identity, which made her really annoying at times. Valerie had a strong underlying desire to be popular, but had crippling self-esteem issues. When Sabrina changes herself into a boy to see what Harvey was thinking when she wasn’t around, Sabrina “dates” Valerie — to keep Harvey from doing it — and notes that Valerie messes up by spending so much time talking about how no one wants to date her and how she never gets second dates, which Sabrina herself notes is a bad idea (and Valerie does the same thing on a “date” with Harvey). So it’s less their looks and more their personalities that are responsible for them not getting dates. And both are given guys who are interested in them. Jenny gets one on the trip to Salem and Valerie has a boyfriend for a couple of episodes and has a requited crush on Gordie. This allows the show to still play up them being dateless while allowing for episodes where they, for example, double date.

The show is a lot like “Charmed” in a lot of ways, but especially in how most of Sabrina’s problems come from her not learning the lessons she learned in previous episodes and doing something stupid with her magic, and not learning from previous episodes that hiding it from her aunts only makes it worse, especially since she often needs their help to fix the things she’s screwed up. But the show lampshades that on occasion and I’m more willing to forgive that in a sitcom than I am in an action-drama. The show can be incredible stupid at times, though, both with entire episodes and with sequences inside episodes.

I also like the Canadian references tossed in, likely due to Caroline Rhea — who played Hilda — being Canadian. While they name drop it on occasion, Hilda gets deported back to the “Northern part of the realm” for speaking too much like a Canadian, and I think the national anthem was the Canadian one. It’s fun for them to do that, and allows them to appeal to a shared audience with things that if you don’t know Canada won’t seem out of place.

Ultimately, I’m finding it entertaining, although Season 4 is starting a bit rough. But I should be able to go through it and will likely watch it again at some point.

Folding Ideas’ “Thermian Argument”

August 4, 2017

So, while reading the comments on a post about the new female Doctor, someone linked this video from “Folding Ideas” about the “Thermian Argument”, which is in its roughest form an argument against criticizing part of a work because it is consistent with the universe that it is in. As you might expect, the main examples are of typical Social Justice type situations. The specific example used in the beginning is that someone is watching an anime and finds the constant depictions of Orks raping and brutally murdering female characters disturbing, especially given the presumed frequency of those scenes and how long those scenes go on for. The reply is that the Orks were established as being like that, and so the work is just showing us what their established behaviour is, and I will go no more into what the typical response would be because the original video doesn’t really do that and it’ll be more important as a counter later.

So, let me go into the video’s actual argument. The argument is that things like consistency and purity aren’t relevant to fictional worlds because they are fictional, and thus don’t really exist. For all of the time he spends talking about it, what he never manages to do is, well, make this an actual argument that has any heft to it whatsoever. Yes, fictional worlds are not real worlds, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have rules and that it doesn’t establish any kind of “objective truth” that writers need to hew to. To take his example of how to kill a vampire, he at the start asks how to kill one, and then at the end insists that it is irrelevant because vampires are fictional and so there is no objective way to kill them. Which is in some sense true, as different works may use different means to kill them. However, what we are talking about is consistency in-universe, and in-universe there will be established means to kill vampires. If the writer wants to suddenly make one of those means not work on a particular vampire, they are going to need to explain why in this case it doesn’t even though it was established that it would, indeed, kill a vampire. If it doesn’t, then what we have is a hack writer who is essentially “breaking the rules” in order to tell the story they want to tell, but can’t either find a way to make that work given those constraints or isn’t willing to compromise their vision in order to be consistent with the universe they’re writing in.

But, the reply can go, does that even matter? Well, yes, it really, really does. In order to get engrossed into a work, we have to accept that the events in the universe are, in fact, really happening. Part of that is understanding how, in fact, the universe works, which means knowing what the rules are. Thus, the writer needs to set expectations for us so that we can, well, know what to expect and so don’t start questioning everything that happens. So if a writer wants to have magic, they need to establish that magic exists in the universe, and ideally wants to set up as much as possible — without boring the audience with technical explanations — what it can do so that the audience doesn’t spend their huge dramatic character moments wondering if magic can really do that. Once we understand the rules of magic, anything consistent with that will be just ignored, allowing for the writer to just presume that we accept it and then be able to use it to drive things like plot, drama, and characterization. This even — and perhaps especially — holds if there are no set rules. If that’s established, then we stop looking for rules and just accept that anything that needs to happen will happen, and that it won’t happen when it needs to not happen. Since this still tends to kill drama — because the audience will simply expect a solution to appear when it needs to and so won’t be wondering if the hero can get out of this jam — it has to be handled very carefully as well.

What this all means is that if a writer starts breaking the established rules of a universe, people will notice. This will break immersion and require the writer to have a good explanation for why the rule was broken before they can be re-immersed into the universe. What a writer really wants to avoid is for the audience to start evaluating their work from a third-person perspective and opposed to feeling like they are observing an actual world. And in order to do that, they need to establish expectations and avoid violating those expectations without proper reasons and set-up. To return to the Ork example, if the expectation is built up that they would act that way, showing them acting differently would break immersion. That being said, that reply wouldn’t work against an argument that stated that they don’t need to spend so much time showing that, since we aware of it and will write it in if it isn’t explicitly shown, and that time might be better spent establishing other things.

At any rate, the main issue here is that in his Ork example the initial and more reasonable response isn’t the one he cites here. It is instead a simple “The maybe this work isn’t for you and you shouldn’t watch it”. If a work wants to be brutal and so focus on brutality in many scenes, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just means that some people are not going to want to watch that sort of thing. And that’s fine. But we see in the video that he describes the real criticism as being a criticism of the choices the writers made, and here we can see the real objection in his example: he thinks that showing this brutalization of women is really there for no other reason than to brutalize women, which is bad. But this, then, takes the counter-argument to a completely different place than he accepts and argues against. The counter-arguments, in general, for such things — if made properly — would be along the lines of arguing that either a) this is a brutal universe and brutalization is shown consistently (implying that his objection is only to the brutalization of women for out-of-context reasons and, likely, personal ideology) or b) that the scenes are necessary to establish and remind the audience of just how brutal the Orks actually are. Both of these can be debated, of course, but none of them can be debated by arguing “This is a fictional world so we don’t need to follow the rules of the universe!” All of them require looking at the work and what the writer was trying to do and show either that what the writer is trying to do is wrong, or that they are going about what they are trying to do the wrong way. So, yes, you can criticize the choices of the writer, but doing so isn’t as simple as the video makes it seem. You can indeed invalidly criticize the choices of the writer, and the video’s defense of doing so doesn’t work for any of those cases.

This is essentially Sarkeesian’s comment that the world is fictional and so the writer can do whatever they want, which is a really bad argument, because the writer can’t afford to violate expectations too often without ruining the work. If the writer is trying for historical accuracy, then criticizing them for not including minorities in roles they would never have had in that timeframe is criticizing their goal, which is almost always not valid. And this holds even if they add some fantastical elements to their work; just because some parts don’t conform doesn’t mean that the parts that do can be simply changed without consequence. While the video insists that talking about consistency shuts down discussion, the reply actually does that even more so, because it refuses to engage with the universe at all and instead puts all of the discussion outside of the work itself, allowing no arguments that it would hurt the work itself or wouldn’t fulfill the purpose of the work. That it’s actually at best incomplete and at worst invalid is just the icing on the cake.

Yes, a simple reply of “This is consistent with the universe” is not enough to invalidate a criticism of a problematic scene. But a reply of “Fictional works don’t have to be consistent” is not enough to invalidate that defense and is in fact entirely false.

A Female Doctor Who

July 28, 2017

So, the next Doctor is going to be a woman. I’ve mused on this before:

The issues around a female Doctor are a bit more complicated. My first thought was that we had seen female Time Lords in the past, and had had no real reason to think that the Doctor’s regenerations could change gender, and so then we didn’t want to turn this into another “Dax” thing with male and female memories in the same body and all of the issues around them when we’ve gone for decades without having to worry about it. But then in some random surfing I found that it is possible that one of the Master’s incarnations was female, which means that that’s already there. I’m still not convinced it’s something worth exploring in Doctor Who, though, especially considering the shortness of those series.

Of course, the typical Social Justice people are generally thrilled with it, like Adam Lee. Of course, their arguments for it actually make me less inclined to support it because of just how bad they are and how they highlight potential complications and consequences that aren’t that great.

So, let me start with fandom in general, as any criticism of these things is always presented by them as simple misogynistic/racist ranting. Lee gives an example of one in his post:

I awoke this morning with a heavy sense of melancholic despondency, as if a dear lifelong friend had just died. Oh, wait a minute, a dear lifelong friend HAS just died. He was Doctor Who, albeit a fictional character in a sci-fi series but one who I’ve kept company with since the show began in 1963 when I was knee-high to a grasshopper. My now-adult children watched it, too, when they were younger. But the good Doctor has been slain by a small cabal of fanatical ideological fundamentalists in the name of “diversity” and “cultural relevance.”

I find that my waking melancholy is progressively giving way to vein-bulging rage, which is very childish of me and will give delight to virtue-signalling Guardian readers, whose intolerance and cruelty actually knows no bounds, despite their preposterous displays of right-on, Newspeak-approved compassion. While I’m still in the grip of that childishness, I should say that while of course I harbour no malice toward Ms Whittaker, I really do want the show to crash and burn after this preposterous casting decision…

Now, pause for second and consider this thought experiment. Imagine that the writers said that for the next series they were going to change the exterior appearance of the TARDIS to be something other than a police box. After all, people outside of Britain have never seen the things, and even in Britain they are quite rare, so new viewers are confused about just what it’s supposed to be. And it was established that the TARDIS had the ability to change its exterior to blend in, and that that circuit was broken. And even originally, it was just done to save money, but with current CGI that’s no longer necessary. So they’re just going to go ahead and fix it so that it blends in again.

Do you think that a large number of fans wouldn’t react to that in at least as strong a manner as Lee’s example?

Look, this is what we know about dedicated fandoms. First, they don’t particularly like change. Second, they certainly don’t like change for the sake of change. And thirdly, they particularly don’t like change that is aimed to appeal to an audience that isn’t them. Lee might want to consider this “entitled”, but for a dedicated audience this isn’t unreasonable. They were the ones who supported it all of those years. They are the ones that are responsible for it still existing, through their keeping it alive and in the public consciousness. Given how often these sorts of “changes” take away the things they like to add things that they don’t care for, they are right to fear those sorts of changes and are right to think that the writers shouldn’t be ignoring the existing audience to appeal to a new one, whether that is based on economic status, main stream status, or Social Justice status.

Peter Davison has rather mildly criticized the move:

But the 66-year-old told the Press Association: “If I feel any doubts, it’s the loss of a role model for boys, who I think Doctor Who is vitally important for. So I feel a bit sad about that, but I understand the argument that you need to open it up.

“As a viewer, I kind of like the idea of the Doctor as a boy but then maybe I’m an old fashioned dinosaur – who knows?”

Lee attempts to respond to that:

First: if this is really what you’re concerned about, let me assure you that boys growing up today are in no danger of being unable to find a male role model. Even if they don’t like Jodie Whittaker, the BBC isn’t throwing out old tapes anymore; they’ve got twelve male Doctors to choose from.

So, let’s consider a case where I decide to reboot the Sailor Moon anime using male characters, and when people say that doing so takes away important role models for girls I simply reply that they can still watch the original anime/cartoon and so that’s not a concern. Seriously, why in the world did he think that was even an argument? If he’d stuck with the standard line that there are already many similar role models for boys in other works — although those are getting rather thin on the ground — he’d at least have something that looked like an argument. This is just sad.

In the meantime, what’s so bad about letting the girls have a turn for once?

They did have a turn. It was called “The Sarah Jane Adventures”, was reasonably well-received, didn’t face this sort of criticism as far as I can recall, and only ended because the lead actress and namesake passed away. If they wanted to add role models for girls, all they needed to do was spin off another new show doing so. They could do, for example, “The Martha Jones Chronicles”, given her character development in Doctor Who. Or they could have spun off that lizard private detective and her lesbian lover with the Sontaran butler, which entertained me, at least, when they were on. If they had done so, then they could have maintained the role model for boys with the Doctor and added a role model for girls with the new series. If they really wanted a female Time Lord, they could have added one in Doctor Who and spun her off. But there’s always this insistence on changing existing characters for diversity or to add a role model for girls or minorities instead of adding new ones. This seems to be either a lack of creativity and imagination or else a cynical attempt to play off the existing popularity in order to support their own ideological convictions. Maybe one of them can reply here with a better explanation (although arguing about how hard it is to compete against established franchises doesn’t work here because since these are all spinoffs they would get the boost from the original franchise and, well, both The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood worked out).

This also seems to miss the fact that even Doctor Who can provide those role models for girls. While Classic Who might have treated the Companions as, well, just companions the Modern Doctor Who clearly treats them as quite prominent and more as partners. The show has established how important they are to keeping The Doctor human, and a lot of the time the plots are driven not by The Doctor but instead by the Companions (“The Impossible Girl”, “The Girl Who Waited”, Rose, and so on). Why can’t Martha, Rose, Clara, and Amy be good role models for girls? Heck, Billie seems to be written precisely as one for girls and gay characters, so why don’t we have good role models for boys and girls right now? They could make a case if they were going to swap the Companion out with one who would be a good role model for boys … but they don’t seem to be doing that here. Thus, the whole model here really is taking a role model for boys away and not replacing it with anything, in a series that already had good role models for girls. That can’t be seen as anything other than a loss.

Also, it begs the question: why can’t boys look up to a woman as their role model? Davison takes for granted that this is the case, but doesn’t attempt to explain why.

Because the whole concept of the oft-cited arguments that we need to have more women as role models for girls pretty much refutes it? I don’t really see it as an issue that he accepts the argument that those who are pushing for a female Doctor are relying on in order to make his criticism. If we can expect boys to look up to women as role models, then we can expect girls to look up to men as role models, and then the whole role models argument falls apart (In little pieces on the floor, too wild to keep together, you know the rest). Since Lee references the “we need role models for girls” argument above, I’m not at all convinced that’s what he wants to do here.

There’s a profound failure of empathy here, one that’s at the root of many other problems: the idea that white men should only ever have to empathize with characters who look like them.

Which is balanced against the profound failure of empathy from Lee’s side, which both ignores that the counter-idea is that minorities can’t or shouldn’t have to empathize with white male characters — ie characters that don’t look like them — and that a lot of the reaction is due to the often explicitly cited justification for these changes that it will advance an ideology that is not theirs and that they are often neutral to as opposed to hostile to. Which ties back into the idea that if you want to make diversity or role models for girls an explicit goal creating something new or spinning off something would allow you to explore that ideological goal all you want without changing the existing thing in ways that might not work. Gee, it’s almost like empathy is a really bad method for figuring out how to deal with other people. Who knew?

Let me just quote his summary here:

There’s no way to appease people who are clinging to the past. The only way to introduce diversity to a classic series is to just get on with it, and ignore the mutters and grumbles of the troglodytes. It will soon seem like a natural, even obvious step, and the next generation of fans will wonder why anyone ever had a problem with it.

This just reflects perfectly the sanctimonious arrogance that characterizes Lee’s — and many other Social Justice advocates — arguments. He doesn’t actually have an argument here, contradicts himself and some of the key arguments used by his own side, has never established that it is good or even necessary to introduce diversity to a classic series, and yet someone this is just natural, obvious and only opposed by people “clinging to the past” and who are “troglodytes”. And remember, as proven I’m neutral on this, and his comments here are not helping his case, nor is his tone. The best way, it seems, to argue against diversity is to have Social Justice advocates argue for it, and that can’t be a good thing for their side.

Vintage …

July 24, 2017

So, for a long time now I’ve been looking for a channel or channels where I can have the TV on for noise when I want or need noise — like when I’m reading or playing a game or writing blog posts — but where I can also look up at times and just watch for short periods of time. I had news channels for a while for that — and still have some of them — but at times they switch over to shows which aren’t as interesting. I did end up getting the Stingray channels because my 5-CD player stopped working and you just can’t get those things anymore, and that worked pretty well, but those channels don’t work well while I’m playing a game, downloading things, or waiting for someone because when I look up all I see is an album cover.

Then, at some point recently, I saw an ad for Vintage TV. This channel plays music like the Stingray channels, but instead of having a large number of channels covering a huge number of genres, they have one channel that kinda mixes genres — but mostly focuses on rock and some country — but also plays videos while playing the music. If they have access to an actual video, they use the actual video … which includes concert or TV performances. If they don’t, they have semi-related and semi-themed video to go along with it, which sometimes at least tries to fit in a narrative.

So far, I’m quite enjoying it. Not all of the music is what I personally like, but my tastes are pretty varied so most of it is at least tolerable. The videos can be interesting, and at least are something to look at when I don’t want or need to look at my own screens for a while. Thus, at this point this seems like a good channel to fill my need for a channel that can provide easily ignorable noise and images while being interesting enough when everything else I’m looking at is more ignorable.

Thoughts on Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2

July 17, 2017

So, Despicable Me 3 has come out, and they were selling Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2 in a Blu-Ray combo back for a decent price, so I bought and watched them. Now, I had watched and enjoyed the original when I had shomi (and I still haven’t replaced shomi) but this time when I watched both of them I noticed something, likely because it was even more pronounced in the second movie than in the first one:

The movies are overstuffed with shallow story and plotlines, so much so that the only way to really get the plotlines is because they are so tropey that we immediately recognize the scenes and what they indicate even if things aren’t set up properly in advance.

Margo (who might be my favourite character) gets hit the hardest by this. In the first movie, she gets mostly a perfunctory plot around not trusting that she’d really get a parent, ending with an emotional final “I love you Dad!” to Gru. But that wasn’t really touched on in at all in the movie, and her character — essentially being the mother figure for the girls — wasn’t going to admit that publicly anyway … or, at least, not where the others could hear it. So that final scene becomes “Oh, yeah, I see that she might have had that sort of feeling from some minor thing that she did earlier”, which loses the emotion of the scene. Sure, you can argue that the scene where she has to trust Gru to catch her counts, but again that wasn’t really set up that well and is one of the minor events that might indicate it but doesn’t strongly telegraph it. In the second movie, she has the whole sub-plot with the son of the villain, who ends up dumping her … but we get a short scene with her with the sombrero of depression or whatever that was and that’s about it, other than it getting them into the villain’s mansion and giving Gru a chance to act protective for about five minutes. That’s not enough to deal with the first crush and the depression of her heart being broken. Again, we recognize the events because we know that this is what happens, but they aren’t developed enough in movie for us to really get the emotional connection to work.

This is also seen with the scene where the agent is pondering leaving Gru in the airplane, and decides to go back to him. While, yes, we were aware that they were heading towards a relationship, this scene just jumps into the middle of the action with little set-up, runs through quickly, and ends with a flourish that isn’t justified by what they’ve done up to that point (they kinda had one date). Again, we recognize the trope, so we understand what’s happening, but we don’t get the emotional oomph from it.

And we see this with the head of the division, who is the interfering boss just because that’s what he is, and with the youngest girl’s mother speech, and in a number of other cases. We have common tropes tossed out there so that we recognize them, but each aren’t developed enough to generate the strong emotions of those tropes on their own.

Now, you can argue that these movies are aimed at kids, and kids don’t need and aren’t going to appreciate taking the time it would take to set these things up. The first response is that given that children are not going to be as steeped in tropes as adults relying on trope recognition to carry the plot is a risky move. The second response is that they could fix most of this by reducing the number of subplots which would give them the time to do them properly, and they can be done in a humourous way, since other works have done that time and time and time again.

That being said, the movies are paced well and entertaining, but the scenes where they rely on my recognizing the trope to really appreciate an emotional sequence kinda bug me … especially since there’s no reason why they have to do that.