Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Brown and The Yellow

The title of this post is, in fact, not about excrement. In Bossypants, Tina Fey laments that she has "brown hair" while other women got to have "blonde hair", demanding that people call it what it is: yellow.

Anyhow, Bossypants gave me a new appreciation for Saturday Night Live which, after nearly 40 years, tends to have a 50/50 between good and terrible on a good day. One quote in particular stood out:

The ... thing I remember about the Sylvester Stallone show was that they did a Rocky-themed monologue and they needed someone to play Rocky's wife, Adrian. Cheri really wanted the part- she was little, she was from Philly, she could do a good impression of Talia Shire- but instead somebody thought it would be funnier to put Chris Kattan in a dress. I remember thinking that was kind of bullshit.


...I tell this specific tale of Cheri being passed over for Kattan-in-drag because it illustrates how things were the first week I was there. By the time I left nine years later, that would have never happened. Nobody would have thought for a second that a dude in drag would be funnier than Amy, Maya, or Kristen. the women in the cast took over the show in that decade, and I had the pleasure of being there to witness it.

Which highlighted to me a consistent trend in nearly every sketch comedy show: Monty Python, Kids in the Hall, Mr. Show, Whitest Kids U Know...find the women! Nope, that's a dude in drag, sorry. In the last 30 years, I thought of two sketch comedy shows with major female cast members: MadTV, which aimed for being a second rate, crude SNL and still felt short, and Upright Citizens Brigade which was brilliant and, low and behold, had no one else but blonde Tina Fey Amy Poehler.

These two have been oft compared and for good reason, considering both the extremely similar arc in their careers (Second City->sketch comedy TV->SNL Weekend Update anchor->-Baby Mama->NBC Thursday night sitcom star) and their prominence as the go-to women for feminist deconstruction of comedy these days.

A lot of debate as been had over Tina Fey and Liz Lemon on 30 Rock and if Liz is in fact a good role model or a problematic stereotype. She's terrified of sex, has an unhealthy relationship with food, lacks self-confidence, and tends to harp on things. On the other hand, she is the head writer of a (sort of) major sketch comedy show, she's actually pretty darn successful, and she's very smart if...odd. Often, the show also uses Liz being unattractive as a crutch for humor even though Tina Fey so clearly isn't, a comic technique Phyllis Diller pioneered to break into comedy so her male compatriots would feel less threatened. But, again, on the other hand, you occasionally get the brilliant episodes like Stride of Pride where Liz has to prove that women are, in fact, funny and when the episode gets to this point, you don't get to see her proof, you just get a little montage over a song admonishing the TV audience for even considering that it needs to be proven.

Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation, meanwhile, is extraordinarily successful and good at what she does. She's a one-woman cheering squad for women. She has a weird relationship with food but it's never presented as a flaw and, in fact, seems to be more a reflection of her position as the Best of Pawnee: Pawnee is a town that loves their sugar as much as Leslie does. Leslie is funny, but rarely the joke. And when she is sort of the's awesome, like April trying to pretend to be Leslie by beginning a town meeting with "As Eleanor Roosevelt once said to Betty Ford...Hillary Clinton is great!"

These two women have shared the same NBC Thursday night for 4 years now and, with 30 Rock officially over and Parks and Rec likely soon to go too, I sort of worry about the future of the channel. Up All Night, which wasn't nearly as smart or funny as the other two, was still also a show created by a woman about powerful women, and has now been retooled to death(slowly removing the women) and is likely gone. Community, which had an unexpectedly beloved feminist in the perennially upbeat but maligned Britta, is certainly on its last legs, with its creator having been axed before this season. For a short time, that block was the most feminist 2 hours of TV, and it happened so organically it didn't even seem to register to anyone that it happened. Unfortunately, it's also the era of the lowest ratings for NBC Thursday nights since before the Cosby Show. So...screw you America.

Here's Tina and Amy being awesome and hosting the Golden Globes.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sons and Daughters

I want a daughter. Or two. But no sons. I've always been worried that I haven't the slightest idea how to raise a son. The world is more accepting of raising an awesome do-anything daughter because it is, of course, way more awesome to try to be male. I mean who wouldn't want to be a dude? Go for it, girlfriend.

This post on Blog Her kind of nails my worries about it, actually. Raising a son who is feminist, genuinely pro-equality, and unconcerned with reinforcement of masculinity is problematic because that means you're allowing them to embrace femininity, which is just an open invitation for ostracism. And while I don't really care if kids are mean to my kids(because kids are jerks to begin with, whatever), the fact of the matter is adults would use it as an excuse. And that sucks and I have no idea what to do about that.

So I want daughters. Because I'm selfish and lazy and don't want to worry about this. I want daughters who can play with Barbies who accidentally die horrifically in a baking soda/vinegar volcano. I want daughters who genuinely believe they can be anything they want and then actually do it. Because it's so much harder to have sons who believe that because masculinity is so much more rigidly enforced.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Mommening of Games?

Last year, Pixar released a seminal work in their oeurve and, honestly, Disney's oeurve. They released Brave, a film with a female main character who had a realistic and healthy, if difficult, relationship with her mother. Compare this to the entire line of Disney princess movies and you'll find that to be an incredibly rare thing. Of them, only Mulan, Aurora, and Rapunzel have living biological mothers, and of those, only Mulan's is even a little be relevant (though not very). Rapunzel, Cinderella, and Snow White, meanwhile, all have stepmothers, each of whom is the villain of the movie. Mulan, Ariel, Tiana, Belle, Jasmine, and Pocahontas all have extremely relevant fathers, though.

This isn't about Disney princesses, though. That's a well worn path of analysis both in gender ideas portrayed in the princesses and in their inevitable love interests (which Merida from Brave doesn't have! Yay!) This is about video games. A few years ago, Stephen Totilo of Kotaku posted a great article on "The Daddening of Video Games". It's a fascinating phenomenon where the industry has successfully created relationships that tie the player to the game closer. It's not as fraught with choice and problems as the love interest path that Bioware pushes and fails at so often and it provides a constant goal for the player- keep this person safe, no matter what. One of 2012's best games, and one of the best narratives in video games, The Walking Dead hangs its hat entirely on this conceit, tossing you into a protective relationship between the main character and a little girl found hiding in a treehouse after her babysitter got a taste for flesh. It's a fabulous game and shockingly well done most of the time.

It's almost impossible to find a shot
that doesn't include her cleavage

It took Disney until Little Mermaid for a princess to have a meaningful relationship with a parent. It took 23 years after that for that parent to be her mother. I think video games can do better. I think video games can have a real Brave. But mothers are few and far between in video games (often killed as a matter of plot for RPGs) and even rarer still do they have relationships with daughters. Mass Effect has a couple of mother/daughter pairings in Matiarch Benezia/Liara and Samara/Morinth but...let's just say those relationships don't end well. Particularly disappointing that neither of these relationships is healthy by any stretch of the word since the Asari are an all-female species and they couldn't even work in a decent connection there. Of course, that was a decision made for the "Wooo! Boobs!" factor, but still. More thought could've been put in it.

Other mothers I've thought of in video games:
  • Mother - Maria (kind mother to the villain)
  • Chrono Trigger- Crono's mother(minor character, possibly dies as a matter of plot)
  • FF7- Jenova(alien hellbeast that attempts to consume all living things)
  • FF9- Queen Brahne(Megalomaniacal stepmother who attempts to kill her stepdaughter to conquer the world)
  • Bioshock 2- Sofia Lamb (megalomaniacal 'collectivist' who kidnaps little girls and plots The plot sucks, okay?)
  • Binding of Isaac- Isaac's mother (locks protagonist in her basement where he has to fight endless fetuses...fetii? fetapodes?)
  • Silent Hill 4- The Apartment (It's an apartment.)
  • Metroid- Mother Brain (It's a brain.)

So yeah. Pickings are slim.  The only one I could come up with who was really good example and interesting was Dr. Brigid Tenenbaum from Bioshock 1. Sure, her 'daughters' are genetically mutated immortal automatons made out of little girls, whose purpose is to suck DNA out of corpses...but...she's still interesting! And has a mother-ish relationship. With daughter-ish things. It's complicated.

In the Daddening of games, main characters were allowed to have families and real relationships with them. Main characters were allowed to be fathers. In the list of mothers, not one is a main character. I can't think of a single protagonist in any game who is, in fact, a mother. Of course, female protagonists are few as it is and, when they do exist, they tend to be lone wolves who don't need no man or family(see: Samus Aran, Lara Croft, Bayonetta, etc.).  And, as an aside, Samus, the most basic and beloved female protagonist in gaming history (aside from Ms. Pac-Man I guess) eventually does get some sort of familial relationship: she gets to have retconned daddy issues. Yaaaaay.

I'm not saying video games should've done better (though, I mean, I could). I just think they can do better from now on. Expand your goddamned horizons for characters. Even that far. Far enough to encompass a relationship that most people have. Is that so difficult?