Sunday, September 15, 2013

Trans- Post

1) Listening to a podcast I'd never listened to today, Sklarbro Country, they had a comedian, Will Weldon, and asked him what his current favorite joke is in his set. His response is that he has a bit about movies and their treatment of transgender people and how much he hates when a straight male character finds out someone they were interested in used to be a man and they you get the smash cut to them vomiting (see also: the entire climax of Ace Ventura). His fantastic comment: "you know, every girl you've been with used to be a child. Are you gonna freak out that you're a pedophile now?" I was just super surprised to hear about this comedian's perspective on that and that it was his current favorite thing to rant about on stage. Love it. Need to find more of his work.

2) I watched Kinky Boots last night. It's a somewhat-true story of a dude who inherits a failing men's shoes business and, after attempting to save a drag queen being attacked in an alley, is inspired to refocus his factory into making shoes for drag queens. It's pretty decent and actually reasonably respectful of trans people, though perhaps oversexualized as the treatment often is. Still, I have to talk about Chiwetel Ejiofor's performance as Lola, which was just...really amazingly good. A lot of movies about transvestite or transgender people try to make the person in question look uncomfortable or awkward in their chosen gender performance, but Ejiofor just does the exact opposite. He looks so comfortable and at ease as Lola and doesn't miss a beat when dressed as her. It's when Lola is forced to dress down into a man that he does a great job looking very uncomfortable and off somehow. She is Lola, not Simon, and being forced to be Simon is not okay to her. It's really great.

Also, just small bonus points to the movie for having the characters refer to her in the feminine even when she's not dressed up. Just seems right.

And I just learned that it's now a Tony winning Broadway musical and how the hell did I miss that this year? Do want.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Also, kittens.


The Importance of Being Alton

Once upon a time in America, there was food and there was cuisine. Food was what everyone ate. You ate whatever your mother made or whatever your wife's mother taught her to make. It was generations of knowledge dedicated to making whatever you had palatable, refined over countless mealtimes and the hushed swapping of information in social circles. It was informed by your heritage and the slow degradation of your ancestral home's food culture into whatever fit into the American lifestyle and culture. Cuisine, though- cuisine was what you found in the restaurants. What you spent the big bucks on. And cuisine, quite literally, came from France. It was the result of decades of tinkering and thinking about food, the passionate pursuit of men who did nothing but cook, turning ingredients into something bigger and better through some magic sorcery you had to go to France to learn. It was cooking in its purest form.

Then World War 2 happened. We sent our men away, halfway across the world, and all we gave them was something not quite food in little tins. So when they had the opportunity to eat something that didn't come from a little tin, they took it. And suddenly, they realized what else was food. The Italians, the Japanese, the Chinese, the Germans, the Spanish, the Turks...all of those minorities back home? They also had food. And it tasted good. Here, outside of America, that food was still pure and delicious. It wasn't cuisine, either. You didn't need black magic to make it. So they came back, much to everyone's surprise, with those memories of different food lingering. American food could be more and they demanded more. Sure, they molded it back to fit America- no food survives the trip to the New World. But it was different. Things were changing.

Then, enter The Woman. Quite literally a giant in American culinary history, someone every American cook speaks of with fondness and reverence- Julia Child. Smart and curious, she looked at cuisine and said- "Why, this is just food. Anyone can make this, right?" Pan in one hand, wine in the other, she tried to prove it. And with a book and a TV show, she came into American homes and said "You can cast the secret spells of the French. You can make cuisine." And America believed her and begin to do real French cooking in their own homes. You didn't need restaurants- you just needed tenacity and a will to cook. But still, there was magic in that cooking. After all, Julia could put a turkey in the oven, then pull it out fully cooked!

And that's how it stayed for decades. Slowly, the rest of the world seeped into America's kitchens and restaurants and we watched Julia and a handful of other people cook on TV, learning the secret recipes to make better food at home. They were the gatekeepers and translators of those secrets and only those willing to be lectured to and figure it out as they went could really access it.

So, a guy from Georgia with a film degree and a culinary school degree thought it would be fun, maybe, to make a cooking show with more interesting angles. Maybe throw some history and science into the mix. Do a bit more than just give a recipe and prepare it while a fully cooked version is sitting in the oven.

Maybe Alton Brown understood what he was doing, maybe he didn't, but it had one major effect: he killed the magic and the mystification. There was science behind making a roux. There's a reason you cook it for a particular time and you prepare it in the order you do. There was no magic in that sludge to thicken your sauce. There was no French god deciding you had done the ritual correctly. It was learnable and even something easy to intuit. And with a gift for entertainment and a desire to actually teach people, Alton recreated America's kitchens. He gave America the vocabulary and knowledge to understand the reality of food- that cuisine might require more finesse, patience, and knowledge, but that's not inaccessible to you. You can use not just the same recipes, but the same techniques in your own kitchen. You can not just cook- you can create. Have fun.

Good Eats might be one of the single most important pieces of American culture in the last 20 years. Before Good Eats, there were food critics, the people who spent their lives learning about food and flavor and telling other people what to think, but now everyone is a foodie- loving to eat, loving to explore a culinary landscape that's been blown wide open. Before Good Eats, the Food Network was a ridiculous concept- who wants to watch people make recipes for 24 hours a day? After Good Eats, there are culinary shows on even the broadcast networks- on top of Food Network being so successful that they had to create a spinoff network just to have the people standing around cooking again.

So, when I listen to his podcast, I realize that Alton hasn't really stopped there with Good Eats. Each episode, he talks to celebrity chefs and cooking show contestants and he's once again doing something vital and unprecedented: he's giving access to the major figures of a culture he was instrumental in creating and breaking down the barriers of even the new food world. Talking one-on-one with Bobby Flay or Geoffery Zakarian, not in the context of "let's have a serious interview, please tell me about your new show," but as a real conversation to bring them to the levels of humans whose profession you love to watch on TV and whose skills you want to mimic in your home. They're fascinating, yes, but again...they're not magicians. And he's having these conversations about the impact of food and food culture not in edited sound bites, but in real, interesting discussions. And maybe it's an accident or design, but roughly half of each episode of the Alton Browncast is devoted to a major figure of the food world, while the other half is devoted to talking to his audience directly via phone or email, and Alton has once again positioned himself as a willing and eager bridge between the two. Maybe he's legitimately that brilliant in being a force of shaping the food culture of America or maybe he's just a dude with good ideas and some luck in being in the right place at the right time, but he has been, continues to be, and possible will be into the future, a driver of the culinary awakening that happened during this century.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Even More Star Trek

So, in TNG, Data is male. People constantly refer to him in the masculine and even as "Mr. Data." In fact, we even know he is "fully functional" thanks to Tasha Yar. This is, of course, despite him having no genetic masculinity at all: he is a robot. He has no Y chromosome- or any alien equivalent thereof. However, we can just accept that Data, despite having no genetic masculinity or capability of sexual reproduction, is male. The earliest and most fundamental episode dealing with his personhood, after all, is called "Measure of a Man". Why is it so fundamentally hard to accept this with people? No idea.

Random questions to ponder: would TNG have been any different if Data had remained agender and asexual? His maleness feels utterly default. It rarely comes into play, so I posit that if he had had no gender at all, the show would've been the same.

On the other hand, if he had been female, how different would the show have been? I feel like the female characters were done a rather large disservice on TNG as compared to other Star Trek shows (especially DS9) and that might've been helpful. But would a female Data be as heavily sexualized as, say, Seven of Nine, who had a very similar thematic journey to Data, but had to do it in a shiny catsuit with various crewmembers ogling her? Probably.

Just musings.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Star Trek: TNG - Imzadi

In a fit of "oh my god, I love Star Trek and everything about Star Trek I'm so obsessed with Star Trek," I've started reading Star Trek novels. I've begun my quest with the one I found on the free book shelf at my library and immediately snatched up: Imzadi.

This is what the back of the book says the narrative is:

Years before they served together on board the U.S.S. Enterprise, Commander William T. Riker and ship's counselor Deanna Troi had a tempestuous love affair on her home planet of Betazed. Now, their passions have cooled and they serve together as friends. Yet the memories of that time linger and Riker and Troi remain Imzadi - a powerful Betazoid term that describes the enduring bond they still share.

During delicate negotiations with an aggressive race called the Sindareen, Deanna Troi mysterious falls ill...and dies. But her death is only the beginning of the adventure for Commander Riker - an adventure that will take him across time, pit him against one of his closest friends, and force him to choose between Starfleet's strictest rule and the one he calls Imzadi.

Sounds pretty decent, but, so far, it's wrong. Yeah, that's the plot of the bookends of the story, but really the main plot takes place during that "tempestuous love affair." Here's a bit more accurate description:

Years before he served on board the U.S.S. Enterprise, Commander William Teabag Riker was a dudebro Starfleet lieutenant stuck serving on Betazed. Within a day of being there, he saw a girl naked at a wedding and immediately began to harass her incessantly, refusing to take no for an answer because he is So Alpha. Unable to get rid of him, Deanna Troi is forced to educate his dumb ass on empathy and mindfulness because every time he's around her all he does is stare at her butt and grin like a moron.

...I actually really love this book. It's great, because for once, I like Deanna Troi. She was such a non-entity on the TV show, inexplicably on the bridge because she had magic powers of uselessness and, as a character, was only created because Roddenberry demanded more tits- and only got half as many as he wanted. The only episode about her that was even good was "Face of the Enemy" which was done even better with Major Kira on DS9 in "Second Skin." But she's given so much more life and intelligence and character in this book...loving it. Also really enjoying the fact that it fleshes out Betazoid culture, since they basically had two major characteristics in TNG: they have magic powers and naked weddings. Way better in this book. This is basically the kind of thing I want to see more of as I undertake my nerd quest deep into Star Trek apocrypha: not fantasy stories, but pushing out the universe of Star Trek. It's something TNG did really terribly and DS9 did pretty well.

Reading about the Enterprise defeating some Borg or something is cool, but I want to know more history, more culture, more personality. Please don't fail me now, random authors who couldn't think of their own universe and just got to publish glorified fanfics.