Saturday, August 2, 2014

Monsters

I didn’t watch horror growing up, and thought the genre was mostly faceless killers and shock stuff - cheesy gushing blood and dead cheerleaders. I was turned off by the whole concept, even aside from the lure it should have had as something that was forbidden in our house.

My first horror movie was Ghost Ship, which made me jump but didn't have any lasting emotional impact. A couple years later, I watched The Haunting. The Haunting made an impact - I wasn’t all that horrified, but I was amazed that it wasn’t a ‘proper’ happy ending, and I loved that death and transmutation were Eleanor's happy endings.

I didn’t really get into horror in any kind of meaningful way for about a decade after that, but now, years later, I watch Hannibal and Teen Wolf (the MTV show; yes, it’s horror), and love stories where the monster isn’t an external threat.

A large part of it is that I like the idea that we can all be monsters, given the right circumstances and motivations. That idea is intrinsic to both shows, like the second season of Hannibal where most of the FBI characters are drawn into Hannibal's web, and almost the entirety of Teen Wolf, where our beloved hero has attempted to kill his best friend on more than one occasion. Teen Wolf makes for an easier metaphor, here, because the metaphors at work are utterly transparent: the main character is bitten and turned into a werewolf. A lot of his internal struggle - and the struggle of other characters - is to not let that define him, to not let his monstrous nature make him do monstrous things.

There are external threats, of course, because that's what makes them lose their shirts and get extra powers, but it's a recurring theme that they struggle against themselves, that all of the characters try to remain themselves, try to work towards being better versions of themselves, despite the parts of them that say rending and killing and dumping the bodies in the woods is a really excellent solution to every problem.

Just as important, though, are the times they give in to the monster inside, and do terrible and horrifying things, and have to live with the aftermath. The thing I love about Teen Wolf in particular is that monstrous and terrible things are not the domain of men alone: one young woman gives in to grief and tries to kill a bunch of people, and another takes several years to even re-accept humanity at all, and another comes into knowledge of her own powers and acceptance that she might have to kill someone almost simultaneously. And young women becoming monsters and then grappling with that is a narrative I want to see more and more of, everywhere, because it's amazing. Meghan McCarron did a really fantastic interview with Kelly Link here about young women and monsters and The Vampire Diaries.

When young women are monsters, they become compelling, in part because literal monstrousness is a perfect externalization of the internal growth we grapple with as part of coming of age, and too much about femininity is still considered internal, private, something to be hidden. Black Swan embodies a lot of conventional femininity, at the same time dramatizing and externalizing it in ways that make it utterly compelling: ballet is considered intensely female, and it's a female-dominated movie, and most of the ballet company are women, and almost all the important interactions are between women. But, on the other hand, a lot of the major conflict occurs primarily internally to the main character. The physical changes she perceived were manifestations of psychological pressure.

More literal monstrousness brings femininity more into the open, erases some of the still-persistent separate-sphere ideology, and makes the problems of the young woman characters everyone's problem rather than something she has to struggle with on her own.

Becoming a monster means more and better and harder choices, and more freedoms, and I think that's beautiful, especially as an option for more and more women.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Fanfiction as a social force

I did a guest post today on my mom's blog about fanfiction as a social force and reclamatory action by young women. Read it here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Let's (not) Play

My friend MahoganyPoet has been doing Let's Play videos on Youtube. Let's Play videos are a whole booming genre where you can watch someone else play video games. Which - okay. So video games are basically the only form of storytelling that one can actually be bad at: a Let's Play lets you take a passive role. That's why I like them! I didn't grow up with a video game console, and skills such that I don't die horribly and/or kill all my teammates aren't ones I've developed (or, really, tried to develop) as an adult. Let's Play videos can also let other players see how to get past tricky bits or see alternate endings to the one they got, and they let you listen to or watch entertaining people. MP's official job title is 'youtube personality.'*

Her first move is to close Skype to minimize noisy interruptions and to make sure the computer's running cool: the games + Avus4U recording software take a lot of RAM and if the computer heats up too much the game might freeze and crash, losing her place in the game.

Conveniently, this also lets her feed me cheese and fancy crackers.

MP has what she jokingly refers to as the most professional studio setup in the world - a couple monitors, a game controller hooked up to the computer, a freestanding microphone with directional settings and one of those spitguard screen things, and headphones so the game music doesn't get caught on mic. Her recording software already catches the noise from the game, so a microphone pickup would be out of sync, and probably not as clear.

She plays the game, Child of Light, fullscreen on one of her monitors, while the other one shows what's being picked up by the recording software.

I'm only able to see about a quarter of the screen from behind her, and moving might get picked up by the mic and would also take me away from the crackers and cheese, so I mostly know what's going on by what she says, and will pick up the action when I'm watching the video later. She accidentally summoned an ogre, which she hadn't intended to during this episode, which prompted her to pause, sign off on the video, and then start a new video so she could finish with the ogre and save the fish people.

It's not quite the same as watching someone play video games directly and snarking at them, which made it difficult to refrain from snarking when sitting directly behind MP and listening to her commentary, but the videos are cool and progress pretty linearly through the story.

Mahogany Poet can be found on Twitter and, of course, on Youtube.

*Seriously, it's her job: turn off Adblock for Youtube.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Piracy and books

I spend a lot of time talking to writers.

I spend a lot of time specifically talking to indie writers who make all their own publishing decisions.

It's pretty great!

But one frustrating part of it are some of the myths that get perpetuated, like that free stuff hurts sales. This can take the form of distrust of and unhappiness with Creative Commons licensing, but on the whole tends to take the form of aggressive anti-piracy stances.

And, hey, I'm not super enthusiastic about piracy, because intellectual property is important and it's important to respect it and the people who create the things one likes. But the thing about piracy is that it's not actually lost sales.

You heard me right.

The people who are pirating your books either never would have bought them or are going to like it and either buy a copy or consider buying future works of yours.

Okay, let me talk about examples from my own life. Four books I have pirated are the 50 Shades trilogy by E L James and Sunshine by Robin McKinley.

50 Shades I wrote about here: to say I was unimpressed is a dramatic understatement. I also knew, going in, that it was going to be probably-enraging Twilight fanfiction, and made a deliberate decision to not support the author. That was never going to be a sale. I was never going to purchase anything written by her. It does not affect her sales numbers in the least.

Sunshine* was the opposite story: I love it, and have purchased two paperback copies of the novel, both of which have gone missing. It's also not available as an ebook through legitimate channels. So nor was that a lost sale: I'd already purchased it, and was unlikely to purchase it a third time in the same form.

Piracy can actually increase sales, but hey, if you don't want in on that, the best way to discourage piracy of your particular works is to make legal downloads ubiquitous. Make DRM-free purchase of your works for multiple platforms easy, and I can guarantee at least some people will find hitting the 'buy' button more appealing than piracy.

*Ms. McKinley, if you happen to see this and be unhappy with someone pirating your work, I'd be more than happy to Paypal you your royalties.