Monday, July 30, 2012

Meta: Can I kiss you?

I jotted this down while reading 50 Shades of Grey, because I went to a presentation my freshman year of university that really stuck with me. It was entitled 'Can I kiss you?' and was about consent being 'yes' and not just the absence of 'no,' and how we should always ask.

I sometimes see requests for consent from romance writers like Christina Dodd, which always make me happy. For the many who don't have them, the people who have not explicitly given their consent are still enjoying themselves, and it is still all happily ever after at the end.

But this relates back to cultural narratives and my obsession with normalizing things that are healthy, like consent. The things we consider normal shape our brains.

Another contributing factor to this short story was reading this story (Merlin fanfiction, too sexy for work), and finding the idea of arguing literature as foreplay completely and unutterably adorable.

But, of course, having brought up literary criticism, and having already been toying with the idea of doing this before I started it, the comments about Derrida are not just nonsense filler. It's only in learning about kishotenketsu and reading more about literary criticism and semiotics that I've started to understand that Derrida's presentation of stories revolving around binary opposition has coloured almost everything I've ever thought about storytelling. I've yet to read anything he's written.

So the dialogue here are snippets from an argument I'd love to arm myself well enough to have in a few years.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fic: Can I kiss you?

I don’t like that he looms over me from this distance. I am not a short woman, but he makes me feel positively petite. Sometimes I like that. Sometimes I want that. But as I’m trying to stare him down, drive home with a bespectacled glare that his opinions on Derrida are positively ludicrous, I want to feel tall.

We are both drunk.

“Can I kiss you?”

“No. You can back off and finish your damn point, execrable as it was, about deconstructionism.”

He settles back so he’s not looming quite so much, and starts up again. “The entire notion of deconstructionism has damaged Western ability to assimilate new concepts of story structure.”

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Fandom part something

One of the interesting things that has stemmed from the corner of Homestuck fandom to which I pay attention is the surge of literary criticism.

Casual, lengthy, in depth literary criticism that examines motifs and characters and mines them for all they are worth. It's generally referred to as 'meta,' since it is discussion of the story that does not directly relate to speculation about future events. It does not typically make negative statements about the original work, either, which may be a reason the word 'criticism' is shied away from.

To illustrate:

  • Take your high school English class around the time you had to read The Yellow Wallpaper
  • Take the worksheet or quiz with questions on it like "Who was Jennie? What was her relationship to the narrator?"*
    • Burn it.
  • Instead
    • At least one group of people is hotly debating it as a feminist critique of late-19th century treatment of post-partum depression.
    • Someone is writing a story from the perspective of Jennie.
    • Someone is writing about it as reflective of the social unrest in England throughout that time period.
    • Someone is writing about it as reflective of the untenability of separate sphere ideology in an industrialized country.
    • At least six people are writing commentary on it that I can't even fathom.
  • Now make the source text all about teenagers kissing in space and you have the part of the Homestuck fandom that I follow.
    • It is like having a huge fantastic book club that only ever discusses one book.
This has been incredibly inspirational to bear witness to, to say the least. I think the Homestuck fandom has contributed more to me being a critical reader than most of the rationalist stuff I read, largely because it is explicitly about examining literature.

So I'm going to start an exercise: on Sunday, I'm going to post a short story. On Monday, I'm going to post about the thought process that went into it and what certain aspects of it are derived from. I will repeat as needed.

This serves a whole bunch of purposes: I will have a place to put fiction too short to submit to other places, or that I have no interest in submitting, or that have been submitted to contests and they don't mind me reposting. I will have a log of the thought process that went in to it. And, down the road, when I have perspective on them, I will be able to read the pieces with fresh eyes and read the though process and judge how successful I was at incorporating the ideas I wanted to incorporate and what subtext I might have included unknowingly.

*To be fair, my high school English class did discuss its historical context as well, in terms of how women were treated for 'hysteria.'

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


I may have to read 50 Shades of Grey.

I am not enthusiastic about this.

I have heard that it is Twilight fanfiction with the serial numbers filed off. This is an issue for me not because of any opposition to fanfiction, but because of an awareness of the common tropes of fanfiction, vast tracts of which exist only to have characters kiss.

I have heard small sections of it read aloud (not safe for work), to dawning horror and helpless laughter.

I have heard how it treats BDSM relationships. Stories that feature BDSM relationships that are creepy and abusive and push boundaries are even more culturally abhorrent than the never-ending stream of coming-out YA fiction. The only mainstream stories featuring gay youth being coming-out stories is boring and repetitive. The only mainstream stories about people in BDSM relationships being about really questionably abusive relationships is detrimental to things like submissives being able to safely go to the police if their safeword has been violated, resulting in assault. If all media representations of BDSM relationships (with the exception of Dan Savage's column, of course) have issues with consent and none of them draw crystal fucking clear boundaries between acceptable play and creepy abusiveness (you know, the kind of boundaries that exist in real life), then it makes the world less safe. This is a problem. I have heard that 50 Shades of Grey contributes to this problem, and also that it attributes interest in BDSM at all to psychological trauma.

But I don't want to judge it without having read the source material. It is the entirety of the context I am missing, and I want to fill that in and not just pass on judgements based on hearsay.


This is the part of the post where I remember that my parents read this sometimes and I curl up and die a little on the inside, but am too angry to leave it alone. Mom, Dad, Sara, come back next week for something else, okay?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

So I Lied

So my friend Pat linked me this post.

I found myself terribly unsurprised, a little sad, and feeling like I don't want to go out and talk to people, because people suck.

So I linked it to another friend, one who plays video games and is not the same kind of social justice activist. I spend a lot of time with people who are, so the comments are alien to me. It felt a lot like the comments were coming from some strange 'other' that is aggressive and anonymous and hates women. I don't have any kind of mental bridge between the kinds of people who make those comments and the kinds of people I actually have conversations with.

An interesting conversation ensued. I don't play a lot of video games: I've played Trauma Center, and some Mario Party, and Wii Fit. I've played online MMOs like Rift and World of Warcraft. I've played flash games on the site Kongregate (mostly puzzle games and tower defenses). But he is coming from a world where he owns gaming consoles that are not the Wii, and actually plays games on them.

See, I have been reading a variety of articles about rape culture in video games. In Rift, despite being in a guild with people I quite liked, I knew a woman who never spoke in Ventrilo (a voice chat client), because she didn't want people to know she was female. Another woman, though, used the fact that she had the kind of mezzo-soprano voice that can sound really cute to get first pick at loot. There were also the kind of casually sexist jokes that I don't care about most of the time. I don't care about those jokes because I'm pretty awesome, and people who don't recognize that can't keep up very long: they get burned up like so much ablative plating on my colonizing spaceship as it enters atmosphere on Planet Awesome.

But I've been doing that thing where I try to expand my horizons and better understand subtext in media, which means reading a lot of material about social justice and media. I'm more aware of what subtext connotes, and why it's not something we should perpetuate. I have more of a vocabulary about the whole issue. I'm more aware of the taken-as-given connection between trailers like the one for Hitman and casually insulting conversation in Vent that suggests (jokingly, of course) that I should either go make someone a sandwich or post topless photos.

Still, the overuse of tropes about both sexes in video games and tits in place of storytelling are separate issues from the prevalence of rape culture in cooperative video games and multiplayer online games and internet culture. They are often conflated, to everyone's detriment.

Rape culture is tautologically bad, and should be discouraged.

Lazy sexualized storytelling is bad in a completely different way. Some romance novels share the same attributes. Many romance novels that I happily read share the same attributes. If I can read about sexy immortal shape-changing warriors with guns, I am pretty much okay with a straight male friend admiring Bayonetta's attributes.

Wish-fulfillment media being conflated whole-hog with rape culture is not a positive thing for anyone. If the entirety of a genre you imbibe is supposed to be disempowering to women and misogynist and hateful, how are you supposed to be able to tell when something actually heinous pops up?

You'll note that most of the linked articles are a bit out of date. This is because the issue is something that I've been mentally prodding with a stick for a while. I had a really hard time figuring out what I thought about it. Video games are not the media I consume the most of, so it was difficult to get a broad sense of context.

On one hand, I am all for napalming the bejeezus out of anything that supports rape culture.

But at the same time, specifics matter, and context matters.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


At the last meeting of the Victoria Writers' Society I attended, I ended up talking to someone a bit about fanfiction and how it can be a great way to re-contextualize a work as well as standing well on its own. It can be, and the Organization for Transformative Works has great information about various authors feelings about fanfiction, legal proceedings related to copyright, fan culture, and recently some interesting stats on the percentages of people who identify as fans who create fanworks.

The fanworks themselves can be utterly amazing, and I gushed at length about a couple in particular. She suggested that she might look some up herself, and, while I have full faith in her ability to find archives of fanfiction on the internet, I have full faith in her ability to find archives of fanfiction on the internet.

Fanfiction is like any other sort of self-published work. Some of the stories are absolute gems written by people who know their craft and get other people to read them over for errors. Some of them are adolescent wish-fulfillment posted before the pixels are dry. As everywhere else, the latter outnumber the former rather spectacularly.

So here is my short, incomplete list of recommendations. These are not necessarily those stories that I love best, but those that I feel both stand alone as literature and are stronger and more interesting because of their context as fanfiction.

First, Strider's Edge, by tumblr user Paratactician

It is the combination of Homestuck by Andrew Hussie, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, and Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. It is set in Oxford, and we are informed that most places mentioned in the story map to real places, though names have been changed.

Strider's Edge kicks off with an A. E. Housman poem, the whole of which foreshadows the entire story, and only part of which is included in the text itself. The story itself is difficult to summarize without giving away all the important bits, but the one at the top of the story is "It was a Tuesday late in September when I went up to Oxford University." The story follows the adventures of John Egbert as he grows up, meets new friends, falls in love, and is peripheral witness to several murders. The solving of the murders is not central to the plot.

One of the central themes is that all things are repeated: this is addressed explicitly in one of the interesting conversations about literary constructs that occurs in John's Tutorials sessions, as well as being a central facet of the way the story is presented and integral to the fact that this is fanfiction.

Second, One of Our Submarines, by Luka Grindstaff

It should be no surprise to anyone that one of Luka's stories ended up on this list: I adore Luka's comic Kagerou so much that I am writing fanfiction of it myself.

One of Our Submarines is summarized as "Sollux Captor, recently drafted into the Service of Her Imperious Condescension, discovers a secret community of Helmsmen hidden inside the Imperial communications network. Meanwhile on Alternia, Karkat Vantas is up to his goddamn nook in revolution."

Yes, it makes more sense initially if you have already read Homestuck, which it is a fanfiction of. It is also not complete yet.

One of Our Submarines explores what it would be like to be a sentient and formerly autonomous computer system, the horrors inherent in that transition, and storytelling entirely via chatlog.

Third, General Vantas Gets Hitched, by Jesse Hajicek

I probably link Luka and Jesse entirely more than I should, but I deeply admire both of them as writers.

General Vantas Gets Hitched, whose full title is "General Vantas Gets Hitched, or, The Limits Of Bilateral Diplomacy: A Black Powder Romance," is a deconstruction of the rather silly trope of two men forced into an arranged marriage. This trope is a reasonably recent convention, largely in anime and fanfiction, but this story is also a wider deconstruction of arranged marriage stories in general. It is, as everything else on this list, Homestuck fanfiction, and is summarized as "In which a mutant too famous to cull is dropped like a grenade into the midst of the peace process, a foolish monarch proves himself secretly shrewd, the power of friendship functions as a force multiplier, and it is discovered that in the Great Game of espionage, the dealer does not always win."

It, as One of Our Submarines, is easier to get into as a story if you have read Homestuck. General Vantas Gets Hitched follows the titular General Vantas as he navigates the very alien human culture he finds himself in the midst of.

It is somewhat less an experiment in storytelling than the other two, as well, but where it finds real strength is in the characterization. All of the characters are quite plausible 'what ifs' if the main plot of Homestuck had not disrupted the characters lives the way it has.

Oh, and happy Independence Day, Americans.