Fridge

Women and Geek Culture or Why the Fridge Has to Go

I grew up reading Green Lantern. Much like Doctor Who, there have been multiple Green Lanterns in the lifetime of the comic, and you always have your favorite (The 10th and Hal Jordan.) Yet, Hal wasn’t my first. That honor goes to Kyle Rayner.

I could go into the backstory as to why Kyle got the ring, and who his predecessors were, and why Hal came back; but none of that really matters. All that you need to know going in was that when he took the mantle of GL, he was the only one and he loved it. Kyle was young, reckless, and took his role with little seriousness.

That was until this happened…

Fridge

…yeah, that’s his girlfriend.

Long story short, she thought Kyle should take things more seriously; but he wasn’t the listening type. Unfortunately, one of his villains (aptly named Major Force) was, and decided to kill and stuff her into above fridge. The ensuing guilt propelled Kyle into being the hero that he was destined to be…

…and it also was the first instance of “fridge-ing”

Congrats, Geek Culture! We helped create a terrible narrative trope!

Unfortunately, things haven’t really gotten that much better as the years of have gone by. Female characters in comic books, games, and television have been mishandled, mischaracterized, and all together misused since then. For every Orange is the New Black, there are multiple shows, games, and comics that just do everything wrong.

Examples, you ask? Okay.

Game-wise, the two most recent offenders are Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes and Watch_Dogs; which both use “fridge-ing,” as a narrative technique to motivate their respective heroes.

MGS1

In MGS: Ground Zeroes, Big Boss/Snake is required to rescue former associates Paz (a female officer) and Chico (a young male soldier) from a government run facility. By the end of the game you have rescued them both, but it’s found out that Paz has had a bomb placed inside of her. So, in one of the most gruesome moments put to gaming, the male characters dig into her abdomen, un-anesthetized, and rip the bomb out.

PazGZ

It’s gross, over the top, and not the worst part.

After the bomb is removed and she comes to, she relates that she has a second bomb placed inside of her as well; and so she jumps out of the helicopter to save the rest, exploding mid-air. It is not revealed unless you go through some of the side content where the other bomb was hidden…

…her vagina.

Within the audio logs you find, you discover that Skullface (the villain) had not only his men rape Paz, but he had Chico rape her as well, and THEN placed the bomb into her. The audio logs are long, uncomfortable, and disgusting. There’s no narrative or gameplay value to their existence in the game outside of shock value and as a means to motivate the player character to revenge in the upcoming sequel.

Though not as graphic, Watch_Dogs is just as bad.

Watch Dogs

In the game, there are two main female characters, Clara (a hacker who befriends the player avatar) and Nicole (the player’s sister.) Suffice it to say, both ladies have little to no story arc simply because they exist only to continue to push the main character forward.

Nicole’s only contribution to the plot is to be captured, held hostage, and kidnapped multiple times over and over again to bring the player character to action. At multiple points in the game, the player has to hand hold her through an action filled situation, because she is unable to defend herself on ANY level.

Ironically, her subplot ends with her leaving her ENTIRE LIFE behind in Chicago, taking her son with her; as the player character realizes that her continued existence within the gamespace (Chicago) would only result in her getting kidnapped, killed, etc. over and over and over again.

(Did I mention that she had a daughter that the main character got killed because she was in a car with him when he was attacked by thugs? Yeah, that too)

Clara might be the bigger problem. She is introduced as a competent rival hacker, but soon afterward she just becomes an objectified character model walking around the hideout of the player. Unfortunately, this is not out of the ordinary for most video games. Because of her lack of development and any story arc to speak of, she becomes less a character and more a piece of set dressing.

(Oh yeah, there’s also the fact that her model is actually based off a well known porn actress too…which has very little to do with the argument above, but it sure doesn’t necessarily help matters either.)

The icing on this terrible cake is that she ends up being “fridged” as well by the end of the game. It is revealed that she had a hand in some of the events leading up to the game, which tangentially led to the death of the Aiden’s (the player’s character) niece. While visiting the grave of the girl, she is gunned down as the player is trying to rush forward to save her in real time gameplay.

This, of course, is followed up by the player having to listen to a 2 minute long voicemail she left, just before she died; apologizing for her involvement and wishing to “just disappear…”

…which in turn motivates Aiden into the final act of the game.

It’s all very frustrating, to say the least.

Yet, much like you see in other forms of media, there is a silver lining, a ray of hope that shows things are changing; if only ever so slowly.

Take a game like Transistor.

As fellow Promethean Stewart wrote,

Transistor is a beautiful story about a woman whose voice (literally) was taken from her. It’s about her lover. It’s about a city that they both love deeply, but isn’t what it used to be. It’s about change, and remembering the way things were without ever being able to go back.”

Most importantly, it not only stars a female (Red) as a lead, but it gives her a complete, well written, and genuine story arc. She is not used, she is not thrown around by events in the game space, she is the one CREATING those events. In other words, she is a fully realized character.

Red has more of a voice without having one, has more of a message without saying a word, than any of the previously mentioned examples above….

…Cue Dramatic Irony

Joss Whedon, known for his work on Buffy, Angel, The Avengers, and much more said in an interview once,

“When people say to me, ‘Why are you so good at writing at women?’ I say, ‘Why isn’t everybody?’ Obviously there are differences between men and women – that’s what makes it all fun. But we’re all people.”

It’s a pretty straightforward sentiment, but one that geek culture is now just starting to embrace, albeit slowly. Hopefully as we all continue to move forward, and as the medium continues to mature, we’ll see more games like Transistor, Gone Home, or Mirror’s Edge.

Geek culture has to come to terms with the fact that sexism and misogyny are deeply ingrained, and figure out what we can do to excise that cancer from our favorite hobbies. I’d like to believe that we are all better than this…

game ad

 

Coulson Lives! (Sort Of)

A god

A genius

A monster

A frozen warrior

 

…..and this guy….

Say what you will about all the miscellaneous Marvel movies, but if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s the fact that Phil Coulson was the best thing to come out of all it. Starting all the way back in the original Iron Man film, and continuing still, Agent Coulson became a fan favorite that is still a big part of what makes those movies fun.

The question is: why?

We’re watching these movies because they’re about superheroes. We’re in the theater because we want to see Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, or Thor smash through villains and save the day. Yet, by the time most of us walk out, it is the non-powered character that sticks with us. I think the answer is simpler than we all believe.

It’s because he IS human.

It’s because Coulson IS us.

Agent Coulson is a mere man among gods and monsters. He has no power, there is nothing special about him, and he is always out of his league. He walks in the shadow of giants, BUT he loves the shade. He’s the character none of us knew we wanted; until he showed up and we realized we couldn’t live without him.

He is a fan, like us. He collects Captain America trading cards. He fawns, with some control, over his heroes that he gets to stand next to when the world is at the brink. He is our window into that world. A perfect contrast to the madness and power that circulates around.

He is who we are, and where we wish to be.

An everyday guy, living in a world of heroes.

Coulson, as a character, is at his best when he is that contrast between us and the heroes. In those moments he becomes incredibly relatable. His victories become all the more sweeter, because we all know the odds are stacked against him, and we hope to believe that we could do the same.

As Joss Whedon puts it, he’s “the little guy”.

“The idea of the Little Guy is something that I am very fierce about, and there has never been a better Little Guy than Clark Gregg. That intrigued me, this world around the superhero community. It’s the people whose shop windows get blown up when the Destroyer shows up.”

So, when someone tells me they’re going to center a show around this beloved character, it’s hard to not get excited…

….then be all the more let down with the result.

Agents of Shield has a fantastic premise, and a lot going for it; mainly Coulson’s inclusion and direct ties to the Marvel movie universe. Yet so far, the ratings haven’t been Avengers-esque and Coulson… well… he hasn’t been either.

Agents of Shield has a lot of problems; though five episodes in things are getting better. Characterization is minimal, it feels very “monster of the week,” and, if I could editorialize for brief moment, their hacker, Skye, is a terrible character. Yet, despite those issues, that’s not the show’s biggest problem.

Coulson doesn’t resonate the way he used to.

I know many of you are screaming out at the monitor, saying that it is because it isn’t the same Coulson, but a LMD or Vision, or something else; but I am not talking about that. I talking about the fact that he doesn’t seem as relatable any longer.

It’s because he’s no longer “the little guy.”

In Agents of Shield, Coulson is the star, the hero; and that in and of itself is not the problem. Having a character in that sort of position doesn’t make him unrelatable; the problem is he is no longer in the shadows of giants.

We all loved him because he was the underdog, because he was surrounded by powered beings beyond anything and still soldiered on. Yet in Shield, there are no gods and monsters, only men; and when that happens Coulson just seems like another generic action hero. [Albeit, with some funny one liners.]

Like stated previously, his character works best when he is contrasted against the personas around him. Yet, whether due to constrained budgets or poor scriptwriting, that isn’t happening in the television series. That amazing relatable spark is gone when all you have is another Alias.

Agents of Shield gives us Coulson, but an Agent Coulson who is not the quiet hero, rather the man of action. One could argue that this is simply another side to the same character, which I could agree with. Yet, the problem lay in the fact that the audience has fallen in love with a very specific side, and to show otherwise may steer them away from the show.

I want Agents of Shield to be great, but more importantly, I want the character that I didn’t know I needed until he was there to come back. He let me experience the Marvel universe in a way that I don’t think will be replicated for years. Like a drug, I desperately want that experience on a weekly basis.

Coulson lived, but my adoration is waning. He’s not the character we all fell in love with, but maybe he can be again. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take multiple seasons or a looming cancellation to bring him back to form.

Friday (Late Night Double) Feature – Monsters!!!

Monsters….

There are many types…Some that are monstrous on the outside, and others that are more so on the inside. They are all horrifying, scary, and gut wrenching. Each in their own way has a means of reaching into our souls, into our darkest fears and fantasies, and making us keep the lights on.

Sadly, many of our classic creatures of horror have lost their edge. They’ve been repurposed, repackaged, and have lost the edge that made them the reason that we stayed up all night. Vampires have become sexy, Frankenstein’s monster is used more for laughs, and Werewolves….yeah. They’re sexy too.

That is sooo not Michael J. Fox

So, for today’s feature I give you all two modern monster flicks that will remind you why we call them MONSTERS.

———————————————

Pan’s Labyrinth

Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way. Yes, this movie is in Spanish and has subtitles. If that’s your reason for not having seen this, either myself or another Promethean from the site will find you and punch you in the face.

Guillermo Del Toro, known for Hellboy and most recently Pacific Rim, wrote and directed this film; which had been a passion project of his for a while. Del Toro has always had a distinct visual flare that comes through in his creations. So, even in the most mundane of stories, he has a way of bringing out a more macabre edge.

This is fantastic flick set during the Spanish Civil War. A young girl and her mother move in with one of Franco’s generals in the hills, and the movie follows the daughter as she sees the horrors of the real world juxtaposed with the more fantastic creatures she sees.

I don’t want to get into the specifics of the story or some of the more magical elements, but despite the tame synopsis given above, there is a reason it’s a monster movie. In this case, the monsters are both creature and man.

Death totals remain debated. Antony Beevor writes in his history of the Civil War that Franco’s ensuing ‘white terror’ resulted in the deaths of 200,000 people and that the ‘red terror’ killed 38,000.  Julius Ruiz contends that, “Although the figures remain disputed, a minimum of 37,843 executions were carried out in the Republican zone with a maximum of 150,000 executions (including 50,000 after the war) in Nationalist Spain.”

So, as the young girl sees her world going into flames around her, she escapes into a world where she sees this guy…

Eye See You…

Like I said…monster movie.

Nonetheless, let’s move onto a more light hearted affair…for a horror flick.

Cabin in the Woods

I’m going to be frank about this; I am going to tell you as little as I can about this one, and you’re going to need to take me on faith. The pure joy of this film comes from seeing it with fresh eyes, and I would be doing a disservice to you if I mentioned anything beyond the basic premise.

Joss Whedon cowrote and produced this film with Drew Goddard who directed the piece. Both had worked on Buffy and Angel and wrote the script in three days. The idea was they wanted to subvert the horror/monster movie genre and turn it on its head.

They Did…

The premise is that some kids go to a cabin in the woods and like any horror cliche should, bad things start to happen to them. The twist is, from the first five minutes of the movie, the whole thing is being watched by some well dressed men in a control room. Who they are and what the kids go through is the main thrust of the movie.

This is a wonderful, modern take on the slasher/monster movie sub-genre of horror films. It is both simultaneously funny and terrifying. It will make you rethink every single monster movie, horror film, you have ever seen, and keep you up all night.

Yes, there are monsters in this movie. Like this guy…

He shows up in the first 30 minutes – Still no Real Spoilers…You’ll thank me later…

No, I won’t tell you why, but they are there. If Pan’s Labyrinth is the serious take on the genre, Cabin in the Woods is the polar opposite. It is one of the few movies in the genre that can be considered a game changer in many respects.

———————————————

So, with those two films I hope to remind you that monsters can still be scary, that they can still frighten us. Monsters are not there to be french kissed or crushed on. They exist to make us cry like little children and force us to rethink not using our old night lights. With that in mind, I bid you all adieu…

…also, this is the REAL Teen Wolf.

He’s soooooo dreamy….

Happy Halloween, Everyone.

The Term is Companion: Sex Work on Firefly

Geek Lord and feminist extraordinaire Joss Whedon is well-known for creating interesting and complex women characters. Even non-nerds are familiar with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the girl hero who showed us that being an ass-kicking demon hunter and having a talent for accessorizing butterfly clips with chunky heels are not mutually exclusive characteristics.

Another Whedon character that was just as revolutionary, though less prominent in the popular consciousness, is Inara Serra, the beautiful and sophisticated “companion” aboard the spaceship Serenity on the short-lived but brilliant series Firefly.

Inara is respected, well-educated, kind, independent, and clever. She also happens to be a sex worker.

Actually, “The term is companion,” as ship’s mechanic Kaylee tells brash Captain Mal when he refers to Inara as a whore.

In the universe of Firefly, prostitution is a well-regulated and respectable business. Companions belong to a guild that protects the health and safety of sex workers, and which places the power to define the parameters of an encounter firmly in the hands of the sex worker.

“A companion chooses her own clients. That’s guild law,” Inara explains.

Of course, even when a companion has the opportunity to screen her clients, there is still the possibility of encountering danger. In episode #6, “Shindig,” Inara is threatened and verbally abused by a client who turns out to be less charming than he initially seemed. But the Companion’s Guild empowers Inara to protect herself and others from his abuse.

Atherton: Get ready to starve. I’ll see to it you never work again.

Inara: Actually, that’s not how it works. You see, you’ve earned yourself a black mark in the client registry. No companion is going to contract with you ever again.

By networking through technology that allows them to easily communicate with each other, companions are able to ensure that clients who pose any threat to their safety – or who simply do not treat them with respect – will never be clients again.


Inara searches an online database to screen potential clients

While Firefly takes place some hundreds of years in the future, the technology to make a “Companions Guild” a reality exists right now. By harnessing the power of 21st century technology, we can create a world in which the abuse, exploitation, and murder of sex workers becomes a thing of the past.

In his study “Prostitution 3.0,” University of Chicago professor Scott Peppet observes that the internet has already had a positive influence on the too-often dangerous world of prostitution. As new technology has enabled sex workers to find clients online, street prostitution has decreased. Pimps are becoming a thing of the past as sex workers have gained the ability to book their own clients online, decreasing the risk of physical, emotional, and financial exploitation.

What still needs to be developed, says Peppet, is a system that, like the Companion’s Guild, verifies the STD status, criminal history, anti-trafficking credentials (which verify that the sex worker is of age, a legal citizen or resident, has no history of drug abuse, etc.), and biometric identity (which verifies that the individual is who s/he says s/he is online) of both sex worker and client.


Inara chats with a potential client from her shuttle

With current technologies at our fingertips, these systems would be simple to create.

However, the illegality of prostitution has prevented the development of technologies that would ensure the safety of consenting sex workers and keep underage people and victims of trafficking from being abused and exploited. In many states, any actions that “advance or promote prostitution” are criminalized – which would include the development of the technologies Peppet envisions.

While moralists may claim that laws against prostitution are intended to protect women and children, in practice they often have the opposite effect. The fact is that making prostitution illegal does not make it disappear – it usually just makes it much more dangerous.

We can turn back to Firefly for a picture of the darker side of prostitution – in episode #13, “Heart of Gold,” the crew is called on to help save an unauthorized, illegal brothel from powerful local Rance Burgess, who abuses and exploits the women who work there. He has threatened to kill Petaline, a prostitute who is carrying his child, as well as the rest of the workers in the brothel, if she does not hand the baby over to him.

Rance’s despicable speech to a riled up mob encapsulates his attitude towards the women:

“Sharri here, [a prostitute who has been bribed to help Rance] she understands a whore’s place, don’t she? But…those others, they spit on our town.  They’ve no respect for the sanctity of fatherhood, or decency, or family…we will show them what power is.  We will show them what their position in this town is. Let us all remember, right here and now, what a woman is to a man… [to Sharri:] Get on your knees.”

Illegal prostitution keeps sex workers disempowered, with no one to turn to when they are victimized by clients, pimps, police, and other authority figures. Because in the real world, there are no heroes showing up in a spaceship to defend them from exploitation.

But the same tool that allows me to share in-depth articles about cancelled sci-fi shows can also serve as a tool to prevent the exploitation of sex workers. If an online “Companions Guild-esque” system for sex workers were legalized, they would be empowered to  lead lives that are safe, healthy, and fulfilling.

While many people believe that sex work is harmful or immoral –  even many feminists – a major goal of feminism is to give women full agency over their own bodies and lives, to trust women to make choices based on their own personal morals. The online sex worker’s networks that Whedon and Peppet envision respect women’s ability to, like Inara and  the other fictional women that we admire,  safely and freely live the lives that they choose.