Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Do I give up again?

First: I mentioned a new website discovery of mine called "The Hathor Legacy" a few entries back. I'm going to be one of their regular posters now, with posts at least once a week on Friday mornings. I'm starting with a series on rape in Veronica Mars, first entry to appear at some point on Friday.

Second: I've pointed out some of the problems with Studio 60 on my livejournal, and MaggieCat over at The Hathor Legacy covers what I'm about to say pretty well, but I'm wavering on the point of giving up on that, too. I don't have a hell of a lot of time in my life, so a show that's gone from frustrating me with its arrogance to downright offending me should probably be stricken from my list of viewing material. I am stubborn though, so it might take a while.

The latest episode shows Danny, one of our heroes, flat-out stalking Jordan, who is first of all pregnant with another man's baby and second of all his boss. In the Christmas episode, he issued this statement of intent that he was "coming for her" that I'm baffled to believe Sorkin intended to be romantic, but that really came off as a "run far, far away now" warning coming out of Danny's own lecherous mouth. In this first one back after the break, we see him calling her repeatedly, changing his number so that she will answer when she starts rejecting his calls, asking her out many times despite her very firm, clear "no", and soliciting reference letters from his famous and powerful friends in order to convince her. I'm not sure how he got those reference letters, given that he was recently a practicing cocaine addict, but more importantly: what. the. fuck. The first three are bad enough in any context; the last is heinous given her professional position, which, let us not forget, is not only this man's boss, but also that of a woman struggling to be taken seriously in a man's world (not that she's being helped in that regard by Sorkin's insisting on making comedy out of ridiculing how much she eats during her pregnancy).

She gives Danny a very intelligent and clear speech at the end of the episode, in which she outlines exactly why that is inappropriate and embarrassing. He apologizes for embarrassing her--I commented on MaggieCat's post that it comes off as one of those non-apology apologies, in which what he really means is "I'm sorry you feel that way, but I honestly don't understand what I've done wrong". That's borne out when she asks him to stop, and he looks at her thoughtfully and intently for a moment before saying "No." I really think that not only are we supposed to think this is charming and romantic and represents devotion that tells us their love will last till the stars turn cold, but that Jordan's moment of being an intelligent and professional woman in this regard is going to be altogether too brief. Something in the next episode is going to make her swoon and be won over by Danny's bullshit, and that's pretty much the point at which this show stops being something I watch out of the hope of possibly enjoying it and starts being something I look to hoping to find a rant.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Giving up

I've said in the past that I watch and read things not in spite of knowing they will offend me, but in fact because of that. I used to enjoy the anger, the righteousness, the ire. Not so anymore. Perhaps it's a sign I'm growing as a person, perhaps it's merely a sign that I'm just finally overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of offensiveness out there in the world.

I can no longer watch Law & Order: SVU at all. Granted, I've become much more interested in serialized, character-driven drama (or comedy, really), but I think that show has also seriously declined in quality. My watching it these days had already been reduced to keeping it on in the background while I surf the net if it happens to be the only thing on at a time when I'm sitting on my couch anyway. But even doing that makes me batty now. It seems they can't air an episode that doesn't contain any or all of the following elements:
  • A faked rape or story of childhood sexual abuse
  • Police officers suggesting to the victim or to their fellow detectives that despite witness reports of having seen the victim arguing or fighting with a man prior to her alleged assault, that man may have been her boyfriend or an acquaintance (as if those people are never rapists), or saying "Maybe she just had one too many and woke up with the wrong guy, so she decided to call it rape in retrospect".
  • Benson and/or Stabler telling a survivor that it's her responsibility to report the rape to the police in order to protect other women from being assaulted in the future
  • Various members of the detective squad telling the victim's family, friends or boyfriend about her having been assaulted without that woman's permission or even knowledge.

Honestly, the first three are becoming so expected I'm just sick of getting angry and offended about them. But they treat the last as though there's nothing that would even cause them to question doing such a thing, as if the importance of the victim's privacy and power over who has access to that information has never crossed their minds, and as if the boyfriend's--for it is indeed most often the boyfriend--right to this knowledge takes precedence over any recovery issues with which the victim herself is dealing. The lack of any voice at all that questions this action shows me that the writers feel that it's a given that this is "the right thing to do", or at minimum, that they're too damn lazy to care about what was occasionally interesting about their show, which was presenting the politics, differing opinions, and struggles that surround the perpetration and prosecution of sex crimes. Fuck it. I can't waste my breathe and keystrokes anymore.

On a lighter note, after I "watched" SVU on Tuesday night (meaning I let it contaminate the airspace in my apartment while I read some blogs and stuff), the next thing to come on to CTV was the premiere of American Idol featuring, as usual, the heinous and largely delusional audition round. I only left it there for about 5 minutes, but that was long enough to see that as they were showing shots of the large crowd gathered to put their talents on display for the judges and the world, they were playing the opening strains of The Who's "Teenage Wasteland". That? Is pretty meta and hilarious, and a much better use of that song than as the theme song for CSI: Buttfuck Iowa or whatever.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

"Feminist" television

First of all, I found another site I really really like that I'm going to have to check regularly. It's like a curse, the goodness of the internets, sometimes. This one: The Hathor Legacy focusses on the depiction of women and feminist issues in television and film.

Which inspires me to write a post that's been knocking around in my head for quite some time: I'm bloody sick of the kind of television that is usually held up as "feminist" and putting forward progressive views of women/sex/relationships. Back on my livejournal, I wrote on the limitations of Buffy in this context a few months ago, but to be fair, the more mainstream shows that usually get mentioned in the same breath as "feminism" don't even belong in the same sport as Buffy, to say nothing of ballpark.

Exhibit A: Sex and the City. There was a time I liked that show and bought into the "feminist" rhetoric, with the whole 30-something, single and sex-positive kind of deal. But aside from the fact that the characters are ludicrously shallow and kind of suck, there's a difference between being sex-positive and sex-defined. The original ideal of showing happily single 30 something straight women whose friendships are more important than being made complete through marriage or monogamy falls flat in the face of what actually develops on the show: as Miranda herself says angrily in one episode "Why can't smart, funny, successful women find something to talk about other than men?" Worst, in my opinion, they undermine the whole point of presenting the show that way when all 4 main characters end the series married or in relationships presented as the best thing that ever happened to each of them. Without even getting started on Mr Big's quality as a human being/long-term love interest, contrast that with the final episode of Golden Girls from ten or fifteen years earlier: Dorothy is heading off after getting married, but the others are all sticking together, and the last scene shows the women saying goodbye to Dorothy and her coming back in repeatedly to hug them while her husband waits patiently off screen because these are the relationships on which we built the show. Carrie walking down the street alone and getting a phone call from Mr Big not only tells me that I don't give a shit that his name was John, but leaves me with the message that ultimately I'm supposed to be happy for her because she's landed the one and only love of her life.

Exhibit B: Ally McBeal. Everybody knows this show sucked, but I've thought about it more lately because Calista Flockhart is on the new show Brothers and Sisters, which I actually mostly like, the former Ms. McBeal and her pucker-face kind of included. Why did that show suck? Because, again, we have a relatively successful, not-even-all-that-old career woman who is supposed to show us that men and relationships are not the be all and end all of a fulfilling life, and who really sends us the message that single women are whiny, man-hungry and completely neurotic. Oh, and it wasn't funny at all.

Exhibit C: Desperate Housewives. The marketing of this show veers wildly between yet another apparently woman-positive group of female friends and just plain sexy soap opera, but the ads for the Golden Globes have repeatedly shown Teri Hatcher's way-hyper acceptance speech which included a rant about how fantastic it was for people to recognize such a high-risk show (because the main cast is predominantly women over 40, neglecting to notice the complete lack of risk inherent in filling the show with gossip, sex, murder and deception). So I feel compelled to point out that again we have a cast of women with the following positive and redeeming characteristics: a former model whose self-worth depends entirely on her looks and material possessions, and who actually commits statutory rape; a divorcée single mother who literally falls all over herself to impress men and has absolutely no ability to actually parent or get over herself for even 30 seconds; a career woman who struggles with her husband over which of them should stay home to care for their terrorist children, but who actually manipulates her entire family for personal gain and status; and a neurotic obsessed with projecting an image of stability from whom we apparently learn that Republican women don't have orgasms, ever, at all. It's kudos to Marcia Cross that she actually makes this last one, in all her homophobia and snap relationship decisions, seem anything but entirely reprehensible.

Can we have a moratorium on anyone, like, ever, putting together an ensemble of women designed to show us some sort of positive female something or other? Because it pretty much always winds up doing exactly the opposite, and as I said back in my Joss Whedon livejournal post, a show like Firefly, which is about a whole whack of other stuff and not explicitly strong women, actually ends up doing a much better job of making the women real, likeable and strong in a way that is not forced and that makes it seem like strong women are just a natural part of the world. Which, by the way, they are.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Snow day=Babylon 5 day

McMaster is closed due to freezing rain, which means I get the day off, which means, after I got up at my usual 6:15 time vowing to sleep in just a little and then get a whole bunch of useful stuff done, in reality I was going to go back to sleep until 11:30 and then amend my plans to watch a whole bunch of Babylon 5 on DVD.

I've just started watching Season 4 of this thing, which is apparently going to be balls-out insanely awesome the whole time because Straczynski, having planned out a very elaborate 5-season story arc for the entire show, found out at some point that there was a threat of cancellation and had to pack in the bulk of the resolution into Season 4 (meaning there's not much left to do in Season 5 after they didn't get cancelled, and it's a little boring, but for now, it's all good). I have so many thoughts and analytical questions on this show I almost don't know where to start, but I think what I'll do right now is run through some of my thoughts on some of the spiritual elements.

I'll stay away for now from the fact that Sheridan was just resurrected from the dead somewhat altered (after falling for ages into a deep pit called "Za Ha Dum", which even sounds like "Khazadum", so, hi, Galdalf the White, sort of) mainly because I don't know yet exactly how he's changed or whether that First One he brought back to B5 with him in the last episode I saw is, like, the devil (or the Balrog, all Maia and whatnot) or whatever. I'll also just peripherally acknowledge that, obviously, I think the revelation that "the One" of prophecy is the Trinity is very, very cool.

I really like the Mimbari (Tolkien Elves, much?) spirituality in general, and think Delenn is a great overall representation of its grace, serenity, beauty and depth. I love her teach-by-living-example attitude with the more jaded human crew members. But the character I really love from the spiritual angle is Leneer. The episode with the terrorist bombings is so poignant from the perspective of personal moral decisions. His best moment ever (well, so far) comes after he is badly injured saving Londo from a bomb, and wakes up to find Londo at his bedside, thanking him. Leneer turns to him and says (paraphrasing): "Let me be clear: I saved you because I believe all life has value. But because you do not feel the same, that choice may be worse for the universe in the long run" and he turns away with his face packed with conflict and pain. Contrast G'Kar's choice in the same episode: he's trapped in an elevator with Londo, who was unconscious for a good chunk of the time, and who wakes up demanding to know why G'Kar didn't do anything to help him or get them out of there. G'Kar answers that if he kills Londo, the Centauri, occupying the Narn homeworld, will kill 500 Narn including G'Kar's family, but if he just watches him die, he gets the satisfaction without the consequences, even if he himself dies later as a result. It's a situation somewhat analogous to Leneer's: both men want to see Londo dead, for very different but pretty much equally valid reasons, but know it has consequences. The effects are immediate and tangible in G'Kar's case, and existential in Leneer's. Both are presented with the loophole option that they could simply choose not to act to save Londo (requiring different levels of exertion and risk to their person in the process) when he's placed in peril through circumstances outside of their control. They make the opposite choice, and as the viewer, you can understand both on a very deep level. What I love most about Leneer's decision is that you can see on his face that he knew the loophole was there, and he almost could have justified inertia to himself, but he also knew that would have been deluding himself as to what was truly the right thing to do, and he had to look at his own action in and of itself, outside of all "ends justify the means" excuse-making or, really, a morality that extends beyond his own personal choices. G'Kar has much more intense personal reasons for wanting Londo dead, and takes the loophole, partially because his consequences are essentially "legal" ones, and he isn't so much looking for grace and salvation as for a way not to be enslaved and exercise some form of power (not that grace and salvation don't ultimately do that, but at that point, G'Kar is not in a place to be looking that far ahead).

Oh, G'Kar. I love love love G'Kar. He makes some bad choices, the best example of which is when he decides to essentially mind-rape Londo, but his character development is profoundly spiritual and ridiculously awesome. It's in the mind-rape episode that he starts to look big-picture, beyond his personal pain, to some extent beyond the suffering of "his people", and to see that, for lack of a somewhat less clichéd expression, he has to "be the change he wants to see". The near joy he expresses while he's in prison makes me think of Johnny Cash at Fulsom Prison closing with a line about how his body may be imprisoned, but his spirit was free with the Lord. The character is also brilliantly acted, in my opinion, especially for a dude covered in makeup and prosthetics, and his incredible pride in himself and in his people, especially as his ability to hold his head up high is shattered and stripped away from him more and more, just bleeds from his eyes (that's the expression that came to mind, and I thought about changing it knowing he's going to lose an eye in the near future, but couldn't find a better way to say it). While it's not part of the spirituality of the show, I must note that the episode in which he's being tortured by the Centauri Napoleon Bonaparte, first forced to play court jester, then culminating in being whipped with electricity in ever-increasing intensity, knowing that 40 will kill him and that Napoleon Bona-wanktard will only stop if he screams...that scene, with the Emperor just counting nonchalantly and the camera just showing people's faces as it happens--the Emperor's complete callousness, G'Kar struggling with his competing desires to maintain his personal pride and help his people in the long run (you know if it was just about him and not saving Narn, he would rather die than scream), Vir in absolute shock that anyone could behave this way, and Londo mouthing "Just scream"--was fucking genius and absolute, well, torture, at the same time.

I'll close with a note that my friends Erin and Jeff have been assuring me since Season 1 that Londo gets really really awesome (from a character perspective, rather than necessarily a "gee, he's a great heroic guy" kind of angle) and I'm only just starting to see it (which, appropriately, I had to swallow my pride a little to inform them of last night, as I've been bitching about him in emails pretty much forever). I appreciate that he's been somewhat conflicted as he realizes more and more the cost of his personal advancement and the glory of the Centauri people, but fuck if, for the most part, I don't give a damn. The two parter in Season 3 where Sheridan gets "unstuck in time" and ends up meeting him in the future was something of a turning point in my view of him. I sent an email after watching part 1 bitching about future Londo blaming Sheridan for what happened to the Centauri after they won the Shadow war, like Sheridan was seriously supposed to come and bail out his dear Centauri friends who had no responsibility whatsoever for their own fate, but then part 2 revealed that he was just doing that to appease the demon controlling him and waiting for the chance to actually save Sheridan, and then one-eyed G'Kar comes out and they kill each other, and it's a little different. I'm was still kind of like "yeah, well, you did sell your soul, dude", but the real moment of making Sarah think came when he was telling G'Kar to just scream, dammit, so that he could buy time to save him, save the Narn homeworld from occupation, and save Centauri Prime from Caligula, and G'Kar says "You don't know what you're asking", to which Londo responds, "Yes, I do. Yes. I. Do.". The intensity there, and everything he himself is putting to the side to accomplish this coming through in that simple line, made me much less inclined to say "Fuck waiting for a legal/moral loophole, just kill the fucker".

Saturday, January 13, 2007

First entry: Dexter

I hope I'll find the time to update this blog regularly, because finding the time just to watch stuff is hard enough, but I avoid writing some of the long, tv-related things I'm thinking about when they don't feel natural for livejournal, so I'm trying this out. I'm planning to let out some of my many many thoughts on Babylon 5, probably several raves about Battlestar Galactica once it starts up again, and some random thoughts on elements of shows that have pissed me off lately. But we'll start--possibly badly, from a "hook" perspective--with a show many of you probably haven't watched.

There was a lot of buzz on the internet about the new Showtime show Dexter, but since I live in Canada, I would have to put the effort into downloading it in order to watch, which I wasn't inspired enough to do until the season had already finished. The premise of the show is that Michael C. Hall (David from Six Feet Under) is a forensic blood analyst for the Miami PD who also happens to be a sociopathic serial killer. Genius premise, in my opinion, given how incredibly boring I find forensic procedurals and the sort of tongue-in-cheek idea of undermining the shiny (alleged) uber-awesomeness of the Gil Grissoms and the Horatio Caines with some serious darkness. I'm always intrigued by the question of how dealing with violent, unrepentant individuals as well as a complex bureaucratic legal system affects the individuals who deal with it day after day in negative ways--there's a statistic that says that police officers are ten times more likely to use violence in their private lives than the general population. Michael C. Hall is also brilliant in portraying this guy as unfeeling, but trying to negotiate the world of pretending that he has feelings in order to "pass" and not end up with a lethal injection--a character very unlike the WASP-y repressed David.

I finished the 12-episode season this week, so the following will contain possible spoilers about the whole thing.

Things I love about this show, in addition to the premise and portrayal mentioned above:
  • Dexter's relationships with his sister and his girlfriend. His (foster) sister genuinely loves him, and while he identifies himself as incapable of love, he looks out for her well-being and career, to some extent because he needs to "pass", but also with this subtle suggestion of awe and gratitude that she does love him and the wish that he could actually return that on a deeper level. His girlfriend (played by Julie Benz from Angel, also in a completely different role from what I'd seen her in before) recently ended a physically and sexually abusive relationship with a drug-addicted convict husband, and part of what he likes about that relationship is that she is initially terrified to have sex, which he appreciates because he's not remotely interested in sex and because sex tends to reveal the fact that he can't really feel. When they finally do have sex, he assumes she won't want to see him anymore, having gotten a glimpse of his "true" self, but she thinks nothing of the kind. In both these relationships, there's an element of question as to how much he's really "faking" it and how much of the fiction is creeping through into truth. I don't know anything about the psychological definition of sociopathy, but I love a good redemption story, and you have to have something that makes your lead character sympathetic.
  • "The Code of Harry". Dexter only kills unrepentant killers who are not going to be brought to justice. He learned this from his now deceased foster father, Harry, who was a somewhat world-weary cop who recognized the signs of sociopathy in his young son and realized he couldn't change them, so they had to be channelled into something "productive". This is another portrayal of the darkness that creeps into the lives of cops, and however fucked up and misdirected it might be, he does it because he loves his son and doesn't know what else to do.
  • The detail revealed in the final episode that when Harry found 3-year-old Dexter in the middle of a bloodbath in which he had been sitting for days after watching his mother murdered with a chainsaw, there had been an older brother there as well, but Harry had neither taken him in nor ever mentioned him to Dexter. What I like about this is that it's so true. People see a 3-year-old suffering and they see innocence disturbed and want to hope and protect and fix this child and take him/her away from pain. People see an older child and they see damage possibly too great to fix, and someone more able to take care of him or herself, meaning that if he or she is fucked up later, there is some element of responsibility.
  • Doakes. When this guy is introduced, it's obvious that Dexter creeps him out, and Dexter voices over that all the cops in the room are apparently acutely aware of human psychology and the nature of why is Doakes the only one in the room who finds something off about Dexter? I love that note of somewhat willful blindness on the part of most of them, and I love the way that Doakes' discomfort with him and Dexter's counter-intuitive (for normal people) respect for that informs their whole relationship.

Stuff I don't so much love:
  • It's a little predictable. It was obvious to me from the moment they introduced a prosthetics doctor that he was the Big Bad serial killer who cut off the limbs of his victims, and I was relieved that they didn't draw out that reveal for too many episodes. It was also not a big shock to me to discover that he was Dexter's blood brother, and his obsession with Dexter to the point of constructing a series of murders with the sole motive of drawing Dexter out was kind of cliché.
  • On a related note, while I kind of like the theme of Dexter being forced to define who he really is in a choice between his birth family/sociopathic nature and the people who love him but only know the surface lie, the metaphor of his blood brother serving up his adoptive sister for him to kill was a bit too heavy-handed, even for me. Anvillicious, if you will. I really love the character of Deb, the sister, but I felt like it would have been much riskier for the writers to have her murdered by the Ice Truck killer and carefully posed for Dexter to find.
  • I've already acknowledged that I know nothing about sociopathy on an academic level, but something tells me that it's not created by trauma, no matter how intense that trauma may have been, so all the stuff about Dexter-the-unfeeling-serial-killer being "born" in the bloodbath of his mother's murder left me with the struggle to suspend my disbelief.

I'm curious to see where they go with this in a second season, as they set up the probability that the girlfriend is going to start asking difficult questions and suspecting something, but if they let him reveal too much to anyone, or change too much toward genuine relationships and actual feeling, they're going to lose the premise of the show and create a "Clark Kent tells Lois Lane he's Superman" level of shark-jumping.