Saturday, March 15, 2014

50 Shades of Smartass: Chapter 19

Ana goes to dinner at Christian's family's house. This chapter is a hundred percent boring filler, but there are still things that pissed me off.

:: Christian's characterization in this chapter sort of runs all over the place. In the hands of a real writer, it would make him seem complicated, but because this is Fanfiction: The Book, it just seems... well, not inconsistent, exactly, but like EL James has no real grasp on who the character is. Maybe Anastasia feels that way, and that is supposed to be part of the narrative. EL James feeling that way just seems amateurish. Writing can surprise you, but maybe this book needed a few more drafts.

There are times in this chapter where Christian is basically just acting like Ana's cute boyfriend, and that needs to stop. I'm talking again about D/s culture here. If he's going to be her Dom, her Master, whatever, she needs very clear boundaries. If she's just the sub/slave/whatever, you don't take her to meet your folks. It's confusing for her. If you want to have a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship with added BDSM play, that's something you need to talk about. He is so bad at this. He's almost as shitty a Dominant as he is a human being. You've outlined all of the ways you're going to dehumanize her, and then you take her home to meet the family?

Look, people, you just have to communicate. Just say what you feel. Be honest about your feelings. Language is the most important innovation in human history: use it!

Christian and Anastasia just aren't being honest with each other, and I'm starting to feel like this is an Idiot Plot that could just be resolved with a few pages of conversation. If you've read the whole trilogy, is it basically just this for three entire books, and then suddenly the rose petal falls and Christian becomes human at the end? Because that sounds like a waste of time.

:: We all need to shut the fuck up about Ana's panties. If you remember, in the last chapter he took her panties off, sniffed them, and shoved them in his pocket. Look, it may not be your thing--it's not mine--but it's not the most shocking, aberrant thing I've ever heard of. Ana acts like it's the weirdest, darkest thing, characterizes it as "barbarous," and can't even bring herself to think about it. She realizes Christian hasn't given them back because he wants her to beg for them so he can humiliate her, which is another part of the sex thing they seriously need to discuss, so she refuses to ask, and then every couple of paragraphs she's freaked out about how she's not wearing panties. Jesus, please stop talking about the panties.

Also, if something as minor as not wearing panties outside of the house is the most shocking thing that's ever happened to you, even after a couple chapters of rape scenes, you are not a submissive and should probably stop acting like if you just pretend to be one long enough the man you love will outgrow it and start acting like the perfect boyfriend.

:: "I feel mighty fine, Miss Steele." I'm sure he said that hayseed phrase in a dark and mysterious way. Or murmured it. He's always murmuring. EL James uses that a lot: "he murmured." I don't like how that reads, honestly, because it makes me think he's just sort of half-mumbling in an incoherent way, like a stoned college student. I guess I'm supposed to picture him speaking softly, or in a low voice, or saying things darkly, or even with intent, but she uses "murmured." No. Come on. Murmuring is what the guy in Shine did.

He also grins a lot, of course, like a kid who thinks he's clever for knocking over a sandcastle. When he's being what we're supposed to think is funny, James throws that grin in, and I always picture an idiot monkey with no self-awareness. So, basically George W. Bush.

:: Christian likes Frank Sinatra. Ana describes the song he's playing, "Witchcraft," as "an old song." I look forward with great anticipation to Frank's new work. They dance together, and "Boy, can he dance." I'll just let that stand, because the two paragraphs of description of the actual dancing are so clumsily written that I feel like straight quoting would open me to a libel lawsuit, because it's that embarrassing.

:: Ana has time to brood about the older woman that trained Christian and how awful she must be. First, she's jealous that she may have "had the best of him," but then she blames her for turning him into the abusive monster that he is, and I guess it's easier for her to just blame this woman she's never met rather than deal with the fact that Christian is what he is. How he became this way is not your main concern. That he is this way now isn't even your main concern. Your main concern is that you seem to think if you're just around him loving him long enough, he'll magically become a prince and you won't have to do it anymore. Has anyone ever diagnosed you with a Martyr Complex, because you've had one since the first chapter.

Would she go through another bondage session? "Of course I would, if he asked me--as long as he didn't hurt me, and if it's the only way to be with him." He's not the only one who's broken.

Also: "His world, indeed, and I want to belong in it, but on his terms? I just don't know." Look, people don't just magically change for you because your love is so awesome. Changing one's nature is a long, hard process that takes communication and effort. Why would you make a decision to be with this person if he scares you the way he does? Why would you make a decision to be with a person knowing that these things you don't like are part of the package? You can't just will it to be different. Find another man.

:: "I want to be with him. My inner goddess sighs with relief. I reach the conclusion that she rarely uses her brain to think but another vital part of her anatomy, and at the moment, it’s a rather exposed part." At least she admits she's thinking with her pussy and not her brain.

:: "He smirks. 'Ditto, baby,' he says [...]" Don't with the "baby." It's so insincere.

:: Dancing was filler. I'm going to be charitable and say that the brooding wasn't, even though it wasn't quite the character development James wants it to be, and it's a lot of the stuff Ana's been brooding about in every fucking chapter. Dinner, though, is pure filler. It's the "meet the family" stuff from Twilight. I already read Twilight, and it was horrible the first time. Christian's foster father is even named Carrick, which doesn't sound at all like Carlisle. We've already met Jasper Elliot and Esme Grace, whose name is Grace Trevelyan-Grey. Does your mind go right where mine does, to Sean Bean's character Alec Trevelyan in Goldeneye? No, probably not. I'm sure a cat lady who writes Twilight fanfiction isn't also into Sean Bean.

Her Alice expy is Mia, who is flighty and screechy and Christian seems to adore her and, despite being Ana's age, she's written like an over-excited 8 year-old. What James is missing about Alice Cullen is that she was the only likable character in Twilight. Mia is just awful and says awful things like how Paris is beautiful "in spite of the Parisians." The only thing worse than an insufferable snob is an insufferable snob who thinks their snobbery is cute.

Seriously, though, Stephenie Meyer should sue EL James over this. That would be fantastic.

:: Kate is at the dinner, since she's openly Elliot's girlfriend, which makes Ana feel like she herself has only been invited because Christian's been socially forced into it. Please just have this discussion over whether you guys are boyfriend/girlfriend or not. Kate is antagonistic towards Christian, and Ana can't figure out why. Gee, let's think about that for a minute. Why would your best friend not like the guy who makes you cry all the time and shows up at your apartment to rape you?

Kate, though, is kind of a pill in this chapter. I get why she's mad at Christian, but I still think she's terrible. She brings up that Ana is considering leaving to visit her mother in Georgia for a few days, which I guess she has to do because that's what Bella did in Twilight, and this is the first Christian's heard about it, so he's obviously pissed. I would be, too, I admit, because she says she's "probably" going "tomorrow" and just didn't mention it, but I would hope that I would have had the boyfriend/girlfriend conversation by then. If my girlfriend didn't tell me she was heading out of state for a few days in less than 24 hours, I'd be hurt. If the girl I fucked sometimes went out of town, I'd remember that she hasn't signed my idiotic contract and get over myself. (Also: doesn't this show Ana's not enthusiastic about this contract thing?)

We know that Ana's terrified by Christian's potential reaction, because she thinks, poetically, "Oh, crapola."

Kate then just drops at dinner that Ana was out at the bar with Jose the other night, which is uber-bitchy. More boyfriend/girlfriend problems. If my girlfriend was out at a bar with a guy who--friend or no--tried to sexually assault her the last time they were at a bar together, I would feel very conflicted. But, dude, you're not her boyfriend and she hasn't signed your idiotic contract, so figure it out. You guys, seriously, you're going to save your fragile feelings a lot of hurt if you just sit and discuss what it is you're feeling and what it is you want from one another.

Oh, and Christian, if she says she doesn't want the BDSM, you accept it and, if it's integral to the relationship for you, you move on and find someone else who's into it. You do not get her drunk and rape her, or discipline her and spank her, or manipulate her feelings until she just gives in.

For her part, Ana is terrified from the moment she brings up Georgia through the rest of the chapter. Are we supposed to root for this couple?

Kate, shut the fuck up, you are making things worse. I know you think you're helping, but your best friend is in an abusive, co-dependent thing and you're not helping at all. Shut up, shut up, shut up, SHUT UP. What you're doing is weirdly cruel.

(Note: my wife feels that Kate is being bitchy on purpose out of jealousy, because it might be her in Ana's place if she hadn't sent Ana to that interview back in the first chapter. That interpretation at least makes sense, because I feel like Kate's going way above and beyond if she just wants to "help" Ana by making Christian jealous. Shady lady. Thinking back on Kate's past behavior and her stupid little comments, this makes even more sense than I thought at first.)

:: For some reason, I cringe whenever EL James describes a woman as being dressed "smartly." Here it's the servants, who keep sizing up Christian and lingering around him and who obviously either want to fuck him or already have. Ana is burning with jealousy and possessiveness, the way Christian is seething over the news about Jose and Georgia. You guys really need to sort out whether or not you're a couple.

"He may be fifty shades of fucked up, but he's mine." Nope. You can't even make up your mind if you want to be with him.

:: I agree that everyone should have their kids vaccinated, but forcing it into the dinner discussion is clumsy and feels like a soapbox moment.

:: Grace and Carlisle or whatever are very affectionate. "It’s almost embarrassing to witness. They obviously love each other deeply, and I wonder for a brief moment what it must be like to grow up with both one’s parents in situ." In situ is a Latin phrase that literally means "in position." Not sure that applies here or, if it does, how. I invite explanation, because I might be wrong. It just feels clumsy, like yet another phrase out of James' grasp that she thinks sounds deep.

(My wife: "Bitch trying to write this like it's Bridget Jones.")

:: Christian, now very angry, takes Ana out to show her the grounds of his parents' estate, but starts carrying her out to the boathouse, where he's going to spank her and fuck her again, because he's a little brat who isn't getting his own way.

So be here next chapter for another rape scene, I guess. And just as we were getting over the depression we all felt from having to read the last one.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Muppets Keep Driving Those Vans

Remember last month when Rowlf wanted ice cream? Well, now he wants sushi.

And here are a couple of other great Highlander videos, including some fans who are very happy to see Kermit.

Marvels: Tales of Suspense #44

"Iron Man Faces the Menace of the Mad Pharaoh!" by Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein & Don Heck
(August 1963)

Well, it's another Robert Bernstein-scripted Iron Man story, so let's just put our heads down and get through this.

Tony Stark heads to Egypt to help out an archaeologist friend at a dig site for some reason. (Seriously, Tony, you make weapons, what are you even doing there?) As Iron Man, he uses a transistor-powered fluoroscope to locate King Hatap's Tomb inside a pyramid, and then uses diamond drills to bore through the pyramid to the tomb, casually destroying an archaeological treasure in mere minutes instead of painstakingly over several months. Inside, Iron Man discovers the mummy of Hatap, "the Mad Pharaoh."

After changing back into civilian clothes, Tony is kidnapped by Hatap himself, who was only sleeping. See, Hatap is a sorcerer, and 2000 years ago while fighting Cleopatra's army, he drank a serum that placed him in suspended animation for two millennia. Hatap, having somehow discovered that Tony Stark is a brilliant scientist (dude, plots are hard and space is limited, alright?), plans to take Tony back in time to Ancient Egypt in order to help him defeat Cleopatra.

Tony is game to go--he's downright giddy about it--but as soon as he arrives he ditches Hatap and changes into his Iron Man suit. Hatap's status as some kind of mad genius immediately drops when he sees Iron Man, decides he's some kind of flying bird monster that has killed Stark, and runs away from it as fast as he can.

Iron Man's next stop is Alexandria, where he crushes the attacking Roman armies, possibly changing history significantly, but we're not going to stop and look at the ramifications of our actions now, because that would mean caring about how Thor nuked China and no one said or did anything. (No, I'm not going to stop bringing that up yet.) He saves Cleopatra, meets her, is smitten, agrees to stop Hatap, and then does so. Hatap accidentally slips and falls on his own sword. Then Iron Man returns to the present, despite the fact that Cleopatra has fallen in love with him, as Queen Kala did last issue, because all the girls love a man covered in garish yellow armor from head to foot.

Stray observations:

:: "Iron Man is friend of mine, and luckily he happens to be in Egypt on a secret mission!" Oh, come on. Not a fan of the secret identity thing for this guy. Makes sense for Spider-Man, makes zero sense for Iron Man. I realize that part of that is the clumsy writing in these stories, but sheesh. Tony keeps thinking, in an almost fetishistic way, how shocked the world would be to find out that jetsetting playboy Tony Stark is Iron Man, but I have to say, I don't think anyone would really care. Neither Tony's nor Iron Man's notoriety have been well established in the limited space of an Iron Man story.

:: Every time Tony thinks something is BS in this story, he yells "Bunk!" It just makes him seem really square. He's such a conservative. I read the other day that Stan Lee made Tony a conservative capitalist to piss off their hippie readers, but I have no idea if that's true.

:: Iron Man's big move when fighting Hatap is to attach casters to his back and use a jet engine to roll smoothly across the sandy desert (?), and it is kind of charmingly dorky.

Next issue--which is a little bit of a retool--sees Iron Man start using boot skates, which are also dorky, but not as dorky.


Quiet, smuggo.

:: I'm really digging Don Heck's artwork on this title. I think his Iron Man is better than Kirby's. Kirby draws his too boxy and heavy-looking; you look at that suit and wonder how it can even move. The stories have established that Iron Man's armor is powerful but also light and malleable before the transistors powering it harden it; I mean, he keeps the suit in collapsed pieces in a briefcase. Heck is very good at making the suit look more like a second skin and less like a shell, particularly in this story. Seriously, if you're going to have women falling in love with Iron Man left and right, you really need to make him look more dashing and less like he's made by Tomy.

:: I assume this was partly inspired by exhaustion and by the release of the Elizabeth Taylor version of Cleopatra, which had plenty of publicity around it and was about to hit theaters as this issue hit the stand. In the last panel, Tony even goes to a premiere of "a movie about Cleopatra." (It gets a lot of flack, but I actually love that big, sprawling movie.)

Be here for the next issue, which gives Tony a supporting cast! But first, next time: Ant-Man and the Wasp face the Cyclops of Greek legend in the first comic that boldly declares that we are in THE MARVEL AGE OF COMICS!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Soviet Winnie-the-Pooh, Part 2

Way back in November, I posted the first in a series of animated shorts produced in the Soviet Union between 1969 and 1972 featuring Winnie-the-Pooh. It was, in brief, god damn delightful. So is this second one, again made by Fyodor Khitruk. I love these; it's a very interesting, witty take on the same material Disney was adapting around the same time. It's always fascinating to see how two different people can interpret the same material. (The subtitles on this one are much more in sync than the first one.)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I Is for Innovation

Today is the 8th anniversary of my sister's death. She wanted to be a marine biologist and study dolphins and whales. She'd be turning 22 on Sunday, and I think this is the kind of thing she really would've dug as a tool for study.

Finally, someone found a better use for drones than killing, spying and delivering Blu-Rays: capturing footage of wildlife in a noninvasive way.

That's footage of a dolphin stampede, migrating gray whales, and some absolutely beautiful scenes of a newborn humpback whale calf cuddling with its mother. There are more videos here, courtesy of Dolphin Safari.

The use of drones as a tool to study wildlife is a marvelous idea. We all like the various animal cams. My mother-in-law is absolutely obsessed right now with a camera that's fixed on a bald eagle's nest. I saw this footage and was thrilled by its potential.

Ellen would've liked that. I wish I could talk all about it with her. I wish I could show her this video and see her face.

This is what we should be using drones for.

ABC Wednesdays

12 March 2006

Monday, March 10, 2014

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Song of the Week: "Welcome to the Cheap Seats"

Songs for Becca #5. I remember seeing this video on MTV out of nowhere in 1991. I think it might have been one of the admittedly rare times I had 120 Minutes on. I saw it a few more times, but I never really caught the name of the song or the band, and though I loved the song immediately--I just hadn't heard much accordion in indie rock before--I would remember it only occasionally.

Cut ahead to the last few weeks of 1994, and I've met Becca and started a relationship with her. I've said before that the reason I was attracted to Becca was that she and I already liked so many of the same things. Things that I didn't think girls were even into. Those are the stereotypes I grew up with: girls didn't like Star Trek or X-Men or Star Wars or Muppets or any of that stuff. Those were boy things, and you had to outgrow them or else girls wouldn't like you. That's what I was always led to believe, and so I'd internalized it. But Becca liked all of those things and more. Things other women had forced me to leave behind because we were adults now, you know. (I'd been 18 for five months at this point, btw.)

You all remember how much of an outcast I felt when, at 10 years old, everyone started teasing me for still being into cartoons and action figures. So it was amazing when this beautiful, sophisticated person who dressed like a real adult (I seriously thought she was 30 when I met her, just because of the way she dressed, did her makeup, and carried herself) not only liked these things but wanted to spend time with me.

The moment I knew I wanted to be with her was before we had even started dating, when she brought up The Last Unicorn--a movie I had loved since I first saw it in the theater when I was 6. In those pre-internet times, I had no idea anyone else even liked that movie. I wasn't sure that anyone else had ever even seen it. No one had ever heard of it when I brought it up. And now here was someone who loved it as much as I did! That's how friendships used to form before the internet: you loved the same obscure things and weren't pretentious assholes about it.

Anyway, she had this song on a cassette single, and she put it on that first mix tape she made me. It all came flooding back; that song you hear a couple of times and just disappears, but you never forget it. And she had it and brought it back to me.

So here it is. (Trivia about this song: Kirsty MacColl sings backup. Further trivia: I cannot listen to this song loud enough or enough times in a row.)