Visiting

No apologies or explanations for the lull; the lapses in attention to my blog illustrate the way my mind gets pulled around the scope of my world. Not that I’ve suddenly stopped watching movies or playing games. I’ll be back to talk about them soon. Here’s a painting (that will end up being finished with ink precision) that I’m currently taking a break from. Working title “Fire Ants” for reasons that won’t be clear until much further along.

 

Fire Ants Rough

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Doing My Small Part to Smugly Educate Folks Regarding the Amish

This is an example of how interactions used to play out when someone asked me “Where are you from?”:

“Oh, I’m from Holmes County, Ohio.”
*received blank stare with tentative nodding*
It’s, um, mid-Ohio, in the foothills? Really rural? Like, 30 minutes south of Wooster? Uh, almost exactly two hours drive between Cleveland and Columbus?”
*more nodding, but hope is fading*
“Okay, it has the largest population of Amish like, anywhere. In the whole world.”
“But isn’t that in Pennsylvania?” they ask. I shake my head and break a little inside.
Nope, Holmes County has more than anyone.” Gears turn and I know what’s next:
O-H-H-H…so are you Amish??”
“No. No, I am not.”

Some roads are indeed still dirt.

Some roads are indeed still dirt.

But now television, that wit of modern-day exploitation media, has forced a new act to this whence-I-came drama:

*I politely endure the previous script*
“O-H-H-H…so are you Amish??”
“Not now, nor never, my good chap.” I prepare to move on like usual, except:
BUT SURELY YOU AT LEAST KNOW SOMEONE IN THE AMISH MAFIA AMIRIGHT?!”
*My mouth drops open; my eyes widen; I reach out to the nearest passerby to borrow another hand because I don’t have enough for the facepalms this deserves.*

*********

Listen, there is no such thing as an Amish Mafia.  It surprises me to encounter people who know damn well how network reality shows work, (that they are mostly if not entirely scripted entertainment save for a select few) biting the hook on the new Amish shows like “Breaking Amish” and the Discovery Channel’s “Amish Mafia”.

I get it that an overwhelming majority of Americans don’t know much of anything about the Amish, and that they are a culture categorically misrepresented and lampooned. From [a movie I can’t live without] KingPin to “Law and Order” spinoffs to even the more accurate but still largely narrow-sighted 2002 documentary Devil’s Playground,  Amish are portrayed as a world further outside  American society than [I would argue] any other sub-culture living here today.

But, come on. An Amish mafia? Rumspringa gone wild? Entertaining, no doubt, but to believe it’s a real thing? COME ON.

Here’s the reality, then it’s back to games and scary movies and all that junk: The Amish are the best neighbors you can have. They are normal, reasonable, vastly hard-working, good humored, and intelligent. They may have a quietly removed lifestyle but they–at least in Holmes County, OH–inspire a unique sense of overall community “pitching in for your neighbor in need.” They always wave back if you pass them driving their buggies or on foot. They bake absurdly delicious pies. They come in many variations of relaxed to orthodox. They shop at WalMart. They are keen businessmen and women who know how to capitalize on their life’s phenomena to sell their woodworking and other crafts. They are as susceptible to alcoholism as anyone. They are deeply, staunchly religious but are to my experience the most graceful with their faith. They are expert huntsmen and better environmentalists than anyone else has a right to claim.

Best of all, they push a drive through the rolling hills of mid-Ohio from pretty to stunning: be it a snapshot of the male family members coaxing Clydesdales through a harvest, or a vista of golden fields and forest without one telephone or electrical line anywhere to be seen on the horizon.

So enjoy the shows, enjoy how society has given thumbs up for the entertainment industry’s growing perversion of geographic, economic, and cultural strata instead of helping to bring us together by celebrating reality. But for the love of the one ring, keep in mind that there is no such thing as an Amish Mafia.

 

Tomb Raider Controversy [Part 2 of 3]

Lara Croft & Rape Culture: Some Thoughts

Even limited to this scope, it’s hard to find a place to worm into this subject. It’s worth noting that there is a pervasive and widely (but not entirely) undisputed belief that game companies create and market to a perceived majority of males, all of whom are engaged with nothing but violence and carnality. It’s under that stereotype that debates over Tomb Raider‘s “rape scene” operated: staggering comments in the forums from male gamers openly anticipating the chance to watch Lara Croft be raped vs. wild criticism from feminist activists denouncing any inclusion of sexual assault or rape in story line as solely a vehicle of female degradation.

I am beyond disgusted with the former sentiments (in a perfect world, their shame would be vast,) but I don’t think I need to speak to them because the latter views are the ones that hit home to me as missing a huge point to be made by someone within their own ranks.

The Actual Gameplay?

Since the game is still in pre-order stages, most of us haven’t actually been able to play it. But let it be known that there is NOT an on-screen rape heading our way, regardless of whether or not we play through the quoted quick time event to turn the tables on the scuzzbag who abducts Lara after she is stranded. This IS important to mention, not because brief sexual assault is any less abhorrent than rape, but because the fact refutes anyone arguing that the instance isn’t about Lara’s growth at all and instead is a “fanservice” by the developers to enhance Lara’s sex-objectification. Beyond this, I can say no more on the game until I play it. I intend to revisit once I get the chance.

 

Sexual Violence & a Larger Scope I. Language

As I read through articles and comments then and re-read them now it becomes clear to me that there’s a serious (but curable!) issue underneath the controversy that no one is talking about. That issue is that our society has not yet developed common language about sexual violence. This is especially true for rape, and for continuity/length I am going to use “rape” going forth. 

If you find yourself in a conversation about rape, maybe with a friend or in a class, am I wrong to say that there are only two pockets of language for you to call on? There is the medical language of rape: anatomy, physiology, PTSD, therapy. Then there is a jar of power words, over-charged to the point of existentialism because they are used as a tool of argument: dehumanize, misogyny, control, gender, hate, civil liberty, etc. But no matter the words, rape is a subject that polarizes the majority of conversationalists and fills the room with giant emotions. It is a topic on par with racism; so personal and so multi-faceted that talking about it thoughtfully or with progress in mind is already a minefield of triggers. [Only as far as the facilitation of public talks] racism has become an easier topic to discuss; it has been a societal change in action for a long time, a struggle that reaches every part of our nation not to be ignored. But at some point, talking about racism had its own limited, lurching vocabulary.

Women’s rights have absolutely been at the forefront of public discussion but rape has NOT. The ongoing work of right’s groups to define rape culture is just an example: instead of debating semantics, we are still striving to study our environment. Any actual discourse I have experienced–text or in person–usually leaves me feeling like nothing is getting done because so many voices are missing; because a bulk of the conversation isn’t made up of words or ideas but is dominated by tension, anger, blame, frustration, cringes, and dismissal. Not only is discussion about rape stunted by the inability to emotionally connect, but (on BOTH sides) “valid” participants are still being redefined. Like those who say men have less right to weigh in because they “aren’t the victims” or those who think actual victims “skew the reality of the danger” with their big old emotions. Until everyone can accept that everyone else is invited to the table on a subject that–in so many ways–effects us all, then the language of rape is in its infancy.

2012 in America has been the year of outlandish, hurtful, and inciting public statements regarding sexual violence (noticeably regarding women, not men.) If you followed the infamous senators and governors who made pointed statements about rape alongside the campaign for presidency, then you either know your own reaction, public reaction, or even engaged in the aftermath. (Here comes the tie-in…!) 

After my initial outrage, I got to thinking: how is it that in this day and age, freaking political leaders and executive producers of mega-software entertainment companies can talk about rape so callously? Dismissively? Awkwardly? My hypothesis goes back to language: for every douchehat that really believes awful things about rape, there are ten normal folks who use the term “rape” and try to talk about it without the progressive boundaries of evolved language. Simply put…we want to have a conversation across the  trenches about rape, but we have neither the words or the safety of an arena to do so right now. So some people are going to say really stupid shit; it is up to us to re-evaluate how to react so that we can make some actual damn progress.

That is what we should be focusing on. Dividing our minds, expending emotional energy by recoiling in anger and retaliating with a salvo so fiercely overreaching that intent and perspective of the “inciting” statement is totally lost. What good does it do to take to our blogs ranting and adding Ron Rosenberg’s name to the lexicon of “rape culture”? It’s like putting up one more mugshot on the notice board: alright, we see him…shoot, there are more all the time! Arghhlebarglerage! That’s a dud trip to building up paranoid anger that has nowhere to go.

Instead, wouldn’t it make more sense to allow him–like every other human being who brings up hot-button issues–the context of our current knee-jerk obstacles around this subject? It may not be easier, but wouldn’t it be healthier to the cause of actually eradicating rape to NOT make his words stand for the whole of the gaming industry (then visual entertainment industry then entire social culture?!) I am not excusing what are clearly his personal beliefs on rape and how that fits into his gender views, though I have to admit that “wanting to take care of her” is a better reaction than “she fucking deserved it”.

I am trying to offer this perspective (and so, a summary about rape language): Ron Rosenberg is ONE person; he spoke candidly about HIS perception of Lara Croft’s new “vulnerable” character and he gave a summary of the game’s character development motivation. The term “rape” was mentioned once and was almost immediately corrected by the company, but if it wasn’t clear that we need to focus on facilitating a social communication structure where people don’t go from 0-to-60 when they see the word “rape”, I hope I’ve helped use my opinion to make it at least something to consider. 

 [Coming Soon: Final Tomb Raider post, Part 3 of 3]

 

Late To The Party: What I Think About The Tomb Raider Controversy [Part 1 of 3]

*Obviously this post won’t be about any horror film. There’s a video game involved–something I want to write more about–but it’s really my two cents about the controversy clouding that game. I wouldn’t say that “horror” doesn’t fit the bill, though: the theme of the controversy and the rabid frenzy of anger and hatred that stem from it are frightening to me. So much so that I only feel safe posting my opinions on it within the semi-shelter of this backwater blog*

The Game : Tomb Raider (Square Enix) – The “gritty reboot” origin story slated for 2013

The Main Controversy

 When it was first being marketed, executive producer Ron Rosenberg got all stupid and stated that “you’ll want to protect” the rebooted Lara Croft, and that during the game she will have to deal with “rape”. This vulnerability was all allegedly to make Lara–a leading female icon in the gaming universe–“feel more human” and to give her a reason to become the bad-ass we all know and love.

Tomb Raider, Lara Croft, Flickr

A variation on Flickr Psycho Al’s screen grab.

The Backlash

 (If you missed it) was enormous and spanned not only the gaming sites but feminist blogs, pop-culture critics, and so on. It came on the heels of the hellstorm of Tropes vs. Women in Video Games and the rash of gamers screaming “feminazi”, “misogyny”, “misandry,” and more colorful epithets. (*I want to avoid touching on that scene if I can help it; just going to stick to TR. The important thing to note about the gaming community as a whole is that there is a pervasive theme of hyper-sexualizing female characters without giving them any meaningful personality or clothing.*)

The two rage arguments that fell down on the side of feminism (I’m not even going to bother with the more extreme opposition, it’s barbaric,) are such: Why do game creators think women are so weak that they need “protecting”? and Rape/Sexual Assault as a story telling vehicle is just as misogynistic as giving them no back story because it perpetuates Rape Culture!  (Okay, a third: I want to address the equally offensive backtracking from Crystal Dynamics PR, too.)

Little Ol’ Me

 Now, I don’t want to talk about my identity as a “feminist”–if this has taught me nothing else, it’s that I am out of touch with the term–but can safely say this: I am a woman, I believe in equality for all peoples, I actively fight against domestic/sexual abuse, and I play loads of video games. Lara Croft has been one of my virtual alter-egos since I got my grubby paws on a PS1. I have also had the unfortunate…luck? fate? I don’t know…to experience domestic and sexual abuse first-hand. So by my own understandings of op-ed writing, I figure this controversy is as close to home as it gets for me.

And frankly, I am pretty disheartened by what that the loudest voices in the arena had to say.

Projection vs. Protection: Getting Into the Game

Let’s tackle the less inflammatory of the two arguments (although, it will be a main theme when discussing the second.) Looks first: the “new” Lara is less voluptuous than her past iconic be-boobed incarnations. Folks brought this up as an “a-HA!” moment in debate as if it is a concession on Square Enix’s part that Lara’s physical form has been purely sex-objectifying all along; I think it’s probably more that this reboot Lara is actually supposed to be adolescent Lara. On this point I don’t really care.

Game progression next: check out this game trailer and you’ll see a lot of Lara’s action is her vs. the environment. Attempting to give her back story and motivation, the game uses moments in time to illustrate the origins of this critter-blasting, person-shooting lady: her emotional turmoil in having to shoot a deer to survive, extensive attention to her physical limitations due to injuries, and being driven to kill a person by way of sexual assault. (File away that last one, there.)

Rosenberg states that this will make the gamer more apt to feel like a protector. “They’re more like ‘I want to protect her.’ There’s this sort of dynamic of ‘I’m going to this adventure with her and trying to protect her.”  He goes on:”The ability to see her as a human is even more enticing to me than the more sexualized version of yesteryear,” he said. “She literally goes from zero to hero… we’re sort of building her up and just when she gets confident, we break her down again.” [Kotaku]

Some critics are upset at the idea that they won’t be enjoying the action-packed adventure/puzzle/kill play that they are used to. I think the gameplay looks phenomenal but I am a putz about change and also worry that the elements of Tomb Raider that I most enjoy will be lost. But the loudest zealots in the shouting match are furious about the scripted need to “white knight” Lara; that instead of a bad-ass sex object, she will become a symbol for the misogynistic idea that women are “weaker, delicate” creatures who need “to be protected.”

To those folks, I would first say calm the shit down. Let’s not yell anymore. Look, there is absolutely no denying that female characters across mediums are written so sparsely and so derogatorily that they ooze weakness and the only cure is a strong man to fend for them. But those characters are so insulting because they never have any personal growth or develop inner strength to end up standing on equal footing with men. The whole alleged point of this game is to give gamers a look at that personal growth (and let’s be real–to keep us buying Tomb Raider games, right?)

want to say “MAKE UP YOUR MIND!” to everyone who spent so long denouncing objectification of females in games who are now shrieking that portraying a vulnerable woman is just as bad because men just think that women are weakling suck-bags. But I know the core point is well-intentioned: let’s not just go from one sexist trope to another. However…this one dude is the only one who used the word “protect”. Otherwise, we’d just have been met with a demo starring a girl down on her luck, surviving against the odds with a nod to realistic obstacles and setbacks. She doesn’t look weak to me outside of Rosenberg’s ill-worded preview. There is a point where the argument against well-defined sexist tropes/themes has become so ingrained that it overshadows our ability to dig into something and explore its quality.

Additionally–sexual assault ASIDE–developers had to choose turning-point scenarios to symbolize complex, life-altering, emotional experiences. It’s no different than any other visual media story-line. Things have to be condensed and heightened. When they are, the possibilities for negative personal interpretation skyrocket. The chance that we see a glaring archetype instead of bond with the character in a personal way is a risk that has to be taken in order to make the game exciting, cohesive, and fresh. Overall, before we get angry about what this one fool [Rosenberg] blurted out during one interview when he was mistakenly given the role as PR, let’s forget about this “to protect or not to protect!” b.s. and reconnoiter after we’ve had a play through.     [CONT’D in Part 2!]

*Interesting tidbits (that mean nothing, really): wordpress “feedback” tells me that the term “lady” is considered bias and that using “females” instead of “women” is too complex. …what?

Cross Over, Children, All Are Welcome: The Early Days of Horror

This is a bio-oriented post re: the start of my obsessive companionship with the world of horror entertainment. Read only if you want a structure or reason behind what some–many, even–would regard as a waste of time at best and nearly degenerate at worst. It may be a dense post…I’ve never looked back with any objective analysis and will have to write it in detail to gain truth to my hypothesis.

Perks of Frank Parenting

From the beginning, my parents dealt with me as though I were an adult. In a fabulous way; no sternly stark household rife with unattainable expectations. Instead, they offered engaging dialogue with no boundaries on vocabulary or subject (John Wilkes Booth became a fascinating figure around my third birthday, and a lively debate was captured on tape concerning the percentage of success were I to ask Santa for a live chicken and a pack of cigarettes at age four. The outcome was, regretfully, not in my favor.)

That’s not to say that I was allowed unabridged exposure to all the world offers. General parental censorship held strong on issues of violence, depravity, intolerance, etc., but when such a subject came into my path, there was usually a period of pondering by myself followed by a frank Q&A with my mother for perspective. Strangely, where the usual canon would dictate discretion or lighter alternative, the subject matter of scary movies and literature was unbridled and un-adjudicated until around age 14 (for reasons that had nothing to do with the content of the movies but the grim deadlock of Teenage Girl vs. Mom.)

T.V. People and a Cranberry Chair

My eternal conversion as a follower of the macabre, the heebie-jeebies, and sweaty bedtime terror was born when I found Poltergeist on VHS. I was no more than four at the time and was my father’s charge by day. He encouraged my cinematic horizons; I happily obliged. Afternoons were open for me to raid the movie closet with no compass while he tended the gardens or carpentered projects in the work shed. One of those afternoons put a tape in my hand with a scribbled label reading “P-Geist/Scanners*” and I settled in as usual to view my finding.

What I vividly recall is spinning our cranberry recliner in wild circles during the the scene where Marty–trippin’ maggots–shreds his face off of his skull into the bathroom sink. The tree snatching had already ensured a few years of arboreal distrust, but that bathroom scene was the first film gore I’d experienced. I had no idea what to do with the crawling revulsion my body felt, (wouldn’t even stumble on the subject of “body horror” for some 18 years yet,) so I spun around and watched the scene over and over. That ‘duck and review’ compulsion remains my top film viewing technique to date.

Two more films had similarly jarring impact in those pivotal years : John Carpenter’s The Thing and Tremors.

I Think It Rips Through Your Clothes When It Takes You (So Naked Is Safer)

I came upon our copy of The Thing by chance some time in the next two years. How I overlooked it for so long is a mystery; after Poltergeist, I treated our tapes with reverence and spent what time I could trying to find another movie with the same impact. My mom is no fan of horror beyond the wacky B-rated lampoons behind MST3K, and my dad is  chill Midwestern folk who enjoys all genres but avidly collects none, so pickin’s were slim. **Notable exception being the ironclad Star Wars fan-dom that sprang to life when I unearthed the original three one weekend.**

The Thing was of poor quality and so dark that the most grotesque details were obscured. DIDN’T MATTER; terrified me right up the wall and across the ceiling. The family cats, dogs, and newts had to work a long time after to regain my trust. I still get squidgy around other people’s blood; not because bloods squeams me out, but because I spent so long not trusting most bodily fluids to not invade me. Thus begun my mortal fear/fascination with relentless parasites.

I can’t reconcile the Thing monster as an “alien”, though it was obviously so. It didn’t–and still doesn’t–strike the same chords of other alien-horror movies for me. It made me distrustful of my reality in a way that no fundamental “growing up” lesson had done so far. When I was 9 or 10 and able to use my allowance to rent videos from my uncle Arnie’s rental store in town, I tracked down a better copy and it was like watching a new movie. Since, I have watched The Thing an easy 30-35 times and still find something I never noticed every now and then.

Then Graboids Got Me

Not sure when Tremors ended up on my radar, but it was before my seventh birthday. (For reference, I’m consulting the time I broke my arm at recess. Had a gaudy, itchy hell-cast on during that birthday, and Tremors had already entered my lexicon by then.) One of my parents actually brought it to me, and I remember my mom remarking that it was like a scary movie, but was mostly funny. Let me tell you, folks: that shit was NOT funny until many years later.

I guess it’s the fear of the Unseen Danger that got me, if we need to paste a trope on it. Above all other evocatively scary –film or otherwise–encounters I’d had, the animal terror of being stalked by a Graboid threw me into serious hyper-vigilance for a good few months. The absurdity of the creature lurking under the foothills of Appalachia, or at all, wilted when I was playing alone in the woods, or the only one walking on a floor at any given time. I spent a lot of panicky hours shimmied up climbing trees after tripping my fear breaker beyond point of reason. That was the first time the horror genre took my control away from me, and I hated it. But by then I was hooked deep, and have since learned so much about the human experience by embracing the non-cognitive trip that is horror.

*I still haven’t seen Scanners all the way through; maybe Poltergeist will forever eclipse my interest.

“Now clear your minds. It knows what scares you. It has from the very beginning. Don’t give it any help, it knows too much already.” Tangina, Poltergeist