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Author Archives: mcbender

Deniability is no longer plausible. Stand with trans people.

I should apologise for not having written recently; there are lots of things I want to talk about (and frankly should have talked about), but my depression’s been really getting to me and I’ve barely had the energy to be functional a lot of the time.

That said, I’m a bit late to the party on this one, but I think I/we need to weigh in because we’ve discussed the subject here before (there’s been a spike in hits to a certain chapter of the Silkworm review, as there often is when something like this happens). As I don’t use Twitter, I’ll be commenting on the brouhaha here instead.

Joanne Rowling is a transphobic asshole, click through to see it in her own words. She’s not even trying to hide it any more. No more “oops how does the internet work, what is a like button teehee” shenanigans. No more “but Cormoran Strike is transphobic, that doesn’t mean she necessarily agrees with him” excuses.

Let’s unpack this just a little bit. She’s literally going out of her way to perform wokeness on as many other axes of bigotry as possible, before getting to the punchline of “trans women? nope, not them”. Unlike everyone else, she seems to say, trans people deserve special condemnation and transphobes are the real victims.

(A helpful bit of context in case it isn’t clear what she’s commenting on there.)

I can’t say I’m surprised. This isn’t news; everyone who’s more than vaguely aware of the things Rowling says on Twitter should already know this (as friend of the blog Ana Mardoll has already pointed out), but she said the quiet part out loud this time so more people are noticing. Good.

(This made me laugh, admittedly. Image of a fanzine titled “Harry Potter and the Problematic Author”)

I’m not going to tell anyone they shouldn’t read her writing or can’t continue to be fans of Harry Potter, if they get something out of it. Goodness knows my life wouldn’t be the same if not for those books; Harry Potter fandom is the reason I met the person I love most in the world, and I can’t imagine who I’d be if I hadn’t. Go ahead and employ death of the author to your heart’s content and make something better out of them (but maybe give someone else your money).

But that fondness is not an excuse to ignore transphobia, or any other form of bigotry. I realise it can be hard to be a fan of problematic things while still acknowledging those problems, but the alternative is denial and apologetics. You can like things without them being perfect, and you can like things without that necessarily being a referendum on your character. Nearly everything is problematic in some way, after all. But we cannot deny the existence of bigotry just to make ourselves feel better.

And the natural consequence of that sort of denial is extrapolating it. If we train ourselves to think that a certain work of fiction we like can’t possibly contain bigotry because we’d feel uncomfortable liking it if it did, what then happens if we come across a similar example of bigotry in real life? The easiest way to resolve that cognitive dissonance is to refuse to see the real life example also, and that tends to be what people do.

So it is likewise important to acknowledge when a person has shitty beliefs, and that those beliefs might come out in their work.

I’ll say this as nicely as I possibly can: fuck off, J.K. Rowling.

There is a serious problem with transphobia (and specifically the TERF variety which parasitises and exploits feminist rhetoric) in the world right now, and it’s especially virulent in Britain for some reason. This is not to say it’s not a problem elsewhere, of course, but we can’t ignore the trend. Pay attention.

And if you know a trans person, for fuck’s sake let them know you support them.

[I don’t have anything else to add except to repeat: fuck off, J K Rowling.]

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2019 in mitchell

 

Character Development vs Character Assassination, a Failure Mode Analysis

Well, hello there. This is Mitchell, the person you’ve probably forgotten exists because I’ve barely written anything substantial for the better part of two years (fuck depression and fuck the ability of politics to exacerbate depression), but technically this is my blog too. I’m back to talk about a story about wizards and how it disappointed me. No, not that one, sorry. The other one.

Over two years ago, I wrote this post, and, more significantly, the Magic: the Gathering fanfic I link to in it. That context may be helpful to understand the rest of this post, but I’ll try to write this in a way that is comprehensible without it. I mainly want to use this opportunity to talk about character development, what makes it work and ways it can go wrong, but in order to do that I’ll need to go into detail about this particular example.

Honestly, writing about this at all is a bit self-indulgent, but please bear with me, I think there are some useful lessons to take from it.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2019 in mitchell

 

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Bad Movies Are Bad, Film at 11 (but don’t watch The Crimes of Grindelwald)

We all knew it was going to be bad, the only questions were how bad and what kind? Reviews have been coming out and the picture isn’t pretty, needless to say, so here’s a link roundup for the time being. I haven’t yet decided whether I’m going to subject myself to this (I may do next week, solely so I can write about it, but I’m not sure), but hopefully this will tide you over for now. Honestly, these reviews remind me of nothing so much as the first leaks of Cursed Child spoilers; it’s just ludicrous.

Emily Asher-Perrin at Tor: The Crimes of The Crimes of Grindelwald (This is the most detailed dive into the wtfery, if you only read one I suggest this one)

Jeremiah at The Fandomentals: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a Post-Mortem for J.K. Rowling

Ani Bundel at NBC (yes, NBC): Harry Potter Franchise’s new Fantastic Beasts sequel should not have been written by J.K. Rowling

Gavia Baker-Whitelaw at the Daily Dot: Queerbaiting is Ruining the Fantastic Beasts Franchise

To make a long story short, it sounds like there’s pretty much a bingo here. Character assassination of some of the last remaining likeable characters, pointless unexplained retcons (among other things, how the fuck is Credence alive when the climax of the first film was literally him being killed? I’ve still yet to see an answer to this), needless overdramatic bullshit, plotlines that make no sense, forced cameos and attempts at continuity that somehow just break everything further, casual appropriation without even a good reason… oh, right, and Johnny Depp. Can’t forget about him.

[Links above contain extensive spoilers, obviously. For my part I have nothing to say that hasn’t already been said; it’s more of Rowling’s tiresome refusal to put the franchise out of its misery already. It ruins everything that was decent about the first film, it invalidates the entire point of the first film, and it fucks up every single story arc without even having the grace to do it well on a technical level. There aren’t enough pretty imaginary animals in the world to compensate for this one.]

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2018 in loten, mitchell

 

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On Nagini apparently secretly being a human

Apologies for the dearth of content recently. I don’t have much excuse except that I just haven’t had the energy to write; hopefully this will change soon, but I can’t make any promises.

[I’ve had some stuff going on recently that drains my free time and energy. Chamber of Secrets has not been abandoned but it could be a while yet.]

I have to admit that we haven’t had our ears to the ground in Harry Potter fandom as much lately, so we’d missed hearing about this one until All-I-need brought it to our attention in the comments. Here’s the article she linked us to.

So. Um. That’s a thing, apparently. Nagini is now a “Maledictus”, a “blood curse that only affects women, and one that Nagini has no control over”. Charming. So it’s like a werewolf but not because reasons, like an animagus but not because reasons, and it only affects women because why not have more sexism? [There’s been no mention of a male equivalent. Unless werewolves are the equivalent, since it’s just occurred to me that we’ve never heard of a female werewolf in this universe, but I didn’t see Greyback being turned into Voldy’s pet/food source/soul vessel and deprived of all agency and freedom.]

There is also apparently a fair amount of discussion about racism happening, because the actor is Asian and this may have been an attempt to use something from Southeast Asian culture (and no doubt badly, given Rowling’s track record; that said, I don’t know enough to comment on that). [All I know for sure is that Nagini is the name of the female cobra in Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, and given Kipling’s usual naming conventions it probably just means ‘female cobra’. Potterverse Nagini is not a cobra. Beyond that, I have nothing.] What I can say is that “maledictus” is far too Latinate a name, which comes off as rather colonialist: if it really is based on something Asian, why not use the actual name, or come up with a variant on that?

Rowling claims she’s been waiting to reveal this for 20 years. I categorically do not believe this, because it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, and it is very typical of her tendency to retcon things that didn’t need changing for the sake of shock value. I would be utterly shocked if there was any evidence of this being a thing before the last year or two at best; it seems obvious to me that it’s an attempt to link the Fantastic Beasts films more closely to the original series in an effort to increase fans’ investment in them. [Yeah, it’s obviously a total ass-pull that came to her while putting together this clusterfuck of a script.] Also, the maths just don’t work (as per usual) – 20 years ago would have been 1998. The year Chamber of Secrets came out. It would be two more years before Nagini the character existed in canon.

So let’s get this straight. Rowling’s best idea for adding a female character of colour to the story is for her to have nonconsensual transformations into a snake form, previously only seen being used to obtain potion ingredients via milking venom, fed human flesh, made a vessel for Voldemort’s soul (again, presumably without her consent?), possessed and controlled (even just saying that feels gross in this context) as a weapon, and eventually killed. Killed only in order to make Voldemort vulnerable, for the exact same reasons as various inanimate objects: she has the same level of narrative agency as a goblet. [It’s particularly troubling since we now have a woman of colour being turned into a literal possession owned by a white supremacist. These people really do have no awareness whatsoever.]

This also raises the question of why Nagini’s venom would have been an effective restorative for Voldy if she wasn’t (as we previously thought) some product of his own power or a unique magical species. [And this also becomes yet another thing Dumbledore supposedly knew about all along – since he’s in this film – and just never bothered to mention.]

(On the human flesh thing, Loten’s complained about this to me before. Rowling doesn’t know how snakes work, a snake eating something as large as a human corpse would go into a near-hibernation state while digesting and that might well take over a month. I also seem to recall that snakes tend to prefer live prey to corpses?) [Yes, most snakes prefer live food. I suppose this stupid handwave would somewhat explain why Nagini doesn’t act like a snake; in addition to this, she never seems to shed her skin and seems unbothered by the temperature.]

I don’t have much else to add. If this Nagini character was a willing participant in everything Nagini did in HP canon, then it’s basically just another Bellatrix, another hate-sink character who is evil for evil’s sake and doesn’t serve much of a useful narrative purpose. If she wasn’t, then this is yet another female character being created solely for the purpose of her exploitation. Neither is a good look, really. (Also, is she older than Tom Riddle then? I’m not entirely clear on the timeline, but that also seems weird to me. Why would Rowling do this?)

[Presumably there will be a reason why Nagini is in human form in Fantastic Beasts 2 but only ever exists as a snake in the main canon timeline. Presumably this reason will be terrible.]

Before reading the article, my first thought was that Nagini being human was a (bad) attempt to patch the Cursed Child timeline problems – if Bellatrix didn’t have time to be pregnant, why not shoehorn in another female character who could be Dolphin Sue’s mother instead? (The mental image of her hatching from an egg or something and later being told Bella was her mother is something I have to admit I did find amusing.) This doesn’t appear to have been the motivation at all, but if anything there seems to be even less purpose behind it, so I figured I might as well share that for a laugh.

I really can’t see any way this could have been a good idea. I guess Rowling wanted more attention or something. Honestly, it’s all so stupid I’m having a hard time remembering it’s also problematic and offensive.

[Of course Rowling’s latest shock reveal is tiresomely racist and misogynist as well as making no sense whatsoever. Why wouldn’t it be, most of the others have been.]

Edited to add this – in case you wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt, don’t.

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2018 in loten, mitchell

 

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Get Out (2017) initial reactions and review

My apologies to our regular readers for our silence recently; we’ve had a lot going on offline and haven’t had as much time to write as we’d have liked (though we do have a few more posts in the works that should be coming relatively soon). Thanks for your patience. In the meantime, have a thing I dashed off pretty quickly.

One of my coworkers recommended “Get Out” to me recently; I ended up watching it last night, and wrote up my thoughts shortly afterward to aid in the subsequent discussion. I hadn’t really intended to do a blog post, but I realised it would probably be publishable with a bit of minor editing and there might be discussions worth having about this film. The remainder of this post will contain spoilers for the film, and for various genre reasons this is a film which is probably best watched unspoiled, so if you are interested in seeing it you may not wish to proceed. That said, I was not nearly as impressed as I was led to believe I would be, and can give it only a lukewarm recommendation at best, so I am not necessarily saying to stop reading this post if you haven’t seen the film.

Also, as an advance warning, this is a film that deals directly with racial issues and seems to have been written by Blacks primarily for Black audiences; as such, I feel a bit uncomfortable as a white person criticising it and there may well be things I missed due to not having the cultural context. Let’s get that disclaimer out of the way.

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Posted by on November 20, 2017 in mitchell

 

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More Fangames: A first look at Pokemon Sage (Demo 2.0)

Last year, I wrote about my experiences with some fan-made games, one of which was Pokemon Uranium. One of our commenters made us aware of Pokemon Sage then, and I thought it looked promising and would be well worth keeping an eye on. At the time, I got the impression it was still in a very early state, there was plenty of concept work to look through and a short playable demo but not enough to draw any firm conclusions one way or another.

I later stumbled across discussions of Pokemon Sage again, in reading discussions of Pokemon Uranium in a Let’s Play thread by Orange Fluffy Sheep on the Something Awful forums (the Let’s Play forum is a guilty pleasure of mine, I lurk but don’t participate). People there were much harsher on Uranium than I was (I think rightly so; I do still mostly like it, but I’ll readily admit most of the flaws they tore it apart for are real and deserve the mockery), and several of them kept bringing up Pokemon Sage as an example of a Pokemon fangame that gets right the things Uranium got wrong.

To make a long story short, they’re absolutely right. But we’ll get to that.

Anyway, I was in the mood to play some Pokemon recently, and remembered that earlier this year (late July, I don’t know the exact date) a more substantial demo of Pokemon Sage had been released. I don’t normally care for playing incomplete games – I can tolerate incomplete or abandonned serial fiction, but when it’s a video game and you add to that the possibility of getting psychologically invested in a save file (which may not be compatible with future versions of the game even if it does continue to update), the frustration level increases greatly. That said, Sage intrigued me enough and the new demo had enough of it implemented that I thought it was worth giving a try, so here’s my review of Pokemon Sage Demo 2.0.5 (this version released 10 August 2017, available here) after having played it to completion.

[I won’t be contributing much to this one, I haven’t played it yet – it looks really promising and I probably will, but I also want to try and wait for the full game.] Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2017 in mitchell

 

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Epilogue Day has come and gone

Last Friday came and went and I nearly didn’t notice. I had a niggling feeling in the back of my mind that I was missing something – I’d noticed that it was September 1 and something seemed significant about that, but didn’t quite put my finger on what it was until afterward. September 1, 2017 was, in fact, the date on which the awful ‘Nineteen Years Later’ epilogue would have taken place and I almost let it pass by without noticing (and without comment). I may well be less attuned to Potterverse things than I used to be, but then on top of that it’s also the bloody awful epilogue we’re talking about so it may not be as surprising it didn’t immediately come to mind, but even so, you’d think I’d have thought about this and prepared a post in advance. I feel rather guilty about not having done so.

Here’s a link to a relevant Twitter thread, the sentiments expressed amused me greatly.

Also, Tor.com had an article.

Apparently this was a big deal to some people. Loten tells me it was all over the news and people actually gathered at King’s Cross, among other things. I’ll admit a part of me likes that idea, and almost wishes I’d been able to go and/or had the inclination to do cosplay of some kind (in the back of my mind there are fantasies of mocking the epilogue via live-action subversive fanfic – I could probably pass for Harry, unfortunately – but I know I would never actually do something like that). Or, I don’t know, call in a satirical tip to the British police about Ron Weasley’s fraudulently obtained driver’s licence.

Then, too, on some level I wonder if it will change how people think about the series to realise that even the distant-future epilogue is now in the past (or if they will even notice that; thinking about it, I’m not actually sure any explicit dates are actually mentioned in the text). There’s always that hint of surreality when reading a text like Nineteen Eighty-Four or 2001: A Space Odyssey or the like which is clearly written as if set in the future, but given a date that we have now passed. And maybe it will aid the books’ fade into eventual cultural irrelevance, though that does not necessarily excite me as someone who is invested in criticising them.

So in ‘honour’ of this ‘significant’ moment, shall we utterly pick apart a bit of the text?

‘He’ll be all right,’ murmured Ginny.
As Harry looked at her, he lowered his hand absent-mindedly and touched the lightning scar on his forehead.
‘I know he will.’
The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well.

“All was well” is the part that most people poke fun at here, and rightly so. I remember Rowling saying for years in interviews (before the final book) that she’d had the ending written from the beginning and the last word was going to be ‘scar’, but in the end she did this instead. Looking at it now, I actually think changing that was a mistake: I assume that means the final sentence was originally some reworked variant of the previous one (e.g. ‘It had been nineteen years since Harry last felt any pain in his scar’), which is a functional enough way of implying ‘Voldemort was gone for good and the core conflict on which these books focused has been resolved; rest easy, reader’. It becomes problematic when the next sentence comes along and says ‘all was well’, which even when charitably read falsely implies ‘all of the societal problems in these books have been fixed’ and that’s laughably not in evidence (and, frankly, factually contradicted) even just taking the epilogue in a vacuum. For fuck’s sake, the epilogue includes Ron confessing to having used illegal magic on a Muggle driving instructor, and nobody present notices or cares beyond a vague ‘ha ha isn’t he silly’.

What I also notice is that Harry’s behaviour here is bizarrely superstitious. He’s worried about his child, so he reassures himself that nothing bad could possibly happen to him because there’s no Voldemort? This really does not follow, Harry. There are lots of other things that can go wrong for a child at school; even plenty of Harry’s schoolboy misfortunes had nothing to do with Voldemort! (This is also pretty hilarious in light of Cursed Child being a thing, admittedly. We know quite well that all was not, in fact, well, even in the fictional universe of Harry Potter and ignoring how everything’s been going to shit in the actual 2017.)

In a way, I suppose it could be argued that all of this is ridiculously uncharitable and obviously ‘all was well’ is only being used as shorthand for ‘the story is over now’, much like ‘they lived happily ever after’ and such. But as I said earlier, the previous sentence already accomplished that, so I think we have to conclude it’s doing additional work. ‘All was well’ is not merely saying ‘the conflict has been resolved’, it is also saying ‘and what remains is a good and proper state of affairs’. The deviation from Status Quo has been corrected, Our Side Won, and everything is now the way it should be, there’s no more work to do! Oh wait, I’m not talking about Harry Potter any more, now am I? That sounds a lot like something else that’s awfully relevant in this year of 2017. (And in case you think I’m talking only about Twitler and his zombies, I’m not, though that does describe them: some of the responsibility for their movement’s virulent rise has to go back to leftist complacency after Obama was elected, and our failure to recognise the extent of the racist backlash and take it as seriously as we needed.)

It’s kind of interesting how that dovetails, isn’t it? Especially since I’ve barely begun to address the hilarity of the ‘all was well’ scene occurring in 2017 of all years. And that is because the problem is an underlying attitude and mode of thinking, moreso than any particular sequence of events (never mind that, again, 2016-2017 is especially egregious, that’s not the point). The epilogue’s attempt at a pat ending just lays bare the fact that, in reality, ‘all was well’ is a statement that can probably never be true and there will always be more issues that need addressing. What the person saying it inevitably means is ‘I’ve decided this is good enough’, or, more bluntly, ‘I’ve got mine so fuck you’: it is fundamentally a statement of willful ignorance or complacency.

And to be complacent in the face of systemic oppression and societal inequality is to be complicit in the harm it does.

I’m not always the best about this myself, I have to admit – if nothing else I have a tendency to just observe and try to be well-informed (and to call out bad behaviour when I see it around me), I’m not great at actually taking action on anything, and I’ve been overwhelmed enough that I’ve not managed to do much by way of writing either – but that’s something I’m aware of and something I’m trying to work on.

I’m not sure if I have a greater point here, but this is where my thoughts on that scene took me. Happy belated Epilogue Day.

[Loten here. I have no input. As far as I’m concerned the epilogue doesn’t exist, after all.]

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2017 in mitchell

 

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