Category Archives: Media

Burying the Legend of Joss Whedon

So Joss Whedon is no longer the nerd feminist icon that everyone thinks he is. It really should have been obvious in retrospect. I liked Firefly, but after watching the two Avengers movies and looking at that Wonder Woman script of his, something about his female characters seemed “off”. Like they were untouchable in some super uncanny way. The op-ed his ex-wife wrote was chilling because Whedon really believed in all of his justifications. It makes you wonder if anybody’s really fit to not be corrupted by that Hollywood producer dynamic. I think I would be, but that’s easy for me to say with my nobody status. Seriously though, Just the idea of being surrounded by “beautiful, needy, aggressive women” gives me a headache. Christ, just go home and get some therapy.

Anyway, back to the uncanniness. The character of Black Widow, for example, was fun to watch, but she wasn’t believable. Her personality seemed to change for whatever the director had in mind for her. It wasn’t like her character was an actress, or anything, she just kept saying those lines, with conviction, for whatever the plot demanded of her. She was a badass for her intro scene, a lost little girl for her scenes with Loki, and the girl next door for when she was trying to woo the Hulk. There was nothing consistent about it, nothing that indicated she had a personality when she was out of the way of the male gaze. Now, contrast that with Captain America, he’s got his “I can do this all day” line, and his notebook full of references to look up. It’s got a kind of melody you can follow that’s pleasing. That’s a kind of paradox, isn’t it? You want characters to have different aspects to themselves, but you need the threads of sameness to pull them together and make them believable.

What really sucks is that this is now a pattern. Joss Whedon joins the likes of people like Woody Allen or Jian Ghomeshi who branded themselves as progressive and were just all kinds of disgusting. What secrets lie the hidden in the jorts of Kevin Smith? Do either Hank or John Green have something disturbing to tell us? Patrick Stewart already made an appearance in the Emoji movie, so hopefully his dark secret is out there already.

These think pieces always end in how we shouldn’t put our cultural heroes on a pedestal, but like it or not, men in fandom were cribbing from Joss Whedon’s notebook. We looked to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, and we thought hm, these strange womenfolk who are cosplaying at our conventions and being uncomfortable within our comic shops, this is how they like to be portrayed, this is how they want us to think of them. He became our hero because his shows were fun to watch and we could share them with a wider range of people. Now we know that he set a terrible example for feminist men, we have to find a new path once again.

Here’s the good news. Mr. Whedon got his reputation because feminist voices were and still are rare in Hollywood. His position needs to be the default and not the exception, otherwise this will just keep happening. If you saw Kai Cole’s blog post and you felt sick to your stomach, lost, or just ashamed of your gender, you owe it to yourself to listen to actual feminist voices and start voicing your own interpretations. I recommend the upcoming zine by Women Write about Comics as a good place to start. We don’t need to have a Joss Whedon level of talent to muddy the waters and make strong female characters less revolutionary. If we can’t add to the conversation, then we can at least drown out people like him.

A Parent’s Perspective on Steven Universe

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When my wife and I work around the house on weekends, we usually turn on the Cartoon Network. Most of the shows are the kind of programs where I think, “you know, I don’t take recreational drugs, but if I did, I would be well served in terms of television.”

This one show called Steven Universe seemed like just another wacky and surreal short program that was silly for silliness’ sake. It was the story of boy named Steven who is being raised by 3 surrogate mothers (Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl) who happen to be the Crystal Gems, magical guardians of the planet Earth.

But then, I noticed something as I carried the loads of laundry in front of the TV. There was an ongoing story that sometimes left you on a cliffhanger. Some of the jokes were powered by a mythology that was deep and consistent. There were also copious amounts of anime references.

So Sara and I started to recording episodes on our DVR and marathoning them at night. It’s really one of the best shows on TV right now. Everything from the animation, to the music, to the voice work, is done with such care and attention. The songs are catchy and broadway quality, and the backgrounds are so beautiful that they should be illegal. I bow down to the staff’s knowledge of anime. Most studios would throw in a couple of Akira references and call it a day, but the people behind Steven Universe draw from the entire history of the genre, with series such as Ogon Bat and the original Astro Boy.

The crowning achievement of Steven Universe’s cultural impact is how they deal with relationships. It’s like they’ve taken the innocent emotional conflicts of shows like Daniel Tiger and brought them into realm of high fantasy and science fiction.

I especially love how they handle the relationship between parents and children. In most television shows, parents either know what do or think they know what to do. In Steven Universe, the main character is a product of a human father and a mother who is a 5,000 plus year old Rock alien who doesn’t exactly reproduce biologically. This means that Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl, are like most parents. They are unsure of what’s normal or healthy for a boy Steven’s age, and many times there are just no right answers. The gems are often left to bicker among themselves, and in episodes like The Test, Steven figures out the answer for himself.

I think the time the series really grabbed me by the guts was in an episode called Rose’s Scabbard. Pearl learned that her relationship with Rose, Steven’s mother, wasn’t what she thought it was. She ends up running away, and Steven almost falls to his death trying to find her on top of an island floating in the sky. This just puts her further into despair, and she asks herself, “What would Rose think of me now?”

Steven just gives her hug and says, “Well, I think you’re pretty great.”

I think every parent has felt that low. Parenting is such a great responsibility, that it seems like every child is the Child of Destiny.  And then, there are times when you fail. Sometimes you yell at them for no reason other than you’ve been stressed at work, or you let them get in trouble when you should’ve been watching. Sometimes it seems like the only thing separating you from your child is the height difference and the years of experience. Sometimes, even that doesn’t seem like enough. Setbacks happen, hearts get broken, and you are just…you. But the one thing about parenting you can never prepare for is how much your children love you back. Sometimes it seems like that love is conditional. You might think that they just love you because you feed them, but you find out that it just doesn’t work that way. You find that you love this child, they love you, and you are deserving of that love.

That’s what Pearl experienced. That’s what all parents experience. And that’s why Steven Universe if my new favourite show.

Allow me to be completely unfair to the Ghost in The Shell Movie

I’ve been bombarded by a few ads for the live action Ghost in the Shell movie, which I will never see in theaters. This gives me the right, nay the duty, to unfairly pan this movie that I have not seen a full minute of.

Nevermind the whitewashing, and there is a LOT of whitewashing in this movie. The trailer’s byline is “There was an accident. We saved you. Now you save others”

Whoah. No. What?

Why did they take this direction with main character? I know that in the manga and anime they never actually go into how Major Motoko Kusanagi (The protagonist) got her cyborg body, but I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t due to some drunk driving incident.

The Major we know drank sake in under Cherry Trees before leading a team of soldiers riding spider robots to go kick ass. The Major we know lectured the sweat shop kids she just rescued about the value of hard work and to make good use of their cybernetic implants. She has lovers of multiple genders, and her self-confidence calms even the most nervous people under her command.

This origin completely removes her of the agency that was central to her character. Without it, there’s no counterpoint to questions like “Is she really human?”, or “Is really in control of her destiny?”. There’s none of the ambiguity that separates the truly great art from the mediocre.

I can’t understand why the producers of these movies keep doing this. They option these media properties from all these different cultures and then pave over everything that makes them unique and saleable in the first place. They say that all these compromises come from a place of wanting to make more money, but this movie debuted at #3 at the box office. Who do they think they are fooling?

I Love the New Ghostbusters, and I Hate the Internet.

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So last weekend, I went to see the new Ghostbusters movie with my wife. If you know me, then you know that I love the original movies. I loved the cartoon. I bought the toys. I even dressed up as Ghostbuster for Halloween for 3 years in a row. And I also loved this reboot.

In fact, I think it’s the perfect reboot. It wasn’t just faithful to the idea of Ghostbusters, it explored aspects of the story that the original just didn’t have time for. What about those academic careers they left behind? How did the Ghostbusters meet each other in first place?How did they come up with that gear? While there are references and plenty of cameos by the original cast, the new Ghostbusters are absolutely their own characters with their own histories, conflicts, and comedy schticks.

I also love how the story was updated for the anxieties of our era. The original dealt with Reagan-era paranoia about government over-reach into small business, but this new movie dealt with our overall skepticism in the Internet age and the ongoing debate about what real science is. I loved, loved, loved the new characters, the new actors, the new gear and the new jokes. This also makes me mad as hell at the Internet.

The trailer for the 2016 film was the most disliked video on Youtube. Leslie Jones, one of the actresses, was basically chased off Twitter for a while after the premier by tornado of racist comments. I was also really disappointed in James Rolfe of Angry Video Game Nerd fame when he produced a video about how he was not going to see the new film. I don’t think he knew he was doing it at the time, but he normalized the behaviour of all those idiots. Soon my Youtube page was awash with videos with titles like “WHITE MAN REFUSES TO SEE MOVIE! WHAT NOW, SJWs?”. Gross. This campaign has gone on to the point that when I was leaving the theatre, I found that people were genuinely surprised that the movie was actually good.

Now that I’ve seen the movie and liked it, I have a problem. A screen accurate proton pack is on my cosplay bucket list, but now I can’t decide whether I want a 1984 model or a 2016 model. I’m leaning towards 2016, considering I look kind of like a dumpy Chris Hemsworth. Does this mean I’m going to get the stink-eye at conventions from people who consider themselves “true” Ghostbuster fans?

The new Ghostbusters movie showed me something that was missing from these mainstream blockbuster tentpole movies. It felt different to see 4 women in the title roles of an established special effects movie, and in a good way. The world felt a little larger somehow. See, representation is not about chasing lofty social Justice goals. it’s also about keeping our movies from all looking at the same. If every protagonist has to be a white guy, it’s not just racist or misogynist, it’s boring and unrealistic. It also allows us to get comfortable with people who are different from we are. I know I’m not going to convince anyone who is determined to hate this film, but if you are on the fence, take my word for it. More Ghostbusters is good and this movie is definitely more Ghostbusters

One Line

One line. 15 hours and all that stood between me and functionality was one line. I’d be mad if that didn’t happen so often. So what did happen? I had the code for ActiveRecord’s Multiparameter attributes on one screen, and I had mongoids old Multiparameter extension on the other. My original plan was to put a variation of ActiveRecord’s code into a monkey patch and then put it into mongoid if it work. But as I read the mongoid code more carefully, I found that while it was a little harder to read, it was a little more concise than the activerecord code.

In activerecord, you called the assign_attribute method, then if you had a multiparameter attribute you called the assign_multi_parameter_attributes method, then you executed the callstack which extracted the callstack, and then you determined the time zone, intstantiated the objects…

In Mongoid, you made sure the keys and values went into the right place, determined the class of the attributes you were working with, “mongoize” it, and relegate the rest of the logic to the superclass. Since that was slightly less incomprehensible, I decided to take another look at the module.

The tests were failing because Rails did not recognize the permit= method. I didn’t know yet just what this was for, so I commented the line out to see what would happen. I still got a forbidden attribute error from activemodel, so I figured that it had something to do with the strong parameters method in the controller. I tried permitting the split time attributes every which way I could with single quotes, double quotes, no quotes, but I was still getting this error. I took another look at the line with the permit = method that I had commented out. I looked up the method and found out that it had been deprecated in favor of the permit! method. Not only that, but it was being used on a new attributes object that had been instantiated within the module. I changed permit = true to permit! and it worked!

Even though I just made I tiny modification to one of Mongoid’s deprecated module’s, I’m still going to try and put it back in through a pull request. Why? Just because that issue took up so much of my time doesn’t mean it has to ruin anyone else’s day. The gem shoudl work as advertised, or at least as documented! Also, I still don’t really know why there were so many issues with the module in the first place. This might be the best way to find out! And finally, hopefully, we can do something about those failing friendship tests today.