2010 in review

Posted: 01/05/2011 in Uncategorized

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 3,800 times in 2010. That’s about 9 full 747s.

 

In 2010, there were 69 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 74 posts. There were 24 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 6mb. That’s about 2 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was December 13th with 76 views. The most popular post that day was Single Ladies (Put a Utility Belt on it).

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were gaiaonline.com, twitter.com, facebook.com, autostraddle.com, and en.wordpress.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for power girl, 30 day meme, emma houxbois, power girl and atlee lesbian, and oracle comic.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Single Ladies (Put a Utility Belt on it) October 2010

2

“Cripple the Bitch” August 2010
4 comments and 1 Like on WordPress.com,

3

“My Favourite Drink is in Your Hair” September 2010
1 comment

4

Bamboozled July 2010

5

The T Word November 2010
2 comments

I’d like to think that for the most part I deal pretty well with the kind of things that people presume about me, but there are just some days when I am just not about that. The other day I ran across a blog entry that I guess was about a book signing that the author attended for Kate Bornstein. The title of the blog was “The transgender narrative is fending off suicide.” I didn’t bother reading beyond around the second sentence because how can I be expected to give someone who is willing to reduce my life to a desperate attempt not to kill myself the time of day? I’m well aware that I’ve got a fifty percent chance of trying to kill myself in my lifetime, that doesn’t make it my whole life.

I absolutely refuse to be anyone’s tragic, pitiable figure. As a certain comic book character who occupies a special place in my life once said, “I’m nobody’s fucking cartoon.” There’s a lot of people who are disappointed by that. A great many people who want me to be their cartoon; whether it’s as some kind sexual fetish, a statement against something, or someone who needs saving of any kind. I’m going to retain the right to define my own narrative, and it has fuck all with suicide. Shocking, I know. The thing is that yes; I’m a transwoman, but it’s only a portion of my identity and it’s a portion of my identity that I have a very fierce pride about.

Initially, I started this blog using the subtitle of “Une Femme Sous Construction” (A Woman Under Construction) because I was still trying to come to terms with my identity as a woman. Shortly before I started this account, I came across an arresting series of photographs taken at a Real Girl factory of the various parts of the dolls under construction. It struck a chord in me, initially because of the fragility of my self identification and the sometimes feeling that femininity is all just a construction in service of men. Instead of shying away from it, I decided to embrace it and used it as my very first station ident as well as the inspiration for the title of the blog itself. One of the reasons I chose to embrace the photos and the metaphor was how much it eerily recalled the opening credits of Ghost in the Shell, which depict the assembly of Motoko Kusanagi’s android body.

It’s been almost exactly a decade since I first encountered her and my relationship with her has done nothing but deepen and crystallize since that fateful night I crowded around the TV with a clutch of friends to be properly introduced to the concept of “anime” beyond the Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball of our childhoods. As I’m sure long time followers of my writing have noticed, I’ve tied my identity and aspirations tightly to the pop figures I feel the most affinity for ever since I started The Invisibles five years ago, but I’ve recently come to the inescapable conclusion that there’s been something far subtler operating in my subconscious for a very long time.

It’s no surprise that we trans people have have some pretty serious feelings about our bodies, but how that manifests itself can be pretty stunning. In one of my usual eerie moments of self discovery, it occurred to me that my identification with the Monster High doll Frankie Stein was part of a much larger and older fascination with what I can only describe as the Frankenstein Girl. Pygmallion from the perspective of the construct, I suppose. Either way, I realized that my fascination with the Frankenstein Girl was one and the same as my fascination with Motoko Kusanagi the cyborg assembled out of various customized artificial parts, which really seemed to come together to point to the idea that it was a coping mechanism developed before I even knew that I was a trans woman. The very same morning I read an article reblogged over Tumblr about someone who- as a child- strongly identified with Puff the Magic Dragon because of the ease of interpreting the story as being about a child being cured of autism through his adventures with the eponymous dragon and the final piece fell into place.

It’s fairly disconcerting that I find comfort in identifying with a woman who was constructed from the parts of several corpses, but at the same time it’s fairly astounding to think about how perceptive the human mind is from a young age. My mind knew my body was wrong and for years it was trying to tell me.

You can interpret the phenomenon in any number of ways, but it seems undeniable to me that our minds struggle to find and communicate to us a new narrative to explain what we are to ourselves, and that narrative is definitely not suicide. I choose to see my own experience as my subconscious telling me that I can make my body whatever I want it to be. Interestingly enough, the author of the book series that the Monster High toys are based on- Lisi Harrison- seems to have deployed Frankie Stein for basically this purpose, as I found in a review of the series:

After being created by her father Viktor, who also implants 15 years of knowledge, social mores, behaviour, customs and a bucket-load of 21st century popular culture into her brain, Viktor delivers to his daughter what might just be the most damaging message of all.  A message that’s unfortunately all too common in today’s society. Although described as an otherworldly beauty with a few supernatural gifts up her sleeve, Viktor tells Frankie her individuality will not be so easily accepted by the locals. Lest she be hunted down and burned at the stake, Frankie is given a closet full of unfashionable clothing and heavy-duty makeup to conceal her freakish figure. He tells her to be proud of who she is, just as long as she wears concealer (to cover up her skin, described as a delightful shade of mint).

Shocked at such a negative message, Frankie finds herself confused by the latest copy of Teen Vogue, which encourages young girls to celebrate who they really are, imperfections and all. Rather than heed her parents advice (who are really just acting in concern for their daughter’s safety), Frankie understands that she’s “supposed to love her body just the way it was…Natural was in.”

Unfortunately for Frankie, after ignoring her parent’s warnings, she steps out into public without covering up her seams, bolts and skin, and is met by a hysterical gaggle of teenage girls. They alert the authorities, and the area is put on red alert. Frankie has no option but to blend in and fade into suburban life.

What I love about this series is that unlike the Twilight monsters, who are described as achingly beautiful, sparkly, agile, strong, hyper-intelligent and oozing sexual appeal, the monsters in Monster High are so brutally insecure of their natural appearance and abilities that they go to extreme lengths to hide their true identities.

At last, we seem to stumble upon the transgender narrative as if by accident. Frankie’s story may have been written in response to the social pressures facing ostensibly cisgender teenage girls, but it rings perhaps even more true to trans people. Through no fault of her own, Frankie is thrust into a situation where she must either hide her true identity at a high personal price, or present herself to the world as she really is and live under the constant threat of violence and murder. This is not the story of a young woman fending off suicide. It’s the story of a young woman who makes the radical decision to present herself to the world as she truly is in the face of incredible adversity. That’s my narrative, as chosen by me.

Something that’s been dogging me like a splinter I can’t dig out for what feels like a couple years now is the incredibly problematic nature of the relationship between Karolina “Lucy in the Sky” Dean and Xavin, her Skrull spouse through arranged marriage in Runaways. When the pair re-joined the group as a married couple and Karolina continued to demand that the normally male-presenting Xavin appear female around her, it started to gnaw at me despite the fact that Xavin had nonchalantly said he could switch to female for her because she is a lesbian. This was before I had figured out my own gender identity or had read anything of substance about transgender issues or gender studies, so I lacked the tools or perspective to properly unpick why it was bothering me so much. Every time the issue came up, I tried again to untangle it and came away defeated and unsatisfied, but always feeling a little closer to the truth. I’ve seen so many different interpretations and appropriations of Xavin and Karolina that it eventually became this big ugly white noise generator of cognitive dissonance, and I just ignored that there must be a signal buried somewhere deep in the background. Until I found my footing in queer theory and got comfortable enough with the tools it provided me to properly deconstruct the situation.

Karolina was raised in a household that did not deviate in any way from typical American gender and sexual binaries. There is no evidence in any text anywhere that she was not raised by heterosexual cisgender parents who raised her according to her gender as assigned by her sex at birth. It doesn’t matter (for the sake of this discussion) that Karolina is an alien because she was socialized exactly like a white American human child. Karolina is perhaps an immigrant, but her parents assimilated to white American standards completely, so whatever possible other gender expressions there are back on Majesdan is completely irrelevant to Karolina as she was born and raised on American soil as an American. It’s really that simple. Also, Karolina and Xavin were chosen by the respective ruling classes of their species to be married based on what they both considered to be a heterogender, heterosexual pairing.

Xavin is complicated and vaguely convoluted by the completely irrational way that the Skrull species has been portrayed in 616 since they first appeared, but there’s absolutely nothing to suggest that Skrulls cannot be understood and explained using the terminology of real world gender studies, especially once you remember that the notion of a gender binary exists in humans only in the imaginations of cissexist bigots. Anthropology and psychology bear this out again and again and again. Where Skrulls differ from humans is that they have an assigned gender but no fixed sex. Humans- in contemporary America- are generally assigned a gender based on sex because aside from those born intersex they have a clearly defined sex. Simply put, you’re either born with a penis or a vagina and you’re socialized based on that.

What is completely baffling about Skrulls is how, why, and when they assign gender. I’m assuming that despite their ability to physically change sex at will they’re born with either male or female genitalia, but as far as I’m aware that’s never been discussed in canon. What we do know is that Skrulls (in 616) use gender based pronouns for each other and are easily read as male and female in their natural form outside the presence of other species.

We also know that Xavin is the only known Skrull in an open inter-species relationship who doesn’t have sex according to their assigned/preferred gender, and I’m pretty sure that all of the Skrull infiltrators in Secret Invasion who were instructed to have sex with their targets were disguised as heroes who matched the infiltrator’s assigned/preferred gender (which we know because they reverted to their original Skrull form at death). Thus the designation of transgender from both a Skrull perspective and based on a reading of Xavin prior to meeting Karolina- despite his unique biology- would be incorrect. Xavin’s preferred gender is the one he was assigned (presumably at birth) by his own culture on the Skrull home world, and thus is cisgender.

Where things get strange, and eventually incredibly disturbing, is how Karolina views and ultimately manipulates Xavin’s biology in spite of his chosen gender. The Skrull ability to change sex is almost exclusively used for diplomacy and subterfuge in interactions with other species. Skrulls are no more transgender than drag queens. They only change sex as a performance. Thus Xavin is cisgender male and referring to him using non binary pronouns would be inappropriate.

Which brings us back to the question of Karolina’s choice to continue to self identify as a lesbian despite Xavin’s chosen gender.  There is actually a real world analogue to this situation, which is the phenomenon of lesbian identified women dating transmen. A person’s self identity can in fact demean and effectively erase their partner’s identity. By referring to herself as a lesbian, the woman denies her partner’s chosen gender which is quite literally what Karolina does to Xavin. She forces him to present and identify as female when his preferred gender is very obviously male. Thus what we’re left with has all the same elements in common with a white cisgender lesbian emotionally abusing her POC trans* partner.

Irrespective of biology, the right thing for Karolina to have done would be to respect Xavin’s chosen gender by identifying as bisexual because as Kinsey states, there is more than one usage of the term bisexual, despite the assumption that it can only mean that a person is attracted to cisgender members of either sex instead of say (pre-op and/or non-op) transmen and cisgender women.

Either way, no matter what the original intent behind Xavin’s introduction was, there was an incredible and unique opportunity to explore privilege and intersectionality in queer relationships in a comic targeted at a youth audience that was completely squandered. Never was the issue of Karolina’s emotionally abusive demands for Xavin to look and behave the way she wanted him to ever meaningfully or intelligently discussed. Xavin’s perspective on the erosion of his ability to present as male- as was always his preference- was never presented. His narrative was essentially to acquiesce to whatever Karolina’s demands were and to eventually die for her. The result is alienation and pain for both the trans* audience, groups that absolutely do not need to be marginalized even further in a medium that tailors itself to the most privileged class it can. Imagine if you will, a transgender youth reading Runaways and seeing this character that they very badly want to appropriate. Xavin presents this wonderful opportunity for transgender youth to imagine a mode of being that is free of binders, back braces, taping, shaving cuts, HRT, and all the other hardships they face and then everything goes wrong. The fluidity of his gender becomes about his partner’s preference until he loses all agency, and then he’s fridged to tie up the loose ends in her origin. It’s potentially crushing to youth who are not only confused about who they are but potentially face hate and violence wherever they turn. Way to go, Marvel.

I decided tonight that I feel like a goal worth accomplishing is making the Out 100. It’s probably a bit much to aim for 2011 because I’ll be tied up with this hellbeast of a bender of The L Word, but you never know. If I get angry and motivated enough, I might just accomplish something next year.

As you probably already know, I don’t really like talking about the parts that suck about being a transwoman because I’m usually pretty guarded about my emotions and I feel like there’s enough voices out there covering that side of things that I’d rather talk about the ways that I embrace my identity, but that’s not always possible or smart. Over at the Out website right now there’s a piece about the political minefield that is the word “Tranny.” Which I have a lot of feelings about, none of which are good.

I guess that I can sympathize with people like Kate Bornstein who came up with it as being a positive word used to bridge the gap between the drag queen and transgender and it’s never fun to have to face relinquishing control of an own-language term, but in my world it’s nothing but an ugly slur and I feel like it’s really not worth the pain and effort to try to reclaim. My first problem with the word “tranny” is that I’m a transwoman and it takes the “woman” out of my identity. Literally. I’m not one of the transpeople who want to live in the space between gender binaries (at least in a physical sense anyway). I want to be recognized and respected as a woman the same as any cisgender woman and that becomes immediately impossible if I allow myself to be identified as a “tranny.”

It also carries far too many stigmas. “Tranny” is a word primarily used to refer to a pre-op androphilic transwoman who is generalized to be either a sex worker or a female impersonator attempting to lure heterosexual men into bed with them. I don’t want to have anything to do with a word whose most accepted use not only does not describe me, but is instrumental in perpetrating malicious attitudes towards myself and my sisters. It absolutely guts me to my core what my fellow transwomen face while I hide paralyzed and closeted to all but my closest friends, but I don’t fit the popular narrative. I’m a white, middle class gynophilic transwoman. I can barely fathom the crimes perpetrated against the least of my sisters without bursting into tears, but I absolutely reject both the narrative and terminology that define us as nothing more than victims and objects.

I will always be proud of having traveled the road I do now to become a woman physically, but I am not and will never be defined by that journey, singled out as being other. I was gifted something incredible before I began this journey, before I recognized myself as a woman. Recognizing that I was different and a kindred spirit, my lesbian friends gifted me with a word; a name. That word was “dyke.” They let me share in their identity and recognized me as a sister, even before I knew what I was. I can’t be hurt by it, I can’t be diminished by it because it is the truth at my core. It’s the narrative and form that I recognize as myself. There’s a certain irony that I reject one loaded name for another, but it really highlights the truth that will underscore every debate about the language used to define, demean, and empower marginalized people. There will never be a consensus about how we identify ourselves and how we allow the outside world to identify us. Kate Bornstein was recently reduced to tears over the internal debate as to whether she should stop using the word “tranny” while I can barely hold them back while the misery and hate attached to the word crashes over me like waves.

Of course what is of far more importance is that today is Transgender Day of Remembrance. Today, more than any other day, every breath I take and beat of my heart will be for every one of my sisters who didn’t make it. They’re who I need to be strong for. They are why I have to come out and make my voice heard, to somehow find that strength inside me.

I should have written this yesterday, but I got sucked into a marathon of The L Word. David Hine, who is actually responsible for creating Bilal on the writing end, swung by the blog to clear up where he got the idea from (ie; not my favourite action movie ever) and share some insight into how it came about:

Rather than use the obvious choice of The Musketeer as the new French Batman, I wanted to come up with the kind of hero I would want to see in a comic book if I were French. The process of developing a story is complex and there are all kinds of things I looked at. The urban unrest and problems of the ethnic minorities under Sarkozy’s government dominate the news from France and it became inevitable that the hero should come from a French Algerian background. The Parkour element was maybe a little obvious, but it fitted very well with the concept of a hero from the streets. Clichy-Sous-Bois, as you point out, is the flashpoint for rioting in Paris, so again was the obvious location for Bilal.

What I love the most here is the starting point, that Hine wanted to create a character that people in France (who aren’t Jean-Marie Le Pen) would want to read about. (I think that given the success and prominent place in pop culture that Banlieue 13 occupies and the runaway critical success of The Prophet- which swept the 2010 Cesars and was France’s entry for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars- suggests he’s correct). That’s something that every writer, both professional and aspiring can learn from. Even the most well intentioned creators wanting to diversify often fall short by not fully engaging with the places and people they’re trying to evoke, which my friend Richard recently expounded on in regards to Grant Morrison in the CBR forums. I’m not saying Hine good, Mozza bad here. More that here’s Morrison doing what he does best by providing the framework to greatly diversify the DCU in an exciting and fresh way with Hine stepping in to take advantage of the opportunity in a way that Morrison probably would not have capitalized as well on.

I’ve talked enough about the metafictional context of the character, though. What I’m keen on today is trying to figure out as much about Bilal as I can from what little has come out so far, so let’s head back to one of the leaked concept images:

The most interesting thing here is the difference between 16 and 22. I wasn’t quick enough to see the original DA post, but at one of the forums who got a hold of the story first there was mention that the change in his hair from the shaggier look to the severe buzz cut had something to do with an important event during that time. My initial thought is that he cut his hair in order to pass more easily in white society, which is likely, but the bigger question is what event made him decide to suppress his Algerian heritage, or at least a prominent physical marker of it. It also seems like he got into parkour sometime around sixteen judging by the gloves, but became far more dedicated sometime between then and 22 as his pre-Nightrunner adult look screams what Jake Kane refers to as “high speed, low drag.” A lot of heroes over the years have had finger gloves, elbow pads, and knee pads but it looks to me like Bilal may be pretty much the first one in history to actually have good reason for it. Parkour is a great way to blow out a knee.

Bilal seems like a very pragmatic kind of guy. There’s no indication of him being flashy and the pads seem to indicate he’s a calculated risk taker. He may be a traceur, but I doubt he leaps without knowing exactly how and where he’s going to land (barring unforeseen circumstances). From his background in parkour to his codename and costume, Bilal seems to owe far much more to Dick Grayson as Nightwing than he does Bruce Wayne as Batman. His distinctive bat symbol that expands from his chest to his shoulders and the domino mask like detailing on his hood recall Dick’s modern Nightwing costume. It kind of makes me wonder who it is that’s going to France to meet Bilal. Hine told me that his brief was “… to take Batman to another country as Bruce Wayne sets up the global franchise of Batman Incorporated.” I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that it’s Dick as Batman who goes to France, not Bruce. All there is to do now is wait until Detective Comics Annual #12 hits the shelves. I’ll be counting the days.

In France, David Belle is Batman. Seriously. Through what I’m thinking might actually be a controlled leak, Trevor McCarthy posted the character design of the French member of Batman Inc on his deviantART page (since removed):

Reportedly, his name is Bilal and he’s a Franco-Algerian Muslim Traceur who lives in Clichy-sous-Bois which is where the rioting in 2005 began and has been the focus of film producer and screenwriter Luc Besson since 2004’s Banlieue 13 which- for a full throttle action film- was a lacerating indictment of how the government (and presumably the more privileged classes) view the embattled suburbs of Paris colloquially referred to as “Banlieues.” Essentially the French equivalent of American housing projects or England’s Council Estates.

Banlieue 13 takes place in a near future France that first transformed itself into Apartheid era Johannesburg by walling off and abandoning the banlieues, then attempted to murder the inhabitants of the most violent of the walled off areas with an experimental neutron bomb. Extreme perhaps, but no less evocative of contemporary right wing views (most notably Front Nationale leader Jean-Marie Le Pen) than V for Vendetta was of Margaret Thatcher’s England in it’s day. More immediately relevant is one of the film’s pair of protagonists Leito. Played by one of the founders of Parkour- David Belle- Leito is a young and angry vigilante born after the walls went up who fights a very lonely crusade against the drug gangs who run the Banlieue in the literal absence of the police. Clearly Leito is, religion aside, the sum total of the inspiration for Bilal (whose name is a nod to notable French comic book artist Enki Bilial).

Here we are then, in 2010 with a Muslim member of the extended Batfamily inspired by a Luc Besson film. It really is a testament to the ability that comics have to get away with almost anything relatively unnoticed and unscathed that DC is about to add a character from one of the most controversial and marginalized groups in Western Europe to it’s highest profile family. Of course actual market penetration into France and Clichy-sous-Bois specifically is unlikely given that only one of my queer friends was aware of Batwoman before I started my campaign slash rampage of awareness, but it goes a very long way towards re-framing the narrative of the street level vigilante superhero and further codifies Morrison’s vision of how the bat functions as a mythic symbol in the DCU (and perhaps our daily lives).

There’s been a sort of discourse about realism in superhero comics since about 1986 that you must have run into at some point to be reading this. (otherwise hello, who are you magnificent person and how did you stumble upon my blog?) This usually involves a song and dance about how amazing The Watchmen is and begins to falter after the concepts of depth, grit, sex (usually rape), violence, and mental illness are introduced. The ideas that a; those concepts are not what made The Watchmen ground breaking and that b; there’s more to realism in storytelling than the wanton application of those concepts are not widely understood. Call me cynical, but the major trends in superhero comics from 1986 to 1996 are evidence enough. What The Watchmen and other notable comics from the era accomplished in that respect was create a bit of a deeper and better realized political framework for superhero stories to work in.

While there were numerous stories, some better than others, that sought to reconcile superheroes with the political realities of the time and place they were published there was never a serious undertaking to explore or alter DC’s fundamental creation myth; that it was mostly the idle rich, scientists, and soldiers who were the first generation of superheroes with perhaps the final word on the subject being Darwyn Cooke’s The New Frontier. Now that I’m older and vaguely wiser, it occurs to me that a more fundamental revision of the accepted history of the DCU (and to a lesser extent the MU) could have been accomplished that probably wouldn’t have occurred to enough of the creators and editors to enact until the late 1990s, at which point it was moot.

In Kick-Ass, Mark Millar presented a contemporary world in which superheroes hadn’t manifested outside fiction and put forward an awkward white middle class teenage New Yorker as the first publicly operating superhero. While it was meant more as an exercise in imagination than a serious piece of speculative fiction, it made me think about and start questioning what a superhero big bang would look like in a world that took the realities of race, class, sexual orientation, and gender into account with the same level of seriousness as sex, violence, and the fourth amendment.

While I could accept the idea of the progenitor, or at least the first highly visible superhero to make a wide scale media impact, being a member of the idle rich who suffered a personal tragedy (like Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark), it doesn’t seem probable that the following wave would be mostly white, which is especially true of street level (non-powered) vigilantes. The people most likely to rise up and follow in that progenitor’s wake are the disenfranchised and marginalized. The people who perceive the widest gap between where the mechanisms of society (law enforcement, medicine, legal representation, etc) are needed and where they’re available. Bruce Wayne ought to be the exception rather than the rule, but it’s far too late to correct that from a historical perspective as far as the United States (within the DCU) goes but Batman Inc is providing a fresh and unique opportunity to revise it elsewhere.

When we last saw the international array of Batmen in Morrison’s Batman, they were mostly among the idle rich (which is apparently a favourite phrase of mine this morning) and well past their glory days. Instead of populating the globe with variations on Bruce Wayne, Morrison (if as I’m assuming he created Bilal and not David Hine) is more interested in where in each country a Batman is either most needed or likely to emerge. In France, the answer is almost certainly Clichy-sous-Bois, the most violent part of the country and widely used media scapegoat. Who better than Nicholas Sarcozy’s own racaille, and what more suitable skill for a Batfamily member than parkour? It’s a concept so obvious and elegant that it probably writes itself, and yet a relatively rare instance of organic character design given that international variations on American legacy heroes tend to be imbued with little more than kitsch and vague stereotypes like Bilal’s predecessor, Musketeer.

My only lament is that for all the tremendous promise that Bilal offers, he’s currently been solicited for nothing more than a two part origin back up story which suggests that he’ll be a player in Batman Inc but nothing concrete beyond that which is a fate that most of Morrison’s additions to the DCU seem to suffer; lapse into obscurity or get killed off gratuitously. I’ll try not to look too far ahead for now, but it’s 2010 and the new Muslim member of the extended Batfamily is making his first appearance the same month as everyone’s favourite Jewish lesbian Batwoman debuts her ongoing series. That has to mean something. You know, other than the fact that the Batfamily are the greatest heroes ever, because you already knew that.

When The Social Network was first making it’s way to the major media outlets, I was fairly cynical about the potential of the film because the premise seemed flimsy and nowhere near compelling. What could be more tedious than a handful of Harvard students bickering about which one of them was responsible for a multi-billion dollar idea? As it turns out, about three quarters of the movies released this year. The combined weight of Jesse Eisenberg, David Fincher, Aaron Sorkin, and Trent Reznor assured that I’d give it a look but even when I poked at the idea of the implied origins of Facebook and how that ties into the toxic peer environment of social networking, I wasn’t expecting or even really holding out hope for The Social Network being not just beautifully crafted, but incisive, gripping, and possibly the most important film of the year.

To say that I was hooked in from the first second is probably a little unfair because the film starts with the lead in to one of my favourite White Stripes songs, but immediately following that is one of the most telling and best executed bits of dialogue in the whole film in which Zuckerberg prattles on about how his sizable (male) privilege just isn’t enough and brutally insults his girlfriend (played by Rooeny Mara, soon to be stepping into Noomi Rapace’s shoes as Lisbeth Salander in Fincher’s remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) and her lack of privilege until she snaps and breaks up with him. This was probably the moment in the film I was anticipating the most because of the conversation that Sorkin had with Stephen Colbert about it and how his script portrayed the women involved:

COLBERT: Can I ask you something about the ladies in it?
SORKIN: Sure, yeah.
COLBERT: Okay you’ve got the opening scene which a lot of people have heard about, it’s got [...] Zuckerberg and his girlfriend, the one who broke his heart…
SORKIN: The girl who would start Facebook.
COLBERT: Exactly. She is super smart and definitely gets the best of him.
SORKIN: Right.
COLBERT: The other ladies in the movie don’t have as much to say because they’re high, or drunk, or [blowing] guys in the bathroom. Why are there no other women of any substance in the movie?
SORKIN: That’s a fair question. There’s one other woman, Rashida Jones [...] who is a stand in for the audience. [...] The other women are prizes.

After a lengthy tangent, Sorkin is able to elaborate that they aren’t meant to characterize the female students of Harvard, that they are only the characters that populate that story. I’ve heard a bit of angry criticism about the film based on that line of criticism and of course my antennae stood at attention when I ran across it prior to seeing the movie. The problem of course is that an interview, especially one conducted on an entertainment show and not a news program completely removes that fact from the wider context of the film and puts it in a much worse light than I think is warranted.

Immediately after being dumped, Zuckerberg retreats to his dorm room and begins slandering his now ex-girlfriend, which quickly snowballs into hacking into the various dorms around campus to build up a library of images of the female students with the intention of having their male classmates vote on their relative hotness. This scheme kicks off a brilliant sequence cross cutting Zuckerberg and his roommates stealing the images and compiling the code with the Phoenix Club busing in many of the same girls for a wild party until the two events merge as male students across the campus huddle around computers, rating their classmates until one of the girls at the party walks in on one such group and recognizes her roommate with palpable horror. It has to be seen to be truly appreciated, but the net effect is to paint a brutal and crystal clear portrait of the unapologetic and insatiable misogyny present in college life.

Not entirely a difficult feat to accomplish, but Fincher packs an incredible amount of visual information into the first ten minutes and one of the clearest and most refreshing things I took away from the sequence was that it quickly and mercilessly tore down the imaginary barrier between jocks and geeks, especially as far as pack mentality and disrespect for women go. I’m not going to disagree with Colbert or Sorkin about the depth or complexity of the female characters in the film, but I certainly don’t think that it tells the whole story. From my perspective, it seemed like the portrayal of women in the film had a lot more to do with Zuckerberg’s horrible attitudes about and actions towards them. There was no time or space within his world to treat the women orbiting around him as anything other than prizes. More a portrait of a misogynist than a misogynist portrait, if you will.

Fincher seems to throw out his entire playbook for The Social Network. Instead of his trademark probing camera zooming through keyholes and out of noses, we get a far more passive, relaxed camera that doesn’t seek out a life of it’s own. In it’s place however, is brilliant editing that pushes a furious pace and transforms what could have been a tedious and banal story of privileged brats sniping at each other into a breathless tour de force, helped in no small part by the relentlessly crackling yet carefully realistic dialogue. There’s never a guarantee that independently brilliant people like David Fincher, Aaron Sorkin, or Trent Reznor will create something equal to or more than the sum of their parts, but they certainly make it seem like there is.

Of course, central to the film’s success is the performance by it’s star Jesse Eisenberg who is largely untested as a dramatic actor and frequently written off as a poor man’s Michael Cera. Going in, I was expecting big things from Eisenberg based on not much more than a gut feeling and what he had to say about preparing for the role in interviews. On the surface, Zuckerberg doesn’t seem like much of a departure from the stock Eisenberg character seen in those two movies whose titles end in land, but he disappears into the role to deliver a powerful and nuanced performance that is a far cry from the flat but entertaining social misfit he usually embodies. Of course I haven’t seen The Education of Charlie Banks, so by some bizarre twist it could be that Fred Durst first showed us the depths that lurk within Jesse Eisenberg, but it’s going to be his captivating turn in The Social Network that will put to death any lingering questions about his abilities, especially as a leading man.

One point, however pedantic, that I will disagree with Sorkin on is his statement that he wrote it in the Rashomon style. While there are multiple perspectives on what happened and the truth is relatively murky, The Social Network lacks multiple accounts, which to me is the key factor in the style. In more orthodox versions, like J.S.A., Surveillance, or Hero, multiple versions of the same event are portrayed towards uncovering some truth hidden in the subjectivity of each account. There’s only really one account in The Social Network, which is supplemented rather than contradicted by the short asides into the supporting characters’ lives. It’s more about stitching together Zuckerberg’s various bullshit routines to show how he tried to play everyone against each other than it is of solving the mystery of who deserves the credit for inventing Facebook, which is shown to be clearly moot by the end of the first act.

Which is fine. The Social Network succeeds most as a window into the mind of Facebook’s creator and what insight that provides into the circumstances of it’s creation. A friend of mine tweeted shortly after seeing it that his entrepreneurial drive was kicked into high gear, which kind of horrifies me and feels like the equivalent of saying that watching The Doors made you want to start a rock band or that watching The Shield made you want to be a cop. Like I said elsewhere on this blog, I feel like this movie should be scaring the shit out of people because this thing that connects half a billion people to each other daily was started up by a guy who initially wanted to start a website to judge the attractiveness of his female classmates against farm animals. The guy who oversees the private information of those half a billion people started out by severely compromising the security of Harvard’s servers to gregariously violate the privacy of it’s female student body with the sole aim of humiliating them for his own amusement. This is perhaps, at the end of the day why bullying has only become more relentless and seemingly severe in the information age. That the creator of the world’s largest social network set out to do it not to break down barriers between people or to dismantle rigid social hierarchies, but to usher them into a new venue and reinforce them in a bid to gain the validation he so desperately sought to the point of near self destruction.

In all honesty, I’m not a huge horror fan and I’m not much of a zombie fan. I don’t have the Zombie Survival Guide nor have I ever taken a quiz about how zombie proof my house is. Resident Evil and Zombieland are the only films in the genre I own. I did however read the first three volumes of The Walking Dead in trade paperback, so I’ve got a good idea of what to expect. My interest in the series is mostly to see how the first premium cable adaptation of a comic book works out and how it’s going to influence genre programming. I’m sure that everyone at Vertigo have their eyes on The Walking Dead.

The pilot itself was good, but I’m not going to go out waving my arms saying that it was a revelation or anything. The initial premise is still as reminiscent of 28 Days Later as the comic was, and it works well enough. It’s pretty much a stock zombie film adapted to television. It’s heavy with genre tropes and as far as pilots directed by acclaimed film directors go, Scorcese has Darabont beat by a mile. You didn’t need the opening credits to know that the pilot of Boardwalk Empire was helmed by a visual master, but then Darabont’s films are known far more for the performances he gets from his actors than any kind of visual artistry.

Probably the first thing that jumped out at me about the pilot was that I didn’t remember Rick being a bit of an idiot. He probably did get up and start mouthing off with his back to the criminals’ car before they cleared the scene in the comic, but it just seems that much more glaring when it’s live action I suppose. Chris Sims probably said (or tweeted rather) it best that walking around in bare feet in a zombie apocalypse will get you zombie tetanus. Rick spends a bizarre amount of time wandering around barefoot in a hospital gown, without even bothering to check the nurse’s station for scrubs, a lab coat, or shoes. He then bypasses an entire military encampment without looking for clothes or a weapon. Maybe it wasn’t obvious enough that there were zombies around yet, but at the very least he should have been expecting some kind of Red Dawn/Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 situation considering the fact he just came out of a war torn hospital with an abandoned cavalry base beside it. Instead he rides a bicycle barefoot and doesn’t bother to put on any of his own clothes strewn around his bedroom. Crawling under the tank at the end of the episode probably took the cake though, either that or failing to check if the soldier was actually dead before taking his gun.

The only other complaints I have are the digital blood and the awful tension destroying indie rock song during the final shot. You go the whole episode with a good, subtle score and then at the end decide to drown everything out with a really, really stupid song that doesn’t match the tone or content of the scene whatsoever. Why? Beyond that baffling decision, it was a solid pilot overall. The zombie effects were just as well done as the early production pictures suggested, which in and of itself is pretty remarkable for TV given the kind of effects you could come to expect out of a genre show prior to Fringe. AMC is clearly putting a lot of time and money into the production, and it’s being used well on the production end. Beyond just the make up effects and whatever mix of puppetry and computer effects made that horrific half corpse dragging itself through the park, the set construction and production values in general are all fantastic. What I would like to see from successive directors on the remaining five episodes is a better command of the visual language of horror film. There’s very little sense of tension or suspense in the pilot, which felt incredibly bizarre. Hopefully, it’ll resolve itself by the second episode, otherwise it’s going to quickly open up as a glaring flaw in an otherwise promising series.

Overall, I enjoyed it and I’m committed to riding out the rest of the six episode run but I’m expecting it to pick up the pace pretty quickly because The Walking Dead could learn a great deal from Breaking Bad, which started out with much less and soared far higher from the very beginning.

RULES:

1. Put Your iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc on Shuffle.

2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.

3. YOU MUST WRITE THAT SONG NAME DOWN NO MATTER HOW SILLY IT SOUNDS.

4. Put any comments in brackets after the song name.

5. Put this on your blog.

1. If someone says, “Is this okay?” You say? Shut Me Up [Mindless Self Indulgence]

2. How would you describe yourself? Split-Apart [KMFDM]

3. What do you like in a woman? Heads Will Roll [The Yeah Yeah Yeahs]

4. How do you feel today? Inertia Creeps [Massive Attack]

5.What is your life’s purpose? Fightin’ a War [Down to Earth ft. Rome]

6. What is your motto?  White Rabbit [Jefferson Airplane]

7. What do your friends think of you? Something I Can Never Have [Nine Inch Nails]

8. What do you think of your parents? Paranoid {The Crystal Method Remix} [Garbage]

9. What do you think about very often? A Warm Place [nine inch nails]

10. What is 2 + 2? Voodoo People [The Prodigy]

11. What do you think of your best friend? My Immortal [Evanescence]

12. What do you think of the person you like? I Put a Spell on You [Marilyn Manson]

13. What is your life story? Love Me or Leave Me [Frank Sinatra]

14. What do you want to be when you grow up? The Wretched [Nine Inch Nails]

15. What do you think of when you see the person you like? Speechless [Lady Gaga]

16. What will you dance to at your wedding? Antichrist Superstar [Marilyn Manson]

17. What will they play at your funeral? Running to the Edge of the World {Alternate Version} [Marilyn Manson]

18. What is your hobby/interest? Suffer Well [Depeche Mode]

19. What is your biggest fear? Don’t Get It [Lil Wayne]

20. What is your biggest secret? Boys Wanna Be Her [Peaches]

21. What do you think of your friends? Shiny [The Decemberists]

[Trigger warning for transphobia and ignorant stereotyping of transwomen]

I pretty much hate the “It Gets Better” project. I feel like it encapsulates everything that is wrong with network culture. You can’t crowd source the solution to suicide and you can’t change the world with a youtube video. Technology is a means to an end, a problem solving tool. Not the solution. It’s a nice idea, but it’s deluded and doomed to fail no matter how nice that idea is. We should all be aware by now that words need to be followed up with actions and yet here we are in 2010 increasingly believing that the Internet has made action irrelevant. There’s an old joke that gets told a lot in the introductions to books on postmodern magic and the occult. A guy prays every day to win the lottery and never in his life does he win. When he dies and gets to heaven, he asks God why he never answered his prayer. God replied “You never bought a ticket.” All that’s happening is attention being siphoned away from legitimate organizations who already exist and are working directly with youth to overcome the debilitating effects of bullying.

There’s some pretty huge arrogance at work here for someone like Dan Savage to ride in on a white horse like this is the change we’ve all been waiting for. Because you know after Live Aid, no one ever starved in Africa. Bob Geldoff totally licked that problem. This is just catharsis, to make people feel better about an issue they ignored while doing very little. There are some admirable people involved in this whole thing who are trying to use the platform to shed some light on things that don’t get attention, but this is just not the way to go about it.

One of the biggest problems with trying to target LBGT youth is that even if closeted youth (who are privileged enough to have private Internet access) can steal away to watch a video or read a story that will give them some small measure of comfort, they’ve got to have already come to the conclusion that they’re queer to even have the inclination to watch that video or go to that site. It precludes the notion that some youth are having very difficult internal battles over just who and what they are. I didn’t understand that I was a transwoman until I was 25 (I turned 26 last month). I grew up feeling different and I was bullied and marginalized until I subconsciously started to build up enough of a facade of normalcy to avoid suspicion. The line in Tom Ford’s film A Single Man, “Think of a minority that can become invisible if it has to,” cut me straight to my core. I’m desperate to come out despite my crippling fear of the consequences, but it wasn’t always that way. From around age sixteen, I started turning inwards to suppress who I felt I was because every time that I let my real self out it had devastating consequences.

An incident that’s always stuck with me was once in junior high when for whatever reason we were left without a teacher for a while and the class was goofing around. I don’t remember the exact context, but one of my classmates had set themselves up pretending to be a talk show host or something and people would come up to do impressions or whatever. It was pretty spontaneous, so I got up and for whatever reason decided that I wanted to pretend to be a Valley Girl Rights Activist. (Don’t ask, I have no idea. It was around 1998 and I was somewhere around fourteen.) What stuck out is that the class responded to it positively, but in the wrong way. They proclaimed they loved my “gay voice” and my “gay impression” was fantastic. I quickly got upset and insisted several times that I wasn’t attempting to sound or act gay, I was being a Valley Girl. When you’re gender variant and you haven’t quite figured it out yet, you just get called gay a lot with varying degrees of malice or genuine inquiry attached.

I was dead certain that I was attracted to women, but I was deeply hurt by being constantly assumed to be gay because I refused to adopt the attitudes and behaviors of the other boys, my deep interest in fashion design, and the fact that I almost always played as female characters in video games. (I quickly decided that if it hurt this much to be constantly called gay when I wasn’t, it must hurt even more to be called gay as a slur if you actually were.) The point here is that the It Gets Better campaign would have completely passed me by. Well, not really. I would have been bombarded with people either asking me if I’d gone to the site or assuming that I did. This is also why I bristle at the lame jokes about Kurt on Glee that conflate gender variance with homosexuality. That attitude, that is still fully functional in 2010, was another major hurdle I had to get over in my self discovery. It never occurred to me that I could be a transwoman because everything I had ever heard or seen about “transsexuals” as I heard them called were attracted to men, frequently concealed the fact they had penises to get straight men into bed with them, likely to be HIV carriers, and were almost certain to be sex workers.

The first sympathetic and positive portrayals of transwomen that I encountered occurred between 2004 and 2005 when I read The Sandman, The Invisibles, and Promethea. While I liked Hilde well enough, it was the Bill Woolcott incarnation of Promethea that resonated with me more than I cared to admit or understand at the time. It was probably around that time that I first started to understand what it really meant to be transgendered but it wasn’t until 2008 that I encountered a heterosexual gender variant person in Eddie Izzard and 2010 when I first encountered a transwoman attracted to women, Judy from Better Than Chocolate. Of course it needs to be said that from 2007 forward I made queer friends who eagerly took me into and explained their world even before they saw the same inexplicable thing in me that I had fought my whole life first to understand then to suppress. But once they did, they encouraged me to figure out what it was and provided me with the encouragement and safe space that I needed in order to figure it out.

What youth of all descriptions need aren’t peppy videos from successful adults. What they need is a safe peer environment that both allows and encourages the freedom to express and discover themselves fully. The current wave of gender variant youth who have both the self possession and courage to have realized what they are and fight to live openly absolutely astound me. It’s awe inspiring that under the same if not worse pressures that I faced at their age, they’ve managed to do more for themselves and each other than I have with the ten years I have on them. Not that my generation, or previous ones didn’t fight for their rights, but it certainly feels like there’s an incredible amount of visibility in both cisgender and trans queer youth that I’m sure I never saw at the same scale in the nineties. Of course being different in any way back then meant you were accused of planning to shoot up your school, but I digress. Every generation has it’s particular challenges and it’s never intelligent to be deciding who had it worse than who.

Case in point being the bizarre, shambling creature we call social networking which is basically being referred to in relation to the present issue the same way that Homer Simpson refers to beer. “The cause of and solution to all of life’s problems.” What does it mean when streaming video- the ostensible trigger of Tyler Clementi’s suicide- is being touted as it’s solution and the social networks where the “cyberbullying” that is sending young people like him to an early grave are supposedly the vehicle for massive social change? It means that people are getting completely lost in the hoopla and neologisms.

I’m pretty sure that it’s a well known thing now that The Social Network is suggesting that Facebook is the product of a social misfit who got really drunk one night and coded a website in the hopes that he would get validation from a peer group who wanted nothing to do with him. He might have also stolen part of it from someone else. This is what got let out into the wild and became the biggest thing in the English speaking Internet after Google? That movie should have scared the shit out of people, and yet I feel like I’m one of the only people sitting here feeling like Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park:

If I may… I’ll tell you what the problem with the scientific power you’re using here is; it didn’t take any discipline to attain it. You know, you read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves so you don’t take any of the responsibility… for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could and before you knew what you had you patented it and packaged it and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox.

Of course he is also famous for sitting in a moving car talking to himself because no one was listening. Everyone was so caught up in how much money there was to gain and who it should belong to that, just like in Jurassic Park, they didn’t stop to think about the consequences of “putting the college experience online” and then later flipping a switch to allow minors access to it. The college experience, and by extension the real world in general, includes more than narcotic and/or sexual exploration, studying, and streaking. It also includes the full range of prejudices a person could experience from racism and (cis)sexism to homophobia, ableism, and any other detail about a person that can be used to make them feel small. “Cyberbullying” isn’t a thing. It’s not a concept independent from bullying in any other form. It’s the same attitudes and behaviours that have simply gained wider scope and ubiquity thanks to the Internet widening the scope and ubiquity of communication.

What we’re experiencing is the same sudden realization that technology grew faster than our ability to properly understand it’s consequences, say nothing about counteract them as ten years ago when the dawn of file sharing ravaged the recording industry. Except that the cost of the unforeseen consequences of social networking isn’t counted in profit and loss statements, it’s in lives and there doesn’t even seem like there’s much of an acknowledgment of it.

Instead we have this absurd mentality that online interactions are somehow other than face to face human interaction and yet at the same time forgo traditional “real world” activism in favour of mind numbingly pointless acts like becoming a fan of a movement on Facebook or adding a ribbon to your Twitter avatar. I’ve read most of William Gibson’s novels, I’m even reading one right now, and you know people talk a lot of shit about how influential his work was on how we conceptualize the Internet, but aside from sharking his terminology to sound intellectual, I’m pretty sure most people didn’t learn anything from it. In the cyberpunk cycle of his work there was a lot of people putting on VR rigs and plugging things into their heads and so on which could lead you to believe that the experience was somehow other than reality, but no one ever solved anything in a William Gibson novel by jacking into a VR rig alone. They generally had to, you know, go out and do things. This is also largely true of the movie Hackers.

It’s really too bad that the only artifact from Gibson’s novels to make it into the canon of western pop culture is the visual aesthetic of cyberpunk, because underneath all those stacks of fancy computer equipment and designer drugs are important and powerful parables about the social and economic upheavals that necessarily occur in an ubiquitously connected society.

I guess the point, if there is one, is that taking the path of least resistance and maximum positive PR is not an intelligent or effective way to get people to stop killing themselves. Real change takes real action.