Between the Bookends: Tea, Vampires, Fantasy CSI &…Cheese-Mites?

In this month’s bumper edition of Between the Bookends, the GeekMoms have been reading about vampires (of both the sparkly and non-sparkly kind), tea, horror in New Zealand, cheese-mite cosmology, CSI meets The Brothers Grimm, and much more. Dive in to check out our recommendations for the month.

Continue reading Between the Bookends: Tea, Vampires, Fantasy CSI &…Cheese-Mites?

My Problem With Princesses

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Image By Rebecca Angel.

50 Shades of Grey goes back to Twilight, which goes back to the bodice-ripper romance novels, which goes back to our fairy tales of young, beautiful princesses who need to be taken care of by a powerful man. The song “I Will Save Myself” refers to princesses in fairy tales who annoy me as much as Bella. My two children are teens and I can only hope I instilled a strong sense of self and independence. Now that I have two nieces of elementary age, I’m still worried about our culture and the lure of being the sparkly “princess.”

I wasn’t really into princesses growing up. I loved Star Wars, and yes, Princess Leia was cool, but I really wanted to be Luke. I wanted to be the one who everyone counted on to save the day. I like that there are powerful women in stories, girls who are main characters; my problem is that it’s considered odd or there’s only one cool girl character to every 10 cool boys.

I wanted to be awesome and not singled out because I’m an awesome girl. If the continual challenge of a girl in stories is to prove she is as good as any man, that’s not high enough for me.

My favorite book growing up was A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Except the main character isn’t a princess. It was what her father called her; it became a part of who she was, who she wanted to be. She defined a princess as someone who had the privilege to be generous. Even when her resources were gone, she acted like her father’s definition of a princess. Although this is certainly a “Cinderella” story, the main character is active in fixing her situation. Sarah in that book was another character I wanted to be, much more than any princesses in fairy tales.

In Disney, which has its hands in every facet of media aimed at children, the princess factor is still going strong. In every princess story I know, they are very pretty (and if they are not, that’s the point of the story). I found it annoying as a child. As an adult in the entertainment biz, I completely understand the need for pretty visuals, but I was never a pretty girl, and so I couldn’t relate.

I had a pretty sister who became embarrassed and neurotic about people commenting on her beauty. I felt bad for her, and I was glad to fly under the radar and do my own thing. (This, of course, wasn’t how I felt as a teenager, but that’s a different topic.) So these princesses were pretty (not me), were considered the top of their social heap (not me), and had a lot of money (not me, again). I had more in common with boy characters than any princesses in books and movies.

I know the point of these kind of tales is to fantasize about being someone completely different from yourself. But I liked myself. I had a very healthy self-esteem as a young girl and had no desire to be someone else. I wanted to be me—just more awesome. I liked books and movies that gave me the tools to help me become what I could envision would be the best Becca. Or at least, pretend to be, if I had superpowers. So I needed characters that I could see myself in.

Somewhere in my later childhood years, mainstream media (Disney) did start to reflect different cultures and attitudes towards women, but I think the whole thing became even more ridiculous. Now, they weren’t just pretty, kind, and rich (by the end), but were also clever, strong-willed, and sometimes could fight. And they were princesses?

Does being a princess help the character achieve a goal?

Maybe the definition of a princess has changed. From the press coverage, modern-day royalty hardly live a fairy tale life. Princesses, then and now, are tied to convention, their social class, their money. Their stories have to involve breaking girl stereotypes because the princess one is so ingrained in our culture. Maybe there needs to be some other role our little girls can live up to. There are fantastic stories out there, traditional and new; stories that involve girl protagonists who are both intelligent and kick-ass. They don’t have to be a princess to succeed.

Maybe the entertainment world can learn from A Little Princess: it’s not the title, money, or looks that makes someone a princess, but your character, integrity, and strength.

Screening Twilight

Screening Twilight © I.B.Tauris
Screening Twilight © I.B.Tauris

Love it or loathe it, there’s simply no denying the cultural impact of Twilight. Since the publication of the first book in 2005, The Twilight Saga has helped fuel an explosion in young adult literature. It has become the basis of uncountable internet memes, produced four best-selling novels and five blockbuster movies, and launched three relatively unknown actors into global superstardom. Screening Twilight takes a critical look at the saga and its place in the wider cultural landscape through a collection of academic essays that touch on widely varied areas of interest.

It is often the case that popular culture texts that appeal to the masses are dismissed by academics in favor of more “worthy” subjects of study. For example, consider the reading list of a university English literature course. They are filled with Wordsworth, Homer, Milton, and Eliot, but rarely, if ever, with even a single example of the works which populate the NYT bestsellers list: Lee Child, James Patterson, or Jodi Picoult. Screening Twilight begins with this lament, opining that the study of The Twilight Saga as cultural phenomena has been dismissed as lightweight and frivolous, even within the field of fandom studies.

“Indeed,” the introduction goes, “the criticism of the saga and surrounding franchise often relies on the same sort of gendered lens that not only constructs females as rabid, hysterical consumers, but also as silly fangirls.” It states the important notion that “just because something is popular does not mean it is undeserving of critical, serious” attention, even pointing out that the “dismissive attitude towards the popular seems all the more likely when a cultural phenomena is coded as ‘feminine.’” The link between femininity and cultural dismissal is a topic that will be returned to frequently throughout the pages.

Screening Twilight © I.B. Tauris
Screening Twilight © I.B. Tauris

The book is divided into five sections that tackle genre and reception, myth, sexual dysfunction and sexuality, post-colonialism and racial whiteness, and deviating fandom. I found myself most interested in the chapters on genre, specifically those that dealt with the saga’s place within femininity and feminism. An especially eye-opening section of the book appeared in Mark Jancovich’s essay “‘Cue the Shrieking Virgins’?: The Critical Reception of The Twilight Saga.”  Jancovich discusses how many of the films’ reviews focused more on the behavior of its audience than on the relative merits of the films themselves, even to the level of criticizing the teenage girls watching for being “rapt with attention,” instead of gossiping and texting. It is pointed out that the way Twilight’s fans have been portrayed by the media causes them to be “othered,” seen as homogeneous and irrelevant to the more sophisticated and “rational” people reading the review. Considering how the media’s depiction of the Twilight demographic has gradually widened to include nearly all women, this then becomes a belittling of women in general and gives rise to the interesting situation in which predominantly male critics adopt the mantle of feminism in order to condemn women and their interests. SFX magazine bemoaned New Moon as “a century of feminism down the drain,” yet as Jancovich points out, the same magazines fails to take “the same stance against the anti-feminist politics of more male-centred films.”

“It does seem odd,” the author adds, “ that a man is the only figure who can be found to authorize feminism.”

The Twilight Saga has indeed faced untold amounts of criticism from all directions—often with good reason—giving rise to the anti-fans, a group whose primary love of the texts is in criticizing them. In fact, Twilight is a rare franchise in that loving criticism constitutes a principal interest for many of its fans. In Francesca Haig’s essay “Guilty Pleasures: Twilight, Snark and Critical Fandom,” a rather brilliant example of this “loving criticism” is given in an extract from Cleolinda Jones’ “Twilight in Fifteen Minutes” recaps. The essay discusses fan shame, something I have experienced myself and discussed at length when reviewing Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls, and the understanding that fans can identify flaws and problems within the text (such as Edward’s controlling behavior towards Bella), but still enjoy the text as a whole. This is somewhat similar to the mantra of Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian that “it’s entirely possible to be critical of some aspects of a piece of media while still finding other parts valuable and enjoyable.” Haig looks at the common comparison of Twilight to junk food as “mindless, sugary indulgence,” but also points out that this is flawed logic, unless of course, you regularly indulge in detailed, critical analysis of cake…

While I found myself utterly engaged with many of the essays and having my views of both Twilight and its surrounding media culture significantly widened, there were of course essays and points I disagreed with. Ruth O’Donnell’s “My Distaste for Forks: Twilight, Oral Gratification, and Self-Denial” brings a Freudian analysis to the saga, describing the saga as “an exploration of [Bella’s] experience of… abandonment and anger toward [her mother Renee].” The essay argues that the vampiric obsession with the oral through motifs of biting, sucking, and “insatiable oral craving” can be linked to Bella’s regression to the oral stage of babyhood. That her relationship with Edward is “a reflection of Bella’s… unresolved issues with her mother”—not a viewpoint I personally agree with. On an entirely different subject, the discussions of the ways race is portrayed within the saga make for often uncomfortable reading, especially the section on the ways white power and privilege is encoded throughout in both overt and frighteningly subtle ways.

As a Twilight fan myself, indeed one identifying close to an anti-fan, I was interested to see how the saga would be portrayed across these collected essays. I found my horizons significantly expanded and my understanding deepened by each one and by the end of the book, I was thinking hard over the significance of countless scenes and tropes that I had earlier paid little attention to. I also found my love of New Moon (often disregarded as a “failed” sequel) validated for the very reasons I love it; the way the film “[visualizes] absence through color palette and editing,” making it one of the most intriguing blockbuster films this millennium. Whatever your thoughts on The Twilight Saga and its impact, Screening Twilight will open your mind.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film

Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film © BFI
Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film © BFI

From Harry Potter to Night of The Living Dead, the juxtaposition between the geek and the gothic has always been broad and varied. Magic, vampires, mad scientists and all things that go bump in the night sit happily in both camps, and that’s why, even as not much of a horror aficionado, I was keen to read the latest compendium from the BFI (British Film Institute), Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film. The book is a companion to the BFI celebration of gothic film and television currently taking place across the UK.

Published as a large format paperback filled with beautiful movie stills and film posters, Gothic looks at the history of all things creepy and sinister, beginning with silent era movies like Nosferatu and bringing the genre right up to date with modern British horror such as 2012’s The Woman in Black.

The book is divided into four parts. Part one deals with the Monstrous: vampires, werewolves, zombies, and other creatures of the night. We see how our treatment of these creatures on screen has evolved alongside society and trace their evolution, from the classic image of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula through to modernized images such as the sparkling Cullen family in Twilight and even Sesame Street’s own resident bloodsucker Count von Count. There is no judgement to be found, no argument that one portrayal is better or more accurate than another, only a fascinating discussion of how our reactions have changed and how Hollywood has adapted to keep us coming back for more.

Image from Nosferatu: The Vampyre © BFI
Image from Nosferatu: The Vampyre © BFI

Part two deals with the Dark Arts: from devil worship to mad scientists and serial killers. The range of films up for discussion is startling. While classics like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Fly are naturally ripe for inclusion, the chapter also covers films such as Shutter Island, Black Swan, and the Hannibal Lecter series.

Part three—Haunted—has an obvious focus on ghosts stories but tales like Sleepy Hollow, Psycho, and Misery also find their home within its pages; there are more ways to be haunted than you might wish to think about. There is a detailed discussion of the role of children in gothic cinema beginning with Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs (who here wasn’t scared of the forest scene as a young child?) through to modern children’s gothic films like Frankenweenie via less obvious choices like Edward Scissorhands, The Addams Family, and Dark Shadows.

The fourth and final part of the book—Love Is a Devil—has some of the most disturbing content as it looks at the influence of love and the actions it can drive characters to. While some of those choices are more innocent (think Bella in Twilight), the chapter also highlights less romantic love stories such as Hannibal and Clarice.

The comparison between traditional portrayals of  Dracula and the charming yet twisted Hannibal Lecter had escaped me until now but is one of the points I will carry with me. My appreciation of the storytelling of gothic cinema has been truly changed by this book. Part four also takes an in-depth look at the role of women in these films and on television, from submissive Eleanor in The Haunting to vengeful Carrie and on to tough heroines Buffy and Ripley.

A Chapter on Haunted Landscapes © BFIThroughout the book are dozens of cutaways that discuss specific aspects of gothic cinema in detail. There are in depth looks at “The Architecture of Gothic Cinema,” “Children’s Gothic Television” (featuring such British classics as Knightmare and Children of the Stones as well as modern fare like Trapped! and Young Dracula), the “Southern Gothic” of New Orleans, and the surrounding areas and even “Queer Gothic.”

Each one gives a brief yet interesting look at its subject that will often have you wanting to go out and read more.

Gothic is a brilliant book that manages to cover almost every aspect of the gothic cinema without ever becoming pompous or self-indulgent. It perfectly toes the lines between academic treatment of the subject and unrestrained fanboy/girl adoration using a succession of great writers to cover the different subjects under review. Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gatiss, and Charlie Higson are amongst the enormous list of contributing authors. While the book does have a strong focus on British cinema, fans of all types of gothic cinema from Italian to Japanese will find chapters just for them. If you have even a passing interest in the genre then this book is well worth your time.

GeekMom received a PDF of this book for review purposes. Gothic is available to purchase on Amazon UK or direct from the BFI.

Five Favorite Geeky Romantic Moments

Some of My Favorite Romatic Moments © Sophie Brown
Some of My Favorite Romatic Moments © Sophie Brown

Today is my fifth wedding anniversary so I’ve been thinking a lot about romance lately. If someone asked you to think of romantic moments from film and TV the chances are that most people will immediately think of traditional “romantic” scenes. The final dance in Dirty Dancing? The factory scene from An Officer and a Gentleman? Jack drawing Rose in Titanic?

Our geeky favorites might not be known for their romance but there are some stunningly romantic moments in science fiction, fantasy, and other nerd genres. Here are some of my favorites, but be warned, here be spoilers.

Doctor Who – Amy leaves the Doctor for the slim chance of spending her life with Rory
At the very end of “The Angels Take Manhattan” Rory is sent back in time by a weeping angel and due to a long and convoluted set of circumstances, the TARDIS is unable to go to the time and place where he has been sent. Amy makes the decision to give up traveling through time and space with the Doctor on the rather slim chance that allowing the angel to send her back too will mean that she and Rory will be together again. In that moment she effectively gives up all of time and space (not to mention her best friend) on the tenuous chance at being reunited with Rory. If you can ignore the gaping plot hole it’s an incredibly romantic yet devastating moment that shows the connection between husband and wife.

Agent K © Amblin Entertainment
Agent K © Amblin Entertainment

Men in Black – Agent K uses a satellite to see his wife
While Men in Black is primarily a comedy, one moment in the middle of the film stands out for its sudden and deeply heartfelt look at Agent K’s pre-MiB life. In a quiet moment at the office, K logs onto the MiB satellite network and zooms in on a house to watch a lady gardening. Although it is not explained until later exactly who she is, K’s expression is unmistakable and we see him swallow hard as he watches for just a few moments until work comes calling again. It is this moment that sets up the emotional resolution of the film when K gives his speech to J at the film’s finale. If you can get over just how creepy that whole real-time video feed from space truly is, and how convenient it is that his wife just happens to be outside at that precise moment then it’s unbelievably sweet.

Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part Two – Bella shows Edward her memories
I can practically hear the eye rolling from here. Yes Twilight is the epitome of cheesy romantic set-plays, the honeymoon montage being especially cringe-worthy, but there is one moment from the saga that stands out as a genuinely romantic scene that wouldn’t be out of place in many superhero movies. The final scene of the final movie showed Bella enveloping Edward within her mental shield so he could finally read her mind; she then shows him a selection of her favorite memories from their lives together from the moment they first laid eyes on each other to their wedding and the birth of their daughter. There’s something incredibly intimate about allowing someone inside your mind and showing them your own memories and emotions of an event; after all, we all know how insufficient words are at expressing the true depth of our feelings. “Now you know,” Bella tells him when the weight of their shared emotions is too much and the connection breaks.

Mulder & Scully play Baseball © Fox
Mulder & Scully play Baseball © Fox

The X-Files – Mulder teaches Scully to play baseball
By the show’s sixth season, Mulder and Scully’s relationship was on a definite (if slow) road from platonic to romantic. “The Unnatural” is possibly one of the worst episodes of the show ever made, but it is saved by its finale in which Mulder invites Scully to a baseball field at night and teaches her how to hit. It is a perfect example of the kind of romantic tension that epitomized the show, as Mulder’s hands are all over Scully but in a totally non-sexual way as he guides her through her swing (the scene made the phrase “hips before hands” a mantra to fans). However there is a deeper meaning to the scene than Mulder using the lesson an an excuse to touch Scully; we see him choosing to share something of great personal meaning to himself—baseball—with her. It’s wonderful to see these two characters who go through so much turmoil in an average episode looking so utterly carefree as Scully grins and laughs her way through the whole scene.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army – Liz Saves Hellboy but Condemns Humanity
The second Hellboy film is so packed full of romantic moments that the whole thing should really be filed under “romantic comedies” rather than comic books or fantasy or wherever it is that rental stores (those that still exist) do file it. I love the scene where the dulcet tones of Barry Manilow waft through the corridors of B.P.R.D. but for me the standout romantic moment came later in the film. When Hellboy is mortally wounded by a piece of Nuada’s spear, Liz, Abe and Krauss take him to County Antrim in Ireland where Liz pleads for his life before the Angel of Death. Despite being warned that allowing him to live will doom humanity and that she will suffer the most from this action, Liz admits that she cannot live without him and asks the Angel to heal him anyway. The Angel does so but says that Liz must supply the final piece of the process by giving Hellboy a reason to live, at which point she reveals that she is pregnant. It’s a deeply emotional, if also deeply selfish, scene.

Here are a few more honorable mentions from others:

In Bleach when Ichigo is able to save Rukia in the first story arc in the Soul Society, and Renji grabs her from execution, running down the long stairs. He talks to her, while she clings to him, and speaks words of dedication. My heart swelled. – GeekMom Rebecca

The bit in Battlestar Galactica where Laura Roslin gets back from the cylon ship and Adama meets her and he says “missed you”’ and she says “me too” and then they hug and she says “I love you” and he says “about time.” – Kelly Froggat

In X-Men 2 when Wolverine says, “I could be the good guy.” Tragically romantic. Sigh. – GeekMom Rebecca

 

The Cliffs of Insanity: Comics, Women, and Rape

injustice04
A panel from the Injustice: Gods Among Us video game tie-in prequel comic. Brainwashed Superman has just killed Lois Lane, his pregnant wife.

Welcome to another installment climbing the cliffs of insanity. I had an abundance of topics to choose from this week, as there were many misinformed or just stupid things said about women and comics over the last few weeks of the summer, mostly (not surprisingly) from men. Though, hey, not all of them worked for DC Comics or Warner Bros., so there’s that.

In a previous column, “But He’s Black!“, I covered some well-known comic creators who seemed to think women didn’t like superhero comics.

Marketing fail is part of the reason women aren’t reading more superhero comics, as the largely male creators seem to have a very odd idea of what their geek female readers want. Another part is that violence against women is being used for entertainment value.

Rape should never be just an everyday plot device, though given the past actions of DC comics and the statements of Kick-Ass creator Mark Millar, that should be okay.

Does DC Comics Realize Twilight is About a Superhuman and a Normal Girl? 

First, the marketing fail.

The world at large is now finding out about the upcoming Superman/Wonder Woman series from DC Comics or, as DCWomenKickingAss put it, DC’s attempt to push this couple’s romance and make fetch happen. The Hollywood Reporter had a story, based on a report from The Mary Sue  website, on series artist Tony Daniels’ comments about the book going after girls who like Twilight.

There’s not a facepalm big enough for my reaction to that.

It’s true, I hate this pairing with the passion of a thousand suns. It’s boring, it’s uninteresting, it put Wonder Woman in a second place. This series is done to make Superman look cooler.

This does not mean I hate romance. I say that as a published romance writer. I feel the need to keep saying that because I get annoyed with marketing departments like DC that keep giving romance a bad name.

STOP! We don’t need your, um, help.

Romance is a terrific genre with tons of wonderful writers and subgenres ranging from science fiction to erotica to historicals to contemporary stories. But when marketing people keep saying “well, girls don’t read out comics because they want romancy stuff, so we’ll give them Twilight because girls like that stuff,” I want to toss my favorite romance books across the Internet and bonk you on the head with them.

I’m pretty sure a ton of geek girls and women want to do the same thing.

Yo, Daniels & DC Marketing—every time you say “well, we need to attract women by giving them romance,” a ton of women twitch and think “ick, they’re trying to tell me all I want is romance.” Add in Twilight, which is controversial even among people who like romance, and there goes the neighborhood.

From a personal standpoint, that makes it hard for me to go to that same crowd and say, “Yes, I write romance but, honest, it’s the kind of romance you’ll like. It’s not what you think or what male marketers keep trying to push on you.”

But from a reader of comics and romance, I have news for you, DC Comics: What women want is well-written stories with three-dimensional characters of both genders.

I know this is a radical concept. Bear with me.

What women want is not for the sole representative of their gender in a superhero comic to be viewed through the lust of the male gaze. Instead, woman want female characters to be written and drawn like the male characters—who are people first, sex objects second. And while you’re at it, how about women of all shapes and sizes, too. Harvey Bullock, large frame and all, is still around. Amanda Waller, though, was shrunk and sexified because, hey, no sense having an overweight woman around to ugly up things for the men.

In other words, it’s pretty much the same as what men want in their stories: well-written, three-dimensional characters in compelling stories.

I doubt you’re going to see a mass exodus of men from a title simply because there isn’t enough tits and ass.

Hawkeye seems to be doing quite well with the well-written, great but not overly sexualized art approach. Ditto Young Avengers. At DC, Batwoman has been one of the most successful launches of a DC character. Birds of Prey had over a 100-issue run where the attraction was the female friendships and the cool characters, though we did get some awful cheesecake art now and then. But no romance. (Unless you’re a Dinah/Babs shipper.)

It’s really not hard to appeal to female reader. Stop making us runaway from your comics and we might give them a chance.

Superman/Wonder Woman—with the talk of how it will be all sexy and attract girls with romance and maybe develop a triangle because Lois Lane is around—strikes me as a very male idea of what women want. And, no, I don’t believe Daniel’s comments were taken out of context in his FanExpo appearance. He had said very similar things during the DC panel at Boston Comic Con earlier this summer.

However, if you as a comic book company believe geek girls will read romance and want to appeal to the romantic in us, there is one romance that DC female readers have been invested in for a long, long time. A romance that shares one thing in common with Twilight, in that a superpowered man is fascinated by a human woman. It features a female character beloved enough to have trended on Twitter on her 75th anniversary.

A female character that was just played by an Oscar-nominated actress in a major motion picture.

Ya’ll want to give us a Superman/Lois Lane courtship and romance? Shut up and take my money.

Wonder Woman? I want to see her stand on her own, not be an adjunct to your alpha male to make him look, well, alpha.

And onto a yet another misunderstanding of the female audience.

Speaking of Running Away, Screaming. No, Rape is Just Not Another Evil Violent Thing. 

That would seem self-evident a statement, but apparently not if your name is Mark Millar.  I have warm fuzzies for Millar for helping uncover a troll who was sexually harassing and sending violent threats to a number of prominent female comic bloggers last year.

But even good guys can say uniformed things and this month, Millar did. In an interview with the New Republic, Millar said:

“’The ultimate [act] that would be the taboo, to show how bad some villain is, was to have somebody being raped, you know?’ he told me. ‘I don’t really think it matters. It’s the same as, like, a decapitation. It’s just a horrible act to show that somebody’s a bad guy.’”

kick-ass 2 rape scene
The scene in question from the comic on which the movie Kick-Ass 2 is based. This scene was not in the movie.

Let’s take this one by one:

1. Rape is just like any other violent, horrible thing.

Well, no. It’s not. For one, one-third of your potential female audience might have personally experienced it. I doubt 30 percent of the current male reading audience has personally experienced some of the over-the-top violence in Millar’s stories, especially decapitation.

Rape is all too real for many women. There’s a reason we’re taught to walk in pairs at night. The reason we’re careful on first dates. Louis CK summaries the problem nicely in one of his comedy routines. Violence against women is the reason Gail Simone had to be a real-life hero this week.

I’m fairly sure most men don’t incorporate the concern that a first date could end in decapitation or being beat down when making dinner plans.

2. It’s not the worst thing that can happen to your hero.

It seems to be conventional wisdom among male comic writers that the worst thing that can happen to a hero is that his girlfriend is raped. Identity Crisis was of this mindset when it put a rape at the core of the entire DC superhero universe. Wait, no, it put the male reaction to a rape at the core of the DC superhero universe. (Which is just wrong on so many levels. More of this below.) Hence the “women in refrigerators” trope, an expression based on Green Lantern #54 in which the hero finds his girlfriend dead in the refrigerator and the story is all about him. Marvel has had its share of “women in refrigerators” incidents as well, starting with Carol Danvers giving birth to her rapist’s child back in the day.

Newsflash: The worst thing that can happen is for the hero to be raped.

Don’t think so? Picture Superman being raped by Lex Luthor. Did that disgust you? Good, it should. Or, and be honest with your reaction, it might make it harder to see him as a hero.

Imagine that over 50 percent of the male heroes in your superhero comics are rape victims. You might start thinking these comic writers have a thing against men. But you’d definitely think they’re lacking in imagination for not finding a different trope.

Now imagine your favorite superhero universe is basically based on a male rape and the reactions to it by the women in the story. The guy is just a prop. Well, he’s dead too. (I’m speaking of  DC’s Identity Crisis, and, yes, I think Joss Whedon should not have written the introduction to the collected edition.)  And then you hear these women writing the comics screamed with glee when the pages where Superman is raped came into the office. “The rape pages are in!” (Such was the report of a former DC editor about Sue  Dibny’s rape.)

Then you might come close to seeing it from the female perspective of reading mainstream comics.

Over on Gail Simone’s forum, we talked about the worst thing that can happen to a guy. I went a bit too far with suggesting it was having their penis cut off. That’s probably not so equivalent to rape, as it permanently, physically, prevents future sex acts. But it’s close and I bet most men would wince if this happened to men in mainstream comics on a semi-regular basis.

But wait, you say. We’re talking about Mark Millar and his independent comic, not superhero comics. Surely, a story featuring Superman and the rest of the DC pantheon can’t have a rape scene as bad as in Kick-Ass?

Umm…you be the judge.

Sue_Dibny
The rape of Sue Dibny in Identity Crisis, which led to the entire Infinite Crisis series. Copyright DC Comics.

The entire DC comic universe was based for several years on this rape and the fall-out events. Not on the fallout of Sue dealing with what happened to her and taking some agency. No, the fallout because the men were all upset and fought about how to handle it.

Just this year, we’ve been treated to a graphic panel of Catwoman shot in the head, yet she still managed to look sexy. (It was a fake-out. She’s not dead, of course, but somehow it was important to show her dead with blood oozing and yet still sexy.) And the panel I have at the beginning of this column—which is, admittedly, from an alternate universe in which everyone becomes evil—is proof of a pattern more than an exception, given Lois’ treatment in the main universe. We saw Lois Lane recently tossed out a window but it didn’t diminish her sexiness either, though she lapsed into a coma. Sexy times with the violence victims. Yay!

Comics shouldn’t be free of violence, of course. But I shouldn’t have to guard myself against possible graphic gore, destruction, or rape every time I open up a mainstream Superman comic. I expect it from Game of Thrones or Spartacus. Those aren’t superhero stories.

It’s sad enough when a mainstream superhero comic and Spartacus, an X-rated series on a cable network, have close to the same amount of gore.

It’s even sadder when the victims of the violence have more agency and are allowed to be more heroic in the x-rated cable series than in a mainstream superhero comic.

Spotting Couture Fashion Designers in Your Favorite Movies

Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions’ action adventure Skyfall. Photo by: Francois Duhamel; Skyfall ©2011 Danjaq, LLC, United Artists Corporation, Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All rights reserved.

Couture fashion designers and movie costume designers don’t often cross sides. They’re both about making a look, but they’re different fields. That doesn’t mean it never happens. Some characters, because of who they are, need to be dressed in designer labels. The Devil Wears Prada wouldn’t be the same with made-up designers. Carrie Bradshaw wouldn’t be the same without her Manolos and Jimmy Choos. And sometimes, even the geek-appealing shows and movies get characters dressed in high fashion names. Here are a few examples:

Jean-Paul Gaultier is an exception to the seldom-crossover rule, having actually done costume design for many movies, including The Fifth Element. This year he had the honor of being a member of the Cannes jury, only the second costume designer to do so, the other being the late Eiko Ishioka.

Wedding dresses on TV and in the movies are almost certainly designer gowns. For example, Twilight‘s broody Bella Swan married Edward Cullen in Carolina Herrera. In Spider-Man 2, Mary Jane wears a Willi Smith gown. On Smallville, Lana married Lex in a gown from Monique Lhuillier‘s fall 2006 collection.

, Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks, left) and Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in The Hunger Games. Photo credit: Murray Close, © Copyright 2012 – Lions Gate Entertainment

In The Hunger Games, the look of those from The Capitol in particular was a huge part of the costume designer’s job description, and Judianna Makovsky created gobs of beautiful costumes, Effie Trinket’s bright garb, taking inspiration most notably from Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli and her famous pink. But Effie’s feet were dressed in another inspiring designer’s footwear–Alexander McQueen. And to bring it full circle, Alexander McQueen once turned to the geek world for a fashion show, echoing the chess game from Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone (which Makovsky was also costume designer on) in a 2005 show.

In Sofia Coppola’s 2006 Marie Antoinette, the clothes are by costume designer Milena Canonero, but the shoes are Manolo Blahniks. Blahnik studied 18th-century shoes in London and Paris, which made his designs perfect for the film.

What’s Bruce Wayne without a billionaire’s look? In The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, Christian Bale was dressed (quite well!) in Giorgio Armani. Armani worked with the movie’s costume designer, Lindy Hemming (who also did Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), to create custom suits under a Giorgio Armani for Bruce Wayne label. Bale got two for The Dark Knight Rises, but co-stars Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt got their own, and Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman got accessories out of the deal.

Once you start to recognize Christian Louboutin‘s red-soled shoes, you’ll see them everywhere. Start with Pepper Potts in Iron Man. But note that not all red soles are Louboutin, and Valentino and Yves Saint Laurent claim to have done it long before Louboutin. A recently ended lawsuit concluded by giving Louboutin the right to protect its red soles when the rest of the shoe is a different color, but YSL will be able to continue making its all-red shoes.

In the latest Bond film, Skyfall, James Bond is again dashingly dressed, of course. This time Daniel Craig is in Tom Ford, as he was in Quantum of Solace. But other Bonds have had other designers, so I’ll just hit a few:

  • In Casino Royale, Daniel Craig’s leather jacket is Armani. The movie’s costume designer, Lindy Hemming, found it in LA for $4,000. They needed around 25 of them, so fortunately they were able to work out a better price with the company.
  • Pierce Brosnan wears Brioni suits in all of the movies where he portrays Bond, generally with a Turnbull & Asser tie. Daniel Craig wears one as well in Casino Royale–in fact, at the casino table, everyone is wearing Brioni.
  • In Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice, and Diamonds Are Forever, Sean Connery wears Anthony Tailor, who was the tailor for director Terence Young. George Lazenby then wore Anthony Tailor to his casting call for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

And naturally this list would be incomplete without the most glamorous swine of the screen, Miss Piggy. In the 2011 film The Muppets, she wore Chanel to play the fashion editor of the French Vogue. And for this year’s Oscars, she appeared wearing Zac Posen with accessories by Fred Leighton.

It’s not always so simple, though. Amy Westcott was the costume designer for Black Swan, and she won quite a few awards for it. Designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy, whose label is Rodarte, are credited for Natalie Portman’s white gown, one of her tutus, and the Swan Lake costumes in the movie. But controversy arose over who actually created some of the designs. And while you might think the gentlemen of Inception are wearing designer suits, each one of them was individually created specifically for the character by costume designer Jeffrey Kurland.

As a final note, a little fashion trivia. Although I did use the word “couture” at the beginning of this post, I did so in the more generic sense. The designers I mentioned are not actually all officially haute couture, which is a term defined and protected by the Chambre do commerce et d’industrie de Paris, a regulatory group that declares which fashion houses are truly haute couture and can thus advertise themselves as such.

10 Things to Read Instead of Twilight

Teeth Courtesy the morguefile.com
Teeth courtesy the morguefile.com.

It’s October, and everyone loves a good vampire. Keyword: good. I read the Twilight series. You see where I’m going already, right? The only reason I finished was because I’d started, and by the end, I was ready to go punch something. I know a lot of parents object to the really screwed up toxic relationship between Bella and Edward, but my objection was that it was just horribly written. Nobody had to sacrifice. Nobody had to grow. (Spoiler rant alert.) Bella got everything she ever wanted and lived happily ever after with her sparkly friends, convenient new powers, and a mind-reading baby that doesn’t require any child rearing.

Moms, we can do better. I’m not saying we ban any books. I’m just saying there are some fantastic books and series out there that are entertaining, disturbing, thought-provoking, and just plain better written. Sometimes it’s harder to find a female protagonist in young adult fantasy, but it can be done. Here are ten great young adult books or series for starters. I’m sure you all have some brilliant suggestions you’d like to add in the comments, right? Right?

Continue reading 10 Things to Read Instead of Twilight

I Survived Twilight

Twilight: Breaking Dawn (The Ones That Sparkle)

My favorite creatures in the supernatural realm are vampires. It’s not a new thing, but an old thing that started way back when Interview with a Vampire hit theaters in 1994. I don’t know why that movie got my attention because, until that moment, I hated all manner of spooky creatures and things that go bump in the night. It all stemmed from watching the remake of The Thing on HBO when I was a kid and was supposed to be asleep. When that one guy’s head fell off and sprouted legs like a spider? Done. No spooky for me, but something in this movie changed my mind.

I watched it, and the next day I went out and bought a copy of the book and read through all of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles in a matter of weeks. I stayed up too late and was bleary-eyed at work but I had to know what happened to these creatures. They weren’t just blood sucking evil-doers ripping people to shreds. Okay, they did that…but there was a lot more to the story than blood and gore, and the more was what I loved.

Since then, I’ve read more supernaturally-themed books than I can count. Vampires, werewolves, ghosts, demons, it’s a very long list. I read none of them for the gore. In fact, I’d shy away from a book that was just a slasher movie on paper because it’s the internal struggles these characters face that are the lure. They are innately evil (or are they?) and they want to be good and decent (sometimes) but they’re not really human, so is it even possible?

Interview with the Vampire (The Ones That Burst Into Flame)

This is what made Buffy the Vampire Slayer so darned good. In the very best episodes, you practically forgot that they were about supernatural creatures because the stories touched on very human struggles to do the right thing, to sacrifice for the greater good, and to not be drawn in by our baser instincts.

And then…then came Twilight.

Before the Twi-hards send glitter bombs to my home, let me say that although I am not a fan, I don’t hate those who are fans. Everyone has their “thing,” be it Trekkies or Browncoats or whatever. We all take joy from what calls to us, but Twilight, for me, is the antithesis of what makes vampires interesting. They’ve been devolved into a bunch of hipsters with good hair, fast cars, and lots of money.  And: the ‘sparkle in the sun’ thing absolutely kills me. I can’t help it, they should burst into flame and turn to ash, dang it!

I did read the books because I figured I really couldn’t judge them without reading them all. I was told by everyone that I had to read the whole saga right through to the end in order to appreciate the wonder of it all. I was doubtful, but I persevered, and having done that, no, I don’t appreciate the wonder of it all. When the movies came out, I firmly stated that there was no way, no way on earth, that I was going to see them. Nope. Short of my childrens’ lives depending on it I was not going to see sparkle-vamps on the big screen.

I managed to stick by that vow until a week ago. A friend of mine mentioned the movie and made it something of a challenge, and, being a twelve-year-old at heart, I could not just walk away. Instead, I paid $8 to see sparkle-vamps blown up to the size of my house. And you know what, I didn’t die.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (The One With Angel)

I yawned a lot, and I laughed a lot and I maybe gagged at that whole cheesy wedding scene. I most certainly wanted to kill Bella and her whiny, shaky, someone-help-me self, but I contained myself. Even when they had that whole moonlight moment in the ocean (egads) I rolled my eyes but no one saw so it was all good. Well, no, it wasn’t, it was one of the cheesiest movies I’ve ever seen and I survived it only because I MST3K’d the whole thing in my head, but I did survive.

Much like the books, I don’t get the attraction of the mopey emo vampire clan. Or the mopey emo wanna-be vampire girl. Or the mopey emo love-sick werewolf. Or the mopey emo confused Dad. There’s so much mopey emo in this movie, it makes the average funeral look peppy. It is an experience I do not care to repeat. Ever. Just thinking of seeing more sparkle-vamps makes me, well, kinda mopey. I barely made it through the black eyeliner/messy hair/hoodie/slouched shoulders phase of my teen years and have no desire to repeat them on the big screen.

I saw Twilight and I survived. Barely.

Breaking Dawn: Counting Down

Words escape me on this one. I came in late to the game but devoured the Twilight books in about two weeks. I can’t say that Stephenie Meyer is a great writer, but she can certainly write a compelling story. This trailer raises one big question for me: Where will part one end and part two begin? The Twilight series is like a drug, you either have a bad reaction to it, or can’t get enough – whether you want to or not. Me? I wish this movie didn’t excite me, but it does. I wish I had anticipated Star Wars Episode 3 as much as Breaking Dawn, but I don’t. I wish I could read Madame Bovary as fast, but I can’t!

See you on November 18.

Music Week: Confessions of a Soundtrack Geek – Part One

The London Philharmonic Orchestra Playing The Lord of The Rings Symphony © Henry Burrows via Flickr
The London Philharmonic Orchestra Playing The Lord of The Rings Symphony, conducted by Howard Shore © Henry Burrows via Flickr

Before I start this article, I think I need to get one thing straight with you. I am a soundtrack geek.  When a new movie is coming out that I am excited about, such as Deathly Hallows just the other week, not only am I eagerly awaiting the release of the film itself, but also the soundtrack. It’s the same with TV shows. Right now I am getting rather excited about the potential for a Doctor Who Series Six album to tie in with the second half of the series that begins airing at the end of this month. I have the soundtrack albums from countless movies and TV shows plus I even have several gigabytes of background and on-ride music from the Disney theme parks.

I’m not entirely sure when my interest in scores developed. I remember buying the score album from The X-Files: Fight the Future back in 1998 when I was just eleven, but that was more out of an obsessive “buy everything related to this movie” phase than genuine interest in the music. I certainly don’t think it was listened to that much. I also had an album of cult sci-fi and fantasy TV themes back then, but I think the real love for this music began with a friend a few years ago. When we would drive around in her car, she would usually have the soundtracks to Lord of The Rings, Harry Potter or some other film playing, and I found myself increasingly drawn to them. I began getting copies for myself and now I have a vast collection of soundtracks and scores. I find them great for listening to when I’m writing, as the vast majority are instrumental so I don’t start singing along or inadvertently typing the lyrics instead of whatever it is I’m trying to write. It never ceases to amaze me how such deep emotions can be conveyed without needing to speak a word.

As the terms soundtrack and score can be used somewhat interchangeably, I feel I should clarify that my interest lies with the orchestral background and incidental music, rather than albums that compile tracks by various music artists that are heard in the show or film. Often, two albums are released, an example being with Twilight: New Moon where both a score and a soundtrack collection featuring tracks by Muse and OK Go are available. Although I do own several of these soundtrack compilations as well, to me they are more like themed albums rather than the true music of the film or show.

Here then are some of my personal favourite soundtracks (or series soundtracks) for you to check out. This post will focus on film soundtracks with TV shows coming later this week. The linked track titles in my favourites will take you to short clips courtesy of Amazon and iTunes.

 

Star Wars Album Covers
Star Wars Album Covers

If there was an award for the most iconic film theme ever created, I’d say it was a fair bet Star Wars would be in the top three at least. I am one of those rare people, especially amongst geeks, that genuinely likes the prequels as well as the original trilogy. They certainly aren’t as good to me but the originals are such genuine classics that they never could match up. Nonetheless I will most certainly be hitting the cinema to watch them all again in 3D from next year – if only to see some of my all time favourite movies back on the big screen.

One way the prequels do match up to, and for me, possibly even out-do their predecessors, is in the quality of their scores. Even Phantom Menace, which even I concede as the worst Star Wars film (well, if you exclude the Clone Wars film) has some truly fantastic music. “Duel of The Fates” is easily one of the best Star Wars pieces of all the films put together, as is the epic “Anakin vs. Obi-Wan” from Revenge of The Sith. The original trilogy also has some outstanding pieces but, no, the Cantina Band is not among them for me! Naturally the “Imperial March” ranks as a classic but there are other great tracks including “Binary Sunset” and “The Battle of Yavin”. However for me, if you want great Star Wars music, this is probably the only time I would always turn to the prequels over the original trilogy.

My favourites: Duel of The Fates (I), The Hologram/Binary Sunset (IV), Across The Stars: Love Theme from Attack of The Clones (II), Victory Celebration/End Title (VI), Anakin Vs. Obi-Wan (III)

 

Album Covers for Harry Potter 1 - 8
Album Covers for Harry Potter 1 – 8

In terms of iconic themes, the twinkling Harry Potter theme (actually entitled “Hedwig’s Theme”) is hot on the heels of Star Wars as one of the most well-known pieces of music in film history. Out of all the films series I own, the Potter scores are probably the ones which are most different from beginning to end.  The light-hearted, jovial sounds of the Philosopher’s Stone soundtrack with its fun brass sections is a million miles removed from the quiet tragedy and swelling drama of Deathly Hallows Part Two; however certain scenes do hark back to the early films such as the comical “Detonaters” in Deathly Hallows Part One giving the soundtracks as a collection a feeling of being the individual pieces of a whole. A number of different composers have worked the Potter position over the years, almost as many as there have been Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers at Hogwarts, each lending their own unique flavour. The result is a collection that progresses along with Harry’s story, not disjointed despite including so many styles, but gradually changing and darkening over time.

My favourites: Hedwig’s Theme (Philosopher’s Stone), Fireworks (OOTP), When Ginny Kissed Harry (HBP), Into The Rushes (HBP), Obliviate (DH1), Lovegood (DH1), Lily’s Theme (DH2), Dragon Flight (DH2)

 

Independence Day Score by David Arnold
Independence Day Score by David Arnold

Films like Star Wars have become known for their scores, the theme music being instantly recognisable and other bits of their music well-known as well. Independence Day on the other hand is a far more obscure soundtrack but no less beautiful for that. A big blockbuster movie that relies more on impressive visuals needs an equally large scale score to match so this album is more about big sweeping pieces than intimate, touching ones; that being said a standout track for me is “The First Lady Dies” which plays over a scene I count as one of my top ten tearful moments in sci-fi.

My favourites: 1969 – We Came in Peace, Aftermath, The First Lady Dies (extended edition only so no mp3 available)

 

Covers of Twilight, New Moon & Eclipse
Covers of Twilight, New Moon & Eclipse

With two more scores yet to come from the two parts of Breaking Dawn, this collection is far from complete, yet it already includes several great tracks. Creating the lullaby written by Edward for Bella in the first film was always going to be a challenge for any composer, however Carter Burwell created a beautifully simple piece that stands out from the rest of the album which manages in turn to convey well the mixture of overwhelming teenage passion with a constant sense of foreboding. Taking the reigns for New Moon was Alexandre Desplat who was later responsible for both Deathly Hallows scores; to me there is a marked similarity between the three scores which can be heard distinctly if you compare “Obliviate” from Hallows Part One with New Moon’s “Memories of Edward”.

My favourites: How I Would Die (Twilight), Bella’s Lullaby (Twilight), New Moon (New Moon), Memories of Edward (New Moon)

 

Cover of Wall-E by Thomas Newman
Cover of Wall-E by Thomas Newman

Whilst Disney movies are well known for their big musical numbers, Pixar films are less musically driven. However the speechless robots and corresponding lack of dialogue in Wall-E really threw the score into the limelight more than with any of its predecessors. The love story between Wall-E and Eve had to be told almost completely non-verbally and so tracks like “Define Dancing”, where the pair dance through space together, are vital to the film in a way few score pieces get to be. The characters of Wall-E and Eve are partly explored by their music too, with the former having fun, bouncy pieces when he is on screen, shifting to far gentler, flowing strings for Eve.

My favourites: Define Dancing, First Date, 2815 A.D.

 

The Fight The Future & I Want to Believe Album Covers
The Fight The Future & I Want to Believe Album Covers

The two X-Files films were released ten years and four show seasons apart, in every way they are completely different beasts.  While the first film, Fight The Future focused and progressed the show’s central mythology, the second, I Want to Believe was a stand alone story which only briefly hinted at the main plot.  A result of these differences is a significant difference in sound styles.

Fight the Future uses a score that sits perfectly within the TV show; in fact many pieces from it were later used in season six episodes. It begins with the classic six-note theme music presented in a hauntingly quiet stripped down with just a lone instrument sounding them out before the full orchestra bursts in dramatically. The score does for the music what the film did for the visuals, taking the same basic outline and doing it on a far grander scale. This was the first time an orchestra had been used for the franchise—all previous music being entirely created by synthesizer—and it gave the film a much more dramatic feel. Hearing the theme motif being played out by a full brass section was incredibly thrilling the first time and continues to be so.

The second film is overall a far slower, more melancholic affair. Mulder and Scully are older and have suffered far more over the years than they had in FTF. The plot itself is also darker and creepier that the blockbuster feel of the first film. There are no helicopter chase scenes or huge explosions here so the music is subtler and sweeter in some ways as we are now seeing a couple finally admitting their love for each other. Of course there is plenty of angst between the pair that results in quiet and terribly sad moments too. These things can never be allowed to run smoothly.

My favourites: Threnody in X (FTF), Soda Pop (FTF), Corn Hives (FTF), Facts (FTF), The Trip to DC (IWTB), The Surgery (IWTB), Good Luck (IWTB), Home Again (IWTB)

 

Jurassic Park Album Cover
Jurassic Park Album Cover

Jurassic Park is, and will always remain, one of my all time favourite movies. It was released when I was was only six but I got to see it soon after once it came out on VHS and I have loved it ever since. This was music I truly grew up with and so it holds a very special place in my heart. The classic theme tune plays at the entrance to the Jurassic Park island at Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando and I can honestly say that it was that piece of music that almost brought me to tears when I first walked under that gate as a seventeen year old finally getting to experience a sort of childhood dream come true—walking through the gates to Jurassic Park. Just listening through this music as I write this is enough to almost bring me to tears, this is the music that is truly close to my heart. As with Independence Day, a film of this scale needs a big sound, one capable of lending the appropriate majesty and awe to creatures most of us grew up holding in real reverence and, as usual, John Williams delivers the goods in spades.

My favourites: Journey to The Island, Dennis Steals The Embryo, Welcome to Jurassic Park

There are so many great soundtracks that it would take forever to cover them all. Here then are a few honourable mentions from other great movie soundtracks. No doubt I’ve missed dozens more. Why don’t you comment with your favourites too? Don’t forget to check back later this week for part two which will be all about the scores from TV shows.

Married Life (Up) – Michael Giacchino
King of Pride Rock (The Lion King) – Hans Zimmer
The Medallion Calls (Pirates of The Carribbean – The Curse of The Black Pearl) – Klaus Badelt
Mind Heist: Trailer Music (Inception) – Zack Hemsey
The Raider’s March (Indiana Jones Quadrilogy) – John Williams

Finally! The Breaking Dawn Wedding Preview

I had to wait seven seasons and four movies to finally watch Deanna Troi and Will Riker (Star Trek: The Next Generation) tie the knot. Don’t get me wrong, it was well worth the wait, but Twilight fans will not have to wait quite so long to see Edward and Bella wed. Viewers of the MTV awards this weekend were gifted with the release of the trailer for Breaking Dawn (Part one), and now so is the rest of the world.

So did you long for this wedding, or do you share my desire to see the Troi/Riker service on Betazed? Somehow watching the vampire marry the doe eyed girl, reminds me of the attempt of Ming the Merciless to marry Dale Arden in Flash Gordon. Team Jacob all the way!

Geek Flair Giveaway

JennT trying to work in homemade diorientation goggles

I’m fortunate to work for a company that not only embraces geeks but encourages it. A perk of working in a hands-on science museum is that I can, at any point in my work day, decide that I need a break and go rewire a children’s toy, light something on fire, or puzzle out a chemical formula until my mind unravels itself out of the knot I managed to put it in. Now Science Museum Oklahoma is allowing us to express just how big a geek we can be with one of my favorite bits of matter, flair.

Whether or not I want to, I still like flair. In middle school I was one of those kids with tiny little buttons all over everything. I would have rocked at TGIFriday’s had I ever worked there. (Thankfully for them and me, I didn’t.) I had buttons that I found funny, buttons that had more attitude then my mom probably liked, and buttons that I didn’t even understand, but they were tiny and equipped with pins so I put them on my stuff. My backpack, purse, and school lanyard each weighed about twice what they should have thanks to flair. When the MySpace trend took hold I was elated to see I could bedeck my page with Pieces of Flair. Thus I dumped hours of my life scrolling through pages of user created images pasted onto the digital flair.

As I grew older I learned that not everything was made better with flair. But I still like the cute little buttons. I don’t wear them much anymore (a button might sneak its way onto my messenger bag from time to time) but I still keep a collection to which I regularly add. I recently acquired six more from my work and they instantly rocketed to a place of honor in my collection. Why? Because they are pieces of Geek-flair. Yes, Geek-flair; tiny little buttons that scream out “I’m a geek and if you giggled, you are one too!”

Photo by JennT

For those of you who, like me, may be a touch monitor challenged (nothing shows up normal on a 10.2″ monitor), I’ll translate the wonderfulness from Top Left.

  • Club Otto
  • Rock-it-Science
  • Black Holes Suck
  • Pretty in #ee3d85
  • Deeply & Creatively weird
  • Team Isaac

Feel you can’t live without these now? No worries, Science Museum Oklahoma gifted me with three extra sets that I’m going to give away. Leave a comment and tell me what you’d like to have put on a piece of geek-flair. I’ll draw three names from the entries and post the winners’ names and their suggestions for a piece of geek-flair.

Epic Werewolf Fails: 5 Awful Transformations

From fabric-store fur to Lee press-on nails, werewolf transformations on film have a checkered past.

Movie versions of the werewolf metamorphosis usually rely on the actors to stare wide-eyed at their furry hands and creepy nails and emit panicky, mortified screams, although not nearly as convincing as the ones that must have escaped them at the movie’s premiere.

Most werewolf transformations–let’s face it–are epic fails. The “Twilight” movies opt for an instantaneous flash transformation over the stare-and-scream method, but then again [spoiler alert] the guys in question are not actual werewolves, but shape-shifters. Thus, they don’t really count.

But lest you think werewolf fails are a phenomenon of the pre-CGI past, I call your attention to the otherwise excellent BBC series “Being Human.” (Warning: there’s a nekkid tush in this video.)

#1: “Being Human”

He screams a lot, then screams some more, then turns briefly into Cindy-Lou Who before going full werewolf. I give “Being Human” sci-fi points for the physiological explanation, but the visuals of the transformation are an utter fail.

#2: “Teen Wolf”

The Michael J. Fox classic “Teen Wolf” enjoyed a feature-film FX budget, but didn’t fare much better.

Step 1: Grow long, lustrous nails

Step 2: Look in mirror; observe bubbles moving under facial skin; put hands over face

Step 3: Open mirror, perhaps in search of astringent for bubble-face issues

DONE!

#3: “The Howling”

The werewolf in “The Howling” also suffers from bubble-face/hand-staring syndrome (BFHS):

In addition, he also experiences theatrical snout-stretching with little accompanying facial reaction, which meshes nicely with the “when will this be over I would really like a latte” expression on the face of the gal witnessing the transformation. I’ve seen more fear on the faces of people waiting for the plumber’s estimate.

#4 “American Werewolf in London”

If we were to break down the transformation checklist for “American Werewolf in London” (tush warning #2), it would look a little different from the classic BFHS sequence:

Step 1:  Grab head

Step 2:  Shed clothes

Step 3: Looking-at-hand sequence (see previous)

Step 4: Morph into Harry from “Harry and the Hendersons,” while keeping downstage leg positioned to avoid NC-17 rating

COMPLETE!

#5 “Bad Moon”

Don’t let the cheesy production values scare you away: This movie has an original take on low-budget werewolf FX. Keys to the transformation are a Vaseline-smeared lens and, possibly, a taxidermied polar bear. Steps are as follows:

Step 1: Develop sudden orthodontia issues

Step 2: Scare the crap out of Mariel Hemingway

Step 3: Go really blurry and kinda lumpy

Step 4: Bust out of Reeboks

COMPLETE!

I’m sure I’ve stomped on some of your favorite werewolves, so please, tell me if I’m wrong. And if you know of a good werewolf transformation caught on film, do tell.

I Know Why The Vampire Sparkles!

I finally read Twilight, and after hours of internet research, I’ve found a solution to a major problem I had with the story. I know why the vampire sparkles!

Of course, innate body glitter is just the latest thing wrong with vampires at large, so I’ll start with the broader picture and work my way to the answer to that new riddle.

First, I assert that vampires must be giant, highly evolved insects. That makes sense because most of the hematophages in the natural world are bugs.

Second, like many real bloodsuckers, vampires must feed before they reproduce. However, unlike anything in the natural world, vampires seem to reproduce entirely through horizontal gene transfer. If they don’t kill their victim outright, then vampire genes invade the host and trigger…

Metamorphosis. According to Twilight, the process takes days and is excruciatingly painful, which is logical given that the victim undergoes complete hystolysis and histogenesis without the benefit of a pupal stage, let alone general anesthesia.

But wait! How do vampires retain the memories of their human lives? Well, butterflies are apparently able to remember things they learned as caterpillars. While it’s doubtful that the same processes would apply identically to higher-order animals, anything is apparently possible with enough suspension of disbelief.

Furthermore, vampires appear to be ectothermic, or never warmer than their environment. ‘Cold-blooded’, in other words. Their stone-like ‘skin’ also seems more like an exoskeleton than warm, soft, human tissue.

What about vampires’ superhuman abilities? The Tiger Beetle is technically ‘the fastest running land animal’. The strongest animal is the world is the horned dung beetle. Insects also have incredible vision; most see colors invisible to humans and bees see in color at five times the speed we’re able. Vampires and other insects don’t breathe like we do, nor do they possess a human heartbeat. As an added bonus, invertebrates are notoriously hard to kill.

By now, I’m sure you’re all with me; vampires are bugs. But what kind? It took me a while to figure it out, but now I’m convinced that vampires are nothing more than overgrown, parasitic…

Continue reading I Know Why The Vampire Sparkles!

Team Jacob

Bella and Jacob Image Flickr user Nayara - Oliveira

I admit, even though the Twilight series was written for young adults, I was hooked after the first book. While it isn’t the bestest novel series ever, I have always had a fascination with vampires and other supernatural creatures and this was the latest fix for my addiction. As I completed the books, I came to a sad realization. Bella ended up with the wrong man. Much like I have taken the controversial line on who Mr. Potter ended up with, I am Team Jacob all the way. There are loads of reasons why, but here are a few of my top ones.

The way Edward treats Bella versus the way Jacob treats her is night and day different, excuse the pun. Throughout the series Edward protects Bella, not just when there are crazy vamps after her. He protects her from everything. It’s annoying. True, sometimes she needs it, like when the van comes hurtling towards her, but other times he should have just told her what was going on. If she is going to run with the big boys then she needs to have the spine to do it. On some level, he treats her like an overprotective father figure by watching over her when she sleeps, trying to control who she hangs out with, and not letting her use her car to go and see Jacob. He even insists on buying her an armored vehicle when she doesn’t want one. Really Edward, back off.

Jacob treats Bella like a person with a brain, though she doesn’t always act like she has one. He expects her to be strong and handle things not be a shrinking violet. They laugh and have a good time together. Being with Jacob feels natural to Bella.  Know why? Because they are two pieces of the same puzzle. When does she ever laugh or even smile when she is with Edward? Bella seems to be completed by Jacob. She talks about Jacob being her sunshine and she is always smiling around him. Another plus, she doesn’t have to give up her soul or leave her family to be with Jacob. They can settle down, have babies, go to college, and grow old together. Wake up Bella! No man is worth giving up your soul, your dreams, or your family for.

Edward is boring. Take away his magical vampire strength and speed and you have a shimmery dude that is afraid of sex and likes to mope around feeling sorry for himself. Not my idea of a super hunky undead guy. I really liked Armand in the Interview with a Vampire series, but I digress.

Jacob represents light, warmth, sensuality, and humanity. He is funny, sometimes reckless, and sensitive to Bella’s needs. Edward is cold and I don’t just mean his skin temperature. The boy never smiles. Can you imagine spending eternity with someone like that?

A Twi-Mom Speaks Out

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

I’m a Twi-Mom.  There.  I said it.

I am proud of my geek-ness in general but every now and then the socially aware part of my brain attempts to apply the brakes. What self-respecting mom would willing admit that her heart goes all aflutter at sparkly vampires and teenage angst? This one, apparently. I own the t-shirt (and wear it in public), my keys are adorned with an Edward keychain, and I at one point very seriously considered a bumper stick that read “Real Men Sparkle”.

For quite some time I attempted to closet my near obsession with Stephanie Meyers’  Twilight series and the associated movies. I kept the books under my bed so my friends wouldn’t see. I forbade myself the joy of seeing the midnight premier of the first movie. I waited until my veiwing the film would be construed as a casual, a last minute decision.  But why would a GeekMom be ashamed of her geek tendencies?  I had no problem with donning a Minerva McGonagall costume and screaming “Avada Kedavra” in a movie theater packed with people. I regularly sport video game themed apparrel and am prone to laughing hysterically at computer-programming based jokes.  But I hid my Twilight.

I wasn’t sure why until one day I stumbled upon a group of Twi-moms at my local coffee shop of choice. Turns out many of us younger moms, consciously or not, try to separate ourselves from things that teenagers should love.  We’re moms after all. Never mind that in my case I was only four years departed from teenager-hood when I gave birth. It made me a mom and I desperately had to prove it.  To someone. At least I that’s what I thought. But here were moms who love Twilight and were willing to be open about it and didn’t care who thought less of them for it. And is this not one of the defining characteristics of geekhood? I joined the conversation and from then on was no longer ashamed of my affection for a particular fictional character…namely Edward Cullen.

I’m a Twi-Mom on Team Edward. But why? Why would a grown woman who has known real love, real heartbreak, real angst, and real life like the admittedly surreal reality Meyer creates? The short answer is because it is so ideal. Edward represents everything that a woman should want (note I don’t say does want, SHOULD want).  He isn’t trying to get in Bella’s pants.  In fact he is resisting her desire to let him.  He is perfectly gorgeous, ageless, strong, a natural protector (and predator, this in and of itself holds charm), endearingly jealous, willing to admit fault, willing to apologize, and likes to cuddle.  He is the textbook definition of ideal. He is impossible, the vampire part aside even, but ideal, utopian even. I’d take him.

For some, all that perfection is so sickly sweet it is positively gag-inducing. For me, a freshly divorced, thus single, mom who hasn’t quite figured out how to date yet, it is a brilliant exercise of the heart. Yes, I’m perfectly aware it is fiction, but if you’ve ever broken off a long-term committed relationship, you know full well what I’m talking about.

I’m a Twi-mom, on Team Edward, and that’s final. I also have a good sense of humor. The Twi-Haters don’t bother me too often.  I saw (and enjoyed) Vampires Suck. The anti-Twilight gear cracks me up. I do have one request. Feel free to hate the books, the characters, the movies, the author for creating them, but leave the fans out of it. You don’t have to understand why we obsess, just that we do and will continue to do so. You get defensive about your passions, we get defensive about ours. With Eclipse just out on DVD we will be holed up in our homes, staring at gorgeous men portraying underage objects of fantasy, and we promise not to bother you for at least two hours.

Twilight Week At GeekMom!

twilight-book-cover2With the release Eclipse on DVD on Saturday, we at GeekMom decided to take a look at the Twilight phenomenon.

The immensely popular series has been incredibly polarizing among fandom.

One side side, teen girls reading the series, which included my own a few years ago, see someone they can identify with in Bella and a fascinating new world where they can escape.  Older female readers love the fantasy and romance of it all.

One the other side, feminists claim Twilight promotes stalking by men and teaches teen girls to be submissive and that getting married and having children is the ultimate goal of any woman.

And then there are the male geeks who roll their eyes and make fun of vampires that sparkle.

This week, we’ll have articles from as many angles as possible, with an eye to seeing why exactly this series creates strong emotions in so many.

Confessions of a Vampire Addict

An addict is someone who is obsessed with an activity or substance. It could be anything from drugs to pizza; to shoes to sci fiction. I don’t consider myself an addictive type of person. I don’t own a thousand pairs of shoes and only have wine on occasion. However, I am fixated on vampires. I love vampires. I can’t get enough of them in books, movies, television, you name it. I think this may have driven my parents a little crazy as a teen but once I was out of the house, I could indulge my addiction as much as I wanted.

The first vampire I remember that had an impact on me was from the movie Love at First Bite. Ok, I might be dating myself a bit there, but there was something about George Hamilton and that crazy guy who played Wrenfield. Of course, I watch that movie now and think it was super cheesy. The next vampires that showed up on my radar were The Lost Boys. I watched that movie ad nauseum. I had the entire thing memorized and wished I could live in California, dress like Star, and party with Jason Patric. That movie set the bar for the next several years. Vampires were all about big hair, sleeping all day, and partying all night.

Vamp Grrl Original art by Brigid Ashwood

By this time, my family was aware of my addiction and began to act as enablers. My aunt told me about a novel called Interview with the Vampire. Ahhhh… my next fix. This novel took the vampire and made him into a tragic, misunderstood creature. Poor Louis hated himself for what he had become and decided to live on animals rather than people. While Lestat was all about the vampire power trip. Throw the vampire child Claudia into the mix and it made for a compelling story. Anne Rice went on to write an entire series of the novels entitled the Vampire Chronicles.

My next obsession arrived with a watcher, a blond ponytail, and a gang of sidekicks. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and her posse saved the fictional Sunnydale from certain doom from 1997 to 2003. The show had witty writing, interesting plots, and tons of vampires and demons. In 1999, Joss Whedon created a spin off entitled Angel which featured Buffy’s ex moving to Los Angeles and opening a detective agency to help people with supernatural problems. Angel ended in 2004 which had me searching for a new fix.

During this time, I stumbled upon the Twilight series. What caught my eye at the book store was the book cover. I picked up the book and devoured the series. While I loved the book series, I haven’t been a huge fan of the movies. But they are out there if you are in need of a vampire fix.

In 2007, Moonlight came to the small screen. This sexy little series featured a vampire named Mick St John as a private investigator who falls in love with a human named Beth. This smart show was a victim of the writer’s strike in 2008 and only had 12 episodes before it was cancelled.

There was a noticeable lack of vampires on the tube after that, so I turned to the printed word and found the House of  Night series by P.C. and Kristen Cast. The series poses that vampirism is a physical, genetic change that teenagers go through, similar to puberty. However, there is the possibility that their bodies reject the change and they die. In the Cast’s series, vampyres have learned to coexist with humans. At least temporarily. I have a special affinity for this series as the authors are from my home town.

The latest offering on the television has been The Vampire Diaries. The story follows a pair of brothers who were turned into vampires by the same woman in the 1800’s. While the plots can be a bit sophomoric, Damon Salvatore is my new favorite vampire. There is just something about his eyes.

My vampire familiars have run the gamut from silly to sexy and while my addiction has changed over the years, there is always a new vampire story waiting in the wings.