Goodbye, Ars Marginal

It’s been a good run, and I appreciate everybody’s contributions to this space. Your posts, comments, signal boosts, follows, and other activity has made Ars Marginal special, and I’m truly grateful for everybody’s support.

However, it’s time for me to end it.

I’m going to retire Ars Marginal by the end of this week. I won’t delete the blog because there is so much here that I want to preserve even as I don’t tend to it anymore. But all future comments will be blocked, and no one will be able to post to it anymore.

This is a decision I’ve been weighing for a while, especially now that other opportunities require my time and attention. Additionally, there are new directions I want to go in for critical media analysis. In particular, I want to do more writing and analysis centered on women of color and fandom. I haven’t yet decided what format this new direction will take, but look for something sometime next year.

Thank you all for everything you’ve done to make Ars Marginal what it is. Please keep me posted on what you’re doing and feel free to reach out to me to talk more about arts and entertainment and critical analysis. I look forward to the great things you will be doing in the future.

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The Trojan Horse belongs in “The Illiad”

If you’ve seen Orange Is The New Black, the new Godzilla movie, Pacific Rim, or any of a host of films and TV shows that have a white (usually male) protagonist front and center while the more interesting characters of color are pushed into the supporting roles, you’re probably familiar with this.

The mentality behind it is something like this:

“Well, audiences need someone to identify with in the story, and since mainstream audiences only identify with white people, we need to have a white person there to sort of sneak in the interest in the characters of color. We use that character as our Trojan Horse to get people to see the characters of color as people they can identify with and root for.”

In essence, because white people only care about white people, there needs to be a white character involved in the story even though, narratively speaking, it should be about the characters of color.

Like fucking Dances with Wolves. Everybody knew that the Lakota characters were way more interesting than John Dunbar’s white ass. As far as the story is concerned, Kicking Bird and Wind In His Hair were the real main characters.

Fucking The Last Samurai, which is Dances with Wolves Goes to Japan, but far less self-aware about those pesky issues like racism and imperialism. I don’t think anyone watching that movie needed Tom Cruise to help them understand these characters, their world, or their story.

Don’t get me started on The Help. Like any of us gave a flying fuck about Skeeter’s ass when Aibileen and Minny are the real heart of the story.

This Trojan Horse shit is so bad that even white folks are starting to notice this shit!

I would like to take this moment to say…

ENOUGH ALREADY!

I’m so beyond sick of that shit! I’m so beyond sick of it that the next time it happens, I will not be held responsible if I go up to some random white guy and toss a bag of rabid opossums on his crotch. That’s how fucking done I am with that shit.

They think it’s so damn clever, too. “Have another attractive white man. SIKE!

Really? That’s the best they can do? Not creating three-dimensional characters of color. Oh no, that would take too much effort. No, they gotta put boring-ass white folks in the center of the narrative because that’s what they say audiences want and expect. And yet those desires and expectations inexplicably have nothing to do with the ways that mass media force-feeds people white supremacy from the day they’re born. That whole message that only white people are important apparently comes out of thin air. It’s always, “The audience wouldn’t see that,” or “The audience doesn’t want that.”

How about this one: “I’m a lazy, racist asshole with no imagination, and I think everyone else is too.”

We don’t need that shit. We didn’t need that shit in Blade; we didn’t need it in Bad Boys (or Bad Boys 2); we didn’t need it in 12 Years A Slave; we didn’t need it in After Earth; we didn’t need it in The Butler

So many movies already made a shitload of money with nary a White Tour Guide Character in sight. You don’t need a white character to ease the audience into giving a shit about characters of color. You just need to give characters of color the same care and attention as you would the white characters. As a matter of fact, all that time and energy spent on this random-ass white dude or white chick would be better spent on giving the characters of color more to do in the story besides help some white person fulfill their destiny or whatever the fuck these assholes think people of color ought to be doing.

These muthafuckas need to cut the fucking shit and just admit that they don’t wanna see our Black and Brown asses on screen more than they absolutely have to unless we’re helping white folks or making them laugh at us.

Or, at the very least, stop breaking their arms patting themselves on the back so hard for deigning to have a Brown or Black face in the supporting cast.

Why I saw “Maleficent” 10 times at the movies

As an affirmed movie buff, it’s not unusual for me to see a movie I like several times. Until Maleficent came out, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King held the title for Most Number Of Times RVCBard Spent Way Too Much Money On Tickets And Popcorn and Candy To See This Shit. I saw that shit 5 times at the movies. That’s right. Five times my eyeballs were sore from 3 hours of staring at a big-ass screen. Five times I sat there with my bladder about to burst.

Maleficent broke Return of the King‘s record twice over.

That’s right. I saw Maleficent ten times. No, no, not ten times on my laptop. Ten times on the big screen.

Anybody who knows me knows how particular I am about the things most people don’t think about when they watch a movie. Things like media representation, subliminal messages, and other stuff that people pretend not to notice. If I’m watching something ten times, you best believe there’s some real interesting shit going on with that.

spoilers like a muthafucka up in here

What I want to see

You know what kind of story I want to see?

I want to see stories about a woman of color enacting theatrical, operatic vengeance on anybody who fucks with her or stands in her way. I want a woman of color with such a lust for power that she makes Frank Underwood look like a slacker. I want a women of color who’s such a slippery, duplicitous, self-serving, magnificent bitch that David Xanatos would be impressed.

And I want the narrative to not punish her for it. That’s right. I want her to get away with doing horrible shit in the name of vengeance, ambition, or some other shit we act like we disapprove of but actually enjoy. I want her life to not be some Aesop about how good always wins or some other trite bullshit we know to be a flat-out fucking lie.

I am so tired of women of color, especially Black women, having to be and noble and selfless. I am so done with stories where women of color are not allowed to have grand flaws and epic passions.

If the Bride from Kill Bill can slice and dice her way through Tokyo to get back at five people who did her wrong and still have people root for her and call her an awesome character (without any of the justifications or qualifications that one would have to do with, say, Regina Mills or Marie Laveau), I want women of color to be able to do the exact same type of shit without the story or the audience constantly reminding us of how badwrongevilhorrible she is.

We throw the term “goddess” around so much when it comes to women of color. So let’s give them the same freedom as true goddesses. Let’s allow them to be everything they can be: kind and cruel, beautiful and horrible, wonderful and terrible.

You can’t make this shit up (“Alice in Arabia”)

You ever see something so fucked up that you can’t even get mad?

It’s one of those things that, if somebody told you about it, you wouldn’t believe it unless you saw it yourself. And if you saw it, you’d just stand there staring at it like, “This is so fucked up that I wanna keep it as a specimen for further study. I wanna pin it to a board and dissect it.”

That’s how I feel about Alice in Arabia.

Here’s how ABC described it:

“Alice in Arabia” is a high-stakes drama series about a rebellious American teenage girl who, after tragedy befalls her parents, is unknowingly kidnapped by her extended family, who are Saudi Arabian. Alice finds herself a stranger in a new world but is intrigued by its offerings and people, whom she finds surprisingly diverse in their views on the world and her situation. Now a virtual prisoner in her grandfather’s royal compound, Alice must count on her independent spirit and wit to find a way to return home while surviving life behind the veil.

(And the English major in me notes the parallel between Alice in Arabia and Alice in Wonderland. That’s right–countries with lots of Brown people in them, especially Arabs, are not real places in the real world with real people in them. No, they are nonsensical realms akin to an alternate universe where cakes turn little girls into giants and people play croquet with fucking flamingos and Johnny Depp can breakdance.)

Get this: this was not satire. This was not a joke. This was not a market survey designed to test the waters for what audiences like and don’t like.

A real live human being–not an alien, not a robot, not a mermaid who recently switched out her fins for legs–decided that this was a good fucking idea. Even more than that, that human being convinced other real live human beings that this was a good fucking idea. And they didn’t even need to make an offer the other people couldn’t refuse!

Pro-tip: If you have an idea for a story about people of color, and it sounds like some shit straight outta The Onion or The Colbert Report, DON’T FUCKING DO IT!

 

Jars of mayonnaise are not characters

One of the most frustrating things about being a person of color critically engaging with film and television is being constantly force fed whiteness as the standard for all humanity.

Aside from the fact that these movies and shows tend to have weak characterization, flimsy motives, shoddy worldbuilding, and cliche plots, there’s the fact that they force me to spend my precious time and brain cells on characters who have zilch going on to make them the least bit compelling and essentially sit there and be white while the story happens around them.

I won’t even bother with examples because this shit is so ubiquitous that I’d have a hard time keeping track. But even good movies and good TV shows are not immune. Even in the best of the best out there, you can probably find that one character that just takes up space and does nothing for the story other than exist, who is important not because of anything they bring to the story, but because you have to keep being told over and over again that they’re important.

In stories like this, you can get the distinct impression that the only reason why anyone should care about these characters at all is because they’re white and they exist. If the people making this shit are going to put so little effort into giving me characters who do more than exist and be white on screen, the least they can do is not insult actors and acting by forcing live human beings to play the equivalent of a jar of mayonnaise. Just cut out the middle man and put a jar of mayonnaise where the actor would normally be. They could save themselves money and the actors some time.

And you know what? This bullshit is really fucking noticeable when the character is a white woman. Because, apparently, “girl” or “woman” or “wife” or “mother” is all the characterization she needs. So it does this weird sort of white supremacist yet patriarchal thing where a woman is only a person insofar as she’s important to a man, but at the same time, her status as prize makes her inherently more valuable to a narrative than any women of color, especially Black women,  in the same story.

Consider Katrina Crane in Fox’s Sleepy Hollow. Look, I fucking love Sleepy Hollow! But if Katia Winter went to another show, and Fox replaced her with a jar of mayonnaise, I’d be hard-pressed to notice. What the hell does she do other than be Ichabod’s motivation, say all kinds of cryptic shit, and fail at being a witch? She only exists to be something that Ichabod strives for. Yet at the same time, when it comes to people arguing against the romantic potential between Ichabod and Abbie, or Abbie Mills being the character people most identify with, Katrina’s name consistently gets invoked.

Give me a motherfucking break.

Don’t show me a jar of mayonnaise and tell me it’s a character. Don’t show me a jar of mayonnaise with a girl’s name and tell me that’s feminist, let alone womanist.

And last but not least: STOP LEAVING ALL THESE FUCKING JARS OF MAYONNAISE ALL OVER THE GODDAMN PLACE!

You need to watch “Princess Tutu” ASAP

It’s no secret that I’m a huge anime nerd. I admit this without shame. My taste tends to run toward feature-length anime and limited-run serial anime over How Do They Get People To Make All These Episodes serial anime (Inuyasha being one exception).

Alas, whether because of maturity (ha!) or because there is something with contemporary anime that just lacks a certain something, my anime tastes pretty much grind to a halt after the late 90s.

But then a friend told me that I needed to watch Princess Tutu.

Y’all. Y’all. Go see this shit.

For real. Watch Princess Tutu. Right now. Queue it on your Netflix, find it on YouTube, order it on Amazon. Do what you have to do to see it.

You can find a description online. Princess Tutu even has its own wiki (SPOILER ALERT). Don’t let the name and the weird bits fool you. The story is actually very mature and extremely complex, and they achieve this without gratuitous T&A or blood and gore (there is quite a bit of verbal, emotional, and physical abuse in a few episodes). And then there’s that not-so-small falctor of having a lot of layered female characters–none of whom are necessarily cis–who actually fucking interact with each other and not just to talk about men or be on some Mean Girls type shit.

And did I mention the themes of this shit? Princess Tutu is a story about stories, about the power storytelling has, and the ways in which using that power responsibly or irresponsibly can affect people. If you are a writer, an artist, or a storyteller of any kind, especially one who has any sense of integrity about your work, you need to watch this shit. Princess Tutu is also about the importance of emotions, about how  we need even the “bad” feelings like sorrow and disappointment to be whole.

You ever saw something so good that everything else compared to it just pisses you off? That’s Princess Tutu for me. Princess Tutu is why I give Once Upon A Time so much shit. You wanna talk about subverting and deconstructing fairy tales, Princess Tutu pirouettes around Once Upon A Time without breaking a sweat (I’ve often thought to myself that Princess Tutu is the story that Regina deserves, but she’s unfortunately stuck on ABC).

Y’all need to watch Princess Tutu.

The Delphine LaLaurie Rubric for Ethically Compromised Women of Color Characters (SPOILERS for last night’s American Horror Story: Coven)

Previously I came up with the Walter White Sliding Scale of Sympathetic Villainy and the Tony Soprano Litmus Test for Morally Dubious Main Characters as a way of putting the actions of female characters doing dirt into some perspective.

The gist of it was this: if you didn’t say anything about a fictional cishet white dude doing bad shit, you can STFU and sitcho ass down when a fictional woman does bad shit.

But if the reactions to last night’s episode of American Horror Story: Coven is anything to go by, we need to add to the Walter White Scale and the Tony Soprano Test.

I’m gonna call it the Delphine LaLaurie Rubric for Ethically Compromised Women of Color Characters.

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