Radiant as the Sun: Beauty in The Hunger Games

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Look at me blogging two times in one week…

This semester is pretty much going to kill me–in a fun, I’m actually-doing-what-I-want-with-my-life kind of way, but still–so I’m finally starting this thing where I adapt old college papers into blog posts.  This analysis of beauty culture in The Hunger Games is about half of a paper I wrote for Dr. Ehrhardt’s Beauty in American Literature and Culture class my junior year of college.  I’ve mucked about with quite a bit of the phrasing and tossed the MLA citations to make it sound less stilted and formal, as well as adding a few observations I really wish I’d thought of back when I was writing the paper.  I’ll post the second part, on Divergent‘s surprisingly cool body positivity arc, next week.

So:  The Hunger Games.  Is it a super rad critique of reality TV and what could be called schadenfreude culture?  Definitely.  I’m sure other people have written beautifully about those subjects.  The scope of this half-paper, though, is pretty narrow, so today I’ll just be talking about how beauty and body image are presented and treated in THG.  The basic idea is that ultimately, THG doesn’t present a particularly healthy view of beauty, casting beautification as solely the domain of the shallow upper-class.  A few more social factors play into the beauty culture of THG, though, most prominently class/wealth but also race.  I’ll analyze all of that in depth here.

First off, I’ll tackle the link between beauty and class.  Beauty as defined by the Capitol is the clearest marker of social class.  Suzanne Collins makes this clear within the first few pages of the book, when Katniss encounters the mayor’s daughter, Madge Undersee.  Madge wears a pin that Katniss describes as “real gold. Beautifully crafted. It could keep a family in bread for months.”  Unlike Madge, Katniss comes from a poor working-class family, so she naturally thinks of anything luxurious in terms of utility.  It’s extra telling that she compares Madge’s riches to food, given that she also mentioned three pages ago that her family still goes to bed hungry.

On the other extreme of Panem’s class spectrum, you’ve got the people of the Capitol.  When they aren’t watching teenagers murder each other, these people chase beauty in all its Technicolor glory.  Effie Trinket is perhaps the most memorable Capitol citizen, thanks to the movies*:

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But let’s not forget Katniss’s team of stylists, either.  A quick rundown:

  • Venia, who has “aqua hair and gold tattoos above her eyebrows”
  • Octavia, “a plump woman whose entire body has been dyed a pale shade of pea green”
  • Flavius, who has “orange corkscrew locks” and wears purple lipstick

These are the people in whose hands Katniss moves from simply ogling wealth to embodying it.  They “[turn] my skin to glowing satin” and “[paint] flame designs on my twenty perfect nails,” for starters.  An obvious connotation of both “glowing” and fire is light, and electricity by association.  Katniss mentions earlier that in her home district, the citizens get very little electricity, if any.  Light of any sort is a luxury for her–as is satin, for that matter. Even her fingernails and toenails become art, something for which someone as poor as Katniss normally has no time.  By far her most literal embodiment of wealth and luxury, though, comes when her stylists “cover my entire body in a powder that makes me shimmer in gold dust.”

It’s also worth mentioning at this juncture that Peeta Mellark serves as a sort of social stepping-stone between Katniss and the people of the Capitol.  He’s a member of District 12’s merchant class, as opposed to the mining class.  He admits to Katniss at one point that he frosts the cakes for his family’s bakery–“fancy cakes with flowers and pretty things painted in frosting.”  **He’s the middle of the seesaw, in a sense; he works, but his work is art.  Furthermore, his art is not just impermanent but also somewhat necessary for others’ sustenance, unlike Octavia’s skin dye or Venia’s tattoos.  The fact that his art can disappear spurs the creation of more art on his part, and necessitates that he continue working.  He may be a rung above Katniss on the social ladder, but he’s still kind of stuck where he is.  He’s still forced to fight for his life in the book’s eponymous Hunger Games.**

In response to all the Capitol’s excesses, Katniss embraces simplicity wherever she can find it.  At the beginning of the novel, Katniss admires the dress her mother gives her for Reaping Day, “a soft blue thing with matching shoes.”  This dress can be nothing fancy, given her family’s socioeconomic status, but she calls it “lovely” anyway. Later, when she meets her primary stylist Cinna in the Capitol, Katniss is “taken aback by how normal he looks,” because the other stylists she remembers from previous Hunger Games are “so dyed, stenciled, and surgically altered they’re grotesque.”  Cinna does wear “metallic gold eyeliner,” in an intriguing connection to Katniss’s later gold-powder-bath.  It’s scant at best, though, and Katniss subsequently singles that look out for praise.  Cinna takes a similarly minimalist approach with Katniss when he prettifies her for the Games’ opening ceremonies, and she acknowledges that she looks “more attractive but utterly recognizable.”  Peeta is the one who says outright that he doesn’t want the Games to “turn me into some kind of monster that I’m not,” but Katniss demonstrates a similar desire through her rejection of the Capitol’s beauty norms.

Speaking of monsters, the connections between notions of beauty and notions of humanity run deep in the novel.  The denizens of the Capitol view beautification as an integral part of being human. Before Katniss gets to see Cinna, her stylists have to fix what they call “obvious problems,” i.e. “ridding my body of hair.”  The process of being “stripped of the stuff” makes Katniss feel “like a plucked bird, ready for roasting.”  The way she phrases all of this indicates she is acted upon rather than acting of her own accord. She is powerless in this situation, a fact further reinforced when she compares herself to a bird, a nonhuman entity treated as prey.  Flavius unwittingly feeds into this when he tries to give Katniss a compliment, telling her that she “almost look[s] like a human being now!” and thereby implying that she was less than human before they stripped her of her body hair, before they forced their ideals of beauty on her.  (Also, side note, this scene is highly worth considering alongside American ideals of hairless women.  It’s no accident that Collins is lumping this in with the dystopian aspects of Panem.)

However, Katniss sees beautification as a dehumanizing and undignified act, one that suppresses her individuality and replaces her with someone she can’t recognize as herself.  In preparation for her TV interview, “they erase my face” and erase her by extension. When Katniss finally sees the results of her extensive makeover in the mirror, she calls herself a “creature”–not even a person, but a creature, a beast–and says the bedazzled humanoid she sees must be from “another world.”  Upon rewatching her interview, she denounces the girl she sees on television, “a silly girl spinning in a sparkling dress,” as “frilly and shallow, twirling and giggling.” The prep team has transformed her outwardly into a walking display case for all manner of gems and sparkles and other indulgences.  At the novel’s end, when Katniss takes off one last coating of makeup, she sees it as “transforming back into myself.”  She views cosmetics, and in a larger sense everything else she had to don in the Capitol, as ultimately disingenuous.

No analysis of beauty in The Hunger Games, though, would be complete without addressing the racial issues brought up in the book.  Katniss idealizes her sister and mother, saying that “Prim’s face is fresh as a raindrop” and “my mother was very beautiful once, too.”  She reveals later that her mother and Prim have “light hair and blue eyes” and “always look out of place” in their part of District 12. Katniss, in contrast, has “straight black hair, olive skin,” and gray eyes, much like the majority of families in this part of the district. Her mother, she explains, was a member of the same merchant class as Peeta and his family before she got married, as opposed to the coal-miner class.  The unmistakable implication is that Katniss’s mother is white and Prim is white-passing, and that Katniss is a woman of color, or at the very least racialized as nonwhite.  Katniss consistently denies that she is beautiful, even when Cinna is through with her.  She characterizes herself as “radiant as the sun,” but she prefaces that statement with a disclaimer that “I am not pretty. I am not beautiful.”  Furthermore, the astronomical implications of the sun tie into her comment about her reflection seeming to come from “another world.”  Though Katniss disavows the cosmetics culture she encounters in the Capitol, she seems unable to find beauty in herself even in her most natural state, which points to a strong, ingrained link in Katniss’s mind between light skin and beauty.

With all that said, there is one really cool thing about the beauty culture of Panem:  in the Capitol, makeup isn’t gendered.  Flavius wears purple lipstick, Cinna wears the aforementioned gold eyeliner, and Caesar Flickerman matches his eyeshadow and lipstick to his hair color, whatever wild hue that may be.  Peeta has his own stylist as well, as do all the other tributes.  That’s not something you see every day, in our Western society or in other books.  It’s a shame, then, that Katniss dismisses all makeup and beautification wholesale, because that’s one aspect of a dystopian society that our world would actually do well to emulate.

That about covers it!  I’ll be back next week with another update from Canada and the second part of this series, on Divergent.  Stay tuned!

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*And in today’s example of Boy Howdy Did People Ever Miss the Point of These Books, here’s a screenshot of the Google image result that gave me this particular picture:

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Of course we’ve turned Effie into Pinterest fodder.  Of course.

**Man, I wish I’d thought of this back when I wrote the paper, because that is a cool thought and now I want to explore it further.  Maybe after I take this class on neoliberal capitalism?

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Mirror, Mirror: Alternate Selves and Identity in Star Trek Beyond

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I just really love this poster, lurking Krall and everything.

(Fair warning:  spoilers GALORE)

In Star Trek (2009), Spock briefly addresses the staggering implications of the alternate universe the movie creates:

Spock:  …Nero’s very presence has altered the flow of history, beginning with the attack on the U.S.S. Kelvin, culminating in the events of today, thereby creating an entire new chain of incidents that cannot be anticipated by either party.

Uhura: An alternate reality.

Spock: Precisely. Whatever our lives might have been, if the time continuum was disrupted, our destinies have changed.

For the rest of the movie, however, the crew of the Enterprise is a little too focused on “kicking Romulan arse” (RIP Engineer Olson, gone too soon) to properly consider what being in an alternate universe really means for them.  Star Trek Beyond, on the other hand, is pretty much all about this subject.  The movie explores the ramifications of alternate universes, particularly with regards to identity and selfhood, through two intertwining motifs–mirrors/reflections and mortality.  Ultimately, it puts forth a definition of identity that, in true Star Trek fashion, is not individualistic but rather communal.  Unity, as Uhura tells Krall at one point in STB, really is strength.

The entire concept of alternate universes, of mirror selves, in Rebootverse is linked strongly with life and death.  Obviously, as I alluded to above, Rebootverse is ushered into existence not just by George Kirk’s death but also by Jim Kirk’s simultaneous birth.  In that moment, George and Jim mirror each other in a way, balance each other out.  Simon Pegg and Doug Jung set up the ways in which the mirrors and mortality motifs interact with the first few minutes of STB.  The first few seconds of STB are strikingly similar to the first few seconds of Star Trek:  a generous sweeping shot over the body of the ship, that particular beeping sound (just once this time around, but once is all it takes).  Our first shot of Kirk is one of him staring morosely into a mirror.  All his command shirts are freakishly identical, too, so his closet looks like one of those infinite mirrors.  There’s Kirk’s “episodic” comment, as well–every day on the Enterprise, the way he sees it, is a mirror of the day before.

All of that culminates in the bar scene with McCoy and Kirk.  Kirk’s got mortality on the brain–he comments that his upcoming birthday will make him older than his father ever was–but in the ensuing conversation, he holds himself up as an imperfect reflection of his father.  McCoy’s subsequent comment cements the question that will anchor the rest of the movie:

You spent all this time trying to be George Kirk, and now you’re wondering just what it means to be Jim.

Who is Jim Kirk, really?  Is he a concrete person, or is he just a distorted reflection of… of something?  That’s an especially relevant question to be asking on a metatextual level, too:  reboot!Kirk is already a reflection of TOS!Kirk, both in-story and out-of-story.  The new crew will always be thought of alongside the old crew, even if the two groups aren’t necessarily being directly compared.

So are reboot!Kirk and TOS!Kirk the same person?  Have circumstances changed them too much, or is there some core Kirk essence there, deep down?  When there are God only knows how many versions of you running around in alternate planes of reality, how much claim do you really have on being you?  Pegg and Jung mainly explore this question through three characters:  Kirk (obviously), Krall/Balthazar, and Spock.

At first, it seems as if Kirk might never escape his father’s shadow, escape the feeling that he’s nothing more than a messy, flawed reflection of George Kirk.  The destruction of the Enterprise is an almost agonizingly extended callback to the opening of Star Trek.  Kirk follows in his father’s footsteps in a few big ways.  He tries his best to fight off the invading force, despite the ship’s rapidly failing systems.  He gives the order to evacuate and stays on the ship while his crew leaves.  But then his path diverges–he’s able to get in a Kelvin pod (side note, ouch, that hurts my heart) and escape his dying ship, rather than going down with it.  The camera angle used here is particularly poignant; we only see Kirk’s face reflected, translucent and a little distorted, in the Kelvin pod’s window, overlaid first with the Enterprise’s bridge and then with the saucer as it falls to the ground.  And he thought he was an imperfect reflection of his father before?  That’s nothing compared to this moment.  Once he crash-lands on Altamid, though, he’s basically free of his father’s shadow.  Repeating his father’s trauma brought things full circle, in a way, and he’s no longer reflecting on or reflected by his own past.  Instead, the movie shifts and shows Kirk what he could become, in the form of Krall AKA Balthazar Edison.

Balthazar is a better reflection of Jim Kirk than even George Kirk was.  His one-liner during the climactic fight–“Peace is not what I was born into”–perfectly describes Kirk, who in this universe was born amidst a lightning storm and a giant battle.  Like Kirk, Balthazar is a captain who got lost in space (forgive me) and lost himself, physically and spiritually.  The funny thing about Balthazar, and the thing that makes this comparison to Kirk work so well, is that he’s a nearly perfect embodiment of the Ship of Theseus paradox.  Plutarch puts this question forth in Plutarch’s Lives, and I’m paraphrasing here:  if you have a ship and then slowly replace each of its parts with new parts, does it stop being the original ship?  Where’s the tipping point?  Is there some essence to it that makes it the original ship, even if none of the components are original to the ship?  To see how Balthazar embodies this paradox, we’ve got to bring the life/death motif back into the equation.  He uses a technology he found on Altamid to extend his own life, and the lives of just two of his crewmates, by draining other people of their life force.  As Sulu and Uhura are unfortunate enough to witness, every time Krall drains somebody, the process of transferring their life to his makes his appearance shift.  The implication, once it’s revealed that Krall was Balthazar Edison once upon a time, is that he’s done this time and again, and it’s distorted him a little bit more every time.  Balthazar may be prolonging his life, but he seems to lose more of himself each go-around.  He cheats death by becoming death, in a way.

Balthazar’s status as Kirk’s mirror image turns more literal near the end of the movie, when he sees his own reflection in a shard of glass in the maintenance chamber.  It calls back to Kirk’s own staring-in-a-mirror moment at the start of the movie, and it’s also visually significant in a couple other ways.  For one thing, Balthazar doesn’t even see his whole face reflected in that shard, and for another, the face that he does see isn’t his original self.  He’s lost too much of himself, and he can never go back, not completely.  In that sense, he provides half an answer to the Ship of Theseus paradox:  there was a tipping point for him somewhere.  He’s not the ship he used to be, and he can never be that ship again.

So if Balthazar has lost himself forever, whatever himself was, where does that leave Kirk?

Well, Kirk has to get lost a little more before he can find everything again–physically this time, not just emotionally. For a while, he only has two other crew members with him, first Chekov and then Scotty, similar to how Balthazar eventually only had Manus/Anderson and Kalara/Jessica left with him. But he finds his people again, little by little, and only with their help is he able to get everybody out of trouble. The ensuing shenanigans, while very much in the nail-biting action movie tradition, don’t lack symbolic fodder either.  Jaylah’s astral projection technology, in particular, plays a significant role in Kirk’s arc.  When Kirk uses the tech to duplicate himself God knows how many times, in order to create the diversion for the prison break, it makes the general idea of infinite parallel selves, as I mentioned briefly above, physical rather than just theoretical.  What’s more, it hearkens back to the moment when Kirk looked into his closet and saw all his identical command shirts, bringing that bit of symbolism full circle, closing one set of parentheses in this equation.

Only when the crew escapes Altamid, though, can Kirk’s arc truly conclude.  Kirk takes the exact opposite of Balthazar’s path during their final battle in Yorktown (in which, ha, the world turns upside down. Sorry, I absolutely could not pass that up).  He chooses more-than-probable death when he goes up into that chamber to get the Abronath out into space.  Instead of sucking out other people’s lives to extend his own, he’s ready to give his life to save others (and he even says as much to Balthazar’s face).  His fate and Balthazar’s are opposites, as well; Kirk lives, not by his own machinations but because Spock and McCoy save him just in time, and Balthazar dies alone in space, consumed by his own weapon.

That’s the funny thing about mirrors:  they reflect, but they don’t duplicate.

And then, somewhat far removed from all the Kirk and Balthazar drama, there’s Spock.  He deals with both of the main motifs near the beginning of the movie, when they arrive at Yorktown and he learns that Spock Prime has died.  When he looks at that tablet, with the image of Spock Prime and his lifespan right below it, he’s face to face with his own mortality, both metaphorically and literally.  That’s the open-parens of his arc.  The close-parens of his arc is what really hammers home the central thesis of the movie, though.  When the crew is back at Yorktown, Spock looks through Spock Prime’s belongings in a room walled with little diamond-shaped mirrors. That’s the very first angle we get on that scene, and a visual connection to Kirk’s earlier astral projection moment is easy to draw. In the mirror chamber, once again Spock is confronted with his own reflection in the form of an image of Spock Prime–but it’s not just him in the picture.  The camera starts out focusing on Spock Prime, but then it pulls out to show the picture of the whole crew.*  The implication is that this picture is just as much a reflection of Spock as the tablet was, that the other crewmembers are part of his self, his identity as well.

There are so many other moments in the movie that work to support this conclusion.  When the crew splits up, a lot of the pairs are mirrors for each other in some way, shape, or form:

  • McCoy and Spock: they’re more like their normal diametrically opposed selves when they first end up stuck together, but in that scene when they’re sitting side by side in the temple thing, they take on each other’s best qualities.  Spock opens up emotionally, and god, never let it be said that McCoy doesn’t say what he feels.  McCoy, meanwhile, gets calmer, more philosophical, and he really cuts to the quick of human nature when he says “fear of death is what keeps us alive.”
  • Kirk and Chekov:  both of them were/are whiz kids.  We never learn much about Chekov’s background, but he strikes me as a fresher, younger, less burdened version of Kirk.  Maybe that’s what Kirk Prime was like in his younger days.
  • Scotty and Jaylah:  aside from the obvious mechanical genius parallel, both of them were abandoned in a sense.  Going back to the first reboot movie, Scotty was left all alone in that Starfleet base on the Arctic wasteland Delta Vega.  In general, Scotty’s never quite been part of the Three Musketeers, in TOS or in the reboot movies, and he’s usually off in engineering rather than on the bridge with the rest of the main crewmembers.  Jaylah has obviously spent a lot of time alone as well, what with her Tragic Backstory.**

Furthermore, each pair of crewmates wouldn’t be able to do as much without the other.  Spock is injured and needs McCoy, but Spock is also the one who figures out the Abronath came from Altamid, probably in no small part because he was the one who logged it in the ship’s computer.  Kirk wouldn’t have been able to trick Kalara without Chekov as backup.  Jaylah wouldn’t have been able to fix the Franklin without Scotty’s help, but by the same token, she’s lived in the Franklin so long that she knows it like the back of her hand, and they might not have found Kirk and Chekov without her traps.  Sulu and Uhura each might have been able to come to the conclusion that Krall had hacked Yorktown on their own, but it would have taken them twice the time.  The prison break works so well precisely because so much of the crew is able to help execute the plan.  They’re able to get almost the whole rest of the crew to safety, as well; the only casualties (seen on screen, anyway) are poor Ensign Syl and the two crewmembers Krall drains.  The penultimate scene of the movie, the crew reunited at Kirk’s surprise party, underscores this message as well, as does the ending voiceover.  Every single main character reads part of Space, the final frontier…, which, to the best of my knowledge, is unprecedented for a Star Trek movie.

Star Trek was never just about Kirk, about the individual.  From its conception, it was a show about facing the unknown hand in hand with allies, with friends.  That’s ultimately what it means to be Jim Kirk, to answer the question McCoy posed at the movie’s outset:  to be part of a crew, one of many on the Enterprise.  There is strength in unity, as Uhura said, and that’s the very DNA of this movie.  For that reason and so many others, Star Trek Beyond feels like the reboot movie we’ve deserved all along.

~~~

*I cannot be the only one who almost screamed aloud when that happened.

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**Side note, can we appreciate that for once a female character got a Tragic Backstory that doesn’t involve losing her boyfriend or husband, losing her kid, or being on the victim end of some form of sexual violence?

Mary Super: Power Fantasies and the Supergirl Pilot

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Hiya, me again!  Your friendly neighborhood overanalyzer, here to overanalyze everything!

I’m still getting all my thoughts in order in re: the other fafillion essays I’d like to write on Civil War (and also the response I want to make to a really thoughtful comment someone posted–dear commenter, I promise I’m not ignoring you, my life is just completely ridiculous right now!).  In the meantime, to celebrate Supergirl getting a second season against all the financial odds, here’s a thing I wrote back in September, after watching the pilot episode.  I haven’t had time to watch any of the show since then, or any of my other shows for that matter (like I said, my life is ridiculous), but I’m definitely planning to catch up once I get a moment to breathe.  I hope y’all enjoy it!

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So, the Supergirl pilot.  I’d like to start out by saying that overall I liked it a lot.  Did it feel kind of rushed?  Yes, but such is the nature of a pilot episode, I think.  Did the no-homo moment between Kara and Wynn on the rooftop irk me?  Absolutely.  Are there enough women of color and/or queer women on the show?  God no.  But man, is it refreshing to have a superheroine in a practical outfit who just really, really enjoys being a hero.

With all that said, I’d like to address what I think has been one of the biggest talking points about the entire episode:  that feminism exchange between Kara and her boss Cat.

Kara: [on discovering that Cat dubbed her “Supergirl”] “Supergirl”? We can’t name her that!

Cat: We didn’t.

Kara: Right, I’m sorry. It’s just, uh… A female superhero. Shouldn’t she be called Super… woman?

Cat: I’m sorry, darling, I just can’t hear you over the loud color of your cheap pants.

Kara: If we call her “Supergirl,” something less than what she is, doesn’t that make us guilty of, of being anti-feminist? Didn’t you say she’s the hero?

Cat: I’m the hero. I stuck a label on the side of the girl. I branded her. She will forever be linked to CatCo, to the Tribune, to me. And what do you think is so bad about “girl?” Huh? I’m a girl. And your boss, and powerful, and rich, and hot and smart. So if you perceive “Supergirl” as anything less than excellent, isn’t the real problem you?

On the surface, this conversation is really frustrating on a feminist level.  Kara’s perfectly valid concern that the name Supergirl infantilizes her is sort of glossed over.  But Cat’s response, while on some level patronizing and missing-the-point, actually brings up something really interesting, something I think the writers touched on but didn’t explore in enough depth (please, subsequent episodes, prove me wrong here):  the nature of power fantasies versus self-insert fantasies and how that relates to both gender and maturity.

Say what you will about the corn-fed Kansas boy, but Superman is basically the epitome of a power fantasy.  Who among us hasn’t wished they were that strong and near-invincible?  Clark/Superman is a man, darn it, and he’s drawn as even more than that, as this ridiculously powerful, godlike creature.  I mean, look:

If this were a gif, his cape would be rippling in the wind, but that perfectly curled forelock wouldn’t move an inch.

Now, Supergirl, on the other hand:  remember that line from the waitress in the diner where our baddie of the week was very much not eating?

WAITRESS:  Sorry about that, sir.  Can you believe it?  A female hero.  Nice for my daughter to have someone like that to look up to.

The entire point of Supergirl seems to be that she’s more relatable, like Cat said and like the waitress confirmed, but the terms “man” and “girl” play into that in fascinating ways.

Going to get a little bit personal here for a moment:  I’m 22 years old, but even so, “woman” is a label I’m having real trouble accepting for myself, because heretofore it’s been defined for me as something I’m not, or at least that I’m not just yet.  Something more advanced, that I can only rightly claim after I rack up an indeterminate yet large number of Adult Achievement Points.  And I really don’t think I’m the only one feeling this way–I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen or heard other people my age say things like “who let me be an adult?”

In light of this ongoing cultural joke, I’m starting to think that even the words “man” and “woman” have become their own power fantasy words in a way.  And while people my age (by which I basically mean millennials) might like Superman and his ilk just fine, the new connotations of these words associated with adulthood and general life-together-ness make it harder for us to identify with them.  My peers and I may fantasize about being Big Strong Adults who can pay the rent with no trouble, mow the lawn, cook rice without burning it even a little, and overall keep it together, but we also don’t feel like we have the right to claim that sort of fantasy for ourselves.  We can’t ultimately bring ourselves to put our feet in those shoes.

Which means that a more self-insert-oriented character, a character like Kara, is that much more accessible, and her super-moniker absolutely plays into that.  The thing about Kara is that she’s still very much young and inexperienced, but she can still friggin’ fly.  Characters like her are great for people who don’t feel like they can claim an adult identity or the power associated with it, because characters like her still get stuff done.

In a nutshell:  self-inserts make power fantasies more accessible.

Furthermore, I think that’s the crux of the Mary Sue trope, and of modern fanfiction’s origins in general–the use of the original character as an accessible entry point, this completely ordinary, recognizable girl who happens to be privy to a whole other fantastical world, or who possesses magical or otherwise extraordinary powers.  It’s a way of bringing the super to the normal.

~~~

There you have it!  Not sure what’ll be coming down the pipeline next–maybe more Civil War ruminations, maybe more Northanger Abbey (because golly, I still haven’t finished that, have I?).  But regardless, I’ll be back soon with more overanalyzing!

Civil Blood and Civil Hands: Captain America, Iron Man, and the Ethics of Superhero Regulation

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(This is hopefully the first of several blog posts I’ll write about this movie.  It was just that good.)

If you’ve been on Twitter at all for the past month or so, I’m sure you’ve seen promoted tweets urging you to “pick a side” for Captain America:  Civil War, either #TeamCap or #TeamIronMan.  Is this an effective marketing technique?  Absolutely.  But it also does a huge disservice to the movie itself.  One of the things I loved most about Civil War was the sheer complexity of the ethical debate at its core.  If I got into the finer details of superhero ethics, this post would turn into a monster, but for now I’ll just say this:  Civil War complicates the divide between utilitarianism and Kantianism.

I’ve written before about the ethical structure of (the first two seasons of) Orphan Black.  I like how that show does ethics, make no mistake, and generally I’m more inclined to favor Kantianism than utilitarianism, but the fact remains that it was almost ridiculously easy for me to break that show down into ethical “camps,” so to speak.  Civil War, on the other hand, doesn’t take the easy route and shove Team Cap or Team Iron Man into one school of thought or the other.  Steve’s side mostly maintains a delicate balance of utilitarianism and Kantianism, whereas Tony’s side engages in selective Kantianism, and if that sounds like an oxymoron?  Well, it totally is.

To go into a bit more detail:  Steve is very much cognizant of the bigger picture in every single battle they fight.  In the first few minutes of the film, the Avengers finally get the better of Crossbones, who almost certainly would have burned the whole world down, whether metaphorically or literally.  By most metrics, the mission was a success:  all the hostiles were taken care of, Crossbones is nothing more than ash, and Natasha kept that unknown biological agent from wreaking untold havoc, and the Avengers are to thank for that.  For Steve, there is absolutely a greater good to be working towards–that’s worth working towards–and he doesn’t lose sight of that.  I might even go so far as to say that not losing sight of that is the only thing that keeps him from completely succumbing to guilt (which, side note, is exactly how he tries to console Wanda after the events of Lagos).  So in that sense, his point of view is utilitarian.  However, things get more complicated once the Sokovian Accords come into the picture.  Steve’s primary objection is that the accords strip the Avengers of their autonomy–a Kantian argument.  The exact phrase he uses is “right to choose.”

Meanwhile, the match that sets Tony off is the story of Charlie Spencer.  Charlie is very much a microcosm of the larger impetus behind the Sokovian Accords:  the everyman with big talents and a bigger heart who just wanted to do some good in the world and got killed in some random superhero crossfire for his trouble.  And the whole issue of innocent powerless bystanders in a superpowered world is legitimately a difficult, pressing one.  As much as Vision’s whole correlation-versus-causation mixup irritated me (you’re a WALKING COMPUTER, you should KNOW THE DIFFERENCE), he does raise a valid point–the more powerful the heroes are, the bigger their battles are, and the more people get killed.  You could make a convincing argument for Tony’s camp being either utilitarian or Kantian in spirit; utilitarian because the Accords aim to assure the greater good for the most people, or Kantian because… well, let’s just say people can’t exercise much autonomy at all when they’re dead.

That argument isn’t wrong per se.  Tony’s motivations are actually pretty noble–a much-appreciated moment of character growth for him–and heck, if we’re getting into motivations, Steve definitely acts more selfishly because his first priority, far and away, is saving Bucky.  But Tony’s position still falls apart on closer examination, and it’s precisely because of the Sokovian Accords.  For starters, please tell me I wasn’t the only one flabbergasted that the Accords were developed without input from the Avengers themselves.

Did anyone even think to ask the Avengers if they wanted to sit at this political table?  Did they seriously expect to shove this document at the team, a document which profoundly reduces their autonomy, and have all of them sign it without any fuss?  I seem to recall a little country called England pulling the same kind of crap on the thirteen colonies, with the Stamp Act and the Tea Act and probably a couple others I haven’t thought about since AP US History–how did that turn out again?

Oh, right.

Seriously, though, this is exactly where Tony and co’s argument goes down the drain:  this idea of selective Kantianism that I mentioned earlier.  Just as one example, take that line of Tony’s from midway through the movie, concerning Wanda:  “They don’t issue visas for weapons of mass destruction.”  That single line completely dehumanizes Wanda, completely ignores the person behind the superpowers.

That’s what the Sokovian Accords in general do, as they’re presented in the movie.  They reduce the Avengers to weapons.  Objects.  Things, rather than sentient human beings with the right to autonomy.  Which kind of completely goes against the very Kantian ideal they’re supposedly trying to defend, doesn’t it?

I’m on Team Cap, ultimately.  I think that while the idea behind the Sokovian Accords isn’t a bad one at all, and that while there are certainly merits to having the Avengers allied with the UN rather than just the US, the idea was too poorly executed to be of much value.  But I had to think so hard about the situation before I arrived at this opinion, because everything in this movie is so thorny and the path to a right answer isn’t at all clear.  Some people are wrong for the right reasons, some people are right for the wrong reasons, and not everybody’s motivations and justifications are exactly the same.  “Picking a side,” therefore, is ultimately a reductive, simplistic way of looking at things–just like with the Professor X vs. Magneto rivalry, or bisexuality, or real life in general.  Funny how things work out that way.

“Anyone else’s opinion doesn’t really matter”: Peggy Carter Versus the Patriarchy

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both gifs via tumblr user thekillianjones

“I know my value” is perhaps the best-known, most-quoted line from Marvel’s Agent Carter, and with good reason:  it’s short, bold, and fist-pumpingly feminist.  But thus far, I haven’t seen anybody point out two of the most interesting undercurrents of this quote, and of this whole conversation between Peggy and Daniel Sousa.  There are a lot of layers to what Peggy’s saying here, but I believe two crucial layers are these:  (1) Peggy is specifically yet subtly rebuking Daniel, and (2) Peggy is rejecting the patriarchal power structure of the SSR, while previously she had been trying to work within it.

A Game of Friendzones

The first time we hear Daniel Sousa speak, he’s sticking up for Peggy amidst yet another round of sexist ridicule from their other coworkers.  “You owe the lady an apology,” he said.  I know I can’t have been the only one immediately endeared to him because of that, but right after that, Peggy sets up the fundamental difference in values that defines their dynamic by telling him not to stick up for her.  She can take care of herself, and she tells him as much.  Throughout the show, Daniel persists in sticking his neck out for/generally trying to ally himself with Peggy, seeing them as similarly marginalized within the SSR.  She clearly doesn’t return the sentiment, though, given that she refuses to tell anyone in the SSR about her secret mission for Howard Stark.  Even in episode 3, when she and Jarvis tip the SSR off about the ship with Howard’s stolen gadgets, she says she can “just about stomach” the idea of Sousa taking credit for it – not the most enthusiastic of endorsements.  This tension comes to a head when Peggy’s secret mission is exposed.  Daniel is angrier than we’ve ever seen him on screen while interrogating Peggy, something that seems out of character until we consider how he’s thought of his and Peggy’s relationship up till this point.  He’s obviously crushing on her, yes, but he’s also seen them as allies, the two scapegoats and laughingstocks of the SSR, and he’s acted accordingly.  Both the romantic and platonic mindsets intertwine to make Peggy’s revelation an extremely personal slight in his eyes.

His big mistake, though, is in thinking that she owes him something in return – romantically or otherwise.

Viewed in this light, “I know my value” begins to sound a lot like this:  I don’t need Jack Thompson’s approval, but I also don’t need yours, Daniel Sousa.  I value myself, and while I appreciate you sticking up for me, my self-esteem does not live or die by you.  You being a decent person does not mean I owe you something, and don’t you forget that.  It’s rather like that one oft-quoted aphorism (side note, I looked for a source for this, and I haven’t found one yet):  Women are not vending machines you put Kindness Coins into until sex falls out.  This interpretation is further reinforced by the fact that two seconds later, Peggy turns down Daniel’s offer of a drink.  She doesn’t owe him groveling kindness, unswerving loyalty, or a drink.

Something’s Rotten in Denmark

In a larger sense, though, this line is the culmination of Peggy’s patriarchy-battling arc of this season.  She’s moved from working within the system to rejecting it entirely.  Despite the fact that in order to do anything exciting at all, she literally has to take a mission outside of the SSR, Peggy is still determined to climb up the corporate ladder (so to speak).  In episode 3, she almost exposes all her sneaking-about herself when she finds Howard’s gadgets, claiming “I will call them in, and they will respect me.”  Later, in episode 5, when Jarvis insists yet again that her coworkers don’t/won’t treat her right, she retorts, “I expect I will make them.”  Though she’s previously tried to ward off Daniel’s attempts to garner respect for her, she’s still hung up on making the SSR work for her, finding a place for herself within its power structure.

By episode eight, though, she’s moved from thinking of her workplace situation in hegemonic terms to rejecting that power structure entirely.  She doesn’t need to depend on the SSR for respect or appreciation, nor can she – she has to work outside the system rather than trying to make the system work for her.  That’s something Daniel still doesn’t necessarily understand (yes, he’s disabled, but he’s still a man, and the rest of the SSR respects him more than they do Peggy).  He’s indignant about Jack taking all the credit for stopping Dr. Fennhoff, because he’s effectively where Peggy was five episodes ago.  He’s focused on getting his due reward through the system, because as far as he knows, that’s the only way to get rewarded.  Peggy knows better now, though.

OVERALL:

This line and this whole scene are really great in a lot of subtle and sorely underappreciated ways, and also I need season 2 now.

Beautiful Objects: Fathers, Daughters, and 2013 Animated Movies

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So it looks like Hotel Transylvania is getting a sequel.  I’ll be honest:  every reminder of that simple fact sets my teeth on edge.  Heck, my teeth are on edge right now just from writing this.

But why? you might be asking.  Well, as it so happens, I’ve just rediscovered a thing I wrote back in 2013 about this precise subject!  I’ve cleaned it up a little bit and gif-ified it.  Here goes:

In a nutshell, movies like Hotel Transylvania and The Croods infantilize their teenage female characters by sympathizing unduly with their overbearing and at times creepy fathers.

Hotel Transylvania, I’d say, is the more egregious example of the two. The entire movie was basically Dracula and Johnny running around, getting into trouble, and discussing Mavis without her actually being present. Drac in particular made a concerted effort to keep Mavis in the dark about everything… in multiple senses of the word, actually, if you’ll forgive the vampire pun.

source: findsomethingtofightfor

For goodness’ sake, he specifically creates a fake town of scary humans so that Mavis would be tricked into thinking the human world was really as bad as he’d always made it out to be.  And it works, too.  She runs back to Daddy’s castle and Daddy’s loving arms, and Drac is satisfied.

source: giphy

That is an unbelievably low, manipulative thing for Drac to do.  But the film doesn’t focus nearly as much as it should on how wrong that is. Instead, we get an entire movie’s worth of borderline-fawning character development for Drac.  “Oh nooooo, my tiny helpless baby girl might have her own ideas!  What a tragedy!”

Screen shot 2015-08-11 at 6.54.26 PM

This might have been more forgivable if Mavis had gotten just as much character development, but her agency throughout most of the movie is blatantly disregarded. She’s just kind of clueless (not of her own volition, either, like I mentioned), and the movie and all its characters seem far more concerned with Drac’s feelings than hers. Good grief, people, if this is going to be a story about a girl gaining agency and becoming a full-fledged adult (which it REALLY should have been), then she needs to be the frickin’ heart and soul of that story.

source: btvs-reaction-gifs

The Croods is in this same vein, but the theme of a father losing power over his daughter is sort of a sub-theme of the larger story: a set-in-his-ways patriarch falling in the face of change. That doesn’t excuse, however, the crappy way this film handled the Eep/Guy romance, and just Eep in general.

source: candacedoesgifs.

YOU WASTED EMMA STONE, PEOPLE.  HOW COULD YOU.

For one thing, all Eep’s character development (which really wasn’t much, compared to Grug’s) was related somehow to the men in her life – her repressed-emotion relationship with her dad, her obvious crush on Guy, her bickering relationship with her brother. I can’t recall one scene in the movie where Eep had a quality conversation with her mom or grandma, or even where she played with Sandy or something.

source: lockerdome.com

Regarding Eep/Guy, it felt as if Guy and Grug were competing to be the dominant man in Eep’s eyes, which is weird and creepy on a lot of levels. Another disturbing thing is that Grug’s systematic denial of Eep’s agency was often played for laughs – I’m thinking in particular of the scene where Grug shoves Guy-trapped-in-a-log away from Eep and sleeps between them. Just from the way that’s framed, you can tell that’s meant to be funny, but to me it was literally the exact opposite of funny.

source: Pinterest

Yes, the entire concept of the movie is kind of that Grug is really overbearing. But he still gets much more quality character development than Eep does, and that sucks.

source: gamedayr.com

But you know what?  Epic actually had a far healthier model of a father-daughter relationship than either of the above movies.

source: iceposter.com

This one, in case you had no idea what I was talking about.

I won’t deny that it had its own problems – the fridging of the only black character, the subsequent damsel-in-distress-ness of that seed-fetus-thing, and the repeated apparently-comedic come-ons from those two slugs come to mind immediately.

source: apenasdivandobr.blogspot.com

Seriously, whose idea was it to kill off Beyoncé’s character?!

But Professor Bomba was the farthest thing from overbearing when it came to his daughter M.K. He assumed at the beginning that M.K. would be all too willing to help him research his mysterious forest creatures, but (1) that seems to have stemmed more from a scientist’s obsession than anything, and (2) once M.K. told him she wasn’t interested, he backed right off.

source: wbpictures

M.K. is never fridged, either – her disappearance definitely advances Bomba’s character development, but it also facilitates her doing her own thing, having her own adventure. That’s something neither Mavis nor Eep really gets to do. The fact that Bomba was right about the Leafmen’s existence does imply a sort of father-knows-best attitude, but that’s mitigated in a sense by the presence of scientific inquiry rather than just a deep-seated and ill-supported belief. Furthermore, Bomba is shown to be perfectly fine with M.K. and Nod’s relationship – no overbearing-ness here.

Now that is how you dad.

source: towsonsam.com

Somehow, though, I doubt ol’ Drac Attack is going to learn that before movie #2.

source: wifflegif.com

And with that…

Screen shot 2014-11-07 at 10.45.35 PM

P.S. Speaking of Drac Attack, I swear I’ll get around to finishing Dracula soon!  I’ve been toiling away at job applications lately, but I’ll try to go back to livetweeting this weekend.

 

The Phantom of the Bropera: The Masterpost, Part Three

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(part 1) (part 2)

Chapter 18 to the end, ahoy!

“Chapter XVIII: Continuation of ‘The Curious Incident of the Safety-Pin'”
oh god

  • “Now we should have no difficulty in understanding why they behaved in so extravagant and undignified a manner” – let’s hope, Leroux
  • given that I lost this guy’s thread about three pages ago, I’m not hopeful
  • ooh, Moncharmin and Richard have a PLAN, Y’ALL
  • aaaaand it looks like their plan is to do literally exactly what they did on the first cash-grab night
  • including, as it so happens, walking backwards.
  • yes, this is truly a splendid plan. ~splendid~, I tell you.
  • this isn’t going to arouse anyone’s suspicions ~at all.~
  • blah blah blah, more slapstick ridiculousness from Abbott and Costello here
  • the important part is, they’re anxious to know if someone tries to steal the 20k francs Giry slipped (once again) into Richard’s pocket
  • Hence the safety pin! Moncharmin has the idea of pinning the envelope to Richard’s pocket, so he’ll feel a tug.
  • now that actually makes a world of sense. yay. finally
  • “You want to ‘pin’ me?” – Richard. I really hope that was a double entendre.
  • ah yes, ’tis midnight, the witching hour, and our slapstick duo is feeling just a wee bit uncomfortable
  • Moncharmin’s wondering if Ghostbro “knocked three times on the table, as we clearly heard just now” – wait, what?
  • hang on, lemme go back through the last couple pages
  • okay yeah unless I’m not looking back quite far enough, there have definitely been no knocks on the table
  • methinks our slapstick duo is drunk. or something
  • ohhhhhhhhhh dang, the pin is still there but the money is gone
  • also, Moncharmin is basically patting down Richard’s butt in order to come to this conclusion, so permit me a chuckle at that image
  • aaaand here comes everybody else. awesome. somebody get the champagne and let’s make it a party

“Chapter XIX: The Inspector, The Viscount, and The Persian”
asd;fladsgjal;kjladsfjasdgj; ugh

  • if I were to make this a drinking game and take a sip every time Leroux called this guy “the Persian,” I’d be well into glass #2 by now
  • Inspector Whatsisface is now explaining to Abbott and Costello what happened to Christine. It’s. It’s not going well.
  • “Christine Daae was abducted by an angel, inspector” – an actual thing that Raoul actually just said
  • Raoul legitimately just called Erik an angel. I just. I got nothing.
  • “the Angel of Music” has been dropped like three times in three lines, and it’s always italicized #theformattingoftheopera
  • so now everybody’s trying to tell Inspector Whosit about the Phantom and he’s just like “literally all of you are high”
  • “all I know about the Phantom of the Opera really amounts to very little” – did Christine’s gigantic flashback just not register at all or
  • so now Raoul’s telling his side of the story, and even Tweedledee and Tweedledum over here are like “yeah this dude’s high”
  • hm, so apparently Philippe’s carriage got the heck outta dodge literally right after Christine disappeared
  • wait, Inspector Dudeperson thinks Philippe abducted Christine?
  • oh man, and did he ever just light a fire under Raoul’s pathetic rear – kid’s outta here like Speedy freakin’ Gonzalez
  • OHO. Inspector Thatonedude just sent Raoul off on a wild-goose chase. Getting him out of the way. Cool.
  • (also apparently his name is Mifroid but see if I care about that)
  • Filed under people who should have been higher billed
    wpid-screenshot_2014-12-31-22-24-37.jpg
  • Raoul’s attempting to leave when who should show up but…
  • “I am the Persian!” jesusfreakinmadia, he even calls HIMSELF that?
  • me rn:

“Chapter XX: The Viscount and the Persian” Leroux, your creativity astounds me.

  • ohforcryingoutloud, Leroux literally just repeated his earlier description of this guy almost word for word
  • like yes, we already know he has ebony skin and jade eyes, and also that you’re a racist piece of crap, CAN WE PLEASE MOVE ON
  • the real question, though: why is this guy so concerned about keeping Erik’s secrets
  • I feel like this guy needs a name besides “this guy,” and I’m definitely not calling him “the Persian”… hang on
  • okay, I’m going to call him Abdul. it’s sure as heck better than “that guy” or *shudder* “the Persian”
  • okay, so it seems as if Abdul is legitimately here to help Raoul. neat.
  • aaaand Abdul just confirmed that, like Voldemort, Erik can literally sense when people say his name. that’s just great
  • blah blah blah, giant running-through-the-halls-of-the-opera-house montage
  • whoops, this paragraph definitely veered into non-sequitur territory
  • Leroux is a teensy bit obsessed with how these two are dressed and how it’s technically a breach of dress code:
  • and the two of them ended up… in Christine’s dressing room
  • and whaddaya know, Abdul brought a couple sweet pistols to this party. I like him way more than I like Raoul
  • “Do you mean to fight a duel?” – no, Raoul, Abdul clearly brought the guns because there’s a shooting range by the underground lake
  • OF COURSE THERE’S GOING TO BE SOME SORT OF A DUEL, YOU PANSY
  • Raoul’s now questioning Abdul’s motivations – first sensible thing he’s done this whole chapter
  • “If I had hated [Erik], he would have ceased his mischief long ago” – Abdul, who apparently thinks extortion and murder are “mischief”
  • like is this dude seriously saying he’s had the means to stop Erik this whole time, and he just hasn’t had the inclination?
  • I just. Argh. ABDUL, YOU WEREN’T SUPPOSED TO LET ME DOWN LIKE THIS.
  • Raoul said something super accurate for once and it’s a little disconcerting
    wpid-screenshot_2014-12-31-22-54-21.jpg
  • Abdul’s giving us all a physics lesson and I’m like “I see that and respect that but please get to the good stuff”
  • the official explanation for the weird mirror thing: “a very simple system of secret doors.” yeah right
  • anyway, our two pistol-toting dudes are swept into the darkness, yada yada yada

“Chapter XXI: Below the Stage”
for once, Leroux didn’t spoil the chapter- someone give the guy a medal

  • awarded to Gaston Leroux for the achievement of not screwing up for once in this book
    Gold freakin medal
  • I just have this nasty feeling Abdul’s going to die once they get to the cave
  • oh hey, Inspector Millfloss is somewhere in this labyrinth too
  • oh snap, Broni and Abdul just found like three corpses
  • Erik’s racking up so many counts of murder, you’d think he was playing Grand Theft Auto
  • or wait, those three aren’t dead?
  • jeez. okay. Ghostbro’s still a horrible person. moving on.
  • this just in, Raoul is literally too much of a wimp to hold up a pistol for any length of time
  • filed under things that didn’t surprise me one bit
  • somehow they’re only just now reaching the underground part of the opera house?
  • so a random dude in a cloak just appeared, Abdul said he’s worse than a policeman, and we’re going to get no explanation at all
  • literally, Leroux added in a footnote so he could specifically say “sorry, y’all, I’m not explaining jack squat, catch ya on the flip side”
  • was he trying to set himself up for a spinoff novel or what?
  • and for the record, this guy isn’t Erik, he’s another guy
  • “these are matters of national security” – oh, get off your high horse, Leroux
  • oooooh, the mysterious head of fire from like twenty chapters ago returns!
  • it’s not Ghostbro himself, apparently – just another one of his tricks
  • or wait, never mind – EUGH
  • so get this: the fire head is a whole separate ghost who calls himself “the rat-catcher” and brings a flood of rats in his wake
  • good to know I’ll be going to bed in a few hours with that lovely image tattooed on my retinas
  • *now* Abdul and Broni are actually going where they need to go
  • only took you two about ten pages
  • blah blah blah, oh my god Leroux I literally do not even care how this tank you speak of was constructed, MOVE ON PLEASE
  • oh fabulous, they just ran across Joseph Buquet’s probably-rotting corpse, no big deal or anything
  • they FINALLY made it into Ghostbro’s man cave. ABOUT TIME
  • oh wait, Abdul isn’t too happy about this…
  • “We have fallen into the torture chamber!” oh that’s just great

“Chapter XXII: The Interesting and Instructive Trials and Tribulations of a Persian Below Stage at the Opera”

  • congratulations, Leroux, you managed to make the subject sound deadly boring.
  • that is seriously such an Austen-era turn of phrase – “interesting and instructive.” or possibly a 1950s-era one.
  • but hey, we’re switching to Abdul’s point of view – here’s hoping he’s not as horrendous as Broni or Ghostbro
  • ooh, and Leroux is promising backstory, too. you’d better deliver, bucko.
  • so the feeling I’ve been getting is that Ghostbro and Abdul were childhood acquaintances, and bingo I’m right
  • oh great, more of Ghostbro’s hypnotic music. #skimming
  • Abdul, for his part, was so captivated by the music that he almost fell out of his boat. And then Erik grabbed him and tried to drown him.
  • Erik: RAAAAAWR I WILL DROWN YOU
    Erik: oh wait it’s you
    Erik: lol never mind
  • Abdul: seriously, dude, you almost friggin’ killed me
    Erik: *puffing up his metaphorical tail feathers*
    Abdul: not gonna work
  • “Erik, you promised me! No more murders!” – an actual thing Abdul said
  • jesusmadia
  • Erik: hey guess what I’m not a horrible person anymore
    Erik: someone loves me for me
    Abdul: oh god
  • okay, Abdul, you saw Christine interacting with Erik and you still didn’t put it together that Erik had a crush on her until it was too late
  • also I really don’t think “utter amazement” is the appropriate way to react when Erik literally kidnaps Christine and brings her to his lair
  • [scene is Ghostbro’s man-cave]
    Abdul: hey
    Erik: *punches him in the face*
  • AHAHAHA ERIK WEARS A FAKE NOSE AND MUSTACHE COMBO WHEN HE LEAVES THE OPERA HOUSE
  • I don’t feel like doing it rn but at some point I’ll photoshop one of those fake rubber nose things onto Gerard Butler’s face and laugh
    • edit to add:  I did it.
      Ghostbro
  • “if you don’t stop poking your nose in my business I WILL UNLEASH MY WRATH ON PLANET EARTH” – Erik throwing a temper tantrum, pretty much
  • Erik: I can totally have guests here
    Abdul: dude, you abducted her, that does not even remotely qualify as “having guests here”
  • god and Erik keeps repeating “she loves me for myself” – makes me want to either vomit or punch something, not sure which
  • Erik: I love her and she loves me and we’re going to get married and it’s going to be wonderful
    Abdul: what
  • not even kidding. Erik seriously thinks he and Christine are going to get married.
  • Erik is already planning the freakin’ MUSIC for his wedding to Christine, oh my god.
  • wait, no, it’s even worse – he wrote his own wedding mass
  • Abdul, my man, it’s not going to be as simple as Christine going to Erik of her own accord.
  • then again, they’re both under the sway of Erik and his hypno-music
  • I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised at Abdul’s willingness to accept all this crap at face value
  • [insert like five paragraphs in which Abdul discovers the passage he and Broni are going to take]
  • Ghostbro is reminding me more and more of Dr. Strange
  • “knife : gunfight :: guns : a guy who can cast pretty much any illusion he wants” – Abdul, basically
  • awesome, now we’re back to the torture chamber. wonderful
  • good grief, the musical/movie really water Ghostbro down

“Chapter XXIII: In the Torture Chamber”
subtitle: “Continuation of the Persian’s Narrative”
*deep sigh*

  • oh man, this upcoming soliloquy from Erik is something else, y’all
  • I literally banged the book against my head like five times after reading this bit
  • brb, I need to arm myself with gifs in order to cope with this
  • okay, I hope I’m adequately armed with gifs
  • anyhoodle, so Broni and Abdul are in the torture chamber, but Ghostbro doesn’t know they’re there – too busy being dark and evil, I guess
  • “I just can’t go on living like this” – oh, YOU can’t go on? What about Christine, you pig?
  • “I want to have a wife like any normal man” – HEY ERIK, KIDNAPPING IS NOT USUALLY AN ACCEPTABLE FORM OF MARRIAGE
  • “You will be the happiest of women” – YOU ARE F***ING DELUSIONAL
  • “But you’re crying! You’re afraid of me!” – GEE I WONDER WHY
  • “And yet, deep down, I am not a bad man” –
  • “To be good, all I ever needed was to be loved for myself” –
  • okay, I’m going to have to go on a mini-rant here in order to dissect exactly what’s wrong with that statement right there
  • Erik isn’t just begging Christine to love him here – he is literally placing responsibility for HIS future deeds in HER hands
  • the flipside, of course, is “if you don’t love me, then you’re basically responsible for all the evil I subsequently do”
  • that is what Erik is trying to tell Christine, and that is BULL
  • not only is it bull, though, but it’s a tactic of abusers – shifting responsibility for their actions, saying “look what you made me do”
  • Erik is a horrible effing person. I don’t know how this could possibly be disputed at all.
  • oh god. I just skimmed this next page, and it seems I’ve used up my gifs too soon.
  • looks like I’m going to have to break out the big reaction-image guns: the Klahom face
  • this turdblossom literally has a doorbell. a doorbell in an underground cave.
  • on the plus side, that godforsaken doorbell got Ghostbro to leave Christine alone, so now Abdul and Broni can call her for help
  • “[Christine] told us that love had driven Erik insane” – oh honey, this isn’t love. Not even close.
  • HOLY [redacted], THE SICK SLUGFACE ***TIED CHRISTINE UP.***
  • HOW IS ANYONE ABLE TO ROMANTICIZE THIS MOFO
  • oh and btw Erik also threatened to kill literally everyone in the opera house if Christine didn’t agree to marry him
  • okay okay okay who in blazes wrote the script for the musical, because I’d love to chat with ’em and find out how they were able to justify
  • watering down Ghostbro so much, because he’s way way way less threatening in the musical than he is in here
  • I mean, he’s still a nasty guy in the musical, but here he’s EVEN WORSE
  • in yet another stroke of melodrama, Ghostbro calls his keys to the torture chamber “the keys of life and death”
  • me re: this entire situation
    Klahom face
  • oh my god. Christine legitimately tried to kill herself the night before.
  • I just want to take this book and climb to the top of the highest tower around and scream THIS IS NOT LOVE to anybody who’ll listen
  • oh man oh man, Christine’s pulling it together. she’s going to do another season-one Skye on this MF. I can feel it.
  • come on, Christine, you can do this
  • ah yes, Erik’s playing angsty organ music now – wunderbar
  • OH DANG. Christine straight-up nicked Erik’s life-and-death keys. GET IT, CHRISTINE.
  • oh whoops, Erik figured out his keys are missing

“Chapter XXIV: The Torture Begins”
oh, so having to put up with Ghostbro’s abusive bullcrap doesn’t count as torture?

  • oh man. Christine’s still playing Erik. It’s hard, but she’s playing him.
  • uuuuuuggggghhhhhhhhhh, Erik’s reiterating his dreams of domesticity again
  • in addition to being an abusive sadistic delusional misogynist, Erik is also… a ventriloquist.
  • Erik has the world’s biggest Voldemort complex about his nose and it’s getting really old
  • oh crap, I think something in the man cave is on fire – did Erik burn his Hungry-Man meal again or what?
  • or wait, is the torture chamber just a really tricked-out steam room?

“Chapter XXV: ‘Barrels! Barrels! Any Old Barrels to Sell?'”
……………well, at least that’s not an obvious spoiler?

  • okay, an actual revelation here: Joseph Buquet, the dead guy from chapter 1 or thereabouts, was in this torture chamber
  • and apparently he beat up the place more than he thought he did
  • to no one’s surprise, Broni Friendzoni has completely lost it and is now (for all intents and purposes) useless
  • so it’s up to Abdul to save the day, I guess.
  • Raoul: *babbling*
    Abdul: for the love of Pete, kid, I’m trying to work here
    Raoul: *literally does not stop babbling*
  • now Erik’s torturing the now-very-thirsty Abdul and Broni by making water sound effects. this is the cherry on his awful-person banana split
  • bro, we already know you’ve got a Ph.D in horribleness and all that. this is just overkill.
  • Abdul found the door!
  • side note, it really baffles me that we’ve had like three chapters now from Abdul’s point of view, and he still doesn’t have an actual name
  • …okay, so it’s not a door, it’s a trapdoor. whatever.
  • and once they’ve left the torture chamber, what do they find?… barrels.
  • of course, being thirsty and all, they’re sure it’s wine in the barrels. natch.
  • IT’S GUNPOWDER. GOD DANG.
  • *adds “conspiracy to blow up the Paris opera house” to Erik’s already-lengthy list of criminal charges*

[“Chapter XXVI: The Scorpion or the Grasshopper” – or is it “and”?]

  • and to make this whole clusterfrak even better, neither Abdul nor Broni has any idea how much time they’ve got til Erik blows the place up
  • A wild Christine appears! (god, I have never been happier to see her name on the page.)
  • updates from the man cave: Ghostbro’s graduated to full-on ranting and raving, and oh btw they have like five minutes left
  • oh, ~wonderful~, Erik’s made up a convenient little code for Christine with which she can say yes or no to his marriage proposal
  • turning the (bronze) scorpion = yes turning the grasshopper = no, and also kaboom
  • aaaahhhhhhhh great, Ghostbro has returned to the man cave
  • Erik: option one, you marry me and save everybody in the opera house
    Erik: option two, you don’t marry me and we all die
    Erik: *giggle*
  • God. This nasty MF. I can’t.
    Klahom face
  • THE SCORPION HAS BEEN TURNED
  • and with that, the entire lake is basically being drained into the gunpowder room.
  • …which means that now Abdul and Broni stand a very real chance of drowning. awesome
  • “Thus ended the written account that [Abdul] had entrusted to me.” – omg tag your spoilers

Chapter XXVII, y’all. So close.
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  • wonderful, the return of the overbearing narrator *whacks book against own head*
  • we’ve flashed forward a while, and poor Abdul’s got hardcore PTSD from all this crap
  • also, I slightly retract my earlier statement that Abdul doesn’t have a name – he has a title, “Daroga”
  • heck, I’ll just keep calling him Abdul. we’re almost to the end anyway.
  • so Abdul wakes up in that godforsaken Louis-Philippe room in Erik’s man-cave, and he’s just like “ugh”
  • Erik’s perfectly civil now, except for the part where he basically threatens to do Abdul serious harm if Abdul even talks to his wife.
  • this just in, Erik is still a horrible person even though he got his way
  • the next time Abdul wakes up, he’s at his apartment, courtesy of Ghostbro Carriage Services
  • and now we find out that Philippe is dead, almost certainly at Erik’s hand. surprise surprise
  • of course no one’s taking Abdul’s story seriously, as per frickin’ usual
  • would you look at that, Abdul has a visitor. as much as I’d like to hope it’s just the Girl Scouts with cookies…
  • Erik insists he had no hand in Philippe’s death. What is it they say about flaming pants?
  • Erik: *is being his usual melodramatic self*
    Abdul: Erik.
    Abdul: Erik!
    Abdul: what happened to Raoul and Christine
    Erik: *la dee dah*
  • seriously, Abdul keeps asking about Raoul and Christine, and all Erik can talk about is how he finally got kissed
  • oh, Erik. Christine is playing you like a chess game.
  • oh for god’s sake, Erik didn’t even kiss Christine on the mouth and he’s still making a national holiday of it
  • what time is it? TMI time with Ghostbro!
  • I’m just gonna skim this part and move on
  • oh em gee, she ~held his hand, how very romantic~
  • can Erik please just die already
  • Christine ~kissed him on the forehead~ before she and Raoul left, ~omg~
  • (can y’all tell I’m trying really hard to make sarcasm tildes a thing)
  • just imagine if they had actually gotten to first base – I rather think Erik would have dropped dead where he stood
  • on the (kind of) bright side, Erik’s bequeathing Abdul literally all his furniture- Abdul won’t be able to keep it all in his apartment
  • “ERIK IS DEAD.”
    DING DONG THE WITCH IS DEAD

“EPILOGUE” at long, long last

  • [insert a whole page of Leroux basically being Sarah Koenig from Serial]
  • to no one’s surprise, Debienne, Poligny, Moncharmin, and Richard were all thoroughly taken in by Ghostbro
  • okay, make that like five pages’ worth of Leroux being Sarah Koenig
  • hey, Leroux, you can quit calling Ghostbro a “prodigious, fantastic character” anytime
  • Leroux: Erik totally didn’t mean all that blackmail stuff lol
    Abdul: oh he absolutely meant it
    Leroux:
  • Abdul claims Erik was “not held back by moral scruples.” Now that’s putting it lightly.
  • Backstory time: Erik was a circus freak as a kid. Still doesn’t make me feel sorry for him though lollllllllll
  • yada yada yada Erik nearly dies and Abdul makes the stunning mistake of saving his life
  • [insert one last dollop of Orientalism here]
  • “Should we pity him or should we curse him?” is this a serious question
  • “He would have risen to greatness among his fellow-men” – oh, spare me
  • “He had a big heart” – STOP. STOP RIGHT THERE, GASTON LEROUX.
  • you are talking about a dudebro who TORTURED A MAN, EXTORTED MILLIONS FROM THE OPERA HOUSE, AND KIDNAPPED A WOMAN
  • you are talking about a dudebro who would have BLOWN UP THE OPERA HOUSE IF HE HAD BEEN REJECTED BY HIS CRUSH
  • NEWSFLASH FOR YA, LEROUX: YOU’RE FULL OF CRAP
  • Erik does not have a big heart. He is a selfish, violent, abusive monster. Stop pretending otherwise, Leroux.
  • Filed under: authors who genuinely don’t understand their characters
  • And on top of that, Leroux acts like Ghostbro’s only crime is being ugly. JESUSMADIA.
  • “Yes, all in all, the Phantom of the Opera deserves our pity-” NO. SHUT UP FOREVER.
  • Me when Gaston Leroux makes excuse after excuse for Ghostbro’s awful behavior
    wpid-http%3a%2f%2f31.media_.tumblr.com%2fd7c3cb9f928eac0ba11021cdadbcc9d8%2ftumblr_n4sz89u27z1qju6n5o1_1280.jpg
  • I’m done. I’m actually done with this godforsaken book.
  • And I don’t just mean emotionally done. I’m done-done.
  • not shown: multiple outtakes in which I kick and punch the book (to any librarians reading this: I am so sorry)

There we go!  I have officially livetweeted my way through every book on my capstone syllabus.  This isn’t the end of the Gothic project, though – I’ll be back, hopefully fairly soon, to livetweet Dracula.  Till then…

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