Thursday, September 10, 2015

A Feminist By Any Other Name

I've just finished reading Veronica Mars and Philosophy: Investigating the Mysteries of Life (Which is a Bitch Until You Die), edited by George A. Dunn. (Part of the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture series.) This was published in 2014, before the Veronica Mars movie, for what that's worth.

One essay in particular, "'Grow a Sense of Humor, You Crazy Bitch' Veronica Mars as a Feminist Icon" by Kasey Butcher and Megan M. Peters, has got me thinking. At one point, the authors say:

 "Veronica can be seen as a representative of a new type of feminism, which remedies the limitations of the earlier waves. She doesn't dismiss femininity, she has a positive attitude toward sex, and she approaches most issues on a personal rather than just an outwardly political level."

Sounds pretty good.

Conversely, elsewhere in the essay, they talk about Lilith House:

"With Lilith House, we're treated to one of the most stereotypical and damaging portraits of feminists in recent years. All of the women are presented as unjustifiably angry, humorless, and militant, and, with the exception of Claire Nordhouse, all are women of color who don't conform to traditional norms of femininity."

Not so good.

Now, keep that in mind, as I bring in another player.

After reading the above mentioned essay, I attempted to find a copy online, to share with a friend of mine. I didn't find that essay, but I did find another interesting article on Bitchmedia, "Push(back) at the Intersections: Veronica Mars and the Straw Feminists" by S.E. Smith. (Published in 2010.)

What follow are a few pieces of the article, that are pertinent to what I want to talk about.

"While I don't think creator Rob Thomas set out to make a feminist show, there are definitely some feminist messages in the show. There are some shockingly anti-feminist ones too."

"...Veronica Mars is no shrinking violet. She's creative, she's tough as nails, she's aggressive, she's a good investigator, she has complex relationships with other people."

"Veronica herself never IDs as feminist and we don't see the F-word thrown around much at all until we meet an aggressive women's group [Lilith House] at the college that's like your worst stereotyping nightmare. They're man haters, they're willing to frame people for crimes they didn't commit while they themselves commit rape, and they ride roughshod over numerous characters."

These two articles have me asking a number of questions. Just to be clear, I don't have any answers.

First of all, does self-identifying yourself as part of a group actually make you a part of that group?

For some groups, it's pretty clear whether you belong. Let's look at the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). Do you have a membership card? Do you pay dues? (Does SAG have dues?) Do you meet the requirements needed to actually join SAG? If you answered "yes" to these questions, I would say that you are indeed a member of the group SAG. Otherwise, even if you call yourself a member of SAG, I say that you, sir, are a liar.

I am a member of the group known as "heterosexuals." I'm a male, who is attracted to, and occasionally has sexual relations with, females. Pretty clear cut.

On the other hand, the group "feminists" is a little harder to pin down. It seems simple enough. A feminist is someone who supports equal rights and treatment for women, right? Apparently, not everyone believes that it is as easy as that. I have been told, but have never personally verified, that some women think that if you like men, you can't be a feminist.

(This seems to be a problem with any group that does not have very clear cut rules for "membership." Some members feel the need to define their group based on very personal feelings/agendas. Just look at political parties, religion, and Star Wars fans.)

So, if Veronica Mars "never IDs as a feminist," can she BE a feminist? Does one need to be labeled, or self-label, as something, in order to actually be that thing? To the second question, I say "Of course not." If someone runs into a burning building, and saves some orphans, they are a hero, whether or not someone (including themselves) actually calls them a hero.

Conversely, does calling themselves "feminists" actually make the women of Lilith House feminists? Again, I say "Of course not." I'm not saying that they aren't, just that self-labeling doesn't mean that they are. Because so many people seem to have different definitions of what a feminist is, it can be difficult to establish who is or isn't a part of that group.

Another question I have has to do with creativity and responsibility. Do creators have a responsibility to portray any or all groups (except Nazis), or members of any given group (except Nazis), in a positive way?

So often I hear people complain about the bad guy in a book, movie, or TV show, being an insulting representative of their group. Apparently, your bad guy can't be Catholic, Asian, gay, a motel owner (Really. There were protests, by motel owners, when the Psycho remake came out.), black, Muslim, or a feminist. Or anything else. Except a Nazi.

First of all, are people so, uhm, lacking in critical thinking skills, and insecure, that they believe that any creator is saying "My bad guy is gay, therefore, all gays are bad guys. My bad guy represents them all?" (And I'm not even going to get into people who think that having, say, a racist character in your story, makes your story racist.) Sure, there is propaganda out there, and some people may have an agenda, but I would say that they are in the minority. (I have no real evidence to support this, just years of watching movies and TV shows, and reading books, looking at the creators of those things, and drawing my own conclusions.)

Second, there really are some bad Catholics, Asians, gays, motel owners, blacks, Muslims, and feminists. And all Nazis. Creators shouldn't whitewash the world, unless, of course, that is the point of their story. If we can't have anyone, except Nazis, be our bad guys, then we are all just watching/reading Captain America stories. The best fiction (even science fiction, horror, and fantasy) reflects the real world, and the real world is full of diverse, complicated people.

( Please note that, while I continue to say "Nazis," I have not said "Germans," because, GASP, Nazis are not representative of all Germans.)

Neither Mother Teresa, nor the Westboro Baptist Church, are representative of ALL Christians.

If Veronica Mars, the show, spent two and a half seasons establishing a positive feminist message, did the introduction of Lilith House, and it's "negative" portrayal of feminists, undo everything that came before? No. That's ridiculous. You can have a "bad" feminist character, without being anti-feminist. Just as you can have a "bad" gay character, without being homophobic, or a "bad" black character, without being racist.

As I stated at the beginning, these are just some questions that came to mind, while reading about Veronica Mars and feminism. I don't claim to have all (or any) of the answers. I'm just hoping to open up a dialogue. What do you think? Am I right? Wrong? Talking out of my ass? Let me know.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

When Fanimals Attack!

I was 10 years old, when Star Wars came out. (And, it was just Star Wars, back then. Not Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope.)

I saw it in the theater, numerous times. I bought the toys, trading cards

(Some of the cards had partial pictures on the back. When you out them together, they formed a "poster." I would tape them together, and hang them on the wall.), models, t-shirts, and comic books. Basically, if it was Star Wars, I had to have it. I bought, and read, Splinter of the Minds Eye by Alan Dean Foster, the first ever original Star Wars novel. (It was intended to be the basis for the sequel, but, after the success of the original movie, and access to a bigger budget, things went in a different direction.)

I went to the theater to see The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi (Originally Revenge of the Jedi, until it was decided that Jedi do not believe in revenge.), The Star Wars Special Edition, and The Phantom Menace. Sadly, the trauma of seeing The Phantom Menace brought my Star Wars theater viewing to an end. I have seen the other prequels, just not on the big screen.

Just off to my left, I have two shelves of Star Wars Novels (With some toys mixed in, for good measure.). I own the Family Guy Star Wars Trilogy.

I have numerous table-top Star Wars games. On Force Friday (Sept.4th, 2015), I bought a Kylo Ren action figure. (I wanted a Captain Phasma, too, but they didn't have any.) I also picked up Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig

(The first "grown-up" novel , in the new canon, that takes place AFTER Return of the Jedi.) (Full disclosure:I bought the book two days before it was officially released.)

I tell you all of this, so that you will understand that I am a Star Wars fan.

You see that word, up there? "Fan." Short for fanatic, defined as: "A person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal." Nowadays, when we call ourselves a fan, we usually mean we really like something. "I'm a fan of Pumpkin spice candles."  Fine. Are you a "fanatic" for the aforementioned candles? I doubt it.

What does this have to do with Star Wars?

There is a group called  Alliance To Save The Star Wars Legends, Expanded Universe.

For those who don't know, with Disney's acquisition of the Star Wars property, and the announcement of Episode VII, a new "canon" was started. Initially, this included the six films, and the Clone Wars TV show. Since then, they have added the Rebels TV show, half a dozen "grown-up" novels, many books for kids and young adults, as well as a new series of comic books. All of the books and such that came before is now labeled "Legends."

What this means is that all of the stuff carrying the "Legends" banner is no longer part of the "official" Star Wars story.


The Alliance To Save The Star Wars Legends, Expanded Universe refuses to acknowledge any of the new canon. It seems that they have even gone so far as to start a campaign to flood Amazon with 1-star reviews, for Star Wars: Aftermath. There's a good chance that none of them have even read the book.

From an article on The, regarding the new novel Tarkin by James Luceno: "This isn't Star Wars. this is nothing more than lies," wrote Matt Wilson, in a comment that had 25 likes at press time. "#GiveUsLegends or simply leave what is already a great universe, alone. #BuyLegendsOnly people, it won't be the real Star Wars unless it is Legends. GiveUsMoreLegends."


"I hate the fact that I have to hate this," one of the movement's members said in the comments of the Tarkin Facebook post. "This has all the makings of a good story, then you guys have to go and ruin it by making it not art of Legends."


A good story is a good story. What does it matter, if it's not a part of "Legends?" I may have mentioned that I am a Star Wars fan. I'm disappointed when there is a bad story, within the Star Wars universe.


I love it when there is a great story, as well. Canon, not canon, it doesn't matter. I've still got plenty of "Legends" books to read, but I'm gonna read the new stuff, too. (I've already finished Star Wars: Aftermath.) Because I want to read good stories. And, for the most part, these are good stories.

And, That's just what these things are: stories. No one is rewriting history. This is fiction. Something to be enjoyed, when done right. Something to share with your family and friends, in a simple "Hey, that was cool" kind of way. Read the books. Watch the movies and TV shows. Play the games. Dress up as your favorite characters. But, remember, it's only a story.

(I'm not even going to get in to the people who are upset that the new canon has introduced gay characters.)

Finally, just to incite some nerd rage, I will quote William Shatner (In a Star Wars article? NO!): "Get a life!"