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Denver Comic Con 2018

While my presentation titledThe Fight Is The Storyhas been a Denver Comic Con mainstay since its inception (often through the academic branch of the DCC, called Page 23), this year I am doing two presentations there, but neither one is The Fight Is The Story.

You will recall, lovely lurkers, my post here about theseven problematic badass female tropes? Well, Page 23 likes the idea, and I will be presenting this concept on one of their panels this year. I’ll let you all know as soon as I know what day/time it will be. Will this be the catalyst for Gamergate 2.0? Time will tell….

Side note on this: Writers HQ is having me write about the first of the 7: The Marion Effect, for their May selections online. I’ll keep you apprised of that too: if I get enough readership, it may turn into a series, which I’ll of course ask you for help with.

DCC proper wants me too: they have accepted me to hold a session on my concept of theThree Rules For Protagonists, which you have read about before right here. Honestly, I don’t recall whether this is a panel presentation or a more hands on workshop, but either way it should be a great time!

Wi-Fi (or indeed, any) online connection is famously absent over at Comic Con. So it’s time to start making some PowerPoints, people! Let’s do this!

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The More You Holmes

From: several of the eps 

Line: “The game is on!”–Sherlock, and sometimes Watson, newspaper headlines, and others

Reference: The line in the original canon is, “the game is afoot,” which we come across first in “Abbey Grange,” and which the Victorian Sherlock says in the infamous Christmas special.

But of course the very first time this catchphrase was uttered in English literature was in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I.

The Archmage is Dead

The magus is dead

Long live the magus

–Anselm Hollo

Only in silence the word

Only in dark the light

Only in dying life

Bright the hawk’s flight

On the empty sky

(The Creation of Éa)

–Ursula K. LeGuin

Better (and certainly more accomplished) writers than me have already written beautiful pieces in tribute to one of our greatest writers in literature (let alone in the much maligned genre of Fantasy), upon the news of her death. What can I possibly add, that Scalzi, Gaiman, King, and the NY Times haven’t already said?

Decades before Harry Potter got his letter to admit him to Hogwarts, upstart Ged chose Roke Island over a rural existence learning from his master Ogion. Like another gifted youth after him, he chose the big conflict and the school for wizards over his backwater mentor who yet had more knowledge and wisdom than any of his big city professors. And, like Skywalker later, he finds his way finally back to accept the last phase of his higher learning, almost too late.

As a headstrong, gifted youth myself, I found Ged’s story profound in a way I can’t describe to you unless you’ve read the Earthsea books. Imagine, then, my astonishment when, in 1991, when I was poised to graduate high school, I saw, more than ten years out, the sequel to what had been only a trilogy since the ’60s: a book called Tehanu. This was something different. An aging widow and a rape survivor girl with unnamed power were the protagonists this time. I won’t spoil this for you, because you NEED to read this whole thing, but the revolution of what love can be, what being gifted really means, which I found in this late sequel, blew my fucking head off.

Later, Ursula K. LeGuin continued her adventures in the land of Earthsea, addressing the innate sexist structures of her patriarchal world, and discovering what death in her world actually was. We had been through the land of death, with her most profound protagonist and a young someone who could do nothing but follow. We knew what the Dry Land was all about. And yet. She had the guts to allow a minor character to come forth in a still later sequel and call bullshit. She questioned the very structure of her worldbuilding, and let her imaginary population say No. And thus the Earthsea series grew. And grew up. Like I did.

I’ve read a couple other works by LeGuin (short story “Buffalo Gals…” is one that reverberated through my old story saturated self) and of course like any young Fantasy writer, attempted to imitate her. But such things are impossible. Her complete concepts, thorough world building, and precisely cut prose, as pared down and beautiful as any expertly cut gem, are all things to catch one’s breath about in awe, not to copy. This was a master that can’t be copied. Many writers rightly talk of Left Hand of Darkness or The Word For World is Forest as sci fi works that speak profoundly to what sci fi normally does: the state of our society and earth as it is. And in the wake of Mr. Potter’s journey through his magical realism school for wizards, who is looking back at a rural Archipelago populated mainly with people of color, and dragons? We should be.

I declare, we all have much to learn from how Ged reacts to rich asshole Jasper, befriends Vetch, what he does about the shadow he unleashes, the lessons about indoctrinated religion we learn when he visits the Tombs of Atuan, and especially what he does with his incredible gifts, in order to save the world. The writers of Last Jedi got this, and got it spot on. LeGuin taught it to us first.

When I saw her read in Seattle, when I thought I’d be going there for grad school in writing, she was in the middle of translating the I Ching.

Ursula K. LeGuin has passed, but we are all fortunate that she not only left her rich worlds behind in immortality, but also her writing instruction. What a gift, even to have a series of writing exercises she feels important (Steering the Craft), and essays in which she expresses her views of grammar, structure, genre, and feminism in language (The Language of the Night), let alone the volumes of this vein of work online…. She may be gone, but we should delay not one moment to (continue to) learn from her.

RIP Ursula K. LeGuin. I hope your experience of death is more like your later Earthsea books than the early ones. Of course it is. You discovered such so long ago.

Problematic Badass Female Tropes

I mentioned to the SO that I had come up with seven stereotypes/damaging/problematic tropes of the Female Badass, that I was interested in writing an article about. Or a series of articles. I read my basic descriptions of all 7 to him, and he purred, “Um, this is a book, darling; you realize that, right?”

Dammit.

Well, this coming semester I will have quite a bit of time on my hands, and not much money to speak of, so. All righty then. It’s a book. It will be a book, that is.

Here’s a basic rundown of the seven tropes I will be analyzing. Some of them are already-established from feminist scholars before me, others I have invented (as far as I can tell; at least the terminology for them). Most have sub-tropes, which I’ll also briefly describe here. Another note: I am not equipped to discuss any non-binary nor POC issues. There’s a lot more here to write about, that I highly recommend those of you who can, should.

And away we go……

1) The Marion Effect

I named this trope off two Marions from cinema: Maid Marion in the delightfully awful Robin Hood, Prince Of Thieves; and Indy’s gal-pal in Raiders Of the Lost Ark. Both Marions begin as total unquestionable badasses (the former kicking Robin Hood’s ass, the latter drinking a dude under a table and still saving the artifact), and both switch to simpering weaklings as soon as it’s a plot point to have them become Damsels in Distress. In other words, they’re completely awesome until the male hero shows up and needs a love interest to rescue.

(Sub-trope: Someday My Prince Will Come) This can happen to any Marion Effect character but it’s mostly seen in the Disney Robin Hood’s Maid Marian. She’s even got a wanted poster of her remote crush up in her closet like a high schooler with a bad boy band poster. Either way, she does nothing to get what she wants, even if she can. Disney’s Little Mermaid is like a combination of both Marion Effects.

2) Wonder Woman

This trope is summed up with one question: does the sexiness of the ass preclude the badness of the ass? James Cameron has recently averred that a female character can’t (or shouldn’t) be both tough and sexy, but regular people of all genders seem to disagree with him. So then the problematic bits come twofold with this trope: either the strong, tough woman is depicted as manly and/or not hot, or sexiness is shoehorned onto a tough character, because she’s female.

3) Down the Rabbit Hole

It’s fun to watch women get tortured!

(Sub-trope: Slasher Fodder) Especially when we don’t have to invest in her as a fully developed character!

4) The Meaning Of (His) Life

The only function of this otherwise intelligent, quirky, and otherwise interesting character is to change the male hero’s perspective, life, etc.

(Sub-trope: Manic Pixie Dream Girl) This is a well discussed trope already: basically, the MPDG is thoroughly disposable once she has been of use to the male protagonist. This sketch sums it up: Underwritten Female Characters

(Sub-trope: The Arwen Syndrome) This sub-trope has been around for a long, long, time: since the troubadours of old. Heck, since the ancient Greeks, let’s be honest. The Arwen Syndrome refers to how Arwen was written in Tolkien’s original books. Or, rather, not written. She’s an ethereal, not-really-there figure that exists purely to keep Aragorn’s gumption up, and is basically given to him as a reward by Elrond and Galadriel for a job well done. The longest passage we have written about her is a physical description.

5) Mother Knows Best, But Hero Knows Better

I’m not sure I can think of a more badass act than giving birth. Oh wait, yes I can: it’s the act of parenting itself. Toughest thing anyone can do. But even the strongest and most badass of mothers are always second-string when it comes to the male hero.

(Sub-trope: All Women Are Maternal) This is the related trope that any woman, no matter how tough or strong she is, no matter what difference she makes or what she survives through, is simply not a real woman unless she’s a mother. The ends of Kill Bill and Aliens are examples of this.

6) One of the Guys

Story of my life, actually. But. This is the female character that isn’t “really female” because she’s pals, not lovers, with the male hero. Or she’s a part of the mostly male gang (think Anybodys in West Side Story). Or she joins the military and subsequently either is treated or in disguise as, one of the guys (G.I. Jane and Mulan are this, as are legendary pirates irl Anne Bonny and Mary Reade).

(Sub-trope: Banter Becomes True Love) Any romantic comedy from the 1980s has this in spades. Win the girl. If she, too, is intelligent, it’ll just take more persistence & work. Remember Moonlighting? The main problematic issue about the BBTL trope (besides idealizing stalking) is that the female is rendered completely uninteresting once she’s finally a love interest.

7) I’m Only Here For My Vagina

The only reason the character exists, and the only thing she’s good at or for, is sex. She can be a bad guy (Onatopp from Goldeneye) good guy love interest (insert your favorite here, pun intended), or a variety of Arwen Syndrome, but she’s just about the sex.

(Sub-trope: Witchy Woman) Circe is the first one of these who comes to mind; the female whose magic superpower is her vagina.

(Sub-trope: Bond Girl) Bond Girls can be any number of things, from villain to brief encounter to The One Who Changed Bond’s Life, but one thing they all are: they are all about sex with Bond. Once that’s accomplished, they go away.

Tell me your thoughts about these tropes and my brief onceovers of them in the comments, and I’ll post updates as I write.

Johnny Fox Tribute

“Good evening; my name is Johnny Fox,” he’d always begin.

“But that’s just my stage name,” he’d add to the huge crowd thronging the Pearl Street Mall rock park, blocking the walkways past. “My real name is: John Fox.”

Snarky humor, deep honoring of old-school freakshow and vaudeville arts, and sword swallowing. That’s what made Johnny Fox one of the best performers I had (and still have) ever witnessed. He never knew this, but I idolized him.

When I was a teenager, I was a storyteller, and as such, fancied myself in the realm of the court jester, the venerable wit of renaissance time. Magic, juggling, and acrobatics were three aspects of my cultivation of this type of performance I never did get very good at, to my chagrin. I nearly went to Clown College after high school, but I got a freshman-year scholarship and so went to regular college instead (but I did get a theatre degree).

Point is: Johnny Fox was doing everything I admired about performing, everything I wanted to be, and he soon became my unwitting mentor, as I watched his Pearl Street act uncountable times, absorbing it like the adoring sponge I was, till I had every bit of his impeccable timing and structure and patter memorized, word for pause.

He’d do what I call gross-out magic: the spikes up the nose; needles through the tongue; razor blades in the eyes; and of course the classic: swallowing razor blades and a length of string, making expressions of gastric distress, till he’d slowly, elegantly, pull out the blades, tied neatly onto the string in sequence like Christmas lights.

But he’d do old school legerdemain type tricks as well: cards and coins and pickpocketing audience members. He had an awe-inspiring pair of hands.

But what set him apart from the crowd of excellent magicians I knew and saw regularly around that place and time, was the freakshow skill that made him famous: sword swallowing.

He’d start small, building the drama of the finale, driving his blades into a log, just to show they weren’t retractable (and of course the joke trick where he did indeed use a retractable knife). The finale consisted of Fox inserting a full length blade down his throat, up to the crossguard. Then he’d bow, sword still inside him, till his rotating bow took him to the carefully selected audience member, who got to hold the hilt as he withdrew.

(I never once got selected to be that hallowed part, though I was fascinated to observe him shaking the hands of several audience members, till he found the exact right kind of grip to trust with this dangerous task. Was it all for show? Maybe. I didn’t care.)

Johnny Fox looked like a gypsy, and dressed like one, too, when onstage. Beyond finding his appearance and talent attractive as a young theatrical teen naturally would, even more than that: I wanted to be him when I grew up. My love of (and expertise in) swords, my work in aerial and burlesque dancing all have their seeds right there in Johnny Fox.

Beyond Boulder, Fox was a performer on TV, several renaissance faires, and curated a museum in New York called the Freakatorium. A proponent of old-fashioned dark-side entertainment, he did much to spread it all over the country. I am thankful that his impact on me was able to be so strong, that I was able to witness his profound talent firsthand, and learn from him as an idol and a mentor, even if we never once met. (Actually I do have an embarrassing story about a joke I finally got the guts to tell him after one of his shows. Not writing about that here—ask me about it sometime.)

Liver cancer took Johnny Fox too soon, just this past Sunday. He was only 64. What other amazing acts, feats of grosseur, or ascerbic and charming wit would he have regaled us all with, had he lived even ten years longer?

We will never know, but to those of us honored to have witnessed his incredible work firsthand, he will be immortal.

RIP, Johnny Fox. May you be grossing out the angels and swallowing seraphic swords to their delight hereafter.

Collom Collaboration, Continued

Culling more old journals, lovely lurkers, and I came across this Q&A poem and this acrostic that Jack Collom and I wrote together back in April 2001, when I had the great honor to be his apprentice/assistant for teaching poetry to my Mom’s 3/4th grade class. This was not done in class, but at a coffee shop after one of our sessions together. Again, it’s long enough ago that other than a phrase here and there, I don’t remember which lines were mine, which his.

——–

Q: One lump or two?

A: Just one big one’ll about cover it

Q: Who’s the boss?

A: That guy with the ears.

Q: Or is he?

A: Well, he just flapped outta here. Now what?

Q: Yeah, now what?

A: Okay, okay, um… why don’t we get the committee on that?

Q: Did that count as a question?

A: Just as sure as it rains little tin goslings.

Q: Okay, let’s get serious. Where are we?

A: With the pelicans, of course. An interplanetary time vortex. But the real question is,

Q: How do we get out of here?

A: Play like a dead fish and let Pelican Transport take over — we’ll all get lumped in together.

———

T ry to be kind to me, dear, or I’ll shoot you with my cold .41–

W hoa, man, can you stop for a minute? If you shoot me my life is done.

O h shit, but a new song starts in three minutes.

T oo bad, Dude Ranch, you knew the job was dangerous.

(R umble rumble)… I’m trying to start up my Rolls Royce SUV.

A w crap, not you too! Here, let me get out the

C rank: (rrrrrr… phut phut…) Whoosh! Hey, what’s that big bump in the road,

K ilimanjaro? Holy Hornets! It can’t be! Turn left, no, right, no…

(S mash crash tinkle) — This is no time or place for a tinkle. Now look what you’ve done…

The Rape Of the Sabine Women

This is a show that’s in the best of what I would call postmodernism. It’s timely, and also basic. It hits every possible emotion button. And this is the last weekend you can see it.

When Christy Montour-Larson asks me to join her crew, I always say yes. This woman is probably the best director in the whole freaking state of Colorado and when she thinks she needs my particular brand of expertise? I do not hesitate.

This play is called The Rape Of the Sabine Women, by Grace B. Matthias, and its premise is basically the date rape of a high school girl. But what makes this play amazing to watch is the overlapping of the art lesson, the history lesson, the art history lesson, and the contemporary realistic story happening as an intertwining thing. Ostensibly we get lawyers and counselors as narrators, but we also get a character named The News, and a multi-actor character portraying Wikipedia. The surrealism of it makes it that much more realistic.

My fight scene? No, it wasn’t a rape scene. We were present for the rape, but there was no explicit rape scene. Though we saw it. What this did was make it that much more emotional.

Go see this play. Go see it. It puts all of this #metoo stuff forth, and it does so very well. The perfect combination of comedy and drama. And documentary.

Blog Post Apocalyptic 

Well I do have a rather involved post relating to my Video Killed The Paper Star planned for you, lovely lurkers, but suffice to say the work involved in composing it is anathema to the work involved in…well, the rest of my work.

So, for the nonce: a check-in and a run-down. 

Denver Comic Con went well, as did the bikini car wash event I did that Sunday for Boulder Burlesque. Nasty sunburn notwithstanding. Methinks the Aged Goth need not participate in an event like that again…yipes. I mean,  I’m still peeling.

Last week was my week with the teenaged ballerinas in Longmont. This is the stage combat gig I do each summer, and it was nice to see everybody again and to have the very young students drain my life force from me (in the best of ways). It’s good, bc I have a very full class coming up this fall at Metro and I needs must get back into fighting trim. But it’ll happen, and this week helped. The SO and I, too, have started training a wee bit together, in an informal sort of way, and I’m hoping between that and adding to my (and actually making it into a) daily yoga regime, I shall be suitably badass by the time late August rolls around.

Summer college has been pretty fun, though: the FRCC comp 1 students recently created some entertaining Grammar Lesson videos, and have now moved on to their condensed semester’s culmination, The Researched Argument (enter epic music here). Topics this semester include: ecological subjects such as saving the wolves and green commuting, subjects on sexuality such as LGBTQIA rights and the legalizing of prostitution, health topics like how diet fads are destructive, and how video games improve one’s cognition, amongst many others. The capstone students at DU are composing analytical papers as well as creative work: two Christian-themed memoir pieces in this group. And Metro’s Staging Cultures class just read Angels In America and M. Butterfly (guess which marginalized culture is the theme this week). 

Like I have time to read anything else but the above-described; but I’ve joined a book club, composed of some of the members and affiliates of Boulder Burlesque. We’re meeting tonight to discuss The Art of Seduction, and I’m interested to see what they all say about it. 

Speaking of Boulder Burlesque, their show for the Fringe Festival, another version of Pussy Grabs Back, is coming up next month. But that’s another post for another time. 

So. That’s my life right now. How’s yours?

Some ancient locks and keys that arrested my attention, at the Vikings exhibit over at the Denver Museum of Natural History.