Mad Max, Fury Road: Bear Witness, For Glory, For Feminism

Imperator Furiosa pins Mad Max down.

I was really surprised that I liked this film so much.

As The Spectacle

I have not seen a Mad Max film in a very long time. The hype for this movie snuck up very quickly and so did the previews; one day it was not here and then the next, one could not escape from it. I was not convinced but as more and more of my friends started chattering about how excited they were to see it, I thought that it would be in my best interests to do so. The word “feminism” was coiling around the initial salvos of press and that’s what really ensnared me: could an action movie really do that? I still felt hesitant, because for as much as I consider myself a feminist media critic, I am allergic to the idea that a piece of media can truly be part of some “feminist”/”not-feminist” binary.

One of the first waves of criticism I heard was about how the film was pretty and truly well stocked with white people, despite this being post-societal collapse Australia. It is pretty common at this point to see fantasy and sci-fi movies neglect that the future will most assuredly contain people of color, so I was a bit dismayed.

However, before I could really ruminate on what the movie might possibly be doing, suddenly it was everywhere: MRAs were up in arms about this shit. It’s like the entire nerd portion of the Internet got a fire under its ass and demanded that we go watch this movie. It was our duty to go see this film! Won’t it piss off those backwards misogynists who think this film is carrying some subversive feminazi propaganda! It will be the feminist film for the ages! Any and all other criticism of what this movie might be selling was instantly extinguished and it felt like a banner for Feminism being waved around.

I didn’t feel those sentiments exactly, as I penned that day of seeing Mad Max: Fury Road in theatres:

I find people (a lot of them ally men) becoming engrossed in punking more sexist/MRA men really gross. It turns away from wanting to elevate feminist discourse and turns it back around to power dynamics by two marginally different groups of men, separated by slight ideological gulfs.  This division being made to the tune of millions of dollars that goes back into the pockets of mostly male movie execs and producers doesn’t liberate anyone, really: it doesn’t guarantee that movies will take more risks in the future, that more WoC actresses will be hired, more female directors will get their projects green-lit and backed. The way to progressive media is not that we have to “buy in” with our participation. It is a pretty performative and meaningless gesture.

In the last couple of months, I’ve really shied away from the kind of feminist act that is purely oppositional; I don’t do what I do as a critic or a woman because it will piss off men, I do what I do to speak and live my truth. It benefits no one but other men, in this instance, to fork over money so that some group I do not talk to will be angry in spirit. Men will always be angry. A movie does not change this, nor does it drive my politics.

I was also extremely hesitant to buy into the idea, as I stated before, that this was a noble, feminist act, that this was a purely feminist film. While it might have some effect in Hollywood by showing that these kinds of films with the bare minimum of respect for women characters can be profitable, overall the world is as it is. My soul is restless at the idea that money can truly buy progressiveness.

(I found out that Eve Ensler consulted on the film as well, with regards to how women react in war-torn countries, for accuracy. Eve’s own politics veer very far from mine and I find her methods and treatment of many groups like trans women and women of color to be incredibly violating and distasteful. But I digress.)

As The Film

From the moment the first shot opens until this movie closed, I could feel myself not breathing.

This is an action movie of the highest order and it puts so many others to shame. We have been truly wandering in the desert up until this point - in terms of epic (actually epic, Odyssey-epic, sweeping epic) film-making and story, there’s very few others I’ve seen that attain a pure crystallization of vision. The film does not burden you with much dialogue and exposition. It is a tale of going there and back again, writ against the struggles of Max as he wrestles his demons and the Wives, under Imperator Furiosa’s care, attempting to gain escape velocity behind the wheel of a war rig.

The cinematography was sweeping, allowing for moments of delicate close-up shots of Furiosa’s face, wide-angle desert pans and action that danced, clear and lucid on the screen. At no point was I confused about what was going on, and the use of movement in among all of the vehicles was spectacular. What the movie did the best was that excellent sense of vertical space: everything loomed large, whether unseen or all-too-close in the rearview. What also shone was the stunt work and prop design - from the very real flame-throwing guitar to the polecats men that wove in and out of shots.

The story was kept bare and allowed you to hyper-focus on the characters in the moment and on their impossible journey. Max is laboring under the sins of his past, and Furiosa is looking for redemption: for herself as well as the young women she wanted to save. All that we need to know is that they must get away, and when they do, what comes next is the arc that carries us triumphant across the finish line. The women’s struggles to exist in a world where they are nothing but walking meat felt familiar to me, set very starkly in the world of the film. Not knowing exactly how this world came to be made it easier to focus on what it was trying to say. Max and Nux are two men attempting to be their own true selves but unsure of what that means when their roles are so tightly defined at the beginning of the film and in the end, are allowed to be heroic and compassionate. Their sacrifices and bodily nurturing flips much of the action hero archetype on its head, and allows the women space to enact violence and empathy on their own terms instead of being on the sidelines to Max’s pain.

It’s been a long time since a movie has taken hold of me so strongly that I find myself laughing aloud at points, clapping or hooting and hollering from the back rows.

As The Work

The one thought that really itched at the back of my brain and made its way onto Twitter after I had seen the film was this: this would have been better as a film that wasn’t about Mad Max. The sparseness of story and his own participation as the point-of-view just made me realize that I would have really liked to have seen this from Furiosa’s perspective. Obviously, her ascension through the ranks is alluded to but it speaks to many questions: why is she not part of the base classes of thirsty people around the plateaus? She’s certainly not “fit” to be a wife or a milk mother and yet all of the war boys seem to be men. I would have liked to see this movie from her perspective, a heist movie of the highest order. Having Max’s titular story be draped on top of hers, rather than a supporting lead felt like the less attractive option. I know it is a franchise but I just think it would have leaned even further into showing that this world’s women had much more interesting stories to tell.

This is where I find the idea that this movie is “feminist” to be a really erroneous take. Does it have merit from a feminist critical lens though? Absolutely. As a work, it grapples with a lot of things that I find both add and subtract from my enjoyment of it, as a feminist.

The criticisms that the movie was dominated by white actors is absolutely on the nose, to almost literal effect. While there were a few people of color in the supporting cast, the story is surrounding two or three white characters in a world that also feels similarly white. I think it’s incredibly lazy to constantly create futuristic sci-fi worlds, especially dystopias that reproduce the plights of underclasses and marginalized people (resource scarcity, slavery) and making them completely about white people.

As far as the way the Wives and Furiosa were portrayed, I felt that overall, it was pretty strong. Each were given a least a touch of their own personality and way of dealing with things: confusion about the outside world, pleas for pacifism and compassion. The struggle among them over whether to give in and go back to Immortan felt too real in terms of what happens when trying to escape an abusive relationship, but the fact that they didn’t shit all over Cheedo for attempting to do so was a nice touch (the fact that this is later mirrored in her part to help kill Immortan was especially poignant.) I also loved the inclusion of the Many Mothers clan, while decimated, they were still glorious as well as key to the eventual survival of the entire group.

The violence in this film and seeing Furiosa save the day time and time again by the skin of her teeth, shooting guns and stabbing fuckers in the face, all while driving the war rig was thrilling to me. I know women enacting violence is going to be the biggest battleground over the ideology of this film and I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, violence is not a masculine pursuit, solely. There is absolutely fuck-tons of masculinized violence in this movie and I feel that there needs to be a difference in looking at using violence as a survival mechanism (which is something Max does, repeatedly) and violence as a subjugation tool. The War Boys are looking to destroy the uppity women attempting to leave, and grind them back into their place. It is about conquest and attempting to correct a theft: the wives are property. What all of the women in this movie are attempting to do is to not even just get revenge (though that factors in) but to get away with their lives and their bodily autonomy. I couldn’t help but feel a stirring in my heart when Immortan Joe’s body was ripped apart because that darkness has been in my body for most of my life. We have to allow women who have been victimized this truth.

The flip-side of this however is when I saw the people claiming that this violence is what made it the most feminist without critical looks into what violence actually was doing in this movie. Frequently, violence from white women is seen as the ultimate power one can attain after being seen as weak and feminine. However, both this delicacy, prized and pure as well as the ability to enact violence is open to only white women. If Furiosa had been black or brown, I feel like the reactions would have been very different. It would have not been hailed as the second coming of feminist films.

All that being said, there was still something potent in seeing it, especially in a world that was set up to still continue the treating of women’s bodies as property, taken to a very scary conclusion. It always saddens me when we keep seeing bleak futures in this way and gives me a lack of escapism. While I felt that the film ultimately balanced the grossness of women-as-livestock metaphor with the tenderness of the main players with eachother, one day maybe we will see visions of the future where women are not crushed beneath the boot of Men, if not forgotten entirely from the world.

If there was any one thing that gave me a small bit of hope that we can achieve this, was seeing Max give his blood to Furiosa so readily. A man putting aside his own needs to help and comfort the woman whose crusade drove the entire plot almost made me cry. It was well worth the price of admission.



Supergirl is Not a Saturday Night Live Sketch

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it might fetch you a latte - CBS dropped a first look of their new series Supergirl yesterday, amid a weirdly mixed audience. I watched the six-minute trailer/edited plot summary and walked away feeling pretty positive about it. If I had any complaints about this at all, it is that this feels targeted at a much younger audience than CBS’ typical demo, if not something that I’d expect on the CW. The fact that the pilot and second episode are written by some of the people from Arrow and The Flash, as well as Glee doesn’t surprise me, though I feel that a show like this might lean closer to The Flash than Arrow in terms of pure grit.

Don’t get me wrong though - I just think the show is on the wrong channel. As far as love for the new generation of comic book-adjacent TV shows, I have much of it. I watch everything from Daredevil to The Flash to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The reasons I think some of these shows are so popular is often because they draw in a much younger, female audience. If anything, I feel like including gratuitous shots of Oliver Queen doing pull-ups with his rippling abs and biceps makes their target demographic pretty clear. All of these comic book shows have pretty cool ensemble casts, often with an emphasis on a cute, younger male protagonist and some level of more emotional interpersonal drama. It is a marked contrast from how male-dominated comic books have been written and marketed in the past. However, these shows have been lacking are a female protagonist, even still. This could be due to the fact that it’s seen as risky business to pitch a show like that or get ratings (Agent Carter springs to mind, same with the failed Wonder Woman venture). This is why I want to see Supergirl ultimately succeed.

However, some of the reactions to the first look video had me a touch annoyed and unsure if my fellow nerds feel the same way. A lot of people took the more breezy, feminine approach to task, stating that it felt very “rom-com” and also reminiscent of a recent SNL sketch that lampooned how Marvel handles female protagonists, notably Black Widow:


While I think the sketch is absolutely ferocious satire, I don’t think that and the Supergirl trailer are alike. For one, Supergirl is earnest, and not in a way I find offensive to the character. Black Widow, much like many other women characters in that universe being underutilized or badly written has been a long-term critique of Marvel for a while, particularly now after the debut of Age of Ultron. Supergirl as she stands herself, is a younger, feminine woman who is struggling with her super-identity as well as her “real” one at her job and social life. It feels very much in-step with some of other Superman series like Dean Cain’s portrayal as well as Smallville - a contemporary take on how to balance it all. The fact that she is a woman who wears skirts or does menial tasks for her boss doesn’t mean that it’s shoehorning the character into a romantic comedy situation, particularly given that she rebuffs her “nice guy” friend from the jump. There’s a difference, a marked one, between writers leaning into boilerplate stereotypes for “what women act like” and writing a woman who is young, fashionable, office-working and has to navigate that particular space. So far we haven’t seen Supergirl crying into any pints of ice cream or talking to her cat. As someone who has watched far too many rom-coms, there’s a distinct difference here. Kara Jor-El feels, so far at least, like her own person and not a construction. A certain empty construction of femininity applied to every woman character is not always on-key but it doesn’t mean that femininity itself is what is the problem. The bigger context we should be looking at is just that we have so few women characters that there’s just a very narrow spectrum of the kinds of characters they are allowed to be.

Now, none of this is to say that I don’t think these types of shows are above critique, far from it. What Supergirl might still suffer from, as many other comic book shows do, is often relying on offensive gags/jokes, under-casting (if not completely whitewashing) characters of color as well as yes, sidelining female characters. Some of the writing I saw in the heavily edited first look definitely fell into the former category: the “oh your big secret is you are a lesbian and that’s why you won’t date me” joke as well as the speech Calista Flockhart’s hell-boss character (WHERE ARE HER EYEBROWS) gives to Kara about “hating being a girl.” (Hey, girl is a pretty annoying diminutive if you are over the age of 15, writers!) I don’t think Supergirl will be entirely free of issues, but it is nice to see something like this come out.

The ultimate takeaway I got from the first look is that it will be awesome to see a 20-something lady try to balance her life and her attempts to save the world, especially in the shadow of her famous older “cousin” that was mentioned several times. Melissa Benoist’s Kara feels sympathetic and relatable as she tries to do it all, and Mehcad Brooks’ Jimmy Olsen seems like a really cool mentor-type character. I don’t have a lot of love for Rick, the best friend-type character but if he ends up filling a more “Cisco” role of engineering Kara’s costume and tech over the course of the series, it might be slightly more palatable.

Overall, I am excited to see yet another female-lead show finally take off. Too often I think we expect that every superheroine or bad-ass has to always have her shit together and this might be a nice departure from that.


Jem and the Holograms Trailer: Magic and Glitter, Exit Stage Right

Call me surprised when I opened up Twitter last night after watching a documentary to find most of my timeline to be extremely upset about the Jem and the Holograms global trailer that just dropped. I was only vaguely aware that Jem and the Holograms were making a comeback (mostly in the form of a comic book) so the idea that they were leaping onto the big screen as part of the wave of 80s nostalgia reboots/remakes seemed fairly interesting to me. However, it seemed like most people, even before I had a chance to watch said trailer, were deeply unhappy with the direction that the movie seems to be taking at this juncture.

Granted, trailers are always edited together in a masterful way to give you a sense of the plot but also to get the hype machine cranked up well before a film’s release and might not be accurate to what the movie is really, truly about. However, upon my own viewing, it seems like there’s so much off-key here that I have to agree with the legions of upset on social media.

It is sad because honestly, if this wasn’t called a Jem and the Holograms movie, I would sit down and watch this. It’s no accident in that, especially since I saw this immediately after watching the documentary Beyond Clueless. I’m a teen movie-holic and find myself passionately interested in the genre. This movie, for all of its sentimentality and earnestness, seems like something I’d enjoy. That being said, a Jem and the Holograms movie it is not.

Even if many of us (like myself) watched this cartoon when we were too young to absorb most of the plot (though this has been fixed lately with re-watches), much of the aesthetic and overarching story of the show stuck with us. Jem is and forever remains a superhero story, one that wasn’t popular with primarily boys first. She used magic to change into an alter-ego, she battled opposition forces and she stuck together with her gang of other cool musical superhero band-mates. How is this not similar to the Avengers? So when I watched the trailer and saw that the movie was realistic, earnest and contained no magic whatsoever, I felt cheated. If Hollywood can create an Earth that supports men who are god-like, enhanced by mysterious chemicals or have supernatural abilities, why not one where women can use their earrings to change into rival musical superstars? It is this fundamental change to the nature of Jem that feels the most lacking.

This movie, if the trailer is any indication, is made by someone who doesn’t grasp the fabric of the world, and all of the things woven into it. It honestly feels like a script driven by someone who had no proximity to the show at all. Jem’s story is fundamentally about her struggles with stardom, her friendship with the Holograms and her clashes with the Misfits. (Where are the Misfits too, I might ask.) Pasting the name over a typical story of a young girl who gathers her family around her and then is pushed to go solo is a well-worn trope. It doesn’t jibe with what Jem was really about: sticking together with your friends. Radically altering that story so you can shrink-wrap the franchise on top of it creates a soulless automaton that resembles nothing about the show we all loved.

That’s the thing here, that I think is bugging so many of us: it’s not about the show we enjoyed. Nostalgia seems to be sacred in creative properties if we’re trying to re-create stories from comic books that have origins in the 50s-60s, but girly cartoons from the 80s? Eh, let’s market that to girls who are teens now, who may have never seen the show. At the risk of sounding crotchety, it shows a lack of understanding of who the audience for this movie actually is, as women aged 25 and up are only allowed to be into pre-determined genres like romantic comedies and not the stuff we were into when we were kids. What if we’re parents who want to take our daughters to see things we enjoyed at their age? What if we’re older nerd ladies who want to see a faithful adaptation of stuff we have fond memories of? There’s such a lack of consideration, still, in the nerd sphere for the things we enjoyed as kids, despite the wave of 80s and 90s media making a comeback. (I feel that this ties neatly into why we also don’t have a lot of adult cartoon shows geared more towards women, but that’s another topic for another time.) The ability to enjoy retro is still firmly in the grip of a pretty male nerd culture.

Jem and the Holograms should not be this realistic, this earnest and solely developed for a younger audience. You can’t slap neon face-paint on and call it good. It feels like it was written by John Green with all of the annoying mawkishness that come with it and a lack of experience with what girls or women actually want, just what we’re supposed to enjoy. We’re a group continually passed over and seeing the things we loved writ accurately seems impossible.

Give me the glamour and glitter, fashion and fame. Keep it truly outrageous.


Monday Round-Up, Part 1: Lucy

LucyI’m going to lay it out here: Lucy is a terrible fucking movie. It barely has merit as a film at all. It’s much like Scarlett Johansson‘s eponymous character in the movie: cool to look at but very little substance beyond that.

I chose to watch this because I like to punish myself.

The general conceit of the movie is that Lucy, through some vague machination of a man she’s been dating a week, is forced into being a drug mule for Korean drug lord (Choi Min-sik) in Taiwan. While in captivity, the bag holding the drugs that have been sewn into her organs is busted open and she suddenly gains the ability to use more than 10% of her brain. The rest of the movie is the even more improbable events of her trying to reconcile with this fact and seek revenge on the organization that put her in this state, along with a professor (Morgan Freeman) and a french detective (Amr Waked.)

Movies have been playing around with the idea of drugs that somehow give us superhuman mental abilities (like Limitless) but have done a way better job of maintaining believability; this movie harps visually on Lucy’s numeric brain potential rising over the course of the story and it’s ridiculous. The idea that we only use 10% of our brain’s “potential” is trash science (imagine if you didn’t have access to the 10% that controls autonomic functions) but the ultimate conclusion that we’d be able to access X-Men level powers of telepathy and time-control just sort of spirals out from there. It doesn’t even try to make the movie logically consistent, and I consider myself willing to swallow quite a lot of science-fiction (except that the Flash can move faster than the speed of light.)

Narratively, the movie is cob-web thin. Both plot and dialogue are insubstantial and wholly unbelievable.  Lucy moves from location to location, beating up people, using her powers inconsistently as she grows more and more into a supercomputer of terrifying proportions. No, I am not even being metaphorical on this count: she literally turns into a giant oozing black supercomputer, Akira-style, and then dissipates into the electronic ether. (My head-canon for this is that she eventually transforms into the voice-activated AI from Her, in a cruel twist of fate.) Characterization is also in short supply, as well. Characters are no more than talking heads or action-doers, simple organisms that shoot or throw out lines. The only characters who seem to merit names or individual personalities are Professor Norman (who provides the flimsy scientific plot hooks and awed expressions), Pierre del Rio, Mr. Jang and that’s it. It would be clever to say that they are merely obstacles to Lucy’s ascension into a pure being but that would imply a level of depth that is not found here.

Lucy’s characterization is similarly shallow but in a more problematic way: I noticed that the larger her brain capacity grew, her humanity fell away. I know this is intentional, as several times through the film they make a point of her remarking that human beings and their “lower” brain capacity are ruled by base desires and fear. It is a really gross and fairly ableist view of intellect and emotion, positing that rationality and pure knowledge rule out over feelings or that people with more brainy pursuits are somehow a higher echelon of human being. It comes across to me as a more artistic interpretation of gendered views on reason, that rationality is better and emotionality is not. Lucy moves from the beginning of the film where we are given nothing but a scared lady wearing typical club gear, scared out of her wits, to being transformed into a robotic, and even god-like (there’s an actual scene where she touches a primate ancestor’s finger in the exact method of Michaelangelo’s famous Sistine Chapel painting, I shit you not) being that is “so much better” then her former self. This leads into where I felt the real problems of the film were from a feminist perspective.

When the movie’s marketing engine first cranked up, there were some initial salvos that this was the “feminist film” we had all been waiting for, with a particularly bad-ass Johansson wending her way through Taiwan with a flurry of gunshots and kicks. Feminist it is not, not in the slightest. Not only is Lucy’s transformation presented in a very flat, unappealing “strong female character” way that relies entirely on masculine traits of violence and stoicism, but there is nothing feminist about the staggering amounts of racialized violence that occur in this movie. All of the aggressors in the movie are portrayed as some combination of Asian gangster stereotypes without acknowledging that one of the biggest aggressors in the movie is Lucy herself. I guess a white woman shooting down several Taiwanese people (one of whom is merely on a surgical table at the wrong time) is totally “kick-ass”? I was not really seeing how this was some feminist triumph when Lucy is basically a white female version of a thoughtless white male action hero with even less concern for human life.

It was not surprising to me that this movie was written and directed by Luc Besson. Besson has a pretty solid body of work that features complicated women characters like NikitaThe Messenger, and my favorite The Fifth Element.  This movie felt weighed down by a huge CGI budget, confusing visuals and a really shoddy script. It felt like the typical Besson “girl” on the surface but the rest is phoned in, offensively so. In other films, particularly Fifth Element, the woman’s “chosen one” status is played artfully or at least in a clever way; Lucy is just incredibly hamfisted and empty.

Overall, I’d say that this movie was disappointment, but that would imply that I had high expectations going in.

Monday Rundown: Saved!

Hillary Faye (Mandi Moore) pelts Mary (Jenna Malone) with the Bible, in one of the movie’s most hilarious moments.

Instead of typically explaining what I would like to achieve on my blog (and therefore letting it lapse for long periods of time), I figured I’d just right into it and let God sort it out. I’ve been sort of loosely maintaining this idea that I would watch one film a week, no other stipulations other than that, just to kind of re-expand my love of the form and generally unwind after a long week at work. Since my prime movie-watching time is the weekend, I figured that summarizing on Monday what I had watched the days prior would be a good way to also start my new life as a general feminist media critic versus solely focusing on video games.

This week’s pick was not intentional - I was looking to watch Iron Man 3 or Captain America: The Winter Soldier in anticipation of seeing Age of Ultron with my boyfriend this week but sadly neither film was available for rent on Amazon Prime video. So when Saved! turned up randomly on my Netflix recommendations, I figured that maybe this would be a good time for a fun re-watch. I’ve seen this movie at least two times before but the last time was at least 6-10 years ago. Would it hold up? Many of the teen movies I was obsessed with in the late 90’s/early 00s renaissance for that genre still hold up relatively well these days, even if none of the characters have smartphones or social media. I didn’t back then, so they still feel real to me.

Saved! is somewhere between earnest teen drama and tautly written satire of Christianity written for adults. It’s obviously very accessible though, speaking as someone who has no access to what really goes on in “born again” and “charismatic” Christian circles. The story follows the protagonist Mary (Jenna Malone), as she struggles to deal with a crisis of faith, brought to her by an accidental pregnancy with her actually-gay boyfriend. The movie moves briskly through the 10 months leading up to her giving birth, and introduces a really hilarious cast of characters that attend the American Eagle Christian school with Mary: her ex-best friend Hillary Faye (Mandi Moore), Hillary’s disabled brother Roland (Macaulay Culkin), as well as the school’s single Jewish student and trouble-maker, Cassandra (Eva Amurri). Adults are conspicuously out of the picture, which is pretty true to form in most teen films, other than Mary’s absentee Christian Decorator of the Year award-winning mom Lillian (Mary Louise-Parker) and the overly-hip Pastor Skip (who is father to Mary’s crush, Patrick, played by Patrick Fugit.)

What really kept this movie from being too bogged down by what could have been sneering disgust or overt familiarity with the topic was mostly Mary’s struggles with reconciling that her own actions, not Jesus’, are really at work here. Losing your faith is a pretty earnest moment for a lot of people, especially young people, and struggling with teen pregnancy on top of that is no easy task. The jokes are kept pretty blasphemous but not exceptionally cruel. The world as it is seen through Mary’s eyes is obviously to be mocked but not in a way that felt too distanced. I got a sense that the script was written with a lot of care. That being said, the movie as a whole is extremely wry whether it’s Hillary Faye’s intense, militant religiousness wrapped around a fairly offensive center or Pastor Skip and Lillian’s obvious affection for eachother despite Skip still being married to Patrick’s missionary mom. The whole movie serves to very delicately show that adhering to the rules does no one good when so much of the human existence is that we’re all flawed in some way. It also played heavily on the idea that the facades that we want others to buy into aren’t truly who we are deep down inside, where only God (or whomever), can see us.

Despite the fact that the movie takes place over a decent length of time (most of Mary’s entire senior year at American Eagle), they did a lot of very subtle jumps in time, seamlessly cutting from one holiday to the next, using that as a way to vignette a particular moment in Mary’s arc and on-going attempts to hide the pregnancy from most people around her. It also weaves in quite a few scenes that give us a greater understanding of many of the people in Mary’s orbit, such as her mom’s loneliness, Roland and Cassandra’s burgeoning relationship and Hillary Faye’s more desperate attempts to “fix” Mary and her friends. Subtle things like Tia’s (Heather Matarazzo) eventual transformation into Hillary Faye Jr. play out in the background, much like the holiday decorations strewn around the school, and underscore what happens at the pique of the film’s tension - the end-of-year prom.

Prom scenes are often the hyper-focus of many teen films and so it’s hard not to fall into cliches. They work as a place where power relationships are thrown into stark relief and the real magic of a film’s climax happens. Memorable prom scenes like Jawbreaker and Carrie are rife with stylistic conventions that seem to occur in every film going forward. Saved! keeps it a little less dramatic but twists everything around with it’s own flair; Hillary Faye is revealed as the actual villain who orchestrated a frame job of Mary and Cassandra (which Mean Girls feels reminiscent of), Dean shows up with his boyfriend from Mercy House (the Christian deprogramming school, alluding to something that wouldn’t become a bigger story until years later), and all of this is punctuated by one falling Jesus statue and Mary eventually giving birth.

The movie is sweet without being too schmaltzy, referential without being trite (I got shades of Mermaids here) and embraces the extremely dry humor without being alienating about the subject matter in a way that I found really refreshing. It’s a teen movie with a lot of outside elements and still stays pretty true-to-form. If you’re looking for good satire with a decent story, this is a great place to look.



Here Lies Kyle, Son of Durotan


“Did you see that thing on Wow Insider?”

I look at something else.


A large sigh of frustration came out of my boyfriend, eternally chagrined that his girlfriend didn’t read the blog he worked at.


I don’t recall when I started reading Wow Insider, on and off, but I do remember when I might have - somewhere around 2006, when I was still blogging regularly at Livejournal. I was part of a community called wow_ladies, and it felt like every other week, something that we talked about in the community, among thousands of women (and hidden men) that something we argued about ended up on the front page of this news site. We’d always end up looking like a bunch of catty drama queens (sometimes we were, most of the time we weren’t) but I ended up sticking around to read Wow Insider from time to time - not necessarily because I needed tips but because for the first time in my internet career, I enjoyed seeing particular personalities at play.

Alex was a friend of mine at the time, that I knew from a forum we both frequented and also that he was my guild master. He eventually applied to Wow Insider and got the job. I was extremely proud because well, I had a giant crush on him but also I knew he was a really amazing writer with a knack for dry humor and an affable “voice.” The idea of writing about video games was something I didn’t even think people could do as a job, back then.


I hung out with Alex for the second time “in real life” at Blizzcon 2008, both of our first time attending the convention. I was extremely nervous, having never been to California, and getting to meet his co-workers. I felt incredibly awkward, especially later as I sat in an odd tropical Disneyland restaurant as the staff of Wow Insider that were in attendance held for fans of the website. I did get to talk to, if my memory serves me correctly, people like Dan and Elizabeth and pick ineffectually at some nachos. There were a couple of die-hard people that showed up, profuse in their praise and overwhelmed to meet people they admired so much. It was a really touching difference from the rest of the bar, which was loud bros in Hawaiian shirts or overtired parents who just wanted fifteen seconds to suck down a Mai-Tai.


There’s a phone ringing somewhere. It has to be 2 AM. It feels like 4 AM.

My boyfriend rolls over and looks at his phone. “Patch notes.”

He gets up and starts his computer.


I was really sad when Christian Belt stopped writing Arcane Brilliance. He was the only person, save for maybe Lhivera, who made me feel like grasping mage mechanics was incredibly simple and did it with such flair and humor. When Stacey Landry got slotted into Belt’s old shoes, I didn’t feel like they were too big for her.

I was never a huge fan of the class columns but I always made sure to read the ones for mages. There was something comforting about it.


“Oh yeah, my boyfriend is an editor at Wow Insider!”


“Uh, no.”


The first money I made from writing and understanding of games journalism came from Wow Insider. I had a few pieces picked up for the site via AOL’s Seed program, which would let all of their associated content outlets post ads for freelancers, and turn them in for money. Any time that Wow Insider was looking for Breakfast topics or even a couple of long-form pieces, I would throw something up there. I didn’t have a job at the time and we were single income. Making 20 bucks here and there was a big deal to me.  I gained an appreciation for people’s work being valued and paid for.

But what I really learned was how to turn a piece out on a deadline, how to chop back fluff. I also learned, once Alex became an editor, what the demands of running a website really were, particularly one tied to a single game (or two.) The mechanisms of keeping a news outlet afloat is something a lot of people aren’t privy to. It’s often a question of money, dealing with public relations teams, and decisions that aren’t in your immediate control. Corporations are what make it possible to pay people (which I believe is crucial) but they also care about bottom lines and simplification and synergy and other words I barely understand. Corporations don’t see people, they see ad services. They don’t often recognize communities, they see revenue streams. They allocate funds but they don’t tally up actual costs.

The people at the top are often slumlords, who keep the whole building from collapsing but do little to make some place livable.


Anne is talking about lore and it’s so fascinating. 

We’re passing through rock formations somewhere in Utah and I feel like I’m on an alien planet, while a gentle tide of Anne describing what might be Warcraft’s next expansion is drifting through my ears. We’ve been on the road for a couple of hours now, heading towards Blizzcon. Alex is sitting in the front seat and I’m in the back, looking out the windows, occasionally leaning forward in-between them to catch what is being talked about.

It eventually begins to snow.


I kept listening to the Wow Insider podcast even after I quit WoW.


I think I’ll go read Wow Insider right now.


A Brutal Landscape: Sexual Assault in Gaming Narratives

Content warning: discussion of rape in video games.

It’s like a wave is rolling in, borne of several currents: a Nightline special, an errant tweet, a sequel to a hot gaming franchise. People wondering if we’re going to “start” having this conversation of how to “tackle” rape in video games, but I don’t feel like the conversation ever has stopped. It never, ever stops for me.

Sometimes it feels like the discussions that rape and abuse victims have among themselves is significant and invisible. We pass along content and trigger warnings for shows or games we consume. We acknowledge something off to the side, just out of your line of vision, a thing that lurks in the dark. If you believe that the games industry cannot discuss or approach a conversation about rape, I believe it is because many people feel like we are set apart from this somehow. It doesn’t acknowledge that you might not know who is a victim or a survivor. You don’t know who could contribute or maybe the ways that we have been, all along.

Rape is a topic I’d be okay with striking altogether from gaming, outside of victim- or survivor-written narratives. It’s obvious that the game industry barely recognizes what counts as sexual assault, let alone acknowledging that people are victims of it. The insistence to include rape in games creates this uneasy message that someone like me doesn’t belong here. Given that sexual assault is an assertion of systemic power and violence, it is grimly ironic.

I want to ask all of these developers, writers, a simple, “Why?”

Why put this in your game? Why this and not something else? It leads me to think that many find it essential as texture, to make the world “come alive.” It creates a world that so many don’t have to live in day-by-day but can participate in, like tourism. When you make a game and use it to bolster the game’s “realism,” what you’re telling me is that you need our suffering as a fixture in your world, placed just-so, like a lamp. What is actually disruptive violence in the real world, exists as something inevitable and crucial for your fictional one.

“But rape exists in movies and comic books too!” 

When I watch a movie or read a comic book, there is a passivity there. I cannot affect the story at hand, I am not a part of it. I can either regard or turn away. The fact is that I have more control in being passive than what gaming frequently offers me. At best, a game’s interactivity absolutely positions us as a silent participant, a complicit bystander, with no ability to change course. At worst, it puts us into the position of the rapist. These are two alternatives that I cannot bear, time and time again. The fact that so many games rely on showing us these things and never center a victim or survivor in the narrative indicates that games care more about rape than those who are raped.

Rape is complex. It’s not picking the wrong item to equip or taking the wrong road. Games are focused often on player choice and it never seems to address that it is not about a victim’s choices, it is actually about a rapist’s choices. But the narrative never really reflects that, indicating that rape is just something that sort of happens. It also neglects that rape is the escalation of many more innocuous things in our culture. Rape culture, which feminists talk about often, isn’t just a buzzword - it literally describes the seemingly endless language that builds slowly to enable rape at all levels. Much like playing enough games gives you a familiar sense of inputs or consequences (jumping off a cliff often kills you, hitting D on a keyboard turns you right), rape culture is our society’s way of developing language to violate someone. We don’t value people’s personal spaces, we demand that women smile or allow us into their immediate vicinity. We overlook if someone is too drunk, we overlook if someone is uncomfortable with disagreeing, we value our own sexual desires over others needs or safety. We place certain groups above others, put people into power over others and give them the ability to enact it without culpability. We strip people’s ability to ever say “no.”

The pinnacle of this is often sexual assault, a finishing move.

“But this guy in the game is evil, that’s why he’s a rapist! It is showing us he’s bad!”

This is a lazy writing trope. It’s just as empty and useless as promoting this idea that all rapists are scary men that lurk in alleyways, that they are people you don’t know. Rapists are not always evil people that wear capes and kidnap young women. Rapists are often the hero, the friend, the family member. They are people who even might think of themselves as good, right, or justified. Many men can’t even reliably identify rape (or even would consider it) even when it is described to them, so how is an huge industry supposed to recognize it when they put it into games?

It is also laughably facile to position rapists as a villain, when it’s horribly rare that we even get to name our rapists in real life, much less bring them to justice. Many times in video games, the rapists are bad, but they are horizontal or parallel to the incredibly violent antagonist, because a victim would never be the person centered in the narrative, much less able to bring retribution on their attacker. If anything, the ability to enact revenge is only ever given to someone who is adjacent to a victim - such as a husband to a wife. Many times, victims are often people who are not even considered worthy enough to be a character. We’re dead and cast off to the side in places where it should be our story.

These are all things I’ve been trying to address in my work for a really long time, as someone who is a survivor and a feminist. The gaming industry has a long way to go because it barely understands how to see us as real people, but only cares as much as we can lend realism. The fact that most of us barely register as human beings means that it will not have the empathy or concern needed to put our stories first and foremost in a video game. The fact that games seem to value rapists over people who have been assaulted means I will always sit uneasily on the sidelines whenever this conversation comes back up, every single time.


It’s Monday Again: Tuesday Edition

A girl leans her legs up against a wall and smokes.

It might not be Monday now, but that’s not a problem.

The beginning of the year, also known as last week, was fairly auspicious in that I wrote not one but two pieces on the blog. I hope to maintain that kind of entropy for the rest of the year but much like my desire to cut out junk food, I doubt it will happen.

My summation of 2014 (with appropriately vague title) really should have included relevant links to my own work, as that seems to be the standard fashion but I ended up not caring much about re-directing people to pieces I was proud of, just yet. I might need to marinate on that a little more. I did do some good writing last year, but it’s hard to feel like you’ve really accomplished much as a mostly amateur writer. It was a lot more fun to highlight the best of some of my friends’ and peers’ work, as well as try to encapsulate just how last year was to both myself and to games at large (okay and awful, respectively.)

The second piece I did was a personal, poetic unraveling relating to my feelings about The Uncle Who Works for Nintendo. I’ve come back to that game a few times, poking and prodding about why it was so good but I finally sat down and hammered that post out in one go, feeling satisfied that I held something important in my hands for at least a moment. I am still shocked that Michael Lutz managed to capture something important to me, even if a lot of it I brought to the game myself. Having a game at least provide that kind of petri dish for emotional culture growth is rare.

I also read a really awesome article about Shadow of Mordor (prompting me to pick up the game, finally) by my partner-in-crime Tzufit. She talks about accessing a relatable power dynamic that’s different than other games, like Bayonetta 2, as well as what it is like to play a woman, who for all intents and purposes, is treated like a man. I can’t help but agree with Tzufit’s desires to engage with a power fantasy that is not related to sexuality, as that is sometimes off-putting in games for me as well.

Last but not least, last week was our Justies/GOTY episode on Justice Points, and I suspect you’ll want to check it out. We didn’t go into it looking for consensus and I think the show is much more entertaining and amusing for it. You be the judge.





take my hand

This review/post contains mild story spoilers, so please play the game first.

This post also deals with personal, violent subject matter, so if that is triggering, feel free to skip sections 2-6.


I mean this as no disrespect, but I don’t expect men to write women, or girls, very well. There’s just something how most men push our narratives to the very edge of their awareness, stuff us into boxes. Men don’t listen. They don’t care. They don’t have our blood in their veins, our tender flesh held together with strings and whispers. Our stories squeeze in narrowly between theirs, and if no one believes us, we stop taking up space. We lose mass.

I still don’t know what kind of magic birthed The Uncle Who Worked For Nintendo into being. It has some of the same fairy dust as Gone Home, though the latter had more time to really dig itself under my skin. Gone Home had too many nuances to not be true. It was fiction, but it was clearly true.

The Uncle Who Worked For Nintendo, for people who have not played this short Twine game, is a fictional tale that on the surface works as typical creepypasta, but underneath is made up of real stuff. Hard stuff, scary stuff.

And underneath all of that is hopefulness, optimism.

I usually do not like games that give me too many endings. There’s always a nagging feeling that I’m not making the right choices, that I didn’t get the best ending.

I think something they don’t really tell you is that there’s some points in your life that will irrevocably change you for every moment that comes after. Time travel stories work on this principle but only to hand out platitudes about being unable to change the past. It has no real teeth, and it never tells you the real truth of forking paths: that you become this different person, the potentialities dropping off your body like gangrenous limbs.

I’ve struggled for so many years to not feel like half of a person, that some essential part of me fell away back in my teen years, that I didn’t make the right choice. I am not sure what I would do if I had the ability to turn back everything until then. Would I get the best ending then? What do endings mean when you constantly have to move forward no matter what?

no, turn back, don’t go in the room, run away, run far away, he’s a monster

I ended up running anyways, later into the darkness, scared

Monsters are real, they are real. 

And part of me was left behind.


The Uncle, the literal uncle of the title, is a monster. We don’t know where he comes from or what he truly is but he represents that kind of terrible bargain we sometimes make, to just get by.

We become monsters to keep us safe, no one tells you that

Your friend (I chose Jennifer) relates to you the misery that is being a girl who plays videogames. You know that feeling, that shared chasm that you fall into. Kids are cruel, you know, and it sets you up for the kinds of cruelness you deal with later on in life, that cruelness becomes part of you. But for that moment, you reach out to her and remind her that you’re there. That you are both real, and both wonderful.

Your friend has changed, you can tell. The events, the ones you remember, she doesn’t.

They don’t tell you that your memory goes, utterly. Bits of time are gone. There’s only holes, and blackness. Your ability to fragment a narrative is gone. Things shift around, uncomfortably, as some details burn white-hot in your brain while others fall away. 

There were twinkly lights. It was red. The room was bathed in red light. Everything became red. There was a phone call. 

I wouldn’t be able to sleep in a bed for years.


The uncle comes to the house and it becomes all too apparent what your role in this game is: sacrificial.

I ran to the door on my first go, trusting.

I knew better the second time and ran to the bathroom, hiding.

Fight or flight, no one tells you that the third option is to be so quiet and so still. Holding your breath. If I do nothing, the monster will leave.

But the Uncle is too smart, he knows where I am.

There’s more endings, I know there’s more, the lines are right there, and I can’t figure out how to get there, why the story keeps repeating and I cycle back to the moment when I can change things. I keep cycling back. It’s some detail, something I’m overlooking, I keep re-tracing my steps to see if I could have done something differently, it would all make sense.

You blame yourself a lot. A lot, over and over. They don’t tell you that monsters are monsters and that’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. You can do everything right, correct, perfectly, perfect perfect perfect and there’s nothing that can stop it. It’s out of your hands. It isn’t a wrong or right thing. 

But I can’t even remember the story right.


It was the perfect Mew-two, that little key to your friend’s heart. The storm, the things that got changed when she made the deal with the Uncle. People started disappearing, but he made everything better, he salved the wounds.

Can you blame her? I can’t blame her. I would have made the same choice. We make these horrible concessions to ourselves, to other women, because it keeps everything copacetic. It keeps the anger at bay.

They don’t really tell you about the anger, the sticky disgusting rage that wells up in your eyes, your throat, that wishes to see him hurt, twisted, mangled like a corpse. Pushed into a compacter. Eaten alive. Stabbed with shards of glass. The anger is what is left behind when all the sadness burns away. People look at you differently, it is the darkness you run into, the monstrous hands you have. We don’t talk about it because it makes us less sympathetic, to coax a fire of hate around our hearts.

Your friend, she tells you, when you remind her that you are her friend, invited the monster because she was tired of being picked on. Even if it meant feeding everyone she cared about to him. It meant she got special gifts and attention.

It rang a little too true, for me.

I had a lot of girl friends in high school and we were inseparable. By college, I didn’t trust women, I said I never trusted them. It was a lie but I was so angry at myself, so I lashed out at other women for taking men away from me. Men, men, all the men, the ones who hurt me over and over again, but I kept hurting myself, hurting other women.

Throwing them away.

If I did that, then men would like me better. They wouldn’t hurt me anymore (yes they will) and we’d be fine.

So fine.


I’m stuck on this last ending. I look up a walk-through (a walk-through for a Twine game!) to help me. I see what I did wrong, I go back and fix it.

It’s okay to ask for help, they don’t tell you that. It’s always okay to ask for help, you’re not alone.

It’s safe in the kitchen.

I still eventually went back to get the failed ending. To see myself making that bargain, all over a Gameboy cartridge. It’s so easy to fall back into old habits.

Sometimes my friend dies in the fire, sometimes she moves away.  In order to save myself, I have to let her suffer.

I need to do better this time.


We can save each other, together, hand in hand. We just have to believe each other, to show our secret hearts.

My secret heart is a scared 16 year old girl who made all the wrong choices, I can’t go back to that room and do it over again

You take your friend’s hand (that’s how I want to remember it) and you destroy the cartridge together. You’re both free. You don’t have to hurt eachother anymore, you don’t have to hurt yourself anymore. You don’t have to blame yourself.

We can be each other’s best endings, if we give ourselves space to fight the monsters together.

Secret Ending

The Uncle Who Works For Nintendo is a game I am still amazed was made by a man. There’s a simple lesson twisted around the agape horror, and that is if you care about yourself and care about your friends, you don’t have to despair. This is especially meaningful if you pick the slightly different story with a female friend, and that is the only one I ended up playing (I believe that the ‘other side’ is non-canon, for me personally. It is not a story I need to see, I have seen it a million times.)

The idea of two little girls holding hands and destroying a monster together is so powerful, particularly in the wake of the events that made the creator, Michael Lutz, skew the story and write the passionate author’s notes that accompany the game. It thoroughly touched me somewhere very deep and personal, in light of many other things that have been dredged up over the last year or so with my interaction with gaming and it surprises me because it’s not a story that gets touched on by men, who often don’t understand the true power of healing that comes from women bonding together. It’s just not something that has weight often in the stories of men.

But I love it, and I hope you love it and I hope you play it, if you haven’t already.




Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand, Nine Hundred and Forty-Nine


I think it isn’t surprising to me that I considered Monument Valley to be the best game of this year. It was well-crafted from a mechanics standpoint, with lush and well-chosen aesthetics. If there’s any one bit of nerdity that I admit to, it is that videogames that employ strong color palettes speak to me moreso than good gameplay. But what spoke to me more than all that was that Monument Valley was a game about hidden depths, about secret faces and alternate surfaces. The comfort came from allowing me to access these things with multiple attempts at twisting, pinching and slowly turning walls and cranks, shuffling Ida and the totem back and forth until it clicked into place.

Life is never so easy as this and Monument Valley gave me the small satisfaction of watching something fall into place, finally.


I think 2014 was the first time in a couple of years where things started to look up. After a disaster, you spend a certain amount of time assessing the damage, slowly taking stock of what you have and cobbling together a foundation for yourself that hopefully you can build upon. The easy stuff comes first, those base needs - safety, warmth, hunger. Little by little, you start erecting plans and developing a path for where you go next.

Last year was the easy stuff, this year was difficult.

And no one gives you a guidebook on how to push the wheel, how to start climbing. You just have to move the fucking rock. You have to show up and do the work.

You also have to want it.


But what is it?

Fame, fortune, notoriety, to make an impact?

It didn’t help that after nine years of thoroughly participating in the monolith that was World of Warcraft and its community, two years of that blogging about gameplay and feminist critique, I decided to finally quit. I’ve drifted back into its orbit from time to time to see how things are but I achieved a kind of escape velocity; I moved away from the harm I was doing to myself being hyper-focused on one game in both my writing and my personal life. In the process, however, I slashed many of my ties with acquaintances, gave up a part of my life I had grown used to and landed square in the middle of unfamiliar territory. It’s true that MMORPGs have a kind of insulating effect that lets very few things in and out, and I wasn’t really prepared for the terrain of the larger gaming community. I’ve been playing catch up ever since.


The upside is that if you have something to say, people will often listen. I have a bad habit of being envious of other people’s success, but there’s nothing stopping me from making my own creations, writing what I want and pushing for the kind of narratives I enjoy most. It helped that I still had my podcast, my blog, and the support of my closest friends. In that respect, this year has been better than ever. Our work on Justice Points has opened up conversations with people who’s work we admire and enjoy regularly as well as made us tons of new peers. It allowed us to explore the kind of themes in video games that we weren’t getting as much from Warcraft.

Getting to express myself on my blog was also enriching. In some ways I’m still new to this whole “gaming” thing, even if I don’t seem like it. I spent a lot of years not being aware of games, and then many more years fully focused on one to the exclusion of everything else. This year gave me an embarrassment of free time and content to consume, whether it was buying my first real console or trying out many games on or made from Twine.


I’ve met so many people who are both like me and yet not and it’s been amazing. I feel connected to a much larger community of people who share some of the same goals and concerns as I do and who make some truly cool shit.

(A by no means exhaustive list of work I enjoyed thoroughly this year:





The inexorable march of squalling baby birds, waiting for someone to regurgitate into their mouths. They say we are cuckoos, that we are here, disguised, to push them from nests. They retaliate, they shit everywhere, they derail in a flock that blots out the sun. Their noise deafens and yet says nothing.

They stood in our way, uncomfortable that the world is suddenly not about them.

It was upsetting and it was suddenly very confusing to come into a community that was full of much of the same behavior I had weathered just a year or so prior, especially when it gained a hard carapace, with hashtags and celebrities, message boards and intelligence missions. Women I had admired were packing up and leaving to do something more worthwhile, and I couldn’t blame them. The ones who stayed behind dealt with an endless torrent of roadblocks, harassment and fear.

Even though this was now a problem we all knew before made visible, it still was confusing from the inside. What did it mean if you were left alone? What did it mean for your work?

The fact that we had to wrestle between being well-known and attacked versus invisible and unmolested still chills me.

But I digress.


The overall trajectory of this year left a lot of people saying that this year was a hot mess, and it was. We still have a lot of work to do, myself included, to raise the tide for everyone, not the select few who are relatively unperturbed by the surf. The personal growth that I went through this year taught me so much about the power of doing my own thing, appreciating the work of others and doing what I can to put out more value than I take in.

I don’t believe that things begin and end depending on a calendar and far too often, I think we assign ourselves these waypoints to attempt to create meaning from largely disorganized circumstances. The bullshit from this year is going to creep into the next year if we are not vigilant. The work we started regardless of what month it was is going to continue on and doesn’t need to have happened because the clock ticked over. I put a lot of energy into beginning achieving things that I hope to see bear fruit this next year because waiting for the right time is a faulty idea.

We are going to do things, we are going to make things, we are going to keep on going.


I have a hard time finishing things. This does include videogames.

When I finished Monument Valley and saw the logo draw itself out of the stars, I felt satisfied. There’s power in endings, really good ones, ones that stick with you. The power to cut things off at the right point in the story is something we chase very hard as human beings, which goes back to this belief in the end of the year. We want to package things in a way that makes sense, that our choices lead to a reasonable conclusion.

This is my attempt at that now, as unreasonable as it was.

See you in 2015.