Feminist Friday: Seduce the Playboy: On Overcoming Homonormativity in Yuri!!! on Ice

Editor’s Note: Today’s Feminist Friday post comes from L.M. of The Lobster Dance and I’ll Make It Myself, who I’m very happy to have here with us to chat during Pride Month. In zir discussion of  Yuri!!! on Ice, L.M. shines a light on the ways that homonorativity has dictated media representation of relationships between queer characters and shares the joy of a work that overcomes this by representing a relationship between genderfluid characters.


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Screenshot of Viktor hugging Yuuri before a performance, saying “I love pork cutlet bowls.”

Or, why Yuri!!! on Ice hops off the relationship escalator, disrupts homonormativity, and I CLOSE MY EYES AND TELL MYSELF THAT MY DREAMS WILL COME TRUE

Mild spoilers throughout up to episode 4, major spoiler at end.
[Read more…]

Why I Have to Look away from The Handmaid’s Tale Sometimes, and Why That’s a Good Thing

Last week, as I was watching “A Woman’s Place,” the sixth episode of Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, I was struck with a realization: I had not watched a single episode of the show without flipping through the social media feeds on my phone or my laptop simultaneously. So I started to think about why…Why might I might be avoiding focusing myself entirely on this show, a show that I gave high praise to and found fascinating for so very many reasons?

The answer was deceptively simple: I was, in fact, avoiding focusing myself entire on this show in order to avoid the trauma of doing so. As a woman, the show terrified me. So I did what I do when I need a distraction…I pulled up a social media feed that I could passively scroll through or easily put aside while I was watching, redirecting my attention when my psyche could not (would not) devote itself to the images on the screen.

I promptly expressed this opinion on Facebook with a short status update, written while I was watching that sixth episode. And then something happened. Other people (mostly, though not entirely, women) start expressing similar opinions. They also had a difficult time watching the show, and some of them felt unable to watch at all. It turns out, there were quite a lot of us who agreed that the show is well done, the story well plotted, but perhaps so well plotted and shown at such a frightening moment in American history (though not just American, I’m reminded, as I see the news of the Manchester attack, so obviously an attack on girls) that to actively watch the show is to feel an open wound be poked and prodded for approximately an hour at a time.

To watch The Handmaid’s Tale, we must confront our current situation, must confront past atrocities, too. Although in some ways the premise of HT is speculative fiction, casting forward and asking “what if” questions, in other ways the work is a reflection of past horrors. Atwood has said as much:

I made a rule for myself: I would not include anything that human beings had not already done in some other place or time, or for which the technology did not already exist. I did not wish to be accused of dark, twisted inventions, or of misrepresenting the human potential for deplorable behaviour. The group-activated hangings, the tearing apart of human beings, the clothing specific to castes and classes, the forced childbearing and the appropriation of the results, the children stolen by regimes and placed for upbringing with high-ranking officials, the forbidding of literacy, the denial of property rights: all had precedents.

To watch The Handmaid’s Tale, I must confront a world in which all of these things have happened, are happening, will happen.

And maybe it’s selfish, maybe it’s just human, I don’t know…It’s most certainly indicative of my position of privilege and my position in history that I don’t regularly worry about these things…But as I watch, I do wonder. I wonder what I would do if it were my child torn away from me; if it were my husband shot by police, presumed dead; what if it were my body forced to endure the cold, casual rapes of the Ceremony and bear children in a world where most births result in death.

In Gilead, there is only room for the white and the privileged, the able-bodied. I’m inclined to also attribute the overwhelming whiteness of the community to this kind of thinking as well, but as Angelica Jade Bastien points out in an excellent piece for Vulture, it’s a bit difficult to say if this is intentional or just a result of the “colorblind casting of the show.” In a more concrete way, we are assured of that differences are not welcome in Gilead when Ofglen is caught in a same-sex relationship. She is called a “gender traitor” and forced to watch as her lover is executed, then sent to be tortured. Ofglen isn’t executed because, as a childbearer, she is too valuable to execute. We are again assured of Gilead’s low-tolerance for differences during the banquet scene in “A Woman’s Place.” Serena Joy forces Aunt Lydia to send home the girls who bear obvious marks of their punishments, the “bruised apples,” refusing them admission to the party in order to preserve the appearance that the handmaids don’t mind being treated like walking wombs.

And that is a difficult thing to focus my attention on. My medical history of severe preeclampsia, delivery by C-section at 32 weeks, makes it likely that any pregnancy would involve similar issues. At a time when maternal deaths in the U.S. are on the rise and healthcare is becoming more and more difficult for women to access, the idea of another pregnancy is, frankly, terrifying. My first pregnancy could’ve easily resulted in my death or the death of my child. Almost did, in fact. The specialist I was sent to in my 30th week not only did not send me to the hospital when he found that my diastolic BP was over 200, but he did not even report this to my OB. When I tested positive for protein in my urine and told her what my BP had been, she had me go directly to the hospital, where a group of nurses hovered over me and pumped me full of magnesium sulfate, administering steroid shots that would develop my child’s lungs enough for him to breathe without assistance when he was born almost a full 8 weeks before he was supposed to be.

In a place like Gilead, where medical care is next to nonexistent, my child and I would not have lived. In this world, as it exists, if I did not have access to the medical care that I was given, my son and I would have died. As it was, we were lucky enough to have a good doctor and for me to have good insurance that covered almost all of my birth expenses, leaving us with less than 2K to pay off from my hospital stay and surgery. The bills for my son, who spent 5 weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit, would have been astronomical, but we were lucky that he was eligible for assistance. One set of parents were not so lucky–they had been billed for hundreds of thousands in medical bills for the one of their twins that had died shortly after delivery and were caring for the twin who clung to life. Another baby, almost ready to go home one day, was back on a ventilator the next day. Those were days of tiny triumphs and gaping sadness, the NICU a place that was all at once beautiful, fragile, resilient, clinical, and strange. And that NICU was a place that would not exist in Gilead.

There is no room for the fragile in Gilead, no room for those who need a little help. No room for difference, either. There’s no room for art or books or magazines or medicine or technology. Offred’s claustrophobic world, her vision literally limited by her bonnet, metaphorically by the strict parameters governing where she can go and when, those things leave no room for what does not fit the status quo. It is this claustrophobia, this insistence on woman as womb that is perhaps the core of the issue, the reason I cannot focus my entire self on the entire show. But this is indicative of something the show is doing right rather than something it is doing wrong. I should be frightened of that, and I am.

 

Thursday 13: Favorite Horror Comedies

I’ve mentioned, once or twice, that I’m a fan of horror films.

I have an especially soft spot for comedy-horror. It can go really, really bad–but when it’s good, it’s really, really good. I like the combination of laughter and fear, the way comedy-horror often pokes fun not just at the horror film genre but at our humanity and its discontents.

Here are my favorites:

13 Horror Films to Watch This October

I’ve mentioned before that I like gory TV shows and all-things-zombie. And, naturally, I have an affinity for all manner of creatures and monsters. I also don’t mind being scared, especially if I can be scared in my own home, and especially if it’s October, which Sam and I always officially designate as a month of horror films. So in the spirit of the season, here are some of my favorite horror films:

1. Insidious, 2010.

I love haunted house stories, and I’ve watched this one with more, not less, horror each time I’ve seen it. The film maintains an excellent balance of newer film techniques with tried-and-true horror film staples. Plus, this creature that a friend and I isolated in the trailer still freaks me out, almost 7 years later.

 

2. 28 Days Later, 2002.

Danny Boyle’s post-apocalyptic world of contagion is fantastic. It does what the best horror movies do in that it provides us with a scapegoat to be afraid of (the virus, and those fast zombies) and then reminds us that what we should really be afraid of is humanity.

3. The Exorcist, 1973.

I was in college when I watched this for the first time, and I was absolutely frightened by it. The feeling lingered for a while, a few hours after the film was over. The re-watches don’t scare me as much, but it’s still a chilling film—superbly scripted and acted, with that spider-walk on the stairs still being one of the creepiest things I’ve seen on film.

4. Let the Right One In, 2008.

I’ve seen both this original, Swedish version and the American remake, Let Me In. And it was honestly a little difficult to decide which version to choose for the list. Each version is an adaptation of a vampire novel, and each has its own merits. The Swedish version ultimately topped out for me because of its careful timing and fantastic use of long, slow shorts and sparse dialogue to create tension.

5. The Cabin in the Woods, 2012.

This film surprised me, it really did. But then again, with Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard at its helm and Kristen Connolly as its heroine, I suppose it shouldn’t have been surprised at the heady mix of cheekiness and gore. Not content just to subvert our expectations of the genre—it twists and rearranges them.

6. The Shining, 1980.

Jack Torrence is one of the scariest characters I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch on-screen, but at least 7/10’s of that is due to the performances put in by Jack Nicholson and Shelley Long. I’ve been watching this film since I was probably-too-young-to-watch-it, and I’m pretty sure that those twins in the hallway are the origin of my fear of kids-in-horror-movies.

7. Zombieland, 2009.

A zombie film with Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, and Jesse Eisenberg? And they run into Bill Murray, you say? Sign me up. The film manages to be, at its heart, a zombie film, and while the characters are fun in a way that they rarely are during the zombie apocalypse, there are moments of tension, fear, and pop culture critique.

8. The Conjuring, 2013.

Another fairly recent film, The Conjuring tells the story of the Warrens, American paranormal investigators, as they conduct an investigation and exorcism at the Perron family home. Using old-school scare tactics and striking cinematography, the new film manages a refreshing, cerebral take on the horror tropes of the investigator and the haunted house.

9. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, 1962.

Fantastically creepy, the aging sisters of Baby Jane are a stark reminder of the jealousy and animosity that can sit beside us, of the things we hide from ourselves and those closest to us. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are fantastic mirrors for one another.

10. Halloween, 1978.

Difficult to make a horror film list, especially in October, without mentioning this one. Mike Meyers has haunted our dreams for 36 years now, and he shows no signs of stopping. From the moment he stabs his sister to the film’s final act, Meyers is terrifying and mesmerizing.

11. Frailty, 2001.

Matthew McConaughey walks into a police station and claims to know who the God’s Hand Killer is, a terrifying serial killer who is revealed, through flashbacks, to be McConaughey’s father (Bill Paxton, in his directorial debut), an ultra-religious man who wakes up his two sons one night to instruct them on how to dispatch demons. The film is twisty-turny, and it’s a woefully underrated piece of suspense horror.

12. Psycho, 1960.

The king of horror films, Psycho still manages to be scary, over 50 years after its release. Norman Bates is a character of horrifying beauty.

13. Alyce Kills, 2011.

Alyce Kills has a bit of a sagging middle, but the opening act and the final act are fantastic. It’s plenty gory, though most of the gore is contained in the last 20 minutes of the film, and it’s also darkly funny and painful to watch Alyce, whose friends have missed all signs that she’s a budding psychopath, come completely unglued because of her guilt over a friend’s probably-mostly-accidental death.

Alyce

The Princess Bride: Book Vs. Film

When I was fairly young, my dad decided to rent The Princess Bride (1987). Back then, we had one of those huge, wood-encased TVs, and we lived too far out of the small town that I grew up the-princess-bride-posterin to get cable TV at our house. Instead, we had this huge satellite in our yard and a box on the TV that would turn the satellite, allowing us to get an additional two channels–bringing us to a grand total of four channels. But we had a VHS player, and there was a local video store. Fridays were “stay up late nights,” and my dad and I would rent a movie or two.

My dad’s predilection for romantic comedies with happy endings makes me think he chose the movie, but it could’ve been one of my siblings. The thing is–I don’t remember seeing it for the first time. I just remember loving it. I doubt I chose The Princess Bride the first time I watched it, but I remember choosing it many times after that.

It wasn’t until 2003, though, that I realized The Princess Bride was based on a book published The Princess Bride 30th Anniversary Edition_2in 1973. I was wandering through a bookstore, a sophomore college student hunting for summer reading, when I saw a display of the 30th anniversary edition. I think I probably let out an audible laugh as I picked it up. And I let out a lot more laughs as I read the novel. I’m hard-pressed to tell you whether I prefer the novel or the film. Though there are some key differences, they retain the same basic plot.

The Story:

Buttercup and Westley fall in love. They are parted as Wesley goes to earn his fortune; Buttercup is betrothed to Prince Humperdink after Westley fails to return for several years. Huperdink arranges for Vizzini, Fezzik, and Inigo to capture and kill her to start a war; Westley, disguised as the Dread Pirate Roberts, steals Buttercup back from the group. But Buttercup and Westley are lost in the Fire Swamp, after which they are captured by the Prince. Wesley is killed but then rescued and revived by Fezzik and Inigo; the group escapes on the night Buttercup is supposed to be married.

Film Versus Book:

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Perhaps the biggest change from book-to-film is the frame story. Both frame stories involve the book being read aloud, but the frame story in the novel is more elaborate. In the novel, we are introduced to the story as an abridged version of a longer work by S. Morgenstern. We’re led to believe that Goldman bought the book for his son, not realizing that he enjoyed the story because his father read it aloud, skipping the boring parts. This is supposed to be Goldman’s abridged, only-the-good-parts version. And that makes for really good reading—we get moments that Goldman is able to satirize the publishing industry, question the literary canon, and explore just what the differences are between what kids enjoy and what adults enjoy (if there are any).

That frame is partially eliminated in the film. What we get instead is a grandfather reading a story to a sick little boy. The retention of a frame works to keep us considering the film as a text (and really, that’s one of the most important functions of the original frame story). We’re aware that it’s all made up, and every time the film stops so that the grandfather and young boy can talk, we’re thrown back into that realization.

In addition, the back-stories of the characters are mostly simplified or lost in the film. Naturally, this has to happen. Goldman’s book is a bit lengthy, with a sprawling cast of Princess Bride_3characters and events that occur over time. On film, the simplifications work to provide a cohesive visual story that works within the also simplified frame. Fezzik and Inigo are both given fuller back-stories in the novel, rendering them more fully fleshed out characters. In the film, it is enough to know that they are with Vizzini and to know that Inigo’s father was killed by the six-fingered man. The book, in addition, gives us more reason for the conflict between Florin and Guilder, as Prince Humperdink feels tricked when he discovers that his betrothed, princess of Guilder, is bald.

The love story between Buttercup and Westley is also simplified. In the novel, Buttercup realizes that she loves Westley after becoming jealous of the way the visiting Countess Rugen looks at him, and she tells him, only to have the door slammed in her face. He of course informs her soon after that he does love her but must go and make his fortune first. In the film, this is simplified to Buttercup realizing Westley’s love one day when he says “as you wish” and the two professing their love before he leaves to seek his fortune.

Vizzini’s plot to capture and kill Buttercup and Westley’s pursuit of the group are almost identical in film and book. The film has Fezzik knock Buttercup unconscious; in the novel it is Vizzini. The group notices the ship’s pursuit before Buttercup throws herself overboard in the film; in the book the group notices the ship after Buttercup is returned to the boat. The film has shrieking eels; the novel has sharks. During the sword fight, Inigo is able to wound princess-bride-westley-and-buttercup-8476325-1280-720Westley in the book, but in the film he is not able to. Vizzini’s death is much the same in both versions. And the pacing of the swamp scene is faster in the film version, the couple barreling toward Prince Humperdink.

In another large change, the book’s Zoo of Death is replaced by the Pit of Despair. In the book, one of the first things we learn about Prince Humperdink is that he’s an avid hunter. The Zoo of Death is a 5-story building full of dangerous animals; Humperdink kills one of them a day. In the novel, when Westly is caught by Prince Humperdink, he is sent into the Zoo of Death. He is tortured for a month or more before being finished off by the Machine. In the film, he is instead thrown into the Pit of Despair, attended
by the albino, is only hooked up to The Machine, and his torture only seems to last a day or two. This vastly simplifies Westley’s rescue, as Fezzik and Inigo only have to walk in to retrieve Westley rather than fight through 5 levels of creatures.

The visit with Miracle Max retains its book form, though the film makes a small change by not mentioning the 1 hour limit that the novel places upon the miracle pill. In each version, though, Westely manages to remain alive, fight Humperdink, and leave him tied up, and retrieve Inigo (who has gotten revenge on the six fingered Count who killed his father), Fezzik, and Buttercup, and the group escapes on horseback.

The Verdict:

I find it difficult to choose between the two. The nostalgia that I experience when I watch the film gives it big ups. And the quotable quotes are everywhere. Rob Reiner masterfully directed, and the film had the bonus of having the novel writer as its screen adapter. But the entertainment of Goldman as an editor in the novel’s frame story is difficult to match, and I miss the back stories of Fezzik and Inigo when we lose them in the film. So the film wins, but only by a small margin. If you haven’t I seriously suggest checking out this book—it’s well worth the time, and you’ll probably laugh out loud.

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*Note: This post initially appeared as a contest entry for The Artistic Christian’s Summer Blogging Challenge (And it won! :D). It gets a re-post today as part of the Princess Bride Linkup Party at WriteOnSisters.