Quilt 2016: We Can Be Heroes (aka that time Dana made a FitzSimmons quilt because of course she did)

Hey, guys! It’s been awhile, and also the world is kind of a disaster right now! Hurray!

At any rate, I wanted to share this crazy thing I’ve been working on for like three months because, well, I had to abandon my craft blog for personal safety reasons and I haven’t had a presence in fandom communities since I quit Tumblr in like 2013. This is the place I have to share and given my favorite topic of exuberant essays I figured y’all wouldn’t mind.

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Behold, my quilt of over-intensity! I made a Captain America one last year, and then a Winter Soldier one for a friend. Everyone had to know a FitzSimmons one was coming, right? There are a ton of pictures and info under the cut. Two things: please excuse the lighting and quality of these photos—I work a night shift and never see the sun; second, share these wherever you want, I only ask that you please credit me and/or link back to here.

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What I Want from Wonder Woman (and Won’t Get): A Pre-Review

Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes

Y’all know I’m a Marvel girl. The MCU has been one of the things that’s kept me going for at least five years now, and most assuredly for the past two. So it’s a bit disingenuous for me to talk about DC’s film universe because I know from the get-go I’ll just get labeled as some sort of shrill Marvel shill. But bear with me because, above all else, I just want to be told a good story. I’m the first to call out Marvel when I think they’ve failed (which they’ve done frequently and spectacularly lately) so keep that in mind when I say that DC done lost its fool mind.

I had the misfortune of having to go see both Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad for a podcast that I host with my friend Marc. You can’t talk about something if you haven’t seen it. Marc is much kinder to things than I am. I wanted to burn everything to the ground after enduring both movies. Neither has any depth, plot, or character development. They’re both desperate, slapdash propagations of highly lucrative intellectual property. They rely solely on the fact that everyone is desperate to love the films because they love the symbols in them. DC has always been King. Batman has always been #1. Everyone already adores Harley Quinn.  But Marvel’s film success has DC desperate to get their shit in front of eyeballs because superheroes sell. They seem to have missed the crucial bit that good stories about superheroes are what sell. (The box office returns v. critical acclaim debate I save for another day.)

There are so many problems with the entire situation that I can’t even enumerate them all. I don’t know the ins and outs of DC, Warner Brothers, or comics culture the way others do and DC’s disasters have been endlessly dissected by others better than I could. So what I’m going to talk about is not the horrors DC puts out but what I want from Wonder Woman. Because, to my weird specialized heart, that movie has the potential to be better than Captain America: The First Avenger. (Y’all ever heard me go on about Cap1? There are usually overexcited tears involved.)

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Citations for the FitzSimmons Special

Hey guys! I finally recorded a 100% FitzSimmons episode of the podcast I started with my friend. You can listen to it here.

And behold my mighty list of citations if you want to delve into any of this in more detail:

  • Barwich, Ann-Sophie. “Science and Fiction: Analysing the Concept of Fiction in Science and Its Limits.” J Gen Philos Sci 44 (2013): 357-73. Web.
  • Dempsey, Paul. “Science Friction.” Engineering and Technology (2013): 33-35. Web.
  • Dill-Shackleford, Karen E. How Fantasy Becomes Reality. New York: Oxford UP, 2016. Print.
  • Francis, Becky. “Re/theorising Gender: Female Masculinity and Male Femininity in the Classroom?” Gender and Education5 (2010): 477-90. Web.
  • Gelernter, David. “The Closing of the Scientific Mind.” American Jewish Committee (2014): 17-25. Web.
  • Hearn, Jeff, and Liisa Husu. “Understanding Gender: Some Implications for Science and Technology.” Interdisciplinary Science Reviews2 (2011): 103-13. Web.
  • Hills, Rachel. The Sex Myth: The Gap Between Our Fantasies and Reality. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2015. Print.
  • Hurley, Kameron. The Geek Feminist Revolution. New York: Tor, 2016. Print.
  • Larbalestier, Justine. The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction. Middletown: Wesleyan UP, 2002. Print.
  • Mendick, Heather, and Marie-Pierre Moreau. “New Media, Old Images: Constructing Online Representations of Women and Men in Science, Engineering and Technology.” Gender and Education3 (2013): 325-39. Web.
  • Millward, Liz, and Janice G. Dodd. “Feminist Science Fiction Utopia and Stargate: SG-1: “I Doubt Very Much Colonel Carter Has Even Scratched the Surface of What Is Possible”” Women’s Studies 41 (2012): 18-35. Web.
  • Moore, Bryan L. “”Evidences of Decadent Humanity” Antianthropocentrism in Early Science Fiction.” Nature and Culture1 (2014): 46-64. Web.
  • O’Reilly, Julie D. “The Wonder Woman Precedent: Female (Super)Heroism on Trial.” The Journal of American Culture3 (2005): 273-83. Web.
  • Pettersson, Helena. “Making Masculinity in Plasma Physics: Machines, Labor and Experiments.” Science Studies1 (2011): 47-65. Web.
  • Pollack, Eileen. The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science Is Still a Boys’ Club. Boston: Beacon, 2015. Print.
  • Rubin, Lawrence. “Superheroes on the Couch.” The Journal of Popular Culture2 (2012): 410-31. Web.
  • Schummer, Joachim. “Historical Roots of the ‘Mad Scientist’: Chemists in Nineteenth-century Literature.” Ambix2 (2006): 99-127. Web.
  • Stiles, Anne. “Literature in Mind: H.G. Wells and the Evolution of the Mad Scientist.” Journal of the History of Ideas2 (2009): 317-39. Web.
  • Szalavitz, Maia, and Bruce D. Perry. Born for Love: Why Empathy Is Essential–and Endangered. New York: William Morrow, 2009. Print.
  • Taber, Nancy, Vera Woloshyn, Caitlin Munn, and Laura Lane. “Exploring Representations of Super Women in Popular Culture.” Adult Learning4 (2014): 142-49. Web.
  • Toomey, Chris. “Does Nanotech Have a Gender.” Nature Nanotechnology 7 (2012): 412. Web.
  • Toumey, Christopher P. “The Moral Character of Mad Scientists: A Cultural Critique of Science.” Science, Technology, and Human Values4 (1992): 411-37. Web.
  • Weart, Spencer. “The Physicist as Mad Scientist.” Physics Today (1988): 28-37. Web.
  • White, Michael. Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1997. Print.

Fun fact, I recorded this for like two hours in a very hot car \o/

Hugo: Fahrenheit 451 (1954/2004)

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Read May 12-14 2016

Premise: In the future, firemen are the censorship arm of the surveillance state burning books (which are illegal) to ensure the cohesion of a society built on sensationalism and shallowness.

Verdict: I had read this book a long time ago and my local library did a read-along of it in May. It’s small enough to knock out in a few hours tops so I re-read it, loved it, and headed off to the library discussion which was all doom, gloom, and terror. Sci-fi is all about speculating on the dark paths our actions may lead us down in the future, but I think something about this group (who were all at least 50 or older and most claimed to hate science fiction) just made them more inclined to declare that the entire world was degenerate and our society was failing. Also, if you’ve read any of my previous Hugo project reviews, lately I’ve gotten free of a lifelong abusive situation and have been working on my brain. All fun things. So, with that preface, here’s what I thought about Fahrenheit 451 on this, the xth time I’ve read it.

When I first read this book I was convinced it was about how stupid our culture is because people don’t want to think. I was an angry teenager who loved books and learning and I was relentlessly bullied for it. Fahrenheit 451 felt like a vindication to me. Now that I’m not an angry teenager it still feels like a vindication, but less of intelligence and more of compassion. Our discussion at the library eventually got into Cold War paranoia which was an astute conversation topic. But I feel like it’s worth noting the censorship aspects not from a totalitarian angle, but more from the way Bradbury presents a culture of despair.

Reading this novel is very familiar, not because I’ve read it before, but because our society becomes more and more recognizable in its dystopian future. The novel presents a utopian infrastructure (with what’s basically a hyperloop, virtual reality television, ubiquitous transportation etc.) but a totalitarian rule of information. The head fireman Beatty does plenty of philosophizing, but it’s explicitly stated that society itself decided it no longer wanted anything to do with critical thought. Ideas in books became “too confusing” because you could never reach blanket consensus. People willfully gave up their right to think and instead consume pre-packaged sensationalistic media. As someone currently living with a disagreeable roommate who alternately blasts CNN or Bravo, reading this book in this house was surreal. “Sitting around and talking” is weird because “what do you talk about?” Your life is judged by what you consume and the populace is kept busy by manufacturing need in consumers to strive for more and “better” goods. The culture in the novel is so disconnected that they literally have a special “handyman team” of medical professionals who go around “cleaning out” the stomachs of the plethora of people who attempt to commit suicide every day. The McCarthyist paranoia is rampant, but it just emphasizes that American culture on the whole has never recovered a sense of trust in others. We still have a default mode of “everyone is out to get you.”

What’s even more prescient, perhaps, is the notion of a live high-speed televised chase that has to have narrative structure. The Hound chasing Montag at the end narrativizes chunks of life in ways that satisfy the culturally constructed notions of justice and payoff. It’s all about eyes, not information. This book is so short, but it’s creepily like Bradbury just peeled a little window through time and cast judgment on what he saw. Good sci-fi is like that.

At any rate, for me the burning of books became less about censorship and more about the books symbolizing critical thought. Yes, censorship is bad. But censorship also implies that some part of the culture wants the information they have no access to. Either that, or that there is a state-sanctioned brainwashing going on a la nationalistic book burnings. There’s something eerie in reading about the narcissistic disaffection of society in a novel written in 1954. Maybe there’s nothing particularly special about 2016 except the speed at which information flows.

I mean, this book is a classic. One of the must-reads of American literature. So go read it.

4,722 Hours and 6,741

Estimated Reading Time: 13 minutes

Tonight is the finale of this disaster of a season on Agents of SHIELD (and yes I’ll do a postmortem) but what I want to talk about right now is character integrity and the way both Agents of SHIELD and Person of Interest handled disappearances/returns of major characters. Agents of SHIELD‘s “4,722 Hours” was like the epitome of what not to do while Person of Interest‘s “6,741” was ideal.

The premises here are largely the same. A stolid lady is taken from her friends and allies and is presumed to be in grave peril. In both cases, said lady is tentatively engaged in an unconventional romance which enhances but in no way defines her character. Both Simmons and Shaw express to their respective lovers that they reciprocate their feelings just as they are separated. Person of Interest allows Shaw to retain her agency, inhabit her space, and reaffirm her character. Agents of SHIELD, by contrast, robs Simmons of her agency, papers over her character, and forces her to emotionally contort exclusively for the sake of manufactured romantic conflict. 1 More than that, AoS takes a fully-realized character who rejects traditional gender roles and defines her exclusively by her womanhood and normative expectation where PoI eschews normativity altogether.

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Why You Feel Like Fitz and/or Simmons are About To Bite It

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

I try not to read reviews etc. of Agents of SHIELD because I have a weirdly fragile headspace about it, but a few of the taglines for “The Singularity” I just had to click through. I’m so specifically and intensely into FitzSimmons that I was curious if other people felt like they worked as well as I claim they do. What I noticed was the general consensus that everyone feels like Fitz or Simmons is who is going to die by the end of the season. That’s also the feeling that I’m getting, but I feel like that literally every time anyone suggests a character is about to bite it. For me, it’s just that I’m most invested in them, I dread it, and it would hurt the most. But, more than that, it comes from long conditioning to television romance narratives .

(Editing to add: I’m not saying they will, as many discussions lead me to believe that if they killed off either the show would essentially commit suicide. But this is the reason we all feel like they’ll get offed. It’s a thing.)

Additional spoilers for a ton of things, including: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel the Series, Battlestar Galactica, and The X-Files.

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Follow-Up On Agents of SHIELD–

Just as a follow-up, I quite enjoyed “The Team” and it gives me a little hope for this show again. That said, I love this series but I no longer trust it the way I used to.

You can read my review here, as I’m not allowed to repost it.

Also, if you wish, you can listen to my friend Marc and I discuss all the goodness of this episode in our podcast:

Agents of SHIELD Has Lost It (What it looks like when you break up with a TV show)

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

It’s Tuesday again, and for the first time in a few years this is how I feel about there being a new episode of Agents of SHIELD tonight:

carey mulligan mug

Agents of SHIELD has become the most uninteresting, flat portrayal of superpowers in the entire MCU. Even The Incredible Hulk, which is utterly terrible in every way, has more nuance about powers than this. Did I say this last week? Have I said this before a million times in a million places? It’s worth repeating ad nauseam. The main premise (and a lot of the charm) of Agents of SHIELD is that it was always an investigation of how non-powered people deal with a superpowered world. Even Skye’s development of powers in season 2 was about self-discovery and self-acceptance. The superpowers were not plot devices but expressions of character traits or handy practicalities. Now, each episode feels structured around how to best show off nifty tricks that have no bearing on character. They feel cheap, like I’ve been cheated out of emotionally resonant stories about characters I care about in favor of flashy explosions and bizarre turns. You can’t even call this tactic “deus ex machina” because every story is built around how best to exhibit the powers. They’ve become the point rather than the premise.

Coulson, May, and Mack are perfunctory set dressing. Bobbi and Hunter are actually gone. Fitz and Simmons chill in the background and mouth jargon without actually serving any purpose in the story. (This charge was lodged against them at the beginning of the series. Know when they started to be relevant? When it was obvious they were madly, stupidly, profoundly in love with each other and incapable of expressing it. That is an essay in and of itself, but mostly: way to nuke that one.) Skye, or as they insist on calling her, “Daisy” slashes through human and civil rights simply because she has the power, with Lincoln as her romantic-plot-tumor sidekick. The problem with this is that the narrative never questions her. She’s framed as in the right at all times. She’s good, pure, high-minded, authoritarian Daisy. Bow before her coolness and girl power. Don’t question her or you’re a misogynistic hater.

This show sucks. I’m sick of it. It’s seriously currently as bad as it was in 1×01-15. Oh yeah, I went there. It’s over-reached and made itself irrelevant. Even though supposedly there’s a global crisis, everyone is in peril, and all of humanity is about to be enslaved by an Inhuman parasite there are no stakes. None of it matters. For Agents of SHIELD to matter, the villains need to be personal. Arguably, an Inhuman parasite infecting Ward’s body is personal, but that’s not what I mean. The danger itself needs to be personal. The people potentially harmed by failure need to be the agents themselves. There is absolutely no way that the entire world will fall victim to Monster!Ward. You know the good guys win. They have to. This show cannot affect the universe status quo. When SHIELD fell, that became a personal story for the show’s main characters. Coulson’s alien writing and Skye’s superpowers were both personal stories that affected the entire team. Saving the world from an alien contagion is too much. Our contingent of SHIELD agents isn’t in direct, immediate danger so much as everyone is in danger and Daisy’s Secret Warriors have to stop it because they’re so wonderful. The thing that made it work is gone. Even the character details and small background quirks are missing.

Maybe they’re twiddling their thumbs waiting for Civil War the way they did for Winter Soldier. One can hope. But Winter Soldier had six post-movie episodes with which to tell a coherent narrative. Civil War will have three. Currently, the series is hit-or-miss with it’s greatness, but in the past four weeks I’ve felt either apathy or hatred for three out of four episodes. That’s a terrible record. Maybe I’ll change my tune tonight. Maybe they’ll blow me out of the water, bring back all the character dynamics and stories I love, and make me care again. But maybe not. Maybe I’ll just stay profoundly sad that the coolest, smartest, most fun little trope-destroying, transmedia experiment of a series has self-destructed and doesn’t even seem to know it.

Stop Saying Marvel Movies Are All the Same; You Look a Fool

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

Lately, I’ve been minding my own business reading totally unrelated articles about the entertainment industry and media criticism when bam! Slapped in the face with a backhanded insult aimed at Marvel Studios. “They’re all the same,” reviewers opine with a wink and a smile. “Nothing happens in them; they can’t damage their franchise!” critics gleefully deduce, seemingly not paying attention to the films at all.

Let’s just dispense with the idea that all Marvel Studios films are the same and that nothing happens in them. It’s precisely the opposite of the truth and is such a willful misreading it smacks of elitist snobbery.

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Scales of Madness and Goodness in Marvel Cinematic Universe Scientists

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes

science and madness in the mcu

There are some things I just can’t let go. Science and scientists in the MCU is definitely one of those things.

Science is a massive part of the MCU’s logistics so most of the stories involve good scientists battling bad ones. The more I thought about it, the more it occurred to me that it was more like altruistic ones fighting mad ones. I already had a minor squee fest about this here. I decided to plot it all out. Possibly my favorite thing about visualizing this idea is that it makes clear that it’s impossible to be an Evil Scientist who is not also a Mad one in the MCU.

Parameters

Each character is graded on a scale of -2 to 2, with -2 being the baddest/maddest and 2 being the most heroic/altruistic. 0 is perfectly neutral on both scales. Here’s how I defined those categories:

  • Madness – Mad scientists use science to deliberately harm others, to gain power or financial advantage over others in a way that detrimentally monopolizes knowledge, experiment on themselves, or let their quest for knowledge devolve into monomania. Generally, consider whether the character is over-emotional or under-emotional and then how that causes them to use their scientific knowledge (see: this post.)
  • Goodness – The goodness metric takes into consideration whether characters intentionally and wantonly harm others, their underlying motivations, and how actively they engage in altruistic behavior. Additionally, “heroic” and “neutral” characters can slide on the scale depending on how closely they’re aligned with the protagonists.
  • Heroes/Neutrals/Villains – Heroes are main protagonists. Villains are main antagonists. Neutrals are characters who are unaligned or who switch from one to the other.

A few of these data points are fairly arbitrary. Helen Cho, for example, has about 30 seconds of screentime and no discernible character traits so I made all that up. The others I tried to hold up to the spectrum schemata as closely as possible. I was even diplomatic about it and made Simmons a little bit bad and Fitz a little bit mad! As for who is included and who isn’t, medical doctors I generally left off unless they had a research specialty or partook in experimental studies (Lincoln and Dr. Streiten don’t really, for example.) A few side characters are noted to have scientific training but don’t use it extensively for plot purposes (Bobbi, Callie from “SEEDS”). That said, if I’ve forgotten any scientists or you’d like to argue for someone’s inclusion  feel free to let me know!

(The inherent sanity of the author of this post is not up for debate.)