The Hunger Games: How decadent! Let’s get cupcakes!

I first encountered The Hunger Games several years ago while serving as a judge for the YA Lit Track’s costume contest at Dragon*Con. An excellent young costumer showed up at Katniss, and I thought she was an elf.  While I recall the costume well and know we gave her at least one award for it, I didn’t get around to reading the book until my recent flight from Warsaw to Hanoi.

Planes are for sleeping, especially since I usually don’t have time to sleep the night before I travel, so it says something that I stayed up to read it.  It’s a quick read, but for me it was a hard book, because no matter how visceral I often found it, I didn’t really connect with any of the characters except perhaps Cinna (who is definitely my favorite, I suspect has more secrets to reveal in the later books which are currently beyond my reach), Rue, and the silent Foxface, who fought for her life the way I always played dodgeball.

But as someone who experiences fiction through identification, the book mostly sort of left me at a loss.  I didn’t identify with Katniss or the boys, and I didn’t care about the romance, true or false; I only cared about whether Peeta was a Slytherin.

But what I have cared about, passionately, since before I even read the book, is the film’s marketing campaign, which makes us all residents of the Capitol, because it’s not us, and it’s not our children.  It’s savvy — insert the audience as the audience, and a little cruel — do we feel like not nice people by virtue of being outside the story? Do we pause to consider that, just like in historical reenactment, none of us would probably be any of the fictional privileged we’re being positioned as?  And do we care as long a we can buy the limited edition nail polish celebrating this season’s Capitol fashions?

Of course, I love it.  And I love it not just as an indictment of our worse natures and our fame culture (who wouldn’t, for example, find Celebrity Apprentice more riveting (or at least finally mildly interesting) if immediately after “You’re Fired!” there was cannibalism?). I also love it as a statement of the obvious: sometimes in fiction it’s fun to be the bad guy.  If you’re a resident of the Capitol, what’s your life like?  Sex in the City with a lot of hot pink eyeliner and a little bit of blood? How decadent! Let’s get cupcakes! Do you like my new wig?

But even through all that (and if you follow my Tumblr you know that good marketing is one of my turn ons), what keeps lingering for me about The Hunger Games is the exquisite nature of some of Suzanne Collins’s phrases.

From the first time it appears on the page the girl who was on fire almost made me weep for the cadence of it, but also for the past tense of it.  Chosen and chosen and chosen again, and Katniss even wins, or at least survives.  But I feel like in that phrase is the book’s greatest warning about ordeal and spectacle: even illusions will change you; and even if you survive, everything ends.

I’ve been assured that the next book in the series is all about the stuff that really gets me going: fame and the construction of it, and I wonder if little girls in the Capitol write RPF about Katniss and Peeta, or if terrible pop songs come out about it all in that world — sort of like how the vampire Lestat has a crappy band (and speaking of the construction of fame, there’s something I need to revisit). I think about how every dress Jennifer Lawrence wears when promoting the film is flame colored; as we ponder whose fame is really being constructed in light of that, I find myself just wanting to whisper sweet nothings at another blurry fourth wall.

Of course, what I’ve said here is probably all ridiculous and trivial in the light of the second and third books, which I won’t manage to get my hands on until probably mid-April.  But I probably will get to see the film in India (after some obligatory and eagerly awaited Bollywood), which excites me beyond measure. With the largest film industry in the world (someone once told me that Bollywood has made more films about the life of Alexander the Great than all the films ever made in Hollywood combined; no idea if it’s true, but it’s my favorite piece of possibly accurate information ever), it seems like a perfect place to see a movie where we’re not just in the audience, but cast as it.

Meanwhile, I can’t believe I thought Katniss was an elf.

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Hugo nominations: please link me to your stuff

The early part of the year is, among other things, nomination season for the Hugo Awards, and general tradition in SF/F circles is for people to post the list of eligible things they’ve been involved with. For me, this year, that’s Whedonistas in the Best Related Work category and “Sanquali,” my lesbian werewolf story which qualifies as a novelette, in the anthology Bitten by Moonlight.

While, of course, this is shameless self-promotion especially to those planning to vote and nominate (all it requires is purchasing a WorldCon membership), it’s also me asking all my friends who have eligible titles this year to post links to their stuff, not just in the interest of the award thing, but because I am incredibly behind on reading. I’d make my own list from my to read shelf, but I know it has major gaps.

So, if you have stuff, please post in comments with links; meanwhile, please go browse the comments which will hopefully be flowing in shortly and check out anything you are moved to.

Personal note: Swordspoint audiobook

Even when I’m aggravated by it (and let’s face it, we’re all aggravated by stuff we love sometimes), I adore fandom and, particularly, fanfiction. I will always be inclined to defend it and be honest about my participation in it for all sorts of different reasons including that it’s just fun and that it’s arguably an act of perpetual longing, which just totally fits how my brain works. But, most importantly, it’s also how I met my partner.

Specifically, Patty and I met writing fanfiction about Ellen Kushner‘s Swordspoint, which is sort of hilarious as far as romantic impetus goes. Because even with a glorious couple at its center, Swordspoint is not a romance, and wow, neither of those guys are anyone you want to date, even if they’re pretty awesome as far as narrative kinks go and are people that Patty and I can be said to be bear some slightly hilarious and superficial resemblance too: she is a scholar, who is taller than me, and is, on occasion, quite difficult; and I do, in fact, keep swords by our bed.

Anyway, Swordspoint is now available as an audio-book from SueMedia Productions for Neil Gaiman Presents/ACX. I’m telling you all because I love this story like burning, and it helped me find Patty, and there are some rockin’ voice actors on this, and oh hey, I also have a teeny, tiny, awesome credit on it.

It’s cool stuff that I think many readers here would enjoy — swords, queer people, intrigue, and witty insults, just to name a few. If you do check it out and want to find the fandom, it seems to live on Livejournal.

V for Vendetta: I have a pencil

I don’t know who you are. Please believe. There is no way I can convince you that this is not one of their tricks, but I don’t care. I am me, and I don’t know who you are but I love you. I have a pencil. A little one they did not find. I am a woman. I hid it inside me. Perhaps I won’t be able to write again, so this is a long letter about my life. It is the only autobiography I will ever write and oh god I’m writing it on toilet paper.

I was born in Nottingham in 1957, and it rained a lot. I passed my eleven plus and went to girl’s grammar. I wanted to be an actress. I met my first girlfriend at school. Her name was Sara. She was fourteen and I was fifteen but we were both in Miss Watson’s class.

Her wrists. Her wrists were beautiful.

I sat in biology class, staring at the pickled rabbit foetus in its jar, listening while Mr. Hird said it was an adolescent phase that people outgrew… Sara did. I didn’t.

In 1976 I stopped pretending and took a girl called Christine home to meet my parents. A week later I moved to London, enrolling at drama college. My mother said I broke her heart, but it was my integrity that was important. Is that so selfish? It sells for so little, but it’s all we have left in this place. It is the very last inch of us…

… But within that inch we are free.

London: I was happy in London. In 1981 I played Dandini in Cinderella. My first rep work. The world was strange and rustling and busy, with invisible crowds behind the hot lights and all the breathless glamour. It was exciting and it was lonely. At nights I’d go to Gateways or one of the other clubs, but I was stand-offish and didn’t mix easily. I saw a lot of the scene, but I never felt comfortable there. So many of them just wanted to be gay. It was their life, their ambition, all they talked about… And I wanted more than that.

Work improved. I got small film roles, then bigger ones. In 1986 I starred in ‘The Salt Flats.’ It pulled in the awards but not the crowds. I met Ruth working on that. We loved each other. We lived together, and on Valentine’s Day she sent me roses, and oh god, we had so much. Those were the best three years of my life.

In 1988 there was the war…

… And after that there were no more roses. Not for anybody.

In 1992, after the take-over, they started rounding up the gays. They took Ruth while she was out looking for food. Why are they so frightened of us? They burned her with cigarette ends and made her give them my name. She signed a statement saying I seduced her. I didn’t blame her. God I loved her. I didn’t blame her… But she did. She killed herself in her cell. She couldn’t live with betraying me, with giving up that last inch.

Oh Ruth.

They came for me. They told me that all my films would be burned. They shaved off my hair. They held my head down a toilet bowl and told jokes about lesbians. They brought me here and gave me drugs. I can’t feel my tongue anymore. I can’t speak. The other gay woman here, Rita, died two weeks ago. I imagine I’ll die quite soon.

It is strange that my life should end in such a terrible place, but for three years I had roses and I apologized to nobody. I shall die here. Every inch of me shall perish…

… Except one.

An inch. It’s small and it’s fragile and it’s the only thing in the world that’s worth having. We must never lose it, or sell it, or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.

I don’t know who you are, or whether you’re a man or a woman. I may never see you. I may never hug you or cry with you or get drunk with you. But I love you. I hope you escape this place. I hope that the world turns and that things get better, and that one day people have roses again. I wish I could kiss you.

– Valerie

I posted the film version in my Tumblr earlier, but this is the one from the original graphic novel, that a boyfriend (who was gay; I was something of an exception; hell, we even met at the campus LGBT group) made me read when I was eighteen and in the incredibly homophobic environment of our university.

I was already out, so it was not a catalyst for my coming out. But reading it meant I never, ever wanted to be in again, no matter what was happening, and could never stand myself on those occasions that it felt safer or easier to allow for misunderstanding to closet me.

I post it, and write about it pretty much every November 5th, because of the context in which it was written. And I post it here, in the graphic novel form, to tell you how terrifying it felt to read it in 1991 when it felt like a pretty terrible and frightening time to be gay; the 80s had been terrible, and it didn’t feel like they had ended. The tone of protests around AIDS — and I actively participated in those — was angry and frightened, directed at a government that we were sure wanted us dead and perhaps viewed the disease as a convenience.

I remember sitting in a restaurant now long gone in Washington DC that I much loved and jokingly called my lesbian blues bar and cafe, even though it wasn’t technically any of those things, with a group of my friends, and one of them, a woman, stealing a piece of cheese off my plate, popping it in her mouth, and asking, “yeah, but how are they going to get rid of us?”

I was 18, highly imaginative, political through what seemed like an utter lack of choice, and frightened. And “Valerie’s Letter,” in all the weird and possibly unhealthy ways I connect with fiction, was a constant reminder to me to be brave and kind and speak.

I fail at each of those things, especially kindness, at least as much as anyone else, but I’ve got to try with whatever I have left on any given day, because that one inch, if you aren’t paying attention can be stolen so quick and so fast.

I still sob reading this. I suppose I always will. I imagine a world where people won’t, because it won’t make any sense. It’s closer all the time.

The New Yorker Festival: Chris Colfer

Last night I went to see Chris Colfer interviewed at the New Yorker Festival. It was the first time I’ve actually managed to get to said festival — I always either have trouble getting tickets or the timing is such that I’m traveling. This time, I just barely made it, as I’m leaving for Europe tonight.

At any rate the experience was both lovely and odd, but neither really in the way I expected. As others have noted, the questions were largely a rehash of topics Colfer has covered extensively before, and, despite the moderator being knowing about how everyone in the audience were largely well-informed fans and Colfer himself answering many questions with the preface of “For the two of you in the back who don’t know this,” little was done to target the discussion to either the actual audience or to Colfer’s upcoming projects (he as a movie he wrote and starred in coming out, a middle-grade book deal, and a pilot in development).

Whether this was a matter of the moderator not knowing that catering to a young audience (it was largely teens) or a fannish audience (like I said, we were in the know) doesn’t mean watering it down, I’m not really sure. Either way, it’s worth noting that neither audience actually likes easy, neat, harmless content, but really loves new ideas and process discussion to chew over. But we weren’t given that, and it was really a disservice to everyone.

That said, Colfer was delightful. He’s verbally playful and well-prepared for questions both awkward and boring (He assumed an audience question prefaced as being awkward to be the usual “what’s it like to kiss Darren Criss?” Instead, it turned out to be about Colfer’s choice of cologne, and while none of it was less inappropriate for all that, Colfer’s navigation of that mess sure was a lot funnier than it could have been for those of us cringing in our seats).

The expressiveness of his face was also fascinating to watch as he got stuck watching clips of himself at various points in the evening. I think I learned more about performance from that than anything that actually got said during the entire program.

But evenings like this, when you’re in fandom and like to write about pop-culture, are rarely just about the content on stage. They’re about the people you see and the friends you have drinks with after. So I was glad to chat with three different groups of people I knew before the thing started, catch up on a bit of gossip, and have a lengthy, meaty discussion afterwards on the construction of fame.

For those of you who missed the event, there are quotes, audio and pictures all over Tumblr and Twitter. I would say some of the paraphrasing conveys a different tonal quality on certain issues than I got from the experience, but if you’re among those who have been wound up about recent Glee spoilers in the last week — spoilers that were heavily yet coyly acknowledged by Colfer, who isn’t just playful with words, but dirty with them — I would say, oddly, to trust. I think they know how deftly they have to tread in what’s coming, and I think the effort will at least be valiant.

My upcoming time-zone shift and work schedule mean I may be a little behind on things until I return in two weeks, although I am planning a bit of meta regarding Kurt Hummel’s clothes, one of the leaked performances in 3.03 and the 3.05-related excitement. So when I get to that some time this coming week (after 3.03 has aired), please remember this is a spoiler rich zone.

Glee: Let’s talk about “Glitter Bombing”

Glitter bombing is not a Glee-ism. It’s actually a recent but recurring political act, with real world history, usually carried out by activists against anti-gay politicians. In fact, the only instance of glitter bombing not related to LGBTQ issues on the Wikipedia page is in its “in fiction” category — and that is Schuester’s use of the tactic in “The Purple Piano Project.”

I wanted to point this out, because most of the discussion I’ve seen of Schuester doing this revolves around either his immaturity or the wackiness of Glee, but without the non-fiction political context, I don’t think that’s a meaningful conversation.

The thing is, I can’t quite figure out what Glee was trying to do with this. Was this another case of Schuester thinking he’s doing the right thing and not? Let’s face it, Sue may say all sorts of appalling things to Kurt, but she also gave him solos, stuck up for him on the atheism thing, and doesn’t seem to hold his queerness against him any more than she holds anything against anyone.

Schuester, on the other hand, spends a huge amount of time being exasperated by Kurt’s queerness (something which previews for next week’s episode suggest will be back), trying to be supportive, and basically just doing things (when he does anything at all) that aren’t about Kurt but are about himself.

So one easy argument is that Schuester is being incredibly appropriative in an incredibly inappropriate way.

The other possibility is one about how Glee defines queerness. By using Glitter Bombing to defend the arts, Schuester suggests that the arts are inherently queer, that his glee club is inherently queer. And not just because it’s more filled with LGBTQ people than he knows.

Certainly, there are a lot of people on Glee besides Kurt, Blaine, Santana, Brittany and Karofsky, with arguably queered sexuality. Tina and Rachel are both othered at various points for liking sexual activity. Artie, through both words and deed, points out that his wheelchair doesn’t getting in the way of his sexual abilities. The women Puck desires are not an expected or necessarily accepted part of his sexuality in the WMHS environment. The intersection of Emma’s OCD and her demi-sexuality has been a near constant topic. And I certainly know more about Schuester’s sex life than I ever wanted to (remember his ex-wife?).

Glee is very insistent that everyone is not just the underdog, but really weird and possibly revolting to someone out there. Sometimes the show is awkward about it; sometimes it’s hilarious. Often it’s both. And, when we look at the ways in which it uses songs (stretch those lyrics, stretch them!), it’s easy to assume they’re just stretching the meaning of Glitter Bombing here to this larger underdog story. On some level, everything on Glee is a metaphor about LGBTQ-ness, and all the LGBTQ content on Glee is also just a subset of a larger story about a broader sense of queerness.

But, at the end of the day I don’t think that’s what is actually happening around this particular act. I do think this is one of our first hints that Schuester is going to remain ineffective, boggled and cruel through obliviousness when it comes to Kurt (and the other LGBTQ kids he’s aware of), because he, like pretty much all the characters on the show, is too wrapped up in his own drama to engage other people in a useful way. Schuester taking Glitter Bombing, screwing it up on behalf of the arts, and then finding a way to mess up the equilibrium of any number of the LGBTQ characters? It seems like a given at this point, and last night’s episode warned us that that’s coming loud and clear.

Torchwood: Miracle Day — Redefining heroism for the Whoniverse

I finished Torchwood: Miracle Day last night, and I find myself more satisfied by the idea of it, than with the series itself. Honestly, that’s largely a matter of pacing. Children of Earth had particularly stellar pacing, and Miracle Day did not.

A lot of that, especially in early episodes, was the by-product of having to introduce the show to a whole new audience. But even then, I thought most of the slowed down pacing was less committed to helping us understand Jack and Gwen and the idea of Torchwood and more to the creeping horror of the Miracle. This would have been perfectly fine, it if weren’t a relatively simple concept to grasp, one that would have been more terrifying, immediate and less distracting in its allegory, at high speed.

But a five or seven episode Miracle Day would have been a different animal, one that could never have contained Jane Espensen’s brilliant episode 7. And let us be clear, I’m not a fan of the episode for the gay romance or Barrowman’s ass (which is, I think, a criticism that gets lobbed, not entirely fairly, but not entirely unfairly either at a lot of fandom and at a lot of female viewers in particular); I’m a fan of the episode for its inherent Romanticism and its narrative about loss — two central traits of the larger Whoniverse which appeared with a poetry in Miracle Day in a way that they actually didn’t in Children of Earth, despite that being the stronger of the two series.

Without episode 7, Miracle Day would also not be a story about Jack. It’s the knitting to his arc, one which many people in fandom have been writing very eloquently about coming full circle in this series (please post links if you’ve got them). Certainly, as one of those fans with a deep commitment to the Face of Boe story, to see Jack finish this series with his immortality intact and a real sense of peace and wonder with the world again, I was relieved. I was also satisfied, when Gwen shoots him to prevent him from being a suicide.

Giving up one’s life for the cause is, essentially, how heroism is defined in the Whoniverse. Jack, when we first meet him, is mortal, screws some stuff up, and is ultimately willing to give up his life to fix it. He doesn’t. Then, later, when he’s willing to give up his life to save his friends, something intervenes and he becomes immortal, robbing this con-man who had become a better man of the ability to execute on heroism as defined by the Whoniverse. This has dogged him through each and every one of his failures across the programs; all he can do is sacrifice others, and that is, we are told, the act of a coward.

When Gwen steps up to be complicit in the death he has volunteered for, she is not just expressing love for Jack, and helping (seemingly) to return to him his heroism. She is actively altering the structure of what it means to be a hero in the Whoniverse; she is taking the gun out of Adelaide Brooks’s (“Waters of Mars”) hand and saying she doesn’t have to do the right thing alone. Gwen, in letting her father go and in being willing to kill her friend, who she loves once again, tells us that maybe Jack was not a coward when Ianto died and perhaps, unsettlingly, not a monster when he sacrificed Steven.

These are some pretty fascinating and powerful ideas, littered across an intriguing landscape filled with atheistic play with religious metaphor (something I don’t think Russel T. Davies could avoid if he tried), that culminate in Jack, whose life was in many ways made smaller by his immortality (he wound up confined this this earth full of its restrictive morals about love and sex), witnessing it possibly make someone else’s life (Rex’s) larger.

Miracle Day is, in its parting shots, a return to the wonder that was Torchwood in the largely monster-of-the-week incarnation that defined its first two seasons.

But satisfying in my brain, and satisfying in front of my eyes are two different things, sadly. And of all the series, this may be the one I am the least likely to rewatch in its entirety for anything other than scholarly purposes. Aside from finding its pacing off-puttingly awkward, its attempt to unify the original show’s queer sensibility with a perception of American masculinity and viciousness was at best inexplicable and extraneous and, at worst, arbitrarily offensive.

On the other hand, I still hope there is more. I will always want to follow Jack’s story, because Jack’s story is always. I want more detail and elegance around the Families and the idea of their plan as Writing the Story.

Finally, Jilly Kitzinger? Most fun villain, EVER.