Posts Tagged ‘Buffy’

I only realized in the past week or so that yes, on the whole, I prefer TV shows to movies.

This is a strange about-face for me to make. I was the roommate who, in freshman year of college, fought hard to prevent having the TV in the living room. I came from a household where we watched TV pretty much every night, usually for 3-4 hours, and I was sick of it. I became sick of it before I went away to college, and I’d hide out in the back room practicing music by the hour, reading lots of books, and whiling away my remaining time playing backgammon and Hearts with a computer AI.

But now, I find when I get to choose between a TV show and a movie, I am more likely to select a TV show.

I prefer TV shows for the same reason I prefer novels. I am what I call a character reader; I get pulled through a story because I am invested in the characters’ lives and development. World building I only care about if it is so off as to be distracting. Plot I care about more. But it is the characters who breathe life into the experience for me. And TV shows allow a lot more space for character development than most movies

But perhaps more importantly, I was listing my favorite shows and found that all of them feature either a female lead character or ensemble casts with plenty of female characters. Which is something that can be hard to find in the movies, which too often have the token female character or the two female characters who never even talk to each other. (Thank you, Bechdel test, for helping me systematically notice this.)

In fact, these days I tend to choose not to watch TV shows that have a male lead character as opposed to an ensemble cast. (The exception to this is Sherlock. My love for Sherlock Holmes is greater than my irritation at the low numbers of female characters in the show.)  I was never interested in Dexter or Breaking Bad. A serial killer who the audience is supposed to be okay with because he chooses his victims carefully? A teacher who is a drug dealer and brings his student and family with him on his downhill plummet? Ugh. Both of these shows have their merits, from what I hear, but they are unappealing to me. Plus in the current culture, neither of those characters, anti-heroes at their finest, could have been female, simply because they aren’t likeable enough in their conception. Ugh again.

No, instead I have an endearing love for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Not so much love for Angel.) I enjoy the ensemble casts of Battlestar Galactica and Game of Thrones. (Yes, GoT women tend to conform to types, but at least they exist as main characters, and their stories, horror and all, are illustrative of what it’s like to lack power and agency due to gender and the different ways they are forced to strive for power in spite of their genders simply in order to survive.) I rewatch Veronica Mars and Gilmore Girls. I watched every episode of Gossip Girl, and I’m catching up on Vampire Diaries.

Murray Close/Lionsgate Publicity Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen.

Are these shows perfect? Not by a long shot. But at least I get to watch women doing stuff and being a real part of the story. Perhaps with the box office successes of Catching Fire and Gravity, I’ll get to watch more women doing stuff in the movies too. Maybe they can even do stuff together. Maybe Frozen did well enough that next time, I’ll get to watch a female snowperson sidekick/comic relief, without any sexist jokes being involved.

And in the meantime, I’ll be sitting on my couch watching Buffy.

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As many of you know, I’m a big Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan. I’ve watched the series more than once. I have a Buffy T-shirt. I even own a replica scythe. So what I’m about to say may shock you.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is not a feminist show. It is sometimes egregiously sexist, in fact. It showcases repeatedly negative portrayals of female sexuality and engages in blame-placing on female characters (Buffy is accused of leading Spike on, Buffy is blamed for Jenny Calendar’s death even though Angel is the one who did it, etc.) while excusing crazy behavior of male characters (Buffy should obviously instantly forgive Riley for cheating on her with vampire women). There’s the problematic treatment of dismissing rape in Season 7. And I could go on.

However, I strongly disagree with the idea that Buffy is not a strong female character. Indeed, I’ve begun to worry about our culture’s definition of what a strong female character actually is. Yes, we obviously want to get beyond the idea that a strong woman is simply a man with boobs–what a ridiculously simplified idea. But I’ve been seeing some commentary that suggests that strong female characters still have to be…well, perfect and together and always making the right decision. And heaven forbid they ever show emotion or, you know, CRY.

Is Buffy a strong female character?

I’m going to unpack a few of these ideas in relation to Buffy so you can see what I mean. First up is Mur Lafferty’s critique of Buffy the character. (I actually agree with much of this article, especially the part about The Princess Bride, which is an awesome movie if you ignore the horrible female characters and particularly the passive MacGuffin who is Princess Buttercup.) “Buffy failed this test [of emotional strength] when Spike attacked her in Season… 5? Since the attack was sexual in nature, Buffy lost all ability to fight, and just struggled on the floor and cried…we’d seen her kill so many monsters – including her lover – I can’t believe she’d cave under that attack. It didn’t fit with the character.”

Okay, so the attempted rape scene in Season 6 is definitely an emotional moment. But that’s all it is: a moment. Buffy struggles against Spike and cries for all of fifty seconds before she succeeds in pushing him off her. (Yes, I timed it, just to be sure I was remembering correctly.) Not only that, but she does this while already badly injured, after dealing with several months of deep depression, and while dealing with the shock of having a former lover try to rape her. But her reaction time of fifty seconds, no, it’s just not quite good enough for her to be considered emotionally strong? Um… Yeah, it must be because she committed the cardinal sin of crying. (Not to mention this assessment smacks of victim blaming.)

Or does crying automatically make her weak?

Here’s another great one, this time from The Mary Sue (again, this article makes many great points but I quibble about the strong/weak character identifications): “And Buffy is textually weak in all her relationships. She falls apart not only when Angel leaves her, but when Parker (yeah, you don’t remember him, either) doesn’t want to pursue more than a one-night stand with her, too.” It goes on to discuss the badness of Buffy chasing after Riley when he flies off in the helicopter.

So does this mean a strong woman isn’t allowed to have feelings or make mistakes, even out of inexperience (as was the case with Parker)? I mean, are we just supposed to shrug after a painful break-up and decide not to care? After all, Buffy sends the vampire she loves to hell in order to save the world–not an act I’d call particularly weak. Sure, I wasn’t a fan of Buffy running after Riley, but she received bad advice from a trusted friend and had a moment of weakness. But I guess in order to be a strong woman she would have to recognize the sexist parameters of her world at all times and never have a second of doubt, disappointment, or grief… Or maybe it’s the crying.

From the same article: “And inherently problematic is the idea of the Watcher, a predominantly male presence that is the male gaze made manifest – a source of constant looking that is an explicit form of control.”

Yes, the idea of the Watcher is sexist. The origins of the Slayer are deeply problematic. But Buffy fights against this time and time again: she fires her Watcher, she rebels against the Council, she orders them to give her the information she needs about Glory, and at the end of the series, she thwarts their original intent for the Slayer by giving the power to all the Potentials. She is constantly second-guessed and undermined by everyone in her world, friends as much as foes, and yet she continues to fight and to believe in herself. How exactly is this not strong behavior? I really have no idea.

Strong female characters can still be human. They can be flawed, they can have moments of bad judgment, and they can cry. They can feel overwhelmed, and they can have bad taste in men. What they can’t be is only existing because of and judged in relationship to male characters. What they must have is some kind of personal agency. Even, and this is my key point, the agency to make mistakes and be less than perfect.

Rose Lemberg wrote an excellent article on feminist characters, and I really hope you go read the whole thing. She says:“But what we often do in genre is allow men to be uncomfortable and difficult, but erase the women who are less than warm and fuzzy-making.”

Yes. Even to the point of having unnecessarily limited definitions of what makes a strong woman. Buffy is a flawed character, but she exists in her own right, not as some kind of set piece for the male characters on the show and not only as a girlfriend, or friend, or sister, or protegé. She ultimately calls the shots and makes most of the hard decisions. And if anything, the facts that she suffers, that she feels loss and fear, that she cries, these things show how strong she really is.

So what do you think? How do you define strong female characters? And what are examples of them that you think are done well?

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A friend of mine wrote me awhile back and asked me if I could write a post about resources for the YA writer. I’ll admit, I was stymied. In spite of the fact that I began writing in the YA genre, and as such it is my first true literary love, I realized I didn’t know nearly the number of resources that I could spout if he had asked the same question about speculative fiction. There is SCBWI, of course, the teenlitauthors yahoo group (although it tends to get a bit bogged down with congratulations and personal news), and Vera Kay’s Blueboards (where I’ve rarely been active). I’m sure there must be how-to-do-it books on YA (mustn’t there?), but I’ve never read them. Likewise, there must be various relevant blogs, but the few truly YA-focused ones I used to read are rarely if ever updated anymore.

Meanwhile, YA continues to be hot, hot, hot, even while agents and editors are cautioning writers that there is a glut of YA, and maybe writing some quality MG wouldn’t be a bad idea right around now. They say this at conferences, in any case, but I’m still hearing stories of agents recommending that their actual clients write YA, even if they’ve gotten their start in writing for adults. (Which incidentally tends to make me cringe. I understand intellectually that there is more money for fiction writers in YA, and the sales might be easier to make due to the aforementioned hotness, so it makes sense from a business perspective. But I’d like to think there’s more to writing YA than just good business sense; that it’s the end result of receiving a calling, of having some kind of affinity to teenagers, of what kind of stories a writer deeply desires to tell. I’m not saying a writer can’t write both YA and adult fiction–I do that myself. I just want it to be a case of good business uniting with a true interest in writing for teens. But I digress.)

I could write another whole post on the differences between the speculative and YA communities from where I sit (and maybe I will), but the fact remains that I don’t have a treasure trove of resources to share. Instead I will give three pieces of advice (which you can take or leave), advice that unfortunately does not offer any shortcuts but has helped me learn more about YA in the last three years than anything else.

READ YA. Read a lot of it. Read MODERN YA written and published in the last ten or so years (at least some of which has been published in the last three years) so you know what’s going on now instead of what was going on when you were a kid (trust me, unless you’re close to being a teenager yourself, it is different now). Read some MG (Middle grade) so that you understand the difference through examples instead of relying only on my handy-dandy list. Read different genres of YA; you might only be interested in writing science fiction YA, but read at least a few paranormal, fantasy, and contemporary novels as well. Read a few of the really “girly” book series so you know what’s going on there. Read the blockbusters of the field. I don’t care if you don’t like Twilight; if you want to write YA, you should read it anyway (at least the first one) so you can understand what about it tapped into the zeitgeist of the time and understand the ripples it generated (and still generates). Likewise, you should read The Hunger Games, and even though much of it is MG (in my opinion), you should read at least some of the Harry Potter books. Then go read some obscure titles no one has heard of.

STEEP YOURSELF IN TEEN-NESS. If you haven’t spent any in-person time with teens since you were a teenager yourself, it’s time to change that. I don’t care how–you can hang out with a family member, volunteer, teach a class, offer to mentor a teen writer. If all else fails, you can scout out where the local teens hang out after school, go there, and shamelessly eavesdrop. You can watch TV shows and movies targeted at teens (just NOT during your writing time, please): Buffy the Vampire Slayer is old school but still helpful, and lately I’ve been spending time watching Veronica Mars, Glee, The Vampire Diaries, and Gossip Girl (and I’m sure there are others). I don’t watch these shows thinking they are necessarily a realistic representation of teenage life, but to watch for more widespread trends: how do relationships/hook-ups work now? how do teens use technology? what are the latest fashion trends and the current slang? how do the characters speak to each other? what issues tap into today’s teen experience that might be a little different from your own teenage years? Sure, if you’re writing a far future dystopic novel, today’s slang might not be so relevant, but it’s still important to try to understand how your readers see themselves now.

REMEMBER WHAT IT WAS LIKE. Not just the clichés, and not from a superior, “now I’m a wise and mature adult” perspective. How can you understand as deeply if you’re looking down at someone? No, exercise that empathy muscle and try to remember how you actually felt: the frustration of not having complete power over your life, even if you were spending a lot of time watching adults royally screw up; the surging hormones and confusion when trying to deal with lust and affairs of the heart; the uncertainty of not knowing exactly who you were and how you fit into the larger world (or perhaps bending self perception of who you were to fit into a fantasy); the endemic unfairness; the world-crushing importance of everything going on in your life; the huge milestones bearing down on you, one after another (and whether you looked on them with excitement, horror, or a co-mingling of the two). And then remember that all of the above plays out differently for different people, both in terms of which ones are relevant to each person and what’s going on inside versus the show they’re putting on for the outside.

That’s all I’ve got. If you know of any YA resources I didn’t mention, please give them a shout-out below. Also, if you think all a modern YA writer needs to read is the juvenile Heinlein oeuvre, tell me that too because then we can have a truly epic argument.

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I really thought I would generate more disagreement from last week’s post on critiques, which goes to show that I have no idea whatsoever about such things.  In any case, it made me realize that the backbone project is really more about me putting myself and my opinions out there, regardless of whether doing so sparks disagreement.  (Also, “weenie” has become my new favorite word. My favorite word before that was “insouciant.” I think this is clear evidence that I am getting stupider by the minute.) However, I promised you could disagree with me, and I feel like I failed to deliver. Which brings us to my backbone project post #2.

As you know, I’m a science fiction and fantasy writer, so it should come as no big surprise that I have accumulated some geek cred over the years. But like most geeks, I have some holes in my preferences. Sometimes even gaping ones. I blame it on hanging out with musicians and psych majors all those years. Totally different kinds of geekdom.

Now, I figure most of you will be able to find something to disagree about in my pet peeves of geekdom list. Seriously. Think of it as your mission. I know you can do it.

1. Dr. Who: I have to plead ignorance to all the old seasons of Dr. Who, as I began watching this show with the reboot. I was okay with Seasons 1 and 2, but Season 3? Are you freaking kidding me? I was simultaneously bored, jumpy in an unpleasant way, and disgusted by the new companion Martha until I just couldn’t take it anymore. And what’s with the plots? Deus ex machina after deus ex machina. I watched “The Doctor’s Wife” and read on the internet that it made everyone cry. Seriously? I was just disgusted that once again, all the episode was about was Amy Pond calling the Doctor and begging to be rescued. Maybe I’ve just been unfortunate about the Amy Pond episodes I’ve seen (which, to be fair, haven’t been many), but all she does is need to be rescued! Yet another companion wasted.

2. the novels of Neil Gaiman: particularly American Gods. I could barely finish it because the pacing was so slow. I expect this to generate actual hate mail, so you see how brave I am being. I just don’t get it all the hype. I mean, yes, Neil Gaiman is like the rock star of writers. And he’s done some stuff that I’ve appreciated: The Graveyard Book, parts of Neverwhere (although I wanted to kick the protagonist in the teeth), that short story about Snow White and vampires. But I just don’t understand the massive hysteria surrounding him and his work. Mind you, I keep trying. But so far, no dice.

3. Anime: My geeky friends first exposed me to anime via Cowboy Bebop, and I was okay with it. I think this made them overly optimistic, because they then showed me a bunch of random, really weird and twisted anime, and it’s ruined me. I’m not kidding. Someone suggests watching anime and I look at them like they’ve grown a third head. My poor husband suffers because of it, but there it is. I just have no interest. It took a huge effort for me to consent to watch Porco Rosso and I could see that it had merit, but the ennui is so overpowering, I kind of don’t care.

4. Agricola: Gah! Resource management at its most boring. The players seem to barely interact, and the whole game is about … wait for it … being a farmer? Yeah, because that’s what I’ve been dreaming about doing my entire life. There aren’t even any silly pictures of beans on cards so you can pretend that you’re collecting an exotic bevy of circus performers instead of farming. Plus I already ran a business for seven years. I don’t want my board games to feel exactly the same as what I could get paid to do. I just don’t.

5. WoW: Okay, I’ve never played WoW, and you know what? I hope I never play WoW because as far as I can tell, that game is crack. It will suck me in, and I will run around like a mindless little medicated drone from Brave New World, and I will never ever escape. Not only that, but I won’t even realize how much time I’m spending doing essentially boring and repetitive things. Because I don’t waste enough time on the internet as it is. Plus WoW steals my friends. It makes them too busy to do things like hang out with me and email me. Which gives it an extra black mark in my book.

6. Lord of the Rings (the books): I know Ferrett already blogged about this, but I still think it deserves a mention. I like the movies. I’ve been wanting to see them again, in fact. But I’ve never made it to the end of the trilogy of books. I read the first two when I was eleven, and then I had to wait for the next library trip to read the last one, at which point I’d lost interest. I tried reading them again before the movies came out, and The Two Towers killed me. I wanted something to happen so badly. But instead it just went on and on about the trees and the pain and the journeying, until Frodo’s pain became my pain. Literally.

7. D&D: I like RPGs. I miss playing them. But I don’t miss D&D. Why not? First, because the only way I could ever make it at all fun for myself was by playing a caricature of my class who was generally of lower than average intelligence. After awhile, that got pretty old. Second, the storytelling seems to have the same average depth as my own at age seven playing with my Barbies. There’s bad guys. Must kill. Slash, hack. The end. Now there’s more bad guys. Slash, hack. Etc. I mean, there’s not even the romantic subplots that my Barbies enjoyed. Third, with the newest edition, it seems that even more emphasis is placed on fighting (who knew it was possible?) and that grid makes combat last forever. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against some fighting in a campaign, but all fighting and no story makes me fall asleep.

All right, what did I get wrong? I bet you can give me several good reasons why the things above are actually super awesome. My tingling spider sense tells me so. And, for additional kicks, you can share your own geekdom pet peeves. I dare someone to lay into Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Or Star Wars Episode 4. Or Ender’s Game. Let the smack talk begin!

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Photo by Werner Kunz

I attended a birthday party a couple of weeks ago, and I had a conversation that’s become stuck in my mind. I was talking to a friend who was foregoing travel for a period of time (maybe a couple of years) in order to save up for a car he really wants. He said something like, “I always prefer spending money on things instead of experiences because I can keep on having great experiences with material objects for a long period of time.”

This statement caused me to begin questioning the culture of consumerism and my own relationship with the materialistic world. If questioned, I would have answered the exact opposite of my friend, that I prefer to spend money on experiences because those experiences will make me happier and more engaged in my life as a whole. There’s even research supporting my viewpoint.

But it’s not that simple, is it? I like material things as well as anyone else. My husband and I own a house, and we just purchased a new car since my old one (a ‘95 Corolla) has become finicky in its old age. Plus I have my three consumer weaknesses: books, sheet music, and clothes & jewelry. Hence the main storage problems in my house are bookshelf space and closet space.

I remember when I was starting my studio business, and I had to strictly prioritize my budget to make my earnings stretch. I allowed myself to buy sheet music (within reason) because I used it in my business. I only bought books on special occasions (thank goodness for libraries), and pretty much only mass market paperbacks even then. I did go clothes shopping, but I was careful to visit stores like Mervyn’s, Target, and Ross, where my money would go a lot farther.

In return for this thrift, I allowed myself experiences that I desperately wanted. I always allowed myself gas money if I wanted to drive somewhere to visit friends or enjoy a particular sight. I’d occasionally splurge on a dinner out with friends. And I’d save everything else for my annual trip abroad—the experience of travel and seeing other cultures was my highest priority. Sometimes I wished I could buy “pretty” things, but more often I worried about unexpected medical expenses taking away my travel budget. Experience trumped all.

One year, however, after I had received some gift money, I splurged and bought the complete set of Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVDs. I was so excited about this purchase, and I don’t even know how many times I’ve watched those DVDs—over and over, and I’m sure I’ll be watching them many more times in the future. So I understand what my friend meant about material objects giving lasting pleasure. What about a good piano? Does that count as a material object or do we purchase what a piano represents: the experience of making music? And driving in an expensive car (like my friend wants) is a completely different experience than driving my rattling old Corolla.

I wonder how often when we’re spending money on something material, what we’re really buying is the experience the object represents. I think I’d personally still prioritize straight-up experience expenses over more object-oriented ones: a night at the theater, a delicious meal, being able to spend time with non-local friends, traveling around the world. But perhaps my friend and I aren’t so different in our thought processes after all.

In which case, here’s the lesson I’m taking away from this: if I am making a purchase, I will try to remember to stop and consider what experience a given object represents, and then decide whether it is an experience that I truly want and that the object will actually deliver.

Objects are never going to be what makes me the happiest, however. My husband, my dog, my friends, intellectual stimulation and challenge, music and stories—these are the most important to me.

Which do you prefer—spending money on experiences or physical objects? Care to share a particularly memorable experience or purchase? I’m all ears.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Here, have a picture:

Have a wonderful celebration today!  And don’t forget the pie.  Pie is key. 🙂

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The voting period for your favorite fantasy sidekick is over, and the winner is:

WILLOW from Buffy the Vampire Slayer!

Wicca Genius

Runner-up is Ingoya Montoya, from The Princess Bride.

Channelling through his father's sword

And because he’s cute, even though he only got one vote, I’m also gonna show you Pantalaimon:

I deliberately didn’t tell you who I voted for so I wouldn’t accidentally skew the vote.  However, being a huge Buffy fan, I did in fact vote for Willow, although it was a tough call for me between her, Inigo, and Hermione.  Willow is a tricky one because she had all those problems in season six that make her less than ideal as a sidekick, but when she’s at the top of her game, she’s kick ass enough that she almost crosses the line from sidekick to independent superhero in her own right.  For the win, she’s a character I wouldn’t mind being friends with, and honestly, workplace dynamics are important if you’re going to save the world every day.

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