Monday, 6 November 2017

Is There Room for Disabilities in Space?

I was 17 when I was diagnosed with an episodic disability, it was also around this time that I discovered I had no place in the Halo Universe ... Wait hang on, I know what you're thinking "Dude, it's a made up world you were never there to begin with" and I guess to an extent you are correct but bear with me.

The Halo Universe is pretty expansive spanning several video game titles, books, animated series and movies. When you play Halo 3 you BECOME the Master Chief, when you read Fall of Reach you join John 117 as he transforms into a SPARTAN II. There isn't really a barrier between you the reader or player and the character, you quite literally explore the world looking through Master Chief's visor.

Seems easy to jump in and be the Chief right? Well if you turn to page 35 of the Halo Evolutions Volume 1 there's a list of "risks" that will rule you out of becoming an active duty SPARTAN II.

One of which is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

"There's also considerable risk." 
"What sort of risk?" 
"There's a chance, a nontrivial one, that you could die during the augmentation. Even if you don't die, there's a strong risk of Parkinson's, Fletcher's syndrome, and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, as well as potential problems with deformation or atrophy of the muscles and degenerative bone conditions."

 Halo Evolutions Volume 1, Page 35

Before I get into the genetics and how it is absolutely 100% impossible to develop EDS as a side effect of anything and how the mere suggestion makes my blood boil ... I want to bypass that entire argument and direct your attention elsewhere. (it's better for both of our blood pressure this way, trust me).

What happened in Halo Evolutions Volume 1 (pg. 35) was that a line was drawn, a line which separated me from the Halo Universe a line that separated SPARTAN's ... and rejects.

I was a reject

While I struggled to come to terms with my diagnosis at the time I always thought I'd have games, I always thought I'd have the Chief and that my bad days could be remedied with hot water bottles for the pain and Halo. Suddenly the fantasy world I enjoyed didn't want me anymore. It wasn't a personal attack but it felt like one.

Aaaand that is why I can't really enjoy Halo anymore
... which sucks because I have a tonne of books and some action figures and all the old Xbox360 Halo games. 

Yeah, it sounds overly dramatic and of course I can still enjoy a good story or game even Halo but throwing in a particularly specific disability just because the name sounds cool for the sake of spooking the reader is ... considerably insensitive don't you think? Especially when said disability is in no way related to the story or augmentations taking place. At least if it made logical sense I could shrug and say "Well you aren't wrong there." But it just doesn't and that frustrates me.

What happened in Halo was that I could no longer "be" Master Chief when I played. This one condition that caused a lot of struggles suddenly disabled me from imagining I could be a space marine because the Halo Universe effectively said that I wasn't allowed. Having a disability, episodic or otherwise introduces obstacles, yes, but most if not all disabled people simply learn how to make do with the abilities and resources available to them. Keep calm and carry on is the sort of attitude to adopt.

As I got older, came to terms with my range of ability and even managed to surpass myself in some areas, I couldn't shake off the trauma of what happened when I read that page and got booted from the Halo universe. As I got older ... I started thinking more about stuff and thinking differently. This year in particular disability and inclusion has been something seriously on my mind which brings me to my next worry ... Is there room for disabilities anywhere in todays society? Much less is there room for disabled astronauts and space marines?!

Even though the SPARTAN II rejects that weren't dead were somehow rehabilitated (please don't get me started on their rehabilitation ...) they are still the rejects, the "washed out" SPARTAN's. They are the ones who get left behind and forgive me for tearing up the Halo canon but goddammit disabled people can be heroes too.

Which brings me onto a character I absolute love in a franchise everyone loves to hate since the third instalment ...

Jeff "Joker" Moreau, Mass Effect 1, 2 & 3.

Joker is a legend, if you don't like him what the hell is wrong with you? This guy can jump a giant ship halfway across the galaxy and land on a target the size of a pinhead!!! (His own words). Did I forget to mention he has Osteogenesis Imperfecta otherwise known as brittle bone disease. Joker himself briefly outlines the nature of his disability, his bones are made of glass he regularly suffers breaks and fractures but ... this same guy who has some serious mobility issues is the guy who single handedly (until EDI shows up) manages to fly the Normandy through all sorts of hellscapes (and don't get me started on the part of ME3 where you get to PLAY AS JOKER and sneak through the Collector-infested Normandy).

I'm gonna stop fangirling about Joker here, but my point is that Joker is amazing because yeah, he has a disability but at no point does it prevent him from doing his job, there is nothing stopping him from being just as much a hero as Commander Shepard. Joker restored some of my faith in sci-fi ... we need more characters like him stat!!!

I could go on all day to be honest but this is pretty long as it is. I do love the Halo Universe, really, I do. I adored the books and the lore and watching Chief progress as more and more games came out, I have more Halo books than I'd care to admit about philosophy, art, and of course the novels but one page, one line was all it took for me to feel like an outside observer rather than someone who deserved to be a part of the story or the universe. The more media I consume, the more I think about who is missing from the story, who is not only "absent" but actively being pushed out?

The Mass Effect trilogy, whether you liked the ending or not (the ending is SO much better if you study the Reaper Indoctrination Theory btw) had something I've yet to see fully explored in a similar fashion in almost every other sci-fi universe I've encountered.

Mass Effect covered issues of race (mostly alien races but I digress), class issues and identity (Quarian's and the Geth for example), sexuality and as I've already outlined, included a fully fledged hero who happens to be disabled. It isn't that hard to create a disabled character, just look at Joker, if you removed his Osteogenesis Imperfecta, he's still essentially the same character, but when you include his disability you speak to a child who is disabled. If more franchises did this it would transform a character from someone admirable for a disabled person into someone who is admirable AND relatable and there's honestly nothing that I can compare that feeling to.

So ... Yes ... There is room for disabilities in space, more than enough room in fact and all it takes a developer is to give that character a name and a space suit. 

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Secret Empire, If you read it you're a Nazi

Wow ... this title is bigger click-bait than my April fools Black Widow movie post... Sorry to disappoint you with a post directly opposite to the title, but ... reading Secret Empire will not make you a Nazi and anyone who tells you that is wrong. Reading Mein Kampf will not make you a Nazi either even though it's written by the head honcho, Hitler himself! Lemme tell you why.

Ohhh boy ... here we go...
Since it's very inception (or rather since the infamous HYDRA-Cap panel hit the interwebs), the whole Secret Empire/Steve Rogers arc has come under fire as being a Nazi comic. I would like to stress that Secret Empire is not a Nazi story even if it is/was a story about a Nazi. I honestly can't believe I have to write this ... after reading all of the Secret Empire and Steve Rogers stuff so far, the "YOU'RE A NAZI" reaction is just so far fetched.

I found this list of books about the Third Reich and Hitler, they are stories about Nazism but they are not Nazi stories. To make this differentiation clearer, allow me to explain so I can show you just why Secret Empire is not a Nazi story and you are not a Nazi for reading it.

Mein Kampf is a Nazi story. It's Hitler's autobiography and political manifesto. It's a book of Nazi ideologies, penned by a Nazi for other Nazi's to read and assimilate with. That said, historians read Mein Kampf all the time and they don't become Nazis, this is because they read, they study, they debate but they don't assimilate. Let's take a look at what assimilate means shall we; take in and incorporate as one's own; absorb: He assimilated many new experiences on his European trip. bring into conformity with the customs, attitudes, etc., of a group,nation, or the like; adapt or adjust: to assimilate the new immigrants. cause to resemble (usually followed by to or with). compare; liken (usually followed by to or with). 
verb (used without object), assimilated, assimilating.
7. to be or become absorbed. conform or adjust to the customs, attitudes, etc., of a group,nation, or the like:The new arrivals assimilated easily and quickly. (SOURCE) 
If you don't assimilate, that is, adopt the policies, change yourself to suit the ideologies presented, you aren't becoming what the text is influencing you to be. So if you read Mein Kampf and assimilate with it and adopt the principles within the book, you become a Nazi, if you read it and disagree with it or learn from it without adopting its policies, you don't become a Nazi. It's just that simple.

Reading this will NOT make you a Nazi ... but it might make your stomach churn because WW2 was horrifying. 
Similarly, Secret Empire is not a Nazi story because, although Steve is successful in establishing a New World Order under HYDRA, this World Order is not accepted or approved by Steve's closest friends or his closest allies (Vision is "reprogrammed", Scarlet Witch possessed and the vast majority of Steve's old allies have turned their backs on him).
We aren't supposed to assimilate with Steve because he's wrong wrong wrong. You can like him, sure, but ... his actions and beliefs are condemned not celebrated. Secret Empire doesn't want you to become a Nazi, it wants you to see what would happen if Steve became a Nazi and we don't like what he's become. He isn't supposed to be admirable. 
Steve deceives all of his friends and allies, he works with the villains who are clearly still villains. Being successful isn't the same as being right and the only people to affirm Steve's actions are ... Zemo, Madame Hydra, Arnim Zola and other V-I-L-L-A-I-N-S. He isn't a hero, he isn't acting heroically, he has become a tyrannical leader which is clear from the start. We readers are not supposed to "like" what Steve has become, we are supposed to be uncomfortable that our hero has become his own worst enemy.

If Secret Empire was trying to promote Nazism, heroes wouldn't claim "This isn't Steve", "Steve's been changed", "He has to be stopped/killed" they'd cheer for their brilliant leader. What he's doing is wrong and no one is arguing otherwise.
Liking HYDRA-Steve isn't an inherently bad thing though. I'm first to admit I love good villains, sometimes more than the heroes, but liking villains doesn't make someone a Nazi (I already covered that in my discussion of assimilation). HYDRA-Steve is interesting, but we don't want to become like him even if we like watching what will unfold next. Liking a fictional Nazi villain won't make you a bad person, but appreciating the mass genocide that occurred in WW2 will.

If anything, Secret Empire is the comic we NEEDED to see because this is how crazy the discourse around Nazism has become.

If people believe reading a book about Nazis is all it takes to turn people into Nazis then we block our ears and don't engage our brains, we leave ourselves open to be manipulated by future Hitlers who feed us perfect messages that aren't true and aren't challenged or challenging. Remember, when Hitler first came to power his message wasn't "genocide" it was "jobs", he earned the peoples trust and admiration before he commit terrible crimes and many regular German people thought Hitler was the bees-knees although he went on to commit unforgivable crimes against humanity.

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it may not actually be a duck and THAT is why we ask questions.
Look at the picture below.
This is a duck right?

"Quack ... or ... whatever"

No. It's a swan-goose. But it looks like a duck and probably sounds like one too (I mean I'm no bird expert, but to the untrained eye, this would fool me!).

Secret Empire doesn't come with the message "Steve's always right because he's Captain America", it challenges that very message because the heroes became complacent and followed Steve's orders without question even when they were questionable orders! They didn't question his actions or behaviour and suddenly, it was too late. He walked like Captain America, talked like Captain America but he wasn't Captain America. Now they can see Steve isn't who/what he seemed and they are trying to stop him.

How on Gods Earth does this seem good for Nazis? Everyone loved him before they knew he was HYDRA, now that he's revealed his allegiance to HYDRA, he's Billy-no-mates (except for a bunch of cheeky villains we're not supposed to like either).

HYDRA-Cap is doomed to fail, we can already see his New World Order unravelling, with Viper acting shady/treacherous, rebellions at every corner, Namor and T'Challa, while not openly rebelling against Cap, are firmly opposed to HYDRA's ideologies. This isn't the Happy Ending story Nazis want to see, and if they think this current arc is a good thing for a HYDRA-Steve, then they're even stupider than I expected (not that I give modern Nazis much credit in the IQ department to begin with).

Yes, a HYDRA did successfully take over the world, but unless Steve can stay in control (spoiler alert, he most certainly will not), it is no victory at all. Hitler dominated huge swathes of Europe but he lost it all by 1945 and commit suicide in a bunker and to this day, any rational person will agree that Hitler's ideologies and actions were deplorable and they will condemn him.

I can't see the logic to the arguments people present which state that "Secret Empire/Steve Rogers is promoting Nazism" because ... it isn't.
Lets leave aside the fact that Nick Spencer is arguing that HYDRA and Nazis aren't the same, because even if that were the case, it doesn't change the fact that HYDRA is the enemy and we aren't supposed to root for this fascist empire to succeed. If HYDRA took over and gave everyone ice cream and kittens then we need to stand up and say "wait a minute, HYDRA's supposed to be bad, why are you making them cuddly and delicious?". HYDRA, ruling the world under Cap, is presented as a terrifying, dictatorship, with Cap himself struggling to keep things in check despite his almost seamless takeover and none of his policies are appealing. He's a draconian dictator and he won't last long.

b-but it's not really Cap tho!!

Is the story completely free from problems? Hell no, but this is already a very long post so we'll pick up on that another time in greater depth!

Captain America was created by two Jewish men during WW2, his very purpose, since his inception, has been to fight against fascism and Nazism and HYDRA. Would his original creators disagree with this current story? We'll never know, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby are both dead, but Stan Lee, creator of Marvel, and a WW2 veteran called HYDRA-Cap;
“hell of a good idea [...] it's crazy, but it’s a good idea.” (Stan Lee, source).
If Stan Lee, a Jewish-American can call Secret Empire a good idea, perhaps we should try give it a go and engage our critical thinking instead of switching off and branding it Nazi trash. There's a message there, an important one about questioning those in power, although it is a difficult line to walk. If those we trust most suddenly turn into our biggest enemy, what do we do? How do we survive?

If Steve were to make Nazi's a good thing, if we were encouraged to accept HYDRA as a positive change, then this comic is a failure, but as it stands we are supposed to stand in solidarity with the rebels, those who refuse to say Hail HYDRA (and mean it). It is for that reason, the fact we're told to stand against our beloved hero because he now stands for Nazism (or HYDRA) and that is bad is encouraging us the reader to be MORE opposed to Nazism because we are told to say no even when Captain America tells us that HYDRA is good.

Anyway but this just about wraps up my post on Secret Empire this time, stay tuned for more. Black Widow in Secret Empire: Uprising is coming up, along with Secret Empire 1-5 and an investigation into Winter Soldier (KGB-Bucky) and HYDRA-Cap, I'll draw some comparisons and parallels and really pick apart the whole "history was rewritten" thing there because thats certainly one of the more prominent "problematic" issues of Secret Empire.

I'll be focusing on the drawbacks/pitfalls of Secret Empire as we continue talking about it in the future, but right now, give Secret Empire a read. You may like it, and that's okay, it might not be your cup of tea at all and that's okay too. Secret Empire is many things, but, it's not a Nazi manifesto, if anything, it highlights the dangers of fascism growing right beneath our noses.

Remember, ask questions, think critically and ... say no to HYDRA! 

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Fan Fact and Fan Fiction! The Science of Fandom

As part of my degree I had to do a wee bit of research... As a film major, there was no shortage of topics, naturally, I decided I wanted to study Captain America but at this point I already felt like I know the structure of Steve's Super-Soldier DNA because I already analyse the movies in such depth. A content or even semiotic analysis of the films would only yield so much new info and I wanted to challenge myself. So that left me wondering, what new things can I learn and examine here and I turned to fan fiction because it's an area of the Captain America fandom that is constantly new and evolving and an area that I really only know a couple of things about. New trends and memes spark interesting new fics and the sky really is the limit. 

So with a pen and notebook and not the foggiest idea where to start, I worked on a methodology, a research question and I set to work. That was over a month ago, and I recently got my grade back on my final 4000-ish word paper (honestly, it could have easily stretched to a 10,15 or even 20,000 word piece). I wanted to stave off sharing any of my findings on here until I got feedback from my professor about it. I knew I was really proud of what I achieved in my study, however I obviously had a huge personal bias after all my hard work. The feedback was absolutely fantastic (so I'm even more proud than I originally was!) and I thought I'd take that feedback, my own findings, and share a bit with the fan and academic communities alike. Now that I can confidently say that it was a good paper since it passed with flying colours I thought I'd talk about it publicly.

I will perhaps build on my findings and present more interesting stuff later if there was ever any interest, but for now I'd like to share what I learned so perhaps if you conduct your own study you will learn from my methodology and my mistakes!

First step is discovering your question and developing an argument of why your question is worth thinking about. I think this is more for the sake of readers than the researcher themselves because, I could research Cap stuff and not really care where it takes me or what new things I discover or why I examine a particular thing, but that makes for a poor, disorganised paper. So first step, like any research project is to define what you want to figure out and why its worth other people reading.
In my case, I wanted to examine fan behaviours but framing my question was difficult, I took to reading other academic works to find some existing study I could build upon. I came across Juli Parrish's work (all referenced papers are listed at the end of this post) and one particular quote stood out to me.
A reader or writer, even one who is already sold on the complexities and pleasures of fan fiction, is probably unlikely to be catholic in her reading material. Instead, she is more likely to focus on the fan writing of just a few shows, or even more specifically of just a few relationships. (Parrish, 2007, 40).
So my project focused on whether or not fanfic writers wrote multiple pairings and relationships or whether the tended to specialise.
My reason for selecting Captain America largely boiled down to its popularity (thousands of fanfics, several movies, comics, animated tv shows, games etc to draw from), and of course, the fact that #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend trended globally on social media back when Civil War came out! That aside, I'm a huge Cap fan, so when it came to studying fanfiction, Captain America was one of the texts I considered but similar questions can be posed for different fandoms.

To cut a long story short, I discovered that, from where I stood, from where my research began and where it was situated, my question simply didn't have a particularly conclusive answer. Some fan writers write lots of pairings some write only one or two, but separating "people who write many pairings" from "people who write few pairings" is toeing the line of the "how long is a piece of string?" question. What defines "few" and what defines "many"? Is 10 different pairings a lot, is 3 few? Does the quota that separates "many" or "few" change depending on fandom? Game of Thrones and the Marvel Universe have a plethora of characters but fan fiction based on rock bands with 3 to 5 members, obviously can't be directly compared, the pool of characters to draw from is significantly smaller.

On that point alone, I quickly discovered that my question itself was flawed. From there, my research turned into an examination of things I observed within the Captain America fandom itself, whether these findings are comparable with other fandoms has yet to be seen (but thats another study for another day).

Setting aside the "how many is "many" and how few is "few" issue, Captain America presented further problems. Relationships are weeeeirrrddd. Fanfics included a variety of pairings, from the staple pairing, Stucky or Steve/Bucky (which was overwhelmingly popular across most areas of my research, without a doubt, Stucky is a significant pairing worth studying) to fics featuring no romance at all or polyamorous relationships and love triangles. Trying to count these relationships proves to be a challenge in itself.
Take for example, one fanfic features Steve/Bucky, a second fic features Steve/Sam and Steve/Tony. These are three examples of monogamous relationships within two fics featuring the same character (Steve). Depending on how you choose to collate the data, these pairings could be categorised together or separately. Both are monogamous, both feature Steve, but there are three different combinations, what does this mean in your study? Does a fic with two or more relationships (even if those relationships are all monogamous) fit in with a fic which only features one monogamous relationship?

The problem only gets trickier when you have fics with lots of different monogamous and polyamorous couplings. Do you separate a 3-way love-triangle from a 3-person polyamorous relationship or do they belong in the same category because both involve 3 characters in one romantic situation?

Then there is that problem of fics which include characters but don't pair any of these characters romantically. Where do they belong? A fanfic without romance is still a fanfic, but it doesn't include the "shipping" element of romantic/sexual pairing fics.

Add to this already confusing mix the presence of crossovers, AU's, genderswaps (is Cap categorised the same way as femCap?), the fact that Captain America from the movies and Captain America from the comics could be considered different or the same depending on how you choose to frame your research... It gets very convoluted very quickly.

In the end, I concluded that

"[...] it can be seen that fan fiction writers can vary in the diversity of the texts they consult and the diversity of characters and relationships that exist within their works. It is at present too reductive an approach to attempt to categorise Captain America fanfic writers into either exclusive or diverse categories through analysing the number of or types of pairings they choose to explore." - (NotSpidergirl, 2017)
It's certainly something worth examining, but rather than developing a binary, a spectrum might better encompass the variety of writers and pairings and styles. Even then, stringent selection criteria would need to be developed to organise all of this data if organising it were even possible (is it possible to indiscriminately categories all this data is perhaps the first question that needs to be confronted when it comes to the world of fan fiction studies).

Jenkins writes;

“participation within fandom often extends beyond an interest in any single text to encompass many others within the same genre” (2013, 37).
Pair with this knowledge the fact that some fans write within several fandoms, combine multiple fandoms within one text, invent OC's, reinvent old characters, and you have a wealth of things to examine and learn and also a lot to try organise. Fans can fall into several fandoms, each with their own nuances and quirks, attempting to map how fans navigate a plethora of fandoms would be a particularly intriguing study.

At the end of the day, I think we can all conclude that fanfic writers are down-right fantastic and talented! Stay tuned for future posts where I dare to tackle issues such as morals/ethics in fan writing, how to give/take critique like a champ and so on!

Further Reading:

Cited in this blog post: 
  • (myself) NotSpidergirl (2017) Star Spangled Lovers: Patterns of Behaviour and Shipping in Captain America Fan Fiction, unpublished, Pp. 2-20. 
  • Parrish, Juli. (2007). Inventing A Universe: Reading And Writing Fan Fiction, University of Pittsburgh. Accessed Online At: Accessed Online On: 4/4/2017
  • Jenkins, Henry. (2013) Textual poachers: television fans & participatory culture, Updated 20th Anniversary ed., New York, New York Routledge. 

Other goodies!:
  • De Certeau, Michel. (1984) The practice of everyday life, Berkeley, University of California Press.
  • Greene, Shoshanna., Jenkins, Cynthia., and Jenkins, Henry. (1998). “Normal Female Interest in Men Bonking: Selections from the Terra Nostra Underground and Strange Bedfellows”. In: Jenkins, Henry, ed., Fans, Gamers, and Bloggers, 1st ed. New York, New York University Press, pp.61-88.
  • Jenkins, Henry. (1988) “Star Trek Rerun, Reread, Rewritten: Fan Writing as Textual Poaching”, CSMC: Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 5:2, pp.85-107. 
  • Thomas, Angela. (2006), “Fan fiction online: Engagement, critical response and affective play through writing”, Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 29:3, pp. 226–239.
  • Van Steenhuyse, Veerle. (2011), “The Writing and Reading of Fan Fiction and Transformation Theory”,  CLCWeb:Comparative Literature and Culture, 13:4, pp. 2-9.  

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Monthly Marvel Inspiration #6

Wow, so sorry last month was ... missing an MMI. To make up for it, I'll make a special Wonder Woman Special (not Marvel I know BUT the Wonder Woman movie is worth celebrating, so lets make the exception just this once ;) maybe DC Style will become a regular feature here!)

hey!!  Yeah you! check out my Polyvore for more!!!

WW isn't Marvel though, so, who is this months victim, villain ... MUSE. Well, it's one of my faves, Black Widow!!!
Why her? Well it was a toss up between Nat and Ms Marvel (she's a bit like the Marvel Equivalent of WW isn't she? I mean they have some similarities although they are both rather different), in the end, I'm a Nat-girl, so I had to pick my home girl, Black Widow. Unlike Wonder Woman who has always been a beacon of truth, honesty, justice and so on, Natasha has red in her ledger, a dark past, she's a double agent. She hides in the shadows and excels in espionage whereas Wonder Woman is about as discrete as an elephant on rollerskates, although she's far more elegant (like Captain America, he's VERY conspicuous. Both are decked out in flashy costumes, Nat is built to hide in plain sight, not entirely unlike my favourite Winter Soldier ...)

Also...  Well I'm channeling her style a lot lately. My graduation dress may or may not be HEAVILY inspired by Ms Romanov ...  I also can't stop reblogging Black Widow moodboards on tumblr. So, 6 MMI's in, it was FINALLY time for Natasha.

The LBD (little black dress) is a necessity. Different varieties of LBD's appear with the Widow. Unlike the Scarlet Witch, Wanda Maximoff, Widow wears lots of pencil cut/bodycon silhouettes. Although Wanda wears a similar black and red palette, she tends to wear skater dresses with something closer to an a-line or circle/half-circle skirt shape. 

See the difference? The skirt shape is the biggest difference here. This is one of a number of pencil-silhouette outfits Natasha wears on screen. 

I hope to do a post dedicated to analysing the costume designs, but for now, I'll keep it simple and post some pics and inspirations. But first, lets peruse a collection of Black Widow's beautiful pencil dresses. 
Black Widow Wears Red!!! A classic red pencil dress is a perfect piece for Natasha. 

Beautiful black pencil dress as she goes undercover under the name "Natalie Rushman". 

At Tony's party, Natasha totally switches up her palette and goes for a figure-hugging leopard print dress. 

Muted grey, beautiful asymmetric collar detail, yet again, the pencil figure prevails. 

This dress appears to have a bit of a stretch in the skirt, but again, a straight/pencil shape. Good thing it isn't made of a non-stretch material like satin, otherwise she wouldn't have been able to land those wicked kicks on her captors during her opening scene in Avengers Assemble.

Can you believe she was pregnant during this movie? This dress is slightly less fitted than the others, although it doesn't feature a large flare at the skirt, so again, the pencil silhouette pattern continues. Here she pairs her simple black dress with a beautiful bolero. 

We get it, she likes pencil dresses. So, I put together a poly of each of these looks, I also put together some ideas of how to dress down a pencil dress (because all of Natasha's looks are quite formal, not all of us get to party with Iron Man on weekends but would like to channel the look as well). 
Finally, I done my usual, an outfit inspired by her combat gear which opts for a black and blue combo rather than red, but I'll discuss my thoughts of that in another post about Black Widow costumes or general costume analysis pieces (a series I hope to start posting about soon!). 

So here's a compilation of these different and stylish pencil dresses. Sticking with the pencil theme, I'm going to look at Natasha's signature bodysuit palette and try create some casual pencil-silhouette looks that you can wear from formal to casual.
Here's what I came up with!

Black Widow

So, Left to Right.
The first look is an office/business sort of style. A neat, plain pencil skirt paired with a satin blouse and black bolero/cardigan if it gets a bit nippy. Simple black pumps finish the look.
The second look is quite casual, a baggy sweater paired with a simple stretch pencil skirt (so you can walk very comfortably). The cyan shoes and bag bring out that blue motif in the outfit and the sneakers make it pretty laid back.
The third look is definitely a club/party look. Leather-on-leather with a black leather crop top/bralet and leather pencil skirt. The bright blue heels and necklace add a touch of colour and detail.
The forth look is sort of in-between, you could dress it up or dress it down. The asymmetric skirt is very edgy, paired with the cold-shoulder top with black strap details. The black ankle boots could be swapped out for flats or sneakers, glammed up or toned down, I can see it working well as a transitional piece from work to a night out with friends. A jacket or cardigan and change of shoes gives this top and skirt combo a whole different feel.

And there you have it! Pencil skirts and dresses are SO fun. I have at least 4 pencil dresses in my wardrobe, and one thrifted pencil skirt. They're so fun to wear and you can easily dress them up or down. For a long time I felt as if my pencil dresses were just for special ocassions or clubbing but you can wear them out for a casual lunch easily with a pair of comfy shoes and a snuggle sweater or cute t-shirt.
Have I convinced you to go find a pencil skirt or dress yet?
I have?
Great! Go WORK IT!!!

Stay tuned guys, there's always more coming down the pipeline. I'll be taking notes and studying costume design theory and interviews with costumers as I delve into picking apart some of my favourite looks in comics and on-screen!!! We've all read the Loki costume analysis posts (haven't we? They're really good I will definitely include them as "required reading" for my Costume 101 posts in the future!), but there's always more to discuss.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Quiet Life - Album Review - Fish On Friday

So, after Godspeed, we were all left wondering "What will Fish on Friday do next?". I hate to say "this movie/album/comic/game had it all!!!" but Godspeed was the kind of album that just delivered and delivered pretty well. The thing about FoF is that they produce stuff that is deep, heartfelt and sometimes even chilling (here's looking at Just a Nightmare from Godspeed or even She Colours the Rainbow). Yet at the same time, these guys aren't stuck up their own arses (forgive my language). After a critic slated some of the lyrics as "cheesy", frontman Frank conjured up one of my all-time fave songs, My Dog ... an ode to his golden lab Blondie, in which he sings "She doesn't care about my cheesy lyrics". The song appears to be a bit of a piss-take, but when the simple, soft vocals are paired with the equally simple and soft piano/acoustic guitar, you get a song thats beautiful in its own right. So yeah, Godspeed was a pretty good album, it had chilling, thrilling and lightheartedness. You can tell these guys can make serious music without taking themselves too seriously, which is refreshing. There are more music-emotions than "angry growl song", "love ballads" and "emo tracks" and FoF explore a range of different musical emotions.

The downside about such a strong album is that ... you run the risk of disappointing with the next album. So I was cautious when it came to Quiet Life because FoF had such a unique style in Godspeed, that I feared Quiet Life would either completely derail or try to be Godspeed 2.0 but end up sounding too "samey". It's a tough line to walk

So ... How did it go I hear you cry? Well ... Pretty damn well actually and early reviews in Prog Magazine also agree that Quite Life is a solid album. So thats basically the short version. It's not a bad album, but read on for a track-by-track break down.

1. Unreal - A strong start. Then again, Godspeed was a power-ballad to open the previous album on, FoF know how to open an album. Unreal is a solid track, building up at a nice pace. It eased you in to another FoF experience as you'd expect, I don't know if I'm just picky, but it can be a little jarring for an album to start off from 0-100 right on the first track. Unreal had a good build up without starting on too sombre, too slow or too heavy a note. It certainly sounded very "Godspeed-y" but not necessarily in a clone-like fashion, sort of a familiar feeling that was new at the same time. It's hard to explain, I guess the best way I could describe it is like hugging an uncle you've never met in person for the first time, or an online friend you've known for a while that you finally get to meet at a concert. It had a freshness to it, but in a way that isn't unfamiliar. FoF are clearly building on the Godspeed sound as opposed to scrapping it and going for something else entirely, which isn't a bad thing because the sound from the previous album worked quite well.

2. Sweet Love - I'll give a disclaimer ... I love harmonics on acoustic guitar so the intro immediately appealed to me. (I know there should probably be some kind of "cap" on the amount of harmonics in a song but as far as I'm concerned you can't have too many. Worry not though, FoF don't go too overboard, not everyone is a harmonics junkie like me. It sounds seriously beautiful) The female vocals paired with Franks ever-soothing tones is an absolute treat. Sweet Love is the perfect name for this track because the two vocalists melted together like chocolate and who doesn't love chocolate? Honestly, stellar track.

3. Beautiful - Deeeeeeep baaaaaasss. Again, another nice slow build track. The minor notes introduce an air of melancholy and yet ... come the chorus, it's very uplifting, even though the lyrics reflect on the life of a kid being bullied at school for not being a jock, for liking Pink Floyd and books. Maybe it's because I was that dweeby kid in school who liked books, heavy metal and writing morbid poems, the song is relatable but overall hopeful. Rest assured, even if you are or were the kid that got picked on in school, it gets better, even the bad days suck a little less someday so you have to hang on till then because, hell YOU'RE BEAUTIFUL. There's something quite vulnerable and honest about this kind of song, lyrics aside, the instrumentals have a similar openness to it. Maybe it's cheesy but honestly, who cares, is a cheesy song really so bad when it strikes right where it counts.

4. Quite Life - Paul told me he thought that the female vocalist sounded like one of my favourite singers, Bic Runga (don't get me started on her she's absolutely fantastic, seriously, I'll be here all week). Bic Runga has a different sound, so I can't directly compare the two, but the vocals certainly have the kind of tone that Bic has which immediately filled me with nostalgia. I'm not sure if other people will feel that same nostalgia, Bic means something special to me that probably won't mean anything to someone else but the vocals are beautiful. Very beautiful. Perhaps it can stir feelings of nostalgia in other ways to other listeners. The instrumentals, much like Unreal, are uplifting and familiar yet fresh.

5. Snowed In - Beautiful bass lines are the undercurrent in this number, I love it when bands really cash in on the rich sounds the bass guitar has to offer. Often overlooked, songs lose a lot of heart if you pull out the bass this track really utilises a range of different tones and notes available on the bass and it pays off. The synth is most noticeable in this track, it sort of breezes through toward the end like a frosty wind. The harmonies are en-pointe as always, the finger plucking on the guitar almost echoes that tingling sound you get when you tap on glass or ... well, icicles. Very fitting for the soft dreamy winter theme of the song.

6. Get Up - The punchy piano/drums intro opens up to include bass and guitars in a pretty refreshing melody. The tempos a bit faster for this track, a welcome change of pace for what has thus far been a very chilled tempo across the first 5 tracks. That's not to say it's a chugging thrash track, it's not, but it certainly separates itself from the other tracks so far. It's the kind of ballad tune you get up and dance to whereas the other ones are the kind of pour your heart into singing instead. Definitely a foot-tapper. It had a punch to it. I don't think we can appreciate the grungy yet upbeat chug in the guitars in this song enough. This is one of the standout songs, definitely, along with Beautiful and Quiet Life.

7. Mh 17 - This track sort of builds and flutters down and then builds up again, not unlike other tracks or previous albums. It features a touch of effects on the voices which introduces an eerie sound but its REALLY subtle and not used to excess, more like a sprinkling of "vocal paprika" on top of a tasty audio dish.

8. You've Hurt Me - An oddly hopeful break up track ... It's strange to find the cheery notes paired with the lyrics "You've Hurt Me" but as the song unfolds it turns from a break-up song, to a ballad of inner strength. The song is less about hating on an ex and more about realising the inner strength you have for surviving the pain of a break up. An interesting new angle on a lyrical-theme that has been around since the dawn of time (even cavemen sang about their exes right?).

9. In The Key Of Silence - ABSOLUTELY STUNNING HARMONIES, beautiful piano, wonderfully composed. It combines the strengths of other tracks yet isn't "overcooked" it's balanced and rich.

10. Time Out- The final track ... flutters ... Perhaps I'm using that term because I spent all last night sitting on my porch filming moths flying around the porch light (moths are cool okay) but the 'time out, time out, time out' lines flutter beautifully down the scales. I adore the intro to this track as well, it almost has a ripple effect, if the ripples on a lake could have a musical quality, this would be kind of what it sounds like.

The verdict?
Same old Fish on Friday with some fresh new sounds. I like it when a band that has an aural signature doesn't abandoned it but rather, progresses. You can hear some progression in this album but it hasn't lost the signature FoF flavour. Lets face it, we've all bought an album by a band, excitedly hit play and then discovered its some dodgy new experiment that they'll try bury under 10 new albums with their old sound and pretend it never existed. Some experimental albums do work of course, but as far as huge experiments go, this isn't a particularly experimental album, its the usual comforts you encountered in Godspeed with a few nice new extras. Several solid tracks, beautifully composed and mixed. My only real complaint is that Frank hasn't dedicated a song to my cat yet, but hey, My Dog is forever a classic so there's really nothing to be disappointed by.

Fish on Friday continue to build on their strengths and deliver an album that can't be called anything other than beautiful, uplifting and nostalgic. 

Friday, 26 May 2017

It's a Wonder Woman World ...?

To say the hype train for the Wonder Woman movie hasn't been mega is ... well a bit of an understatement. Wonder Woman isn't exactly the first movie of its kind, although many would have you believe it is absolutely groundbreaking. It goes without saying the film is significant because it features a female lead in a powerful role. Not to detract from Diana's thunder but, the Underworld Franchise has had a female lead across 5 movies since ... 2006? (that was the first Underworld film right?), Kill Bill's Beatrix has been named one of cinemas Top 100 characters of all Time for her martial arts antics, and even Disney's Mulan, Moana and Merida tick a lot of "strong, powerful woman/girl" boxes. Dare I mention Ghost in the Shell which, despite its many misgivings, also featured a powerful female lead?

Wonder Woman isn't exactly the first powerful female film, or even first solo film in this genre (Selene has held her own for 5 films without relenting in her butt-kicking) but it's CERTAINLY one of the most influential in the here and now. For that, we should stand up and pay particular attention. Underworld 5 came out last year but didn't gain the same traction as Wonder Woman has this year, whether the film lives up to its expectations has yet to be seen, but the current Wonder Woman phenomenon alone cements it's place in the feminist film Hall of Fame.

Every couple of days I saw a post about people complaining about Diana's clean-shaven pits or her weight loss food sponsorships (or whatever protein shake/weight management products they were) or the lack of merch/promotions when compared to her male counterparts (Batman and Superman). I was happy to sit back, let the dust storms settle and write a review after the movie rather than weigh in on every new still-shot from the trailer or dodgy product-placement ... but then I read this and boy howdy did I have to respond.

So the Alamo Drafthouse situation, for those of you who don't want to click the link and read the whole thing (You totally should though). A female only screening of Wonder Woman promotion is taking place in an Austin cinema (since the publication of the article, this has expanded to another Drafthouse cinema and also included extra screenings). Pretty sweet idea right?

It warms my cold, dead heart to think about women and girls of all ages coming together and openly geeking out at the cinema at an event specifically geared for them.

Seriously, how sweet is it to picture a bunch of Diana Fans swarming the lobby and engaging with each other before and after the screening?! When I go to regular film screenings, I generally head straight in alone or with my friend(s), not a lot of socialising happens, which sucks because everyone at the cinema is going to see a movie, yet, few people really chat to each other beforehand, at least, that is from my experience. I think this kind of event cinema is different though, like film festivals, it's not just the screening you attend, but the experience. This experience is for ladies who, perhaps hide their power level in their every day life or don't have other geeky friends to chat with. This event brings together those women who might not get to share their fangirling with anyone and gives them a venue to just have at it with other people like them. I'm not saying men deter women from unleashing their inner geek, but certainly for some, a female-only environment offers a special place for women to come together and embrace something together that they wouldn't otherwise experience.

It was all sunshine and rainbows until men came in and ruined it of course.

Pardon my rather blunt language there, but the main contrarians were men. Their argument, "This is discrimination/sexism" "This isn't fair" "Men can't have nice things" "MUHH FEMINIZUMM" "SJW Snowflakes taking over!". 

That is basically it although some comments on posts related to the event range from bitter man-baby tears to downright absurdity. The kicker is ... this isn't an exclusive screening at the movie houses involved, this isn't the one and only chance for men to see the screening and they are in no way shape or form being deprived the chance to see the Divine Diana in action.

The Womens' screenings are various times on Tuesday the 6th of June (two separate screenings at the time of writing this have sold out), the film premiers on the 1st ... and aside from the two women screenings on the 6th ... there are also general audience screenings for anyone and everyone to attend. Men (and women who want to attend general screenings for that matter) are not being deprived the chance to see this film which is what makes the arguments of discrimination all the more ludicrous. It is obvious that the problem here is that for 2 screenings, men aren't invited. All the other screenings in the world suddenly don't matter whether or not the men initially wanted to attend on Tuesday the 6th at 6.30 or 7.00. It's basically a toddler surrounded by toys but throwing a tantrum when one particular toy they weren't even playing with gets put away. I don't recall seeing such an outcry at female led business events like the Stevie Awards or Female Entrepreneur Awards coming under fire despite that these events only praise the works of, you guessed it, women.

This screening isn't an attack on men, but a celebration of women by inviting them to come together and enjoy an event that is very much by and for women. Proceeds from the event are being donated to womens charities and as far as I'm aware the staff for the event are largely, if not entirely, female. Not only is this a great cause, but it's employing and empowering women which is fab.

Men are invited to enjoy this film as well, but for two, or three, or four screenings (at this rate, the event is proving really popular, more screenings are made available to meet popular demand) women are encouraged to share a moment together. Female audiences in comics, video games and movies are more often than not ignored or snubbed in favour of the "more lucrative" young male audience, despite the fact females make up half the population and in many cases, they are also half the audience in movies, games and comics too.

If anything, the tremendous success of Wonder Woman will show just how powerful the female audience is. So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you Diana. 

After the abysmal Suicide Squad, Superman 3 and Batman V Superman, there may be hope for the DCEU yet, and BOY is it fantastic that Diana will be the one to save this sinking ship and pull the Justice League up by their laces. If early reviews are anything to go by, as well as the sheer female force supporting her, Wonder Woman might just save more than the DCEU's bacon, she might just save female-oriented scripts that were teetering on the edge of a producers desk ready for the bin because they were "gurl films".

Could this be the dawn of a new age of female power in movies? 

It's too early to tell, but I sure hope so, the forecast is already quite promising, with Batwoman and Captain Marvel in the works, not to mention Ant Man and the Wasp, although it isn't a standalone, hopefully Hope Van Dyne will really slay on screen. Who knows, maybe there IS hope for a Black Widow movie yet! And if thats the case PLEASEPLEASEPLEASE make BuckyNat canon! Brutasha was paaaants.

Monday, 22 May 2017

She's Back!!! [Cat Update and Other Things]

Hi everyone!!! I'm feeling much better!!! My fur is growing back nice and soft and I'm jumping and climbing and playing all the time!!! 

Silliness aside, thanks for the patience. Essays are almost all wrapped up, not long to go (yikes!) Mizzy is feeling MUCH better thankfully and I couldn't be more pleased. It wasn't until she bounced back that I could really see how lethargic she'd gotten while she was ill. Her recovery was actually pretty quick which was fantastic. 
She was very good at taking her kidney-fixing tablets (which is usually a near-impossible task when it comes to giving her worm tablets during worming season!!!). I'm so grateful she's well again. 

Anyway, there's a lot to catch up on here. Monthly Marvel Inspo, the Guardians movie (I'm afraid I might have missed the "review" window on this one, it's a bit late now), I re-read The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and would love to do a re-review after taking a break to really sink back into the story [check out my original review HERE]. I want to talk about lots of cool things, the current Steve Rogers and Secret Empire situation, I left a bit of a cliffhanger in my last T-Bolts update and I ought to pick it up again. 

In light of some recent personal experiences, I'm also tempted to delve into topics relating to feminism, which, I know is a delicate subject so I'll tread carefully. If feminism isn't your cup of tea, you'd rather read my comic posts and such, by all means read my other posts. Feminism is important to discuss, but forcing the discourse onto people won't make it pleasurable and won't allow people to open up to its ideals. I'd much rather wait until people are ready to approach the topic or are ready for me to approach the topic with them so everyone can enjoy it!

Also in the works is a top-secret album review (very very exciting). Stay tuned I'll be posting aplenty! Keep your ears and eyes peeled for this review which I hope to sit down and do very soon.