Sunday, 14 December 2008

Why So Hilarious?

Seeing as how I'm simultanesouly an American politics junkie, a comic book fan and a Christopher Nolan whore, I'm finding just so many things to love about this neatly satirical strip from Sinfest, which expertly mines some key imagery from The Dark Knight and uses it to some rather dazzling and hilarious effect, all in the space of a mere twenty panels.

I've been thinking this for years, but Sinfest-creator Tatsuya Ishida is freaking awesome.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

LGBT issues in 20th century/contemporary Unites States...

...presented in the form of a pair of musicals. Enjoy!*

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

That "what else does the Bible say, Jesus?" cracks me up every time.

*but more importantly, learn!

Wednesday, 3 December 2008


Over at Siskoid's Blog of Geekery, the always eminently readable Siskoid has just finished up his two-year (or so) blogging project of reviewing every single episode of Star Trek from beginning to end, posting a new review every day. Just so we're clear, that's over 700 episodes of Star Trek in all its various television and movie incarnations (bar the new film that doesn't come out until next year, of course). An incredibly geeky "bravo" to him, not just for this achievement, but for making it so enjoyable and interesting for his readers throughout.

[Insert witty segue into loosely connected youtube vid here]


Tara trouble

A commentator over at another blog, making a note about the current ridiculousness surrounding Amanda Palmer, reminded me of a certain other completely ludicrous "fat crisis":

Above: Amber Benson at the 2003 BtVS wrap party (photo: Patrick Lee).

Yup, Amber "Tara" Benson, the woman who was 'too fat' to be on TV, according to some chowderheaded BtVS fans (not representative of the majority of BtVS fans, I can assure). 

Again, the most important thing to remember is that, regardless of her size, people shouldn't have been making idiotic and frankly insensitive comments about her anyway. The fact that she is not even a large woman only helps illuminate how totally absurd the whole issue was.

Still, we evidently live in a world where our media feeds us some pretty skewed values if the woman above is 'fat'. The sword does cut both ways, though, and I've honestly met some people who considered Benson an inspirational "role model" to the larger women out there, who weren't being represented on TV (and as far as I'm concerned, really still weren't, not by her anyway). I still see it as symptomatic of some pretty odd ideas about body size, but if you took something positive away from viewing Ms Benson in such a way, then good for you in that regard, I suppose.

*Sigh* Sometimes I long for the days before I discovered the dark side of online fandom, complete with all its infantile rantings and moronic delusions. Then I remember that it's merely the current price to be paid for the far more positive side of fandom (online and otherwise), which is ideally intelligent, community-based and ultimately fun and interesting. That helps to take the sting out just a little.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Shaftin' Africa

Christ on a bike! Have you seen the new Pirelli calendar? Jeez!!

Bank of Boston Beauty Queen

Above: Amanda Palmer (second from right) with Tegan & Sara and Amy Cook (photo: Roger Erickson)

Thanks to the people at Feministing and The F Word, I recently became aware of the controversy currently surrounding Amanda Palmer, one half of "Brechtian Punk Cabaret" duo The Dresden Dolls as well as an acclaimed solo artist. Amanda has supposedly been effectively sacked by her record label for being "too fat."

I was actually lucky enough to have been at an Amanda Palmer gig a few weeks ago. Palmer is one of those extraordinarily talented and charismatic people who just seems to attract other talented and interesting, like-minded people to her side. On the night, for example, she actually had award-winning author Neil Gaiman accompanying her on the tambourine!

She brought up this issue at the time: that her record company had taken one look at the music video for her single "Leeds United" and basically declared it unmarketable because it featured her supposedly unattractive belly. However, back then it wasn't obvious that this would ultimately lead to her leaving her label, Roadrunner Records.

Above: Amanda Palmer performing (with a broken foot) in London (photo: me).

Now, some commentators have noted that the rift between Palmer and Roadrunner may not ultimately be one about her body, and that it is instead to do with more general issues to do with her marketability and also her open criticism of Alaskan governor and anti-feminist, perpetual foot-in-mouther and over-promoted dunderhead Sarah Palin (I'm not a huge fan of that woman either, to be honest with you). I concede that this is more likely than not, but at the same time I think it's unwise to simply ignore the underlying issues here, or to write-off the outrage that fans and others are experiencing as some sort of mindless, knee-jerk reaction. Whether or not it was ultimately the primary reason for her split with Roadrunner, the fact remains that Amanda Palmer is an extremely talented woman who was rather incredibly and shallowly criticised by her record label for not following strict industry codes on how to market women and women's bodies.

[I could easily do a whole series of posts on the packaging and marketing of women within the music industry, especially when it comes to issues of the representation of race, but I'm going to stick predominantly to the Amanda Palmer story for now.]

It's almost immaterial to note that, by any sane or reasonable definition of the phrase, Amanda Palmer is actually not fat at all! The point remains that she is apparently "too fat" to be a successfully marketed artist, because things like how much you look like some poorly photoshopped, navel-less waif are more important than anything else in an industry that is primarily based on aural media anyway, apparently.

Let's not forget the inherent sexism at the heart of this, shall we? Try to recall that Roadrunner Records is a label where "you can count the number of women on the fingers of one hand and most of the people on the label are decidedly chunky hairy dudes." It's almost redundant for me to point out that RR would quite simply not have this issue with Ms Palmer where she in fact, a man.

But no, Amanda Palmer is a woman, and one who routinely challenges and queers acceptable and traditional gender roles and presentation (one of my favourite photo sets of her is the "John/Yoko" set featuring her and bandmate Brian Viglione; naturally, Amanda is the "John"), this apparently means that she is wicked and must be punished, or at least, must be criticised by her own damn label. Unfortunately, I also hear a fair bit of criticism of her body and the choices that she makes regarding it from her own fans. A common criticism is of the fact that Palmer typically is not completely shaved, meaning that an unsuspecting fan might (gasp!) catch an unwitting glimpse of Amanda Palmer's underarm hair during a gig(!). Oh woe is them! I simply cannot play a violin small enough for these people. This MSpaint image, cribbed from the Dolls' own "hatemail" page, is a pretty typical example of the kind of thing I'm talking about.

Luckily enough though,  this is going to be one of those rare posts where, rather than just bitching and moaning and griping, I actually suggest something positive and productive. One of the neat things about the Dresden Dolls/Amanda Palmer is an incredibly creative and active fanbase. This fanbase, upon hearing about the shameful treatment of Ms Palmer by her record label, decided to set up a "Rebellyon" of sorts: a protest of Roadrunner records that primarily involves fans taking photographs of their bellies, big or small, and posting them on the web, all in solidarity to Amanda/protest of Roadrunner. It's one of those wonderful bits of fan activism that is simultaneously very sweet and all a bit tongue in cheek and silly, but at the same time carrying an important message to Roadrunner; a message written in permanent marker on the bellies of dozens of fans.

Yes, my belly is going up on the Rebellyon site soon. I'm not going to post it up here because I'm sure my readers would not appreciate it. But still, as I was taking a photo of myself, I was again struck by the double standard of it all, the fact that I, as a male, was enjoying some invisible male privelege that meant that I was not as likely to receive outright and candid criticism of my "non-standard" body as a woman in the same situation. I'm slightly bigger than most, so there's the fact that most people out there on the internet probably don't want to see my exposed flesh, but then again, that's partly what the Rebellyon is about: the fact that some things are more important than the size of one's midriff. Anyway, if you feel you'd like to get involved, please feel free to add your belly to the group.

Now, again, "Rebellyon" is all slightly silly in nature, but try not to forget the real issues that underlie the problem at hand here. Amanda Palmer is a serious musician and should be judged according to her talent, not her (much smaller than all this furore might lead you to believe) waist size.

Also, enormous kudos to Amanda Palmer for writing so frequently about her own body and sexuality in ways that, yet again, challenge the typical presentation of female bodies and female desire. I have never heard so many songs about female masturbation before (oh wait, maybe I have. Thanks, Jezebel).

Monday, 1 December 2008

Evelyn Rydz as She-Hulk... part of The SuperHeroes Project, a fairly neat endeavour apparently designed to raise the profiles of contemporary artists.

Also, just so we're clear on this: my love of She-Hulk knows almost no bounds (I say "almost" because even I can't stomach Peter David's take on the character).

Yet another "also": Ria Brodell makes a really cute Flash.

Some franchises don't need your money, only your love

Sometimes, despite what people may say about supposed new spin-offs, new tv series, movies or comics...

...I think that Buffy doesn't really need any more "official" material. The fandom is keeping it alive and well all by itself.

Far too many words (and too few eloquent ones) about War & Pieces

((warning: spoilers ahead for Fables: War and Pieces))*

Something occured to me while I was reading The Good Prince, Fables' tenth volume. I realised that, for a series supposedly entirely based around the concept of some kind of Israel parable, wherein a tiny nation is surrounded by larger, hostile nations (and indeed, this is a reading supported by interviews with series creator Bill Willingham), the "Fabletown" that is the focus of the series really is a place populated by people who could probably each take out all of their opponents single-handedly, so why the hell is there supposedly an ongoing war between the people of Fabletown and the much-feared "Adversary?" I mean, as excellent a read as it was, with shadows of some exciting and suitably epic Arthurian tales (helped of course by some actual appearances by Arthurian knights), The Good Prince was a story in which Fabletown's resident janitor strikes up some kind of incredible magical powers that basically grant him an invincible army of ghosts and the ability to seemingly do whatever the hell he wants, all because his cause is deemed "just." Hence, he takes a sizeable bite out of the series' key antagonist.

Now, this "simple but honest young man makes good as a swashbuckling hero" formula (here also given the classic fairytale twist of the royal prince disguised as a mere unsupposing serf) is the stuff that makes for great fairy tales, and therefore I suppose should be Fables' bread & butter, and it was genuinely impressive the first time Willingham handled it, back in Homelands, but by the time it was repeated, with the scale greatly increased, in The Good Prince, it only served to raise one big question: if one man can be so powerful can do so much against the Adversary, why on Earth haven't the combined forces of Fabletown completely overcome him yet?

Clearly, Willingham either did not want this question hanging over the remainder of his series, or else The Good Prince was designed from the very beginning to lead into a conclusion for the series; a final, fateful battle between good and evil and the conclusion to over six years' worth of this multi-award-winning comic book franchise, because Fables' eleventh volume - War & Pieces - is precisely the one that wraps up this long-running arc with a bang.

That's not to say that further volumes aren't coming. This is simply the end of this particular chapter in Fables' history. Whether the series can continue without its primary antagonist and main plot device or whether this will become regarded as the moment when the series "jumped the shark" remains to be seen.

To be honest, I'm reasonably optimistic about the series' future, whilst at the same time cautiously keeping a couple of reservations about me, and really, the reasons for both my positive and negative thoughts about the series can be found within War & Pieces, for it really is a rather messy beast of good and bad ("Pieces" indeed, it seems) that perhaps represents a little of what is right and a lot of what is wrong about Fables.

First, let's examine what Fables even is at the generic level. First presenting itself as an anachronistic fish-out-of-water tale and perhaps immigrant parable about a collection of fairy tale characters living in modern day New York, Fables soon revealed itself to in fact be a war story of truly epic proportions. 'Epic' gets bandied around an awful lot, but considering the scale of the story at hand, I feel it is more than justified in this instance. With an ensemble cast of both considerable size - constructed as they are from the massive tapestry of all of Western (and later, middle-Eastern, too) storytelling - and also such strength that each could likely support a series all to themselves (although the not-quite-as-good Fables spin-off series Jack hints that that may not be such a good idea), Fables really is a grand project.

This war narrative though is equal parts Ian Flemming Cold War spy thriller and Lord of the Rings-style fantasy adventure. The first part is well represented in the story that makes up much of the first third of War & Pieces: a tale that sees Cinderella, having honed the skills of the spy trade over several lifetimes (the fairytale characters in Fables are, of course, as old as the classic stories that feature them), jetting around the globe and taking out nameless henchmen in a story that borrows as much visually as it does plot-wise from a Sean Connery Bond thriller. The bulk of this volume though tends towards the latter part of this equation, and perhaps suffer for it. After all, magical or fantasy writing can, in the wrong hands, easily descend to the playground antics level of "my magic is more powerful than your magic," "no, my magic is more powerful than your magic," with no clear rules other than those of poor plotting deciding which way any battle or confrontation should fall; sometimes magic just works and sometimes it doesn't, it's magical that way. Considering how much of Fables is entirely predicated on characters with magical abilities squaring off against one another, it's honestly surprising that Fables isn't a much weaker series for it, with Willingham revealed as some kind of master illusionist who's somehow tricked us all into not noticing just how bare some of his plots are. Again, I stress that for the most part that's because his plots are not so thin at all, but in fact fleshed out by fascinating takes on familiar characters as well as labyrinthine plots based around Cold War-era paranoia and counter-counter-espionage.

However, that trust really is stretched to its limits in this latest volume, which features scenes in which we are presented with magical arrows that, so we are told, always kill their intended targets (after all, they're magical), only to see said arrows limply fail to kill their intended targets, seemingly because their target was in this instance a popular character. Or perhaps, like I said, it really was magic. "Magic," of course, being some sort of code-word for convenient but inexplicable plot developments or catches.

Far too much of War & Pieces continues in this vein, with our multiple heroes apparently beyond any fear of death or retribution thanks to their "powerful magic" and general incredible popularity (which actually, in the Fables mythos, really does amount to the same thing, as characters cannot die so long as their tales keep on being told en masse). Perhaps this is the real reason the series cannot go on as a war tale and is instead attempting to reinvent itself. When your heroes are, rather miraculously, armed with the entire arsenal of all of Western and Middle Eastern literature, from magic carpets to Vorpal blades, any army that stands against them seems to do so in the face of truly ludicrous odds, making the series' main arc of the Adversary threat seem increasingly redundant as the series continued and revealed more and more about our heroes' hidden powers and abilities.

Fittingly then, in an era that seems to spell the end of Fables as we have known it, the series does give us one prominent character death, apparently standing as a metaphor for the end of the series as it has run up until that point. Indeed, none other than Prince Charming himself meets his end in this volume, perhaps implying that a certain classical, fairytale, "magical" type of Fables story really is over. There'll be no more Pince ex machina coming to save the day. No more simple love stories. Of course, in Fables true love never has been simple, or else the late Prince would not leave a veritable gaggle of widows behind.

War & Pieces is at once a suitably large in scale story of love and war, yet at the same time a wonderful display of the kind of ridiculous storytelling that has largely up until this point been hidden behind spy tricks and plot twists, and yet stands a little barer than usual in this volume. I'm still very much looking forward to the next chapter, though.

*I tend to loathe spoiler warnings, but happen to know that one of my readers may well appreciate this particular one.

I know I'm a sinner but I can't say "no..."

It can hardly be said that I'm a "fan" of Tegan & Sara, although this is predominantly through my incredible ignorance of almost all of their body of work, rather than any kind of actual distaste for what I've heard. No, my own taste in music seems to hover between the obscure-and-probably-rightly-so and the actually-very-popular-yet-maintaining-illusion-of-obscurity stuff, I never seem to get right down the middle and hit that vein of indie rock royalty, which is where acts like Tegan & Sara seem to lie.

Still, I recently stumbled upon several youtube vids of them performing covers of a certain Weezer song which is definitely my current earworm du jour. I pretty much could not have asked for a more entertaining match of song and cover artist.

Loving this (and other vids featuring the same phenomenon) so much!