Monthly Archives: November 2016

The Big Damn Buffy Rewatch S03E13: “The Zeppo”

In every generation, there is a chosen one. She alone just now realized she was missing a comma after the introductory phrase in this intro. She will also recap every episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer with an eye to the following themes:

  1. Sex is the real villain of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer universe.
  2. Giles is totally in love with Buffy.
  3. Joyce is a fucking terrible parent.
  4. Willow’s magic is utterly useless (this one won’t be an issue until season 2, when she gets a chance to become a witch)
  5. Xander is a textbook Nice Guy.
  6. The show isn’t as feminist as people claim.
  7. All the monsters look like wieners.
  8. If ambivalence to possible danger were an Olympic sport, Team Sunnydale would take the gold.
  9. Angel is a dick.
  10. Harmony is the strongest female character on the show.
  11. Team sports are portrayed in an extremely negative light.
  12. Some of this shit is racist as fuck.
  13. Science and technology are not to be trusted.
  14. Mental illness is stigmatized.
  15. Only Willow can use a computer.
  16. Buffy’s strength is flexible at the plot’s convenience.
  17. Cheap laughs and desperate grabs at plot plausibility are made through Xenophobia.
  18. Oz is the Anti-Xander
  19. Spike is capable of love despite his lack of soul
  20. Don’t freaking tell me the vampires don’t need to breathe because they’re constantly out of frickin’ breath.
  21. The foreshadowing on this show is freaking amazing.
  22. Smoking is evil.
  23. Despite praise for its positive portrayal of non-straight sexualities, some of this shit is homophobic as fuck.
  24. How do these kids know all these outdated references, anyway?
  25. Technology is used inconsistently as per its convenience in the script.
  26. Sunnydale residents are no longer shocked by supernatural attacks.
  27. Casual rape dismissal/victim blaming a-go-go
  28. Snyder believes Buffy is a demon or other evil entity.
  29. The Scoobies kind of help turn Jonathan into a bad guy.
  30. This show caters to the straight/bi female gaze like whoa.
  31. Sunnydale General is the worst hospital in the world.
  32. Faith is hyper-sexualized needlessly.
  33. Slut shame!
  34. The Watchers have no fucking clue what they’re doing.
  35. Vampire bites, even very brief ones, are 99.8% fatal.

Have I missed any that were added in past recaps? Let me know in the comments.  Even though I might forget that you mentioned it.

WARNING: Some people have mentioned they’re watching along with me, and that’s awesome, but I’ve seen the entire series already and I’ll probably mention things that happen in later seasons. So… you know, take that under consideration, if you’re a person who can’t enjoy something if you know future details about it.

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The Big Damn Buffy Rewatch S03E12: “Helpless”

In every generation there is a chosen one. She alone can’t think of anything witty because this episode is just too sad and frustrating. She will also recap every episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer with an eye to the following themes:

  1. Sex is the real villain of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer universe.
  2. Giles is totally in love with Buffy.
  3. Joyce is a fucking terrible parent.
  4. Willow’s magic is utterly useless (this one won’t be an issue until season 2, when she gets a chance to become a witch)
  5. Xander is a textbook Nice Guy.
  6. The show isn’t as feminist as people claim.
  7. All the monsters look like wieners.
  8. If ambivalence to possible danger were an Olympic sport, Team Sunnydale would take the gold.
  9. Angel is a dick.
  10. Harmony is the strongest female character on the show.
  11. Team sports are portrayed in an extremely negative light.
  12. Some of this shit is racist as fuck.
  13. Science and technology are not to be trusted.
  14. Mental illness is stigmatized.
  15. Only Willow can use a computer.
  16. Buffy’s strength is flexible at the plot’s convenience.
  17. Cheap laughs and desperate grabs at plot plausibility are made through Xenophobia.
  18. Oz is the Anti-Xander
  19. Spike is capable of love despite his lack of soul
  20. Don’t freaking tell me the vampires don’t need to breathe because they’re constantly out of frickin’ breath.
  21. The foreshadowing on this show is freaking amazing.
  22. Smoking is evil.
  23. Despite praise for its positive portrayal of non-straight sexualities, some of this shit is homophobic as fuck.
  24. How do these kids know all these outdated references, anyway?
  25. Technology is used inconsistently as per its convenience in the script.
  26. Sunnydale residents are no longer shocked by supernatural attacks.
  27. Casual rape dismissal/victim blaming a-go-go
  28. Snyder believes Buffy is a demon or other evil entity.
  29. The Scoobies kind of help turn Jonathan into a bad guy.
  30. This show caters to the straight female gaze like whoa.
  31. Sunnydale General is the worst hospital in the world.
  32. Faith is hyper-sexualized needlessly.
  33. Slut shame!
  34. The Watchers have no fucking clue what they’re doing.
  35. Vampire bites, even very brief ones, are 99.8% fatal.

Have I missed any that were added in past recaps? Let me know in the comments.  Even though I might forget that you mentioned it.

WARNING: Some people have mentioned they’re watching along with me, and that’s awesome, but I’ve seen the entire series already and I’ll probably mention things that happen in later seasons. So… you know, take that under consideration, if you’re a person who can’t enjoy something if you know future details about it.

Continue reading

Mothers of American Daughters: Look for the Heroines

I’m addressing just one of the many concerns Americans have raised in the past two, awful days. We cannot blame the election of that man solely on sexism, as some are quick to do; voters who picked him didn’t do so out of hatred for a woman, but out of love for white supremacy. But as the results came in, women all over the country asked themselves, “What will I tell my daughter?” Some of them asked themselves this because they’ll have to protect them from racism, homophobia, ableism, transphobia, xenophobia, and hate crimes in practice, not theory. I’m not one of those women, and I don’t presume to speak for them. I recognize that the horrors they face run so much deeper than mine. But I think all of us, no matter our individual circumstances, were frustrated by what we saw early Wednesday morning. We saw an intelligent, qualified woman come in second to a stupid man with bad ideas and no experience. It’s a cruel scenario so many of us have lived in our own lives, but this felt like group humiliation on a global stage.

On Tuesday, I proudly took my eight-year-old daughter with me to vote for our first female president. I remembered the joy I felt when, just four days after my daughter’s birth, my country elected Barack Obama. I just knew I was going to feel that joy again, not only at the relief that the election was finally over and we would all be rescued from the Tangerine Menace, but because I was going to be able to share a historic moment with my daughter and watch as she saw the world change for her.

The next morning, I put on a cheerful face when I woke her to get her ready for school. Yawning, she asked, “Who won?” My heart broke to tell her. She was sullen and quiet as she got dressed for the day. I started to doubt myself. Maybe I shouldn’t have talked about the election so much. Maybe I shouldn’t have gotten her hopes up. Maybe was the source of her disappointment.

When she came home–after a day at school during which other third graders told her, “Hillary wants to murder babies,”–she shuffled up the driveway head down, shoulders slouched.

“How was your day?” I asked her cautiously, and she mumbled that it was okay. I took her into my office, where I told her that even though Hillary lost, she had a special message for little girls. I showed her the video, in which Clinton directly addressed the young girls of America:

“To all the little girls watching…never doubt that you are valuable and powerful & deserving of every chance & opportunity in the world.”

For the first time I’d seen since that morning, my daughter’s face brightened up. “Yeah! Like Ellen Ochoa!”

I have to admit, I didn’t know who that was. My daughter explained, “She was an astronaut. When she was little, she wanted to go on Apollo, but everyone said she couldn’t. Then she got bigger and said she was going to space, and they let her!”

Ellen Ochoa’s mission on the space shuttle Discovery made her the first Hispanic woman in space. She’s now the first Hispanic director of the Johnson Space Center, and its second female director. My daughter, who upon hearing that Hillary Clinton had lost, turned to this heroine she had been keeping quietly in her heart, and saw hope for her own future.

That’s what we have to do now. We have to look for those heroines for our daughters. We have to remind them that Clinton and Shirley Chisholm and all the women who came before them did not fail, but made leaps in progress. We have to point them to Tammy Duckworth, whose faithful service to her country started in our Armed Forces and continues in our United States Congress. We can show our daughters how women have shaped the United States from its colonial days, beginning when Lydia Taft cast the first legal vote by a woman in 1756. From the moment when, in 1851, Sojurner Truth demanded votes for women of all races. When Gloria Richardson pushed aside a National Guard bayonette in 1963.  When Diane Humetewa was confirmed as the first Native-American woman to serve as a federal judge in 2014.  When Bree Newsome climbed a flagpole in 2015 to remove a symbol of hatred and treason from her state capitol. And when Hillary Clinton became the first woman to gain the nomination of a major political party.

Women of all races have a legacy and a place in our history. Hillary Clinton may not have become our first female president, but that doesn’t we have been defeated. And we’re not going anywhere but ahead.

“Nothing can hold back the night”

In the beginning
There was the cold and the night
Prophets and angels gave us the fire and the light
Man was triumphant
Armed with the faith and the will
That even the darkest ages couldn’t kill

Too many kingdoms
Too many flags on the field
So many battles, so many wounds to be healed
Time is relentless
Only true love perseveres

It’s been a long time and now I’m with you
After two thousand years

This is our moment
Here at the crossroads of time
We hope our children carry our dreams down the line
They are the vintage
What kind of life will they live?
Is this a curse or a blessing that we give?

Sometimes I wonder
Why are we so blind to fate?
Without compassion, there can be no end to hate
No end to sorrow
Caused by the same endless fears

Why can’t we learn from all we’ve been through
After two thousand years?

There will be miracles
After the last war is won
Science and poetry ruling the new world to come

Prophets and angels
Gave us the power to see
What an amazing future there will be

And in the evening
After the fire and the light
One thing is certain: Nothing can hold back the night

Time is relentless
And as the past disappears
We’re on the verge of all things new

We are two thousand years

We might not get through this. Many lives will be lost. Many people will be irrevocably scarred. If you have true love in your heart, I have true love for you. I mourn with you. Even if we’re not okay. Even if the country falls apart. You matter to me.

Stay safe. Take care of yourselves. Find solace where you can, even if only for a moment. For me, that’s believing that there will be miracles after the last war is won. I love you.

“How could this get published?!”

Content note: This post will contain uncensored racial slurs in quoted excerpts.

If you’ve heard recent buzz about debut author Keira Drake’s YA novel The Continent, you know it’s not the kind of publicity most authors want to receive. The book, centered around a white main character who heals the centuries-long divide between two warring races, relies heavily on stereotypes of Native American people being savage, warlike, and dangerously drunk, and Japanese people being noble, skilled warriors. Authors and bloggers have been posting their reviews to Twitter and GoodReads (author Justina Ireland tweeted a comprehensive summary), and the usual claims of censorship and mob mentality have risen from people who see no problem with the white savior narrative inherent in the story.

The author’s response would have been a fitting, if daunting, “Don’t Do This, Ever” entry. Drake’s husband took to GoodReads to antagonize readers, some of them teenagers, the very demographic his wife’s book targets. Drake herself claimed that the “Topi” (one letter off from Hopi, the name of a Native American tribe) and the “Aven’ei” (who are given names like “Yuki” and ninja-esque skills) aren’t based off any real cultures, then contradicted herself when she informed Twitter that she’d run the book past Native American and Japanese sensitivity readers. Her fans contacted Justina Ireland’s editor in an effort to undermine her career after she publicly criticized the novel. Another reader began a one-star campaign against Ireland; when the reader’s identity was discovered, she quickly ordered Toni Morrison’s entire backlist, then claimed to have been hacked by author L.L. McKinney.

You can’t make this stuff up.

But one question I’ve seen over and over in this mess is, how did this, a book so irredeemably racist as to inspire a petition to delay its publication, get to this point? How did numerous rounds of edits post-acquisition lead to the ARC reviewers received? How did anyone look at this book and decide to give the author a three-book deal complete with a massive marketing campaigned seemingly destined to seat The Continent as the next The Hunger Games?

Much of the onus, in this case, lies on the author, who saw no issue in depicting non-white people as broad caricatures in her story of a white girl saving the world. The book is published by Harlequin TEEN, an imprint of Harlequin. In 2004, I received a three-book contract from Harlequin’s Mira imprint on the strength of my first novel, Blood Ties Book One: The Turning. At no point in the editing of the series (which spanned not just the five different editors who worked on it, but my former agent, multiple copy editors, and an acquisitions board) did anyone raise an objection to the blatant “Magical Negro” character of Clarence, the villain’s loyal butler. After that series was completed, I stepped, wholly unprepared, into the racism-riddled world of fantasy.

My fantasy series, Lightworld/Darkworld, centered around the general premise that the world of fairies and monsters collided with the human world and that the humans had driven all of these fantastical creatures underground, where they were forced to live in sewers and abandoned subway stations and utilidors. One of the factions of “magical” creatures? Were “Gypsies”.

In the second book of the series, Child of Darkness, I described their encampment in the Underground this way:

The mortal man led him to the center of the city. Only here did the plan of the settlement make sense. All of the winding streets led to the center hub, where a huge, communal fire blazed. Groups of singing, dancing, feasting Humans clustered around the wide pit of flames, mortal bodies writing like salamander shadows in the firelight.

The “him” referred to in that excerpt is a Faerie. I describe them throughout all three books as having shining or glowing white skin. This is how I compared him (and all physically perfect, pale white Faeries) to the “Gypsies”:

Mortals were roughly shaped, as if each was cut from a spare scrap of cloth, rather than crafted from the finest bolt. Of course, his appearance would stand out to them. Could they tell he was not mortal? He was built larger than most Faeries, but he stood only as tall as an average Human woman. The Gypsies were a small people, though, wiry and compact, and Dika had not known him to be Fae, when they’d first met. He’d thought then that it was something of an insult, to look mortal.

Yes, my glorious white fairy thought it was an insult to look like the “Gypsies”, who were cut from spare scraps of cloth. And obviously, these roughspun, earthy people who revel sinuously in the firelight would be amazed at the shimmering white beauty of my hero.

The fairy, Cedric, is in the camp because he’s in love with Dika, a woman who lives with the Dya, the matriarchal leader of her people. The Dya lives in a vardo and dispenses wisdom and fortunes:

A lamp of many-colored glass hung beside the wagon door, and it swung wildly, sending a rainbow of shadows across the figure that emerged. At first glance, the figure seemed not even Human; a hunch-backed thing, like a rune stone jutting up from the ground, with a head covered by a leather cap with dangling flaps that obscured her face. She shuffled, and with each step the shells and trinkets wound on cords around her neck and arms clanked and jingled.

It’s like I had a Romani stereotype bingo card and every square was a free space.

As the brown love interest of a white hero, Dika exists in the novel only to give Cedric some angst and drama; she is killed when the entire encampment is flooded as a result of the ongoing war between the Lightworld and Darkworld factions. Later, he winds up with another white Faerie.

That white Faerie, as it so happens, spends a great deal of the second book in love with an Elf, who ultimately betrays her. The Elves are dark-skinned, violent, and have an affinity for dice games.

Out of the all the Faeries, only one doesn’t have pale skin:

The Faery tossed matted, sand-colored ropes of hair over her shoulder. Her skin color matched; she looked like a stretch of desert landscape, amethyst eyes nestled in the dunes.

She’s a villain. In fact, all of the villainous Faeiries have “matted ropes” of hair. When I wrote the book, I imagined them as having dreadlocks because of their “wild” and “uncivilized” nature.

All of this made it to publication.

I can’t lay the blame solely on Harlequin; I’m the one who wrote this trash. But my mind boggles when I think of the number of hands these manuscripts passed through, and the amount of money and support the series received. Though the books saw dismal reviews and worse sales (they still haven’t earned out their grossly inflated six-figure advance), Harlequin threw a lot of weight behind them. They released them back-to-back-to-back over three months. They took out numerous ads and got some of their biggest names to provide cover quotes. And never once in the entire process did anyone say, “Hey…maybe what we’re dumping so much money on is a racist mess.”

Or maybe they did say that only to have their concerns ignored. Or maybe, like many other publishers, Harlequin has failed to employ enough people of color and people of varied ethnic backgrounds on its acquisitions team (this is pure conjecture). In 2013, Harlequin TEEN published Hooked by Liz Fichera, a novel rife with Native American stereotypes. With the publication of The Continent, it feels like the publisher is doubling-down on its support of racist novels, rather than taking any steps to improve the content they’re selling. Coupled with the fact that the publisher is famous for an imprint propped up on “exotic” ethnicities (as recently as this month there will be another Harlequin Presents book with “sheik” in the title, and Spaniards and Greeks still abound), it makes a person wonder if there are any diverse voices being heard behind the company’s doors.

Do I believe that Keira Drake sat down and wrote The Continent saying to herself, “Ha ha, time to reinforce harmful stereotypes and the colonialist narrative!” while gleefully rubbing her hands together? Of course not. Just like I never mindfully set out to write the racist tropes I wrote in Lightworld/Darkworld. But what I intended to do, what Drake intended to do, doesn’t matter. We still did it, and it’s still harmful. That is fully on us. But deeply racist books like The Continent and the Lightworld/Darkworld series should never make it through the hands of acquiring editors, editors, copy editors, sales and marketing directors and into the hands of readers. That’s a publishing problem, and the only way it can be corrected is from the inside. It’s not enough that publishers hire diversely; they have to listen to the employees who do raise objections. There has to be an open discussion that won’t leave someone silenced for fear of losing their job. Diverse hiring needs to apply to every publishing house, line, and imprint, not just the ones that target readers who aren’t white. And white authors who face criticism over their racially problematic books need to listen to those criticisms, rather than taking refuge with the friendly voices who tell them that they’ve done nothing wrong.

No matter how supporters of the book and of Drake try to spin the current social media conversation about The Continent, this isn’t a free speech problem. Drake hasn’t been censored, but her readers and friends have certainly worked hard to silence her critics. Petty bigotry and fragile white egos will undoubtedly drive The Continent onto all the major lists, but it could have been a better book (and a less public learning experience for the author) if someone had simply addressed the problems in its white savior narrative. Her supporters have turned their ire in the wrong direction; Harlequin TEEN could have spared Drake much of the backlash if they’d requested appropriate revisions–or just not acquired the book at all.

So, the answer to the question “how did this get published?” is fairly simple; white authors write books loaded with racism, the publishers that buy them either don’t have a diverse enough staff to see the problems in the books or they just don’t listen to criticism, then readers decide that since the book was published it obviously isn’t racist. Yes, that is an argument floating around social media right now: if it’s so racist, why did they publish it? If you’re still asking yourself that, I refer you to the very top of this post. Reread it, because you haven’t been paying attention. The problem with books like these begin with the authors but ultimately end with the gatekeepers. If you open your eyes, it’s easy to see exactly who those gates are meant to keep out.

For more information about The Continent and the ongoing discussion surrounding it, search the hashtag #TheContinent on Twitter or Facebook.

I Don’t Know What That Is: A Baseball Interlude.

FADE IN:

INT. TEENAGER’S BEDROOM, MORNING.

TEENAGER, a spindly, awkward young blond boy, sleeps open-mouthedly in a puddle of his own drool. He is cocooned in several blankets like a sweet baby angel, if sweet baby angels lived inside burritos. He is awakened by his mother, JENNY TROUT, who takes particular delight in this morning ritual.

Jenny kicks the door open.

JENNY
Wake up, Assbutt! The Cubs won the World Series!

TEENAGER
[groggily]
What?

JENNY
The Cubs won the World Series. For the first time in a hundred and eight years.

TEENAGER
What is that?

JENNY
The Cubs? The Chicago Cubs?

TEENAGER
What the fuck is a Chicago cup?

JENNY
Not the cup, the World Series.

TEENAGER
No, you said Chicago cup.

JENNY
The Chicago Cubs.

TEENAGER
What time is it?

JENNY
It’s a big deal. It’s been a hundred and eight years, dude. Everybody is psyched.

TEENAGER
I don’t even know what a Chicago cup is!

JENNY
It’s baseball! The Chicago Cubs are a baseball team.

TEENAGER
[angrily]
Good for them!

JENNY
Wait, do you seriously not know what the World Series is?

TEENAGER
No. I seriously do not care.

JENNY
Oh. Well, it’s time to get up. And something stinks in here.

FADE OUT.

THE END

Congratulations to all my Cubs fan friends out there! Hollywood couldn’t have written a better, more dramatic ball game than the curse-breaker you got last night.