retsuko: martha jones from 'doctor who', in black and white (martha)
Prompted by this excellent discussion over at the Onion A.V. Club, I got to thinking about the pop culture storytelling conventions that really, really drive me crazy:

1) The Hollywood shorthand for "misanthropic genius on the brink of a breakthrough" is the scene where said character writes down everything he (because these characters are 99% male) know regarding the problem on a chalkboard/whiteboard/wall/vertical surface and stares at it until the Moment of Revelation occurs. (Bonus points if sidekick!character tries to help out and receives only snark and mockery.) This scene always bugs me because it's lazy storytelling. On one hand, I understand the issue that writers have: showing someone's thought process is difficult, and if we go with the real world, solving-aloud method, the story slams on its brakes. But I would challenge writers to find another way of showing internal process, one that doesn't involve a cliched, been-there, done-that image. "Sherlock" got beyond this rather nicely in Baskerville Hound episode, where we see a literal animation of Holmes' thoughts and mental connections, and that was a nice change. I'd like to see a Moment of Revelation occur, though, in a silly, everyday life situation as it often does: why can't we see characters eating cornflakes or doing laundry when the revelation comes along? Mundane, repetitive tasks often afford a perfect space for independent thought, and I'm willing to bet these sorts of activities would help make the character more accessible.

2) Killing any characters to motivate the main character to do something he/she doesn't want to. Much has been written on the subject of female characters' deaths in service to this ridiculous plot trope, but I think killing anyone off merely to provide drama is a lazy storytelling motif. It's one thing to have a character motivated by vengeance, but vengeance is a complicated theme, and it's one with long-term implications. Sure, Main Character A will avenge the death of Beloved Character B by murdering Villain C, and then the story's over; but what about years down the line when A realizes that he/she betrayed B's fundamental beliefs and therefore dishonored B's memory and wishes? Character death does happen, but I think it needs to be made clear that the whoever gets killed isn't just being made into a plot device to drive the story forward.

3) The ugliest or most beautiful person in the pool of suspects turns out to be the murderer! Because average-looking people never commit crimes. ;)
retsuko: (Default)
I remember the very first video store I ever went to. It was Captain Video!* and it occupied the space next to CVS in a local mall that Peet's Coffee & Tea owns now. It was a pretty small place, with slanted shelves lined with empty video cases and little labels stuck on them that read "Betamax only" or "VHS only." My parents let my sister and I choose one movie for ourselves ("The Last Unicorn") while they argued back and forth over which one to rent for themselves (they ended up choosing "The Lion in Winter".) It never really occurred to me at the time, but choosing a movie and deciding when to watch it was something of a revolution for my family and many others. I only knew as the credits rolled and Mia Farrow started her awful, reedy singing that I was watching a movie at home because my sister and I felt like it, and it was pretty great.

The video store was a semi-permanent fixture of my childhood and adolescence from then on, although in very measured quantity, ever a great frustration to me. Captain Video! disappeared rather quickly (as did Betamax), but a Blockbuster showed up fairly quickly, and there was always a kind friend who had the latest thing and invited me over to watch it. I should say here that my parents are most decidedly NOT leave-the-tv-on-in-the-background people. Their relationship with video rentals was actively characterized by a wary antagonism lest videos eat up time marked out for other, more wholesome activities, and this idea persisted through my entire childhood. One summer on a balmy Cape Cod afternoon, for example, we were at the video store when another family with children about my age came in, their arms laden with tapes. My mother regarded them with active disgust and when they'd left, she said, "I bet they spent all weekend watching those and doing nothing else. I bet they didn't even talk to each other." I didn't reply. I just wished I could rent as many videos as I wanted to.

What I didn't realize was that video rental was a double edged sword. When I got into high school and friends started having driver's licenses and cars, video rentals were at the top of our lists of Fun Things To Do. After all, we could all scrounge up the $3 between us, and there was always the possibility of renting something our parents might disapprove of, an illicit but largely empty thrill. But what we didn't realize was that trips to the video store would tear friendships apart, or waste hours of valuable leisure time. I had friends with definite preferences and agendas, and nowhere was this more on display than in the video store.** There was an evening in high school where three of my friends and I spent an hour and a half at the La Jolla Blockbuster, arguing over what to watch. I can't remember what we picked in the end, or even watching it afterwards. All I remember was a looming sense of amazement that my friends were that stubborn and unwilling to compromise with one another. Renting videos with boyfriends was also a test: would he be pushy and rude, insisting on Die Hard or a horror movie that I had no interest in, or would he be polite and choose something I wanted to see, like an anime***? It was like a date at the movies, but with the possibility for judgment even greater because of the sheer amount of choice in front of us.

But for all of its shortcomings, I can't bring myself to regret all my time at the video store. I love Netflix streaming and DVD-by-mail, but nothing can compare with seeing the exact video/DVD you want and taking it immediately, the child-like, slightly narcissistic thrill of "I will watch this now because I chose it!". And like any business, getting to know the people who worked at our local Blockbuster store, was a treat, too. (Our favorite manager used to bring his dog in to work, an adorable little mutt who didn't mind me picking him up at all.) Even though the video store was an inherently commercial enterprise, it was still a part of our neighborhood. My son will grow up not knowing what this was like, and he will, no doubt, roll his eyes at me when I start to tell him. It's just weird to think that something that was such an integral part of the cultural landscape has almost vanished completely.

* According to my Mom, the owner of the shop actually had a Captain Video costume, but when pressed for details, she always claims not to remember. For the life of me, I can't remember one way or another.

** I'm sure it wasn't just me and my friends; I often think that video store employees must have overheard some epics endings to relationships brewing.

*** Blockbuster was also the avenue to some of my very first anime, although back then the notoriously violent and X-rated Urutsukudoji: Legend of the Overfiend was often shelved next to Unico: The Little Unicorn. I used to complain about the inappropriateness of this to the video store employees, with varying degrees of success.

100 Things: Katy Keene

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012 01:01 pm
retsuko: (girl & her dog)

I never really played with dolls as a kid; Barbie didn't particularly interest me one way or another, and I thought that baby dolls were a pointless exercise in doing repetitive, unpleasant tasks. But I did enjoy paper dolls. They required attention to detail (cutting things out very carefully was something I took great pride in), and then you could tell stories with them. I had a whole collection of classic Dolly Dingle (and her friends of Dingle Dell) dolls*, and later on, the Victorian cat family (whose teeny, tiny paper accessories nearly killed me and my hands.) But my favorite paper dolls were in the Katy Keene comics that my grandmother had saved from when my Mom was a kid. Katy Keene had the BEST clothes. I mean, just the image above pretty much encapsulates what I loved about these pictures as a kid: they were clothes I wished I could wear. They were beautiful and completely unlike what I had in my closet. Now that I think more clearly about it, Katy Keene was probably my foray into the world of fashion, even in its watered down, rather Barbie-doll-esque form. My feminist self of the present day bemoans the fact that I can't remember a thing about Katy Keene other than the pretty pictures of clothes--she must have had a job, right? I think she was a model, and she had some sort of rival model (a blond) who was always doing something... maybe trying to sabotage her career in one way or another. (Girls fighting amongst each other for the privilege of the male gaze... argh, modern feminist me throws up her hands again.) But to the me of then, Katy Keene was glamorous and pretty. I imagined myself in those butterfly outfits, living in the forest, surrounded by friends and adorable animals. I wouldn't trade those thoughts for anything. And who cares if Katy Keene was a poor role model? Those comics had me reading and playing, and that's more important than my political sensibilities of today. Imagining things then gives me the power now to imagine even greater worlds and solve problems.

* These are still in a closet at my parents' house. On the back of each one, I wrote their name and job, including one whose name I can't read now, but whose profession is listed as, "Mysterious Stranger."
retsuko: (cool yuuko)
100 Pop Culture Things: Midnight Hour Encores, by Bruce Brooks

For a long time, there were four books that I carried everywhere: Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto; The Modern Girl's Guide to Everything, by Kaz Cooke, Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck, and the above edition of Midnight Hour Encores, by Bruce Brooks. I lost track of how many times I read it, but each time, all of the characters' voices ring true, and the story holds together better than I remembered it from the time before.

MHE is the coming of age story of a cello prodigy, Sibilance T. Spooner. To a lesser degree, it's also a story of the relationship she has with her father, an aged hippie who's raised her from the time she was about 12 hours old. Sibilance is aggressively an individualist; she'd rather let her talent atrophy than conform to the wishes and expectations of others. She's on track to go to Julliard, but decides she's going to figure out who the mother is who abandoned her to her father's care before she leaves. Additionally, she's on the track of a Russian cellist who she suspects is meant to be her mentor. When she tracks him down at an elite music school in San Francisco, she enlists her father's aid, thinking that she'll kill two birds with one stone. She doesn't anticipate her father using the trip as a platform to share with her the music he loves from the '60s, as well as trying to prepare her for the inevitable confrontation with her mother. The resulting meet-up with her now-yuppie mother shakes Sibilance to her core, and she finds herself faced with a difficult decision about what she truly values.

What struck me when I read this as a kid was how well Brooks a) wrote female characters and b) wrote about playing a musical instrument. I think this book is responsible for my long-held belief that anyone can write any gender, as long as she or he knows the character's soul. Both Sibilance and her mother are whole people with real conflicts and layers. They're not defined by the men in their lives, nor are they dependent on anyone else (at least, not in the cliched way that Strong Female Characters are.) Brooks' other writing strength is the way he describes what playing the cello is like. At first reading, I was struggling with violin. I was surprised to think there was a spiritual side to what I was trying to do, that when I performed, I could go into another mental space that was peaceful and quiet. Brooks describes this the way no other author I know of has managed to do. I will admit that even though I quit violin, I still think of the way he writes about performance when I'm teaching or speaking in public. There were many scenes that I could recount almost word-for-word, and a lot of them had to do with music, and Sibilance's reactions to it.

Bruce Brooks has written many notable books (I especially like The Moves Make the Man, another meditation on character and people's flaws), but I am sorry to see that he's not prominent on library shelves any more. I hope that his works won't go out of print, and I still keep MHE on my permanent shelf.
retsuko: antique books (books)

{Take the 100 Things challenge!}

In the interests of not letting the blog site(s) I know and love die a slow and boring death, I'm going to be taking part in the meme above. My theme is long and complicated, but I think it's going to be awesome: "100 Pop Culture Things (Books, Movies, TV Shows, Songs, and Comics/Manga) That Have Made A Difference in My Life, for Good or Bad." The great thing is, there's no time limit or arbitrary deadline that will make me feel guilty for not getting to a particular number at a particular time--just lots of time to writewritewrite about things I love and hope that other people love, too, or hate, or just plain want to chat about. Huzzah!

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