Saturday, February 27, 2016

On Not Reading the Comments (Or, For Real, I Shouldn't Have)

You're not supposed to write angry. It's pretty much the first rule of writing, right after your teacher tells you that there are no rules and right before he/she lists several. Don't write angry. Doesn't mean you can't write about the things that make you angry, just that...if you're fired up in the wrong way, you'll lose your objectivity and probably make your point less effectively.

I've had waves of anger about this particular issue on and off for quite some time, the most recent of which happened maybe an hour ago. Let's see if enough time has passed.

Recently, when asked about the possibility of LGBT characters in the Star Wars universe, The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams offered his enthusiastic endorsement of the idea. Let's be clear: this wasn't an announcement of an LGBT character, nor even a statement of intent to include one on screen. Rather, it was a statement of support of the possibility of non-heterosexual characters existing. In a fictional universe.

Right away, the comments on the piece I was reading started populating with rage. I shouldn't have read the comments. Nobody should ever read the comments. But I did, so here we are.

Filtering out the blatant and purposeful homophobia, which isn't worth addressing because nobody here has time now or ever, there was a lot of this (paraphrased, because to directly quote would mean going back into the comments):

"And we should care why?"

"What does sexual preference matter, it's STAR WARS"

"Why? How often is sex a motivator in the plot? We don't know about it because it's not pertinent. Will this character blurt it out in a fight? Making sexuality a device to appease a community? Really?"

Let's take that last one first.

Open depictions of heterosexual attraction run rampant throughout the Star Wars universe and media in general. Most of us just don't think about it because it is the societal norm. Han Solo didn't blurt out, "I'm attracted to ladies," in a fight. Instead, he openly flirted with Princess Leia and then just straight up smooched her before they directly declared their romantic love for each other over the course of two movies. Message delivered. And that became a big motivator. It's still driving parts of the narrative.

So. Don't tell me character orientation shouldn't be a part of movies unless you're going to argue that every straight or straight-presenting couple's presence is superfluous to the story and should be kept out of your face.

Now, let's take the other two comments, which are branches on the same tree, as it were.

When we ask, "Why should I care," or, "What does it matter," often what we are really saying is, "I do not care," or, "This does not matter to me." And you know what? That's okay. Really. It's okay to not care about stuff when other people do, just as it's okay to like/dislike something that others feel the opposite about.

The problem lies in the attitude that, because something does not matter to you, it shouldn't matter to anybody else either.

'Cause here's the thing: the subtext of, "This does not matter to me," particularly in this scenario, is, "This is not me."

I am a not a straight person. When I get to see my orientation fairly represented in the stories I love, it means the world to me. It makes me feel a little more seen, a little more recognized. A little more understood within the framework of the world at large.

There are so many types of people in this world, all of whom are real and valid and deserving of a place in our stories - not as tokens, but as heroes and villains and leaders and lovers, because that's who we all can be.

Media representation is something that gets taken for granted by the majority of us because we are fortunate enough to see ourselves on the page and screen all the time. It's why so much confusion arises when the whiteness or straightness or maleness of anything gets questioned - what's the problem? Good stories are good stories, right? What does it matter?

It matters when that story is not, "you."

And it's beyond time we start making space for each other.

Don't tell me the idea of a Resistance pilot turning his charm on another man at the bar or two gals holding hands in the background of a scene is an impossible and ridiculous concept in a world where a wee CGI alien fondly calls a Wookiee her, "boyfriend."

Let go. Open up. Consider the fact that just because it's not about you doesn't mean it isn't important.

And take a minute to think about why you're so upset about an answer to an award season question about something that hasn't even happened yet and, hell, possibly never will.

Try being upset that it's a question that still has to be asked at all.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

On The Look of Agent Carter (Or, How to Send a Tie Message)

Pals, I'm going to take a moment here to talk about two things I love: Marvel's Agent Carter and menswear.

Be warned: Mild spoilers for the show and a few Marvel Universe movies ahead.

We're four episodes into the sophomore season of the Captain America spinoff featuring the post-WWII adventures of Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter, and it remains everything that is good in this world. If you, like me, were deeply disappointed that poor Cap's chilly fate meant that we'd only get one movie's worth of time with the wonderfully strong and charismatic Peggy, then Marvel's original Agent Carter short was a lovely little gift. The vignette - one of a series of expanded universe shorts made before the company began flexing its TV muscles - showed Carter relegated to desk work at the Strategic Scientific Reserve while her male colleagues are sent out into the field. But nobody keeps Peggy in a corner - by the short's end, she has saved the day and is tapped to head the nascent S.H.I.E.L.D.

Little did any of us know that the one-shot would be the gift that kept on giving: not only did it further entrench the character in the on-screen universe's lore - she has since become one of the most consistent through lines in the films, with cameos in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Ant-Man, and, Avengers: Age of Ultron - it gave way to the series that is currently filling in the gaps following the first Cap film.

Agent Carter is an important show for so many reasons, not the least of which is that the very title is the name of a woman, and that woman is shown fighting and losing almost as often as she wins - not for lack of skill or intelligence, but because sometimes we lose and have to keep going anyway.

One of the things I love so much about the structure of the show is that it retains the feel and spirit of an old comic book serial, albeit with a little more gentle self-awareness. At its core, Carter is a period piece with a universal message, and that means it has the aesthetic to match. The look of the show is beautiful, with the costumes speaking just as much about the characters as their actions.

1940's fashion continues to influence modern style, but I think more of that has carried over for women than men, so rather than tread on familiar ground by looking at the ladies, I thought I'd take a moment to celebrate the duds on the dudes of Agent Carter (no more alliteration, I promise - not intentionally, anyway).

During World War II, fabric was strictly rationed on the homefront, and this obviously had an effect on the fashion industry. Flaps disappeared from pockets, pants were straight-hemmed (though some men still preferred cuffs and would simply buy longer pants and have them adjusted to get around this), and vests were nixed entirely as a wasteful luxury - to be seen wearing one, unless you could prove it was made before the war, was unpatriotic.

The conclusion of the war meant relaxing on the restrictions, though some of them stuck - many men  kept the two-piece suits, for example. Pants were typically high-waisted, flat front or single-pleated, and held up with suspenders, though belts were starting to become more popular. They also featured a wider leg and ankle than you see on most suit pants now as modern trends lean toward slimmer fits. The opportunistic Agent-now-Director Thompson, played by Chad Michael Murray, typifies the basic look of the mid-40's, which makes sense, given his character's unwillingness to make waves as he seeks approval.

Agent Thompson. Photo:
Neckties were worn wide and short. It was neckwear that provided men the greatest avenue of individual expression at the time, allowing one of the greatest departures from the drab regulation military uniforms of the preceding years. Patterns were often chosen that highlighted the interests or personalities of the wearer - the louder the tie, the louder the guy. Though it wounds me to say it, bow ties were largely out of fashion and were rare for non-formal occasions.

Wilkes and Stark. Photo:

This season, the story has taken our characters from New York to the SSR's new west coast office in Los Angeles. The location change has not only spurred a great shift in tone that has kept the forward momentum of the show going, but has also been a fantastic opportunity to feature new looks. Different environments and climates mean different fabrics and colors. However, the Hollywood backdrop has also highlighted the emergence of more casual everyday looks.

Howard Stark (above) and Daniel Sousa (below) have been the best models so far, with the latter having undergone the most dramatic transformation, eschewing the traditional suits and ties of last season for Hawaiian shirts and other looser-fitting, often short-sleeved button downs. Not necessarily attire befitting the director of a branch of a major government espionage agency, but that's part of the point - Daniel's loosened up. Not only that, he refuses to play the political game, backing Peggy rather than worrying about his career - a far cry from Thompson. The visual just reinforces that.

Sousa and Peggy. Photo:
The one wild-card is British butler Edwin Jarvis, who is more often than not impeccably put together in a three-piece suit and complementary - if quiet - tie. One gets the impression that Jarvis is not the sort of man who would busy himself with the evolving landscape of American fashion. Proper and presentable - sometimes comically so - his attire also makes him the perfect visual foil to his eccentric employer.
Jarvis. Photo:
Check the wide lapels on that jacket.

You can also see that this was before the popularization of button-down collars, which I use so often that I can't imagine a world without them.

There you have it. Just a little taste, but a fun one. Take note of the ties on all the supporting male characters and extras as you watch - they really are insanely expressive. 

And how much do we love that a lapel pin has been such an integral part of this season's story?