We Need To Talk About Kevin

I’ve held off on doing a Ghostbusters blog, because I have a fairly unpopular opinion – I thought it was only kinda okay.

I really wanted to love the reboot of Ghostbusters, especially because of the ridiculous and sexist backlash against *shock horror* A FILM HAVING FOUR WOMEN LEADS. There were some things about the film I liked a lot – the action sequences, the scary bits, and, of course, Holtzmann.

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World’s most obvious choice of GIF? Yes, and I don’t even care

But – and I’ll get this part out of the way before I go into the main point of this post – a lot of this film just wasn’t for me. I found the dialogue very clunky – in many scenes, the strategy for writing seemed to go as follows:

  1. One-liner joke
  2. Several other lines pointing to the joke, in case some members of the audience didn’t realise it was a joke
  3. Filler until the next one-liner

The example of this that really leaped out at me was Kristen Wiig’s discussion with Charles Dance, early on in the film, where he tells her something along the lines of “I was disappointed to see that one of your letters of recommendation was from Princeton, I would’ve hoped you could’ve got somewhere more high-profile”, to which KW replied “More high-profile than Princeton?”…as if to make sure that the audience really realises that he has unnecessarily high standards, because Princeton is actually a really good uni, you guys! For me, a line following a joke needs to either extend that joke (she could have replied with a dry “Okay, next time I’ll try to get one from Jesus”), or just move on. If your joke needs explaining, it’s not working as a joke; if your joke is working, trust that the audience will get it. I found a lot of the dialogue did this, and it put me on edge the whole way through the film. Dialogue needs to either further the plot or develop the characters, or, ideally, both; I felt that a lot of the dialogue in Ghostbusters didn’t do either.

But – and I want to stress this – this is a problem that would have existed even if every single person cast in the reboot had been a man. Ghostbusters‘ problems as a film are not to do with the fact that it has a cast of women, and it makes me facepalm like Picard to think that this even needs saying in 2016.

While we’re on sexism and Ghostbusters, though, I want to make a few points on the apparent ‘reverse sexism’ in the film – the treatment of Chris Hemsworth’s character, adorable useless secretary Kevin.

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I saw this image doing the rounds on social media, about the ways that Ghostbusters defies many of the trite old tropes around women in films:

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I was discussing this image with my boyfriend in a coffee shop one morning (because I live in coffee shops, and if he wants to spend any time with me, he has to partly live there too), and he pointed out that despite all the whining from dudebros about Kevin being “clueless eye candy”, he still passes a genderflipped version of the Sexy Lamp Test. Without spoiling the plot for the ten people who still haven’t seen Ghostbusters, you could not remove Kevin from Ghostbusters without significant changes to the story. He’s important to the plot, and he’s got a personality (adorkable) and a life outside his supporting role to the four main characters (as we see in his explanations about his ambitions and his dog).

WESTWOOD, CA - JULY 27:  Actor Chris Hemsworth arrives at the Los Angeles Premiere "Vacation" at Regency Village Theatre on July 27, 2015 in Westwood, California.  (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)

Chris Hemsworth – officially Not A Sexy Lamp

This means that a woman-led action film, which has a male character who is a parody of the way women are so often depicted in male-led action films, STILL TREATS THAT MALE CHARACTER A DAMN SIGHT BETTER THAN HIS EARLIER FEMALE COUNTERPARTS WERE TREATED. But, y’know, feminism is totally man-hating, right?

There were a lot of flaws in Ghostbusters (see Janessa E Robinson’s article about the portrayal of Patty), but the representation of Kevin wasn’t one of them. He wasn’t a serious character in the least – but he was a character, and that’s more than a lot of women in film and TV get (looking at you, series 2 of Gotham).

I can’t think of a pithy ending to this post, so instead, here’s a picture of Hemsworth and McCarthy (and doesn’t that sound like a duo of detectives?) goofing around:

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Enjoy!

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Pool of Blood

It’s been a little while since I had a bit of a snarky feminist rage on this blog. Apparently the universe thought I was overdue, because the other day, I saw this:

The idea of restricting the movements of women – and the trans men and NB people who also menstruate – because some people (who are generally cis men) are afraid of periods isn’t new, but it’s not a discussion I’d expect to be having in 2016. Just kidding, it totally is, because people keep proving time and time again that they cannot deal with body parts and bodily functions that 51% of the world’s population experience.

Why would it be a problem for someone to swim while having their period? Sure, if you see a woman paddling around in the pool with a wide red mist fanning out behind her, you might want to get the lifeguard – but I’ve been a swimmer for my entire life, and I’ve never seen anything like that. That may be because these days, we have these nifty things called tampons, which mean you can swim without having to freebleed.

Okay, so if seeing blood isn’t the issue, is it bacteria? Well, if that’s your problem, I hate to break it to you, but if you use a public pool you are already swimming in all of the bacteria that hasn’t been killed off by the chlorine. And menstrual blood isn’t the only potential source of bacteria you’re going to encounter when you swim.

If you’re swimming in a pool frequented by children, then, I’m afraid, you’re swimming in pee. “But urine is sterile!” you cry – nope, sorry. And it’s not just urine – all that water washing around people’s junk is going to dissipate some genital-dwelling bacteria across the rest of the pool. If you’re going to ban people who are menstruating, it’d be logical to also ban anyone who’s peed that day – so, everyone.

Moving away from that end of the body – it’s not just urine you have to worry about. Every single swimmer in that pool is sharing their saliva. It’s near impossible to swim without getting a little water in your mouth and spitting it back out – a public pool is basically an enormous puddle of backwash. Should we ban dribbling in the pool? The only way to do it would be to force everyone to awkwardly hold their heads out of the water the entire time – which would certainly make the Olympics a lot slower.

But all this is a moot point. Remember that chlorine I mentioned? Well, it won’t kill every last bacterium in the pool – but it’ll get rid of most of them. If you’re swimming in a well-maintained pool, you’re going to be pretty safe, even if every swimmer with a uterus is trying to exercise away their cramps.

Obviously, there are some body products that should never end up in the pool: vomit, since it’s a fairly major symptom of severe illness; faeces, because the bacteria found in those is seriously dangerous to human health; and semen, because you really shouldn’t be doing that in public. But there’s absolutely nothing unhealthy, unhygienic, or anti-social about swimming on your period. Trying to limit people’s movements because of a benign and natural bodily process, though? Now that’s gross.

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Writers’ Guides to Dating

As I was walking past a charity shop on my way to the gym the other day (*virtuous face* *probably smeared with chocolate*), I noticed this book in the window display:

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I remember hearing a little bit about this book when it came out, but I hadn’t thought about it since. I love Jane Austen’s novels, and it seemed inevitable that someone would apply her narratives to real-life dating situations – but, as I looked in the shop window, I started wondering how a Jane Austen approach to dating would actually work.

I narrowed it down to the following steps:

  1. Be clever and a little awkward.
  2. Have a mother who is a complete embarrassment.
  3. Meet a man who is equally clever and awkward, ideally at a ball.
  4. Have a misunderstanding that involves the pair of you talking around your feelings and making acerbic comments at each other for a long period of time.
  5. Go on a trip with some elderly spinsters.
  6. Come back, have a proper conversation with your prickly paramour, and get married.*

I’m sure there’s more in this book than that, but it got me thinking – what dating advice can we glean from other famous authors?

 

Terry Pratchett’s Guide to Dating

  1. Find a spiky and practical woman, or a well-meaning but vaguely wet man, depending on your preference.
  2. Reluctantly become involved with an unpleasant situation – a murder, corporate corruption, or the end of the world.
  3. Fall grudgingly in love.

 

George Orwell’s Guide to Dating

  1. Pick a potential romantic partner based on the fact that they wear a belt.
  2. Find a creepy and suspicious character to host your romantic getaways. Be shocked when he betrays you.
  3. Remember that love conquers everything. Except rats. Rats conquer love.

 

Agatha Christie’s Guide to Dating

  1. Fall in love with an attractive stranger.
  2. Hand them over to the police, because they’re probably the killer.

 

George R. R. Martin’s Guide to Dating

  1. Have a sibling.

 

 

 

Yes, I know this is basically just Pride and Prejudice, not all Jane Austen. I have read her other books, honest.

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Blackbird on the Wire

One of the great places about the place I live is that, while I’m technically in a city, I’m also right next to a kind of pocket countryside. My neighbourhood is full of animals, both domestic and wild. There are a lot of wild birds in the area, and if I have my window open, I can wake up to birdsong.

A few weeks ago, however, I started waking up not to birdsong, but to this:

The video doesn’t do it justice. The noise is like a nail being hammered directly into your ears, and it can go on for up to three hours. I’ve heard from knowledgeable people that the sound this blackbird is making is a distress call, which begs the question – what is making it distressed for THREE SOLID HOURS, and why doesn’t it just FLY THE HELL AWAY?

I tried shutting the window, but this all took place during the recent heatwave, and sleeping with the window closed meant a night of feeling like I was trapped in a particularly large oven. Besides, this blackbird’s chirp can’t be defeated by double glazing.

I was getting desperate, so I resorted to the only thing I could think of – throwing stuff. Specifically, potatoes.

Potatoes seemed to make sense. They’re biodegradable, they’re something I wouldn’t miss (unlike my books or my little owl figurine), and they’re very good for throwing. I got into the habit of keeping a potato on the windowsill in case of blackbird-related emergencies. I referred to it as ‘my wanging potato’, which had the added bonus of making my boyfriend dissolve into fits of giggles whenever I said it.

Sadly, there was one drawback of the potato technique, and that is that I can’t throw for toffee. (Or for chips). I threw a grand total of three potatoes at the blackbird, and none of them went anywhere near the little pest.

But the blackbird took offence nonetheless. I started seeing, not just one, but two of them in the tree. And another on the roof, peering down at me. The distress calls started happening in double- and triple-time, and no amount of potatoes could make them stop.

I was looking up everything from fake plastic falcons to a laser-guided bird-scarer worthy of a supervillain when, for no apparent reason, the noises stopped. I haven’t heard the blackbirds in a couple of weeks.

I would relax. I would say it’s over. But I can’t help thinking that they’re planning something. I’m sure I haven’t heard the last of them yet.

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Freewriting: The Tower

I mentioned a little while ago that I’d started freewriting to try to beat my writer’s block. Today, instead of describing what was around me or making up stories for the people I could see, I decided to use my Story Cubes as a jumping-off point.

I’ve been using Story Cubes for creative writing lessons for quite a while now, but I’d never actually got around to using them myself. The premise is, you roll the dice, put the pictures in whatever order you fancy, and then make up a story using those pictures as inspiration. You can interpret them as literally or as freely as you like. Here was the combination I got when I rolled them today:

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And here’s the story:

 

The Tower

When you talk to the bees, you’d better be prepared for them to listen.

I told the bees all of my secrets. I told them that I’d gone exploring in the old tower on the hill by the town. The staircases had been rotten, creaking as I climbed further and further into the musty-smelling gloom. There were holes in the wood beneath my feet that I had to skirt around, holes in the walls where stones had fallen, and the light hung in the dusty dar like strands of bright ribbon.

The door at the top of the tower was locked, but that doesn’t matter when the wood’s so old and worm-chewed that you can push your hand right through. I may have been a novice at adventuring, but I know that secrets are hidden behind doors, and old secrets are the best of all.

I pulled the rotten wood away from the lock. It snapped and tore beneath my fingers.

Inside the room, the mustiness was stronger. The air was thick and tense, like the sizzle before a thunderstorm.

The walls were hung with tapestries and cloths, all in vivid, pulsing colours – abstract patterns that shifted and stirred, despite the stillness of the air. A closer look, and I saw that what I’d thought were patterns were a myriad of beetles, glistening like emeralds and sapphires. They studded the walls, and crunched underfoot as I walked forwards, towards the beetle-jewelled throne that stood in the very centre of the room.

There had been someone sitting on that chair. I could see the wreck of her dress and the thin wisps of what must once have been a long, long rope of hair. But the rags and hair were bleached with age, just like the bones, and the only colour I could see was the glimmer of the beetles, one green, one blue, that nestled in the sockets where her eyes had been.

I didn’t run from the room. The stairs were too dangerous. But I ran from the tower, all the way home, and whispered the story to the bees. The shaking in my voice calmed and stopped as I finished, and sat back on my heels, feeling the sun warm and soothe my goose-flesh arms.

The hum of the hive grew louder than I’d ever heard it before.

You weren’t supposed to see, the bees said.

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After the Referendum

It’s been a few days since the results of the EU Referendum came in, and I still have very few words, but plenty of feelings. I’m sad, and I’m angry.

I’m sad and angry about the disgusting racism already being experienced by people of colour and EU nationals in Britain. Sarah Childs has collected some awful examples here. (Edit: here are some more examples.)

I’m sad and angry at the danger to disability rights, to workers’ rights, to women’s rights, to LGBT rights, to the NHS, to the environment, that is now faced. So many of these rights, so many of these places and institutions, were protected by EU law. I don’t trust Boris, Farage and their cronies to protect them in the same way. Look at how many promises they’ve already backtracked on.

I’m sad and angry for myself, and for the higher education learning that I love and feel should be open to everyone who is passionate enough about a subject to devote years of their life to it. So many of our universities depend on EU grants, particularly for research, particularly following the cuts made by this government in the name of austerity. Underfunded research can never be ‘the best’, it can only be ‘the best we could do under the circumstances’. We’ve severely hampered our ability to contribute to the world’s knowledge and understanding.

I’m sad and angry that my country chose isolationism over unity and decided to risk its own future because of misdirected and misinformed dislike of immigrants.

I hope with all my heart that the we remain in the EU despite the results of this referendum, but in the event that we don’t, I’m going to fight my hardest to help the people and places who are now at risk.

There are many people who’ve said things better than I ever could. Here are some words from them:

Maya Goodfellow’s I’ve never felt less welcome in this country 

Amber Kirk-Ford’s reaction to the EU Referendum

Michael Rosen’s Us and the Other – all over again

Rockstardinosaurprincess’ post

Dear Brexiteer, what we need you to do now

Chris Riddell’s response

NO! I won’t shut up

Claire Broadley’s So, you want me to be happy?

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Work in Progress: Writing Sigyn, Post Seven – Freewriting

It’s no secret to anyone who’s read any of my previous blogs on Sigyn that I’ve been finding this book more than a tad difficult to write. A few days ago, I cracked and sent a wailful email to my editor at The Golden Egg Academy, where I moaned about how the block wasn’t going away and I didn’t know how to make it.

My editor is brilliant, and made loads of really useful suggestions. The one I’ve been trying most often is freewriting, so I thought I’d blog about that.

Freewriting is when you set yourself a certain amount of time – I’m currently going for fifteen minutes – and write about anything. Absolutely anything. No editing, no going back, no ideas in advance. Just writing about whatever you want, for that set period of time.

I’ve done freewriting before, and it’s often turned into the usual kind of navel-gazing I do in my notebook/diary/horcrux – but this time, it’s proving really useful in getting into the head of my antagonist, Freya, who’s the weak point in my current story drafts. A week of freewriting on Freya, and I now know what she wants and why she does the things she does – which, I imagine, will be at least a little important when it comes to writing her.

There are no quick fixes in writing, but freewriting is a good way to get back into treating it as…well, writing, rather than some kind of administrative process. If you’re blocked, I’d recommend it – it’s a brilliant way to warm up your brain and get the words going again.

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