Game Of Thrones & The Portrayal Of Rape

Sansa StarkBy now, any Game Of Thrones fan would have already read the dissection of how the show portrays rape. I wrote a short article for Refinery29 on the topic since the entertainment team was tied up and we had to get it up quickly. I was a little disappointed at first, because even though I turned it around rather quickly it was a while to go through the editing process, and also because I didn’t get to include all of the information I would’ve liked to. One of the struggles I’ve had as a writer is reconciling my knowledge with that of people knowledgeable about my subject, but also with the site audience. R29’s audience apparently isn’t one that is very interested in the things I like – like GOT, comics, etc – but they’re the kind to want to know what’s going on culturally. For that reason, things get simplified, ruminations of source material are thrown away. I still think it turned out alright.

Let’s say it together: Gratuitous rape scenes do not compelling plot developments make.

What Game of Thrones fans have been dreading ever since Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) was betrothed to Westeros’ sadistic psychopath-in-chief, Ramsay Bolton, has happened. The dread brewing in my gut as she said “I take this man” in the weirwood, and Bolton broke into a smarmy, cruel smile — I’ll hand it to actor Iwan Rheon, he’s good — turned into full-on nausea when Bolton raped her. I was far from the only one.

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 10.00.57 PM

Sansa is only one of several characters on the series constantly threatened with sexual violence, and this season gave fans hope that she would gather the strength to strike back. Hands up if you were hoping she had a butcher’s knife hidden in the sleeve of her wedding gown.

For much of the show’s fifth season, young Stark has been presented as a survivor clawing her way toward agency. She got a goth-girl makeover, has taken lessons from Petyr Baelish (Aiden Gillen) on playing the cut-throat game of politics, and has grown tougher and more self-assured in her quest to save herself — and possibly avenge her family.  Read more here.

Baltimore Protests: How To Use Thug, Nonviolence & Other Things

It’s hard to be organized about this topic. So I’ll sum up what my points are about the tone and coverage of Freddie Gray and the Baltimore riots in a few, short rants.

1. “Nonviolent” protest only works when there is an implicit “or else” threat of violence.

Selma Montgomery March

Photo: Courtesy Of ABC

“MLK would roll in his grave”

“Let’s remember the peaceful views of the civil rights movement blah blah”

Really, to anyone delegitimizing the righteous anger erupting on the streets of Baltimore right now, please think a little bit about the history of civil rights. Peace is a beautiful ideal to have. Nonviolence is something we obviously aspire to. But, it hasn’t really changed the tide for a group of people systematically made out to be second class citizens.

Do you know why non-violent protests have worked? Because the threat of violence supports it. Don’t pretend you don’t hear black people discussing police brutality on the train, I hear them. Anyone paying attention, in NYC and the cities affected recently by police brutality, can feel the anger, anxiety, and suspicion bubbling beneath the surface. Don’t pretend that you aren’t scared when you see thousands of us taking to the streets. It’s nonviolent. But there’s the threat that it could erupt into violence, that the thousands of people trying to get rights and be heard will say “we will take you down with us, we will fuck your shit up.”

MLK could be nonviolent because of the implicit threat of violence by the Black Panthers and Malcolm X. He could be nonviolent because the cops lining the streets as he and thousands peacefully marched were proof that they expected violence.

He died violently, a martyr, and we remember him forever for it.

So stop with the preaching of nonviolence. No one wants to take it there. But what if it’s the only way?

2. The #momoftheyear thing is patronizing bullshit

momoftheyear baltimore riots

Photo: Courtesy Of ABC.

The same people preaching nonviolence are super excited about this mother of the year who dragged her son away from protests in Baltimore.

They preach nonviolence while praising a mom who beat her son about the head as she hauled him off.

In any other circumstance, you see a large black lady beating her son upside his head and you think that’s ghetto as shit. How many black people have been publicly manhandled by their mom while they were misbehaving? (My hand is up.) It’s life. It’s black people shit.

But what bothers me is that it feeds into this narrative, one serving to delegitimize the protests, that black people are protesting because they weren’t raised right, because their daddies weren’t there.

That mom wasn’t hitting her son upside the head because she was disciplining him, trying to raise him right. She was scared. She didn’t want her son to die out there. That’s the kind of anger/panic you have when your child runs out in front of a car to chase a ball, when someone you love does something stupid and you’re so mad at them that you want to kill them yourselves.

She says such things in interviews. And everyone continues to ignore what she’s really saying.

And honestly, as a young black man in a city, hell, in a country that doesn’t care about him? Why shouldn’t he be out there in a mask?

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Does Daredevil Have A Woman Problem? (No.)

Daredevil Netflix Charlie Cox

Photo Courtesy Of: Netflix

Every hit show has the same sort of life cycle:

  • Excitement and buzz.
  • Recaps
  • Acclaim and more excitement

And then it gets picked apart by people looking for things to be outraged about.

I recently realized that people find Daredevil sexist. The reason? Women are damsels in distress. Particularly, Karen Page does too much teetering around in high heels being attacked by scary men.

But of course, Claire Temple is bad ass apparently.

(As an aside, I have a soft spot forever for Vanessa, the handsomely stunning art gallery owner.)

I have a problem with the fact that now people equate “bad ass” with a woman who lacks feminine traits. The over-cited “cool girl” – a woman who’s casual, not annoying, unfeminine (yet still hot.) The biggest complaint I hear about Karen page is that she has high heels and wears dresses, which is the dumbest shit I’ve heard in a while because she is a professional who works at a law office so sorry she’s not wearing jeans and doc martens or whatever bad-ass women are supposed to wear.

But here’s the thing. Karen Page gets saved a couple times. But why is she in danger? Because she has an unwavering passion for helping people, like Señora Cardenas, and refuses to just be a victim to the company that tried to silence her – first by trying to kill her, then with money. She works tirelessly to bring them down.

Karen Page Earth 7848

Photo Courtesy Of: Marvel

How is that different than Matt Murdoch? And ok, she gets attacked and Daredevil or Foggy save her. How is that different from how on numerous occasions, someone beats the shit out of Daredevil and someone finds him left for dead and proceeds to save his life? Does that make him a damsel in distress?

Of course not. He’s a man, not a blonde in high heels.

Karen has come a long way from Matt Murdoch’s love interest in a comic from the 60s and 70s. She’s still a secretary, but it’s clear she’s a part of the team, with two male friends who take care of her rather than make passes at her.


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Fan Service: Feminism Vs. Bouncing Breasts

Warning: There are depictions of women with large, heaving bosoms. There is a point, I promise.

Fan service – it’s a term most anime and comic book fans will know, but for the sake of those new to the genre, it’s when some sort of gratuitous titillation happens. More often than not, it is some sort of objectification of women.

This can range anywhere from staging a scene with your female protagonists in an onsen bath, to a random panty shot in a fight scene, or my least favorite, bouncing breasts. There’s a great piece on Kotaku about breast physics in video games – simply, there aren’t enough women weighing in on how breasts actually move. I think the same happens in anime. (Although, the piece makes a good point about how aesthetically we want breasts to be a certain size and shape that aren’t realistic, so it’s hard to gauge how to make them move realistically.)

Space Dandy Breastaurant Boobs

Photo From: Space Dandy | Srsly stop it.

It’s because of the often-gratuitous objectification of female characters that I have a really conflicting relationship with the genre. I often enjoy fan service. In fact, it’s something I just attribute to the culture of the work and often choose not to think so much about. But increasingly, I struggle to reconcile my feminism and my desire for comics and anime to be more female friendly with the fact that I love what I’ve grown up with. I think it’s a struggle that many male fans have had, which unfortunately, can result in large-scale backlash about women in fandom, like GamerGate. I understand what it’s like to not want things to change, but it scares me that people feel so entitled that they want to threaten others.

I remember the first time overt fan service really got to me. I was in middle school, and my father had given me the trade paperback of Battle Chasers. I was obsessed with it – I even used individual panels as inspiration for paintings in honors art class (do not ask HOW I was in honors art, OK?). One of my favorite characters was Red Monika, a sexy, bad ass thief. It didn’t register too much at the time, but her breasts were impossibly large, her waist, SO tiny, with thunder thighs and a sexy smile. I loved her.

Red Monika Battle Chasers Breasts

Photo From: Battle Chasers

Coming from a family of big breasted, small-waisted women, I sort of assumed that’s what I would look like when I grew up. I played sports, so I figured the muscly legs and arms made sense too.

But one day I was reading it before a class, and I got to a series of panels where Red Monika is preparing for a heist and putting on her outfit – a skin tight, red shiny two piece. She zips up the crop top over her breasts, in a ludicrous shot. And as I read this, a boy looked over my shoulder and immediately was like WHOA, what are you reading?

Kids started to crowd around and I tried to explain why the comic was cool and why Monika was so great even though she’s a bad guy, but the boys only cared about Red Monika’s breasts and the girls thought I was weird for reading something like this. I was really embarrassed, and resolved to be more quiet with my comics and manga from then on.

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Ava’s Demon: My Intro Into Web Comics

Update 3/7: Michelle Czajkowski,of Ava’s Demon,has posted that she’s taking a hiatus to finish up some work on the project. I still think what’s up so far is worth checking out.

Originally posted 2/13:

Photo: Courtesy of Michelle Czajkowski

Photo: Courtesy of Michelle Czajkowski

I’ve very recently been introduced to the world of self-published web comics, and so far I’m pretty impressed. I’m even jealous. I wanted to be a comic book writer and artist up until I was 16 years old and realized that it wasn’t something I could feasibly due. Mainly because I am untalented as an artist, but also because I didn’t think I had the means or support to get good at it.

But now, there are these amazing artists and writers, like Michelle Czajkowski of Ava’s Demon, writing and drawing comic books and really utilizing the medium. At first I was alarmed by the one-panel-at-a-time mode of her comic, but it really works! It gives attention to each individual panel, which is beautifully drawn, and makes it seem somewhat like a flip book. Very cool.

But it’s really the plot of Ava’s Demon that sucked me in. You open with our girl Ava, who’s slowly been driven insane by an apparition that only she sees. It’s one that taunts her and constantly spews vitriol about how awful she is, how ugly, how crazy, how dumb. It was heartbreaking. What teenager doesn’t have that in their head? What woman doesn’t, on occasion? To see it manifest so literally was really powerful, and Ava’s inability to cope with it was very real. The adult in me (she’s very small), recognizes that some of Ava’s reactions are whiny, even self indulgent, but the teen in me understands how she feels, completely.

Ava, along with two characters that we don’t know as well yet, are whisked away on an incredible intergalactic journey. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but Ava reconciles with her very real demon and looks to be going up against a pretty powerful entity. I cannot wait to see where this goes.

What I think is most interesting (aside from the actual comic) is the way that it’s funded. The comic is free online, but you can buy very limited print copies of her work. I would have bought one already for $50 – which is SO much – if it weren’t sold out. You can also donate, or buy prints and other tokens of the comic. Fingers crossed, but I’m hoping to interview her some day once I get this blog a little more off the ground,  and find out how she makes this work. But please, read her, and read others. Currently, a group called Reverie Comics is hosting a bunch of sci-fi and fantasy web comics on their site, and I’m working my way through them. I’ll keep you posted on what I think later.

Characters: A
Art: A+
Pacing: A

Books From The Free Table: Wildalone By Krassi Zourkova

Let me preface this by introducing a series I’m going to put on here, called Books From The Free Table. One of the perks of working at Refinery29 is that when people get sent things that no one wants, they’re put out on this big table in our common space. It’s there that I’ve been able to snag makeup, clothes for me, my boyfriend and my dog, and books. I grab the ones that look most interesting or entertaining – so normally in the fantasy, sci fi genre – or that I think might be something amusing I would never buy, most likely in the romance genre.

There’s something I appreciate about this. These are normally books that either have just been released, or are about to be, and somehow when I see them on the free table I’m unable to separate this fact from the work that I’m reading. It casts a tone of earnestness and sometimes desperation over the book, and I love it. I will try not to be too cruel, because some day I want to write a book, and it will probably end up on someone’s free table.

Photo: Courtesy of Goodreads

Photo: Courtesy of Goodreads

In this darkly imaginative debut novel full of myth, magic, romance, and mystery, a Princeton freshman is drawn into a love triangle with two enigmatic brothers and discovers terrifying secrets about her family and herself – a bewitching blend of Twilight, The Secret History, Jane Eyre, and A Discovery of Witches.

First of all, if I wrote a book I would be really careful about the comparisons drawn of it. And why would you want your book to be an amalgamation of four other books, at least of two of which are terrible? Full disclosure: I couldn’t get through the first Twilight book, and I thought Discovery of Witches was pretty bad, but mildly amusing – still not enough for me to read any of the other books.

But in Wildalone, piano prodigy Thea Slevin, 18, travels from Bulgaria to the United States to go to Princeton (just like our author, Krassi Zourkova. Write what you know, amirite?). Apparently, she had a secret older sister who went to Princeton as well, was also a piano prodigy, and her body disappeared after she was murdered. As outlandish as this is, I thought it was pretty cool. A young woman from a foreign country comes to America and gets wrapped up in a murder mystery and kicks ass! I can get behind that. Except no asses were kicked. Young Thea is immediately distracted from her studies, piano prodigy-ing, and murder investigations by a series of men who just tell her cryptic things and often appear from the shadows. Warning to all young women who read books like this: If a man follows you and appears from the shadows, no matter HOW sexy and mysterious he is, you run. RUN GODDAMMIT.

Photo: Courtesy of Gawker

Photo: Courtesy of Gawker

Let me list the men:

  •  Her creepy Greek mythology teacher, who is oddly obsessed with her sister, and is clearly a suspect in her forgotten murder mystery.
  • A sexy guy who emerges from the shadows, with his shirt unbuttoned, who monopolizes all of her time, whisks her away in his Porsche, tries to rape her repeatedly, but is SO romantic, according to this author.
  • The sexy guy’s brother, who is equally rich and sexy, who mopes around in the shadows taunting our young heroine with the promise of love. He is really useless. I don’t even understand why they had to be brothers.
  • A really weird janitor who calls himself the keymaster and gives her very vague clues about her sister and these weird brothers.
  • One of her piano teachers, who seems genuinely interested in her piano playing but just wants her to do that and not work or go to class.

There are only two other female characters: her other piano teacher who somehow doesn’t identify that her student is in a bad spot, and her RA. They have conversations about how hot they are and boy problems. Very exciting stuff. I imagine her as Anna Kendrick from the Twilight movies.

The book jarringly blends Bulgarian and Greek folklore, which I found pretty confusing as I’m not really familiar with anything Bulgarian, and the whole time I was just hoping for the man-eating witches I’d been promised. The character doesn’t develop at all, as she’s mostly just a plaything for men much older than her. She has zero agency, but she could have very easily. She wasn’t an unlikeable character, and there was a lot of interesting backstory that could have been explored.

I want you to know that the book ends on a cliffhanger of sorts, and when I got there, I almost screamed. This author intends to write another book about these same characters – something that is crazy to me.


Plot: D
Characters: D
Writing: C-
Amusement factor: C-

Psycho-Pass Season 1 Review: It’s not too far off from current events

Photo: Courtesy Of Wikipedia

Photo: Courtesy Of Wikipedia

It took me a while to watch Psycho-Pass Season 1, mainly because I tried to watch it while working from home during a cold last year and it didn’t really hook me. So I started it over very recently, and it’s been confirmed: I really should stop multi-tasking while watching things.

Psycho Pass captured my imagination immediately (on both viewings), starting with the small details: our cold but adorable heroine Akane Tsunemori and her no eyebrow, blunt bob look; the purposeful walk of Shinya Kagami; the little conversations between Akane and her friends. Artistically, I think my favorite episodes are the ones with the Talisman killer, because I can never get enough of that morbidly cute thing, and the girls’ school killer.

And then there’s the Big Idea, which isn’t too far from Minority Report’s premise, but I think it executes it a little better. Fundamentally, I think the idea of having a weapons system that decides whether a person is a threat or not is a fascinating idea that’s not too out there – especially in a time when unarmed civilians and children get gunned down by improperly trained, skittish police. I’ve always said that sci-fi is just a way to explore what humans would do through the lens of technology to wonder how the human spirit would change – taking science not to it’s most logical conclusion, but to an illogical one, the way humans would do. I think this show really pulled that off. It’s most reflected in Akane, who is a little cold but still so human, the sort of level, good behavior we all put on in our daily work lives. Now imagine that mask you wear, and having to wear it all the time — no wonder the crimes in Psycho Pass are so horrific.

I thought the pacing was great. I don’t mind a little slowness in a beautiful anime, but I think this one hit it perfectly – giving us some time to get to know the characters and feel invested in their relationships – and then ramping up to a crazy conclusion. I will say that the last second reveal was a little bit random for me at first, but after mulling over it a little, I think it makes sense.

I also really appreciated that even though this is an adult anime, there were enough gorgeous men to make an adolescent me shriek. Kagami is very Spike Spiegel-esque, and Nobuchika Ginoza’s overall character arc was so satisfying to me (and when he takes off those glasses? Woof.). Of course there’s our obligatory fan service in repeatedly shooting Shion Karanomori’s cleavage while she’s speaking because of course we don’t need to listen to lady data scientists when they’re hot. But as we all well know, I often don’t mind and even enjoy a little fan service. I am a little tired of mature women being shown with enormous breasts as opposed to innocent, doll-like characters, like womanhood is a sign of their moral ambiguity. It’s lame, men. Stop doing that.

Plot: A-
Characters: A-
Animation: A
Opening Credits: B+
Pacing: A
Use of fan service: B

My M.O.

I’m still experimenting with this site, as you can tell. The struggle is: How do I differentiate this from a (free) portfolio site like Linkedin, and get writing more? I love my job at Refinery29 as an SEO Editor and I am learning a ton. I feel extremely useful, like my contributions matter to our content and our overall site.

But I miss writing. And now I have an opportunity to write about things that don’t necessarily pay.

Here, I’ll start writing more about my favorite shows, games, animes, and comics. What you need to know:

  •  I’m not an expert about anything. I’m a fan, and I apologize for any gaping holes in my nerd-dom. But I also reject that a to participate as a fan means I have to have seen (or liked) everything.
  • I’m not super up to date on everything for a couple of reasons. 1. I have limited time, so I have to be choosy about what I spend my time on. 2. New things are expensive. I’m not kidding. Like any videogame I play is like 4 years old, because it is cheap and easily available. And I need things that are already available on streaming.

I am re-exploring my Geek heritage. Wish me luck!


Taylor Swift, Twerking, & Cultural Appropriation

Another update: So I’ve been tapped for an interview with Diana Manfredi, or Spaghetto TV, and her documentary about twerking and cultural appropriation. I feel mildly embarrassed, because anyone who knows me will be confused that I am involved in this. But no one loves dance crazes more than I do, and I love discussing hip hop.

Update: I was featured on a Huffpo Live Panel discussing the video, and I’ve gotten really good feedback on Twitter from people who watched it. (In fact, the director, Mark Romanek personally e-mailed me!) And because I’m a teensy bit of a fame whore, I obviously want to be on TV forever, even if I was extremely nervous and jittery before hand. Here’s the link if you want to watch.

It’s kind of strange how I got involved with this story. To be honest, I do not care about Taylor Swift very much, and it’s rare that I give my opinion on what I consider to be non-stories. But I was sitting through a work meeting where people were discussing this article and I couldn’t help making fun of Earl Sweatshirt and anyone who agreed with him. Come on, gang symbols? OK.

But as soon as I opened my mouth, of course those in the meeting said “hey, we need you to write that right now.” So I did.

taylor-openerLike Taylor Swift, I love dance. I love it so much that I have seen pretty much every dance movie and documentary, and I regularly Youtube dance routines and choreography. All three of my genie wishes would be to be imbued with the ability to dance like no one is watching, even though they all will be, because I will be killing it.

So, I totally get why T-Swift — the perennial preteen who just wants to be included — decided she wanted to chronicle herself trying (and failing at) a bunch of different styles for her new single “Shake It Off,” which is about dropping pretension and just “being you.” And, if you believe the video is racist, well, it probably means you haven’t watched the whole thing. (Earl Sweatshirt hadn’t!) Read more here.

My first Comic Con

So awesome news: I got to cover New York Comic Con.

Bad news: It was fluff. But hey, it was a whole lot of fun.

I was tasked with getting quotes and photos – courtesy of the amazing Jacqueline Harriet – of female cosplayers. What made it interesting was that it was less about getting the most elaborate costumes, but finding people with good stories that also fit the R29 brand.

Jackie and I talked a lot about how strange it was as the only female duo walking around interviewing women. It made it easier to talk to them, we weren’t creepy men trying to post hot girls to their blogs. But, I couldn’t help but feel awful. Sometimes we’d get them to stop to pose and talk to us, but we ended up separating them from their friends or making them static enough for them to be swarmed by guys with cellphones and digital cameras.

I’m very inspired to try my hand as a cosplayer next year. I’ll keep you posted on what I choose for my costume and how I make it.

Photos: Jacqueline Harriet/Refinery29

The business crowd and tourists start to thin out on the long walk from the subway to New York Comic Con, making way for a growing parade of the most colorful people you’ll ever meet. They’re covered in spandex, glitter, and makeup. They’ve donned cotton candy-colored wigs, wings, and horns, and tower over you in platformed superhero boots.

Every year, the spectacle gets larger, with more than 130,000 people expected to attend this year’s event. But, the growing hype around the hottest movies, shows, and celebrity appearances doesn’t take away from the true spirit of the con.

We talked to a few women who reflect this ethos: the cosplayers. They live out the weekend as their favorite heroes (or villains), absorbing the character’s strength and bonding with a family of thousands who are inspired by the same stories. Some of them spent months working on their costumes. Some are dressing up for the very first time. But, all of them are confident and bold — and they don’t give a damn what you think about their outfit. Read more here.