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The Walking Dead review you didn’t ask for (replete with spoilers)

There are so many problems with this idiot show. For the record, I don’t even watch the Walking Dead; I sat in on the occasional episode while my parents and sister binge-watched all the previous 6 seasons. And despite this, like the asshole I am, I obviously know everything I need to know about the show to write a pretentious and cynical review of Season 7 Episode 1.

I left to write this review after Negan lined everybody up with menacing intent for like the third time, partly because it was deeply affecting (and let’s not lie, it really was), but also because I was fed up. And the review I read ensured I didn’t miss anything that would contravene my hypothesis, and didn’t really need to see the end of the episode at all.

The elements of this episode lined up before the crosshairs of my article like the main characters stumbling into Negan’s mind-numbingly excessive, unrealistic and overpowered traps. What we consuming this week is the pure distilled misery of characters that we’ve grown connected to through the character-driven labour of seasons past, suffering utterly unmoored from trivialities like, you know, story. Because the character of Negan makes no fucking sense.

What the fuck kind of apocalypse-scarcity humanity-extinction operation is he running? The kind where you can afford to tire out your potential manpower on hysterically unnecessary metaphorical jaunts? The kind where killing people left right and centre in the most horrifying and brutal way possible not only convinces them to team up with you, but also leaves them even a tiny bit emotionally stable enough to effectively labour for you? Or like, doesn’t take 10 years off their lives with the stress you’re putting them through?

The kind of operation where the work environment isn’t so violent and toxic there would likely be daily violence amongst your own men? The kind where you would somehow have enough resources to waste fuel left right and centre, but also feed your whole crew while your haul is only half the resources from individuals who have the darndest time finding their own dwindling supplies in a world of constant scarcity? The kind where you, o uber-cruel evil leader, are so mary-sue that you cannot be hurt despite being moronically reckless on an hourly basis?

I could go on, but won’t. If this show was ever good, it is no longer. In a way it’s beautiful, the way what used to be a gritty and psychologically realistic drama became the purest form of metaphor. The cumulative 30+ minutes where everyone has to stare at traumatizing things being done to the body of another character they love is a microcosm for everything the show has become–a shambling, undead, grotesque version of its former self.

 

‘Cisgender’ is not oppressive

What is gender? Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, political philosopher at the University of Warwick, certainly has some strong feelings about it in her article Gender is Not a Spectrum. Her article presents a learning opportunity for anyone uncomfortable with the ever-changing landscape of gender identity, and anyone–women in particular–who feels hurt by the descriptor “cisgender” and troubled by the complicated axes of intersectional oppression.

Reilly-Cooper does a fine job setting the scene for feminist theories of gender: she writes that “while sex referred to what is biological… gender refers to the externally imposed set of norms that prescribe and proscribe desirable behaviour to individuals in accordance with morally arbitrary characteristics.”

While this view may not account for all gender difference as biological factors complicate the mix, there is substantial evidence that this theory is useful. Schoolyard bullying and harassment punishes deviation from heterosexual gender norms, parents instruct and enforce gendered clothes and behaviours, schools and teachers enforce sexist dress codes. Children are taught gender difference, and these early lessons about gender also form the basis for the kind of workplace, public, and interpersonal sexism faced by women in our society.

Furthermore, they serve to stifle gender difference that people experience in the world. An increasing number of people are seeking refuge from the male-female gender binary in alternative, non-binary identities to which the author alludes.

It is this point at which the set up ends and the vague, ornery fallacies commence.

Reilly-Cooper meticulously lists non-binary gender identities, communicating clear derision for what she considers a redundant and indulgent fad. Then this needless bit of linguistic acrobatics:

“If gender really is a spectrum, doesn’t this mean that every individual alive is non-binary, by definition? If so, then the label ‘non-binary’ to describe a specific gender identity would become redundant, as it would fail to pick out a special category of people.”

She extends this argument to the word “Transgender”, claiming that because gender is inculcated in all people “every single one of us is cisgender”. Therefore “everyone is trans. Or… there are no trans people.”

Well.

First, the language in this article is a hot mess, with liberal conflation of ‘non-binary’, Transgender, transsexual, and various other identities, weird pronouncements like “the queer view of gender”, and a lot of other nutty unpacked assumptions and language. For the purposes of this response, I’m going to use “non-normative” to invoke any non-binary or non-normative gender designations unless otherwise specified.

For the record, I can’t believe I’m going to engage rationally with these claims.

The phrase ‘gender is a spectrum’ doesn’t demand total, dogmatic adherence. No one is fucking married to the phrase. It serves one very clear function, which is to illustrate that there’s various different ways to exist beyond the historically-obligatory “men” and “women” when it comes to gender. It’s useful for dealing with adherents to the naturalistic model of gender Reilly-Cooper herself describes, for those who believe gender to be intrinsically connected to biological sex.

It is not, in fact, contradictory for the word ‘non-binary’ and the term ‘gender spectrum’ to coexist, because despite the vast scope of human diversity implied by ‘spectrum’ we are still assigned one of two binary genders at birth. The binary is kept alive in our society, in systems which re-enforce that reductive and oppressive view of humanity and deny the spectrum of human diversity. ‘Non-binary’ could refer to anyone who identifies anywhere outside of that social binary which still exists in our language and our institutions–yeah, that’s right, non-binary people didn’t make the boxes. And while we’re on it, what is the political power of LGBT+ and non-binary people such that their identities are “politically troubling”? In the U.S., Transgender people can’t even use the bathroom. The existence of agender and other non-binary people is widely unrecognized. Doesn’t look like undue political influence to me.

Reilly-Cooper wants to play language games rather than engage with the lived experiences and stories of people who identify as non-binary. Implicitly, ‘non-binary’ and other non-normative genders also refer to those whose assigned gender felt so uncomfortable and incongruent with their identity that they needed another word to feel happy, sane, and to tell their truth. Their life may even have depended on it.

If this sounds improbable to you, it may be because it is not something cisgender people experience. The difference is that while cisgender people may not like the way people of their gender are treated, they don’t mind the identity itself. If you’re comfortable living with the gender identity you were assigned, you already don’t understand how it would feel to be so uncomfortable with that gender designation that people like you are depressed, dysphoric, and commit suicide at alarmingly high rates.

Apparently knowing none of these things, Reilly goes on to mock various kinds of gender, mostly with the fact that language makes use of oppositions and so no one can claim to be ‘non-binary’. I’m not convinced that this quality of language means those with non-normative genders are oppressing her.

She also makes fun of various genders she made up, like “pizza” and “the sea”. If you dig here, there’s a valid discussion beneath her slippery slope fallacy. Some terms might just seem too improbable or fantastical to be taken seriously by all people, so what does that mean for those with non-normative genders?

For Reilly-Cooper it means you can be condescending, telling them to “have some fun” with gender after spending multiple paragraphs implying that having fun with gender is ridiculous.

Let people call themselves what they want–I promise the gender binary will still be alive and kicking even if someone chooses the gender “pillow”. And there is a pretty big difference between that person and someone who identifies as agender.

But Reilly-Cooper thinks they’re essentially the same, because she doesn’t believe in all this alternative gender claptrap like the existence of agender people. To her, the possibility of “frog gender” existing means they must all be thrown out. She claims adopting a term like agender is to “slip through the bars of the cage while leaving the rest of the cage intact” (Somehow, the cage means sexism). The only solution is abolishing gender, and she doesn’t seem to realize that there’s most probably no way we will ever abolish gender, or that there might be steps in between then and now, like establishing alternative genders.

The existence of alternative genders actually helps destabilize the proverbial cage. And if calling themselves agender works to make someone feel good, why shouldn’t someone do it? Because it leaves her behind, that’s why. And the existence of non-binary and non-normative gender identities is about her.

Reilly-Cooper is painfully wrong about what being Transgender means. She allows Transgender people to exist because they allow her to preserve the binary, and she projects her own gender oppression onto the notion of transition. She claims people transition because they “find the gender roles associated with their sex so oppressive and limiting that they cannot tolerably live under them.” No, people transition because they identify with a gender other than their assigned gender. And Transgender means many different things to different people.

Ms. Reilly-Cooper, you are not “a two-dimensional gender stereotype”. Neither am I. And non-binary people aren’t interested in enforcing your cisgendered-ness. They’re not the ones thinking of your uterus when evaluating your suitability for the workplace. They’re not the ones catcalling you, or writing your gender on your passport, or forcing you to use pronouns that don’t communicate the depth of your personality, or coordinating a vast system of gendered oppression. That system hurts them too. They have enough to deal with. If anything’s proof of non-normative gender identities, it is the fact that people continue to adopt them despite constant ongoing violence visited upon them. That’s how important it is for them. And that is not our reality, which makes it easy for us to trivialize and deride the needs of those who choose to name their own gender.

The question that has to be asked is this: Ms. Reilly-Cooper, what is your point? The argument is incoherent. Its most honest moment is the claim that non-binary people are perpetuating and permitting the misogyny she experiences. Ouch.

What kind of delusion could inspire someone to think that those people seeking refuge from a punitive, restrictive, reductive binary system of gender are responsible for the gendered oppression you face as a woman? How is the mere existence of the chosen identities of some of the most marginalized and victimized people on the earth the cause? No logic to be found here. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to the normalization of the label “cisgender”, which she perceives to be as oppressive as a two-pole binary gender hierarchy.

“Gender is not a Spectrum” consists of revelling in tiny, invented technical incongruities, as well as combining condescension and mean-spirited incredulousness directed at those with different experiences with a terrific lack of interest in learning from people who actually have these identities. But here’s the real spirit behind the article: Reilly laments that “a handful of individuals are apparently permitted to opt out of the spectrum altogether” (emphasis mine). Reilly-Cooper’s article is permeated by a sense of righteous anger that those with non-normative genders are cheating to escape the routine oppression and violations they are “due” as a member of the gender binary. And that’s fucked up.

DIY Table Un-Wobbler

It’s happened before—you, honest blogger/writer/scholar/frequenter of coffee shops or other tabled spaces, just want to get down to work writing/blogging/studying/goofing off/wasting your life on the internet, without being harassed by the uncertain terrain of a vacillating table. Maybe it ruins your flow, or threatens the wellbeing of your electronic devices or books with an overflowing cappuccino. 

What causes these unstable surfaces? Issues with the way tables are constructed in our capitalistic society? The intersection between our physical habits and the psychology of table use? We may never know. Little scholarship is being conducted on this menace to your scholarly pursuits. Whatever the cause, you need this obnoxiousness to go away, and you left your handyman’s kit at home.

Step 1: Select a packet of sugar, spice, or sweetener from the rack available for you. If you’re in a library give up now. 

Step 2: The table rocks around a single point on the centre. if you put your full weight on one side, it will stay solid. The problem is you can’t do this and still get your work done. Determine which way you’d like the table to rest, and lean on the opposite side. NOTE: you probably can’t do this alone, so make a new friend. You’ll impress the shit out of them with your awesome DIY instincts.

Step 3: While someone leans on the table, slide the packet of sugar under the side that’s raised. Plump or de-plump the packet depending on how much excess space there is so that it completely fills the gap between the table leg and the floor.

Step 4: Enjoy peaceful creative flow, and the satisfaction of benefitting from sheer genius. Tell your friends you made it up yourself.

What to do if you’re offended by someone else’s pain

Behind me, Lucy Loudmouth bemoans the current state of “PC” enforcement (loosely paraphrased): “Now nobody can wear a headdress at Coachella? And the way they treated Kylie Jenner… This political correctness just goes too far.”

I do get it. As a white kid I had my share of bad reactions to criticisms on the grounds of race. But this reaction—which shall hereafter be referred to as the “last-straw” approach—really mystifies me. 

The “last-straw” reaction is typically scripted as follows: “Listen, I’m totally okay with rights for Black People/POC. But saying I shouldn’t wear cornrows/wear a headdress/brandish a confederate flag/paint a bindi on my head/etc. is just taking it too far.” This weird reaction is predominantly reserved for people who are asking for tolerance on the grounds of cultural appropriation, but it does extend to other disenfranchised groups, like women or Lgbtqia+.

Why does the suggestion that other white people’s behaviour is inappropriate make white people so uncomfortable? Lucy Loudmouth will never wear a headdress, or cornrows, and neither will 80% of the people who have this reaction to stories of people getting flack for behaving outside the bounds of good taste.

Perhaps some people think this language isn’t harmful. But the “last-straw” reaction demonstrates that their allyship and support of disenfranchised people is 100% conditional on their personal comfort. White people simply don’t like the suggestion that they’re not allowed to do things on the grounds of racial appropriateness (the irony of which does not escape me), even if they are never going to personally wear a headdress to Coachella. 

This is even more ridiculous because it shows a complete and utter refusal to accommodate patterns of historical change in regards to shifting standards of public behaviour. There are so many things that used to be common in public discourse that now result in public crucifixion, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just like some things become more appropriate over time (like seeing young women in tank tops or being open about having sex), others pass beyond the bounds of good taste as our collective moral compass recallibrates. Railing against this fact is a little like being a proponent of the confederate flag—someone who does so will only be perceived as more racist as time goes on.

So, in the interest of actually helping out the poor souls who think these kinds of comments are either necessary or tasteful, here are a few steps to go through if you think you might be about to make a comment like this. Ask yourself the following questions:

Do you actually know why [minority group] is upset? Because it’s probably not that they want to hurt you, or take away things away from you. Somewhere, they probably explain why they want you to stop. A cursory Google search should do. Here, let me get that for you.

Next, decide if these people, their feelings, and their lives matter to you!

Once that’s done, ask yourself: does the criticism affect you in any way? If it does, should you modify your day-to-day behaviour? Fun fact: if you weren’t planning on doing said slightly racist/sexist/homophobic/classist/ableist thing, you can probably just kick up your heels and congratulate yourself.

The next step is to ask yourself if it’s actually necessary to open your slightly racist mouth. Sometimes, keeping quiet over a slight concern is the kinder, more thoughtful thing to do. Remember, white people don’t always need to voice every feeling and thought that springs into their heads.

As a final check, is there any chance that your answers to the above questions mark you as the contemporary version of your grandma who asks where the “real canadian nurses” are, and everyone just mumbles and looks away in discomfort?

Repeat as necessary.

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Flash, Friendzoned

As a jaded comic book asshole, I wasn’t expecting much from The Flash TV show. I’d been hurt by comic book adaptations before. But this show does have a surprisingly original take on an age-old tropes. 

For those unfamiliar with the premise, Barry Allen is a nerdy scientist granted extraordinary speed powers by scientific accident, who’s in love with a pretty girl who doesn’t know he’s the Flash. This may sound familiar because it’s the plot of a good 50% of comic book adaptations.

In this particular type of fantasy, an intelligent (nerdy) young man lacks the ability to effect change in his personal life—most often to defeat his bully and to attract the girl. Fortunately he acquires supernatural abilities. Using these powers he defeats his enemy, acts in accordance with his morality, and gets the girl. His powers are often an explicit symbol for power (see “with great power”, etc.); 

Tobey learns an important lesson about the friendzone!

impotence (physical and romantic) is replaced by the ‘power’ to do anything he wants. It should further be noted that this upgrade to obscene amounts of power serves as a catalyst for positive qualities he already possesses—like leadership, determination, or a passion for justice—just granting him the ability to act on those latent qualities.

This narrative is a kind of makeover story, in the sense that most makeover stories relent their insistence on superficiality and simperingly conclude that “being yourself was good enough the whole time.” To be satisfying, the conclusion must be that not only is the superhero persona good, desirable, and powerful, but that your average joe-shoe is, too—perhaps even more so than the superhero alter-ego.

The problem1 with this narrative is that it has a payoff akin to that of eating McDonald’s food. It briefly feels really really good, and hits exactly the right spots, but does this almost too well. Its generic flavour leaves your palette with nothing to mull over, and drives the point across by overloading your senses with one taste. Consider the emotional payoff of this scene: the Flash reveals himself to Iris as a giant tsunami threatens New York (oops, I meant Central City). Cue pounding, dramatic music.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXa7BUz7WM0

But, you might ask, isn’t this just part of the nature of superhero comics? Yes, partly. But people still think McDonald’s is objectively crappy, even if it is undeniably a type of food 2.

The Flash perfectly embodies some narrative qualities of this fantasy. While day-to-day Barry Allen is a kind, geeky young man friendzone 3d by his childhood friend Iris, the Flash is a macho guy with a deep voice who is mysterious, powerful, and cracks no jokes (jokes are for nerds). The Flash’s flirtation with Iris is always a little bit in earnest: the chemistry between the two is palpable. Iris’ eyes shine with a passion not present in her scenes with her longterm boyfriend, Eddie.

There are obligatory scenes of her gasping with astonishment while the Flash moves to rooftops and things. She asks him who he his; he, of course, acts manfully mysterious. These scenes are the setup for the McDonald’s payoff in the Tsunami scene. 

But the Flash also undermines this trope in some brilliant ways, at least before its glimmerings of greatness are buried beneath generic flip-flopping. The show makes the potential romantic arc between Superhero and love interest a lot more messy than it typically is.

First of all, their relationship is at least a little incesty. They’re adoptive siblings, which adds an almost imperceptible element of discomfort to their flirtation and inevitable romance. Furthermore, Iris and Barry act creepy in their regular, day-to-day lives—she flirts with her adoptive brother to the discomfort of everyone, including Eddie. And Eddie’s a pretty nice dude, making these scenes an uncomfortable experience. 

Iris’ physical flirtation with Barry and jealousy over his date place her in uncomfortable ethical territory: she provokes accusations of ‘friendzoning’, sets up expectations about female agency, and is creepily inappropriate. The weirdest example is when both Iris and Barry leave wounded Eddie’s side to partake in costumed flirtation in the hallway, mere metres from his hospital bed. Mutual immorality prevents the potential union of Barry and Iris from being totally neat, clean, and satisfying to watch, already poisoning the picture-perfect template laid out by prior superhero media.

The show exaggerates the space between Barry Allen and his persona as the Flash. It’s clear that the two are not only different kinds of people, but that it’s actually unhelpful for Barry to be behaving in accordance with comic book masculinity. The penultimate episode ‘Rogue Air’ makes a point of critiquing Barry’s attempts to emulate his idol/friend, the Arrow4. Barry’s reckless behaviour is not in line with his unique personality and the things that make him a great hero, serving as a vague acknowledgment that creepy, hyper-masculine behaviour isn’t what is wanted or needed to do the job. Sometimes, masculinity is antithetical to it.

It proves antithetical to romance too: while under the influence of an emotion-manipulating metahuman 5, the Flash takes his stalking to the next level by beating Eddie up while Iris looks on.

While throwing Eddie around, Barry screams “Who the hell are you, huh? You think you can just come along and get to have whatever you want? What gives you the right? 6”. He is, of course, referring to the fact that Eddie—mentioned to be a ‘jock’ type in a previous episode—is dating Iris. Part of what’s scary here is that Eddie isn’t a mean jock; he’s just a pleasant guy doing his job, who happens to be in love with Iris. But in his altered state, Barry maps these comic book tropes onto the people he loves and the people he dislikes, resulting in Eddie’s near-hospitalization. Barry’s frustration over his romantic situation, and his position on a perceived social hierarchy where Eddie represents the position of ‘jock’—both hallmarks of the stereotypical nerd storyline—are exposed as potentially violent impulses.

And rather than interpreting The Flash’s outburst as a manful spectacle of comic book awesomeness, Iris kicks him to the curb. Where before she entertained his swooshing around on rooftops, she tells him to leave her alone—which is what a sensible person would do 7

Just to be clear, I don’t think Barry is a bad person 8. I don’t think he did it on purpose, and I don’t think he’s entirely responsible for what happened to Eddie. He was, after all, under the influence of a criminal metahuman. But I think that the show presents some surprisingly reasonable hitches to what is normally a smooth tale of nerd ascendance to power.

In typical comic-book media, the conclusion to Barry’s flirtation with Iris is a foregone conclusion. The Flash reveals himself to Iris during the tsunami (remember that tsunami?); Iris confesses her feelings, they kiss passionately, and Barry runs off to save the world. But then Barry travels back in time and prevents the disaster from happening. 

Time manipulation as a device can get really boring and meaningless in comic books, because it allows for things to be undone—meaning that death and life can be rendered meaningless, as anyone can be resurrected or un-killed. But in The Flash, Barry’s time travel means that in the past, he’s aware of Iris’ future declaration of love for him. Because he knows the future, Barry expects romantic success with Iris 9.

But in the universe of The Flash, the future is malleable. When Barry confronts Iris in the past because of what he knows about the future 10, he misreads her; outside of the tsunami situation, she isn’t prepared to admit her feelings for Barry, or to leave Eddie for him. This is an important point: even when the future says Iris should date Barry, her present self is under no obligation to do so. 

Iris’ changeability adds dimension to relationships in the show. It suggests love is situational, and that people change from day to day. The Iris who declared love for Barry was under a very different set of conditions than the one sitting opposite him in the coffeeshop of an alternate future. It’s reasonable to assume she would have different feelings and responses to him when they’re not standing under a giant tsunami. The Flash paints a surprisingly humanizing portrait of human potentiality, with time functioning as a metaphor and catalyst for revelations about nerd entitlement. The show prepares a narrative meal with some of the instant gratification of stereotypical TV adaptations, one that also contains other puzzling flavours.

Its protagonist fail the ultimate masculinity litmus test—Iris decides both Barry and the Flash are not for her. And this is a really exciting thing to see on TV; a rejection of toxic tropes, a chance for characters to grow outside of the cookie-cutter they were spawned in. The stereotypical nerd narrative is one which poisons real men and their interactions with women, forming some of the logic behind real-life crimes perpetrated against women. Tropes like these feed the most insidious elements of nerd culture, part of a culture in which women’s consent, bodies, and sexuality are presumed to be owed to men. Demolishing these poisonous tropes in a mainstream TV show would feel like christmas come early.

But obviously, we can’t have nice things. Instead of leaving lil’ sad friendzoned Barry to deal with the fallout of his semi-incestuous crush by reflecting on his sense of entitlement, the show tries to get as much mileage out of the love triangle as possible by resurrecting it several times. The friends discover that in the future, an article is written by someone named ‘Iris West-Allen’, which totally obviously means Barry is back in the game and Eddie backs off. Except WAIT, he’s not backing off? Love triangle is go. And so on and so forth. This, of course, strips Iris’ choice—Eddie over Barry—of all credibility, rendering her potentiality a mere plot device rather than a commentary on nerd entitlement, female agency, and the nature of relationships.

In the end, The Flash is still the comic book equivalent of McCafé. They’re trying, though they’re still cashing in on some pretty generic and uninteresting recipes.

 

anImage_97.tiff

1 More like ONE problem

2 Actually, there’s some debate on this point

I don’t believe in this. i’m being sarcastic

4 An astonishingly boring Batman wannabe

“Nice guys finish last!”

Sorry, nerds. if you beat up her boyfriend she’s not going to go out with you

He’s actually a genuinely good person who deals pretty effectively with rejection.

it’s almost like the show is making a meta-point about nerd awareness of the metaphorical nerd narrative!

confusing! 

against