Let’s Talk about That Game of Thrones Episode

A.K.A. Bad writing is sexist writing is bad writing, GoT edition.

Spoilers for GoT through Season 5, Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.

If you spend any time on the internet, you have already heard of the horrible events of the latest GoT episode. The GoT showrunner’s D&D gave us extra servings of their favorite topping– gratuitous rape.

In the interest of everyone’s sanity, I’m not going to catch us up to this episode. Take my word for it–poor Sansa Stark has been suffering for nearly four seasons now. She has been humiliated publicly by her ex-fiance (the king!), almost raped, threatened with rape, forced to watch her father beheaded. Most of her family is dead. The family members who are alive are presumed dead. It’s not a good time to be Sansa.

Unfortunately for those of us who hate sexism and poor writing, D&D, our resident cackling villains, have taken Sansa on a journey of suffering where everyone is acting either illogically and/or out of character. All so that we can get poor Sansa to the point where she is raped on her wedding night by her new sadistic fiance, Ramsey Bolton.

Take creepy, flesh peddler Littlefinger. A bad guy, absolutely. But thus far, he has proven himself a shrewd and savvy manipulator. He has spies everywhere so he always has the 411. And he’s eeirely obsessed with Sansa. It has something to do with his love for her late mother and how he could never have her. Nevermind that. He would not marry Sansa off to a sadistic creep like Ramsey unless it was for truly great political gain. And he would absolutely know that Ramsey is a creep. He knows everything.

Take the creep Ramsey. He’s been a moustache twirling sadistic villain for a good season or two now. Not at all an interesting character. No shades there. He’s pure evil. We got the point when he tortured and mutilated Theon. And again when he sicked the dogs on his ex lover. There may have been a third or fourth time. I really don’t recall. Evil, we get it. Evil and sadistic. That’s about it. We don’t need the rape scene to teach us he’s evil and sadistic. We know. Sansa knows too– she got it during the awkward family dinner where he reminded her how she was surrounded by people who literally killed her family. Even his dad (the guy responsible for killing Sansa’s mother and brother) told him to STFU and show some manners.

Now, here’s the thing. It doesn’t make sense for Ramsey to rape Sansa. Yes, he’s evil, but he’s been respectful to Sansa so far. He seems to convince Littlefinger that he won’t hurt her (and lord knows Littlefinger would see through a lie). But even if is heart is full of evil, Ramsey is in a tough spot. He needs to stay in line. Once a bastard, now a Bolton, Ramsey is heir as long as he’s the only son around (and as long as he isn’t renounced). But his new step-mom is preggers. Oh noes! The sexist, lackluster writing requires that he ignore any bit of sense so he can rape Sansa on their wedding night.

Bad writing. Sexist writing. They’re all tangled up in each other and there’s no way of telling what came first. One doesn’t excuse or explain the other. Not really. The showrunners made a conscious decision to ignore internal consistency in favor of adding a rape scene that serves no narrative purpose. Bad writing all around. Sexist writing all around.

It’s that same chestnut we discussed many moons ago. Sexist writing is bad writing. Bad writing is sexist writing. Instead of doing something interesting with Sansa’s story, GoT subjects her to horrors we’ve seen before. We know women on the show are raped. And we’ve seen poor Sansa tortured by her sadistic fiance. This was lazy, uninspired writing. It was also sexist. Or maybe it was sexist and lazy and uninspired. There’s no telling which came first, really.

We know Ramsey is evil. We know Sansa is made to suffer. We know Westeros is not an easy place for a lady. There’s no reason why Ramsey needs to rape Sansa. It’s not new information and it doesn’t advance the narrative. It’s not as if the plot the put Sansa in this predicament is interesting and well constructed. It’s like the plot is written around the damn rape scene!

The scene itself doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Sansa enters the room steel-eyed, understanding the expectations of her wedding night. it’s not like she’s excited to have sex with a weird stranger, but she knows it’s expected of her and seems perfectly willing to go along with it. Ramsey acts respectfully toward her. He asks if she likes the way the room is set up and seems genuinely concerned with her well-being. For no apparent reason, Ramsey questions Sansa’s chastity (she was technically married before. How is it she’s really a virgin?) There’s no sign that her answers push him to a breaking point. That they bring out his inner evil or something. That would be bad writing but at least there would be an effort.

There is no narrative reason why Sansa and Ramsey couldn’t have consensual sex. She seems perfectly willing to go along with it until he orders Theon/Reek to watch. And even then, she starts taking off her clothes.

But, for some reason that is not at all apparent in the scene, this is not good enough for Ramsey. He rips off her dress and orders Theon/Reek to watch Sansa become a women. The camera cuts to Sansa’s face for a few seconds then to Theon’s horrified reaction.

This is the worst of it yet.

His reaction becomes more important than hers.

What. The. Fuck!?!?!

That’s bad writing– plot doesn’t happen to main characters to motivate side characters–and it’s really, really sexist. We’ve all seen movies where the wife is killed to motivate the hero (better known as fridge stuffing).

The plot went through a lot of terrible contortions to put Sansa in a situation where she was at risk of sexual assault. All of these things were decisions on the parts of the showrunners. That is how fiction works. Writers make decisions and those decisions shape the plot, the characters, the world. GoT is not based on real life. It is not based on history. There are ice zombies and dragons and 800 foot tall walls. All of these things are DECISIONS. There is nothing inevitable about Sansa’s plot. This is not about her becoming a woman or a player in the game. She doesn’t need any more motivation– she’s surrounded by people who killed her family. That’s plenty motivation. The only possible narrative reason for this scene was to motivate Theon. That is not okay.

That’s bad writing.

That’s sexist writing.

This plot was boring. It was predictable. It was repetitive. And it was sexist.

Unfortunately, GoT has been all of the above.

(And before anyone tells me not to watch if I don’t like it. Well, one that’s a stupid argument. And two, I watch so I can take part in these conversations and because the hate coursing through my veins makes me feel alive).

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Revisiting the Karaoke Hostess

It’s been nearly two years since I stopped working as a domi. It’s funny. I was only a karaoke hostess for a few months, but it still occupies a large space in my brain. I got funny stories, sure, and met interesting people, but, mostly, the thing was an awakening.

It took a while for me to iron out the thoughts. Maybe they are silly thoughts, petty things, easy to brush aside in favor of real concerns like getting a job and paying the bills.

It’s not as if I am the first woman to see my body as an object. The world wants us to see ourselves as objects. Open up a magazine and you will see page after page of women dissected for their parts–their luscious tits, their perfect asses, their lean legs, their flat stomachs. We are parts, not wholes, smooth and poreless from plenty of photoshop. Sure, men are posed provocatively in ads, but it is never the same. Men are strong and powerful, big muscles and broad shoulders. Women are weak and diminutive, with tiny bodies taking up as little space as possible.

It is hard to explain how if feels to see yourself as thing first, person second. I’m mostly over it, mostly able to think of myself as a whole thing, my brain first, my body second. But I think all women feel this to some degree. How we look is always most important. How much we appeal to men is always most important.

I liked being a karaoke hostess. It was an easy job, except for the cigarette smoke and the late hours. It was surprisingly easy to pretend to like boring assholes. After all, I have been taught how to play this role my whole life. I have been taught to be sexy, to be sweet, to be demure–that is what a woman should be. I have been taught to play defense. I am a thing to be protected, to be defended from the big, scary thing that is male sexuality. Women on defense, men on offense– our culturual expectations play out in those karaoke rooms. I had to deflect groping attempts and requests for sex nicely, like so many women do, despite the progress made by sexual harassment laws.

The funny thing is how unremarkable the whole thing was. I was so used to this kind of thing–wanting to look pretty, win male affection, trade my body for money–that it never stood out to me. I never told any of my friends. A few strangers, here and there. My boyfriend. But friends and family–no way. How would I even explain it? The truth it, I didn’t want them to know. After two years, I crave confessional, but I am afraid of perverting others’ opinions of me. Will they take me less seriously? Will they think I’m a slut? Will they even understand what it was.

I have always had a problem with my self-worth. Many people do, women especially. I have always needed something to measure it by. In the old days, my eating disorder days, I measured my worth by my calorie deficit. The less I ate and the more I exercised, the more value I had. But, with that horrible phase mostly behind me, I needed something else to measure my value–my look and my ability to make money.

In a capitalist society, people are only as good as their ability to earn and spend money. In a sexist society, women are only as good as their ability to fit into the role of mother, wife, or ingenue. How convenient–a job that assured me of my sexual value while it made me a good, little capitalist. The trouble is, it didn’t work out quite like that. Instead of rising, my self-esteem got tangled in the idea of making money. I was only worth what I brought home every night. I was only as happy as what I brought home every night. If I didn’t make enough, I wasn’t enough– pretty enough, fun enough, sexy enough.

I don’t know how I managed to untangle my self-worth. I am finally at a point where I recognize my value as a person, aside from my looks or my earning potential. I still don’t earn a lot of money, but I don’t let it define me. I have moments where I obsess over my appearance– changing my hair, perfecting my makeup, criticizing my stomach–but I acknowledge them and push past them. I wish I had more useful advice, but I have no clue how I arrived at this place.

I don’t regret any of my actions, but I don’t recommend them to others. If you have other options, don’t trade on your sexuality to make money. Not because it is immoral or indecent. Because you start to see yourself as a thing, and it is very hard to see yourself as a person again.

Best of 2013

I am still trying to figure out what I want this blog to be. It’s anonymous, for now, and in equal parts about feminism, screenwriting, and snippets of my life. Expect more of everything in the coming year, even a few thoughts tying my past work as a domi to my feminist take on writing and media. An, of course, more thoughts about Death Note and my other obsessions. Now, without further ado, my recommendations from 2013!

My most popular posts- my take on working as a domi (karaoke hostess) in Koreatown in winter/spring 2012:

https://fionafire.wordpress.com/2013/02/16/domi/

https://fionafire.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/that-girl-karaoke-hostess-continued/

Best feminist analysis/writing advice, but plenty of Death Note spoilers:

https://fionafire.wordpress.com/2013/05/31/death-note-raye-penber/

https://fionafire.wordpress.com/2013/06/12/why-sexist-writing-is-lackluster-writing-death-note-pt-2/

Best slice of life:

https://fionafire.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/holy-awkwardness-batman/

https://fionafire.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/the-return-of-awkwardness/

The Hunger Games

I’ve noticed an incredibly obnoxious trend. People, mostly male adults, aim to discredit The Hunger Games–the books and the films–because the franchise is aimed at teenage girls. Because, of course, if something is aimed at teenage girls, it must be inane. A novel aimed at teenage girls could never contain intelligent social commentary or touch on the horrors of war, trauma, and PTSD. Everyone knows GIRLS DON’T GO TO WAR. Only MEN go to war. Only men can write REAL books about war. Only men write serious books. Joseph Heller, Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Conrad, Kurt Vonnegut–these are MEN who know war, who can write real books, about men, for men.

And, wow, The Onion, I am so impressed that you can mock 14 year old girls. Now go circle jerk over Breaking Bad with your bros at the AV Club.

The only thing worse is people complaining that Gale is hotter than Peeta. Missing the point for 800, Alec. It’s almost as idiotic as creating a Hunger Games inspired makeup line. Oh wait, they already did that… because we all know teenage girls like makeup.

No, I Will Not See Your Movie

I will not see it in a theater. I will watch it on Netflix. I will not Rebox it. I will not watch it on TV, not even at the gym, not even if all the other channels are the food network.

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A VIRGIN! How scandalous.

I’ve fucking had it.

We’ve got a guy. He looks somewhere between 16 and 25. And his great crime–a horrible embarrassment–is that he has never put his penis in a woman’s vagina. What if someone found out he’d never have sex. They’d never speak to him again, right?

Cue eyeroll. Could movies PLEASE stop trying to convince us that teenagers are obsessed with “losing it.” Teenagers don’t want to have sex because they are ashamed of their virginity. They want to have sex because IT’S FREAKING SEX, and everyone the media and adults say suggests that sex is awesome.

Because, obviously, if there is a teenage boy all he will care about is SEX and BOOBIES. And if he’s never touched boobies, touching boobies will be the only thing in his life that matters. His friends–just kidding, virgins aren’t allowed friends–will mock him endlessly for never putting his penis in a vagina. Can you image? Never putting his penis in a vagina… jeez, what a loser.

I’m not at all surprised that the adult woman in the movie is a stripper. Strippers are stereotyped as feigning sexual interest in men for money. Strippers are stereotyped as being damaged goods–molested children to turn into sluts as teenagers.

For a teenage boy not having sex is the worst social status imaginable. For an adult woman, taking charge of your sexuality is the worst social status imaginable.

Sexist stereotypes like this hurt boys as much as they hurt girls. Boys are expected to want sex all the time, at the expense of anything else. Girls are expected to feel no desire, to only have sex as a gesture of love and kindness.

Is it any wonder it’s so hard to have a sexually fulfilling relationship?

It’s okay to want sex, or not want sex, whether you are 16 or 60, male or female. And it’s okay to have sex, or not have sex, for any reason you choose. It doesn’t make you a freak. It makes you a human being.

 

Why Sexist Writing is Lackluster Writing (Death Note pt 2)

Spoilers for Death Note to follow.

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Meet Misa. A strong, independent 19 year old model and actress. She has a gothic sense of style– fluer-de-lis jewelry, short skirts, red lips, and lots of black. Unlike the cold and calculating Light, Misa is impulsive, excitable, and determined. Misa wants one thing–to meet her hero Kira, the person who brought her parents’ killer to justice. She isn’t as bright as Light or L, but she manipulates the media with a series of Kira videotapes and a careful clue: a “journal page” with a dozen entries. One entry, only obvious to another who wields a Death Note, spells things out: we showed off our notebooks in Ayoma.

Once she finds Light’s identity, Misa immediately finds him. She tells him her tragic backstory–how he killed the man who murdered her parents–and offers her undying devotion. She wants him to… wait for it…

Be her boyfriend.

But surely it’s because she so admires Kira and his strong sense of justice. Right?

Nope. It’s love at first sight.

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And, like any woman in love should, Misa loses any semblance of intelligence or independence  She happily obeys Lights commands, even offering to kill the friend who handled the Kira tapes for her. Light can’t be her boyfriend (can an emotionless psychopath be anyone’s boyfriend), but he can pretend. Like any good woman should, Misa compromises, accepts the deal, devotes herself to making him love her. Poor traumatized girl is only 19, doesn’t realize this never works.

But, at first, I feel confident for her. This girl is no dummy. She gets things done. She has a successful career as a model. She lives alone. Takes care of herself. I feel excited for interesting plot developments. Excited for the tension between the always calculating Light and the impetuous Misa.

But I am let down.

Misa is captured, loses her memory, and devolves into a whiny anime stereotype. Her only personality is in GASPS, upbeat cheer, and endless devotion. From this point forward, she follows Light’s command, never fighting with him or questioning him.

But people agreeing is not interesting. One character blindly following another is not interesting. CONFLICT is interesting. Dissenting opinions. Suspicion. Jealousy. Arguments. These are interesting.

The series throws away a scene with amazing potential. When Light asks Misa to relinquish her Death Note (again), she agrees. She is HAPPY.

Let me get this straight. This woman who wants more than anything to be useful to Light doesn’t object to giving up her spot on the Kira – Second Kira team. She’s happy to lose the memory of all the things (granted, most of these things are murder, but murder is still a shared experience) that brought them together? She happy to be a “normal woman.”

Where is the fight? Where is Misa screaming that she is doing this for Light. That she loves him. That she is unwilling to leave his side. That she is unwilling to give up this thing that binds him, to give up her memories. Sure, Death Note isn’t a romance. We don’t need an episode profiling Misa and Light’s non-relationship. We don’t need to see them making cold, heartless love.

And do you expect me to believe that the endlessly devoted Misa won’t take issue with Light “pretending” to date another woman? He’s meeting her in hotel rooms for Christ’s sake. But impulsive Misa does nothing rash to stop this. She never tries to break it up. Never gets in the way of Light’s evil plan.

Because Light is the smart one. Cold, calculating, asexual (or homosexual?) Light, a guy who can’t understand why women have these horrible feeling things, is the smart one. And the only people who truly stand in his way, his only true adversaries, are men: L and Near.

Thus, when (spoilers) L dies at the end of episode 25, the series serves up more of the same. We get an L knockoff–Near–an irritating kid with the same baggy white shirt and unkempt hair. He even has his own cool eccentricity–he plays with toys. Great. Settle in for the 12 most boring episodes of the series.

With a notable exception.

One episode is nearly Near free. The episode where Light beings his romance with/manipulation of Takada, a Kira supporting newscaster. Always the expert manipulator,  especially when he’s tricking women with their dumb feelings, Light convinces Takada Misa is a pawn–she doesn’t have enough brains for him (the IRONY).

This subplot serves up the only interesting scenes in the final arc. The best is a dinner between Misa and Takada. The women spar, Misa’s vitriol and desperation contrasting with the reporter’s calm exterior. Both believe Light loves them. Both are pawns in his machinations. It’s a fascinating scene. It’s a scene with emotion, subtext, hidden motivations.

These episodes had potential. If the writers had given Misa and Takada some agency, the writers could have written an interesting arc. What if Misa grew suspicious of Light’s late nights, his need to seduce another woman, and threatened to kill him with her Death Note? What if Misa refused to give up her Death Note, instead challenging L to a battle of will? What if Light, with all his endless logic, overlooked feelings, and Misa’s jealousy and need she was on the verge of turning him in? What if Takada and Misa realized they were pawns in Light’s scheme and worked against him, together?

There are hundreds of possibilities. We already saw Light beat L. We already saw the logic vs. logic battle. But, because the writers have so little regard for women, they never consider that the next adversary could be a woman. Could be someone completely unlike L. Someone impetuous. Someone rash. Someone who understands feelings.

No. Sexism tells them the only worthy adversary is a cold, emotionless man. A man who lacks empathy, kindness, emotion. A man behaving exactly like the stereotype of a man. (Except that he’s a coward).

After all, feelings are dumb. And girls should suffer from their dumb feelings. Light’s sister is kidnapped. Takada is killed (Light writers her name in his Death Note). Misa commits suicide (if the end credits are to be believed). 

Only the robotic Near can beat Light. He never allows feelings to cloud his judgement– something only a stupid girl, or a dude who dresses like a girl, or a total doofus (Matsuda), would do.

The writers of Death Note are as bad as Light. They have no regard for their female characters. Just read snippets of their quotes on the Misa Amane Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misa_Amane (although citations are sorely needed).

They created a unique, relatable character in Misa and flushed her down the toilet to prove that feelings are dumb and logic wins the day.

Death Note – Raye Penber

Ah, Death Note, old, unpredictable favorite of mine. Sure, it’s not quite as good the third time around. A girl can only take so much inner monologue on new iterations of the prisoners dilemma  But, god (shinigami I suppose), if I don’t love the over the top animation style and voice acting. Death Note takes anime’s visual and audio tropes so far that its English dub is intolerable. Sure, the acting is horrible, but it’s more than that. The English actors play every straight and flat, like a generic action film, and they clash with the epic chanting and the split-screen montages where pens bust out of their “box,” leaving sparkles over the screen.

It can only be seen, not described, but, sadly, YouTube has pulled most of the videos.

I say this all not to review Death Note. That would take hours. I say all this because I love Death Note. I dressed as Misa for Halloween. I have an L doll. My desktop background has been L for months. I don’t seek out sexist media for the purpose of deconstructing it. I seek out interesting storytelling and find it’s usually sexist.

Now, the first two times I watched Death Note, I didn’t REALLY notice the sexism. Yeah, Misa’s character starts off awesome and promptly becomes a screaming fan girl. But I missed sexist Raye Penber. They way the detectives treat women like they’re stupid. The way every female character is defined by her relationship to a man.

What can I say? I guess I’ve grown in the year since I watched Death Note. I’m much more comfortable as a feminist now. I don’t feel like I have to hide or qualify it with “I’m not one of those angry feminists.” And I shouldn’t. Because I am angry. I’m angry that women are constantly portrayed as one-dimensional figures who only care about men. I’m angry that women are treated as a prize to be won or a motivation to kill off.

Spoilers follow.

Death Note is a story about men. Mostly, it’s about two men–the brilliant, eccentric detective L ( also known as Ryuzaki), and Light Yagami (also known as Kira), a high school student using a death note to murder criminals and create a perfect world. We are led to believe that these two teenagers are smarter than the entire Japanese police force. That Light is so smart and careful in murdering criminals that only the brilliant L can go head to toe with him.

Whenever I think about these stories, I think, how much more interesting would it be if these characters were women? Or if one was a woman? It’s amazing how much life you can breath into tired cliches by flipping the gender. But I digress…

Everything is going well for Light until the FBI investigates in Japan. FBI agent Raye Penber is assigned to follow Light. Light orchestrates a bus jacking to get the agent’s name and plans to kill him later. (To use the death note, you need the victim’s name and face). After the incident, Raye goes home to his fiance, Naomi, an ex-FBI agent. Naomi asks Raye a few questions about the case. He effectively tells her to shut up and get back in the kitchen. She is his fiance now. She shouldn’t think about these things. Soon, they will have children and she will be too busy to think about investigating crimes.

Asshole.

So I am not too sorry for Raye when Kira murders him. Good riddance. Sexist prick deserved it.

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And, without her chauvinist fiance in the way, Naomi returns to investigating crime. She goes to the police station to ask to join the Kira task squad. But, poor woman, she runs into Light. He manages to draw out what she’s deduced about Kira–things no one else is yet to deduce. When Light tries to kill her, he realizes she gave him a pseudonym. She is smart enough to protect herself. With minutes until Naomi returns to headquarters, Light panics. How will he kill her? He may be able to over-power her. She is a woman, after all.

But, no, he thinks of something better. He somehow manages to convince this intelligent  capable woman that he can recommend her for the task force… if he sees her ID. See, a form of ID is necessary for the task force. And even know Naomi suspects that Raye was killed because he showed Kira his ID, she shows Light her ID. Light writes her name in his Death Note and she walks away, doomed to commit suicide.

Sigh.

Create a smart, competent woman, only to have her manipulated and killed. Isn’t that what she deserves for doing a man’s work?

Okay, okay. I’m exaggerating. Light did kill manipulate and kill Raye. But it took an intricately planned bus jacking to get Raye to show an ID. And, at this point, Raye is no longer suspicious of Light. It takes ten minutes of conversation about Kira to get Naomi to show her ID, even though she believes her fiance died because he showed his ID.

Naomi is by far the most competent, developed female character in the series. And she is manipulated and killed off to prove the point that Light is manipulative and ruthless–a point that has already been made.

Is this bad writing? Is it sexism? Sometimes it’s hard to separate the two. Sometimes one causes the other. It’s hard to write developed characters. It’s hard not to use secondary characters as pawns for your main character. But, it’s unacceptable to treat ALL your female characters as second class pawns.

And it’s unacceptable to prove the sexist prick right–that Naomi should have stayed in the kitchen if she didn’t want to get hurt.