The Sketchy Feminist

Staring down the male gaze, or: Looking at looking at women in popular culture

Consent and Steven Universe

OK, so I am super duper late to the Steven Universe party. I finally succumbed to the heaps of Internet praise bestowed upon it for issues of LGBT visibility, etc., etc. and started watching the series this past year. At first I was like, “Meh, this is cute. Why are the episodes so short? Man, that’s one endearing theme song. Guess I’ll keep watching.” Then I worked my way up to, “Wow, I can’t believe they went there!” and eventually up to, “I’M NOT CRYING YOU’RE CRYING!!” And now I’m as likely as not to cry at any given episode of Steven Universe, because this show does not pull its punches. “Rose’s Scabbard”? “Monster Reunion”? “Mr. Greg”? Mr. FRIKKIN’ Greg??? I am, like, gone. I am so far gone it’s not even funny. Heck, sometimes I cry during Garnet’s “Stronger Than You” number in “Jail Break,” just because the message of love and empowerment is . . . actually really empowering.

And there’s a lot that has already been said about Steven Universe, so I am not sure how much digital ink can be spilled on analyzing and/or praising the show at this point that will actually bring something new to the table. But, I’m gonna try. And I am going to do so by focusing specifically (though not exclusively) on how Steven Universe approaches issues of consent and bodily autonomy. To talk about consent and bodily autonomy, I am going to look at three relationships in Steven Universe: Garnet and Pearl, Stevonnie and Kevin, and Steven and Lars.

SPOILERS for everything. Seriously, all the spoilers. Like, nothing but spoilers from here on out.

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So, let’s talk about agoraphobia, shall we?

According to my dashboard, I first wrote the following about a year ago. I remember considering posting it at the time, before deciding that I wanted to sit on it for a while. (It ended up being a longer while than I had planned.) The content is no longer a reflection of my current mental state. However, you could think of it as a kind of snapshot of a way I felt once, and I am choosing to share it now because as far as I know, agoraphobia in general is not something well understood by those who do not suffer from it. (I knew pretty much zilch about it before I had it; TV did not prepare me.) So, since there is an off chance that sharing this will do someone somewhere some good:

Let’s talk about agoraphobia.

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Yes, I will be getting a Rey action figure. (Star Wars: The Force Awakens spoilers within.)

Here there be SPOILERS. Please read at your own risk. (What a thing to say. Don’t we always do everything at our own risk? Maybe I should say, “Please read responsibly.”)

I was never a Star Wars girl. My bestie, L, is a Star Wars girl, and Mac is definitely a Star Wars boy — so much so that he was actually pretty upset with me (or perhaps just dumbfounded by me) for not knowing the difference between various ships in the Star Wars universe. And for having forgotten various “iconic” scenes from the original trilogy. (Him: “But it’s iconic!” Me: “They’re all iconic! They’re Star Wars scenes.”) And then I had a little mini-panic about not being “geeky” enough, which is probably a symptom of some kind of Geek Impostor Syndrome, or something. (Bad Geek Girls, anyone?)

I never loved Star Wars as much as they did, though I did love it. Especially Luke’s training sequence on Dagobah, with Yoda’s “Do or do not. There is no try,” which later became, like, my mantra when I was using mindfulness meditation to process my depression+panic+agoraphobia (because my brain is just that fun). So, yeah. That meant something. And of course there’s that moment when Han says “I know” and it’s somehow sincere and heartbreaking and the most romantic thing ever.

But anyway. I saw The Force Awakens. And I kind of fell in love a little bit.

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Recommended Viewing: Antiquarian Bookshop, or “Where Sherlock Holmes meets Reading Rainbow

You think I’m kidding? I’m not kidding. I would never joke about there being something that, by any stretch of the imagination, could be described as Sherlock Holmes meets Reading Rainbow. I would never do that to you.

Yeah, I fell off the face of the Internet again. I am (to my shame*) still slogging my way through Season 10 of Supernatural, and I really, really hope it picks up before the finale, because up until mid-Season 9 SPN was my favorite show, and now I have to force myself to watch it, and half the time I don’t even have much to say about it, because, with a few exceptions, what I’ve seen so far of this past season has just been so unutterably dull.

Anyway, this post is not about my disappointment with Supernatural. It is instead about my total lack of disappointment with a jdrama called Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia’s Case Files (Biblia Koshodou no Jiken Techou), which is available for streaming over at Crunchyroll. Keep in mind that I’m still in the middle of watching the series, so what I say about it below does not take into account the last handful of episodes.

Antiquarian Bookshop is based on a series of novels by Mikami En, and it’s about a bookshop, and the people who work at the bookshop, and the solving of book-related mysteries. And that’s pretty much it. Each episode revolves around a specific book, and the final few moments of each episode offer abbreviated book summaries. Thus my drawing a connection to Reading Rainbow.

Everyone in this show is obsessed with books. The heroes love books. The villains love books. Even people who don’t particularly love books — like the male lead, who can’t read books due to a book-related trauma in his childhood (no, really!) — have lives that have been completely shaped by books.

Shinokawa Shioriko (played by Gouriki Ayame) is the show’s central amateur sleuth and bookshop proprietor, while Goura Daisuke (played by Akira) is her assistant, both at the bookshop and in the solving of book-related mysteries. In the great tradition of the best mystery stories (Sherlock Holmes! Nero Wolfe!), most of the episodes are shown from the assistant’s point of view, while Shinokawa herself does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to the actual detective work. Though of course it’s not actually actual detective work because she’s a bookstore owner and not a detective, but you get the idea.

So, draw number one: This is a mystery series that revolves around old books. I love old books, so this makes me happy. It’s a lot easier for me to relate to a story when the MacGuffin is a book, as opposed to something I find less interesting, like a stash of drugs or cash or whatever.

Draw number two: Antiquarian Bookshop really thinks about books, and encourages the reader to think about books, not just in terms of their content but in terms of what books are as physical objects. The paratext is as important as the text, here. I kind of think this series should be shown in Theory of the Novel/History of the Book classrooms.

Draw number three: The show’s lead sleuth is a woman! Yay! We don’t get a lot of that in mystery series which surround the awkward-genius personality types. (Except for Bones, I guess, but: meh. Yeah, I’m not much for Bones.)

Draw number four: (And this is probably the most important one for me.) All of the main team, but especially Shinokawa and Goura, are super nice and decent to one another. Shinokawa and Goura are both adorably awkward, though in different ways, and they spend a good chunk of their time together exchanging shy, reserved smiles. Shinokawa does deceive Goura a couple of times (using her superior sleuthing skills), but whenever she does, she apologizes, and it seems to be sincere, and not a BBC Sherlock-style extension of the manipulation. Actually, both of the leads are quick to offer the other thanks and/or apology when appropriate (or even when inappropriate; Shinokawa is excruciatingly polite), and the show doesn’t try to wring out any tension from them by having them jockey for position or compete or anything. Shinokawa’s technically the boss, but that’s just a fact and no one acts like it’s weird or exceptional. For the most part, they’re just sweet and considerate and mutually supportive and I love them. The show is hinting at a potential romantic connection, but it’s the slowest of slow burns, and I’ll honestly be surprised if they end up holding hands by episode 11 (though I’m rooting for them).

Are the mysteries especially good or gripping?

Well, no. But there’s something very pleasant about the calm, even pace at which they unfold.

And anyway, I came for the books and stayed for the charming leads.

It’s not a perfect show. All the women with recurring parts are traditionally beautiful and svelte, and there’s one character who seems be coded-maybe-gay, or maybe “metrosexual,” or maybe just “quirky,” but any way you slice it there’s an element of “isn’t this effeminate male stereotype just hilarious?” to his presentation. However, he seems to be a genuinely cool guy, and he does have good comic timing.

And Shinokawa herself is so delicate and ladylike, in her shawls and floor-length skirts and (occasionally) lacy umbrellas, that at times she seems more porcelain doll than woman.** This isn’t really a problem in and of itself (she’s an old-fashioned girl with old-fashioned clothes), but you could argue that she’s reinforcing/embracing some very specific codified female behavior (soft-spokenness, modesty, humility, etc.), and that may rub some the wrong way.

Be that as it may, I love this show so much I think I might cry. Then again, I just passed one of the major hurdles (translation: flaming hoops) on my way to getting the Big Important Academic Degree I’ve been working towards, so it’s possible I’m floating on endorphins or something.

***

* “Shame. Shame. Shame.” ::rings bell::
** Yes, if it existed and if I could afford it, I would totally buy a Shinokawa Shioriko doll.

Why The Walking Dead is Important

No, I’m not talking about the TV show.

Nor am I talking about the Robert Kirkman comics on which the TV show is based.

Not that those aren’t important, because they are. They made a huge splash culturally and they do a lot of really interesting things.

But what I want to talk about today is not the comics or the TV show, but the Walking Dead video game (y’know, based on the comics and the TV show), which was released by Telltale games as “Season One” and “Season Two.” Each season is structured by episodes (which you could buy individually as they came out), and the format makes it seem like you’re playing through a Walking Dead miniseries.

And why do I find this game so important? Here are a few reasons:

Diversity

In Season One, you play as a Black protagonist.

In Season Two, you play as a Black protagonist.

There’s also a DLC — which I have not played — which has five different protagonists, including (and I’m using the game’s wikia “ethnicity” tags here) an “Asian-American” man, an “African-American” man and two “Caucasian-American” women. Only one of the five protags is listed as a “Caucasian-American” man. I haven’t played the DLC yet, so I won’t really be focusing on it here, but I thought it was worthy of mention.

In case you don’t play a lot of video games, or in case you do play them and just haven’t noticed this, playable Black characters in video games are really rare. Like, really rare. And playable main characters, as opposed to characters who are, for example, part of the roster in a player-versus-player fighting game? Pfft. I think it would be really hard to fill a shelf with games that had Black protagonists. (Unless the shelf was really small and/or the game boxes were really oversized.)

Lee, the protagonist of Season One, and Clem, the protagonist of Season Two (as well as an NPC in Season One) are both fully fleshed-out, strong, compelling characters.

The game also does not shy away from issues of race, and your PC’s race matters to the other characters in the game.

It Doesn’t ask the burning question of, “Now that it’s the zombie apocalypse and we don’t have kitchens, should the women go back in them?”

Remember in the TV series, when Andrea got a lot of flak both from other characters and from fans for daring to challenge the whole women do the dishes/men do the shooting division of labor? Well that conversation never really comes up in the video game.

Why? Because Zombie Apocalypse is why. The characters in the game are way too busy running for their lives to try to divvy up “gender-appropriate” roles to each other.

It’s the zombie apocalypse. Everybody shoots, and everybody takes care of the baby.

Child Protagonist

In Season Two, Clementine is eleven years old.

The Walking Dead is a “horror survival” game, which means that, at most points, your goal won’t be to defeat an enemy, but to stay alive. (And therefore you don’t have to be a tank for the game to make sense.) And the fact that Clementine is eleven, and as such only has the height, reach, and endurance of an eleven-year-old, actually matters to game play. Fighting off zombies by hand is harder for you than it is for the healthy, adult members of your group. (Which makes fighting the zombies off that much more rewarding.) And the fact that you are a child is important to the people you interact with, as well. Other characters react to it, sometimes shielding you from danger because of it and sometimes dismissing you out of hand.

As a child, you usually have less power and less authority than the people around you. In an industry full to the brim with adult male action heroes (often the leaders of whatever team they’re in), it’s nice to see a little girl’s point of view.

Clementine Kicks Ass

She may not be a physical powerhouse, but Clementine is brave and determined and she can hold her own in a world full of people (and zombies) who are bigger, stronger and faster than she is.

In Season One, Clem’s role was largely to be protected by Lee. It’s nice to see her come into her own in Season Two.

Choices that Matter

Now, The Walking Dead is a pretty linear game. No matter what you do in this game, what choices you make, more or less the same things are going to happen in each episode. Most of the time, you’ll have no true influence on where your group goes or on who dies.

And yet, the choices in this game matter in some ways more than the “choices” I’ve made in any other video game I’ve played. Because these choices have less to do with determining an outcome than they do with defining, and refining, your character’s morality. Will you save the person you like the most, or the person you feel is most useful to the group? Whose side will you take in a fight? When will you lie to survive? Or steal? Or kill? Those are the kinds of decisions you make, and even if, from a plot perspective, they don’t matter much, the game is very good at making them matter personally. To the protagonist and to the player.

Because the one question The Walking Dead is always asking is not “What do you want to make happen?” but “What kind of person do you want to be?”

And that’s pretty extraordinary.

Now that Friends is on Netflix, let’s all take a moment to hate Ross Geller

Full disclosure: I don’t have a lot to say about Ross in general that Ana Mardoll hasn’t already covered in her Ross-related Friends deconstruction posts over at Ana Mardoll’s Rambling. So, I recommend you go check those out.

And Mardoll is not the only person to have pointed out what a horrible, horrible Nice Guy (TM) Ross is. (Though honestly, a quick Google search for “Ross Geller nice guy tm” yields fewer immediate results than I would have expected.) That being said, I think there’s still plenty of room in this world for more hatred of the fictional character Ross Geller. And I’d like to contribute some of my own hate to that hatred pool.

Content Note for: rude gestures, cursing, vitriolic hatred of a fictional character, discussion of unwanted touching in a fictional scene

Mac and I frequently eat meals together at home, and when we do, we like to watch TV. Right now, we’re alternating between Friends and Syfy’s special effects makeup elimination show, Face Off. (OMG, y’all. We are such huge fans of Face Off it’s not even funny. Go Team Laura!) We started at Friends episode 1 and we’re now in season 3. And we really like it! It’s cute, it’s frequently funny, and I even like the cheesy theme song. (It also has a host of flaws — like presenting a weirdly whitewashed New York — that I’m not going to go into right now, as this post is devoted to hating Ross.) So, Mac and I are eating, and we’re watching, and I eat pretty slowly (a holdover from a former eating disorder). And I had never seen Friends before. OK, that’s a lie, because I grew up with television in the 90s, but I had never seen the show in order before. And sometimes I would want to say something to Mac about my feelings on the show, but I would be busy enjoying my food and wouldn’t find actual talking worth the effort. Also, what I wanted to say about Ross (or to or at Ross, as it were, when the character was on screen) tended not to vary very much.

. . . which is what led to the middle finger on my left hand being dubbed “the Ross Finger.” (Which sounds way dirtier than it is, but being that it’s a rude gesture, is still actually pretty dirty?) Because sometimes you just have to flip a fictional character off.

Because Ross is terrible. Just so, so bad. In the show, Ross is a “nerd” (well, he likes dinosaurs, science and Slave Leia, at least) and he’s “shy”. And I think both of these traits are supposed to be endearing. The dinosaur thing is cute, I’ll grant you — and I find it legit adorbs that he spun his childhood love of dinosaurs into a paleontology career — but as a socially awkward nerd myself, I’m offended by Ross. His “shyness” is all about protecting his own feelings at the expense of other people, and that’s just not OK. He treats Rachel, the supposed love of his life, as a prize to be won, and that’s super-duper not OK. He kept an illegal exotic monkey as a pet, and then asked Rachel, his crush, to watch it at the apartment she shared with his sister, without telling either of them that the monkey was, in fact, an illegal exotic, and then yelled at Rachel for calling animal control when she lost track of the animal. And even if I can sympathize with yelling at someone for losing your pet, (a) dude shouldn’t have implicated the Girl He’s Totally-for-Realsies in Love With in his illegal activities without her consent (or, y’know, at all) and (b) there are actual legit reasons not to keep an illegal exotic animal as a pet in the first place, and the regulations you’re flouting largely have to do with the health and well-being of the animal, and WTF is wrong with you, Ross!?? (You can’t see it, but I’m totally holding up my Ross Finger right now.)

Anyway, one of the reasons I wanted to talk about my visceral hatred of Ross (aside from finding complaining about the character fun, which I do) was so that I could talk about a particular scene, from season 3, episode 16, “The One with the Morning After.” This takes place after the infamous “we were on a break” stuff, and Ross is trying to pressure Rachel to get back together with her after she’s found out that he slept with another woman. I actually think that the entire scene is well-acted and well-written. I also think that it beautifully highlights a lot of the most horrible things about Ross, and, as such, I believe it deserves a closer look (transcript taken from http://www.friendstranscripts.tk/):

[Later, in the living room, Rachel is sitting on the couch, Ross is on the chair.]

Ross: What, now you’re not even taking to me? (moves over to the coffee table) Look Rachel, I-I’m sorry, okay, I’m sorry, I was out of my mind. I thought I’d lost you, I didn’t know what to do. Come on! Come on, how insane must I have been to do something like this? Huh? I-I don’t cheat right, I, that’s not me, I’m not Joey!

Let’s break this down a little. In the above exchange, Ross starts off by criticizing Rachel’s behavior:

Ross: What, now you’re not even taking to me? (moves over to the coffee table)

Maybe she doesn’t feel like talking to you right now, Ross. Gee, what could be the reason . . .

Ross [cont’d]: Look Rachel, I-I’m sorry, okay, I’m sorry, I was out of my mind.

Well, at least there’s an apology in there somewhere. I mean, it’s framed by a command (“Look Rachel,” which roughly translates into “You have to listen to me because you’re just not seeing things properly let me explain”) and an ableist, responsibility-deflecting excuse (“I was out of my mind”), but there are two “I’m sorry”s in there, so good job boy here’s a cookie. He follows this up with:

Ross [cont’d]: I thought I’d lost you, I didn’t know what to do. Come on! Come on, how insane must I have been to do something like this? Huh?

“Come on, Eileen!” Every time I see “come on” now, it reminds me of Jenny Trout’s 50 Shades deconstructions (at least I think that’s where this was, as I can’t remember the exact chapter or post) and her pointing out that Christian tells Ana to “come” whenever he wants her to follow him somewhere and to “come on” whenever he wants her to actually come. Anyway, “come on” is something you say to a person when (a) you want them to follow you, (b) they are being unreasonable and you’re trying to call their attention to it or (c) when you’re Christian Grey and you want Anastasia Steele to orgasm. Here’s the Urban Dictionary page for “come on.” Ross has no business saying “come on” here. Also, bonus douche points for the bonus ableism. It wasn’t his fault, because temporary insanity!

Ross [cont’d]: I-I don’t cheat right, I, that’s not me, I’m not Joey!

Dude, leave Joey out of this. Rachel wasn’t dating Joey. This here, what Ross is doing right here? It really bothers me. It’s a really human thing to do, and doing it is a really easy trap to fall into, but it leads to so much bad. This is the “I’m not a bad person” defense, and it sucks and is usually irrelevant to the issue at hand. Related versions are the “I am not a racist” defense and the “I am not a sexist” defense. The standard argument goes something like, “I am not bad, therefore I could not have done a bad thing,” and there’s just no arguing with that kind of logic, because it is not logic. (OK, it’s a kind of logic, but it’s based on the two assumptions that people can be essentially good and that essentially good people never do bad things, because Good people are like Asimov robots except that they follow the Three Laws of Absolute Moral Virtue instead of the Three Laws of Robotics.)

Just yesterday, I was watching this TED talk by Brené Brown — Because TED talks are on Netflix now too. Who knew, right? — called “Listening to Shame.” In it, Brown talks about how shame relates to how we see ourselves (“I am a bad person”) while guilt relates to the knowledge that we’ve done something bad (“I did a bad thing, and I’m sorry”). Guilt is the useful emotion that helps us with empathy and with learning to not do crappy stuff in the future. Shame is the significantly less useful emotion that corresponds positively with depression and other lovely stuff like that. Here, Ross is so focused on shielding himself from shame that he refuses to acknowledge the possibility of his own guilt.

And then he flips the script on Rachel with this lovely follow-up:

Ross: Y’know what, y’know what, I’m-I’m not the one that wanted that, that break, okay. You’re the one that bailed on us. You’re the one that, that ran when things got just a little rough!

Rachel: That’s….

Ross: That’s what?!

Rachel: That is neither here nor there.

Ross: Okay, well here we are. Now we’re in a tough spot again, Rach. What do you want to do? How do you want to handle it? Huh? Do you wanna fight for us? Or, do you wanna bail? (sits down next to her)

Dude, are you daring her to get back together with you? Also: you were the one who went full-throttle “I don’t feel like I have a girlfriend” when she had to work on your anniversary. (Never heard of rescheduling? I’ve rescheduled birthdays, Christmases and lots of other celebrations for friends and family. That’s what you do when someone is busy, but you still want to celebrate an event.) And then went to her office and made a bunch of noise while she was in the middle of a work phone call at the first job she has ever loved and then (accidentally, but still) set her desk on fire with romantic candlelight. And then slept with someone else when you thought you were on that “break.” Also, way to move responsibility for your own actions onto her.

Ross [cont’d]: Look, I, (on the verge of tears) I did a terrible, stupid, stupid thing. Okay? And I’m sorry, I wish I could take it back, but I can’t.

This is much better than the previous apology. And it even includes the acknowledgment on Ross’s part that Ross did a bad thing! Yay!

Then there’s this:

Ross [cont’d]: I just can’t see us throwing away something we know is so damn good. Rachel, I love you so much.

(He kisses her on her shoulder, then her neck, then the side of her face, then just before he kisses her on the lips….)

Rachel: No Ross!! (stands up and moves away from him) Don’t! You can’t just kiss me and think you’re gonna make it all go away, okay? It doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t just make it better. Okay?

Ross: Okay, okay, okay.

Ew, ew, ew. This really creeped me out. So much. The creepy. You just slept with someone else and while it wasn’t cheating in your head, it feels like you cheated to her, and this is not the time to be kissing her. Ew, so gross. Hands off. This is emotional manipulation and unwanted touching, and she already feels violated from the huge emotional betrayal stuff. Also, I love Rachel here for explaining to Ross (and the at-home viewers) at least a little of why this behavior is bad. Really, she shouldn’t have to explain it, but she’s cool like that.

Rachel: (softly) I think you should go.

Ross: What?

Rachel: (softly) I really think you need to go now.

Ross: (moving over to stand in front of her) Okay, okay.

Um, what? Why are you saying “okay” when she asks you to go but still moving closer to her? Moving closer isn’t going away. Bad Ross! Shoo!

Ross [cont’s]: This morning you said there was nothing so big that we couldn’t work past it together…

Rachel: Yeah, what the hell did I know!

Ross: Look, look, there’s got to be a way we can work past this. Okay, (takes a hold of one of her arms.) I can’t imagine, I can’t imagine my life without you. (Both of them are starting to cry.) Without, without these arms, and your face, and this heart. Your good heart Rach, (drops to his knees and hugs her around her waist) and, and….

Urgh, this is appalling. Realistic and appalling. Way to ratchet up the aforementioned emotional manipulation. This move is really unfair to Rachel. Ross is on his knees now, so he seems vulnerable and penitent and stuff, making it harder for Rachel to rebuff him without worrying that she’ll hurt his special Ross-feelings. At the same time, she just asked him to leave, and earlier told him to stop kissing her and moved away from his touch. Now he’s hugging her waist, literally making it harder for her to move away from him if/when she wants to.

After we watched this scene (which both the Boyfriend and I really enjoyed from a scene-quality perspective), Mac turned to me and said, “There was a moment there when I was really worried that Ross was going to rape Rachel.” And I was all, “Yeah, me too.” Even though we knew the show would never go there. (Because it’s a sitcom, because Ross is a “good person”, because we definitely would have heard about it before now, etc, etc.) But we both had the sense that Rachel was in danger in this scene. At first Ross is trying to (erotically) kiss his way back into Rachel’s good graces, and when she asks him to stop, he stops only temporarily before escalating the physical aspects of his behavior, first by grabbing her arm, then by (again, because I cannot stress this enough, after she asks him to leave) kneeling and hugging her.

And I was just so uncomfortable watching this.

Rachel: (crying) No. I can’t, you’re a totally different person to me now. I used to think of you as somebody that would never, ever hurt me, ever. God, and now I just can’t stop picturing with her, I can’t, (Ross stands up and backs away) it doesn’t matter what you say, or what you do, Ross. It’s just changed, everything. Forever.

Rachel is way more mature than Ross is. She’s not deflecting responsibility, she’s not even (at the moment, though this argument will rear its head later) harping on the were they / weren’t they on a break thing. She’s just honestly telling Ross her emotional reaction and what it means for her relationship with him. Does it hurt him to hear this stuff? Probably. (My heart bleeds.)

Ross: (crying) Yeah, but this can’t be it, I mean.

(Pause)

Rachel: Then how come it is?

This (somewhat pat) ending to an otherwise fairly realistic (as well as harrowing) scene sets up that, from this episode on (for the next few episodes, anyway), Ross and Rachel will be living in contradicting realities: to Ross, they will continue to be a couple, and he will bitch and moan and snark whenever she behaves in ways that do not reinforce his persistent belief that they are still a couple (in other words, he will behave in much the same way as he did when he first thought they were a couple but hadn’t told Rachel about it yet, except now he will be actively mean to her instead of faux-nice); to Rachel, they will become a former couple, and she will mourn for the lost relationship and try to move on with her life. Y’know, like a real grownup.

And on the supposed “break” . . . 

Yeah, you know where my loyalties lie. Rachel (rightfully) points out that Ross is trying to get out of the accusation of cheating on a “technicality.” Well, I’ve got a technicality for you, Ross. To the transcript!:

Rachel: I don’t know, I don’t know. Urrrgh! Look, maybe we should take a break.

Ross: Okay, okay, fine, you’re right. Let’s ah, let’s take a break, (goes to the door) let’s cool off, okay, let’s get some frozen yogart, or something.. (opens the door)

Rachel: No. (Ross is standing in the doorway.) A break from us.

(Ross looks at her, then leaves slamming the door behind him.)

See that there? She says “maybe we should take a break.” Not “we’re on a break.” Not “I’m breaking up with you.” She introduces the possibility that maybe they should take a break. And he never says, “Let’s do that, then. OK, we’re on a break now.” He just up and leaves. And he has the gall to call her the one who bailed.

This guy, man.

::rude gesture in Ross’s general direction::

This fucking guy.

The Not-Really-A Timeline Continues (only this time I didn’t make a timeline): More Feminist Frequency Stuff

Apparently I’m following Anita Sarkeesian’s career. And while I’ve been interested in her projects ever since I first heard about her, and that was well before the Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series ratcheted up her visibility like woah,* I never really actively planned to keep tabs on her.

But she just keeps cropping up. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her name in so many different print and online publications as I have over the last year (especially from, say, around October 2014 on). Not to mention that Colbert Report interview. Months ago (because I am a lazy, lazy person), I started putting together an “Anita Sarkeesian media sightings” post-type thingie. And then I kept procrastinating on finishing it, and then, hey presto, Sarkeesian and her team went and made my job all easy for me (as well as sorta redundant), by releasing an annual report. (And even then I still failed to post this immediately.)

That’s right, folks. If you have trouble keeping up with all of your Sarkeesian-related news, there’s a handy document over at the Feminist Frequency website in the form of a downloadable PDF (note that the link is to the page where the PDF is hosted, not the PDF itself): “Feminist Frequency 2014 Annual Report.” It has links! It has graphs (and other data visualization stuff)! It has pink and teal headers!

There’s also a “Media Interview Link Round up for October 2014,” just to prove there really was a spike in the Anita Sarkeesian news coverage at around that time.

And one of the big reasons behind that spike? See the following introduction to said “Media Round Up” on Sarkeesian’s site:

I was invited to speak at Utah State University on Wednesday October 15th, 2014 about women’s representations in video games. Sadly, the university received a series of emails threatening to commit “the deadliest school shooting in American history” if I was allowed to speak on campus. When USU and Utah police refused to screen attendees for firearms, citing the state’s concealed carry laws, I was forced to cancel the event. Below is a round up of media interviews I have done recently speaking about the threats in Utah, the epidemic of gendered harassment online, and the larger problem of sexism within the games industry as a whole.

— Anita Sarkeesian, “Media Interview Link Round up for October 2014,” Feminist Frequency

So, basically. More terrifying death threats! And gun control laws (or the lack thereof) that make those threats even more terrifying.

Since the “Annual Report” was released, Sarkeesian has posted two new videos (with transcripts) to her site. They’re both from panels at the “All About Women” conference, described on its “About” page as a “festival [that] aims to invigorate discussion on important issues and ideas that matter to women, and to bring global and Australian perspectives to the stages of the Sydney Opera House.”

One of the two speeches was given at a panel entitled “What I Couldn’t Say”; the other was given at a panel entitled “How to be a Feminist.” They’re both short (running at around 4 and a half minutes on the one hand and 5 and a half minutes on the other) and both worth a watch:

“What I Couldn’t Say” speech

“How to be a Feminist” speech

In the second video, Sarkeesian (briefly, obvs) articulates how she developed her own feminism, which is cool if you’re interested in or even just curious about where she’s coming from, and the kinds of frameworks she’s been using/is using to contextualize her arguments–whether on sexism in popular culture or on the systemic misogyny of online harassment.

On a somehow lighter but also somehow terrifying note, David Futrelle–at the hilarious but also soul-crushingly depressing MRA-mocking blog We Hunted the Mammoth**–has been following the development of the “Sarkeesian Effect” project, and you can find a bunch of those posts under the “Sarkeesian Effect” category tag at his site. What, never heard of the The Sarkeesian Effect? (I wouldn’t have, if not for Futrelle’s blog.) Well, you’re in for a . . . um, not a treat, but . . . a . . . a something. Anyway, the Effect is apparently a proposed “feature-length documentary” about exposing the evils of the evil SJW agenda. So, there’s your sign, I guess. For in-depth mockery of both the project and the dudes making it (and I can’t wait to see what up-and-coming comedy duo gets cast as Davis Aurini and Jordan Owen in Anita Sarkeesian’s first biopic), see Futrelle’s posts on the subject.

***

* That’s right, haters. I watched Feminist Frequency videos before it was cool. A hat tip to my bestie, L, for introducing the series to me.
** I say “soul-crushing” because I can only read so much misogyny–even secondhand, on a blog that exists for the express purpose of mocking said misogyny–before it starts to get to me.

Anime Heroines to Root For: Yona of the Dawn / Akatsuki no Yona

I’m updating my “Anime Heroines to Root For” list with two new characters from last season’s crop of anime: Kohina from Gugure! Kokkuri-san and Yona from Yona of the Dawn (Akatsuki no Yona).

I struggled with whether or not to add Kohina to the list. While she’s an awesome character, her anime, Gugure! Kokkuri-san, has some SUPER problematic stuff in it. (For example, one adult character who self-identifies as the elementary-school-age protagonist’s “stalker”. But that person is the vengeful ghost of a dead dog, so that’s … not really better.) However! Kokkuri-san also has some of the zaniest humor and best-timed jokes out there in anime-land, along with some pitch-perfect deadpan deliveries from its voice actors. And as the quirky main character Kohina herself has some surprising nuance for the lead of a gag show, in the end, Kohina made the cut. (But she comes with a warning!)

Of all the new anime that came out last season, the only ones that really caught my interest were Parasyte, Gugure! Kokkuri-san and Yona of the Dawn. Of those three, the only one I stayed current with as it came out was Yona of the Dawn.

Title: Yona of the Dawn / Akatsuki no Yona
Original Mangaka: Mizuho Kusanagi
Producer: Pierrot
Where to Watch: Crunchyroll, Funimation, Hulu

Yona is about a sheltered princess whose life takes a dramatic turn when her cousin, childhood friend and longtime crush (yes, all one person) murders her kingly father in Episode 1. Yona goes on the run with her preternaturally strong, handsome and talented bodyguard Hak, and they go about collecting other handsome and talented men (some of whom are reincarnations of dragons, which is cool) who will help Yona on her quest to survive and/or eventually face her father’s killer, who has in the meantime crowned himself king.

I have been trying to decide exactly why I like Yona of the Dawn so much. I mean, some of it’s obvious. It has some tropes that I like in general. In general, I’m a fan of female-led “harem” anime (also known as “reverse harem” anime, which is such a common term for this particular sub-sub-genre these days that I’m seriously about to give up and start using it unironically), especially when the female lead in question ends up with power over some or all of her harem of men. And Yona of the Dawn is nothing if not a “reverse harem” show about a girl in a position of some power. (Note: I’m not making any claims that reverse-harem-with-the-girl-in-charge is a feminist thing in and of itself, just that it’s a thing that I happen to like. The heart wants what the heart wants.) So, there’s that. But Hiiro no Kakera has that trope and I find it unwatchably boring. Yes, I know Hiiro no Kakera is based on an otome game, but so is Harukanaru Toki no Naka de – Hachiyou Shou, and it’s is at least watchable.

So “reverse harem”? Check. Girl with some power over at least some of the dudes in the show? Check again. Look at me, I’m your target audience! Because I’m a big fan of pandering to the female gaze (in this case, the straight, bi, etc. female gaze), in part because it happens so rarely.

But I’m greedy. So even though I’ll openly admit that pandering will get you a surprisingly long way with me, I still want more.

And somehow, Yona does manage to offer more. More than pandering. More than bishounen. Even though it basically has one female character (with the exception of some minor roles) in a world of handsome boys and men, and (as far as I recall) has yet to pass the Bechdel Test as of its most recent episode.

More about the more after the cut:

Read the rest of this entry »

Thoughts on The Legend of Korra Season Four and the Korra Series Finale

Long time no see, WordPress Dashboard. Man, I’m bad at updating.

So anyway, I finally got around to finishing out the last season/Book of The Legend of Korra. And I have thoughts.

Or–perhaps more accurately–feels. ALL THE FEELS. [And this post has ALL THE SPOILERS. Tread carefully.]

Well, not all of the feels, actually. Case in point: the Book 3 finale left me a quivering mess. I was so moved, and so unsettled, that for the next few days I was just simply Not OK, and I wandered around the apartment going, “I’m not OK. I’m not OK. Oh, Korra!” And then I made the Boyfriend watch the whole season so that he could suffer with me.

I didn’t feel that feel this time. So whatever particular feel that was didn’t make it to the Season Four finale party, meaning that, at most, I am now experiencing ALL THE FEELS -1.

Yeah, at the end of Book 3, Korra sacrificed herself to save the newly-revived Air Nation, and ended up poisoned and injured as a result. The last shot of the season is a close-up on the Avatar’s face as tears run down her cheeks because she’s worried that she’s never going to be able to heal or ever live up to the expectations the world had of her or the expectations she had of herself. And that feeling–the Avatar’s feeling–this reckless, strong, brave heroine’s feeling–of despair just left me an utter wreck.

Since Korra was wheelchair-bound at the end of Season 3 (and the specific physical results of her injury and poisoning were not made clear at the time), I was seriously wondering if they were going to bring her back in Season 4 as a physically-disabled, wheelchair-bound action heroine. And how cool would that have been? The technology for mobilizing chair-bound disabled people–in the air, at least–was introduced way back in Avatar: The Last Airbender, and the technology of Korra’s universe has progressed SO MUCH since then. I mean, it’s basically a steampunk mecha show. They could have done a lot with (and maybe said a lot about) disability and access and how access relates to technological advancements, privilege, etc.

Well, the show didn’t go that route (missed opportunity?) but it did do some things that I like quite a lot.

Season 4 focuses on the theme of recovery in some really interesting and insightful ways. Season 4 picks up 3 years after the Season 3 finale, and Korra starts out the season feeling … not quite right. She’s slower than she used to be, weaker than she used to be, and even though she’s invested a lot of time and energy into healing herself, she still feels like she isn’t up to what she considers “fighting” shape. (Though really, she could probably still kick most people’s butts. Girl is tough on herself.) Perhaps even more disconcertingly, she’s having hallucinatory panic attacks, mostly starring Zaheer, the d-bag who imprisoned, poisoned and choked her almost to death in the previous season. (And then she fought him–with a serious assist from Jinora and the Airbenders–while still wearing the chain he had used to keep her captive. Damn that was cool. I want a poster of Korra in that scene.)

And excuse me while I fangasm over an action heroine in a kids’ cartoon having panic attacks, and it being a part of her arc, and it just being something to work through. All while no one–except maybe bit characters and a villain or two–dismisses Korra as “weak” or “crazy” for feeling what she’s feeling. And I just–I can’t even. It means a lot, is what I’m saying.

During Korra’s literal-slash-figurative journey to recovery (at around episodes 2-4), she meets up with fan-favorite character Toph (Is anyone from A:TLA not a fan favorite?), who has taken to being a cranky old hermit lady like she was born to it. Which come to think of it she kind of was. I love Toph so much.

Anyway, Korra asks Toph to train her. While training with Toph and wondering why she’s always “a step slower” than she used to be, Toph tells her something like, “Probably all that metal you’re carrying around doesn’t help,” and then Korra is all, “What metal?” and we learn that some of Zaheer’s poison (which was, yes, metal) is still in Korra’s system, and has been for the last three years. And for a few moments, I was a little bit peeved. Because some people suffer from PTSD because of the Trauma part, and not due to external physical causes, and Korra’s trauma stemming from a physical foreign substance felt like a bit of a cheat.

But then I got over that nonsense, because honestly, the poisonous trace is such a good metaphor for trauma. It’s this physical weight that Korra’s been carrying around for years without even realizing she’s carrying it, only knowing that she’s still suffering and she can’t understand why. And in order to combat this poison, she has to metalbend it out of her body herself. And in order to do that, she has to not only face her past, but accept her past. She has to relax, and to accept that she can’t change or control her past experiences. Traumatic recovery for Korra isn’t the act of taking control, but the act of letting go of the illusion of control.

And y’all, this is straight out of the trauma and recovery handbook. This is one of the central principles of mindfulness meditation–accepting your own thoughts without judgement–in a kids’ cartoon. Both Korra and A:TLA do a lot with the themes of trauma and working through, but this is the first time that either show has really delved into PTSD treatment (though Zuko’s fever-dream battle between the divided parts of his self did some similar things/had similar overtones).

I love that Korra seeks help. I love that she needs treatment. I love that, even though she seeks treatment, she is the one who ultimately has to expel the poison from her own body.

Yeah, when Korra metalbent those teeny, tiny little globules of poison from her body–so small, yet so hurtful–I started tearing up.

And I love that once the poison is expelled from her body, Korra’s still not completely “healed”. Because even though the physical trace is gone, the emotional trace lingers. Eventually, she has to “face” Zaheer, her bogeyman, in his prison. And rather than fight him, she has to accept his help. That’s kind of a painful scene to watch, but I think it’s painful in a good way. I mean, I didn’t want to see Korra vulnerable in front of the person who hurt her, but it was important for her to face her own feelings of vulnerability–and to go into a situation in which she felt uncomfortable and out-of-control–in order for her to learn and to grow. (That’s also out of the trauma and recovery handbook, btw.)

And in the Season 4 finale, when she eventually defeats the season’s Big Bad, Kuvira, she does so not through brute force, but through saving Kuvira’s life and then showing her compassion, thus inspiring Kuvira to surrender. Now, I’m not sure how much I buy Korra talking a dictator out of her plans for world-domination in a conversation that takes maybe half a minute, but still, the moment makes sense thematically. And one of the things that Korra tells Kuvira is something along the lines of, “When I was first poisoned, I would have done anything to feel in control.” Korra reframes Kuvira’s military takeover as a defensive measure, a quest to feel in-control and to escape feeling vulnerable. A quest to keep her country from being/feeling vulnerable. Kuvira accepts this interpretation, and it’s when Kuvira accepts that she can’t have total control over the world that she steps down and turns herself in.

Because to live in the world is to be vulnerable. And to live in the world is to be out-of-control.

This message of acceptance is pivotal to the Legend of Korra series, and that Korra can not only understand and embrace this message but pass it on to others shows amazing growth as a character. [SPOILER WARNING FOR A:TLA] Heck, the peaceful, accepting, live-in-the-moment Avatar Aang had to take away the Firelord’s bending, but Korra gets to talk her biggest villain down. (Of course, Aang was a peaceful character who had to learn to use force while Korra is a forceful character who has to learn peaceful acceptance. Using force to take down Ozai actually did showcase Aang’s character development, while he stayed true to himself by not taking the Firelord’s life.)

So, while I really believe the Korra/Kuvira conversation should have been longer (like, maybe the length of an entire additional episode, say), I think that a peaceful, non-violent resolution was a very appropriate climax to this Avatar series. And as a bonus, Korra made another spirit portal! Because she does that, and because the harmonious integration of the spirit world with the human world is another awesome extension of the show’s themes of balance and acceptance.

Some other great stuff happened in the finale as well. Brothers Mako and Bolin said “I love you” out loud to one another, which was touching, and even though it was in the middle of an action sequence, it did not feel at all undercut by machismo. Once-estranged sisters Lin and Su Beifong worked together seamlessly, really bringing home that they had finally gotten over their old issues. (They were also generally badass.) Tenzin told his student he was happy about how much she’d grown, and reminded her of how much she’d changed the world. Teams Avatar and Air Nation were heroic all around, Asami reconciled with her father only to have him sacrifice himself in a grand and touching heroic gesture, and Varrick and Zhu Li “did the thing”.

Oh yeah. And Korrasami became canon.

Starting to worry I wasn’t going to get around to that, weren’t you?

Like an early Christmas present, legions of Korrasami shippers’ dreams became reality when female characters Korra and Asami announced that they would go on vacation to the spirit world together, then held hands and looked longingly into each other’s eyes. Tame stuff? Yeah, definitely. But still groundbreaking in context–as the final moment in a kids’ cartoon produced by Nickelodeon. (Or I guess it’s just Nick now; I think they dropped the “elodeon” part.)

And it means a lot to a lot of LGBTQ people, who don’t tend to get much representation in media, especially when that media is aimed at children.

For myself, I jumped on the Korrasami bandwagon a little late. It wasn’t until the end of Season 3, when Korra was in the wheelchair and Asami was pinning up Korra’s hair for her, that I was like, “Oh, I get it now.” Because that was such a sweet moment, and it was clear that Korra was leaning on Asami more than she was on anyone else. And while you could read it as Asami’s being same-sex making her a more “appropriate” caretaker for Korra (helping her dress, etc.), it was also easy to read it as more than that. And again, in Season 4, when we learned that Korra kept writing only to Asami and no one else, it really seemed like Asami was the person she felt closest to. At the time I just thought, “I see what those shippers are talking about now.” I didn’t think we’d get to see the Korra/Asami romance pairing in the show. (Not because I don’t think that more hints are there. Just because, when I saw said hints, I assumed they were winks to fans and that the show wouldn’t be daring enough to take the romance further. Because most American cartoons wouldn’t have been.)

To be honest, my personal preference for endgame romance for the series (and I have no idea how many are in this camp as I have not researched it) probably would have been Makorrasami, because they all clearly loved each other, and it would have resolved so much of the series’ early love-triangle drama. (As an aside: I had no problem with Mako professing his devotion to Korra as a friend-to-a-friend/a follower-to-a-leader.) And also because queer poly relationships get almost no positive representation in popular media.

But still. The canon Korra ending? I WILL TAKE IT. And while I agree with a lot of people that it would have been nice to see more explicit development of the girls’ relationship throughout the series (and I also understand that there are a variety of reasons why that didn’t happen), this is still a very nifty step forward.

I need the follow-up comic, which will hopefully be The Legend of Korra and Asami’s Spirit World Adventure, like, yesterday.

***

Related Reading/Viewing:

Mike DiMartino’s “Korrasami Confirmed” over at his blog

Bryan Konietzko’s “Korrasami is canon” over at his tumblr

The Legend of Korra: IGN Editors React to the Ending and Korrasami“over at M.IGN [found through Konietzko’s tumblr]

Katie Schenkel’s “On That Legend of Korra Ending Scene & The Desire For Explicit Representation” over at The Mary Sue [found through that IGN editors post]

Max Nicholson’s “ENDINGS.” [a Korra finale review] over at M.IGN

Joanna Robinson’s “How a Nickelodeon Cartoon Became One of the Most Powerful, Subversive Shows of 2014” over at Vanity Fair [found via Mike DiMartino’s post]

Doug Walker’s final Korra Vlog over at Channel Awesome

Jim C. Hines’s “In Which John C. Wright Completely Loses his Shit over Legend of Korra” over at Jim C. Hines’s blog

Following links found via Jim C. Hines’s post:

Joanna Robinson’s “Legend of Korra Creators Officially Confirm Your Suspicions About That Ending” over at Vanity Fair

An Awesome Video of fan Reactions [that totally made me cry]

A Guardians of the Galaxy Reflection Brought to You by the Number 6

There are five members of the central hero team of the recent Guardians of the Galaxy movie, but for me, the most important number of the film is the number six.

I recently saw Guardians of the Galaxy (in theaters for the second time), and I have to say, I’m impressed. Not because of the action scenes or the humor or the soundtrack or the CGI characters actually being engaging or–

Well, actually, OK, I’m impressed by all of those things.

But one of the many things that impresses me about everyone’s new favorite Marvel movie is that it has women in it.

Specifically, six women, who all have either names or titles, have lines, and are memorable enough for me to remember.

Now, a man’s still the main hero (though Gamora’s doing a LOT of the heavy lifting, plot-wise) and a man’s still the main villain (though I cannot get over the gorgeous character design for Nebula–that’s quite a look) but nonetheless: women. With personalities and everything. Six of them.

There are six female characters (Peter’s mother [Meredith Quill], Bereet, Gamora, Nebula, Carina and Nova Prime) with, like, entire lines. And even if two (Peter’s Mom, Nova Prime) are referred to by title instead of by name, at least they’re important to the story. And even if we only learn Bereet’s name because Star-Lord forgets it … heck, I’ll take it.

Because in Avengers, Black Widow and Maria Hill had lines, but not to each other (except maybe “Welcome to the Hellicarrier”), and Pepper talked to Tony and then later worried about Tony, and Jane Foster was bizarrely MIA in spite of being one of the world’s only two experts on the thing the movie was about. And that was pretty much all we got for female representation in our last big Marvel team-up movie.

So it was nice to see women in this movie. I’m not sure when last I saw an action movie with six female speaking parts in it. Now, six is not that big a number. But. Most of the action movies I’ve seen recently have been either Marvel or Star Trek, and I don’t think either franchise has released anything else in the last few years with that many speaking parts for women in it. Aside from movies that target women as a kind of “special interest” group, I think that very few movies, in general, have 6+ speaking parts for women in them. And, in case you were wondering, Guardians still has well over six speaking parts for dudes. By like, a lot.

Six may be a small number to be happy about, but still, I’m happy about it.

I’m happy about it even if this movie remembered the straight male gaze (which it guided toward the lower half or Gamora’s shapely body on more than one occasion) while kind of forgetting that some people like to objectify men, too (ooh, check out Star-Lord … in his long coat and mask). And before anyone points out that Drax is showing his hulking, muscle-bound chest pretty much the entire movie or that Groot has no clothes at all, let me just point out to you that they are not sexualized characters. Yes, my argument here is that Drax is no more sexualized than the guy composed entirely of vegetable matter CGI. This has a lot to do with camera angles, characterization, body language and the fact that there are no lingering shots of their butts.

We got that one scene of Star-Lord getting deloused in the prison, I guess, as part of the “Hooked on a Feeling” sequence. That was more funny than sexy, though. (And shot in a way that evoked very straightforward, face-off masculinity more than vulnerability.) Props to the producers, however, for resisting a Gamora prison shower scene, even when they could have tied it to the plot and such.

Four of the speaking-part ladies (the exceptions being Peter’s Mom and Nova Prime) were dressed in sexually-evocative ways, from Gamora’s catsuit to Nebula’s catsuit to Gamora’s other catsuit to Bereet’s shirt and undies (I think that’s what she was wearing) to Carina’s fetish dress with wrist cuffs to Gamora’s plunging mini-dress. Huh. Gamora has a lot of clothes for an assassin on the run.

Not that I hated said clothes. They were stylish; they looked cool. Carina’s outfit disturbed me with its “living-doll” vibe, but then again, it was supposed to. And there was probably some desire on the part of the filmmakers to prove to the audience that Gamora’s green goes all the way down. (In part because of the sexy factor and in part because an alien color-makeup feels more complete if it’s not just face and hands.)

And if I had the money for cosplay, and the time to go to events where cosplay happens, I would probably dress up as Nebula. That’s one villain who’s all style over substance, but I just don’t care, because the style is that good.

So, even if the studio kind of forgot that (straight, bi) women were looking (or remembered and just didn’t care), it still felt like they remembered that we were watching. This was a much more balanced (if still really skewed) ratio of male-to-female characters than I’ve come to expect from Marvel movies, and that was really nice. It was especially refreshing to see a woman in position of political power in Glenn Close’s Nova Prime.

I do have a nit to pick, as always: Why does Drax call Gamora a “green whore” at the end, when he’s making nice with everybody? They spent the whole movie explaining how Drax’s people were super-duper literal and didn’t get metaphor, and yet, as far as we know, Gamora has never exchanged sex for money. (At least, it didn’t come up in the movie.) Was Drax learning how to metaphorically slut-shame women part of his character development or something?

And as a side note: Isn’t Gamora just kind of the universe’s most adorable assassin? She’s clearly the most ethical of the Guardians, at least in terms of her behavior in the course of the movie. (The group’s assassin is its moral compass. Makes sense.) And when she came in with “We’re just like Kevin Bacon!”, she ensured that I would love her forever. After Star Trek: Into Darkeness, Avatar, and now this, it’s starting to look like Zoe Saldana specializes in playing the sexy female “heart” of big-budget, male-led action SF cinema.

Related Reading (mostly from a few months ago, but still worth a look if you missed it then):