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Thursday, September 20, 2012

[SPOILERS] Ruby Sparks and Hurting the Manic Pixie Dream Girl

By Gillian Daniels, Editorial Assistant

For the uninitiated, film critic Nathan Rabin coined the term "manic pixie dream girl" to describe a female character whose only concern is to entertain, inspire, and charm the male protagonist of a work of fiction. This character's flaws, no matter how self-destructive or misguided, are quirky. If she has a back story, it's tragically endearing, diminished by charm.

She has appeared, to varying degrees, as Kate Hudson in Almost Famous (2000) and as Natalie Portman in Garden State (2004), cheering a lost young man onto enlightenment. This isn't to say both films don't have redeemable qualities, but their female leads are more muse than woman, human in shape but bubbly, ethereal, and inconsequential in action.

Ruby Sparks (2012), where a writer's fictional girlfriend becomes real, is at its strongest when it's on the attack against the trope. Though Zoe Kazan, the writer and star of the flick, rejects the existence of the cliché, her heroine eerily falls under the category and, because of the narrative, pays for it.

Peep Show: Not What It Sounds Like

By Marten Dollinger, Movies Section Editor

Anyone with a passing familiarity with contemporary British comedy probably has a fifty percent chance of knowing That Mitchell and Webb Look, most likely due to the individual sketches popping up on YouTube in the past few years. Slightly less known is their award-winning but not exactly breakaway hit Peep Show, starring the same comedians and written by Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain. The series has aired on the British public broadcast station Channel 4 since 2003. Winning several comedy awards, Peep Show has been renewed for an 8th and 9th season, making it something like Britain’s best kept secret in television. This is largely due to the fact that it's kind of weird. It's shot using POV angles, and nothing else. Other than that, it's pretty much your standard sitcom. The style may alienate a wider audience, but those it charms, in combination with Mitchell and Webb’s success on their own series, brings Peep Show a kind of support-base not dissimilar to that described by the Thousand True Fans model, albeit on a much larger scale. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Dinosaurs: Feminism isn't just for humans anymore

By Allison Novak, Staff Writer

If you’re of a certain age, you remember Dinosaurs. It’s a show about a family of dinosaurs — the Sinclair family of Robbie, Earl, Fran, Charlene, and the baby. The Sinclairs live in a world that bears a strong intolerance and ignorance for itself, while also blatantly abusing its natural resources. Because of this, most episodes of the show deal with social issues overlaid by typical sitcom fodder. Dinosaurs is a show that provides a social commentary in the guise of children’s television; among other topics, they’ve dealt with divorce, drug abuse, feminism, gay rights, and the environment — one of the more prominent being feminism.

Facebook as Entertainment

By Melissa Swanepoel, Staff Writer

Facebook started as a networking tool, a social connection facilitator. It has become so much more — with each step the site has taken, it has broadened its reach, and therefore its impact. It had 901 million monthly active users at the end of March 2012. It currently has other insane numbers of people using it on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, on different platforms, in different countries, in different languages.

It has become a social sandbox where people come, as Facebook puts it, to “stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.” But this cannot be a one-way street. If you use Facebook to connect to others and share what matters to you, then you are by default opening yourself to what matters to those with whom you are connecting.

This is an accurate depiction of Facebook, right down to that corner where all the kids pee.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Pokemon Conquest Gets an F- in History

By Chalkey Horenstein, Editor In Chief

Like many American gamers, I picked up a copy of Pokémon Conquest largely because of the Pokémon part, having little to no knowledge about the other half of the crossover, Nobunaga's Ambition. Nor did I know anything about the titular character, Oda Nobunaga, who pursued conquest and unification of Japan in the Sengoku period. In order to feel somewhat informed about what I had just played, I looked up a few basic facts — and was both relieved and disappointed to find that the game itself was just as misinformed about Japanese history (and Pokémon history) as I was.

Sexual Identity in Silent Hill

By Justin Tokarski, Video Games Section Editor

I love the horror genre. When done well, horror can connect with those primal fears that rest in the back of your mind, and there is a certain pleasure associated with being able to safely explore fear and the unknown. When done very well however, horror can function as the perfect bait-and-switch. Because horror focuses the reader, viewer, player, etc. so much on their own fear, thematic motifs and hidden meanings are often placed into works of horror and subtly taken in.  This brings me to Silent Hill, a game about the burdens of female sexual maturity, pregnancy, and rape.

(Because this analysis deals with the game as a whole, spoiler warnings are in effect. If you haven't played Silent Hill, you should go do so right now anyway.)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Beyond Green-Skinned Space Babes Part II - The Ferengi

By Nathan Comstock, Television Section Editor

Last week, I continued where my Connecticon and Revoluticon panels had left off, giving a brief overview of gender relations among the Romulan and Cardassian races on Star Trek. This week, we take on one of Star Trek’s most fascinating and problematic races, and find a surprising amount of resonance with our times. I’m speaking, here, of the Ferengi.

Although they haven’t gone through as dramatic a change as the Klingons or the Romulans went through from the original Star Trek to The Next Generation, those who know the Ferengi only from their frequent, zany visits to Deep Space Nine might have a hard time reconciling this with their debut appearance in the first season TNG episode “The Last Outpost.” These Ferengi, intended as more of a menacing villain than a source of comic relief, are more animalistic and barbaric, clothed in animal furs and armed with pain-inducing laser whips. It is in this episode that we learn that Ferengi women are confined to the homeworld, treated as property, and not allowed to wear clothing.

Max Payne's Interpretation of Self

Editor's Note: this article was written by guest writer Lauren Shuffleton. Lauren Shuffleton is a writer, community organizer, and aspiring urban planner. Her double major in English literature and American studies is an elaborate and expensive cover to convince people her heated opinions on video games, activism, computer hacking, and B-minus television are all academically-sound.

The first reaction I had upon seeing the Max Payne 3 promotional material: Oh, I must be confusing the Max Payne series with something else.

I wasn’t, it turned out, but you can hardly blame me for my uncertainty:

Immediately I was drawn to the franchise, if only because I wanted to figure out why the visuals for the third game seemed so different. Why did Max Payne, who had been a white noir character created by a Finnish development crew for the first two installments of the series, suddenly look like he was trying to be a wee bit Latino? Why had they opted for this newly renovated Payne in so many of the game’s promotional materials if they had such a well-branded character from prior installments? Can I take this as a sign that the racial interests of the game might be slightly more complex than certain other portions of the promotional material suggest?

What I learned during my exposure to Max Payne and Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne was that the franchise is interested in notions of the self. The first installment was the first game to use bullet-time, the drastic slowing down of action sequences as seen in The Matrix, which instantly became a defining characteristic of the game. Of course, bullet-time is designed to emphasize Max’s (and the gamer’s) experiences and abilities over others’, since the gamer is able to relish every bullet in a way the target presumably cannot. It also serves to isolate the protagonist from the characters around him, in a sense privileging his experiences over others’.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Beyond Green-Skinned Space Babes, Part I: Gender among the Romulans and Cardassians

By Nathan Comstock, Television Section Editor

As I have mentioned on this blog, I have now twice run panels on feminist aspects of Star Trek, focusing specifically on the Klingon race. I chose Klingons because of their overt associations with masculinity, but also for several other reasons – they are perhaps the most iconic, and therefore accessible race, and also one of the ones we know the most about. They are represented by series regulars on three of the five franchise shows, and appear as the primary antagonists of the other two.

But at both panels, audience members expressed a desire to see the same kind of analysis applied to other iconic Star Trek races. Well, we here at The Analytical Couch Potato believe in giving the people what they want, so here are some observations to get the ball rolling. This week I look at the Romulans and the Cardassians, and next week I'll tackle the Ferengi.

What? Pokemon And Digimon Are Evolving! Or, Why Both Series Have Become More Linear

By Chalkey Horenstein, Editor-in-Chief

When I was a small child, it was a forbidden subject to compare Pokémon and Digimon; the hardcore fans of either (though Pokémon fans more notably) would get riled up and call one a rip-off of the other, engaging in date-wars that tried to allege which game came first. Playgrounds were a hot mess of misinformed kids arguing over something that could've been solved in two clicks of Wikipedia, had it existed and had we been old enough to think of using it. But one of the more undeniable and fascinating links between the two series, as far as their games are concerned, is not the character design and monster-human partnership similarities, but rather the evolution from exploratory to linear gaming style — both game series have traces of open-world games in their roots, with more linear games in the end.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Compliance: A Hard-to-Watch Movie that's Worth Seeing

By Jonah Comstock, Editorial Assistant

Dr. Milgram

In 1961 at Yale, Stanley Milgram completed a series of experiments that would become among the most famous in the history of psychology. Studying obedience to authority, Milgram staged scenes where subjects were instructed to deliver what they believed to be painful electric shocks to strangers. Milgram found that 65 percent of subjects were willing to let obedience to the lab-coat-wearing authority trump their innate morality – though some begged and pleaded to be allowed to stop, they never refused to comply and they all administered the highest shock the machine gave out – 450 volts.

I've known about the Milgram experiments for many years, but, as chilling as they are, I've never lost any sleep over them. This was just an experiment in a lab, I told myself, not the real world. In real life, surely fewer people would succumb to the pressure. Psychology Today recently co-hosted a screening of Craig Zobel's acclaimed film Compliance. The film is an examination of a real-world Milgram experiment, conducted not in the name of science but as part of a sick criminal act.

In the film, a man calls a fast food restaurant in a rural town and, pretending to be a police officer, tells Sandra, the manager, that young, female employee Becky has stolen money from a customer. In an escalating series of lies and instructions, Sandra is convinced first to take Becky's clothes, and then to call her fiance, Van, and leave him alone in the room with Becky and the phone. The caller convinces Van to rape and assault Becky before a daytime employee finally puts a stop to the madness. The filmmaking is close and raw, the performances jarring and real.

Zen and the art of time travel: Safety Not Guaranteed

By Allison Novak, Staff Writer

The time travel story is a common and popular one, and it always runs the same way. A person unwittingly goes back in time, wants to have fun, discovers something only they can fix, and becomes a quiet hero, returning to their own time. Whether it’s Doctor Who, Back to the Future, or any other number of pop culture items, they all stay on the same path. Safety Not Guaranteed is a story that takes the idea of time travel and adds to it an understated importance of what it means to be able to travel back in time. It balances the desire of time travel with an almost zen about what time travel would realistically mean.

Safety Not Guaranteed follows three writers from Seattle Magazine Jeff, Arneau, and Darius who set out to Seaside, Oregon to investigate a personal ad placed: "Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. Safety not guaranteed." The three set out to find the writer of the ad, which is Kenneth, a cashier who believes he has discovered how to time travel. 

Safety Not Guaranteed does not promise us a story about a future self traipsing through the past; instead, it is a look from the outside in of someone who wants to time travel. We follow Darius, Jeff, and Arneau as they try to figure out if the would-be traveler, Kenneth, is for real — does he really think he can time travel? Is he crazy?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

[SPOILERS] The Women of "The Dark Knight Rises"

By Gillian Daniels, Editorial Assistant

The chief virtue of Christopher Nolan's Batman films is not the plots (the pace is often plodding) or the characters (most if not all already invented by the comic).  It's the way it redresses a fanboy fantasy as a serious adventure, in this case with damsels who aren't quite in distress.

In few heroes is the power fantasy more potent than in Batman, a playboy billionaire in public and a brooding, me-against-the-world Phantom of the Opera orphan in private. It's a cool idea and one of the most thinly-veiled testosterone-laden daydreams in popular media today. Nolan challenges some aspects of this middle school fantasy in The Dark Knight Rises, but at the end of the day, of the main female characters introduced in the movie, Bruce Wayne becomes involved with both. Batman, it seems, remains a fantasy still largely for and about men.

Ice to Meet You? — A Look at the New 52’s Reintroduction of Mr. Freeze.

By Alex Ehrhardt, regular guest contributor

First, as a warning, this piece is an analysis of a plot twist. It is one of those plot twists, the ones that really ought not be spoiled. It’s the plot twist in the recent Batman Annual #1’s ‘First Snow,’, written by Scott Snyder and with art by Jason Fabok. Prior to the most recent reboot of the DC universe, Mr. Freeze’s origin was canonically the one written in 1992 by Paul Dini for Batman: The Animated Series. This Freeze was Doctor Victor Fries, who was building his criminal empire specifically to fund research for his terminally ill wife, Nora, currently in cryogenic stasis. Needless to say, Freeze was, for twenty years, one of Batman’s most sympathetic antagonists. The love many fans had for this morally gray Mr. Freeze certainly accounts for the controversy surrounding Snyder’s take on the character.