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Worldcon: Thursday, part three


Thursday, 7 pm: When is Genocide Justified?
Panelists listed as: Connie Willis, Nalo Hopkinson, Josepha Sherman (not at convention), Neil Rest, Richard Foss (moderator), Stephanie Bedwell-Grime (not at convention)

RF: Is the premise correct? Is sf tolerant of it?

CW: You can write about something without being tolerant of it! Yes, sf has a long, proud tradition. Mary Shelley, The Year of the White Plague. George R.R. Stewart, Earth Abides.

In sf in the 40s and 50s, invasions and plague are used to remove the clutter from the landscape. This lets you focus, so she's pro-genocide -- but only in literature!

RF: Let's see how often that comes up.

CW: Said she was pro-killing 2 people or characters I don't know about.

RF: When down to just two people, I think it's murder.

CW: I'm good with that.

NH: Nanogenocide. I didn't coin it.

She doesn't object to genocide in sf per se, but to bad writing. E.g., "Wait, if X happens, then the rest of the world is not sustainable." But also, if you're a minority, and you keep reading about your group getting wiped out, it's hard not to take personally.

RF: 40s potboilers, where the happy ending is wiping out an alien race with no idea that this is not desirable.

NR: A great many panels are not necessary if you say, "It depends on the story." No conflict = no story. A big intense story may need a big intense conflict.

One size fits all -- doesn't.

Example of how one might come to write a story: You get a call telling you, "Y is an anthology with X theme. Are you in?"

Well, yes. You have to pay the rent.

Schindler's List is a movie about genocide which plays to the people who give the awards.

CW: Rorschach test topic. One tendency of author to wipe out humanity -- always seems to be mutants, and they always seem to be there instantly, though it should take generations. I objected to the Robinson Caruso aspect -- but it's fun! And it's a legitimate approach. But, I objected because it never addressed darker side, the incredible weight of grief. All having nervous breakdown that all they loved was gone.

Targeted genocide. "Last of the Winnebagos" got "What have you got against dogs?" letters. Doesn't cause threat to the physical human society, but emotionally. "Do not wait upon the day of judgement. It happens every day."

Changing [something illegible in my notes].

Nice in movies and food.
Tiny losses -- take into account.

NH; Stories deal with with genocide -- weight of the loss. Zombies are people, too. What do vampires really think about suddenly being turned into canon fodder? Emotional toll.

She saw a picture of a cruise ship in cutaway, and it had sufficient similarities to pictures of slave ships that she had a visceral reaction, despite never having been on a cruise ship or a slave ship.

Cost of killing people, to the survivors. What she liked of Doomsday Book, even with techno.

RF: Hitchhiker's: Arthur learns that the world is gone. Too big for him to wrap his mind around. England. A twitch. No fish and chips. He freaks. The personal touch. Sympathetic zombie how?

Audience: Book of zombie poetry in humor section. you see change in man turned into zombie via poetry [illeg] haiku?

[Film?]

RF; You can walk by a woman with perfect flesh and never notice. That's what been stolen from you. Barthleme?

CW: Spear carriers, not secondary characters. yo need them to open doors for you and die. Mostly die, but you have to be very careful. Bonanaza Syndrome: They would be fine, no matter what. Had to be back. Anyone else -- fair game, especially women getting involved with him. It does become a joke -- you know what characters you should care about.

Writing challenge. There are no spear carriers. Anyone could die. Alien had such an effect because Dallas was a brave noble captain whom you know survives -- and he dies first. You know you can't count on rules. hey could all die.

More lifelike, more modern shows. Not to all tastes.

NH: I remember when I realized that as long as I knew who the protagonist was, I knew who'd survive.

Whole population can die -- Cambodia, war with other intelligent species -- what does that mean? Have you made whole swathes expendable? [?? I think my notes are missing something].

RF: Nature of Genocide = Denial of humanity to victims. SF has a definite advantage here.

Can you make a truce with cockroaches? But here, there are intelligent beings. Can they have no redeeming values?

Wipe out smallpox. Exterminating it. Are you taking the first small step, asking someone, in saying, "This is inconvenient. Let's get rid of it."?

NR: Wiping out smallpox, except for a couple of museum vials? I'm for that. This panel wouldn't have happened two decades ago.

Some peoples of Carribbean are gone with the woolly mammal. Subjugation vs Elimination of African tribes.

Tibet -- Culture being exterminated. People? They don't care if those live or die. Lamentations in the Bible: how can we sing the songs of our Lord in a foreign land? Cultural obliteration.

Jewish [illeg] by use of Old Testament stories by African population given via Christianity.

NH: Smallpox -- yes. Been dying to wipe out bigger things for quite some time now.

CW: Ability of sf to make you see different points of view. William Tenn did it all the time via humor -- "St Dragon and the George" from the BEM's pov. Octavia Butler's "Bloodchild", humanity subjugated by aliens. Not simple. There isn't only the emotion of our hate of the aliens. It is much more complicated. A "safer" way of discussing issues.

SF is a safety net for hot button issues. If I talk about genocide anywhere on the face of the planet, your blast doors will slam shut.

On the other side of the galaxy, it's not so personal. It can get under the horizon.

[Me: Martin Luther King, Jr. explaining to Nichelle Nichols why it was important that she played Uhura.]

Despite sexist, racist, et alia sf, this is sf's strength and why sf is still viable.

RF: Tenn's Of Men and Monsters: Humanity as the vermin in the wall. Okay, we can't win. But we'll be the best vermin! We'll be everywhere! A kind of victory, physical / cultural in this story.

NH: re CW and idea of getting off planet, non existent creatures -- yes and no. I find I don't take that luxury very often. I study languages. Argument with student on language. The student was writing an alternate history story, using the word "sadism". This would would mean that x, y, and z, which you don't have -- and you're using the word the wrong way!

I make a black female character, and you make assumptions that I can't control, but I sure as hell can manipulate them.

Aug: Boycotting as a literary tool?

RF: Different panel. Using economic power of one group of people to affect another group of people.

Aud: Boycotting vs killing or subjugating victims?

RF: Different scale.

Aud -- Steve -- anonymity / boundaries [not sure I got that correct in my notes, so I'm not sure what point was being made.]

Stalin: Killing one person is a tragedy. Killing one million people is a statistic.

CW: Agrees. Sophie's Choice book affected her most of all of the Holocaust material. 6 people die in the book. Can't wrap head around the piles of pocket watches taken from the dead. This is a flaw in our hard wiring, the way we are capable of such terrible things, instead of giving under the weight of the stone.

RF: Not necessarily a flaw if you survive a tragedy by distancing yourself.

CW: Another flaw in the situation in which we find ourselves now.

Aud: How do you avoid going mad with grief? asked of a camp survivor. Some did, he said. They died. Those who survived dealt with it.

Aud: Taking revenge for nature. Spock refusing to save the world from natural vs man made disaster. Idea of revenge.

CW: Makes a nice essay plot point I can relate to, but I prefer the 4th Star Trek movie where we killed off the whales, not intentionally, but out of greed, and it turns out that we need them. Like threat to polar bears. There are no spear carriers. You wipe out one thing and jeopardize everything.

Aud: If you could bring back species that died of genocide, would you?

--Neanderthal -- we can now regenerate their DNA. Ethics of bringing them back?
-- Hobbits. Homo floresiensis.

RF: this would only bring back an individual who would have no understanding of the culture. Glorified lab animal?

CW: Didn't survive because didn't survive. Closer link between brain hemispheres? We could learn something.

NH: The What If -- speaks to what [illeg]. Very chaotic system. Not bringing them back, but bringing them forward. We could not control this magic.

CW: Which is why half of the stories in and out of sf introduces a variable, e.g., a Music Man comes to town, and all hell breaks loose.

Aud: Moral imperative not to just use genocide as a plot point, moving the story along?

NH: Absolutely. It boils down to making your writing good writing. Moral incentive is creative incentive. I am a human reading it. Can't just ignore that -- or otherwise, what the hell are you writing about?

CW: Yes and know. It depends. Killing off for plot -- not casually -- to show what war is. Terrorism -- There was no other way I could tell that story.

Star Wars, which I adore, had Carrie Fischer trying to emote when looking at a blackboard that said BOOM! That's trying to do different things that I am. Not better. Not worse. Just different.

Hitchhiker as casual as it comes. But, it's about the Story.

NH: Yes. Think about what you do.

RF: Sympathizing with [illeg] one guy [illeg] story told from his pov

"How could you write a story with X as a good guy?" If you think he's the good guy, you're missing the point.

Aud: What if it's an Us or Them? If we don't wipe them out, they'll wipe us out.

NR: Like Kzinti -- There are three types of things in their language: Kzinti, food, toys

NH: Good question, because humans are really good at making situations into Us or Them. How do you come to reconciliation or tell when it's Us or Them? Looking forward to seeing it in fiction and in real life.

RF: Cherokee = humans. All else not.

China: Us and Barbarians

Aud: War of the Worlds

RF: Anyone rewrite it from the alien pov? Send cold virus to Mars [illeg]?

NH: No. Because there goes my plot.

CW: Pov of dumbass on Mars who failed to vaccinate everyone.

Aud: BSG -- To wipe out Cylons or not? They don't, but the question remains: Should we? Shouldn't we?

Aud: Smallpox. Cure deafness. Cultural issue.

NR: Nancy Kress, Beggers in Spain. Curing sleep.

CW: Enemy who doesn't know we exist. Aliens making world all ocean. No communications. Can we beat them or no?

[Note to self: Horton Hears a Who]

WWII story. My characters there are just in the position to survive -- or not.

NH: Idea of one multiracial human -- she doesn't like that.
--I like the differences
--I don't need to be fixed

Cf. LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven

Thusday, 8pm: Wonder Women: Feminism in Comics
Kevin Maroney

There were supposed to be other panelists on this one, but it turned out that they were in a different room. They'd gotten a sign put up outside our room. They'd asked the convention staff to confirm that the sign was there. They were told that it was.

Alas, this may be true in Earth 2, but not in Earth 1, where our panel was. Still, despite being the sole panelist, Kevin did a really good job of keeping a good discussion going, making sure everyone had a chance to talk, and annotating audience references for those who didn't know the source material. I think that most of the annotating was of my mile-a-minute reference dropping.

He started by noting that Astro City #6 introduced Kurt Busiek's Wonder Woman character, who was going out with the Superman equivalent, the Samaritan. Wonder Woman started out as Superman with tits.

Is that necessarily a bad thing? Kevin thought that it was not, and that it was important to have this. Simply by existing, Wonder Woman opened a door to women superheroes.

Golden Age Wonder Woman was literally Superman With Tits. She was as good as Superman. It was good to have a powerful female figure to encourage others. It let girls think, "I can be a hero, too." If Wonder Woman did nothing else, still this would be enough. Dayenu.

Wonder Woman is the third most popular licensed character for DC, though not the third most popular comic book. As simple as that: There should be a superhero with tits.

Golden Age Wonder Woman Stories: They are strange. They are strange even by the standards of Golden Age Comics. William Moulten Marston was a psychiatrist with very strange ideas about gender roles. He believed:

--Women were the superior gender
--Society would be better off with women in charge
--Graceful submission to domination is good.

Every issue of his run had at least one, and usually several, chaining scenes.

He also practiced what he preached, living in a polyamorous relationship with two wives, all three people being quite happy with this arrangment. His stories reflect all of this, but they are also cool. There is more to the character of Wonder Woman than just Superman with tits.

The best Wonder Woman stories in the decades since his run build on this. The mythological aspects of Wonder Woman are used a great deal. It is no longer enough just to be a female superhero. Now, Wonder Woman keeps us safe from mythological monsters. Also, she is an ambassador from a women's utopia to the men's world, here to teach us. Okay, she teaches us by tossing tanks around. It's still a superhero comic.

This year's Popular Culture Association had an exhibit of Wonder Woman covers from the late 60s / early 70s. Wonder Woman spent 5 years without powers, becoming an Emma Peel-like character, defeating the bad guys with karate.

A lot of these covers are women-in-peril covers, a lot of bondage. It wouldn't be so bad if it weren't the hero of the book in peril / bondage, and at that point, DC's only female hero, cowering in some of the covers.

Kevin did a bit of research, expecting to find two things:

1. That there were some covers like this in the Golden Age. No. There were none. Not a single cover showed Wonder Woman even in defeat, far less in peril or bondage, let alone cowering. In every single one of the Golden Age covers, she is in control.

2. That there were some covers like this with Superman cowering. And, yes, in the Silver Age, every third issue showed Flash defeated, or crying, or turned into a puppet. It's just emotionally different when it's a man rather than a woman reduced and snivelling. The semiotics just felt wrong to him for a woman on the cover of a superhero book, and he did not know why.

I suggested that it might be like the dandruff theory Harold Feld told me about once. It used to be that, in shampoo commercials, only the white guy could get the dandruff. When minorities and women can get the dandruff without making people wonder uneasily about whether there is implied racism or sexism, that will be a sign that there is equality. We are not yet equal enough that it is possible to show a female superhero like Wonder Woman cowering and snivelling and not seem wrong (ignoring, for the purposed of the discussion, the tittilation aspect, or, at any rate, ignoring people who respond only to that aspect and look no further).

Kevin said that we know that Superman will rise up. Okay, we know it about Wonder Woman too -- but we go along with it longer.

Someone said that this may have to do with the readership, and that probably not many women or girls read the comic. Objectification appeals to pubescent and pre-pubescent boys who find in the comic a substitute for Playboy.

Things never seem to go quite as far, even in the peril / bondage situation with Wonder Woman as with other female characters. Respect / Objectification.

Someone said that DC itself is not sure who it wants the readership to be. Changing Wonder Woman's costume is a big no no.

Kevin said that girls read superhero comics in the Golden Age. Everyone read superhero comics in the Golden Age. It was all they had.

Then, the romance genre started flourishing -- think Archie, Veronica, and Betty.

Wonder Woman has a mustiness and old fashionedness to her, which is a pity.

At this point, my notes say, "Bullets and braces, with a bazooka shell", with no context.

At this point, I mentioned Heather Dale's song, "One of Us", about the importance of role models for women fighters in the SCA, and really, about the importance of role models for everyone. We need to see people like ourselves doing cool and heroic things.

I also mentioned an article from The New York Review of Science Fiction, I think written by Gwyneth Jones, which argues that Phaedre from Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel books is a truer role model for women than Buffy the Vampire Slayer from the show of the same name, as Buffy is basically taking on a male role.

It is a well written article -- my one sentence summary cannot begin to do it justice. I don't begrudge Carey her success. I know that there are many people who are or have been in difficult positions who found strength and moral support from Carey's books. And that's great.

But for myself? I would rather be like Buffy than like Phaedre. I would rather be Superman With Tits than what the article considered truer feminine type, i.e., whore who is somehow divine. Okay, Buffy whines a bit much, especially in later seasons, but she's still closer to my idea of role model.

Phaedre is outside the superhero genre, and arguably, Buffy is, too.

I don't think I mentioned Valerie Housden's song, "Following in Valentina's Footsteps", but I certainly could have.

I also have a note that Kevin and Brian Rogers should talk, as Brian's done some excellent analysis of plot arcs in comics.

Someone mentioned Storm and Electra, two strong women who were decidedly not Superman-With-Tits.

Someone mentioned Y: The Last Man.

Kevin said, "That's another panel for another time -- but please go on."

Whoever it was who mentioned the comic noted that it was interesting that the world didn't change that much in the absence of men (other than the title character). There were still marauding bands and so on.

Kevin said [that the problem with viewing it as feminist for him, despite the good works, the underlying rhetoric is "What these women need is a man." The women exist to be infatuated with the protagonist.

This is when I learned about the Bechdel test: Is there a scene with two women who talk to each other about something other than a man? This comic almost fails that test, despite having only one guy in it.

To my surprise, I realized that Cerebus the Aardvard passes that test.

Someone said that passing the Bechdel test was necessary, but not sufficient. Someone else noted that this was like oxygen was necessary, but not sufficient.

Kevin said that there were a lot of good strong female characters -- I think that he was talking about Y: The Last Man, but my notes are not clear. He said that his problem with Girl Genius is that Agatha spends too much time helpless. I said that this is currently not a problem. I also referred to the training sequences with Zeethra.

[One of the many fun bits in my character sheet when I played Dingbot Prime in a Girl Genius larp was the dingbot's take on Zeethra: She is the green-haired mistress-mistress. Just as mistress beats the dings out of Dingbot Prime, so green haired mistress-mistress beats the dings out of mistress with sticks, making mistress run to wind her up.]

Kevin talked about sex appeal, and how, in the current (I think) run of Wonder Woman, there was dialogue between her and another female superhero whose name I forget.

Other woman: You have the second most famous rack in America. (*)

Wonder Woman: You mean people actually pay attention to my chest?

(*) The first being the one belonging to Power Girl.

Kevin said that only Gail Simone could get away with that dialogue, and that her work on Birds of Prey passes the Bechdel test on each page.

Neil Gaiman was once asked how he did the women in Sandman so knowledgably, and he said, "Well, I've always operated under the assumption that when men aren't around, women talk like human beings."

At some point, I referred to the movie Ghost Dog and Watchmen. In the movie Ghost Dog, I remembered the following dialogue:

Mobster 1: You just shot a woman!

Mobster 2: I just shot a cop. They want equality -- I gave them equality.

The actual dialogue can be found here, but this gets the point across. The second mobster is correct. The woman who approached him was a cop, and if she didn't know the risks when she donned the uniform, she should never have become a cop. This does not change the fact that the second mobster is a murderer.

Trying hard to find a way to talk about a scene in Watchmen without giving too many spoilers, I mentioned three scenes. In one, a man kicks a female superhero who has just shot him. He kicks her hard, in the stomach.

Her male superhero companion says something on the order of, "You fiend! If you've hurt her --"

Her assailant tells him to grow up.

This was a woman who shot him. She is a threat. She is not a helpless damsel.

The second scene is when this woman corrects a male superhero about how she prefers to be addressed.

As the third scene I described shows, she only has to tell him once. He tells her, calling her by her preferred name, that it is good to see her back in costume, even though he never cared for her costume. She hears him insulting her costume. By the first time I reread the scene, I heard "While I don't like your costume, I am glad you are taking up the mantle of the superhero. And, yes, I remember what you want to be called, and I will address you appropriately."

Despite all of this, as Kevin noted, Watchmen almost fails the Bechdel test. There is precisely one scene where two woman talk about something other than a man.

[Hm. I note that this is only strictly true if the characters must be the major characters. I seem to recall two lesbians talking, and they were not talking about men, but about their relationship.]

Someone referred to my dandruff comment, and mentioned a woman who said that she wanted to be Obama's Monica Lewinsky. Why is this considered a reflection on the Black community simply because she is Black? Why is it not simply considered a reflection on this individual woman and her own foolishness?

Kevin said that there was a certain acknowledgement of reality that one must have. Yes, one can deplore that something is what it is. Yes, one can -- and should -- work for change. But, denying reality is not a good first step. He cited a recent XKCD strip, "How it Works", where a man and a woman are making identical math errors.

Male commentor to man: Wow. You suck at math.

Male commentor to woman: Wow. Girls suck at math.

[Note to self: Mad Magazine once had a series of comparisons for the same thing done by a man and by a woman. If I recall correctly -- it has been years, perhaps decades -- in all but one case, the conclusion was that something was considered good when a man does it and bad when a woman does it.]

Kevin said that he tends to forget it, but he is fat. He does not feel it as much as a woman of his girth would. He spoke about one woman who said, "I am the Fat Stereotype. Whatever I do, it's Because I'm Fat."

Eating dessert? It's because you're fat. Not eating dessert? It's because you're fat. Walking up the stairs? It's because you're fat. Taking the elevator? It's because you're fat.

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