Quick Post: Quick Podcasts

Currently strapped for time, for reasons which may or may not have to do with final proofs, learning to swear in Finnish for a LARP, and the day job. So here are some podcasts I enjoy, all clocking in at well under an hour–the perfect length for a short commute, a small load of laundry, or cleaning out your inbox.

Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs (http://markandsarahtalkaboutsongs.libsyn.com/): I’ve been a fan of Sarah Bunting since she ran Television Without Pity and I was a gormless freshman with a bad haircut. She currently blogs at Tomato Nation (tomatonation.com) and is one of the site-runners at Previously.TV (previouslytv.com); she’s a main contributor on longer PTV podcasts Again With This and Extra Hot Great, both of which I wildly endorse. Here, she and her friend Mark Blankenship (another EHG regular, and an awesome guy) discuss one or two songs in a 20-minute-or-so podcast, occasionally branching out to cover whole genres like Painfully Sincere Folksongs or Supremes Covers. They’ve got great senses of humor, they’re insightful without being technical, and they make fun of Jewel, which is always a bonus.

The Hidden Almanac (thehiddenalmanac.com): Ursula Vernon! Ursula Vernon is the best. Ursula Vernon wrote Digger (diggercomic.com), an epic adventure involving a wombat. She deconstructs fairy tales, she writes a bunch of great short stories, and she wrote This Vote is Legally Binding, which I link to whenever men start being self-pitying (http://ursulav.livejournal.com/1680540.html). The Hidden Almanac is a 3-4-minute podcast, written by Ursula and voiced mostly by her partner Kevin, with “The Writer’s Almanac but in an extremely weird alternate reality” as a core concept. More cheerful than Night Vale, full of gardening information and elderly assassins, it also has some very touching broadcasts, particularly around the November 2016-January 2017…Times.

Welcome to Night Vale (welcometonightvale.com): Night Vale! You have probably heard of it: Lake Wobegon meets Lovecraft. I really love it, though fair warning: the individual podcasts are the longest here, around 25-30 minutes each, and at this point there’s three years of canon behind it. Unlike the other two, Night Vale does do a lot of work with continuing arcs, so I’m not sure how easily you could catch up if you didn’t start at the beginning.


Dressing the Female Nerd, or: No

Returning to a brief point about The Librarians (fuck, Cassie, it’s Season 2, I know you have solid-colored sweaters to wear with patterned skirts, LOOK INTO THAT BECAUSE MY EYES ARE BLEEDING, also pick ONE SHIRT, ONE AT A TIME IS HOW NON-BUTTON-DOWN SHIRTS WORK) and also reading Bad Buffy Outfits (which I totally recommend: https://twitter.com/badbuffyoutfits?lang=en)*, I’ve been thinking about how wardrobe confuses “nerdy girl” with “six-year-old”.

Because, while BBO also has a lot of ostensibly-well-dressed characters in bad outfits (the nineties weren’t good to anyone, though I do still like velvet/shiny shirts and I will fight you), the worst offender is Willow, she of the bucket hats and overalls, and it’s been noted that some of her and Cassie’s “fashion” choices could be ascribed to the wardrobe department trying to make an attractive actress look nerdy.

All right. I’ve been a nerdy chick for like thirty-four years now. Most of my female friends are nerdy chicks. I’m not claiming that we always look good (in high school, my style veered wildly toward mom jeans and baggy black t-shirts with dragons airbrushed onto them**) but I’ve noticed four distinct groups.

1) The girl who doesn’t care that much. She just wants to be comfortable and practical, so she generally dresses like a male nerd. These days, that means jeans, sneakers, and t-shirts (sweatshirts if it’s cold) with slogans/cartoon characters/band names/company logos. Usually the hair will be short or in a ponytail/braid, and the accessories will be minimal if present.
2) The fashionable nerd. This one does bother with makeup and clothes, though usually (in my experience) not with what’s currently “in” except insofar as that dictates what stores carry. She might go more Etsy or vintage than mainstream, but she knows what looks good on her.
3) The subculture girl. This is where Abby from CSI falls (though I have yet to meet an adult, no matter how Goth they might be on weekends, who feels the need to Hot Topic it up for the workplace, but whatevs, CSI). It also covers the hippie-nerd hybrid with the broomstick skirts and pentacle necklaces, the chick who dresses like an anime character, and all manner of RenFaire-y costuming.

4) The formal/uniformed nerd. This is the female, twenty-first century equivalent of Mr. Pocket Protector, or of the spinster librarian in fifties movies. Look for a lot of pant/skirt suits, not necessarily flattering ones. She’ll wear makeup and accessories if appropriate, but they’ll be very much the things colleges tell you to wear on an interview: small pearl earrings, light lipstick, no eyeliner, etc. Very buttoned-up, metaphorically and often literally.

People being complicated, a single nerd chick can and often does move between many groups. I myself am generally Type 1 these days when I’ll only see co-workers and fellow commuters, because why bother? When I’m going to meet my friends, I’ll switch to Type 2. Type 3 is for LARPing/RenFaires, and Type 4 for interviews or family weddings.

None of these types covers overalls: not practical enough for 1, not associated with a subculture, not formal, and not flattering to anyone. Likewise, if a girl’s hitting Type 2 with the flattering outlines and the chokers, she’s unlikely to then go for white tights and clashing patterns. It just doesn’t make sense. (A super-trendy Type 2 miiiight go for the ill-advised-but-currently-in outfit, like whatever ridiculousness the Olsen Twins had going on there, but again, it’s unlikely.) Nerdy women are still adults, and we live in the world: we know better than to dress like we’re in first grade.

You can adhere to these principles and still dress your nerdy female characters in less-than-attractive ways. Just ask anyone who knew me when I was sixteen. 😛

* Although the skepticism about jackets and turtlenecks in SoCal is, IMO, unwarranted. I lived in the Santa Ynez Valley for ten years; we had plenty of both. They’re what you wear when it’s below 70.
** And I *still* was surprised I didn’t get laid until junior year. The best and the brightest here, folks.

“The Good Place” and Soulmates

The same friend who recommended The Librarians also pointed me at The Good Place. (Excellent taste, that lady: she’s also responsible for about three-quarters of my current wardrobe, one way or another.) It’s a really smart sitcom from the guy who did Parks and Recreation, which I mostly liked (except for April, who, ugh). The Good Place is a neat look at concepts of the afterlife, questions like relative morality, what it means to be good, and the possibility of reform, and frozen yogurt.

A largish part of the plot also involves the concept of one’s “soulmate,” the one person who you’re meant to be with, which is interesting because that’s a concept that, in real life, is total and complete bullshit.

I can get behind the Anne Shirley “kindred spirits” notion–people who click conversationally with you right away and fit into your life so well you can’t imagine them not being there–but the idea that there’s one and only one ideal romantic partner for each of us, out of seven million people? Nope. I’m a Tim Minchin girl. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KynIKjRwqDI)

(And while we’re at it, while love is great and romantic love works out wonderfully for a lot of people, True Love is a phrase that doesn’t belong in serious discussion outside of The Princess Bride and/or fifties Disney movies. Let’s be clear: the romance parts of my books are as much fantasy as the demon fighting and the time travel. I like the fantasy, I’m happy to write it, but, y’know, what you call love was invented by men like me to sell nylons, and all that.)

With that in mind, I approached the soulmate stuff in Episode One of The Good Place prepared to tolerate it as a weird afterlife thing, because hey, the afterlife is weird. What I found was that, as with everything else, The Good Place really played with the concept.

And now, spoilers for the whole series. Continue reading “The Good Place” and Soulmates

Problematic Things: The Romance Edition

Warning: this is going to talk some about sex, and kink, and so forth. If you don’t want to read about that, or have to see me at Christmas parties and thus do not need to connect me with this, you may not want to proceed further.

There’s been a lot of talk about being a fan of problematic things, and I cannot endorse this essay enough: http://www.socialjusticeleague.net/2011/09/how-to-be-a-fan-of-problematic-things/

But one of the things that comes up a lot in romance (whether novels, movies, or subplots in other genres) is, well, what if you like the problematic elements themselves? Issues with consent, “alpha heroes,” fated mates, dramatic gestures in the face of rejection, high school romance actually working out long-term—there are a lot of valid objections to all of these, I’ve made most of ‘em at one point or another, and there are also people for whom they’re all major selling points. What if you’re one of them?

My take: you’ve got a kink. Admit it. Go from there.

One of the great things that comes out of the kink community (as I understand it as a mostly-observer) is the concept that what turns your crank doesn’t define you as a person. The cliché CEO who likes getting tied up on Saturday night is still just as much a CEO Monday through Friday; similarly, the feminist who likes dubious consent in her fiction or her roleplay can still advocate for enthusiastic, affirmative consent in real life.

When it comes to love and other indoor sports, you like what you like, and your conscious mind is only slightly involved. People on both sides of any particular trope, if we realize that, can help cut down on a lot of the really tedious conversations where someone feels they have to defend Lloyd Dobler or Edward Cullen. How?

On the simplest level:

People who have issues with a given trope, while still openly discussing those problems, should realize (and frame their arguments accordingly) that liking whatever it is doesn’t necessarily mean endorsing it in real life or agreeing with the more dubious attitudes behind it. More broadly, enjoying any given work doesn’t automatically equate to agreeing with its sketchier aspects: I dislike forced-seduction and think Phantom of the Opera’s romance dynamic is icky (he’s a creepy stalker, she’s a nonentity with flagrant daddy issues) but “Music of the Night” is still hot. Not everyone with Twilight on their bookshelves thinks stalking is great. We can like things and still know that they have problems, or even that they’re complete hot messes—insert joke about college parties here.

(Works where the ideology is the whole thing are another kettle of fish – like, I still recommend screening out anyone on OKC who lists Ayn Rand as a favorite author, though if anyone’s discovered a reason people like her books that doesn’t have to do with rape or Objectivism, I’m open to argument.)

On the other end, people who like dubcon or alpha guys or whatever shouldn’t try to argue that those tropes don’t come from and play with some seriously troubling concepts, or pull the “but it’s just a story lighten up” act when critical discussions are going on. You like what you like, and that’s cool—I like a wine cooler on occasion, and I’ve been known to enjoy frosting directly from the tube. But if I try to pretend that Pillsbury and Bartles & Jaymes are a nutritionally-complete breakfast, nobody is going to be happy an hour later. “It’s wrong, but it’s hot,” is a perfectly fine sentence, and neither part of it invalidates the other.

Optionally, if you want to go a little deeper, it might be good to consider what appeals to you about a particular trope. This isn’t necessarily “why you like it”—as Dan Savage observes, plenty of people like BDSM because they were spanked as kids, and plenty because they weren’t–but more like figuring out whether you like Rocky Road because of the chocolate, the marshmallow, or both.

For example: the pop eighties-romance explanation for why people enjoy dubious consent in fiction involves a belief that “good girls don’t want sex,” and yeah, if you legit believe *that*…get therapy and maybe don’t run for public office. But there are plenty of sex-positive feminists who still get off on the concept, and I don’t think they’re secretly all Phyllis Schafly about it—I think it’s a fantasy with multiple potential sources of appeal. The reason it works for you might be that trying not to respond is a break from real life, where having a good time with a partner and letting them know as much can actually be a source of pressure (especially if you’re tired or have had one too many drinks or the stars are just not aligning). A little reverse psychology can seem awfully appealing there.

It doesn’t just have to be sex, either. Maybe you like the deal where a guy’s persistent in the face of apparent indifference because that way, the woman you’re identifying with doesn’t have to actually make any advances. I get that: it’s a lot more dignified to get in some good rejection lines and eventually say yes than it is to actually put yourself out there.

Figuring out this sort of thing can help in two ways. One, it’s a lot easier to say “Oh, I know X is seriously not okay in real life, but it definitely hits me where I live because Y,” when you can articulate what Y is. Two, when you pinpoint the specific thing that appeals to you, you can then try and look for it in forms that get rid of the baggage, or you might realize that there’s some cross-narrative appeal for you in other constructs. (For instance, if “I can get someone I want without the risk of rejection,” is a thing, you might also enjoy historical fiction featuring arranged marriages.)

I will note that this is all from a consumer perspective. The responsibility of writers and marketers around these tropes, and the question of where and how they should be presented in mainstream media (as opposed to fiction specifically flagged as catering to a particular taste, as is the case with much fanfic and porn) is likely another post, for another day.