‘Titans’ Season Two: Time To Extrapolate From And Overreact To A Minute Long Trailer Again

Okay. So. Titans season two. Like I said before, I adored most of season one, but the whole thing ended up falling kind of flat because of the terrible finale. This was a little surprising, because the lead up to the show was weird. I was getting whiplash between stuff that made me excited and stuff that I didn’t like. The first trailer was terrible and the second was great. And then when the show actually came out, it was good! So now I know I probably shouldn’t get all worked up about the first look at season two. Except, too bad, I’m going to anyway. Let’s do this.

1. Donna Fucking Troy

LOOK AT HER. I didn’t think I liked her suit when we first saw pictures of it, but it’s grown on me. I definitely would prefer to see her black one from the comics, because I adore that and Conor Leslie would look SO good in it, but this is pretty good, too.

2. Why is Batman blonde?

I first saw the trailer when it was leaked last night. And I still can’t get over the fact they didn’t darken Iain Glen’s hair. I don’t know why this bothers me. This is a weird thing to be bothered by. And yet it just freaks me out. This is a thing I’ve been lowkey worried about since the casting was announced! Especially because we saw Bruce from behind in the season one flashbacks. He had a full head of black hair. Are we meant to assume that raising Dick was so hard for this guy that fifteen years turned his hair blondish grey? All the evidence we’ve been given indicates that it can’t have been that hard because Bruce was the king of distant parenting – dude communicated through leaving cryptic notes on trays.

3. Scottish Batman

It’s not that I dislike Scottish accents. Not at all, they’re great. But it’s somehow off putting to hear Scottish Bruce Wayne. And while I’m sure it’s better than risking him being bad at a fake accent, the combination of blonde hair and a Scottish accent weirds me out. Like…is this something he picked up from Alfred? Is Alfred Scottish in this universe? Is it something he picked up while travelling? Did he meet Talia in Scotland? Are we going to get five seasons in and meet Talia and Damian with Scottish accents? I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS.

5. Wilson Family

My first thought about this is that I need to hear Rose called Ravager at least once, because that’s a badass name and she looked SO COOL. My second thought is that I love getting both Rose and Joey in the same show, this is great. My third thought is that I want to see Slade’s suit in more detail before I make a judgement on whether or not I like it. And my fourth thought is that that bit at the end made me uncomfortable, because in a lot of ways, Deathstroke is Dick’s archnemesis, and I don’t like the thought of Jason being the one to tell Dick who he is.

4. Jason Todd

It’s no secret that I don’t exactly love Jason. At least when it comes to this. And like….I think this intensified that feeling. I’m a big fan of when Robin is presented as almost more mysterious than Batman himself – like this semi-mythological figure that most people don’t even believe is real. I hate the idea of everyone knowing how many Robins there have been or what happened to them or what names they’re going by now. So Jason jumping in front of a camera crew to shout about how the Titans are back – and seriously? Back? YOU WERE NEVER ONE OF THEM – bothers me. Also, I have to reiterate that I’m not into the idea of him knowing who Deathstroke is before Dick. Seeing as this was only a one minute trailer, it’s very possible that that’s not quite how it plays out in the actual show, but…I just don’t like how Jason is being pushed into stories he has no business being in. That’s never going to change.

5. Dick Training Rachel

I am bizarrely delighted by Dick training Rachel while wielding a sword. And the reason for that can almost certainly be traced back to one specific issue in pre-52 Nightwing.

Dick Kicks Ra's In The Face

Dick is…really good with a sword, guys. He once beat Ra’s al Ghul in a swordfight then kicked him in the face. It was awesome. So I’m excited to see if this season explores how Dick is actually super competent and awesome at a lot of different things.

6. Original Titans

Hank and Dawn are freaking awesome, and I’m still in awe that their episode somehow turned out to be probably the most well made in the whole first season, despite being crammed between a cliffhanger and its payoff. I’m delighted to see more of them. I’m so excited to see what the relationship between them, Donna, Dick, and Garth turns out to be. I’m still a bit disappointed that we’re not getting Roy and Wally, but I’ll live.

I could go on and start rambling about many other elements of this trailer, from Krypto to the little glimpse of the Dick Bruce dynamic to the fact that this seems to imply that the Trigon story is going to be wrapped up in the first episode which is not cool. For once in my life, I’m going to restrain myself. As many things that there are that bother me about this, there are other things that I’m excited to see! And if I stop paying so much attention to what other people are saying, I’ll probably enjoy it more! So I’m going to set my reservations aside again, like I did before season one. It might be good or it might not, but I’ll do my best to enjoy the ride anyway.

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How The Crisis of Confidence Speech Informs ‘Batman v Superman’

I’ve long been fascinated by Jimmy Carter, which is kind of strange, given that he had been out of office for nearly seventeen years by the time I was born. I’ve read every one of his books. I’ve listened to countless speeches. And somehow, it still took me a bizarre length of time to recognize the parallels between a quote from his most famous speech and a quote in my favourite movie.

We were sure that ours was a nation of the ballot, not the bullet, until the murders of John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.

The American conscience died with Robert, Martin, and John.

The first of these quotes is from Carter’s 1979 “Crisis of Confidence” speech. The second is Perry White in Batman v Superman. Now. There’s an obvious reason why I didn’t immediately recognize the connection between these two quotes. That reason is that Batman v Superman draws a lot of inspiration from The Dark Knight Returns, down to several pieces of dialogue, some verbatim and others paraphrased. And in The Dark Knight Returns, the phrasing of the equivalent quote is much closer to the BvS quote than the Carter quote is: “The American conscience died with the Kennedys.” So when I heard that line in BvS, I didn’t even stop to consider whether there was a different quote that connected the rise in American cynicism to three deaths that changed the face of the United States , rather than two. Once I did…well, it explained a lot about BvS that I’d considered, but hadn’t really understood.

What Carter (slash his speechwriter) realized in the 70s and Terrio realized when writing the BvS script that Miller did not understand when he wrote TDKR in the 80s was that these three deaths defined the United States in the post-WWII era. John Kennedy. Robert Kennedy. And Martin Luther King Jr. Including MLK in the BvS quote was hugely important because one of the main differences between BvS and TDKR is that BvS takes Clark’s side in the story rather than Bruce’s. It does that by presenting a story of immigration and bigotry where people hate what they don’t understand. BvS is all about xenophobia and how dangerous it is when people treat each other as the enemy. It’s about two millionaires waging a war against a journalist that came to the planet as a refugee. It’s about the refusal to acknowledge the humanity in another person. It’s about hatred based on nothing. All this means that MLK had to be included in the quote in order to get the full impact out of the idea because his role in American history is essential context for the story BvS tells (While it’s difficult to say for certain, I suspect that the ballot and bullet part of Carter’s quote refers to the very famous Malcolm X speech of the same name. That part isn’t quite relevant to BvS, but still, it’s interesting).

Carter’s speech goes beyond that single line. And the message of the entire speech is reflected all throughout the movie. Perry’s quote takes on the defeatist message that people remember that speech to have had. It’s cynical. It’s tired. It’s, “no one cares any more, there’s no point in writing about it”. But what’s funny about that speech and how we remember it is…in the 70s, that speech energized Americans. Carter’s approval rating jumped ten points in response! The American people recognized it as the “yeah! We can improve the world ourselves!” message it had been meant as. And it’s that which is the real message of BvS:  “Men are still good”. People can do better and we have to. It’s about seeing the world and everything terrible in it and being motivated by it to be better, to do better, and to fight for better.

Now, does this change anything about the movie or make me regard anything in it as meaning something other than what I had previously interpreted it to mean? No. Especially because there’s no evidence that this was an intentional reference and I think it’s more likely that Terrio recognized the same things that Carter did and that Miller didn’t independently than it is that he read the Miller quote, found it close to what he wanted to convey, and decided to fix it by using something Carter had sad. But it still is a cool thing to consider because of how so many people – without any actual justification – claim BvS to be rooted in a conservative ideology. While there’s a debate to be had about Carter’s role in shifting the country to the right, there was nothing conservative about this speech. It’s about social responsibility and the power of every individual to make their world a better place. That there is the central theme of Batman v Superman.

‘Supergirl’, ‘Batwoman’, and the False Feminism of Replacement

I’ve seen a ton of comments about how the Supergirl movie that’s supposedly in development won’t work without Clark, and they frustrate me a lot, because I both agree with the idea that Kara and Clark need and play off each other in interesting ways and disagree with the idea that either of them is necessary for the other to have a story. Here’s the thing: as confused as her backstory is and as many different versions of her there are, Supergirl is not nor will she ever be Batgirl. It was Batgirl that was inspired by Batman, Batgirl who might have been a hero in a world without Batman, but certainly not one that went by a bat theme, Batgirl whose story cannot exist without Batman preceding her. That same principle doesn’t apply to Supergirl and Superman. Supergirl doesn’t need Superman to exist. He doesn’t matter for her origin story. The symbol is part of her family just as much as his. So a Supergirl movie can most certainly exist without needing Clark there as a character for Kara to look up to and want to emulate. The problem that actually exists is if any story tries to replace Clark with Kara because they’re both Supers. That’s a problem because they’re different people that fill different roles, their stories aren’t interchangeable, and whenever people try to substitute her in for him, they’ll get a pale imitation. That’s a large part of what’s wrong with the show.

Comics Kara Zor El knew both that she was Kryptonian and what it meant to be Kryptonian because she spent more of her life on Krypton than on Earth! She was a genius by the standards of this hugely technologically advanced society that was on track to join the science guild. She was a teenager that had lost everything she knew – her planet, her species, her culture – and landed on a planet so different from her own that she had to learn everything from scratch. What did the Supergirl show do with that? Why, it completely ignored her scientific background, added a bunch of original characters to give the scientific knowledge to so they could erase her intelligence, and aged her up so they could make her a reporter for no actual reason.

I stopped watching the show somewhere in season two. But from what I remember, this erasing of Kara’s scientific background was a large part of the reason why it felt like CW Kara was pretty much just female Clark, rather than actually Kara. She has his job. She has the same personality. There’s very little that distinguishes her as Kara. And since they aged her up, there’s not even any reason for her to be called Supergirl. So much of her show-verse background was so ill-conceived, it ended up seeming like the people responsible for the show didn’t actually want to be making a show about Kara.

Batwoman looks like it’s going to be similar. As controversial an opinion as this might be, Kate is not a member of the Batfamily in the comics. She’s Bruce’s cousin, sure, but that does not mean they were ever close (for all that it was revealed that she comforted him at his parents’ funeral, that closeness had never been brought up before or since). She operates alone, with her own supporting cast and own villains. She didn’t even know Bruce was Batman. She is absolutely not the person Bruce calls when he needs help or that takes responsibility for Gotham in his absence. But in the show, she’s apparently going to be facing off against multiple Batman villains, including Thomas Elliot – you know, the guy whose whole schtick revolves around being obsessed with Bruce.

I’ve seen attempts at justifying this by saying things like, “of course Bruce’s villains didn’t just leave when he vanished! It makes sense with the premise of the show that she’s fighting them!” To that, I kind of have to say…well, yeah! That’s the problem! This isn’t a Batwoman show! They’re making her replacement Batman, and there’s frankly no point in doing that. Taking an existing character and turning her into female Batman defeats the purpose. Doing that will always get you a pale imitation of a character, not a real one. With Kate, it ends up seeming even worse than with Kara. With Kara, the missteps and verging into Clark territory come across as accidental, as people that did genuinely want to write about Kara, but didn’t spend much time considering what makes her unique. The Batwoman writers – judging by what we know about the show before the release – aren’t actually interested in Kate. They like the bat image, they like the idea of tapping into the idea of feminism as a part of the cultural zeitgeist rather than actual feminist themes, they like Gotham. Kate as Kate? Not so much.

There was a time in comics where the next generation was leading the Justice League. Dick was Batman. Donna and Kara had replaced Diana and Clark respectively. And you know what? It most certainly wasn’t that they were just acting as the symbols, because what mattered was the Dick, Donna, and Kara of it. It was a very deliberate writing choice to have a Bat, a Wonder, and a Super on the team. It was an even more deliberate choice to have them succeed by being themselves. That was a cool exploration of what it means to step up to fill your mentor’s shoes, to represent a symbol that means a lot to a lot of people, and it worked as it did because it let characters that had an important relationship with their predecessors and the symbols they wore embrace those symbols on their own terms. None of that holds true for Kate.

Kara and Kate are both amazing characters with a lot to love about them. Kara has decades of deeply, deeply confusing material that can be pulled from, including a different but just as valid understanding of what the symbol she wears means to her. Kate doesn’t have as much history or as many stories, but she has her own set of villains and a supporting cast and a rich backstory featuring a healthy amount of her own motivation that has nothing to do with Gotham as a city or bats as a specific motif. Those are all things that can be drawn upon to create great stories about women becoming heroes. Having Kate and Kara replace Clark and Bruce, though? That doesn’t a great story make. That fails to understand who these characters are and pretends as if the only thing separating Superman from Supergirl or Batman from Batwoman is gender. That’s untrue and does an enormous disservice to all four characters. Writers…you can do better than that.

Why I Hate The Thought Of Jason Todd As A Regular In ‘Titans’

I started writing this post when it was first announced that Jason would be a regular in season two of Titans. It was supposed to be just about him. Except I spent so long trying to finish it that it was announced that Bruce was cast. And after that I had enough time to watch Game of Thrones and figure out what I think of the Bruce actor’s acting.  Anyway, my point is…I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I think of the inclusion of both characters, and my immediate reaction still holds: I don’t like it. The announcement about Bruce just intensified all my feelings about Jason.. So now I’m going to talk about both of these characters and why their inclusion is just not fair to Dick. Let’s start with Jason.

The Titans as a team have always been Dick and Tim’s thing. There was a backlash not too long ago about that – DC tried to remove the Titans from Dick’s history and say that Tim’s Titans was the first group of teen heroes. Fans, naturally, were not having that. Anyway, that’s not the point. What is is that Jason barely ever counted as a Titan, he just went on, like, two missions with them. Hell, when he came back from the dead and broke into Titans Tower, he was furious because he didn’t have a memorial! Which they would have given him, had he actually been a Titan! I wrote a post a while back about how the more Robins there are, the more of Dick’s traits get passed on to others, and I think that’s very much relevant here. The Titans are Dick’s thing. And to not only include Jason in them, but to have him there from pretty much the beginning, tied to their first becoming a team? That dilutes and cheapens something that’s fundamental to who Dick is as a character in a way even further than the comics go.

The other reason I hate the idea of Jason as a main character isn’t about comic book accuracy at all. It’s, as counterintuitive as it may sound, about all the years of solo Bat material without Robin.

I’m a Robin fan. Of course. And I’ve spent a long, long time being bitter about how creators kept dismissing the importance of Robin specifically and the Batfamily in general. So I should be excited that we’re getting them! I should be excited that we’re getting multiple Robins interacting with each other and with Batman. But more than a Robin fan, I’m a Dick Grayson fan. A Nightwing fan. A Dick!Bats fan (not to be confused with Bat!Dick as seen in DC Black Label). And since Dick was the first Robin…he’s the one that’s lost out most because of creatives that hate the idea of Batman not being a broody loner. He’s the one with by far the longest history, the reason we even know about Robin. He’s the one that paved the way for all the others and demonstrated better than anyone else the potential for a sidekick growing into their own hero. And yet, we never actually get to see that in adaptations.

In live action, we’ve had Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. Those were not good movies. They didn’t explore what Robin means, much less everything to do with Nightwing. They weren’t set it a world with other heroes for him to develop friendships with. In animation, we’ve had Teen Titans, which gave us nothing on where he came from or what the nuances of his personality are. We’ve had Batman: The Animated Series, which did have some good moments –  “Robin’s Reckoning” is one of my absolute favourite things ever – but was ultimately still heavily Batman focused and still something in which the rift between the two was largely glossed over. We’ve had Young Justice, in which we skipped past major chunks of his life including when he decided to stop being Robin and take up Nightwing. Titans was supposed to be his chance to shine with a full story and not just bits of it, because as much as the Titans are a team, Dick is the star. To a degree, that was the case in season one. And since Jason is going to be there, it does not look like that’ll carry through to season two.

Jason being so heavily involved is drawing attention away from Dick when the attention by all rights should be on Dick. This isn’t the comics, where Dick has had big stories and long made a name for himself. This is the first real adaptation about him. And by shoehorning Jason – and Bruce, in a different way – into it so early, it’s changing that part of the story from being a Dick Grayson story to a Robin story. A Batman and Robin story. Because Robin isn’t seen as having value alone by the writers, Dick isn’t seen as having value alone. What’s viewed as valuable is the cultural idea of Batman and Robin, of Nightwing.

People talk about Nightwing as if the costume is the end goal. When season one was airing, I saw so many comments along the lines of “season one finale will be Nightwing”. But what does that even mean? He just puts on a new costume and all the troubles go away? Nightwing is the destination? That’s not it! It’s a journey. The costume is just a symbol, one that Dick was not ready to put on. I’m very much glad that season one didn’t end with him taking on a new name and costume that would have felt too early. I’m not glad at the pace of the journey and Jason’s influence. In the comics, after Dick stopped being Robin, he didn’t immediately become Nightwing. He wasn’t wearing a costume for a while. He voluntarily gave up Robin, ceded the mantle to Jason, and took up Nightwing when he felt he was ready to move on. But in Titans, both the fans and seemingly the writers want to rush us to Dick as Nightwing and Jason as Robin. So they had Bruce hand over Dick’s name and costume without Dick’s knowledge, much less his permission. They’re stripping Dick of his agency and choice in the matter for Jason’s sake, just like I complained about the comics doing in this post, and it is so, painfully frustrating.

I understand that in an ensemble show, the focus will have to shift eventually to the other characters. I respect that. They certainly deserve it, too. But it seems absurd to shift that focus a) before the first character has completed his first arc and b) to give a character that’s not one of the title characters more screen time. Which leads us to Bruce and why the obsession with fitting him into everything is likely to be harmful to the careful character work done over the majority of the first season of Titans.

I don’t have much of an opinion on Iain Glen’s acting, even after watching GoT. He’s fine. I don’t hate the idea, so long as he dyes his hair. Black, dark brown, grey, I don’t care, I just cannot stand for a blond Batman. But I saw the character description, and that worries me.

After decades of fighting crime as Batman, billionaire Bruce Wayne is just as driven to protect Gotham from evil as he was in his prime. Needing to reconcile his relationship with Dick Grayson, the duo hope to forge a new dynamic as Bruce tries to help his former sidekick and the Titans achieve success.

If they’d just left it at “hope to forge a new dynamic” and left out the part about helping Dick and the Titans achieve success, I’d have been fine! That would have made sense! But “tries to help his former sidekick and the Titans achieve success”? This is negating Dick’s entire character arc. A huge part of that arc – in the comics as well as the show – is that Dick can go off on his own, as far away from Gotham as he can get, and thrive. Yes, he reconciles with Bruce, but that’s because Bruce is his family and he cares about him enough to put in the effort, not because he needs him, or even because Bruce deserves that effort. But the message this description sends is that Dick still needs Bruce’s help. He needs Bruce to fund his suit and his team. He needs Bruce to teach him to be a leader. He needs Bruce’s money, he needs his knowledge, he needs his resources. It’s the same issue as when there was a debate a while ago as to how he was getting his weaponry and such and a lot of people suggested, “oh, maybe Alfred helped him”. Setting aside the fact that the narrative itself made it clear that Dick reaching out to Alfred about Rachel was a one time thing, I think these people are missing the point of Nightwing!

Nightwing represents independence. The whole point of Dick becoming Nightwing is that he’s surpassed Bruce, that he’s Batman with social skills. He’s not lesser in any area of crime fighting. It diminishes the whole idea of Nightwing to have Bruce help him. Yes. After Dick and Bruce reconcile, it’s kind of cool to see how Dick views money as a tool in the same way Bruce does, and insists upon asserting his independence at the same time as he’s find with using Bruce’s money for tactical purposes. It’s cool to see when he is and isn’t okay accepting help. But that doesn’t work if he doesn’t get to prove that he can operate independently.

It matters that we see Dick and Bruce reconcile. It is important that their rift gets focus. They are an important part of each other’s lives and stories. But this is an awkward attempt at blending their pre and post Crisis relationship in a way that makes no sense, and it adds onto all the nonsense going in comics to make it seem like DC doesn’t actually want Dick to succeed. I understand that fans are impatient and that fans want Bruce and Jason and the whole Batfamily. But what fans want isn’t necessarily what we should get.

I saw a comment about how the poster didn’t want this to become the Batfamily show. And that I agree with. It’s a sentiment that a lot of people have expressed, and I agreed when they said it, too. But what stood out to me about this specific comment was that the poster went on to ask, “Where’s Superman and Wonder Woman”, talking about if the League was going to show up and saying that they should. That’s not the problem here! I think it is far more essential to have Batman play some role than Superman or Wonder Woman, just because he’s much more essential to Robin’s story on a personal level than Superman or Wonder Woman are to Kon and Donna. I am a firm believer that Dick can and should stand on his own as a character…but I recognize that the established context of this specific show kind of necessitates including Batman on some small level. Even so, Titans has very much been a character driven piece, and even though Bruce mattered for that, now, he’s being inserted into the plot where he doesn’t belong, and that does nothing for advancing anyone’s character. The desire to include Batman isn’t enough to justify this.

Furthermore, I think what the writers want isn’t necessarily what’s best for the story. When it comes to comics and comic based media, we really do run into the problem of the writers being fans. I’m about eighty percent certain that the only reason Superboy is going to be in season two is that he’s Geoff Johns’s favourite. Johns isn’t completely blind to pushing his favourites at the expense of everyone else – after all, we are talking about someone that offered up this very same favourite character in place of Nightwing when Dan DiDio wanted the latter dead. But Johns also tends to prioritize his old favourites over newer characters. I have no difficulty believing that ties into Bruce and Jason’s roles.

I  know that I’ve spoken out before on how adaptations need to approach the material differently than the comics. But it’s very different when we’re talking about a character that hasn’t gotten to take the centre stage before. So I’m not thrilled with this approach to Dick’s Nightwing journey. I don’t want Jason or Bruce around for more than a little bit. I don’t want a costume or a contrived way of him choosing the name Nightwing. I just want the slow, measured character development that made me love the start of the show.

Becoming Less Clueless: Makeup

I have a number of things I’m reasonably good at: programming, machining, babbling about random topics that no one cares about. I also have a number of things that I don’t know jack about. So this will be the first in what I hope will become a series of posts about my attempts at becoming marginally less clueless about the very many things I know very little about. Let’s talk about makeup.

Makeup goes back to ancient Egypt. And historical makeup – and other beauty products and practices – was horrifyingLead. Arsenic. Crushed insects. Mercury. Nightshade. Radium. Jesus Christ. There are plenty of dangerous beauty practices and products that are still in use today – detox tea and dietary supplements, anyone? None of this is FDA approved! – and I’m certainly not going to argue against the fact that the expectations of women in terms of appearance are absurd, sexist, and dangerous both physically and psychologically. However, since today’s cosmetics are far, far less likely to literally kill you than those in 1700s England, I’m much more willing to approach using them as a valuable skill that I should be familiar with. So onwards, to what I’ve learned.

I don’t really do makeup. Not well or often. When I was in like eighth grade, my sister got me this eyeshadow palette with like thirty colours, so I tried some weird colourful looks for a while. And I used to do dance, which involved big dramatic eye stuff with bright red lipstick. But now I don’t dance anymore and am at a stage in my life where my attitude is more or less, “I will put in some amount of effort into my appearance if I have a reason to, but if it takes longer than five minutes or requires any amount of attention during the day else I’ll look absurd, I’m not doing it”. What that translates to is that most days, I don’t where makeup at all. When I do, it’s mostly just mascara. It’s only pretty recently that I’ve started using lipstick – and that’s because the formats have become more convenient and I’ve finally started to understand enough of colour theory to feel less awkward wearing it.

Now. Below is the combined product of a Snapchat filter and Nyx’s “try it on” tool.

My Look with Suede Matte Lipstick.png

Snapchat filters are almost universally terrible. Like, what even is this? This doesn’t even look like me. I look like a white girl with a fake tan, and it makes me feel bad about how my face actually looks, which is ridiculous, because I am a person, not a doll. But anyway, I wanted to see how these lip colours would look on me with a full face of makeup, and I didn’t want to bother actually putting on makeup to get a more realistic impression. My face here looks considerably lighter than it is (also, so is my eye colour, normally I’d go on a tangent on how this is racist, but I’m tired and people more articulate than me have already done that, so I’ll let it pass this one time) so these lipsticks wouldn’t look quite this way on me, but I think it’s close enough to judge the colours and confirm what I’ve long suspected: I really can’t pull off bright. Dark colours work. Muted colours work. But they need to be warm colours on the cooler side. Anything too red or with warm undertones looks vaguely ridiculous. This is supported by the pictures I have of me wearing different lip colours in actuality:

The left pic and the right pic are the same lip cream, but the one on the right has gloss on top of it. The middle is an oil. It looks a lot darker in the tube, and I was disappointed when I put it on the first time, but I think it’s dark enough to work anyway. When I took the right pic, I put on eyeliner at first, then took it off, because it was annoying and smearing everywhere. I’m wearing a small amount of foundation mixed with a lot of moisturizer in the left and right pics and mascara in all three. I still don’t really understand the purpose of foundation. It requires too much product and too much time to cover up facial blemishes that don’t need to be covered up at all. Similarly, eyeshadow – which I didn’t bother with in any of these – looks at best distracting and at worst tacky. I am going to continue not using that.

The product that trying different things with makeup made me feel like I should try out is powder. Not always, certainly, and maybe not even on a regular basis, but my forehead is apparently prone to getting shiny, so I’m thinking I should be using powder to tone it down sometimes, for the same reason that I avoid eyeshadow. I want to blend into the crowd, not stand out. I definitely don’t want my shiny forehead to be the memory people have of me. I’ll have to add that to my pre-interview checklist: folder, pen, resumé, ironed shirt, and non-shiny forehead.

So to sum it up, what I’ve learned from this experience is that mascara is more worth the effort than eyeliner, but a little white eyeliner blended at the inner corners of the eyes really does help you look less asleep on your feet; lip creams are the best form of lip colour; and I should start powdering my forehead at times when I have to be across from someone for a prolonged period of time. Overall verdict: Makeup is annoying and I will continue not using it much, but a couple products used once in a blue moon will surprise the people that know you by reminding them how good you look if you decide to put some effort into it.

My Frustrations With A Lot Of Speculative Fiction

So, I finally gave in and read A Song of Ice and Fire. This has been a long time pending. I remember I was introduced to the books at a Christmas party in 2011. I…didn’t actually finish them then. But I have now! And I really enjoyed them! I have some issues, but on the whole, they were very enjoyable. Enough to get me to watch and finish the show. Unfortunately, that kind of made me aware of some other issues that I have, both with the books and the show. They’re issues of personal taste, not anything objective, but when I think about them, they’re the same reason so much stuff lately has been hard for me to get through, why that genre that I once loved and still do enjoy isn’t satisfying me anymore the way it once did: the trend towards huge, expansive universes rather than completing actual stories is too much for me.

I like tightly plotted works. I like focus, I like conservation of detail. I like to follow the trail of cause and effect. When it comes to most genres, people would agree with me – excess detail in thrillers or crime novels is unappealing because it slows down the pace. Excess detail and tangents in romances would often be deemed pointless purple prose. But when it comes to fantasy? It’s almost the opposite. Fantasy novels are expected to be sprawling, on an epic scale, with details about every character we ever meet or every place the characters ever go. Like so much else to do with modern fantasy, this began with Tolkien. And my only reaction is…why? Of all the possible ways to be inspired by Tolkien’s work, why did this one have to stick around so much?

I like world building as much as the next person. But a story is more than that. Quite frankly, I think in most cases, it’s overrated. It takes away from characterization and plot development. And while both things can and should exist together and enhance each other, my experience has been that few writers balance it well, instead focusing on the world building to the detriment of everything else. That’s true when it comes to fantasy, that’s true when it comes to “hard” science fiction. Writers are so busy showing off how great their imagination is, they just info dump stuff that isn’t relevant to anything at us just to do it. They never use one word when they could use ten and when they think of a phrasing they like, they use it over and over again. It’s getting really tiresome.

One of my main takeaways from A Song of Ice and Fire was that George R. R. Martin needs a better editor. At least someone to remove some evidence of his creepy fucking fetishes that have no reason to be in the story, but preferably someone with the firmness to insist he pare down and stop going on tangents about the food at a feast or the colours and sigils of some minor house we’re never going to see again. Hell, maybe that would help me decide if I actually like his writing or not. Because as much as I enjoy the story, I’m a lot more conflicted about the writing. It alternates between some utter nonsense that seems to confuse verbosity with eloquence, embarrassingly bad sex scenes, and genuinely wonderful pieces like Arya’s delightfully simple and gorgeous reminiscing about how Needle is all she has left of her home and family. For all that it claims to be a political drama in a fantasy setting that explores how war is hell and power corrupts and all that happens is misery for the commoners that don’t care who sits on the throne, that’s diminished by the fact it’s still almost exclusively told through the eyes of the aristocracy. It tells us a lot more than it shows, and it tells a painful amount.

Take the so-called Broken Man Speech. Out of context, it’s fine. It’s good. But put it back in context and it’s like…we don’t ever really see those broken men. Not like the speech describes. We see traumatized people that start to do worse and worse things to survive, but we don’t see the effects of plain old war on regular old people in any way that really matters to me. Think about the commoners we meet. They’re rarely actually portrayed in a positive light, as the victims that they are, and when they are, it’s still through the lens of the nobility. Like…during the riots at King’s Landing. The focus isn’t on the misery of the people starving when the powerful play their games and use innocents, it’s about how their suffering turns them into savages that rape and abuse women tangentially related to the people responsible. Are there antiwar themes in the story? Of course there are. Are there criticisms of the monarchic systems? Sure. Is it ultimately a story about the human relationship with power and its corruptive influence? I think it is. But when it comes to specifically the idea of the impact all these things on the people on the outside of the power struggle, it doesn’t explore them in any real depth. While I’d be willing to accept that that’s not the story this is, the Broken Man speech indicates that that’s what it’s intended to be, and if that’s the case…I really would appreciate getting more attention on it, rather than the same amount that gets devoted to countless things that don’t actually matter. Concise is a good thing. Conservation of detail exists for a reason. Either explore something or don’t. But don’t just talk about everything for the sake of it.

I’ll admit it – I don’t care about the historical members of each house that are only tangentially related to what is going on in the here and now of the story. I don’t care about however many hundreds of thousands of words that he’s dedicated to the history of the Targaryens that aren’t relevant to the story. It’s great that he has so many ideas about his universe. But what does any of that matter if that’s all so big a distraction, he can’t focus on the central story? I’m in favour of writers writing what they want in their own universe. But I also shouldn’t be expected to care about it. Tolkien spent his whole life revising The Silmarillion. But he did finish the key story that was Lord of the Rings.

Martin defies every rule of conservation of detail ever, and honestly…breaking rules is overrated. Holes is one of the greatest novels ever written. I mean that most sincerely. It’s the closest thing to a perfect book that I’ve ever read. And that’s partially because it follows the rules in a way that children’s fiction tends to do better than adult. It’s not about the what, it’s the how. I wish more people took cues from it when it comes to developing plots. It’s less than fifty thousand words long and it uses every single one of those words to full effect. Three interwoven storylines. Beautiful characterization. Criticism of the American justice system. An explanation of the history of Camp Green Lake and how everyone got to the points they did. There is a reason that it’s taught in schools. It goes on exactly as long as it should and not a minute longer. It’s laser focused. It’s elegantly simple. On a technical level, it’s brilliant, and I wish fantasy writers – and people writing for an “adult” audience – took the same approach.

This focus on the details often seems to me to be another way in which writers try to convey maturity in their works. Sex, profanity, violence, and painstaking detail. I get where that idea comes from…but I don’t think it’s very accurate. First of all, there’s no actual reason why there needs to be such a distinction between what is made for children and what is for adults. Many of the best pieces of fiction can be enjoyed by both. The best children’s books are written in blood, after all. Some works, by nature, are best appreciated by people in a given age group. But artificial ways of intentionally catering to one demographic over another…it seems silly to me. I think what’s needed in adult fiction is the mostly same as what’s needed in children’s literature. That includes focus when focus is needed and exploring the impact of darker subject matter, rather than just including it for its own sake.

On a tangentially related note, I am not even remotely interested in constructed languages. That they exist in so many fantasy – and science fiction, I suppose – works is another clear indication of Tolkien’s inescapable influence on the genre, but seriously? All these other writers are not Tolkien. And I don’t mean that in terms of a quality judgement, I mean it in terms of the fact that Tolkien was a linguist. He wasn’t composing these languages to flesh out the world. In many ways, the languages were the world. They mattered. That’s not the case with most other works, because Tolkien, Arrival, others like them – those are exceptions. I watched Game of Thrones and some of the time, I wanted to scream! It took every bit of willpower I had to not just fast forward through the scenes of Daenerys shouting made up words for entire scenes. There are situations in which having the rudiments of a conlang are useful. A few words, grammar rules, and so on. But entire languages gets annoying. It’s detail at the expense of the broader story. It’s the same reason that I don’t enjoy a lot of hard sci fi.

I have a STEM background and I am fascinated by scientific developments. But when it comes to stories, I mostly prefer softer sci fi, because in most cases, I don’t care about the details of how these things work. Especially because science and technology march on. Ten years from now, a meticulously researched piece may turn out to be completely obsolete. Hard sci fi, all the details about how this fictional thing could work, are usually the purview of people that want to demonstrate how smart they are or how much research they’ve done, not tell a story. For me, the best science fiction has to be the kind that uses enough detail that we can accept it’s based on science, rather than a space fantasy – not that there’s anything wrong with space fantasy at all, it’s just not really science fiction in my eyes – but not so much that that becomes the story if it’s not a driving part of the plot. It’s why I liked things like The Martian, with its clear focused man vs. nature conflict, but have a harder time with some other pieces: the focus on the technicalities gets to be too much for me.

I love fantasy. I love science fiction. And I love expansive universes that feel like real, lived in places. But sometimes, I just we could have more stories that end. Plot, characters, voice, tone, themes…those are what interest me most of all about stories. I’d rather have more focus on them to give me a story that gets to a point than one that drags on forever in the name of worldbuilding.

Confessions of a Recovering “Book Person”: The Culture Of Prioritizing Books Over Stories Sucks

Do you remember that time a bunch of white girls on Twitter reacted to Marie Kondo’s gentle suggestion that people only keep books around that mean something to them with an absurdly over the top kind of performative outrage? Yeah. That to me is an extension of the same kind of books-for-aesthetic, turning-one’s-nose-down-at-e-books, stupid-phrases-on-mugs-and-bags-about-books-and-tea nonsense that makes me frustrated about how so many readers don’t seem to actually care about the stories in books as they do the books themselves. It’s a weird snobbery that doesn’t actually make sense.

I have always loved reading. I used to go to the library as often as possible, get large stacks of books, blow through all of them within the next day to a week. And I’d read everything. I didn’t have a preferred genre. I’d read everything from Stephen King to Gordon Korman to Shakespeare, Nancy Drew to Of Mice And Men to Harry PotterBut there was a period – late elementary school through to high school, if I could guess – where I’d shifted away from reading whatever, so long as I enjoyed it, to reading for the sake of impressing others.

When I was in elementary school, I was known for reading. It’s what I did. I always had a book on hand, I read ahead in every book we were assigned for class, I participated in discussions, I always had a book of my own on hand. So I became known as one of the “smart” people. Which is fine. But at some point, I had started internalizing the idea that that was what made me smart or unique. That I was a reader had become a cornerstone of my identity. That, I think we can all agree, was really, really stupid. And it started to manifest in other dumb ways – like the recognizable characteristics of white girl book culture. Whenever I had to annotate something for class, I used sticky notes rather than writing in the book itself (this one I probably would have always done). I pearl-clutched at the thought of ever cutting up a book to use it for an art project or using e-books because it’s not the same! I’d always preferred books to television, and I started to think that demonstrated intellectual superiority. It became a point of pride that any of the classics we had to read were things I’d already read. All these things combined to make reading a lot less enjoyable for me. It was only once I started to push back against them that I started to actually love reading instead of doing it out of habit again.

A friend of mine got me a copy of Good Omens several years ago. But there was something about that edition and the size of the pages that meant I could not get through it. I tried. I’d been told it was great by lots of people, and even if I hadn’t been, it’s a little quirk of mine that if someone buys me a book, I have to read it. But I had to restart more times than I can remember because I just couldn’t process it. It wasn’t until I set aside the hard copy and tried the e-book that I could actually finish and enjoy it. This is reflective of a broader pattern in how I’ve begun to interact with books.

When I was younger, I could read anything quickly and process it immediately. I was one of those people who, when a popular theory or idea was floating around about a series, could say, no, that can’t be because of this thing that was mentioned in passing in book 2 after reading a series once. I’d remember every plot point and character name for years after the fact. One hundred percent not the case anymore. Now I often get halfway through a book – not even a long one – and have to stop myself and think, wait a minute…who is Alice again and how is she related to the main character Bob? For whatever reason, that’s less frequently the case when it comes to e-books. So lately, I’ve been reading a lot more ebooks and a lot fewer hard copies. It does nothing to promote reading to behave as if what matters is the physical book. If I still bought into that, then I’d be reading a lot less than I do, not more.

Books – as in the physical paper and ink – are not sacred objects. They’re not magic. They’re just a container for a story. Are those wonderful? Sure. I do enjoy holding a physical book and the feeling of turning the pages. But books are meant to be read, not sit on shelves to impress people – even when that person is yourself. They’re not a symbol of intellectualism and having more of them lying around doesn’t make you more of a reader than someone else. What matters is the stories inside these objects and that they’re consumed, and e-books help that. Removing books from your shelf that you are never going to actually read or reread to make room for books you will help that.

The idea that the physical books are someone special extends to the holier-than-thou disapproving of people using books for art and the suggestion that doing so is destroying it. But this isn’t the Cultural Revolution or Fahrenheit 451. It’s not censorship. These aren’t books being rendered unreadable so that no one can read them. These books aren’t being destroyed. These are mass produced and widely available. Someone using their copy for something else does nothing to make that book less available for someone else. And sometimes a physical book has to be destroyed! If books don’t sell, they get recycled, and then new books can be made from their remains! Would you rather deforestation progress even faster for the sake of never destroying a book? Five hundred years ago, if a book was destroyed, the world was deprived of that knowledge. That is not even remotely the case anymore. A book being discarded or repurposed into an art project does not mean you’ll never be able to read it. So maybe some people should mind their own business instead of fixating on what other people do. This obsessive attitude about what other people do with stacks of paper, ink, and glue does not make you more of a reader or book lover than anyone else, because books are meant to be enjoyed, not sit on shelves to impress people and/or gather dust.

None of this is to say that I don’t appreciate books as a physical object. Even aside from novels, I have a possibly embarrassing number comics around, including some repeats with different covers. Sometimes it’s because I love the art and want a hard copy of it. Other times, it’s because I absolutely love the specific story.  And it took me a long time to get to a state where I was okay giving away my copy of a “classic” book I didn’t like without feeling guilty about it. So I’m certainly not one to judge people for keeping books around. I get it. But I think it’s important to self reflect on why you’re doing it. If you don’t enjoy a book or you never finished…doesn’t it show more respect for that book and its contents to pass it onto someone that might actually enjoy it?

I think it’s tied to the obsession over ~classic literature or the meaningless category that is literary fiction. In a lot of cases, it’s not actually about the book itself but the idea of it. While many of these books are very good and have had a lasting influence on their genres, there are a number of others that are heavy handed, sexist, racist, no longer relevant to today’s society, just plain boring, or all of the above at once. There are books published far more recently that are just as well crafted and thematically meaningful, if not more so,  while also being more engaging and interesting that are dismissed for their genre or the fact that they were written in the twenty first century. That’s silly. Books should be enjoyable. There are books today that have just as much value as books from two hundred years ago. There are books with less. There are a lot of books out there, written over the centuries in countless languages, and each one deserves the same chance as others do to be read and loved. By extension, that means that each book can be hated and discarded. It’s a book and an individual’s feelings towards it. People have different feelings about different books. That’s perfectly fine. Stories are subjective, and there is no right answer about what is good and what is bad.

Books are great. And stories are wonderful things, whether that story be in a book or an e-book or a movie. I just really, really wish the focus was more often on the actual story, rather than the form in which it’s consumed or the object containing it. Books aren’t a sign of how smart we are, so maybe we could just enjoy them instead of dictating how others do or preaching the virtues of something to someone that hated it? Pretty please?