Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Erika vs Burnt offerings, chapters 7 to 11

We last left Anita training some puppies to play fetch, after pulling rank to make them come take care of their own injured because he was bad and helped a werepanther (against the interim leader's orders). She might be getting some of these werewolves killed in the process, but, eh, these things, they happen.

Anita rushes home to change and read over the file on the arsonist, making her late for her super sexy date. Off Anita goes for her hot vampire date, where we are given fanfiction levels of description about her clothes and makeup. The word "blusher" is used to describe blush, which I don't think I've heard used by people who speak English as a first language under the age of 70. I will give credit: it is at least at first centered on "how do you stash a gun in formal wear" and "this is why I'm wearing a dress I am definitely going to flash in, so I can get to my gun".  Because god forbid she just... flash the gun? She's licensed to carry the thing. People are already staring at her for all her scars. Just--just embrace your lack of fucks, Anita. Strap the gun to your fucking face.

Also, after about three paragraphs of "it's so hard to hide a gun in a dress which is why I need to dress revealingly", I'm wondering why she isn't just wearing something with an A-line skirt, or fit and flare, or with ruching... All of those would work great to hide a gun in a thigh holster without too much risk of flashing and easy access, but it's the 90s, I guess. Those styles didn't exist yet. Nor did jackets and shoulder holsters.

Then we get a description of her vampire babe boyfriend:
Jean-Claude's hair is black and curly, but he'd done something to it so it was straight and fine, falling past his shoulders, curled under at the ends. His face seemed even more delicate, like fine porcelain. He was beautiful, not handsome. I wasn't sure what saved his face from being feminine. Some line of his cheek, bend of his jaw, something. You would never mistake him for anything other than male. He was dressed in royal blue, a color I'd never seen him in. A short jacket of a shining, almost metallic cloth was overlaid with black lace in a pattern of flowers. The shirt was his typical frilled, a la 1600's shirt, but it was a rich, vibrant blue, down to the mound of ruffles that climbed up his neck to frame his face and spill out the sleeves of the jacket to cover the upper half of his slender white hands.
I don't know about you, but I'm positively dripping.

Pictured: A hilariously ugly royal blue metallic lacy shirt.

The blue matches his eyes.

We're told like, two paragraphs later he's not wearing underwear. This has swerved wildly from "lots of action, even if some of it is hamfisted" to "time to fist some ham".

He keeps calling her ma petite and slipping in occasional French words. My French is bad.  Like, super bad. I'm basically illiterate in French. Also the French I do speak is Canadian French which is a strange and different beast onto itself. It's like the equivalent of Cockney to the rest of the English language. Hilarious and sometimes indecipherable to people who don't speak the dialect and often made fun of. Despite that, I bet I speak better french than Laurel K Hamilton. For instance, he just keeps calling her "my little". To me, this stuck out. I assume it's supposed to be "ma petite cheri" but he's been calling her that since like, book two. So I did what any reasonable adult with a question does. I called my Mommy.

My mother is Very French. But again, Canadian French (I can not spell the slang name for the dialect my family speaks, but it roughly translates to "mutt" according to her). I asked her if calling someone "ma petite" was weird. She informed me it was super old fashioned, and is generally something you would call a child. If the person in question was super little it was... ok. Yeah, she could see it. It made sense, she guessed? She also proceeded to tell me some more local versions of the term. "Ma petit crotte or". Rough translation? My little golden turd. Or simply "my petit crotte" and drop the golden entirely. I know what I'm assuming Anita is a little of.

This is why the rest of the world makes fun of Canadian French.

There is also one other factor I feel the need to mention. All my sources? Canadian. Canadian French is known for (besides being hilarious and the ugliest sounding version of French in existence) being very informal. Parisian French, which is what Jean-Claude would be speaking, is very formal. So (and if someone who speaks "proper" French wants to correct me please do) him calling her this is overly familiar (when he started) and makes him sound like a grandpa. Sexy.

They banter; it's actually not awful, aside from the fact that she is so incredibly turned on by his mere presence that they had to get her a fresh chair twice now. As part of being Jean-Claude's human servant, he can now taste food through her, and he hasn't been able to taste food for ages, so, this is great for him. He missed food. Strangely, we are told very specifically that this isn't a fetish, but it leads to this exchange:
"No, no more of this tasting shit. I've gained weight. I never gain weight."

"You have gained four pounds, so I am told. Though I have searched diligently for this phantom four pounds and cannot find them. It brings your weight up to a grand total of one hundred and ten pounds, correct?"

"That's right."

"Oh, ma petite, you are growing gargantuan."

I looked at him, and it was not a friendly look. "Never tease a woman about her weight, Jean-Claude. At least not an American twentieth-century one."
I'm not sure if this is "my body doesn't do this, so no, it means I'm doing something wrong" or "but I'm getting faaaaat" followed up with her actual weight to reassure us she's not. Anita is about 5'01, 5'02. Same height range as me. At my smallest adult size, I was about 115 lbs, and that wasn't healthy. I mean, she could have a super slender delicate frame, but given the fact that she goes around punching vampires and I think her tits are waxed poetic about, I don't think she'd be that delicate. I am now curious how she was going around staking vampires before getting super powers, like, at that size wouldn't she get dizzy halfway through? Presumably she's mostly muscle, which is actually heavier than fat, so, where are her organs? Does she have hollow bones?!

Ahem. Anyways.

They spend 20 minutes "negotiating" what to get for dinner--which: really? How large was that menu? They started off agreeing on the entree, so it was what? "I want an appetizer." "I don't." "Fiiiine. Soup or salad? I want soup." "Well I want salad."

Like..? How did that take 20 minutes? It's implied this whole time was negotiation over it. That sounds tedious. However, unlike in 50 Shades, we don't have to actually see said negotiation, so, not so bad I guess.

We then get this:
"Would you like wine with dinner, then, sir?" 
He never missed a beat. "I do not drink wine." 
I coughed Coke all over the tablecloth. The waiter did everything but give me the Heimlich. Jean-Claude laughed until tears trailed from the corners of his eyes. You couldn't really tell it in this light, but I knew that the tears were tinged red. Knew that there would be pinkish stains on the linen napkin when he was done dabbing his eyes. The waiter fled without having gotten the joke. Staring across the table at the smiling vampire, I wondered if I got the joke or was the butt of the joke. There were nights when I wasn't sure which way the grave dirt crumbled. 
But when he put his hand out to me across the table, I took it. Definitely, the butt of the joke.
Pictured: A very unimpressed puppy

Wat. I don't even know. That waiter better be getting such a good tip. Jean-Claude was drinking wine when Anita got there, and now he has to deal with these two laughing like jackals. Jean-Claude now isn't ordering anything, so the bill will be smaller, and therefore his anticipated tip. Anita was rude, and has probably flashed him when he had to get her a new chair because she soaked the last one, and they took forever to order. Unnamed waiter dude, you are not being paid enough to deal with this shit.

Also yeah. Vampires cry bloody tears in this world. Which he is dabbing away with the table linen. I mean, blood happens, but this seems like it could be a potential biohazard. The blood tears, not him using the napkin specifically. What if a vampire goes to a sad movie? These are questions I will never get answers to.

They order dessert, continue eye fucking and antagonizing each other before Van Damme notices some vampires walk in. Well, one vampire and one human servant (not her own), dressed all fancy in white. Because Anita and JC are in black/dark colors. Subtlety. They vaguely menace at Van Damme and Anita, who nearly shoots the human in the middle of a fancy restaurant, because that's how she do, and go off. They were sent by members of the vampire council, there about a vampire they killed a book or two ago who was hella old something something be scared of them for reasons. Anita and JC are In Danger because they killed a former council member and now anyone and everyone that they care about is also maybe in danger. OH NO ANITA JUST ADOPTED A BUNCH MORE DOGS AND SOME CATS!

They go out to Anita's car, and Jean-Claude's ex is there. Asher, super hot vampire dude with horrible scars over half his face. He and Jean-Claude used to have a threesome going with Asher's human servant before she got inquisition'd. He wanted to murder Anita as revenge, because he blames JC for... reasons? Either way, he's there to drag them to the council and has been promised revenge. It's all very overwrought and melodramatic.
"You've finally given me what I need to hurt you, Jean-Claude. You love someone else at last. Love is never free, Jean-Claude. It is the most expensive emotion we have, and I am going to see that you pay in full." He stood in front of Jean-Claude, hands in fists by his side. He was trembling with the effort not to strike out. Jean-Claude had stopped crying, but I wasn't sure he'd fight back. In that moment I realized he didn't want to hurt Asher. 
Guilt is a many splendored thing. Problem was, Asher wanted to hurt him.
I stepped between them. I took a step forward. Asher was either going to have to step back or we'd be touching. He stepped back, staring down at me as if I'd just appeared. He'd forgotten me for just a second.
"Love isn't the most expensive emotion, Asher." I said. I took another step forward, and he retreated another step. "Hate is. Because hate will eat you up inside and destroy you, long before it kills you." 
"Very philosophical," he said. 
"Philosophy's great," I said. "But remember this: don't ever threaten us again. Because if you do, I'll kill you. Because I don't give a fuck about your tortured past. Now, shall we go?"
 See what I mean by overwrought? Although I will give credit to Anita. I enjoy how few fucks she gives. She will murder you if she thinks she has to, and she won't lose too much sleep over it. It's one of her main character traits, and it's consistent so far. Although she is going to start losing sleep because she's not more bothered, and that will become a weird and vicious cycle.

 We find out in the car that the vampire council members that have popped up have taken over JC's stomping ground and wrangled his people. So all their people and toys are hostages which really leaves them with their hands tied. The vampire council think since he killed the other guy and didn't take his place he's trying to start a new council. A cooler one. One where they have smoothies. The reason he didn't join the council is because he knew he wasn't strong enough to not get his ass murdered. Asher believes him, and alternates between angsting and trying to be coy with Anita in the back seat. It's like he's a surly teenager hitting on his dad's new girlfriend.

This is all naturally a test of the two: they don't want them dead, because they're afraid they'll be seen as martyrs. They just want them, you know, physically and emotionally scarred into submission. Because that can't be turned into anything sympathetic either. Still, today, probably not going to do anything too horrible, they want to see what they've got. Because the ruling group of vampires can't start a smear campaign and kill him when he's disgraced and they brought no one here to see what the hell they're going to do to these two.

Before going into the Circus of the Damned--oh, yeah, that's the name of the place. JC also owns a strip club called Guilty Pleasures.  Anita takes a moment to marvel at how pretty JC and Asher are, and wonder how one vampire found both of them at the same time and place when they're not related.

Asher, horribly scarred, stretches out his scars trying to make himself more gross and asks "DO YOU THINK I'M SEXY NOW ANITA? HUH? DO YOU?"

And Anita just kinda shrugs. "I dunno, I'm into hair and eyes, and your hair looks like some spun gold fairytale shit, and you have very pretty eyes."

Asher rips his shirt open to show his torso and scars off: "STILL THINK I'M BANGABLE?"

"Yeah. I'd still tap it."


"Listen, I already said I would hypothetically ride that shit, why are you trying to sell me harder on it?"

Asher, confused because everyone has looked at him like he was disgusting and scary since this happened (holy water wounds, man, they are the worst) and vampire skingrafts aren't an option, is confused and distressed. He manages to get Anita a bit spooked at one point, but that was because he was So Angry, which also confuses him.

So he screams "NOBODY UNDERSTANDS ME" and flies away.

You might think I'm exaggerating the scene in my rewriting it here, and I am, but barely. He literally tells Anita his dick is scarred too and flies away in rage because she isn't bothered by his scars.

I'm 69 (heh) pages into this book, and I have lost track of how many people Anita Blake has threatened to harm or kill. It's been like, maybe 8 hours so far. There are also the werecritters, the whole fire thing, and vampire murders going on too. After 50 Shades and Wheel of Time I don't know what to do with all these things happening in less than 800 pages.

Tune in next time to see who Anita shoots first!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Storm Front, chapters eight and nine, in which Will endures for you, precious reader

I was actually going to just drop this book and move onto something else (probably Brandon Sanderson's Way of Kings), that is how much I hate Harry Dresden.  The moments when he's supposed to be roguishly charming or witty make me want to lock him on the other side of a door, and the moments when he's supposed to be foolish or abrasive or share Old-Fashioned views on women make me want to throw him off a bridge.  The nature of magic is really fun and interesting, actually, but it's so inadequately explained that it starts forming plot holes. (E.g.: Dresden meets with a vampire and takes a literal pocketful of sunshine with him as a security measure, but no explanation is given for why he can only carry one at a time, so why doesn't he go with cargo shorts crammed full of summer days?  Why does it only work once?  'Plot mandate' is not a good enough reason.)

But I figured I should at least finish reading the book so I could do a quick wrap-up post, and about halfway through (a few posts from now) I hit a line of narrative so strikingly wretched that the heavens rent asunder and a sidereal entity appeared before me to declare: No: the people must know your suffering in its every exacting detail.  Thus bidden by them who turn the wheels of the stars, I opened a new Chrome tab and began to blog.

(Content: misogyny, death, invasion of privacy, discussion of rape.  Fun content: Fred Clark, womanpires, and nitpicking alchemy.)

Storm Front
Chapter Eight: Boners (It's A Pun) (Get It?)*

Dresden stumbles home late from his investigation of the lake house (where he was accosted by White Council enforcer Morgan) and decides to unwind by brewing potions.  He's got a two-floor basement apartment, a giant cat named Mister, and no hobbies apart from magic.  He describes himself as "the arcane equivalent of a classic computer geek", doing magic and nothing else, but I struggle to see how that fits with the rest of what we know about him: that he's broke and most people don't take him very seriously.  If he's starving for work, he's not doing magic professionally, and if he's doing magic for himself, how is he affording it (we're about to see that it's pricey) and why doesn't he seem to have anything to show for it?  His apartment is candle-lit and wood-fired; no enchanted lamps or heated floor or an ensorcelled compass that detects when people lose their keys within a three-block radius.

Dresden occupies an interesting sort of place here, metatextually.  He's sort of like a level 1 character in an RPG, who is supposedly the hero/survivor of a hundred life-or-death struggles, but also has a single Potion of Lesser Cure Wounds in his inventory and is legitimately threatened by a random encounter with two Tiny Bats.  I have no idea where he fits into his world.  Do most wizards live like this?  If other wizards aren't broke, why?  Do wizards normally just run big corporations (meddling with stocks via thaumaturgy, obviously) and funnel their bonuses into building sweet arcane artifacts?  In basically every facet of his life, I can't tell if he's ordinary or exceptional by the book's standards.

Anyway.  Dresden heads down into his basement's basement, where he keeps his lab, and wakes up the air spirit named Bob that lives in a skull on his shelf.  Bob is Dresden's magical database, since he's got unnumbered years of experience assisting various wizards.  Unfortunately, Bob is also an even bigger skeeze than Dresden, requiring us all to recalibrate our skeezometers by an order of magnitude in order to take proper measurements:
"Let me out for a ride, and I'll tell you how to get out of it." 
That made me wary. "Bob, I let you out once. Remember?" 
He nodded dreamily, scraping bone on wood. "The sorority house. I remember." [....] 
"Save it. I don't want to hear it." 
He grunted. "You're trivializing what getting out for a bit means to me, Harry. You're insulting my masculinity."
Their debate on who's more masculine goes on until Dresden trumps Bob with his upcoming date with Susan ("Dark skin [...] dark hair, dark eyes. Legs to die for. Smart, sexy as hell."  Three repetitions of the word 'dark', one unspecified use of 'smart'.  Is there any louder way to scream 'I'm not racist or sexist because I threw in a single word about her that isn't about her body'?)  Dresden moves on to demanding they make an "escape potion" without actually specifying the type of escape (Bob later says it'll temporarily turn him into wind), but Bob refuses unless they also brew a love potion.  Harry makes various threats and refusals back, but ultimately realises Bob has the upper hand and relents.
And, I thought, if Susan should ask me for some kind of demonstration of magic (as she always did), I could always--No. That would be too much. That would be like admitting I couldn't get a woman to like me on my own, and it would be unfair, taking advantage of the woman.
He doesn't quite call it what it would actually be (hint: rape) but at least consent eventually came into his calculations somewhere.  After his own manly pride.  (I hate Dresden so much.)   So they brew the potions, which are interesting enough (Harry at one point pours a jar of mouse scampers into the escape potion, and a sigh into the love potion).  Other ingredients for the love potion include tequila ("Champagne, tequila, what's the difference, so long as it'll lower her inhibitions?"--I also hate Bob), chocolate ("Chicks are into chocolate, Harry"), perfume, lace, candlelight, a love letter (torn from a smutty novel: "women eat these things up"), and powdered diamond (Dresden substitutes a fifty-dollar bill after being assured "Money [...] very sexy").

Predictably, I have Questions.

We're told that the ingredients for any potion vary with the person making it, and Bob's ability to deduce the right ingredients from knowledge of a person is what makes him so valuable, so the above isn't just a love potion, it is a Harry Dresden Love Potion, for use only by Harry Dresden to make a woman fall in love with Harry Dresden.  So... why is it so generic?  Why is it full of stereotypical Chick Stuff instead of items that might actually relate to the kind of person who would love Harry?  Why isn't the liquid base black coffee with a ton of sugar (the way Harry likes it, to keep him working at all hours)?  Why a "passionate love letter" that he could and would never write, and not something that might actually represent his affections for someone, like sharing a personal secret or wish?  Why perfume and not cologne or aftershave or something?  Lace and not a scrap of leather jacket?  Chocolate and not blood shed doing the right thing regardless of cost?

There are societal-level reasons that a Harry Dresden Love Potion reads like a Wal-Mart Valentine's Day Bargain Gift Bag, and they are the same reasons that Wrath personified is always a muscular dude who murders people but Lust personified is always a curvy white woman that causes other people to get aroused.  Love and romance are girl things that are not related to male identities, but are simply catered to for the sake of naked sex times.  And, apart from Exceptional Girls like Murphy, we assume that The Women have largely interchangeable tastes, as if we don't all know women who hate chocolate or never read a romance novel or wouldn't prefer the smell of sawdust and solder to the most expensive perfumed diamonds in the world.  (I assume that a Harry Dresden Love Potion wouldn't work on a man, but would it?  What would go into a manly love potion? Beer, gunpowder, beards, and Neil Patrick Harris' voice saying the word 'turgid'?")

I'm vexed by this in particular because a lot of things in this book can ultimately (maybe) be brushed off as Dresden's own foolishness (his dismissive attitude towards Monica, his interpretations of world politics and wizard history) but this is worldbuilding on an objective level.  This is, we are told, Expert Magicking, and thus the universal power of candlelight and purple prose to make a woman tear off her own undergarments are fundamental Fact.

Anyway.  Harry pours the potions into a couple of clearly-labelled old Gatorade bottles (this chapter is full of noodle incidents like "that diet potion** you tried", "the antigravity potion, remember that", and "ever since the invisibility/hair tonic incident") and goes to bed, head full of the deadly tasks still to face, like talking to a vampire woman vampire woman.

Chapter Nine: WOMANPIRE 

Dresden awakes the following afternoon to Murphy on the phone, and says he's got no leads yet but he'll have something by the end of the weekend.  Apparently Murphy is currently being hounded by the commissioner, who likes to use her as his scapegoat for unsolvable crimes.  It's not clear what makes her a good scapegoat, unless he likes to tell people 'My best detective believes in magic but I can't fire her because somethingorother (female privilege, probably) so I am bound'.  Harry suggests that he would have more luck talking to Bianca than Murphy has had, but she forbids it:
"If you get your ass laid out in the hospital or the morgue, it'll be me that suffers for it." 
"Murph, I'm touched." 
"I'll touch your head to a brick wall a few times if you cross me on this, Harry."
The endless heaping of Murphy's tough-talk without actually seeing her do anything but beg Harry for help does not make for a compellingly deep, plausibly strong, or even vaguely interesting character.  Y'all know how I do--getting attached to the underloved female characters is like my signature move in these posts--but Murphy needs to actually be involved in something before I can particularly care.

After lunch, Dresden monologues at us for a while about how wizards aren't innately special people, but they're very good at preparations, so if they know what they're facing, they'll have a solution.  In the case of going to face a vampire madam, Dresden polishes his cane--I see you snickering there in the back--secretly holsters a silver knife, pockets his escape potion and pentacle (his mother's, given to him by his father, the first indication we have that Dresden had parents), and puts "a small, folded piece of white cloth into my pocket".  Apparently he also wishes he could bring "my blasting rod or my staff, but that would be like showing up at Bianca's door in a tank".

Dresden drives down to the Velvet Room on the lakeside, a 1920s mansion, and his car sputters out just as he arrives, leading to a not-particularly-interesting battle of bluffs between him and the predictably stupid muscly doorman, who ultimately buzzes up to Bianca and lets him in, though the guard takes the cane off him.  (What's the difference between a cane and a staff and a blasting rod?  Is there some reason he couldn't make a staff that looked like a cane?  I have many issues with the Penny Arcade dudes, but all I can think about is this classic comic.)  Dresden gets to keep his pentacle, though, and in this setting vampires are vulnerable to faith, not symbols themselves, so Dresden's faith in magic makes it a good shield.  (On this subject, I look to Fred Clark and his thoroughly alternative take on what kinds of crosses confound vampires--in his philosophy, I'm not sure whether that pentacle would work or not.)

Dresden enters the big old house, passes "a well-groomed young woman with a short, straight haircut" and waits in the library for half an hour before Bianca appears.  A sampling of the descriptions I'm having to read right now:
Her hair was a burnished shade of auburn that was too dark to cast back any ruddy highlights, but did anyway. [....] She approached me and extended her hand, a motion oozing feminine grace.
I have trouble imagining any kind of feminine oozing that could be described as 'graceful', but correct me if I'm wrong that these are words best not put in close proximity to each other.
"A gentleman, they said. I see that they were correct. It is a charmingly passe thing to be a gentleman in this country." 
"You and I are of another world," I said.
Et cetera et cetera Bianca is the most fuckable thing he's ever seen and he draws her chair out for her and she crosses her legs "and made it look good", which is just baffling me.  Anyway, he says he's here to ask about Jennifer Stanton's murder and Bianca instantly leaps over the table to tear out his throat, so Dresden hurls the handkerchief full of sunshine at her and blasts her across the room, shredding bits off her.
I had never seen a real vampire before. [....] It had a batlike face, horrid and ugly, the head too big for its body. Gaping, hungry jaws. Its shoulders were hunched and powerful. Membranous wings stretched between the joints of its almost skeletal arms. Flabby black breasts hung before it, spilling out of the black dress that no longer looked feminine. [....] Its clawed feet were still wearing the three-hundred-dollar black pumps.
Do I even need to explain all the things that bother me here?  Bianca has become 'it' instead of 'she' now that she doesn't look human, but unless Butcher is trying to do something clever here with gender assignment, it seems likely to me that the "flabby black breasts" (wild guess: some humans have those) indicate that Bianca is also a female vampire (not a genderless vampire in a female role), so what does it say that she gets her pronouns revoked for not being sexy enough?  Is there any particular reason that a key element of her hideous transformation is that her flawless white skin has turned black?  I feel these things should speak for themselves.

Dresden pulls out the pentacle and pours enough magic into it to ward her off, creating a standoff situation.  Bianca reveals that she thinks Dresden killed Jennifer, and so there's a lot of 'why should I trust you not to try to kill me if I lower my weapons' haggling.  Dresden swears "by fire and wind" (these are phrases that I want to mean more than 'it sounds cool') that he had nothing to with the murder, and they cautiously sit down again.  Bianca transforms back: "The flabby black breasts swelled into softly rounded, rosy-tipped perfection once more."

I don't know what to make of the obsession with breasts in this chapter (and others).  Is Butcher trying to go for 'scared but erect' in the reader, or can he just not help himself?  Dresden says that she looks perfectly beautiful again, but he can't forget what she 'really' looks like.

After pages of staring, they get back to the plot, but Bianca tells him "You're the only one in the city with the kind of skill required to cast that sort of spell."  Chicago proper has a population of 2.7 million, with about 10 million in the whole metropolitan area.  I don't know what percentage of those people are wizards, but 'best spellcaster in a city of ten million' seems like a pretty good superlative.  Are you a superhero or just clinging to the last rung, man?

Turns out Bianca and Tommy Tomm were old friends and she knew he was always kind to his escorts, so she feels actual remorse at whatever's going on.  Dresden can tell she's hiding something, so he locks eyes with her and they ★SOULGAZE★.
More than anything else, Bianca wanted to be beautiful. And tonight, I had destroyed her illusion. I had rattled her gilded little world. She sure as hell wasn't going to let me forget that.
Not luxury, not power, not control, not secrets or influence or independence or knowledge or any of those classic immortal vampire desires.  Nope.  Bianca, ancient deathless lady of manners, desperately wants everyone to think she's hot.  By human standards.  If I understand the worldbuilding so far, vampires aren't even from Earth; they're immigrants from some spirit world.  What kind of womanpire's most desperate wish is to make human men tumescent?  Ugh.  This is something that could be sold with a sufficiently developed backstory, but we're just supposed to take it as an obviously sensible desire at first glance.

She says she'd kill him now if she hadn't given her word, and he says he'd use his death curse to drag her to hell with him.  Bianca turns her head away, too slow to keep Dresden from seeing her shed a single tear.

What am I even reading.

Bianca reluctantly offers Dresden the name and number of Jennifer's friend (and threesome partner) Linda Randall, and they prepare to say belligerent goodbyes when Bianca notices that Dresden has started bleeding from the scratch she gave him earlier, and she starts getting overpoweringly thirsty.  She croakingly tells him to leave, but Dresden of course lingers by the door to watch her suffering as she tries not to murder him by instinct.  You're a tool, Dresden.  She tells him she'll make him regret the night, and the woman from earlier shows up.  I assume at this point the classic porn saxophone starts playing:
Paula murmured something too soft to hear, gently brushing Bianca's hair back from her face with one hand [...] and pressed her wrist to Bianca's mouth. [....] Bianca's tongue flashed out, long and pink and sticky, smearing Paula's wrist with shining saliva. Paula shuddered at the touch, her breath coming quicker. Her nipples stiffened beneath the thin fabric of the blouse [...]
Harry Dresden can see a woman's nipples stiffen under her shirt from across a dark room.

Again, I feel that is a thing that speaks for itself.

The saliva apparently gets Paula wasted, and Bianca bites her wrist open to start feeding as Paula collapses into some kind of sexual epileptic fit.  Dresden finally leaves: "The scene with Paula might have aroused me, if I hadn't seen what was underneath Bianca's mask. [....] The woman had given herself to that thing, as quickly and as willingly as any woman to her lover."  Dresden thinks a bunch about the implications of addiction to vampire saliva and the possible enslavement of wizard thralls, watches the tow truck guy work on his car for a while, and finally the doorman delivers Linda's phone number.  Dresden had been told Paula would bring it down, but realises that she isn't coming.  Dun dun DUNNN.  I assume we are to conclude that Bianca couldn't stop feeding and has killed Paula, just in case we weren't sure whether we were supposed to find her sympathetic or not.  (She's in the sex industry and she's a secretly-ugly woman; of course we weren't.)

Lest you think our suffering has ended, let me warn you that we haven't even met the sex-addicted sex worker who's sad that she can never make her clients 'feel better about themselves'.  For some reason, I didn't go into this book expecting it to be full of painfully misogynistic sex workers (the sexy corpse, the evil madam, the tragic hooker) but apparently that's what we signed up for.  See you all next time!


*I suppose I should make a consistent note that these books don't have chapter titles and I'm just making them up for funsies, lest new readers be confused that the titles are so much more entertaining and thoughtful than the text.

**We are also informed at some point that Dresden is that most curious kind of individual: the tall skinny man who eats constantly but mysteriously never gains any weight, also known as Every Goddamn Protagonist Ever, Sweet Buttered Jehoshaphat.  So why was he trying a diet potion, if he has no body image issues?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Erika VS Anita Blake (Burnt Offerings chapter 1-6)

I was in the tenth grade when a friend of mine excitedly handed me the first Anita Blake book. Those of you who know anything about Anita Blake are probably a little alarmed at the idea of a 15-year-old picking it up. The first book isn't that messed up, and actually only ever gets as far as a kiss. The story does not spiral wildly out of control into a non-stop train of orgies and violence (sometimes violent orgies) until further into the series. Those I was definitely too young to be reading, but the first few books were okay.

...I think. It was awhile ago, okay?

Still, I'm curious and afraid, so, I'm grabbing the seventh book in the series, Burnt Offerings, and seeing how badly I get burned reading it. Wow, that joke was awful. I'm so sorry. Not sorry enough to edit it out, but it's close. I'm starting with the seventh because, honestly, why should we all have to shuffle through the less weird and fucked up books when I can probably remember enough to keep us all up on what's going on? Well, maybe not... up, but, you know. Not totally lost.

For those of you who have never heard of the Anita Blake series, it's the prototypical urban fantasy about a necromancer-detective-vampire slayer who is also the (human) female leader of the local werewolves. Well, sort of werewolf Queen? She was boning their "alpha" (or what ever they're called) so he knighted her or some shit? They broke up because he ate a person. Like you do. Listen, I read these books over a decade ago. Give me some slack. Oh, she also has sex with vampires and there are were-critters and stuff. She has sex with those too. The books are also all in first person. Because this blog has apparently not seen enough first person books.

We're dropped in with Anita in some sort of work meeting with a convenient bit of character building that shows her as thoroughly professional and even-tempered.
My right arm had been sliced open twice by a knife. One scar was white and old. The second was still pink and new. My left arm was worse. A mound of white scar tissue sat at the bend of my arm. I'd have to lift weights for the rest of my life or the scars would stiffen and I'd lose mobility in the arm, or so my physical therapist had said. There was a cross-shaped burn mark, a little crooked now because of the ragged claw marks that a shapeshifted witch had given me. There were one or two other scars hidden under my blouse, but the arm really is the worst.

Bert, my boss, had requested that I wear my suit jacket or long-sleeved blouses in the office. He said that some clients had expressed reservations about my ah . . . occupationally-acquired wounds. I hadn't worn a long-sleeved blouse since he made the request. He'd turned the air conditioner up a little colder every day. It was so cold today I had goose bumps. Everyone else was bringing sweaters to work. I was shopping for midriff tops to show off my back scars.
So mature and professional. Then again, her boss also seems like a tosser, so, fight petty with petty I guess. She's in a meeting with a firefighter, McKinnon, who's a friend of her cop-boss, Dolph (not her necromancer boss). McKinnon and Anita get into a pissing contest over who's the manlier man by showing off their scars, until Anita puts an end to it by grabbing the glass off of her desk and maintaining eye contact as she eats the whole thing. There are a lot of pissing contests like this, and honestly, I'm not sure there is ever a time in the series where they don't end with Anita just ending them. We know McKinnon is a tough but good dude because rather than pee on more things, he cuts to the chase of what he wants.

He tells a story about a scary pyrokenetic that went around burning down buildings with people in them and how messy and horrific that was (how he got his scars) before going on to explain he thinks he has another firebug on his hands. It's still early, but he wants to catch this before the bodies start piling up again.  So yeah, Anita isn't officially on this yet, but once people start dying she obviously will be, so, uh, maybe look over the file? Anita, a woman who works with cops in her spare time, shrugs, isn't sure what she can do--pyrokenetics aren't monsters, just people with a rare skill--but she'll look it over. A strange touch of world building, just, yeah, magic happens, it's weird, but, wevs. Then again, if I was shagging a vampire, I would probably have a very different thresh hold for weird.

Before she has a chance, her vampire-slaying apprentice calls. He had been sent to stake some dead bodies that would, in a few days, rise as vampires (it's cool; it was in their will to stake them if this came up).  Basically he's all "Hey mom, can you pick me up from school the hospital" and she's all "Did you lose a fight again? As your slayer mom I'm not mad but I am disappointed; I told you to wear your 'I'm little and cute but I'll fuck you up' shirt until you build up your reputation" and he's all "I'M TWENTY-ONE I'M AN ADULT" and she's like "Do you want me to bring you a juicebox or not?"

He explains that someone tried to get him to stake a vampire but "lost" the paperwork. He refuses, because staking a vampire without paperwork is just murder, which he isn't super keen on. (As opposed to notarised murder, which is fine.) The orderly went looking for it while he went to grab a smoke, but came back to find this woman trying to murder this dude and got mangled with one of his own stakes when he tried to stop her. No one is dead, but this is a handy way to do some world-building and bring new readers up on the setting. She was a member of a splinter group (splintered from what?) called Humans First, which is going around trying to kill vampires like they're abortion providers. There's also Humans Against Vampires who are annoying but operate within the law. There was also a vampire mayor in Michigan who got staked recently, which Humans First is taking credit for. Anita doesn't think they're organized enough to have pulled that off. I assume this will be relevant information later. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Hamilton is just throwing around random world events for funsies. I don't remember if she's actually a good writer or not!

Anita gets her baby sidekick home and tucks him into bed after scolding him for leaving a vampire unattended in a morgue and leaving his vampire murdering kit unattended.

This is why you got mangled, Larry. You're too careless, Larry. You should shoot more people, Larry. Larry, in a great deal of pain, isn't too thrilled with being lectured, but he takes it because what else is he gonna do, get out and walk? His back has been replaced with stitches.

Once he's properly drugged and tucked into bed, Anita returns a call from a mystery number on her pager. I am cackling because googling the number isn't even an option to find out what it is. Also she has a pager. I know, I know, at the time this book came out it was a big deal, but to be honest, I thought pagers were funny when they made sense. Turns out it's a werewolf friend of hers, Stephen, who needs her help. Some were-panther is hurt and he needs her help to keep him from being dragged off by his irresponsible pimp. We get a quick fill in of how things are with the were-panthers: Not Good. (Anita killed their alpha because he was planning to make a snuff film starring the two of them.) It's deeply fucked up, which she owns, and admits she's forcing herself to be blasé about it because otherwise she's gonna lose her shit and she has things to do today still. Like, go make sure no one is pimped irresponsibly, apparently. This series is very pro safe, responsible pimps and sex workers. (Although most of the sex workers we meet are male if memory serves.)

Anita's response to Stephen's phone call is basically "I don't wannaaaaa" and Stephen is like "This guy has the worst pimp, Anita!  STRIPES AND ANIMAL PRINT, ANITA!" and then the villain drops in like "Are you phoning for help?  I have like one rule and it's 'no phoning for help', man" and Stephen begs off with "Please don't violence me I AM A SNUGGLING WOLF not a fighting wolf".  Villainous dude grabs the phone to threaten Anita as well, she yawns for a while and then asks his name (Zane) because she is an old-fashioned lady to likes a proper introduction before she breaks a man.  Zane does some "Grr, I'm a werepanther" posturing, Anita is just "Fool, by hurting my dog you activated my limit break" and hangs up.

She loads her gun with a few lead bullets in preparation. Silver bullets: werekitten is dead. Lead? Just a really bad day. Obviously, telling him "Dude I can literally kill you if I have to so knock this shit off" is not an option, but hurting him is. Anyways, into the hospital we go. Shockingly, Zane is causing shit. He keeps trying to use orderlies as hackeysacks. Not like, murdering anyone, but, you know, really one sided games of catch. She shoots him because hello is for losers, and makes it very clear he needs to stop this shit or she will murder him and feel very little about it. At this point he starts crying, relived that someone has come to be the new alpha of the werepanthers.

That is both my response, and Anita's. She figures if it avoids more people being used for ring toss, she can play along, but this is absurd. She isn't even a were-critter, and also, uh, she's like, the werewolf Queen and also something within the vampire community because now she's riding the local vampire leader on the regular. Also to keep her from exploding or some shit in a previous book the vampire had to mark her, therefore bonding the two and giving her some extra superpowers but also status in the vampire community? If Anita listed all her jobs and supernatural ties on her business card it would need to be two-sided and very small font.

The police come, cart off Zane, and Anita is left in the hospital room with her mangled werewolf friend, Stephen, while marveling at the deeply fucked up shit that happened to Nathaniel (the previously-mentioned werepanther who was being pimped out). I just--I don't even want to summarize it, because I feel like it's gross for the sake of shock value and disgusting, not because it actually adds anything. The only credit I will give is that Anita underlines "It doesn't matter if he's a sex worker, he could still be raped, and that is definitely part of what happened here".

A werewolf reporter pops up to check on Stephen and fill us in on werewolf politics. Richard, Werewolf King and Anita's ex, is out of town working on his Master's degree. While he's gone, since while Anita is Lupa (what they call Werewolf Queen I guess) she is decidedly removed from pack politics, another werewolf has stepped up to the plate to take care of the pups while he's gone. Her name is Sylvie and she is a naturally lovely and kind woman. Hah just kidding. She killed her way into the position to prove a point, and because the werepanthers under their old leader were a sack of shit, she has forbidden the wolves from helping. Cats and dogs, right?

Oh, Sylvie is also planning to like, double murder Richard to become the new Wolf King. We think. Anita still has Feelings for him, even if she made her choice to dump him because he eats people sometimes. For a vampire. Because drinking blood is fine I guess? She's aware that this logic is fucked up. So now she has to bully some werewolves to come watch their mangled friend who broke the rule by helping the pretty boy kitten, and probably have to fight Sylvie to do it. Being a normal human, that fight is going to end in Anita trying to murder her. Anita isn't thrilled with this, but eh, whatcha gonna do? Even Anita is getting concerned at her rapidly dwindling reserve of fucks. (Not the physical kind. She has many of those. So many.)

To keep things moving, Dolph, police dad, comes in to talk to Anita about what the ever-living fuck just happened, and there's this whole scene of them glaring at each other because she's fucking a vampire. He then blames himself for her having to hang out with monsters so much, and wonders if it's his fault, because she does it For Cases. The whole scene is kind of masturbatory, telling us how awesome and tough Anita is, but also that she's Damaged.
"You think like a cop, Anita. It's what makes you good."

"I think like a cop and like a monster. That's what makes me good."

He nodded, closed his notebook and slipped it into an inner pocket of his jacket. "Yeah, that's what makes you good."

That scene is followed up immediately by some werewolves coming to babysit the injured and a whole show of her being the pack dominant, the Lupa, and accidentally tapping into her ex's power to do it. Her vampire apparently bound them all together to keep them alive last book? (Look, none of us want me to wade through the whole series. Just trust me on that. So we're just going to have to accept some things are going to be question marks.) Anyway, it's the first time she felt his magic since they split, and she can tell even though he's very far away it pissed him the fuck off that she touched him that way. Which pisses her off and... you get the idea. Rage boners all around. The wolves then crawl around on the ground worshiping her a bit, trying to get belly rubs, and a nurse walks in before walking out very quickly.

Tuesdays, right?

This book is going to spend a lot of time with people being submissive to Anita, or her fighting to prove she shouldn't be submissive to them.

Tune in next time for Anita to go on a Hot Date with her vampire boyfriend, Jean-Claude Van Damme!

If anyone has read this series within the last decade and wants to point out anything important I've missed so far, please, chime in in the comments. Or just chat there anyways. It makes me feel good about myself.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Ask Erika!

Back with no demand whatsoever, I, Erika the Blog Queen, am here to answer your questions. These are definitely reader-submitted questions and not things I've been asked by friends or Will and I made up for our own amusement.

Question: I was dating this one person for years, and we broke up, and now I'm dating someone new (yay!) but I haven't had sex with anyone else but my ex in over half a decade and the idea of having sex with other people is kind of intimidating. Any advice?
Blog Queen: Ok, here, try this. Think of sex like an epic fantasy adventure story. The actual end goal is often unimportant, the real story is the journey to get there, right? You're embarking on a journey full of unknowns and adventure and excitement! That's awesome! So pack your provisions, and get ready to get lost. I mean, you will get lost, it's what happens, and probably get trapped by giant spiders or something like that. That's ok, that's normal. Just remember your quest and the values guiding you on it. Courage, honesty, and loyalty and you'll make it through with minimal tragic deaths. If you don't reach the end goal you thought you were headed for, that's ok, too. Just enjoy the journey! Take in the stunning vistas and the lush smell of the forests and enjoy the feel of the waterfall on your skin and if you're worried about doing it wrong you ask that majestic ass waterfall how it wants to be fucked and go from there. You'll be fine! Also use protection, who knows where that waterfall has been.

Question: How do I tell my fiance that I am actually just a bunch of squirrels in a trench coat? Our wedding is only a few weeks away!
Blog Queen: Tell them after the wedding by dropping your coat to reveal your squirrel body. By then they're already legally tied to you, and there are no laws to annul a marriage just because your spouse is in fact a bunch of squirrels and you didn't notice that. They love you, they agreed to marry you! Have faith in that. You'll work it out.

Question: Which cupcake is objectively the best?
Blog Queen: Nothing is objective.

Question: My time travel machine is only good for one more trip; what ancient animal should I bring back to the present?
Blog Queen: Dawn horse. They're like, horses the size of cats. They would make such good pets.

Question: Fiiiiiiiiirrre!
Blog Queen: Absolutely.

Question: I have found my way into a socially regressive fantasy world; should I remain here to become a ruler and force them towards equality by dictatorial fiat or return home and allow them to progress naturally?
Blog Queen: Being a dictator isn't for everyone, but if you're already considering it, odds are it is for you. There is obviously no way that could go wrong, so I say go for it! Societies being forced to adopt new social standards never rebel and try to commit regicide!

Question: I'm concerned that we will never have a dog for prime minister; how can I have hope for our country's future?
Blog Queen: I share your concern. We can only keep doing our part by voting for the most dog like candidates, and hoping they're dog like in good ways. Or we can create some sort of mind control device and use it to get a dog elected. I'm definitely not working on the mind control device myself. No sir. Not me. So you better get on that.

Question: My boyfriend says he wants to "50 Shades" me. What should I do?
Blog Queen: Run. Very fast and very far. Change your name, get a job waiting tables in a small, sleepy town. Meet a nice single father who works as a teacher at the local school named Jeremy, and bond with his adorable but troubled 11 year old daughter, Vanessa. Help her through some of her troubles over her dead mother as you fall in love with Jeremy. Get engaged, only to have his wife, not-so-dead, return after having recovered from retrograde amnesia to reclaim her life. Have a heart-wrenching talk with Jeremy as he decides to try and make things work with his wife, and remain a part of Vanessa's life from a distance. Eventually Jeremy's troubled younger brother, Robert, will roll into town on his motorcycle, trying to forget the ghosts of his past. The two of you will have a passionate affair where you both discover new depths to yourself, and run away together. Somewhere warm.

Question: How do I tell my father, high priest of Nyarlathotep, that I want to go to a Lutheran college and also not murder anyone?
Blog Queen: Coming out to your parents about ideological differences can be hard. They might feel like they failed as parents because of it, or like there is now a rift between you. Sit them down and gently explain that while their religion and culture have been huge influences for you, they're not you. Try to still celebrate the high holy days and kill someone from time to time (if you're comfortable with it) so he feels like he hasn't lost you while you strike out on your own. He may not respond well at first, so have somewhere else you can stay for a little bit while he processes it!

Question: I have retrograde amnesia and it's really hard feeling like I have no history or past.
Blog Queen: Don't look at it as something you've lost, but something you've gained! You get a chance few people can get. You can invent your own past. You can be, and have done, what ever you want! Plus, if it's outlandish enough, people will be trying to prove you wrong, which will mean that they're helping you in your search to find your more mundane past!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Erika VS Jem and The Holograms: BATTLE OF THE BANDS (episode 5)

FINALLY THE BATTLE OF THE BANDS. It's what we've been waiting for! For four whole episodes. Or at least the title of the episode is "battle of the bands", so I'm assuming that's what's going to happen. After binge watching some weird horror movies Will decided it was time for a "refreshing episode of Jem and the Holograms". I know the movie is out, but I'm not sure I'm ready to see it. Not yet. It looks like it takes away a lot of what makes this show so bizarrely amazing. Like terribly low production values, plots that I could hammer out in an afternoon, and the zero shits given by the 80s. I don't know if you can try to recreate that level of outrageous. I think it just needs to happen. Outrageous is something where organic really makes a difference.

The last episode ended when the PI Eric hired smashed up Synergy and left their secret base in a panic because we all know PIs are known for their panicky smashing. However, it seems that they didn't actually hurt Synergy. She projected a hologram to let him think he did, and somehow he didn't notice the total lack of resistance as he hit things. It was the 80s; people didn't know how computers worked yet. The girls follow the PI, with projections of them being a bunch of little old ladies as they do so, but there is a minute where it seems these random old ladies are stalking the PI and I got super excited for a plot twist that is never coming.

Still, the second Eric is told anything about Synergy, which the PI is on his way to do, he's gonna steal her. So the girls load her onto a truck, because Synergy being a complicated piece of machinery comes apart in handy little modules with a few plugs and screws getting undone is all it takes. Will wonders if she was from Ikea, but I don't think he's ever tried to build Ikea furniture if he thinks it would be that easy.

Zipper, being competent, shows up to steal Synergy with Eric. "THIS IS THE LAST TIME THOSE GIRLS WILL MAKE A FOOL OF ME!" yells Eric into the empty garage. Oh, how wrong you are.

The girls get Synergy home and reassemble her, and then sing an ode to her having the power. The whole song is basically singing about how she is some sort of terrifying amazonian sorceress. WHICH IS REASONABLE.

The girls prepare for the BATTLE OF THE BANDS while Ashley goes to pay The Misfits back the money they gave her before. Pizzazz takes it, and Eric is all "OH HEY WHO IS THIS. ONE OF JERRICA'S WAIFS YOU SAY?" Yes, he calls her a waif. Plot twist, Eric is actually from the past and is trying to take over this music company because he needs to build a time machine to get home. "LEAVE THE CHILD WITH ME. I SHALL CALL JERRICA AND USE THIS HUMAN CHILD AS A HOSTAGE."  HOW IS ERIC RAYMOND NOT IN JAIL?! He literally says "Come here and tell no one or the kids pays the price" What is the price? Is he gonna kill her? Is he going to charge her for overdue library books? Is he going to make her wear solid, moderate colors?

Pictured: Ashley wearing her usual yellow and black button up with a bright pink undershirt, holding a fistful of money ready to bribe her way out of wearing moderate colors.

Even though the it's an obvious trap they go because WHAT ELSE CAN THEY DO THEIR ORPHAN IS IN DAAAANGER! Eric offloads Ashley on The Misfits, who are no longer friends with her, and THROW HER IN A TRUNK. Not a car trunk--like a treasure chest, except instead of treasure there is a traumatized orphan inside. I'm surprised Stormer lets them do this, but it seems likely she'll let her out when no one is looking. Or at least that's her plan, but The Misfits make her choose between them or freeing the child. She shockingly chooses The Misfits. In the name of tension The Misfits perform at the BATTLE OF THE BANDS first, and sing about "Taking it all", which involves going to a money dimension, turning into giant football players, and stealing Rio away from Jem. Shockingly without a burlap sack.

Eric tries to hold Jem at the now empty drive in and kidnap the whole band. There's a chase scene between Jem in the rockin' roadster and Zipper on a motorcycle, but because she's not willing to run him over she loses. The girls are locked up and kept under watch by Zipper and his flunkies. Rio hears Ashley, who's about to get tossed in the garbage compactor, and rescues her. She tells him where to find the band, which I guess is slightly better treasure. She doesn't seem that upset that she nearly just died.

With the help of Synergy the girls nearly escape with some slapstick shenanigans (including fake lions) but are foiled. However Rio turns up with the cops--which shows how serious things are. HE FINALLY CALLED THE COPS. They make it to the battle of the bands in the nick of time and win. The Misfits are peeved and swear vengeance; the girls get everything they want.

The episode finishes with Jerrica and Rio going up to Eric's office, with Jerrica talking about how this is more exciting, it's like coming home. Rio rips Eric's name plate off the door and opens it for Jerrica to see ERIC RAYMOND INSIDE WHAT!? HOW IS HE NOT IN JAIL? Which is what Jerrica asks. Lawyers, apparently. Overpaid lawyers. Or lawyers bribed into giving a shit? It's not totally clear.

He leaves with a MYSTERIOUS ENVELOPE and smacks Jerrica on his way out (which prompts Rio to deck him). Once he's gone Jerrica swears, looking out onto the city as Rio holds her, she's going to make something of Starlight Music. She'll make her Dad proud. I almost wonder if this was supposed to be a pilot run, because this would be a super tidy ending to the series. Or maybe things were faster paces in the 80s? It's hard to tell. I do wish she was embarking on this new chapter of running her Father's business with her sister, Kimber. I think the writers forgot they're supposed to be sisters, repeatedly. Which is a shame, because Kimber obviously has some resentment about always being shoved aside, and if she was ever acknowledged that would hold a lot more weight to compare how often she is ignored. As it stands she's ignored in regards to family matters so often I'm amazed she hasn't fucked off on her own.

Also over the course of this episode it has been established that Rio/Jem are a thing as far as everyone else is concerned, and Rio is no longer concerned about cheating on his girlfriend with his girlfriend. He also isn't worried about her finding out. Despite the fact that The Holograms are Jem's band mates, and see them together, as well as being very good friends of Jerrica. Does Rio just assume she knows, and she hasn't said anything, so... eh? Must mean she's cool with it? 80s cartoons gave me unrealistic ideas about what dating and monogamy would be like when I grew up. I never got the opportunity to trick someone I was dating into cheating on me with me while being a secret pop sensation. I never even got the opportunity to be a secret pop sensation! Just the normal kind.

How about you readers? Have you ever gotten to pull those sorts of dating shenanigans?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Tarzan: Gender in the jungle

I was planning to write a thing today about therapy, about depression, about the general malaise and despair that comes from doing the things that are supposed to make you better and seeing no difference and having no idea where to turn to find any alternative, but 1) it was itself hella depressing to write and 2) it went nowhere productive.  Maybe I'll try writing a thing about therapy again some time in the future.  Right now if you want to understand where I'm at mentally just read the first half of Depression Part Two by Allie Brosh (everything before things start to get hopeful) and also this tumblr post by Cliff Pervocracy.

So instead today we are going to talk Tarzan, specifically Disney's Tarzan from 1998 and what it's got for it and against it.  This is actually an oddly appropriate followup to my previous post about Kingsman, because both stories are about men (Manly Men) and the true marks of civilisation, and are unnecessarily white and prevent the women from having any substantial agency in key moments.  (I listed some of my thoughts to the blogqueen over skype, which she summarised as "So, needs more lesbians".  She's not wrong.)

Disney did not shake up the classic Tarzan story in any major way: an English couple suffer a shipwreck somewhere on the massive coast of Africa (no more specific than a whole continent) and do their best to survive before getting killed by a leopard, but their infant son survives to be raised by a passing clan of gorillas.  Years later, more English explorers arrive, leading Tarzan to the shocking discovery that he's not just a pasty hairless gorilla, but another species entirely, he falls in love with Jane, the young woman on the expedition, and they are torn between his jungle home and hers in London.

The movie has some strong points; one that jumped out at me this time was Clayton, the villain, who follows more in the style of Gaston than Scar, Jafar, or Dr Facilier--far from being a fastidious conniver sowing chaos through whispers (like some kind of woman), he's a great burly gun-toting explorer out to take what he wants from the wilderness through right of conquest.  In another time, Clayton would be the intended hero of the story (the writers did this very intentionally--in the original novels, Tarzan's human name was John Clayton).  Instead, he's played here as contemptible from the outset, pointing his gun where it doesn't belong and assuming he can get what he wants by shouting demands.

In a movie that's all about Tarzan trying to figure out his identity, Clayton very quickly sees himself as Tarzan's model for what a man is supposed to be: strong, commanding, and ruthless.  Tarzan's own father-figure, the gorilla Kerchak, is distant and dismissive, which might have made this a compelling possible bond, but Tarzan spends the middle of the movie focused on Jane, who is helping him discover things like written language, astronomy, and erections.  I think maybe my favourite thing about Tarzan's story is that he never does attach himself to a father-figure; his biggest influences are all women (mother Kala, best friend Terk, and love interest Jane).  His most important moments with men are rejections: he refuses to let Kerchak's judgment discourage him, he refuses to operate on Kerchak's principles of defensive xenophobia, and he rejects Clayton's temptation to might-makes-right conquest.  When Clayton's Evil Scheme to capture all the gorillas is inevitably foiled and Tarzan has him at gunpoint, Clayton even goads him to shoot: "Be a man."  Tarzan instead smashes the rifle and declares "Not a man like you" before the forces of plot convenience go to work and Clayton accidentally hangs himself with a vine.  It's not uncommon for Disney to allow the hero to keep their hands clean while still killing the villain (Gaston doesn't even get pushed--he just trips and falls to his death once his role in Beauty and the Beast has been completed).  It's a little less common for the hero's refusal to implicitly be a rejection of white male entitlement as a whole.  So, like, high five on that part, writers.

But on this viewing, what I mostly felt was that Tarzan is a layered story about bigotry and the struggles of mixed identities (from a child's despairing 'why don't I look like everyone else' to an adult's ongoing efforts to not lose either side of himself) which is tragically wasted on a straight white dude.  A white dude with dreads.  (Fellow white people: as you are hopefully aware, our hair doesn't do dreadlocks.  No, the Norse didn't do dreadlocks either.)  This whole movie is white.  The humans are all white (even the unvoiced extras), the gorillas are all voiced by white actors, everyone.  The only character for whom whiteness is arguably an integral part of his character is Clayton, who embodies the colonialist English 'adventurer'--that kind of entitlement is very us.  Our other three significant humans are Tarzan himself (whose parents are also onscreen for the intro song), Jane, and Jane's father, Professor Porter.  None of these people need to be white.

I'm aware that in the original novels (which are deeply racist and stunningly misogynistic, surprising no one) Tarzan turns out to have been an English Viscount, which has largely been a whites-only club for most of history.  (Although the crown was a fan of granting Indian people aristocratic titles under the British Raj.)  But the original novels also don't feature any musical numbers with Rosie O'Donnell, so it's not like we're trying to be that purist, and in this movie, Tarzan's parents don't even get dialogue, let alone backstory, so they could be literally anyone and not impact the story.  Similarly, even if we imagine that only a white Professor Porter would be likely to have the wealth to boat down to Africa to study wildlife, there's no reason his (dead, never-pictured) wife should have to be white as well, and a biracial Jane opens up a whole new connection to Tarzan, who has also grown up with all the joys of being visibly different from his peers.

(Disney isn't exactly known for doing intricate love stories, and this movie as it stands is no exception: Tarzan admires Jane's fieldwork and she's amazed by his expertise in navigating the wilderness, but for the most part they appear to love each other because they're both very pretty and have literally no other viable partners.  It's hard not to wonder whether, five years after the movie, Jane doesn't perhaps raise the subject of making a quick jaunt home to pick up some books and penicillin and clothes not made of skin, especially once she learns that basically all animals can 'talk'.)

Lastly, in a movie about Manly Men Doing Manly Things (not referring to this excellent webcomic of the same name, sadly), how do the women fare?  I've already listed the three named women, all defined by their relation to Tarzan--his mother, his bestie, his ladyfriend.  Kala is a typical Disney mother (caring and understanding in all things) who at least gets to survive the movie.  Jane is primarily a plot object with only one goal (meet the gorillas) who casts aside her entire life up to that point, and any of her prior goals and dreams, to be with her man.  (Any hope of interpreting her choice to live in the jungle as something to do with studying the apes is undercut by her willingness to leave until her father reminds her "But you love him".)  The least stereotypical woman in the cast is Terk, Tarzan's best friend, who tends toward the disruptive, sarcastic, and acerbic, but this ultimately doesn't do much for her agency.  None of her choices really impact the plot--in the moment when she might be most relevant, when Tarzan has decided to leave with Jane but immediately then been captured by Clayton's goons, it's not her loyalty that leads to his rescue--it's the tertiary elephant friend Tantor who overcomes his timidity to reprimand Terk for being emotionally withdrawn and then charges in to save the day.  Narratively, I get why the writers would think this is a good twist--the timid character finally standing up to the heroes is generally good stuff, like Neville facing down the trio in the first Harry Potter--but here it means that Terk's last chance to impact the story is instead handed off to the nearest man and she is a barely-consulted tagalong.

I do like this story as it works for the men and the contrasting manly identities, but stories for men aren't a rare commodity.  I'm aware of one retelling of Tarzan from Jane's perspective, about which I've heard deeply mixed things, and given the dozens upon dozens of Tarzan stories at this point, I think we can do with a few more that maybe ask what kind of person you have to be to leave civilisation behind, charge headlong into the merciless wilds, and decide that this is the place you will feel most at home, with your mighty half-intelligible beast-master husband at your side.  Or wife.  Like we always say here at SS&S: this story could have been about lesbians.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Erika vs The Client List

Due to my meat sack being faulty, I spend a lot of time at home and couch-bound. Which means I spend a lot of time playing Pokemon* and watching Netflix. Despite this I seem to always be behind on things I'm "supposed" to watch, or people are telling me to watch. I also spend a lot of time scrolling through Netflix seeing what's new. This is where I found The Client List. The description caught my eye: single mother turns to sex work and ends up tuned into all of the town's gossip. The last sentence is even "Can this double life lead to a happy ending?" which made me think that this was going to be almost a romcom? A movie about a sex worker taking some agency and maybe getting into some mischief with all she knows about everyone's secrets.

I could not have been more wrong.

The movie opens with Sam and her husband off to the bank to beg for an extension on their mortgage payment since they've fallen on hard times. So already I have been lied to, she's not a single mom. Her own mother swings through to look after their three kids while they're gone, and reminds her daughter that she can and should use her looks to get her way. Which she promptly tries to do, and manages to convince the bank manager to give them the extension with her freakishly perfect memory of the conversation they first had. Still, it's a stall tactic. She and her husband are both desperately searching for jobs when she finds one the next town over at a place searching for massage therapists! Perfect! She's a licensed massage therapist! We all know where this is going. It's not just massages they give. She takes the job ignorantly, walks out when she finds out what they really do, and when she realizes between she and her husband they have a dollar to their name, she slinks back.

The movie spends the rest of its time showing us how morally reprehensible sex work is and how Sam remains sympathetic because she was driven to it out of desperation. We also see that she's very good at her job because she actually talks to and engages with her customers. The movie wastes an excellent opportunity to explore that more, and brushes it over just to explain why she's so popular and is being given lavish gifts by her johns. So, first it's sex work, but she's just running herself so ragged because... uuuuhhhh.... We never actually get a good reason why she can't scale back on her own hours (something we get told very early on she has the option of doing), but we're assured that she's working ever so hard and too much, all for her family! We're shown her just being super tired a lot until she nearly falls asleep at the wheel and one of her johns gives her some coke. Naturally, if you're a sex worker you're also doing coke? She says no at first, but as she struggles to keep up with the demands of motherhood and sex work, starts to use to give herself the extra kick.

Her whole issue boils down to: she needs to scale back at work (which we are given NO reason for her not to be able to do) but refuses to. We're supposed to feel sorry for her as she goes down the "wrong" path but again, I just keep seeing someone who doesn't know how to balance life and work, and I don't know that she wouldn't have gotten into trouble in any job that offered enough hours for her to run herself ragged. We're supposed to assume it's all the sex work being so demanding, but we see her getting up early and getting home late and are told what long hours she's putting in. Her issue isn't that she's a sex worker, it's that she has no work/life/self-care balance.

Eventually things go to total shit and the cops raid the place and she's all over the news. Her husband had no idea what she was doing and this is how he finds out. He takes off with the kids while she and the other girls try to make a plea bargain for less jail time in exchange for a list of their johns (this is where the movie gets its title). Sam, with her perfect memory and excellent rapport with her clients, is able to provide enough to get the sentence from minimum two years to 30 days and a 2 grand fine.  So far the movie has done nothing but say "sex work is bad and will ruin your life". Only after serving her sentence (both jail time and a separation from her husband) and finding her way back to the "right" path (waitressing as she goes back to school to provide for her family "honestly") that she gets her life back and forgiveness from those around her.

This movie is a mess. It nearly goes places and says something a bunch of times but veers from one place to the next too quickly. She at one point admits that she didn't dislike the work, and that she liked the way her clients treated her, but that is all swept aside as part of the reason why she is Bad and Wrong for what she did. Saying "well, it's not what I wanted, but yeah, it wasn't all bad" would have made for a much more nuanced and interesting ending, but no, sex work=bad. Even as she and one of her former co-workers are lamenting the money loss, they both seem to agree it's for the best. At one point her mother apologizes for telling her that her looks would get her everywhere in life, and that she should have fostered the importance of other traits, but that's not really explored either, nor the other ways that message would seriously mess up a kid. Just: yeah, that's part of why she thought this was an okay thing to do. The women go from church to her home at one point to ask her for help since, because their husbands were going to sex workers, they personally felt they were doing something wrong. Nothing around female bonding or forgiveness or the expectation on women to please, or husbands being unfaithful not being the wives' fault, just a cute cut away after Sam grabs some bananas to start giving tips. As far as we can tell, these women all still loathe her, if their response to her apology is any indication. The movie could have been potentially somewhat salvaged if only it had taken some of these scenes just a little bit further. The only consistent messages are "sex work is bad" and "counting on your looks is bad".

I'm disappointed. Not in the movie (okay in the movie too), but in myself for getting my hopes up. I should know better than to hope for, well, anything from mainstream media about sex workers with nuance or substance. I mean, can't have a movie saying that women get into sex work for different reasons, many stay because they like it and it lets them balance finances, work, and life more easily. Or that many balance parenting and their jobs just fine without developing a drug addiction. The other girls Sam works with don't seem to have any of these problems, but that'll never get explored. Just look at how having sex for money destroyed this poor woman's life! Saying anything else might give girls ideas about the choices they might have, or, lord forbid, maybe help to destigmatize sex work so maybe it'll get decriminalized and these women can do their jobs in safer environments! Can't have that. No, better make another movie about a woman ruining her life with it. Again. That's safer. 

*If anyone wants me to add them as a friend just leave your code in the comments. My code is 1993-8573-6315