Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Storm Front, chapters three and four, in which Dresden hopefully suffers for his misogyny

Two weeks gone by already?  Hoo-whee, time sure is linear.  I can't tell you all how much I've been looking forward to getting to know Harry Dresden better.  Literally.  I can't, because I do my best to be honest with my readers.

One of the things about reading this in ebook format is that I'm not sure how much of the typesetting is intentional.  There is, for example, the technique wherein an author gives a single sentence its own paragraph, even if (or especially because) it's very short, in order to give it more weight and time within the reader's mind.  Like pretty much all writing techniques, this can be used well, and it can be gruesomely overused.  In my old hometown, there was a weekly glurge columnist who, without fail, made every single sentence its own paragraph.  I'm sure a lot of that had to do with stretching a 500-word column into an 800-word space, but it also served to make it seem like every single detail of the week's anecdote carried the weight of a lifetime's wisdom, heavy on the branch as a late-summer raspberry.

Dresden does a lot of this.

But I can't tell if it's Butcher's authorial choice to do so or if it's just a quirk of the page-to-data translocation, so I can't in good faith snark at him for it.  I can at least point out that I don't think there's any way all of the half-hearted attempts to add gravitas to a sentence are the whimsy of automatic formatting software, so he's probably guilty; we just don't know how much.

Storm Front
Chapter Three: When Being Super Gay Is Not Enough*

Dresden describes his first glance at crime-monarch Johnny Marcone with a level of detail usually reserved for YA love interests.  Salt-and-pepper hair, laugh lines, "his eyes were the green of well-worn dollar bills", "good-looking, tanned, athletic, and enthusiastic", all of which he prefaces by saying Marcone "didn't look like the sort of man who would have my legs broken or my jaw wired shut", just in case any of us thought there was the slightest chance Dresden wasn't a straight cis white man.

Dresden tries to banter with the hired goon, Hendricks, and Marcone is not amused, which seems to be the correct response to basically everything Dresden does.  Dresden guesses he's supposed to be more submissive, but rejects the Godfather movie tropes (which is an opportunity for him to throw in that Dresden has an actual faery godmother, "but that's another story", which sounds better already).  Marcone in fact wants to hire Dresden full-time for the next two weeks to not-investigate the death of Tommy Tomm (Jessica Stanton, the dead woman, is not mentioned).  Dresden says he doesn't think it's going to work out, even for double his usual fee, and dramatically locks eyes with Marcone.

Pictured: A very hetero eye-locking, courtesy of Jemma Salume.

Marcone doesn't look away, and Dresden explains that dealing with magic just gives you a new perspective on the world, which can create a second of perfect clarity with someone else in which you see each other exactly as you truly are.  This second spins out into a full page detailing Marcone's soul:
He was a soldier, a warrior [....] he was going to get what he wanted and he was going to get it in the most efficient way possible. He was a dedicated man--dedicated to his goals, dedicated to his people. [....] There, hidden away from his everyday thoughts, there lurked a secret shame [....] I was, on some instinctual level, certain that he had been aware of what I would see if I looked--that he had deliberately met my gaze, know what he would give away. That was his purpose in getting me alone.
I seriously considered at this point whether it was possible I had accidentally downloaded the erotic fan-redux of the Dresden books.  I mean, the easy thing to do at this point is point out how incredibly not-hetero this scene seems and start reinterpreting the text, like I did for Ender and Rand and Mat/Perrin, but I've already tread that ground, and I think Dresden is going to give us a sterling opportunity for a different kind of case study: not in the closeted hero of the subtext, but in a specific kind of classic patriarchal view.  Detective Murphy got a similarly-detailed physical description, though obviously it was a bit more lurid than "good-looking", but she got nothing like this kind of prolonged Rhapsody In Man, an ode to the strength and vigor and businesslike rationality of an aristocratic predator with a challenged dominion.  Does Murphy even have feelings, apart from showing appropriate disgust at dead bodies and consternation at Dresden's recalcitrance?  She's a cop trying to solve homicides in an era where 'faery geas' and 'vampire munchies' are going to get their own police codes soon.  Does Dresden not have anything to tell us about her perspective?  Guardian of her city, standing steadfast against the vast unknown?  Not nearly as much as he has to say about her legs, which he has seen so little of in those pantsuits.

The gay male community gets stereotyped as the natural allies (and sassy sidekicks) of women, but it shares this with traditional patriarchy: when men are the only people who are considered to be full people, with thoughts and emotions that are worth giving attention, you get a kind of misogyny that looks identical, whether the perpetrators are straight, gay, cis, trans, ace, bi, whatever.  The thesis either way is that women are accessories (or support staff, or sex-providers) and men are people.

It could be fun to theorise about Harry Dresden, Closeted Queer Wizard PI, but it wouldn't actually add any depth to the story.  In Ender's books, his strong male-attracted subtext illustrates for us some really important things about his world and the beliefs of the author and how both try to force people to fit a specific mold for a 'greater good' that is really just about the personal tastes and power fantasies of the man in charge.  Here in Dresdenville, Harry is equally misogynistic whether he wants to jump Marcone or not.

Back to the book.  The two-way nature of the "soulgaze" (pfffbwahahaha) means Marcone gets to see inside Dresden as well:
Most people who did that got really pale, at least. One woman had passed out entirely.  I didn't know what they saw when they looked in there--it wasn't a place I poked around much, myself.
We have long since passed the point where I'll allow Butcher to pour this kind of 'my protagonist is such a badass you don't even know' all over us without having him actually do anything of note.

Marcone is unperturbed by what he sees in Dresden, which leaves Dresden scared and angry, but rather than threaten him, Marcone just tells him it's in his best interest not to investigate the deaths.  He also says he's heard that Dresden is a real "magus", which is not a word we've encountered so far, and I'm left wondering yet again if there's any pattern to the terminology they'll use in this world.  (Dresden has consistently called himself a wizard and implied that this is a subsection of the broader 'sorcerer'.)  They both tell each other not to make enemies of them in typical Manly Posturing form and then part ways.  Dresden spends the rest of the chapter walking up the stairs to his office and thinking again about how thoroughly Marcone came out the dominant victor in their whole exchange (another mention of "those dollar-bill-colored eyes" and "the sudden intimacy of the soulgaze"), finally asserting that he will be on time for his appointment.

(I would like to note again that this is complete rubbish, as it would have required Dresden to get out of the hotel, walk some blocks, argue with Hendricks, get into Marcone's car, have the whole discussion, get out, and climb up to his office in less than five minutes.  I say once more: if authors don't want me to complain about their terrible timelines, they need to stop being so specific about the time when it's actually a throwaway guess.)

Chapter Four: Maybe She's Born With It (Maybe It's Overwhelming Misogyny)

So now we meet Monica, who also gets a long physical description that's mostly about how attractive she is: "good-looking", which is an interestingly neutral phrase that I thought he used for Marcone specifically because it was so detached, "ash blond", "makeup tasteful and well applied", "face was fair, friendly, with enough roundness of cheek to look fresh-faced and young".

I'm trying to figure out Dresden's deal.  He supposedly does simple divination--lost items especially--and he's a capable wizard with a secret past, but is he actually supposed to be a trained detective?  Did he have time for that and wizard school?  Was he apprenticed to a previous wizard PI?  Because some of the things he notes, like well-applied tasteful makeup, are really specific details to pick out about a person, especially from the perspective of a scruffy man like Dresden.  Judging by the memes these days, roughly half of men think that women naturally exude makeup from their pores whenever their internal biology realises it's time for them to seek male validation.  I feel like Dresden sits more comfortably in that demographic than in the one that sees a woman for the first time and immediately ascertains whether her makeup is 'tasteful'.

Dresden apologises for being late after all and opens his office up for her, offering the police as an excuse and then immediately moving along when corpsey memories rise to the surface again.  Dresden of course still has enough arrogance to be quietly snide about how jumpy she looks--in the same breath talking about going through familiar coffee-making motions to calm himself down from his Marcone soul-touching.  I want to think this is intentional but I don't think we're supposed to scorn Dresden this much.

Monica's husband has been missing for three days--not in a mysterious abduction way, but in a 'packed up and left without a word' way, and she came to Dresden because this followed her husband's sudden interest in magic.
"He had been buying books on it in the religion section at the bookstore. Not like those Dungeons and Dragons games. The real thing. He bought some of those tarot cards." She pronounced it like carrot. Amateurs.
Real magic, not like D&D, but like the Chapters shelf containing the complete works of Silver RavenWolf.  And what exactly is Dresden's issue with this distressed woman not knowing how to pronounce tarot?  She's not claiming to know a thing about magic and he looks down on her while she comes to him for help?  Jackass.
She had a good face for blushing, fair skin that colored girlishly.  [Monica explains the stress her husband has been under lately.] She took a deep breath, as if the effort of completing so many sentences without a single um had tired her.
I wish I could hate you to death, Dresden.  [Erika: If you're going to infantilise someone this much, at least offer them a lollipop.]

Monica didn't go to the police because she knows that if you don't take magic seriously, this looks like a simple 'man ditches family voluntarily' situation, while she believes he is still out to provide for them after losing his job.  Dresden starts asking for those tiny key details like where he works at what his name is, and Monica hesitates a long time before finally saying 'George', because apparently her girlish brain hasn't already worked out how difficult it would be to find a person without knowing anything but their gender.  Dresden tries to calm her down, quoting Marcone's line about 'good business' and not hexing your clients.
She gave a nervous little laugh. "I feel so silly," she confessed. [....] 
The woman was nervous and had certain expectations. I might ease her fears a little if I fulfilled some of them.
I hoped this would mean he'd do something magical and obviously beneficial at this point, but no dice.  He gives a prolonged speech yet again about how working with magic helps people see things from new perspectives and understandings and there are lots of scary stories about horrible wizards but she just needs to trust him and he won't disappoint her.  Books about horrible wizards?  This came out in 2000; the big name in wizardry at that point was Harry Potter and everyone was preparing to stay up all night for the Goblet of Fire launch.  I understand Dresden not working that directly into his world, but it's a bit of rewritten history to suggest that wizards are the villains more often than the heroes in modern literature.

So the missing man's real name is 'Victor Sells', which sounds like a pseudonym to be used in some secret spy conversation, but okay.  She suggests that he may have gone to:
"The lake house. We have a house down by..." She waved her hand. 
"The lake?" 
She beamed at me, and I reminded myself to be patient.
FIGHT ME JIM BUTCHER.

This is just so unnecessary.  Why is he working so very hard to convince us that Monica is so incredibly useless and stupid?  Is it a front?  Is she a secret villain and she's trying to play the role of an airheaded housewife while she gets the measure of her soon-to-be-nemesis?  That's it, right?  Because that is the only explanation that makes this scene some percentage less than pure industrial-grade Blue Sky misogyny.  I desperately hope there is a scene coming where Monica gets to be all "I thought I was completely over the top, but wow, you're such a disgusting sexist that you bought the whole thing."  (It is rather convenient, since her 'nervousness' means she doesn't give Dresden her real name or make direct eye contact with him, which might reveal her secrets.)

Anyway.  Dresden asks for a photo, to see Victor's magic books, and to check out the lake house, which Monica approves--she hands over an envelope full of cash, another with a magic charm, and a third with her phone number and a photo of her husband.
"I'm not cheap. It might be less costly for you to hire someone else." 
"We've got quite a bit of savings, Mr. Dresden," she told me. "I'm not worried about the money." That seemed an odd statement from her, at the time--out of tune with her generally nervous manner.
Okay, I am fully predicting now that Monica is playing Dresden.  She's not going to the cops because Victor isn't really her husband and he's been using magic to throw off her tracing, but won't be expecting Dresden.  In which case: Jim Butcher, my demands that you fight me are withdrawn on a probationary basis.

Monica leaves after 'accidentally' letting it slip that she needs to pick up her kids from school and getting Dresden's assurance that he will contact her within a couple of days.  He checks the envelopes;the first two ten $50 bills, a photo of Monica with "a man of lean and handsome features, with forehead and shaggy eyebrows that skewed his handsomeness off onto a rather eccentric angle" (everyone is hot in this book except Carmichael, what's with that), and her phone number.  Dresden notes how weird it is that Monica was ready to give him so much information that he could use to find out her name but not actually speak it aloud, but brushes it off as typical client foolishness which he'll have to resist the urge to mock her about later.  Monica is definitely playing him and Dresden is terrible.

Final envelope: a dried scorpion husk, immediately identified as a potential focus for nasty magic, to be worn uncomfortably against the skin.  (Much talk of how its claws could catch in your chest hair or jut into your breasts.)  Dresden notes that he can't actually tell if it's magical or not without trying to use it, which is a detail I actually like quite a lot--most wizardy worldbuilding seems to have magic things radiate an aura of power like they're radioactive, and while 'magic as potential/kinetic energy' makes sense given the prominence of nuclear power in the last century, I want to see more of 'magic as verb' and... oh.  Never mind.
Cautiously, I extended my senses toward it like an invisible hand, feeling about for any traces of enchantment or magical energy. 
Nothing. It was as dry of enchantment as it was of life.
Okay, so he does just have Detect Magic.  Business as usual.  He thought he saw it move, found it was entirely unanimated, shoved it into his desk drawer, and the chapter ends.  I guess it could have been worse?

I've said in discussion before that while 'sexist' is certainly a legitimate flaw for a character to have, it tends to be the kind of flaw a character doesn't actually suffer for, which means that to plenty of (sexist) readers it reads as a neutral or positive trait.  If you are not sexist, and you for some reason want to write a character who is, then the responsible thing to do is make it clear in text that it has negative effects, especially for them.  There is, I hope, some chance that Dresden's sexism just got him completely hoodwinked by a rival wizard.  If so, that might be the first time I have actually seen an author write a sexist protagonist whose sexism was explicitly a flaw that held them back from success.

I'm so wrong about this, I just know it.

Next week: Erika returns to talk about Love Never Dies, the deeply suspect sequel to Phantom of the Opera.

Two weeks: I face the tremendous challenge of staying on the high road when Dresden knocks off work to go to his favourite pub, McAnally's.  100% serious.  Maybe there was a better way we could have transliterated that one from Gallic, eh?

---

*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.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Erika vs Jem and the Holograms - Episode 3

LAST TIME ON JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS!

Jem was hitting on her own boyfriend who didn't know it was her and was trying to mash faces when THE BOAT THEY ARE ON IS ABOUT TO CRASH AND EVERYONE MIGHT DIE OH NOESSSS. Also The Misfits are responsible for this, along with like seven other attempted murders, and Starlight House burned down so now all the orphans are staying at THE NEW MANSION Mr Stache put on the line as part of the six-month-long competition to see WHO'S BETTER. The Misfits, rather than thinking "huh maybe we should let them have it" are furious that The Holograms are getting access to it first, and if they win will be evicted.

I'm making Will watch this episode with me because he's never seen the show before and now only has these posts to go on. I'm a good friend and want to share things that cause joy. Unlike Will who made me watch Left Behind AND Ender's Game. Sober. Still waiting for you and Devin to make it up to me, Will.

Ahem. Anyways.

The episode starts, no one dies, boats are shooting sparks and Rio is clinging to Jem who is dangling off the edge of the boat in highly implausible ways. PHYSICS! Jem kisses Rio because this is foreplay to them and Rio is all "This is wrong I can't hurt Jerrica like this" and--Jem, just--just tell him who you are. Why are you upset that HE WON'T CHEAT ON YOU?

The Misfits fuck off with some pilfered snacks that... I think they're just pills. The Duchess and Lando are all "WE GONNA FUND YOUR VIDEO AND BRING YOU TO PARIS ONCE YOU FINISH CUTTING AN ALBUM. THAT TAKES LIKE A DAY RIGHT?" Also Kimber tells them not to call the cops because winning will be REAL JUSTICE! THEY NEARLY KILLED A BOATLOAD OF PEOPLE KIMBER. THIS IS NOT RESPONSIBLE. How incompetent or overworked are the police in this world?

So, Rio is apparently versed in band management, which is not something that is ever explained. Does he manage other bands? What did he do before the girls' started their group? Did he quit as a band manager for another group to manage them? Questions...

The Misfits are pissed they can't go to Paris to shoot THEIR video, which Raymond explains is because until he owns Starlight he can only embezzle so much--but sending The Misfits to Paris would be... a legitimate business expense? You're a music company. I just--do I need to watch GI Joe to try and understand the economics of this world?

Raymond can't afford to send The Misfits to Paris, but he can afford to send Zipper. You know, the guy who burned down and then bombed the girl's homes? IT WOULD BE MORE EFFECTIVE TO JUST SEND THE MISFITS RAYMOND. THEY WILL RUIN THE WHOLE VIDEO.

Kimber is getting jealous that Jem is the star, and nearly gets kidnapped by Zipper (I think?) before Rio interrupts and she nearly tells him Jem=his girlfriend. The other girls scold her for it and Kimber insists he has a right to know--and I kind of agree.

At this point Will looked at me and asked: why is it a secret anyways? Is she doing anything special that mandates a SECRET IDENTITY? Or is she just the first Hannah Montana? She's the first Hannah Montana.

Will: I think he's planning to murd--IS HE WEARING A JACKET WITH HIS OWN NAME ON IT?

See what I mean? It was right of me to make him watch this.

So, music video of the girls in Paris, which is Jem lusting after Rio from a distance and The Holograms creeping on random couples. Rio keeps getting more and more uncomfortable with Jem because he loves Jerrica and Jem is... really aggressive. And then she sulks when he's uncomfortable and doesn't go along with it. Ah, the 80s, giving children great ideas of what healthy romance looks like.

During the shoot Zipper somehow pries a whole gargoyle off of a roof and tries to murder the girls. Rio once again dashes in and saves the whole group when they could have just wandered off, gotten lunch, taken a leak, and come back but you know, Rio needs to get his heroing on or he breaks out into a rash. Only Jem seems to notice or care that they nearly died. Again. Aja is once again the most useful character and points out ZIPPER IS TRYING TO KILL US AGAIN. Guys? Guys, we should maybe do something about Zipper? She is ignored because who wants to be sensible when you can BEAT THEM IN A MUSIC CONTEST?

Will: DID THEY JUST PARK A PLANE IN MIDAIR? WHAT?

He's beginning to understand.

Will: Do we ever get any proof that Jem is ever wearing any clothes?

She might just be wearing holograms all the time, but I think Rio would notice and be way more freaked out when he went to pull her up as she dangled precariously off of a hot air balloon and accidentally stuck his hand in her butt crack.

Wait--Kimber is actually Jerrica's sister? WHY HAS JERRICA INHERITED EVERYTHING AND WHY DID SHE GET THE HOLOGRAM AND KIMBER GET NOTHING? Kimber should be WAY MORE PISSED than she is. We find this out because Raymond tries to convince her to go solo. It's typical super villain "LET ME GIVE YOU WHAT YOU WANT AND ALSO MY D" type shpiel. She's tempted, but pretty sure he's trying to use a mind control prototype and makes a break for it. You know, I wrote that last sentence as a joke, but it occurs to me I need to be more careful because that could 100% happen in this show. I can't use hyperbole; nothing is too far. CURSE YOU POE!!!

Moving on, Rio tries to quit as Jem's manager because he is having boners for her and Jerrica is convincing him to stay on. Rio is being pretty straight forward that Jem is making him uncomfortable and he's worried about hurting Jerrica. Jerrica continues to NOT TELL HIM SHE IS JEM. She's kind of the worst girlfriend.

Jem and The Holograms get a TV spot which means The Misfits are on their way to the TV station to try and fuck shit up.Why? Because they want to be on TV too!

Rio is really awkward because Jem keeps hitting on him and he loves Jerrica and help how do I function. This is the weirdest form of sexual harassment. He should clue in that Jem engages in the same damsel in distress/white knight foreplay he and Jerrica do. That isn't something that's just... going to come up on its own very often.. is it? Also she literally just has on a wig and some makeup. RIO. RIO DO BETTER. ALSO JERRICA TELL HIM WHAT THE HELL IS UP. She's tried like, half a time. This is borderline abusive to the poor bastard.

The Misfits use their borrowed orphan Ashleigh to break into the studio when security doesn't let them in. Oh, yeah, one of the orphans felt hated so she ran away from Starlight house and asked the Misfits to take her in. They were pretty cool about it and gave her a crash course on fucking shit up and committing felonies. (This is not hyperbole.) So with the help of their borrowed orphan they crash the interview. AND THEY DON'T STAB ANYONE! Like, not even a little bit! The show host asks that they are removed, and the lone security guard and Rio get right on that. One of The Misfits tries to convince Rio to be THEIR manager literally as he is dragging them out and he's all "No Jem is a pure and holy maiden I could never betray her. Also my girlfriend, Jerrica. Yeah. All my boners are pointed directly at her and NO ONE ELSE EVER WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT." The Misfits, being, well, themselves, shove Rio off of them. Which knocks him into things and causes thousands of dollars of worth of damage and traps Jem in the middle of a fire pit. A really convenient fire circle.  See what I'm saying about their weird foreplay? I think they went out, pissed off/bribed a witch so Jerrica would constantly be put in GRAVE BUT VERY SLOW danger, so she and Rio could constantly act out their damsel in distress/white knight fantasies? If that's the case, he should really be catching on by now.

So, once again, everything is on fire because of The Misfits. Cliffhanger! Kimber, next time someone wants to call the cops on them DON'T STOP THEM JESUS CHRIST WOMAN. I do want to point out that Jerrica/Jem is shown as being a good, nice girl, while The Misfits are supposed to be Bad People, and this is shown by Jerrica being feminine but feisty, yet still needing to be saved, and often putting the needs of others above her own. The Misfits, however, are vilified ultimately by... doing what they want. Now, what they want is dangerous and highly illegal at best, but the fact that they keep insisting they do what they want because they want to telling. Jem and The Holograms, teaching girls that being good means subsuming their own desires!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Storm Front, chapters 1 and 2, in which Our Hero is one of the "nice" misogynists

I am left with a conundrum, readers.  After much contemplation and debate, I settled on reading some of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files now that WOT is on hiatus, and valued commenter Nerem provided me with a link to the ebooks so I could commence my analysis and thus provide you all with insight and entertainment.  I have wanted to check out Dresden for ages already, so I dove right in with gratitude to Nerem for assisting me in this quest.

I'm three chapters in and the question burns at the front of my mind: is Nerem in fact trying to destroy me?

The Dresden Files are urban fantasy very intentionally riffing off the style of Laurell K Hamilton's Anita Blake.  They concern Harry Dresden, working-class wizard-for-hire of Chicago.  I have never wanted to inflict violence on a protagonist so early in a story before.  Ender Wiggin is an unfortunate abused child.  Bean Delphiki even more so.  Rand al'Thor is a naive farmboy with typical teenage self-obsession.  These are people who can only bear so much responsibility for their faults.

I want to fight Harry Dresden.  But rather than just ranting, let me take you on a journey into Storm Front, the first book of the Dresden Files, and soon you, too, can feel the bone-deep certainty that the world will be made a better place when this jackass meets you in the pit.

(Content: misogyny, gore.  Fun content: I've been perusing my collection of reaction images to help me adequately respond to this tool.)

Storm Front: p. 1--?*
Chapter One: These Chapters Don't Actually Have Titles So I'm Probably Just Going To Make Some Up--This One Will Be Called "The Very Banality And Innocence" Because I Love A Good 'The King In Yellow' Reference

This book is written in first-person, which is a powerful and dangerous tool for any writer to wield--there's no more powerful way to express your protagonist's persona to the reader, but it also raises questions of reliability and relativity, and an irritating narrator is to reader interest what burning windmills are to mad scientists.  If you want to know how badly a first-person narrator can skew your book's contents to readers, ask Vladimir Nabokov to stop spinning in his grave long enough to tell you how he feels about Lolita.  In the first chapter, this won't be too pressing a matter, but in chapter two we're going to very quickly run into some serious questions about how to write flawed characters.

We meet Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden (forgivably over-the-top) in his office, where a new mail carrier is delivering a package and snickering at his door, which reads:
HARRY DRESDEN--Wizard.  Lost Items Found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses, Parties, or Other Entertainment.
In general, recognising that 'love potions' are fucked up is a good way to get me to like you, so I want to open by giving Dresden points for that.  At least, I hope the reason he doesn't do love potions is because he understands they are mind-control drugs specifically optimised to override sexual consent.

The mail carrier is described as "a basketball with arms and legs and a sunburned, balding head", I y'all can bet I am going to be keeping a close gorram watch on how often Butcher makes characters fat when we're not supposed to like them.  He is initially amused, then skeptical, and finally calls Dresden "a nut" before leaving.

Any urban fantasy kind of needs to open by defining its parameters--whether people in general know about magic, what kind of organisation it has in society, whether it's resulted in any major differences from our own Earth history, all that worldbuilding jazz.  Dresden informs us that magic fell out of fashion and awareness in recent centuries because science was more exciting, but "images of exploding space shuttles, crack babies, and a generation of complacent Americans who had allowed the television to raise their children" has pushed people away from "science, the largest religion of the twentieth century" and people are starting to notice magic and psychics and vampires again.

Allow me to provide a visual representation of the way I feel when people call science a religion:

Pictured: a baby harpy eagle who would rather not, today.

Science, performed and organised correctly, is about observation and reproducibility.  It is supposed to be about throwing out old ideas when new evidence contradicts them, about taking nothing for granted, and about always chasing new knowledge.  I don't know the details of every religion in the world, obviously, but I have yet to see one that tries to draw statistical conclusions about the effectiveness and consistency of prayer or invocation.  Religion is pretty big on dogma.  Science isn't supposed to be.  If you're going to call science a religion, I need you to define your terms.  (If Dresden is trying to comment on the way the populace supposedly assumed that the invention of the airplane and the computer meant no one would ever have problems ever again, okay, that can be his opinion, but I have a lot more to say about the way good scientists would approach the discovery of magic as well, which I will spare you all for now only because I need to get to the part where you share my ire towards this jackwagon.)

Anyway.  Dresden is behind on his bills and needs cash soon.  I have some questions about what magic can or cannot do, and why a person with a rare command over supernatural powers works this and only this fetch-quest kind of job.  Like, the absolute #1 question I have about magic in every single setting is 'can magic create food', because if it can, anyone with magical skills is a colossal upset to our normal economy--they don't need to worry about their own food supply and they literally always have access to a vital commodity they can trade to other people.  JK Rowling just declared that magic couldn't conjure food from nothing, which answered that question pretty firmly, except then she footnoted that magic can multiply food, which, in the words of Hermes Conrad, just raises further questions.  I'll allow Butcher more worldbuilding time before I start interrogating his hero's premise too harshly, though.

Dresden is quickly characterised for us as an honest worker; his only job in months was investigating a country singer's house in Missouri and quickly concluding that it was not haunted, unlike the fake psychic whom the singer hired a week later to perform a big fake exorcism.  Dresden describes his own actions as "honest, righteous, and impractical", and I roll my eyes at our hero humblebragging about his heart of gold.  The phone rings with a call from a nervous housewifey kind of person who wants Dresden to find her husband.  Dresden quickly says people aren't his specialty and she should go to the police, which wins him many more points from me than he got by telling me about his honesty dealing with the singer.  She tries to beg off by saying she can't go to anyone else, but Dresden cuts her off before she can hang up.
"I'm sorry, you didn't tell me your name." [....] 
"Call me Monica." 
People who know diddly about wizards don't like to give us their names.  They're convinced that if they give a wizard their name from their own lip it could be used against them. To be fair, they're right.
Dresden will keep doing this in the next couple of chapters: 'silly superstitious people who know nothing are afraid of X, but they absolutely should be afraid of it because it's terrifying and dangerous'.  It takes a specific kind of arrogance to call someone ignorant for believing a true thing even though it sounds fake.  Sigh.

Dresden convinces Monica to come to his office in an hour and explain her situation to him directly.  The moment he sets down the phone, it rings again, and a few lines of dialogue later he declares that the appointment is in forty-five minutes, which would be clever foreshadowing in a book about time anomalies but here just vexes me.  Harry Dresden would have seen nothing wrong with the many ages of Bonzo Madrid.  The second call is from Director of Special Investigations Lieutenant Karrin Murphy of the Chicago police, and she wants Dresden (her preferred magic consultant) at the scene of a double homicide pronto.  She's not worried about Dresden missing his appointment, because she is a gruff cop, and he snappishly agrees to go and be back in time anyway.  Murphy recommends that he not eat lunch on the way.
"How bad are we talking here, Murph?" 
Her voice softened, and that scared me more than any images of gore or violent death could have. Murphy was the original tough girl, and she prided herself on never showing weakness.
I brim with apprehension whenever a female character is described like this, because it strikes me as a guarantee that their tough front will eventually be shattered and they will be left a broken wreck to show that the situation is serious.  Has a male character ever been described like this?  Someone get on that.  (Also, calling an adult woman a 'tough girl' is a blaring orange flag that worse things are ahead.)

Dresden heads out, using the stairs instead of the elevator, half because electronics are unreliable in his presence and half because it's already occurred to him that if there's a murderous wizard on the streets, Dresden himself (the cops' only wizard-on-retainer) is probably a target as well.  Not bad tension-raising for the end of the first chapter.

Chapter Two: This Is It; This Is What I Was Talking About; How Badly Do You Want To Fight Dresden Now

Jim Butcher elects to give us a physical description of his protagonist by explaining all the ways he doesn't look like Murphy, which I kind of like, if only because the duality of it raises Murphy's profile as a secondary protagonist.  Dresden is an incredibly typical brooding gritty hero, tall and lean with dark hair and angular features, while Murphy is short, stocky, blonde and blue-eyed.  Dresden also immediately informs us that Murphy never wears dresses, "though I suspected she'd have muscular, well-shaped legs, like a gymnast", which is obviously not a weird thing to think about your boss.  He goes on with her description, adding her lack of earrings and her makeup-that's-so-good-it-looks-like-she's-not-wearing-makeup, which strikes me as oddly perceptive in a world so choked with men who apparently think women are born wearing a layer of foundation and Pomegranate Extremity lipstick.

Oh my god, Dresden even has a big black duster coat.  I hope Butcher was trying really hard to write to formula here.  Wikipedia seems to suggest that the cliches are intentional.  Anyway.  He also silently gives Murphy kudos for daring to meet his eyes for half a second:
It wasn't really dangerous unless you did it for several seconds, but I was used to anyone who knew I was a wizard making it a point not to glance at my face.
There is only so far I am willing to follow you down the trail of 'I have weird mysterious powers that people are superstitious and intimidated about', Dresden.  You're so powerful that it's dangerous to look into your eyes but you're also borderline unemployed and permanently broke?  I'm going to start needing justifications soon.

They head for the door and Dresden races Murphy so he can open it for her, even though and indeed because he knows it irritates her.  Ah, and here we are:
Maybe my values are outdated, but I come from an old school of thought. I think that men ought to treat women like something other than just shorter, weaker men with breasts. Try and convict me if I'm a bad person for thinking so.
Pictured: MI6 director M is entirely willing to take up Dresden's offer to go to court.

I enjoy treating a woman like a lady, opening doors for her, paying for shared meals, giving flowers--all that sort of thing.


Pictured: Special Agent Dana Scully will tell Dresden when she wants his opinion on women again, which will be never.

I don't even know what to do with this.  "Men ought to treat women like something other than just shorter, weaker men with breasts."  Well, yes, that's true.  That's true for a lot of reasons, starting with women not being shorter, weaker men with breasts.  Faith and fucking begorrah.  I guess we'll start with the purely scientific objection, which is that men being stronger than women on average tells you basically nothing about whether any given man will be stronger than any given woman, because the variations within a gender are vastly greater than the difference in averages.  (Actual studies on this are not the easiest thing to find, especially if you want studies that aren't saturated with biases, bad methods, bad data presentation, and the occasional dash of MRA meninist whining.  Suffice perhaps to compare for yourselves the current world records in that manliest activity, lifting heavy objects: yes, the men's olympic lifting records are higher than the women's, but when comparing similar weight categories, the differences are fairly small and everyone is lifting multiple times their own body weight.  Dresden, bro, do you even lift?)

Next, Dresden, have you considered that maybe the correct way to treat women is LIKE PEOPLE?  Chivalry isn't dead--it's a fricking zombie that refuses to die no matter how many times we bury it because it feeds on the keening wails of men who don't understand why opening doors for women just won't translate into getting laid.  I sometimes open doors for women, I sometimes pay for meals for women, yes, and they do the same for me, and likewise with my friends who are men.  I do these things because they are nice things to do for people I like, not because I'm trying to provide women with the support they need to get over their fundamental deficiencies of ladyness.  So the real question here, Dresden, is why you're only doing nice things for women and not men.  WHY ARE YOU SUCH A MISANDRIST, DRESDEN?


Pictured: Tulio attempts to forget the conversation he just had with a brooding antihero with a heart of chauvinist gold.  Y'all don't even know the kinds of stupid, misogynist screeds I read with my own two eyes in my quest for good data.

In short, locking women into the kitchen to be barefoot and pregnant is unquestionably terrible, but that doesn't mean that putting them on a pedestal to be delicately cared for and pruned or whatever is somehow good.  And I might not be able to convict you for being a sexist creep, Dresden, but I can definitely judge you harshly.

Where were we?  Oh, yeah, double homicide.

Dresden follows Murphy up to the seventh floor to a plush romantic suite that smells of blood.  (The elevator scene is brief, silent, and actually kind of good: "I licked my lips and looked around the interior of the car. My shadow and Murphy's fell on the floor, and almost looked as though they were sprawled there. There was something about it that bothered me, a nagging little instinct that I blew off as a case of nerves. Steady, Harry.")  Murphy leaves him in the first room for a minute, where he examines his surroundings in a vaguely ESP kind of way, making visual observations with his eyes nearly shut, noting champagne, a stray rose petal, and a half-torn black thong under a chair, which Dresden summarises as "Kinky".  Dresden has not read Fifty Shades or he'd save that for the eggbeaters.

We are then introduced to Murphy's skeptical partner, Carmichael.  Dresden rattles off a laundry list of things that are meant to make Carmichael's unattractiveness clear, starting with being fat and bald, and then goes for a swerve with "razor intellect [....] absolutely ruthless at tracking down killers".  I tentatively mark this as the second fat character we've met and the second we're not supposed to like, regardless of the 'razor intellect' remark supposedly showing that Dresden respects him.  They snipe at each other a bit before Dresden comes in to see the bodies.

Now, I realise magic is at play here, but I think it's fair to question how and why it is that these people (who died in the middle of sex) managed to remain frozen in the exact pose they had when an evil wizard literally made their hearts explode like fragmentation piƱatas.  The description "she was astride him, body leaned back, back bowed like a dancer's" sounds to me like she's still more or less sitting upright, no?  Either way, now we're apparently seated in the 'erotic violence' section of the train and I'm prepared to tuck and roll.

Clues, blood, gross stuff, clues, and then Dresden finally runs out of the room to throw up--Carmichael wasn't joking when he said he'd bring a bucket.

Dresden's frantic disgusted thoughts weave in some worldbuilding:
...someone had used magic to do it. They had used magic to wreak harm on another, violating the First Law. The White Council was going to go into collective apoplexy. This hadn't been the act of a malign spirit or a malicious entity, or the attack of one of the many creatures of the Nevernever, like vampires or trolls. This had been the premeditated, deliberate act of a sorcerer, a wizard, a human being able to tap into the fundamental energies of creation and life itself.
So now we know magic does have some kind of organisation ('White Council' isn't the name I would choose, but... okay...) and laws, and we have a sort of charmingly juvenile name, 'Nevernever', for the realm of monsters.  And we're only in the second chapter!  Can you imagine how many posts into a WOT book I'd have to get before we heard about 'the Nevernever, what some call Monsterpalooza, where dwells the Scarytown Crew that you know as the Naz'gool'.

Dresden does tend a little bit that way when he starts talking magic:
"Evocation is the most direct, spectacular, and noisy form of expressed magic, or sorcery. [....] 
"What's the other option?" Murphy asked. 
"Thaumaturgy," I said. "As above, so below. Make something happen on a small scale,and give it the energy to happen on a large scale."
Which isn't bad terminology, really.  'Evocation' literally means 'calling something forth', while 'thaumaturgy' means 'magic-shaping', following the same pattern as 'metallurgy'.  I feel some small spark of hope that this will be the first fantasy series I've seen to correctly use '-mancy' suffixes only to refer to divination magic.

There's more magic worldbuilding as Dresden explains the intimacy of spellcasting and concludes that the killer had to know the victims in order to use this particular magical approach, by having intense personal reasons to want them dead. Oh, great, before this chapter can end on a strong note we have to endure another one of Dresden's pontifications on gender:
Murphy glared at me. "You keep saying 'she,' " she challenged me. "Why the hell do you think that?" 
I gestured toward the room. "Because you can't do something that bad without a whole lot of hate," I said. "Women are better at hating than men. They can focus it better, let it go better. Hell, witches** are just plain meaner than wizards. This feels like feminine vengeance of some kind to me."
Pictured: WHATNAPPLE RETURNS TO AID ME

Are you fucking kidding me, Dresden?  Jim Butcher, what the fuck?  Please tell me you're going for an unreliable narrator here.  Please don't be actually this stupid.  Please let the killer also be a man just to highlight how wrong Dresden is.
"Christ, you are a chauvinist pig, Dresden."
Lieutenant Murphy, you have my sword.

Dresden sort of agrees to try to reverse-engineer the magic, and Murphy banishes Carmichael to fetch her coffee before explaining who the victims are: the woman is a sex worker for a well-regarded company run by a vampire ("vampiress" oh my god shut up Dresden) named Bianca, and the man is the personal bodyguard to Chicago's new king of the mob, Johnny Marcone, a relatively civilised crimelord who's put an end to past bloody clashes with the police and gone all Ankh-Morpork Guild of Thieves on excessive elements in the city, doing a better job of stamping out some violent criminals than the police do.

I had honestly forgotten what it was like to have antagonists with immediate presence who are relevant to their environment and not just, like, abstract concepts and generic monsters.  I bet I'd be enjoying this book less if I hadn't just endured so much WOT.

Dresden has tried to put a disclaimer on his ability to work out how the murder spell worked, but Murphy doesn't buy it.  Dresden weasels out of explaining himself, but notes in the narration that he's got some kind of checkered past with the White Council and he's on double secret wizard probation, bearing something called the Doom of Damocles.  I like the name because it's self-explanatory (danger hanging over his head) without sacrificing some mythic flavour.  Anyway, Dresden's pretty sure he'll get a Doom to the head if word gets out that he's trying to build a murder spell, and apparently sending advance notice ("Hey, I'm tracking a murderer who broke our First Law, please don't kill me") is not an option?  He instead concludes that he'll just need to keep it quiet.  Brilliant.  If this incident is so bad, shouldn't the Council have their own investigators on the case?  Shouldn't they at least be able to spare someone to keep an eye on Dresden while he helps the police?  What are the jurisdictional rules for something like this?

They leave, Dresden's got five minutes to make the fifteen-minute trek back to his office for his appointment with Monica the mystery client, and he's halfway there when he gets surrounded by beefy goons who forcibly invite him to get into a car with Johnny Marcone, and that is where the chapter ends.

Initial impressions: Harry Dresden is a gigantic tool made of smaller tools in a sort of fractal jackwagonry array, but Murphy is a good character, I'm interested in the setting, and within a mere two chapters we've got a web of plot threads that connect us to a mysterious disappearance, a vengeful sorcerer, a vampire madam, organised crime, and the secret council that runs all magic. Rand al'Thor needs more pagetime than that to eat lunch and stare longingly at the hot girl he imagines he's in love with.  I may brim with rage throughout this book, but at least it won't linger.

---

*Thanks to ebook formatting, the pagecount varies wildly depending on how I size my reader screen, so I have little hope of keeping a consistent tally of pages as we proceed.  I'm tempted to use abstract concepts (Storm Front: p. Mangrove to Banyan) but combining that with my suggested chapter titles is just going overboard.

**ALSO I HAVE STRONG OPINIONS ON THE GENDERING OF WITCH AND WIZARD.  That's not how it works.  'Wizard' is just 'intensely wise', following the pattern of 'drunkard' and 'coward'.  'Witch' derives from 'wicce', which has a contested etymology to say the least, but originally 'wicca' was male and 'wicce' was female, and we melded both words when we took them for English.  Female wizards and male witches are 100% legit, not a weird special case, and definitely not gendered terms for identical roles.  (I'll stop here instead of further ranting on the notion that 'warlock' is the male equivalent of witch.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Robots Trying Too Hard: Erika vs Jem and The Holograms, Episode 2

Last time on Jem and the Holograms: EVERYTHING IS ON FIRE

I'm not even being melodramatic; that was how we left things. Oh, and Jerrica and Raymond made a bet on who could make their band more popular in six months--winner gets the company AND A NEW MANSION (the mansion is from a third party who popped out of no where).  And, uh, there's an AI named Synergy that can project holograms from Jerrica's earrings.

They mean it when they say it's truly outrageous.

So the episode starts with EVERYTHING BURNING DOWN and the Holograms pulling orphans from the flames. Rio happens to drive up in his van (there are four cars we see repeatedly, three of them are vans. I suspect they're easier to animate) and comfort Jerrica before she decides it's time to go after that BRAND NEW MANSION and tells Rio to take the girls while they go find Jem to put on a show. Rio does not question this and loads up his van with orphans. The Misfits happen to be driving by and decide to follow Jerrica because.... reasons? This leads to the most hilariously mundane van chase I have ever seen. Just... yup, still driving. We get a few reaction shots of the girls' completely neutral facial expressions as this happens, before Jerrica uses Synergy to disguise their van as a dumpster. The Misfits somehow know who Rio is and decide to follow him instead when they spot him.

How big is this town? There's at least one recording studio and one film producer just giving out mansions, as well as an abandoned drive-in theater that horny teenagers aren't trying to impregnate each other at... yet everyone seems to know each other? Or maybe Rio just knows everyone. I thought Jerrica was the secret spy, but maybe Rio is too. MAYBE THEY'RE A SPY COUPLE.

So the girls get to the drive-in, Synergy is projecting herself on the screen BECAUSE THAT WON'T CATCH ANYONE'S ATTENTION, SUPER SUBTLE, to tell them "ENTER". Synergy. I get it. You take your role as deus ex machina and robo-guide very seriously, but they've been there before, and you were way more subtle leading them here last time. Tone it down. We still know who you are, you don't need to be a giant talking head to get the audiences attention. You're literally a holographic AI who can make people look however the flunch you want. If that doesn't get their attention holo-project spinach in their teeth that they can never get out.

So the girls get ready and... uh... they somehow have instruments even though theirs were smashed last episode? I guess there were backups? Did Daddy Bently think "I know my daughter, the spy, gets into a lot of trouble, so if I am going to set her up to be A SECRET POP SENSATION I should make sure she has some backup gear. It's only the responsible thing to do"? What sort of person was this man? He owns a foster home for girls and a recording company and makes AI's that are basically autotune.

We are launched into the next song, which is presumably being performed outside of the movie producer's house, which just... had people hanging out in front of it. Did they just perform for creepy paparazzi who were stalking this dude? But that is not what we see. What we see is Jem taking Rio on a variety of fantastical adventures, including but not limited to: summoning castles that are filled with magical gardens with questionable perspective shifts, unicorns that can walk into the air and then summon rainbows under them, the ability to breath under water with no apparent cause, and dance in midair. Not walking, ONLY DANCING. Not a bad superpower; I could boogie everywhere if it let me essentially fly.  Or even just be able to gain height. I'm short, that would save me from having to bring a chair or tall person with me everywhere I go.*

Maybe this is how Rio knows Jem? It kinda looks like he proposes to her at one point. He seems to not know Jerrica=Jem so he's cheating on his girlfriend with... his.. girlfriend? Awk.

I fucking love this show.

The Misfits are unhappy that The Holograms are trying to get ahold of the mansion but Mr. Movie Producer Dude (whose name I can't quite catch and will henceforth be named Mr. Mustache) points out "Until there's a winner it's still mine and YES THESE ORPHAN CHILDREN CAN LIVE THERE UNTIL THEY GET ON THEIR FEET. I'll go get the keys."

One of the Misfits is enraged and pushes him into the pool. Another hops on an earth mover and starts tearing up the guys lawn. Jerrica meanwhile is trying to pull Mr. Mustache out of the pool (pond?) but slips and flies hilarious like twelve feet through the air and lands on the ground RIGHT AS THE EARTHMOVER THAT THE MISFIT WAS DRIVING AND ABANDONED IS COMING STRAIGHT AT HER OH NO RIO MUST SAVE THE DAY NOW!!

He runs in, scoops Jerrica up and runs with enough time that she... could have stood up and walked. Is this some sort of foreplay? Do they have an ongoing damsel in distress/white knight roleplay scenario going on? Is this a weird sex thing? HOW OLD ARE THEY?

Aja, being the most useful of The Holograms, DIVES ONTO THE STILL MOVING EARTHMOVER, snatches the key, and grumbles about needing to throttle Roxy. (Apparently that's the name of the Misfit who did it but honestly they're sort of a hive mind thing to me. They at least once all talk in unison but only one voice comes out.) No biggie. ANOTHER TUESDAY. Not like I was dragging orphans out of a fire earlier or anything and haven't really slept in 24 hours.

Mr. Stache promises Jerrica/Jem to help the orphans in any way he can, but if the Misfits win, well, they're all SOL.

Another scene of The Misfits being scolded for engaging in DEEPLY ILLEGAL BEHAVIOR and being told they're lucky there's no one suing them. Which is true. Because they've nearly killed like six people this week. Raymond tells them to please stop TRYING TO FUCKING KILL PEOPLE and chases them out of his office. They then trash his waiting room. How are they not fired and in jail? WHY IS THERE NO LAW ENFORCEMENT IN THIS TOWN? IS IT SO SMALL THAT IT ONLY HAS A REALLY INTENSE MUSIC INDUSTRY AND NOTHING ELSE?

Cut to the girls happily settling into their new ("temporary") home which is totally sweet (pinball machines EVERYWHERE) and--oh yeah, The Holograms have a photo shoot! The photo shoot is also a musical number where Shana is conveniently shoved behind the others on the drums out of sight. You know, Shana, the only black character? Yeah.

How do you do makeup on Jem? She's wearing a hologram; does Synergy just... adjust the hologram to match the makeup being applied? While this is happening, The Misfits pay one of the kids thirty bucks to get in, and Zipper, the guy Raymond hired to try and scare the girls last time, is hired again. REALLY RAYMOND? DO YOU NOT KNOW ANY OTHER LOWLIFES? I bet the Misfits do, just ask them. I'm sure they have a few excellent references to give.

So Zipper goes AND PLANTS A FUCKING BOMB IN THE HOUSE. Just... shoves it under a couch cushion. It is not remotely hidden. This guy is so bad at his job BUT WHERE DID HE EVEN GET THIS BOMB? Did he make it? Are timed bombs easily acquired around here? So this town's industries are music and... explosives? This actually isn't sounding like a terrible place to live.

So Raymond just happens to be driving by and sees The Misfits have snuck onto the grounds and yells for them to get out of there because there's a bomb. Cue explosion, which damages a wing of the house and no one is hurt. Suddenly there are media everywhere and Raymond claims that someone said they planted the bomb to get The Misfits. Mr. Stache is all "No way he's so full of shit his eyes are brown you girls should stay 5evar" AND THEN A COUNTESS TURNS UP?! Also apparently Rio is their road manager? When did that happen? Either way the Countess is all "u should totes play my party" as she tries to eyefuck Stache who is all "Er, yeah, they will--I mean, er... ugh. We will." She then snubs The Misfits on her way out to go chill on her yacht and have young, nubile, oiled boys feed her grapes and fan her with palm leaves as she awaits her guests.

The Holograms get there by a smaller boat, rather than... wait, did this yacht not dock for people to board for this party? Okay... So the girls get there and are introduced to some VJ. who then introduces them to like the only black guy at the party (a music video director). Jem starts trying to play matchmaker with Shana because, hey, you're black... he's black... you should touch junk! He looks a lot older than the girls who are still living in a group home, like, he's able to grow an entire, thick mustache. He also looks a bit like Lando Calrissian. So Shana admits yeah, we have no money or backers and Lando is all "that's alright sweet thang I can hook you up" and starts trying to kiss her (DUDE YOU'RE LIKE 40 NO) while Jem is hitting on Rio who is pining after Jerrica.

"Rio, do you like me?"
"I hardly know you! And you won't tell me who you really are!"

He's got a point Jem. She says maybe she should and they're about to kiss. Rio, you're bad at this.

They are all naturally interrupted by The Misfits. According to their music video, they manage to turn things into a full out pie fight and don't nearly kill anyone, but I am skeptical because they have spent most of their time nearly killing people. Wait, no, I take it back. They get onto the control deck and promptly initiate RAMMING SPEED at a near by giant-ass military ship of some sort. DOES THIS MEAN CERTAIN DOOM FOR OUR HEROES? Lol no. BUT TUNE IN NEXT WEEK TO FIND OUT!!!!!11!!eleventy!!!!


*My husband and Will are both over 6" for a reason. They know I'm only using them to reach things.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

This is Totally Outrageous: Erika vs Jem and The Holograms episode 1

Does anyone else have to use the disclaimer "I remember liking this thing, but I watched it a long time ago so who knows?" because I have to do that. A lot. I'm going to be very honest with you. I have a terrible memory. I usually have to get people to jar my memory on movies I've seen more than a year ago. So it should be no shock that I remember very little about Jem and the Holograms, a show I remember watching as a little kid. I remember that they're totally outrageous, I'm pretty sure there's a keytar and some Hanna Montana identity switching going on, and as I kid I freaking loved it. That.... That's about it. I remember questioning why protagonists were always blond women and Jem and the holograms being one that really made me question that, which is strange because I also remember at least one of the Holograms is black.

So let's all go on a journey together to see how the bounty of Netflix may potentially traumatize me. I mean, Netflix thinks I'll love it (5 entire stars!) but their algorithm is questionable at best.

Episode 1. Titled, creatively, The Beginning. It opens with the girls pulling up to some red carpet event with excited fans chanting "Jem" and then one by one introduces us to the girls. First out of the car is Aja, whose name we know instantly because the crowd starts to chant it. She smiles but does nothing exciting, so I assume she's more subdued or shy. Next up Shana, and again, crowd starts to chant her name. She poses and fluffs her magnificent afro (if I am incorrect in calling it an afro someone please correct me) and her pose screams "confidence" to me. She and Aja then pull out Kimber, who does a flip and is met with the same excitement. I'm assuming she's the spunky one? I am pointing this out because it's actually kind of brilliant. Each girl poses in different ways as they get out of the car which tells us a little about them as well as their names, and since they're chanted small kids have a chance at remembering them.

Lastly Jem gets out of the car, the crowd loses their collective shit, microphones of questionable physical possibility hover around the frame as she's pelted with questions about who she really is, is there another album, how does she like being famous. There is then a narrated line of "I remember how it all began. With the unexpected death of my father" and then BAM we're in a cemetery and it's raining and what is going on. This tone change was so sudden and dramatic that I'm kind of losing it over here. This is amazing.

We get about a three second scene of her by her Father's grave where a man named Eric Raymond stops to check with Jerrica (also establishing the dual identity of Jem) to ask if there's anything she needs and to tell her he's there if she needs him. Her--I'm assuming boyfriend? I think Rio is her boyfriend, I don't remember her having a brother--tells him off because she has all the help she needs.


How is that a remotely appropriate response to someone trying to offer your (I'm like 90% sure girlfriend) comfort or help as she is burying her father. There is no mention of her mother, so I can only assume Jerrica was in fact hatched from an egg her Dad found.

Jem, rather than asking Rio what the shit, apologizes FOR him as Rio drags her off angrily, and insists he means well to Raymond.

I do not like Rio.

Jerrica then tells us that her Father left her two inheritances: she inherits a foster home for girls and a record company. Both called Starlight. Her Dad either let her name everything as a child, had a strange sense of branding, or just hated thinking up names. Either way, the foster house needs money so Jerrica is off to do what her Dad did, take money from the record company! That... seems like it might have some questionable tax laws. I mean, there are donations, but it sounds kind of like he didn't donate it, just... took it.

She dodges past the security guard (rather than... wait seven seconds for him to call ahead to Raymond, or tell him who she is) because... I have no idea how old Jem is supposed to be. She seems to have a lot of agency, so I'm assuming she's not a teenager, but she's certainly acting like one. I assume all this is to establish "hey, Raymond is probably a villain messing with her dad's company and he replaced the nice security guard with this doody head" but maybe it's to show off Jerrica's infiltration skills and to hint that she might SECRETLY BE A SPY.

Slips past the new secretary, Raymond keeps calling her "darling", tells her she's just a kid (HOW OLD IS SHE WHAT THE WHAT) and insists that this is a business and he shall MAKE IT THE MOST POWERFUL RECORD COMPANY EVAR!!! And introduces his new band, The Mistfits, who ride in on fucking guitar bikes.

Pictured: The three women of the band "The Misfits" on fucking guitar motorcycles.

This is everything I have ever wanted out of life and more. Raymond has no issue with his new weirdly similar-looking girl band having apparently driven their guitar motorcycles into his office building, taken them up the elevator, and now into his office. Jerrica however is deeply offended to see her Father's office misused this way and tells them to stop ripping up the carpets yo. This leads to them laughing at her because NO ONE TELLS THE MISFITS WHAT TO DO (she just told them she owns half the company, so I have questions) before launching into a music video number where they, through a series of carnival games, throw Jerrica all over the place and I have so many questions. How are they summoning these? Do the bikes only fly during musical montages? Can they always fly? Why would you ever go anywhere that wasn't flying if that was an option?

Jerrica is now angry and starts pulling some "How dare you use MY FATHER'S COMPANY to promote this trash?!" which, naturally, the Misfits are unhappy about. I'd be pissed if someone called me trash right after I performed a whole musical number for them, complete with some weird special effects. Raymond just says "Well there's nothing you can do so neener" and she storms off.

Again, I have questions. As has been said repeatedly in this like, two minute scene, Jerrica owns half the company. Couldn't she just...go to a board meeting, get like one person on her side and outvote him? Or if she owns half the company, that means she gets half the profits--if she's so desperate for money for this foster home, why not just... take it out of the presumably huge chunks of cash she's getting from the company? Maybe it's locked and she can't access it until she turns a certain age? HOW OLD IS SHE?

It doesn't matter. Nothing matters. She gets hologram earrings and and AI named Synergy brings her to her Father's secret underground music base to show her all the clothes and car and musical gear he left for her (as well as a super high tech holographic music synth AI). Why did he hide this? Is this all tax evasion? Either way, the girls realize what they must do. Crash the battle of the bands and DEFEAT THE MISFITS. THEY MAY HAVE MAGIC HOVER GUITAR BIKES BUT WE HAVE HOLOGRAMS YO. Holograms that Jerrica's earrings can project from anywhere.

So they crash the battle of the bands. Raymond is OUTRAGED THIS CONTEST IS INVITE ONLY and Jem says "But she invited us" and with the help of her holo-earrings is then Jerrica. A deal is struck. If in six months if Jerrica can make Jem more popular than the Misfits, she gets the company. If the Misfits are more popular, she does. She takes the challenge and then out of nowhere some guy is all "Oh hey, let me get in on this. Winner gets a movie deal AND THIS SWEET MANSION."  No really. He legit offers them a mansion the same way Bob Parker says "A NEW CAR".  It's amazing.

I just--HOW OLD IS JERRICA CAN SHE LEGALLY MAKE THIS SORT OF DEAL WHY IS THERE NO PAPER WORK INVOLVED THIS IS ALL VERY QUESTIONABLE AND I THINK JERRICA NEEDS A LAWYER.

The Misfits then straight up steal their instruments, and rather than press charges, or call the cops, the girls all pile into their car and chase the van. The Misfits see this and their van mysteriously has no back door and is just... open, and start heaving their stuff. This causes the Holograms to swerve and get hung up on a cliff.

The solution? To use Synergy to project Jem to get Rio's attention.

?????

Okay. I mean, flagging for help makes sense, but, how does Rio know who Jem is? He wasn't at the battle of the bands that we saw. Did the girls on their way out stop to introduce them to his own girlfriend in disguise? Either way, it all goes well and there's some media coverage about Rio being a good dude and the girls being a band.

So, they don't call the cops on the Misfits FOR NEARLY KILLING THEM or smashing their instruments. Something Raymond points out when he's annoyed. The Misfits, like well adjusted musicians, respond to this with a song called Winning Is Everything. I'm going to be honest, the three songs we've gotten so far? They're not good. They're super repetitive. I vaguely recall not loving them as a kid either. I will admit that the singers aren't bad (Jem is actually pretty good) but it's not enough to save them.

So Raymond starts to make preparations to win the company. Like using his superior budget and connections to book the Misfits on tours, getting TV and radio play--hah, just kidding, he hires someone to break into Starlight house to scare Jerrica into being non-functional. The girls find him robbing them, he dashes off, knocks a lantern over (they currently have no power) AND OH NO THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE.

That's the end of the episode. It ends with TO BE CONTINUED

I did not realize how much I miss 90s cartoons until today. I'm kind of loving how over the top this is and hoping the song writing gets better. I've got nothing critical or insightful to say here. The group of girls is diverse (even if they all have the same body shape) and seem to have agency? Rio is around to help a lot but generally the girls seem to be doing as much or more than he is, as well as being the ones to parent the younger girls in Starlight House. It's hard to think of anything in depth to say when all you can think is "THOSE ARE FUCKING GUITAR BIKES OH MY GOD THIS IS AMAZING".

I do have some questions though. Are there no police in this world? Are they just really ineffective? How did no one ever accidentally lean on that wall to find out it was fake and find Jerrica's dad's secret holo-base? Why did her dad keep Synergy a secret from his business partner and Jerrica, but arrange for it to hunt her down after he died? Will we ever find out about the secret spy training she has, or will it just be alluded to over and over again? Where are all the lawyers in this world? What was this house made of that it caught fire so quickly? If Jerrica can project holograms, can she send Jem to go call for help? Why do we park in driveways and drive on parkways?

TUNE IN NEXT TIME FOR ALL THESE ANSWERS AND MORE!*

*I make no promises to answer any of these questions but come back next time anyways because it makes me feel loved.