Mini-review: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”

By p1xer on

By p1xer on

I finally caught up with the rest of the world and saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier yesterday. I have a mess of notes I jotted down during the credits, in the vain hope that I might write a full review, but I have two posts in my drafts folder I really want to finish, plus at least two just-for-fun writing projects that I’m actually excited about, so that full review may never materialize.

I do want to touch briefly on the movie’s central ideological theme, though, before I get too distracted. Spoilers ahoy!

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10 Minutes (Approximately) of Obscure Books 2

More obscure books from my library! I managed to cut it down to about 11:30, but only by losing a long rant on Jerry Spinelli’s “Stargirl.”

Books under discussion:
-Jerry Spinelli’s “Maniac Magee” and “Wringer”
-Peg Kheret’s “Sisters, Long Ago”
-Zilpha Keatly Snyder’s “The Egypt Game”
-Jean Craighead George’s “Who Really Killed Cock Robin?”
-Monica Hughes’ “Invitation to the Game”
-William Sleator’s “Interstellar Pig” and “The Boy Who Reversed Himself”

Edit: Amusing addendum! While going through my acting books I discovered that Peg Kheret wrote one of my favorite books of audition monologues for young actors, so while I kind of dis-recommend “Sisters, Long Ago,” Ms. Kheret herself is a fine author.

But he seemed so nice: Hannibal, Little Red, and the stories we tell

I think sometimes I underestimate the value of stories. Don’t get me wrong: I am always going to be on the front lines saying that stories have an enormous effect on culture, on our values, on our psychology. It’s just that I think I, personally, have tended to discount the effect stories have had on me and my development. When I first started thinking about a post about stories, I was going to write about Cinderella and Snow White and Savitri and the anxiety-inducing myth of perfection. And that’s a post I’ll probably write one day!

The story on my mind right now, though, is Little Red Riding Hood.

As many of my friends have been forced to hear over the last couple months, I am an enormous fan of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter books and movies. All two of them. Boy, isn’t it a shame he didn’t write more about what Lecter got up to after escaping? I’m sure it wouldn’t have gone off the rails into creepy Freudian shenanigans and death by Moray eel at all. But I think we’re all glad he didn’t write some kind of phoned-in prequel giving Lecter a bizarre excuse for being a monster, just because Dino de Laurentiis wanted to milk the franchise for every penny it was worth.

Even if he had, we’d still have the exquisite Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, and any insanity that crept into the franchise later in its life couldn’t change the fact that those are excellent books and Silence is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. I just love Will Graham and Clarice Starling, okay? Especially Clarice. Talk about an awesome role model for a young woman.

Diminutive ladies kicking ass and taking names: Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) doesn't care that she's shorter than you.

Diminutive ladies kicking ass and taking names: Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) doesn’t care that she’s shorter than you.

(Beyond this Read More I’m going to be talking about content from and spoilers for NBC’s Hannibal, including the season finale, so consider yourself warned.)

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On critically, creatively writing

I am, for the first time in some years, working on a giant creative piece — editing and revising and rewriting the novel I wrote in November for NaNoWriMo — and at the same time I’ve been having a lot of interesting conversations with friends lately about popular media, representation, and criticism.

I spent my time at school primarily learning to be a critic, by which I mean I learned to analyze, critique, and dissect texts. (“Texts” being a term that here means all kinds of media, not just written work; TV shows, movies, comic books, paintings, etc all count as “texts.”) One of my particular areas of interest was how the content we create and consume both reflects and shapes the cultures we live in. What did Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar say about the England he was living and writing in? What do the Marvel movies say about the America/global community we live in now? How do the ways we represent underprivileged groups — women, ethnic minorities, queer people — affect the way those groups are perceived in everyday life? And now that I’m out of school, I still love discussing those kinds of issues. Watching Battlestar Galactica with my roommates, we speculate about how the show is commenting on the Iraq war and laud its diverse cast; rereading or rewatching J.R.R. Tolkien, we bemoan and analyze the lack of female characters and characters who aren’t white and ponder on how The Hobbit‘s new adaptation parallels The Lord of the Rings.

That’s all me thinking with my academic hat on. When I sit down to write, I’m putting on my writer’s hat — but I find, more and more, that the academic hat never entirely goes away. Which sometimes makes creative writing a rather more complicated endeavor.

The last big creative piece that I actually finished was Bad Hamlet, a play co-written with the wonderfully talented Lillian DeRitter. That play was explicitly — and perhaps overly — academic in tone. (Just now, discussing it with some friends who have read the script, we noted that while it didn’t exactly have a plot, it did have an order, in the same way that an academic paper has an order. You have to present ideas A and B to prove ideas C and D and reach conclusion X.) We set out to tackle head-on issues of feminism, sexuality, and representation with that play, and I like to think we succeeded at least once or twice. (Although if I were rewriting that play now, I would take one friend’s suggestion and have a character stand up in the audience and demand “Why aren’t there no black Hamlets!” What could have been . . .)

What I’m working on now is a novel involving Sherlock Holmes, Alice of Alice in Wonderland, with a sprinkling of H.P. Lovecraft-inspired tentacular horrors from the cthonic world to keep things interesting. That’s three source materials that are notably short on positive depictions of underprivileged groups: Conan Doyle’s works are dominated by white men; Wonderland and Looking Glass land has markedly few women in spite of the main character being a little girl; and Lovecraft’s views on race are . . . uh . . . gross.

So I find myself trying to write a compelling, interesting, action-packed story with compelling characters and a consistent universe and all the stuff that a good book should have — which is hard enough to begin with — and simultaneously find myself peering over my own shoulder. “Why aren’t more of your characters female?” Academic Me asks Writer Me. “Why are they all going to be played by white actors when the movie adaptation comes around? Isn’t that representation of mental illness rather problematic? Where are the trans* characters, the gay characters, the disabled characters?”

“Academic Me,” replies Writer Me, “I have two whole chapters where nothing happens that I need to rewrite so my characters can get from point A to point B without losing the readers’ interest! I think that’s a little more pressing than your inclusion. And how am I supposed to include all those people without falling into tokenism?”

“You’re the creative one,” says Academic Me with a shrug. “I’m just here to make sure The Mary Sue likes your stuff.”

Can it be done? Can a single novel with two main characters be inclusive of all these different groups, or is it better to focus on making this book just a solid, compelling story and worry about writing a diverse, inclusive cast when I write a hit TV series that can have an ensemble cast?