Anita Sarkeesian, the Damsel in Distress and why I’m embarrassed to play video-games

The other day, I was talking on the phone with a girl I had spoken with for a while. She had gotten off work and wanted to talk before going to bed and I was happy to hear from her.

“So, what are you doing?” she asked me.

“I’m messing around on the internet,” I said.

Except, I wasn’t. I was playing Far Cry 3.

I lied because I was ashamed. I don’t like being a white, heterosexual male gamer because as a group, we seem pretty awful. We act like we’re victims because we’re fans of a medium that caters to our basest instincts and when someone calls us on our generally misogynistic, insular shit, we get all up in arms and it’s terrible.

Anita_Sarkeesian_smilingFew people have stirred up a shit-storm amongst the gaming community as much as the late, great Roger Ebert and Anita Sarkeesian, the host of Feminist Frequency’s fascinating “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” web-series, hosted on YouTube.

I think Sarkeesian scares gamers because she’s a woman and that hurts more than anything else. As I previously stated, gamers much like comic book fans, are an insular group, one dedicated to a very specific fandom which attracts a very specific fan and not one that’s welcoming to people who are willing to join or comment on the fandom itself.

I wish it wasn’t the case because Sarkeesian has a lot of interesting things to say in the first two parts of the “Damsel in Distress” series so far. The focus of both parts is more on the proliferation of the trend and less on reasoning behind said trends. There’s no stopping either of the tropes because they’re so embedded into our culture and pop appetites. It seems as if Sarkeesian realizes this and she more than anything else hopes that developers realize the power their products can have to change perceptions of women in pop culture. She also brings up the notable and incredibly interesting issue of the trope speaking just as much to the motivation of male characters as it does to the objectification of females, with characters such as Max Payne in “Max Payne 3” and Kratos in the “God of War” series are motivated less by the rescue of the women than in reclaiming their manhood and regaining their traditionally prescribed masculinity.

But not everyone seems to want to listen. Before the first entry of the series was published some dick made a disgusting flash game about viciously beating Sarkeesian and the abuse didn’t stop there. Her previous video on the trope attracted an unbelievable amount of replies, from nebbish, angry assholes who describe her as having “eyes that make you want to punch her in the face,”to some guy who loves taking quotes out of context and misses all the subtlety, to noted “that guy in your freshman dorm who’s never showered or fucking shut up since we moved in” male rights ass-hole and patronizing YouTube personality, The Amazing Atheist. It was all embarrassing but inevitable and I was ready to expect the worst when her next entry dropped.

It went worse than expected. The new video, released May 28 and embedded at the top of this post, was briefly taken down by YouTube after it was repeatedly flagged by harassers. It’s been brought, thankfully, back but the criticism hasn’t stopped. Gawker’s video-game arm, Kotaku, has hosted one of the liveliest, most ridiculous debates of Sarkeesian’s work and is the host of some of the most gruesome misogyny I’ve seen on the site.

Picture 2 Picture 4There’s a defensiveness to many of the comments that isn’t uncommon when this sort of debate occurs and it’s something we’ve seen before in things such as the “Fake Nerd Girl” and cosplay discussions several months ago.

I don’t have a problem with people disagreeing with Sarkeesian, feminists or any critic of a work. That’s a person’s right. I was a little uncomfortable with the way she seemed to target Shigeru Miyamoto for Nintendo’s early use of the damsel in distress trope but I understood her point, accepted her view and didn’t feel the need to attack her point or claim she was trying to destroy my precious toys.

Picture 1I’ve asked far too many people far too many times to be more accepting of new people into video game and comic book fandom. I don’t want to do that anymore. I don’t want to ask people to consider their privileges, their prejudices and their preconceived notions of gender. I’m sick of doing that. I’ve done it for too fucking long. I just want people to listen, to think and to be respectful, to consider the perspective of someone who may have a different opinion or experience of themselves. Don’t attack, don’t redefine the argument, don’t question intentions, just consider. And act like a fucking human.

Episode 36: “I, Mudd” and Kirk shows off what he learned in Theater 101

I hate Harry Mudd. He isn’t a character that I love to hate, its not a character that I’m supposed to hate and it isn’t that I don’t get him. The fact is that Mudd is such an obnoxious relic and his previous appearance is one of the worst episodes of TOS and definitely the worst episode of the first season.

I didn’t want to watch “I, Mudd,” the scheming turd’s return to the show before his single appearance in the animated series. I knew I was in for another episode of moustasche twirling villainy, really off-putting sexual politics and what I have to assume was intended to be humor. On pretty much all parts, I was right but here, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed. Well, until the final half hour.

After an Android takes over the Enterprise in a sequence that is pretty much the writers just shrugging, Kirk, Spock, Bones, Uhura and Chekov are dragged down to a Class K planet filled with androids. There, Mudd has escaped from his imprisonment, designed a bunch of foxy female androids for dubious purposes and rules in what appears to be a total lack of authority. To make things real awkward and to foreshadow the episode’s conclusion really clearly, he’s even built an android that looks like his abandoned wife for his amusement.

Mudd’s lured Kirk down to the planet in an attempt to steal the ship and finally escape the planet but the androids have other plans. They begin to abandon Mudd on the planet and warp up on the Enterprise, planning to study humanity. Mudd, Kirk and company slowly come up with a plan to get off the planet by, you guessed it, talking the androids into realizing that their actions are illogical.

Up to here, I kind of liked “I, Mudd.” This is a really traditional episode of TOS, with lots of bright colors, really goofy set designs, girls in revealing outfits and hammy overacting. I love this sort of stuff and its what makes Kirk’s time at the helm so memorable and iconic. Sure, Mudd’s unidentifiable accent fades in and out and changes randomly at times but its all something you can ignore.

That all changes as the crew figures out how to breakout. They decide to go with the sort of disreputable idea that humans cannot be happy without being free and decide that the only way to beat out the androids is to show the power of imagination and the way that it can trump logic. It doesn’t make a ton of sense when you think about it and the frolicking and play acting they do in an attempt to overload the Norman model is so confusing, surreal and strange that its hard to figure out how it could possibly do anything.

The final act pretty much feels like watching the worst college improv troupe you can imagine. There’s hand slapping as objects are invisible objects are handed off, a terribly timed baseball routine and entirely too much ridiculous Shakespearean-meets-“The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” style deaths to be anything more than the lowest of camp. Its embarrassing and downright painful to watch and what hurts the most is seeing it work in beating back the androids.

Much better is the way that Spock deals with the situation. A simple turn of phrase is all it takes to confuse a pair of androids and incapacitate them, allowing his compatriots to take down the leader. Its artful and smart and exactly what we want to see from Spock.

Much like Mudd’s first appearance, the episode tries to end with a really strong joke and once again, I don’t really know what they were going for. In “I, Mudd,” the rogue is left on the planet to be berated by his android-wives until he can escape. I understand why this is supposed to be funny and ridiculously sexist but I don’t really understand why the writers thought we would think it to be funny. Are we supposed to view Mudd as a cad and pervert who deserves to be berated? Are we supposed to think he’s cheated on his wife by fucking a couple hundred robots? Are we supposed to think its funny just because he was outsmarted by Kirk? Despite all of my complaints, Mudd has never been developed enough as a character, much less a villain, that I feel like he deserves any sort of punishment for his actions.

“I, Mudd” is a lot of what I like about the original run of Star Trek and a lot of what I can’t stand. Its rife with awkward sexual politics, poorly thought out villains and not particularly satisfying resolutions but it has all the color, design and charm that I love. By no means is it a classic, but its a fair entry in a series that always is fun to watch.

Random Thoughts

They actually used  twins for most of the duplicated robots in this episode. That’s neat.

Sulu’s here for all of 30 seconds. I guess the writers wanted more Yakov Smirnov style jokes about Russians.

Shatner does the comedy in this episode particularly well. The scene where everyone says that things aren’t looking good is a lot of fun.

Next Up: “Metamorphosis” teaches us everything we ever wanted to know but were too afraid to ask about the guy who created the warp drive.

Episode 5- “Mudd’s Women” and inconsistencies, illogical steps and breaking my arm beating this dead horse.

Sometimes, I try to be clever and write up an intro paragraph that shows that I appreciate the medium of television and have a wide knowledge of different programs. This is not one of those paragraphs. And like this paragraph, there is nothing clever about “Mudd’s Women.”
That’s not quite right, there’s nothing redeeming about “Mudd’s Women.” Well, that’s not quite right either. “Mudd’s Women” is just fucked up. We’ll get into it, but for now, just kind of hold on.
Kirk and company spot a ship flying into an asteroid field and pursue it, burning out their lithium crystals in their attempt to cover the craft while they beam their crew aboard. What they get is a man who is soon revealed to be Harry Mudd, a con man who’s rap sheet seems to mostly consist of smuggling and driving without a space license, and a trio of beautiful women that knock McCoy and Scotty on their asses.

Hot enough to make characters forget who the fuck they're playing.

This is a good time to get into the first main problem of the episode, which leads to all of the problems of the episode. Here we go:

1) The Tone.
Mudd comes over with the most ridiculous accent and a moustache-twirling persona that was outdated and hoary in 1964. There’s a lot of odd back and forth banter early on and it is pretty clear that “Mudd’s Women” is supposed to be a little light hearted. We’re supposed to giggle when McCoy seizes up and just babbles or when the computer tells us at the trial that Scotty is sweating and sporting a chubby. It’s supposed to be funny when Mudd puts gays and Vulcans into the same camp. That’s supposed to be comedy. I guess.
I’m not trying to trot out an argument that this is offensive in any way (yet), but it plays really weird, and doesn’t really help that Shatner just sounds fucking drunk. Scotty and Kirk make comments about Mudd being a “jackass” and it is definitely supposed to be light hearted and funny, but it doesn’t feel right out of the all business Scotty and the paternalistic perpetually hammy Shatner. Some of it does work. Spock gets some really good reaction shots, but past that, it’s all really muddled.

2) The Plot
I have no idea what the driving plot of the episode is really supposed to be. It is probably Kirk retrieving the lithium crystals from Rigel XII, but Mudd is the one pushing the plot forward, but nothing he says makes any fucking sense. After the trial, he is sitting with the girls and the guards and he makes a vague comment about taking over the Enterprise. There’s not a lot of thought behind it, because it mostly seems like he’s going to use the girls to do it but that doesn’t make sense. Also, the Enterprise is going to crash without those crystals and Mudd wouldn’t have the girls or the money to get crystals then. He would just die.

It's ok. He doesn't know what he's trying to do either.

So, Mudd gives up on that and then just decides to trade the girls to the miners in exchange for the crystals and him getting away for his crimes which seems reasonable enough except for him getting stuck on a desolate mining planet, but whatever, fuck it. So he trades off the girls, things go to shit, and he stays with the Enterprise and gets fucked over at the end, I guess. I don’t get the game plan, but whatever, fuck it.

3) The Characters
I know that it’s a pretty hoary television cliché that there will be an episode where all the characters are seduced and act oddly. It just happens, and if you’re not prepared for some forced awkward humor, then it’s going to be pretty painful. The problem is that the story doesn’t do McCoy or Scotty any favors as far as turning them both into insufferable horn-dogs.
I know that McCoy is a pretty humanistic guy. He is driven strongly by emotion and is used as a foil for the logical Spock. No part of being emotional though ended up with him shirking duty or just becoming an ignorant lout after coming in contact with a foxy lady. He just stumbles around the bridge mooning over the one in green and talking about how weird the machines are, but not really looking into it beyond “huh, that was strange.” He wonders, mostly correctly, if the women area actually any prettier than normal women, but it still seems weird out of the man who runs extensive tests on everything and proves to have enough will power that if he wanted to know the truth, he would just make one of the women take a medical test.
Much the same can be said for Scotty, although we don’t really know him as well, beyond the fact that he’s all business, but he also falls hard for the girls and becomes a totally different character, not a character changed by something new that he has encountered.
The problem with pulling the seduction device in an episode like this is that writers have to make sure that the characters actions are believable after they have been affected. This goes for all emotion-changers, but seduction is a big one. Think about the episode of “The X-Files” called “First Person Shooter.” Not a great one, but it features a scene where Mulder, Scully and the Lone Gunmen talk to a stripper whose likeness is killing people in a video game. Mulder is clearly entranced and he flirts a little, but he gets some answers and leaves. The Lone Gunmen are smitten, particularly the lovelorn Frohike. It’s perfect for the characters, because this is what we know they are going to do. They’re affected but they’re still themselves. In “Mudd’s Women,” it’s like they read the script and then just played totally different characters.

4) Sexual Politics, Gender Roles and Expectations
It’s all really fucked up in classic “Star Trek” fashion, but it feels even worse than normal due to the attempted theme of the episode (we’re getting to it). All of the girls seem really excited to be wed to a man, and they can’t wait to meet up with these lonely miners, or alternatively, Captain Kirk. All of the problems will go away, only they can meet up with a random guy they’ve never met, who has been independent for years and whose only interest in a woman is someone to have sex with. Yeah, it’s every girl’s dream.
Of course, the miners on Rigel XII are no better. It seems like they’ve all been taking lessons from Frank Reynolds and decided they need a bang-maid, just minus the maid part, or something (once again, we’re getting to it).

Not a bang-maid, but the Snail is just as gross. Now, stop mashing it.

“Let’s dance,” coos one of the girls and the lusty dancing commences. Of course their only interest is sex, but they still treat the girl’s as just willing vessels rather than people. Even when one of the miners rescues Eve, he is still more likely to yell that he didn’t touch her and that she is a bitch for playing fancy space card games. Then, naturally, he’s going to claim that he didn’t touch her, because he totally wasn’t solely interested in sex earlier or ‘nothin, but this sort of rolls into my next problem with this episode which is…

5) What’s the fucking point?
So, the big “more you know” minute comes at the end of the episode as Kirk and Mudd descend to the cabin to confront the head miner and Eve about getting the crystals and exposing Eve for not actually being beautiful and that’s when I thought we would get the big reveal, that Rodenberry would pull away the curtain and say that women can do whatever they want. And it even looks like that’s what direction it’s going for. Eve claims that she doesn’t need to take the pill and that she can do whatever she wants and I’m so fucking proud for the show doing this. I’m ready to write about how “Star Trek” had redeemed itself and given women a role that wasn’t just damsel in distress or spurned lover or salt vampire, but no, fuck no. Eve takes the placebo and becomes beautiful, but she’s not actually beautiful? That part didn’t make sense. Apparently, if you think that you think you are beautiful, then you’re beautiful and a heartwarming lesson is learned by all.
I sighed a breath of dejection. It didn’t escape the cancerous gender politics, but it’s better than normal, but that wasn’t fucking enough and that’s when the whole thing really blows up. Eve plops into the miner’s lap and asks him if he wants a wife who would do everything he wants, not just the dirty sexy parts. She asks him if he wants the maid part of the bangmaid. She doesn’t want to be a partner, a companion or a friend. She wants to do his will, but not his sexual will. Yeah, ew gross. She’ll be his slave, but not like that. Of course, he begrudgingly accepts, Kirk and Mudd make a terrible joke and it’s over, with everyone learning another totally indecipherable real lesson or something. Never mind, fuck it.

So, is there anything redeeming about this? Yeah, I guess. Spock is in top form, and it’s nice to see him not transform into a mindless zombie as soon as the women beam in. Kirk is pretty subdued for most of it, but that’s partially because he looks pretty understated in front of the ham dinner that is Harry Mudd. Riley isn’t in this episode, so that’s a plus. Also, Uhura doesn’t sing and Rand isn’t put into danger by a big bad man.
The only thing I can say is that the episode is almost too weird to take at face value. Maybe they were experimenting in the first season while they still had room to find they’re face, but that really doesn’t excuse all the meandering and weirdness of the episode. Maybe I’m taking Mudd way too seriously and should just embrace the goofiness of the character. However, the main problems are still there. “Mudd’s Women” is the first truly resounding failure of the series, but the glimmers of promise in the show are still enough to bring me back again.

Random Notes

I spent an absurd amount of my notes trying to figure out if Mudd’s neck hair was in fact oddly groomed neck hair or just really, really oddly groomed chest hair.

Best line of the episode: “I don’t like you, and I’m not very happy with myself either.” Thanks, Eve for speaking your thoughts directly to the camera, being a weak woman and not standing up for yourself.

I had a variety of theories going as to what was going on with the women throwing off the scanner and seducing everyone, with the best theory being, and I quote “So, they’re devil women, with electric hair and radioactive nipples. Never mind, fuck this episode.”

Next Up: “What Are Little Girls Made Of” and if it’s about backwards gender politics, I’m probably going to fucking cry.