Buttons (or I Was a Weird Kid)

I’m currently staying with my parents to get a breather from my totally messed up life and help them sort out theirs. My mother asked me to sort out her buttons, and now I am awash in nostalgia.

You see, my mother is not a casual seamstress. It’s not that she’s ever sewn professionally. She’s just sewn mostly by necessity since her early childhood. Until I reached high school, the vast majority of my clothes were sewn by her. It was cheaper, and she had the skill to do it quickly in her tiny bit of spare time within de facto single motherhood.

Since she sewed so much, she bargain hunted her materials against future need. Thusly did she amass an impressive collection of buttons. Some of these buttons were on little paper backings, some were strung like bracelets to keep them together. And still others were loosely kept in boxes and empty spice bottles.

Being a strange child, sometimes I went into her sewing room and played with her buttons. I would imagine a little button making factory, and the buttons would go down slides created from electric car tracks, through lego buildings, attended to by particularly small stuffed animals. Sometimes I just looked at the buttons, and imagined fantastic clothes and the people who might wear them – some of her buttons were very interesting. She had buttons for future Halloween costumes, for Christmas outfits, and for blossoming tendency to be a dandy. I wore a shocking number of poodle skirts in between the jeans and flannel in elementary school. I once used a string of silvery buttons to make myself a pair of mariachi-style studded jeans. They were fantastic. I never a lost a button on them, either.

Now I am sitting at her long white sewing table, a large pile of jars, boxes, and strings before me. The buttons have different textures. They clink in pleasing ways as I shuffle them into different plastic cups for sorting out and stringing. And they have a unique smell. Did you know that? Buttons have smells. There’s the smokiness of wooden buttons. The sticky smell of varnished buttons. The tang of metallic buttons. The void of glass buttons. And the strangely warm scent of old plastic and vinyl buttons. Have you ever caught a whiff of an LP? It’s a little like that, but fainter, less oily. It makes you think of dusty attic rooms that children secret themselves away in, to play with the past.

Smells contain memories. These take me back to sitting on the once carpeted floor of her sunny sewing room, the room my brother was not allowed in, clinking my buttons and humming. It’s a peaceful, creative nostalgia.

I am more than happy to sort her buttons.

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Laurel Lance & Implied Misogyny (or When A Woman Wants to Be A Hero, She Has to Work A Lot Harder to Win Support)

The newest teaser for Arrow went up today, and the comments on it immediately made me depressed. Apparently, there are a bunch of people who hate on Laurel Lance. Now, people are free to like or dislike any character they want in a show. I don’t have to agree with them. But, I want them to at least have a reason not based in patriarchy and misogyny (or racism, or a number of other awful reasons).

The hatred of Laurel seems to be entirely based in what I’m now going to call “Bjork’s Rule of Five“. A woman has to say something five times to be heard. A woman has to work five times as hard to be recognized. Now, the number five is sort of conjured up. I’m sure there’s social scientists who can study this issue (and do) and give us a much more accurate number. The number itself doesn’t matter for my purposes here. We’re talking about the headspace people who hate Laurel seem to be in.

The bile I saw about Laurel as Black Canary boiled down to this: she’s not as good as Oliver/Arrow or Sara. Well, so what? Neither is Arsenal/Roy, not by a long shot. And Ray Palmer? The only person questioning his future competence as a vigilante is a character in the show, and she’s only in that headspace because she’s gotten spooked by recent events. Okay, and me, but I don’t like the guy. I think he’s a “Nice Guy” dick. But I like having him in the show, in a different way than how I like having Merlyn around to hate.

You can’t make the argument that all she’s done is boxing. She did that. She tried the vigilante thing just with unfocused boxing lessons and her past history of self-defense courses. And she got her ass kicked. We’ve had that ground covered. What she’s had is off-screen training from a former street vigilante, in the Glades. We actually don’t know how hardcore that training might have been. If she’s stepping up now, I’m guessing it’s with Ted Grant’s blessing that she’s ready.

And you know what? That’s more than a lot of dudes in this universe had before everyone embraced them as superheroes. Roy as Arsenal – he starts out as an untrained loose cannon, and when he heads into his season finale battle, he doesn’t actually know what he’s doing all that well. He really doesn’t. Ray Palmer has apparently already been bought by the fanbase, despite him having no known combat experience or training. And Barry Allen is an Everyman who gets magical powers. They even did an entire crossover episode partly about how that doesn’t make him fit for the job, yet he was accepted and cheered from day one.

So if you want to hate on Laurel, do it for a different reason than Laurel not having enough training for the job of Canary. She’s spent the last few months training for the job. She’s not her sister, it’s true. And Oliver isn’t Yao Fei, who was a Chinese general. He started wearing that hood on the Island, long before he was truly the Arrow. So Laurel can don her sister’s costume to honor Sara by becoming the hero she wanted to be. Enjoy watching her origin story, just like you do Arsenal and the Atom and the Flash. Okay? Okay.

Liveblog of Jackie Chan’s “Chinese Zodiac” (or Jackie Chan wins gold in all shark hurdles competitions)

So tonight I decided to watch an obviously bad movie. There is one way to describe this movie*:

Let’s say you decided to take a couple hundred sharks.

And line them up like on a track field.

Then you made an entire movie of jumping over your shark hurdles.

That is this movie.

*Disclaimer: If you, like me, are a fan of old school Jackie Chan, then actually a lot of stuff in this is hilarious nods to that era and you will Get It and manage to watch the whole thing, even without the aid of alcohol. In fact, I would say that you should not play any drinking games based on the shark hurdles or nods to pre-Hollywood Jackie Chan, because you will die.

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The Bourne Identity Liveblog (or Matt Damon can’t save a movie from its source material all on his own)

Last night I watched The Bourne Identity. Naturally, I live-blogged it to a friend. The liveblog is below the fold for your reading pleasure, assuming I managed to get the fold line to work.

A couple things to note in this movie:

It fails the Bechdel test so hard it is made of granite. The only part of the test it doesn’t fail is that there are in fact two named female characters. One of them is the Love Interest and the other is the Weak Link. The number of women with spoken lines could be counted on one hand. This isn’t actually all Hollywood’s fault – Robert Ludlum was so bad at writing female characters that one is absolutely astounded to learn that he was married to a woman!

Likewise, all the things that don’t make sense because no one bothered with some really basic research are in keeping with Ludlum’s novels. Dabblers in just about every topic Ludlum touched upon have eviscerated everything from guns to basic Russian vocabulary. So, I’m not going to fault Hollywood for not rising above the source material. Well, at least not very much.

The only reason my eyes weren’t rolling so hard they fell out of my head is because Matt Damon is so cute. Also, the best writing and characterization actually got laid upon Clive Owen’s unnamed character. Actually, it’s hard to break out whether it’s that they put an iota of effort into his part, or just that Clive Owen is so brilliant he can make shit shine. What am I saying? Of course Clive Owen is that brilliant.

Also, the universe should apologize to Franka Potente and Julia Stiles for their largely forgettable roles that both get sidelined repeatedly.

Lastly, I apologize if it turns out I said something during the liveblog that wasn’t worded in the best way to convey the sentiment. Liveblogging is not well-suited to shape one’s words properly, but I like the exercise, and if you see something, tell me so that I might improve my off-the-cuff language and not make an ass of myself in the future. Continue reading

Florentine Fighting (or how to be a badass but look like an idiot)

Okay, because I go off on this topic at the drop of a hat, I am going to put this here on the blog of rambles, so I can just cite it and settle down.

Florentine swordfighting. This is what happened in the Arrow Season 3 Mid-season finale. I’ve seen some people say that Oliver fought poorly with swords in this episode. He didn’t. He really didn’t, okay?

Let me explain the deal here from the beginning. In college I used to participate in a medieval combat re-enactment group. We used safe foam weapons, which could still leave quite a bruise. They were usually actually heavier than the real thing. They were not as aerodynamic, either. We also didn’t allow headshots because micro-concussions add up. I actually had a friend in charge of testing foam arrows made by guests who ended up having a seizure from an accumulation of micro-concussions. This is because the way he tested arrows for safety was to be shot in the head at a certain distance. It wasn’t the best plan. We had no training system, we just picked a weapon and threw ourselves into melee. I was not especially good, but it didn’t help that many of the other people were literally two feet taller than me and exceptionally good.

So, I have some experience with sword fighting. I also read up a lot on sword fighting because I was interested in it and because I was researching my fiction writing. The upshot is, if we’re talking about how realistic a film fight is, or how well an actor/character fights, I’m actually really knowledgeable.

So, I will say this now:

Oliver did not fight poorly.

Oliver did use the wrong style.

Oliver fought “Florentine”, which is a stupid style that looks stupid.

Florentine is a modern style that never probably existed in the age of sword fighting. It refers to a style of fighting where the fighter uses two swords of equal length, usually longswords or broadswords (or possibly rapiers, but rapiers are dumb anyway). It’s an inherently awkward style. It’s incredibly difficult to coordinate two swords of equal length. Your offhand is simply always slightly less coordinated than your main hand. This is why historic styles of two-sword fighting involved a shorter weapon in the off-hand. Also, as cool as you look standing around with two scimitars or two katana in your hands, pretty much the second you start wailing on someone you look like an uncoordinated mess. The fact that your swords aren’t getting tangled and you aren’t cutting your own arms and face are proof that you are amazingly coordinated, but that doesn’t change how you look to the untrained eye.

At the end of the day, the energy and concentration that goes into fighting Florentine is an unnecessary drain. The only reason I ever fought Florentine was because the foam shields we made were too ridiculously unrealistically bulky for me to use and I could not get enough reach with a short sword on my opponents who were 2 feet taller than me. I eventually built enough strength to use a two-handed sword, and was a much better fighter after that. If you want an off-hand weapon, use a smaller weapon or a different type of weapon entirely, unless your opponent is substantially taller than you. I’m not sure what the writers’ justifications might have been behind having Oliver, an experienced combatant, choose an inefficient style in a fight against probably his toughest opponent ever. I could say a lot about the meta reasons, mostly in the realm of Rule of Cool. But in character? Oliver made a mistake, and I can’t think of why he did.

Regardless, mad props to Stephen Amell for an excellent showcasing of Florentine fighting.

Some Preliminary Thoughts about Arrow (or: I’m in love with a lot of people’s chests, but there’s more to it than that)

I really love the show Arrow. And it’s not just about Stephen Amell’s fantastic body (or Emily Bett Rickard’s also fantastic body). I have never been much of a DC fan – the characters were hard for me to identify with compared to Marvel. So, I come to Arrow with no particular attachment to any incarnation of the Green Arrow.

The show is remarkably progressive for a show that’s not about being progressive. Well, sort of not. The Green Arrow is a much more social justice oriented character than Batman, although they are both pretty similar guys: nighttime vigilante billionaires who are arguably Badass Normals. Arrow is more of a Badass Normal for DC than usual; he relies far less on expensive gadgets and more on experience, strategy, and comic rules of biology.

So the show is still centered on a wealthy, white, straight, male protagonist. He’s surrounded, though, almost entirely by people who do not fit this description. That’s an improvement. It’s important to note there is nothing wrong with the SWM protagonist as such. What’s wrong is that this is overwhelmingly the only protagonist offered. So I’m not going to fault Arrow particularly for being about a SWM hero, though I will fault CW for all 3 of their superhero shows being about SWMs (Smallville and Flash being the other two). Three shows, and none of them are focused on someone who is not a SWM. C’mon folks. Continue reading