Pre E3 Game Marketing: Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying…

I’ve determined that I’m easily put off by empty advertising.  If an ad is full of bright colours and loud noises but tells me next to nothing about the product in question, I tend to develop a poor opinion of said product.  My attitude is that marketing should sell the tangible positives of the thing, not sell me a lifestyle connected to the thing.

Most days lately I feel like a cranky old person telling kids to get off my lawn.

Access to top titles is becoming increasingly hard to come by, especially in Canada where PR companies are being forced to work with smaller and smaller budgets while clients expect bigger returns.  So we’re reliant on game trailers to tell us what a game is about, and what we should expect from it.

The thing is, game trailers tend to do a terrible job at that, and the follow up information from developers isn’t really much better.  Secrecy is overvalued in gaming.  Communication is given short shrift.

Most game trailers are expertly edited, decidedly exciting, and great promotion if games were films.  However, they’re all starting to look very much the same.  And they tell us very little about how a game plays, which is the single most important element of a video game.  Since we know the game review system is seriously broken right now, and games are getting increasingly more expensive, it’s more important than ever that gamers know what they’re buying, but right now, they can only get that from Youtube Let’s Plays and Twitch streams which show them the actual game.

There has to be a happier, spoiler-free medium.

Game trailers should show the same “who, what, when, where, why and how” that articles about a game are expected to provide.

Who does the game appeal to?  — With the cost of games climbing, I’m not going to buy another military shooter unless I think I’m going to get some sort of innovation.  Other players want a strong community.  Others still want a lot of gameplay hours.  We’re so hung up on age, gender, and content rating that marketers are missing these other points.

What is it about? — “guys that shoot things” is an insufficient amount of detail.  A film trailer is expected to give you the basics of what a film is about.  Game trailers seem to forget that basic plot concept is extremely important for pulling in more casual gamers that TV ads will sway.  Everyone tends to copy the original Gears of War marketing while missing the fact that those ads worked because they actually represented what the games were about: killing monsters and big bro feels.

When is it coming out? — I can’t get excited by a teaser trailer without a release date, since release dates are guesstimates at best these days anyway.

Where is it available? — This may sound like common sense, but many busy people can’t keep straight which games are console exclusives and which ones are multiplatform.  Two seconds at the end of a trailer isn’t enough time for them to get that information.

Why is it worth buying this game?  — It’s amazing, but this is the element a lot of mediocre game marketing misses in its attempts to be like every other piece of game marketing out there.  That infamous Dead Space 2 campaign answered this question with “because your mom will hate it”… which I gotta admit would have swayed me at times when I was younger.  The celebrity World of Warcraft ads reminded people to play Warcraft because it had transcended being a video game and had become a cultural reference.  The why is the difference between an average ad and a great one.

How is this game going to be fun? — With the emphasis on seriousness in gaming right now, this point also gets missed a lot.  It’s really not that hard to do, but I think a lot of companies miss that it’s important to do.  For instance, the Overwatch ads show that you’ll have fun playing as a bright, colorful character shooting at other bright colorful characters.  Sometimes it’s as simple as that.  On the other hand, Xbox ran a big campaign for Rise of the Tomb Raider made the games look like Lara Croft movies.  They didn’t make it clear that a big part of the fun was solving very interesting puzzles and taking down enemies.  Too many ads make the game look very pretty, but kind of boring.  Lara exploring a cave with a torch isn’t enough to hook most people.  They need an emotional connection that gives them something to care about.

The sheer deluge of marketing this time of year is one of the reasons that the games press gets to cranky and apathetic.  So give us a break, game marketers, and give us some information we can pass on to our viewers and readers.  That’s much more important than another free t-shirt that rarely comes in the proper size anyway.

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The Sarkeesian Sexism in Uncharted 4

(Warning: Spoilers for Uncharted 4, blahblahblah)

I really enjoyed Uncharted 4, as I have enjoyed all the Uncharted games.  They’re top notch in many ways, and I recommend them.  What they are not, however, is feminist.  That’s okay.  They don’t have to be.  I still like them.

But it’s important to point out that the Uncharted games are homages to serial adventure stories, and those include some decidedly dated gender-based tropes. In order to effectively modernize the adventure serial, its important to recognize these tropes for what they are.

So it’s baffling to me that Anita Sarkeesian fan Neil Druckmann, the creative director on the game, decided to shame a playtester on Uncharted 4 who, among other things, had the reaction that many gamers are having to the second generation mercenary character, Nadine Ross.  He got pissed off that Nadine seemed like a “Strong Female Character” instead of a developed character.

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I totally disagree with the playtester’s additional opinions on giving Nate and Elena a daughter, but playtesting is supposed to be a confidential process where people are honest about their feelings.  People don’t sign up to be mocked by the devs for having an honest reaction because that reaction was wrong.  You want unfiltered feedback, even if its stupid.  You can’t get that if playtesters think you might mock them in the press for political correctness points.

And that playtester wasn’t wrong about Nadine Ross.

The very thing that creates weaknesses in Nadine as a character was the Sarkeesian-inspired thing Druckmann is patting himself on the back for: changing male characters into female ones “to be different” instead of creating female characters from the outset.

Nadine is a stock character with a makeover.  Remember the big sub boss dude in Raiders of the Lost Ark that Indiana Jones fought around the airplane?

That’s the role Nadine plays in Uncharted 4.  And yes, absolutely, that character kicks the crap out of the hero unless the hero fights dirty.  But there’s a physicality to that character trope that isn’t there with Nadine: these characters tend to look physically intimidating, not like retired supermodels on high protein diets with gym-sculpted shoulders.

Nadine fell into a trope that didn’t end up on Tropes vs Women: Superwoman Syndrome.  Superwoman Syndrome is a state recognized by post-second wave feminists as a “double enslavement” of women.  Not only are women now supposed to be perfect wives and homemakers, but we’re supposed to be perfect at everything else too.

The problem with Superwoman Syndrome is that it’s impossible to be perfect at everything.  So the ongoing attempts to be perfect at everything wear women down and make us physically and mentally sick.  It’s a uniquely profound issue for black women, something Nadine’s motion capture actress, Laura Bailey, couldn’t bring to the part because Naughty Dog cast a white woman.  That’s the developer’s right, but in light of how the character turned out, I think it’s fair to criticize them for that decision.

The film Deadpool uses the same type of character, but did it right.  When audiences first see Gina Carano’s Angel Dust character, they have the same reaction that they did to that guy in Indiana Jones,  “Oh my freaking god nothing is going to stop that human tank.”  Carano brought a physical presence that was appropriate for the part, and the very same guys complaining about Nadine absolutely love Carano in that role.  It isn’t about misogyny.  It’s about failing to replicate the requirements of the trope in the switch from male to female.

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With Superwoman Syndrome comes a tightening of the beauty myth.  Gina Carano smashed it in Deadpool because she was physically large, but still beautiful and desirable.  But she’s an exception that proves the larger rule that in most media, women look like models no matter what they’re supposed to be playing.  Cops look like models.  Firefighters look like models.  Doctors look like models.  So real life female cops don’t tend to look like the ones you see on TV, while real life male cops do.  That becomes a PR problem for real life first responders.

The social impact goes deeper than that, however.  The body type that keeps getting replicated is decidedly and profoundly white.  The b-to-c-cup breasts, boyish hips, and the lean muscle; the slightly freckled skin and “modest” Western dress that are the hallmarks of Sarkeesian-brand false-feminist character design… this rigid standard marginalizes the beauty paradigms of other cultures.  Latina and Black women have to reclaim their fuller hips and “Oakland booties” to get around accusations that their natural bodies are fat or obscene.  The fear of naked female bodies is colonial thinking.

All Sarkeesian’s followers have done is swap one set of racist, sexist ideals for another, instead of actually reducing racism and sexism.  They’ve just created another trope: The Sarkeesian.  It’s no less sexist to force a woman to conform to the Sarkeesian — a woman who is the embodiment of “strong” until the point that strength might threaten or offend — than, say, a Ms Male Character.

Ellie in The Last of Us and Angel Dust in Deadpool were embraced, because they are not Sarkeesians.  Trishka in Bulletstorm is not a Sarkeesian.  They have personalities and say and do deliberately offensive or “unfeminine” things.  Nadine doesn’t have quotable lines, a distinct look, or any sort of swagger or spark, because those might put someone off.  A Sarkeesian trope character never offends with intent.  That’s what makes them so offensive.

As I said, no one expects the Uncharted games to be paragons of political correctness.  The four most prominent characters in Uncharted 4 — Nate, Sully, Nate’s brother, and the main bad guy – are all white, cisgendered men.  Uncharted games have always been bromances, and that’s fine.  There’s a place for that.  Just don’t piss in my ear and tell me it’s raining feminism.

Furthermore, making a game about men doesn’t mean there’s license to get lazy with the writing of the female characters who ARE included.  There’s a distinct, if subtle, difference in how certain plot and character points are handled in Uncharted 4 than in the previous Uncharted games… when the games were written by a woman, Amy Hennig.  I have never been a big fan of Elena Fisher, but Uncharted 2 and Uncharted 3 did a lot to pull her away from her stock character “feisty Girl Friday love interest” origins in the original game.  Of course, a lot of men love Elena for the very reasons I despise her in Uncharted and Uncharted 4 – she enables Nate’s truly bad behaviour.

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Elena doesn’t, I believe, get nearly angry enough when Nate yet again lies to her for no good reason.  Of course, it’s very possible that Elena was furious when she first discovered her husband had lied to her a-gain, but we never see that, because her wifely rage happens off screen.  So despite the piles of laundry in their house, Elena is still a Superwoman: she doesn’t have limits or boundaries where a fully-formed woman would.

Nate, and the player, is never truly confronted with the depths of what lying does to your partner.  The game does not confront the player with Elena’s raw, authentic feelings in response to being deceived.  Where Ellie swore, yelled, cried, and smashed stuff in The Last of Us, Elena pouts and offers sage words of understanding.  We don’t see the depths and immediacy of Elena’s pain, we don’t empathize with her the way we do Ellie, because we never see Elena at her worst, so she’s not totally real.

Because Elena is the perfect wife who only gets angry in perfect, private ways.  I’m sure I’m not the only woman who plays this game who has been married long enough to go “Oh come on!  That’s BULLSHIT.”

Oh but we’re not supposed to have that reaction, see?  We’re supposed to be “understanding” and “supportive” partners.  Because when our husband FEELZ BAD, the dutiful wife understands that it’s okay that he acts like an irresponsible manchild instead of discussing the situation like a grown up.  We’re supposed to accept that this is just the way men are.

Bullshit.  Bullshit bullshit bullshit.  There are different ways to be a man, but grown up men are honest.  Lying to your spouse about important things is the fastest way to destroy a marriage.  Nate and Elena broke up multiple times because of his immaturity.  He was supposed to have grown up some at the end of Uncharted 3, which is why they got back together and everyone cheered.

But in Uncharted 4, he’s back to being a dishonest baby, and Elena lets him be a dishonest baby with smiles, loving stokes to his face, and little more than the occasional pout.  He’s worn her down, and at this point she’s accepted that he’s going to lie to her whenever it’s convenient for him to do so, as long as he’s sorry later.  When a partner lies for that long, that consistently, he’s going to keep lying.  He has to want to change not to stop her from leaving — which is still manipulating things to get a desired outcome — but because he realizes that lying to her shows her no respect.  (The same goes for when women lie.  Just in this case, Nate and Elena are a heterosexual couple and the lying partner is male.)

So Nate and Elena go off into domestic bliss, where she never again sets hard boundaries because he’ll just lie his way around them.  Yes, that’s not what the game is supposed to have us believe, but that’s what someone like me, who has been married for seventeen years, sees.  A hard lesson of marriage is that feeling bad isn’t enough.  In order for your partner to trust you, you can’t keep doing the same crap to them over and over.

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Nate and Elena do not have a believable, healthy marriage of equals.  They are a manboy married to a Superwoman.  That’s disappointing, because those marriages don’t tend to last in the real world.  A cycle of passive aggressive resentment forms because the Elena is constantly biting down her anger to be “supportive” and the Nate justifies a string of “white” lies because he doesn’t want to trouble the little wife with the truth.  If he does, she might say no.

These sorts of on-screen marriages are a sexist trope that gets replicated to falsely portray women as superior people in inferior positions.  Since we have to give cutesy names to all these tropes now, let’s call it “Wifey McAwesomesauce”.  Wifey McAwesomesauce is also seen in numerous sitcoms, in which no one can quite figure out why a mature, competent woman is married to Schlubby McScrewup.  Wifey McAwesomesauce has a great job, great clothes, great hair, and raised great kids.  Schlubby McScrewup is a misandrist stereotype who can’t change a diaper, make a school lunch, or drop the kids off without “hilarious” calamity.  And yet the show is always about Schlubby McScrewup because no one actually cares what’s going on in Wifey McAwesome’s mind.  Her perfect perfectness of perfection is only there to validate the comic struggles of her schlub husband.  It’s a rare sitcom, like All In The Family, Roseanne, and Blackish, where the spouses actually seem believably matched.  In these sitcoms, both partners screw up, and they actually yell at each other.  Like, really yell.  The way people do in real life.  The way Elena didn’t yell at Nate.

I’m not saying Naughty Dog should change any of this.  It’s a particular brand of escapist male fantasy, and that’s fine, since the tradition in which the games exist is soaking in that stuff.  But Naughty Dog doesn’t get to play in that sandbox and also collect “Great Male Feminist” points.  Elena may put on a few non-perfect post-baby pounds if they keep trying to have their cake and eat it too.

 

Note: Someone on twitter asked me what I would have changed in Elena’s reaction to make her seem more real.  There are various ways to do that.  A complex way would have been bonus content that allowed the player to play through, as Elena, discovering Nate lied, so we got to see her reaction.  A much faster way would be to have her be less damned nice to him right off the bat.  Saving his life is one thing, but it would have been more satisfying if she saved him without forgiving him right away.  We lost out on a lot of good potential dialogue because Elena was too nice to be fun.

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Elbowgate: False Feminism in Canadian Parliament

I don’t normally write about politics because 1) It’s depressing, 2) way too many people do it, and 3) it’s a great way to get people screaming at you.  But the events this week surrounding Elbowgate are just too stupid to ignore.

Elbowgate is named for the fact that, in a breach of the snooty decorum of Canada’s parliament, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rose again after being seated for a session, crossed the floor over to Conservative Whip Gordon Brown – who was with a group of NDP MPs – and… accounts vary depending on who is telling the story.  Either Trudeau led Brown by the arm to his seat, or Trudeau manhandled Brown like a bully.  After viewing the video, it looks to me like it wasn’t exactly helping an old lady crossing the street, but it wasn’t what Donald Trump’s campaign manager is alleged to have done to reporter Michelle Fields.   This, however, was not the eponymous elbow.  That came from the fact that while Trudeau was herding Brown, he accidentally elbowed NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the chest.

It looked like a pretty painful elbow.  Justin Trudeau did a bad thing.  It was not, however, gender-based violence or the deliberate battery of an MP.  And the Conservative and NDP attempts to make it into more than it was backfired, because their outrage made light of some pretty serious issues in an attempt to lower the Prime Minister’s popularity.

Still, this is a wake up call for the Prime Minister.  He isn’t just a politician.  He is a bonafide celebrity.  Like any celebrity, Trudeau is prey to negative twists on his less glorious moments by haters who hate his stupid face.  Tom Mulcair seems to especially despise the young Prime Minister for reasons I haven’t yet been able to establish.  It’s commonly known that the bad blood between the two seems personal, but the reasons why aren’t public.  For the Conservative Party, however, Trudeau is bad for business.  He’s good for Liberal fundraising, and that took away the money advantage that the Conservatives enjoyed for quite some time.  This isn’t the first time they’ve attempted a petty distortion of facts in an attempt to make Trudeau look artificially bad.  Remember those attack ads that started even before the election?

Now, as then, however, Trudeau will likely weather this storm.   The gleeful pearl clutching by his enemies did him a huge favour in that they’re handing Trudeau the potential for an unlikely pr win.

Trudeau hasn’t yet learned the first rule of celebrity: never be your own bad cop.  He needs to stay arms length from any direct unpleasantness lest he wear the mess.  This likely goes against his natural instincts to lead by example, but it’s necessary: Generals aren’t on the front lines for a reason.  Furthermore, Trudeau has had a history of getting worked up in the House.  As an MP, Trudeau had to apologize, rocking a Movember goatee, for calling Conservative Environment Minister Peter Kent a “piece of shit.”

You’ll note in that video that Parliament is a pretty boisterous place.  It can be downright juvenile at times.  This is one of the reasons why the NDP and Conservative attempts to make Trudeau seem like a puppy killer just remind Canadians that while Trudeau is not a perfect PM, the Liberals are still the most deserving to lead… Not that this is saying much right now.

Like Hugh Grant after being caught with a hooker, Trudeau is now on another apology tour. The Liberals made the right call withdrawing a controversial bill, called Motion 6, to give them more power, even if they did so for the wrong reasons.  The damage control is proving effective: despite the Conservatives’ protests to the contrary, these actions are a change of both tone and substance from the iron fist rule of the Harper regime, and Canadians tend to be forgiving of prime ministers who get physical — it undermines the Canadian stereotype of being milquetoast-level nice.

However, Trudeau’s sensitive feminist man image would have been left notably bruised, had the opposition parties not acted like bigger idiots.  Elizabeth May was the only party leader with the sense to put practicality above short term political gain, and emerged as the lone grown up in the whole thing.  “I think it’s likely there may have been blame on all sides in leading to the escalation,” May said.  That’s about the best summary of events out there.

Rona Ambrose and Nikki Ashton reminded Canadians that those notorious gender cards come in multiple political colours, and Tom Mulcair reminded everyone why he’s not going to be the leader of the NDP for much longer by appearing to lose his temper worse than Trudeau lost his.  And Brosseau herself fumbled by trying to play up the “personal attacks” she’s received by reminding Canadians that she once took a vacation in Las Vegas in the middle of an election campaign.  The fact that she’s still complaining about the backlash from that makes her seem like a whiner.

At least it would make her seem like a whiner if she were a man.  The NDP seems to think that Brosseau being a woman is far more relevant in this situation than it is.

Both the Conservatives and the NDP are overselling their cases, and it’s stupid: Trudeau has a lot of time left in a very strong majority, so crying wolf now weakens future gut punches closer to an election where Canadians elect the best leader, not a perfect one.

Canadians understand someone losing their temper and doing something stupid.  They don’t understand claiming that taking hold of someone’s arm is a crime, or the idea that an accident is somehow a sign that parliament is unsafe for women.  These overreactions alienate the working class swing voters who decide elections, who are much more familiar with being on the wrong end of political correctness than being the victim of social injustices that primarily impact marginalized communities. False accusations of thought crimes are becoming those “kitchen table” issues the NDP believes they own.  The NDP, under Mulcair’s waning leadership, are making fools of themselves.

But the Conservatives are possibly playing this even worse, albeit more subtly. They got thumped in the last election, and Trudeau is still a Luke Skywalker figure who finally defeated Darth Harper.  Never mind that it wasn’t long ago that Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau was charged with actual sexual assault, then pled guilty to simple assault and cocaine possession. Brazeau is currently on a mini image-rehabilitation campaign by talking about trying to take his own life.  The party can’t ask Canadians to understand that good people sometimes do bad things one minute, then throw a tantrum on Trudeau for behaving like something out of an episode of Dallas the next.

The more noise that Elbowgate makes, the more light it throws on the shenanigans instigated by all three parties.  This all may make for a few barn burner fundraising emails, but otherwise its a big load of politicians acting like teenagers and committing premature outrage ejaculation.

Like it or not, politics is still a game of who has the biggest proverbial dick, and by not stooping to everyone else’s level, Elizabeth May won the political penis-measuring contest.  Trudeau came out in second place, however, just because the other two parties complained the room was cold.

I’m left to wonder whether this is all a way to avoid tackling, as the Supreme Court has mandated the government must, the thorny issue of assisted dying. Any bill that the government comes up with is going to piss off part of the opposition parties’ base: religious conservatives don’t like it because it interferes with “God’s plan”, and some advocates for the profoundly disabled who tend to vote NDP are concerned about what these laws will mean for the right to life of those for whom they advocate. They can’t, however, openly defy the Supreme Court, so they seem to be hoping to run the clock out to make the Liberals look unable to get things done.
Darth Harper showed, time and again, that it’s better to look like a bully than a weak leader.  So it might not have been a bad idea for Trudeau to literally go down swinging.  I know I’d rather vote for a guy who accidentally elbowed an MP who happened to be a woman than for either party who doesn’t understand that equality actually means equality, not treating women like we’re inherently less tough than men in politics. Again, Elizabeth May seems to have the biggest stones in Ottawa — Trudeau let himself be goaded into a PR debacle, and the NDP and Conservatives seem to think that the social problem of violence against women can be used for a cheap stunt.

Violence against anyone is wrong.  Violence against women is uniquely wrong because the implication is that the victim of the abuse can’t fight back.  Accidentally bumping a Member of Parliament is NOT violence against women.

The stupid games that happen while the House is sitting must end, but Elbowgate is more of the same, not the reform all parties claim to want.

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Remembering Darwyn Cooke and His Example of Cantankerous Kindness

I lost a friend early this morning.  Others lost an industry giant.  Others lost a colleague.  And some lost a man who was as close to them as family.  What we all gained from knowing him in any way, however, is immeasurable.

Darwyn Cooke, the creator of DC Comics The New Frontier, the Parker graphic novels, and The Spirit revival, was taken from this world by cancer at the age of 53.  I haven’t seen anyone connected to comic books who isn’t grieving.  But the stories have already started as well, because Darwyn was a storyteller in his personal life as well as his work: he just knew how to frame things for maximum impact.

One of the things Darwyn gave me in his too-short life was an example of shouldering withering criticism in the process of creating art.  After The Spirit had been announced, but before the series was released, other creators were cornering him at events and verbally abusing him for what they believed was an artistic desecration.  Darwyn just put his head down, cursed a blue streak as was his way, and did the work.  He had an ironclad integrity.  Now I see that series praised by mourning fans, which is a testament to that integrity.

Darwyn was not what many would call a “nice guy” because he was far too principled.  He would tell you if he thought you were wrong.  He would tell you firmly if he thought you were being unethical or half-assing something.  But he believed in people, believed in kindness, and believed in comics.  So he found a way to speak fondly of some very challenging people, because he saw the good as well as the bad, and decided for himself whether the sum of it all made sense to him.

He had enough wisdom to see people for who they were and accepted their faults even if he didn’t like them.  He did so much free cover work, helped other artists, and offered that sincere form of support that is so rare in an industry where your student today can become your competition tomorrow.  He told some stories that were important to the people around him, because if it was important to them, it was important to him.

He believed we should always keep a portion of comics books as something for children, that not everything needed to be dark to be good.  He had a clear artistic style that matched the way he saw the world — clean, to the point, but whimsical and accessible.  He was a man decidedly contented with “enough”.

It wasn’t that Darwyn Cooke had no fucks to give.  It was that all his fucks were tied up in things that mattered, so he didn’t have any to spare on nonsense.  That legacy will continue through his absolutely wonderful wife Marsha, who won’t even rent you a fuck, never mind give you one.  Darwyn’s choice of spouse said a lot about the man he was: he was a man who truly loved strong women and wasn’t the least bit threatened by us.

The proof of that for me is found in another fond memory that happened after I’d been publicly shamed by an influential blogger connected to a local “comics as art” organization.  I appeared as a presenter at an awards show called the Joe Shuster Awards or “JSA”.  At the time, I was a comedy performer, so the expectation was that Ed the Sock and I would show up and make people laugh.  So we dressed up like the Golden Age Flash and Power Girl — JSA.  Get it?  The blogger determined this was a “disgusting display”, because… yeah.  I’m anatomically similar to Power Girl.  This “artistic” blogger didn’t see a woman who clearly loved comics, even a character who, at that time, wasn’t terribly well known.  He just saw tits.

It hurt.  A lot.  Body shaming always hurts, no matter how much you try to stop it.

But Darwyn Cooke managed to heal a lot of that hurt just by being himself.  I was at a convention party, I believe it was in Calgary, and I heard someone behind me yell “HEY KERZNER!  I HEAR YOUR TITS ARE TOO BIG FOR [the event that had slammed me]!”  I turned around and there was Darwyn Cooke, head peeking over a half wall like something out of a Frank Cho parody sketch, grinning like the little devil that he was.

I laughed.  I still laugh thinking about that.  That was Darwyn Cooke: he appreciated people for who they were, even if that “who they were” defied the norm.  And he didn’t care who knew.

He felt no need to ignore the realities of my anatomy.  Instead, he accepted reality for what it was, and made it pretty clear that anyone who couldn’t do the same was being stupid.  It was a rare moment of acceptance… real acceptance… that wasn’t just a politically correct “we need more women in comics” platitude.  If I could only keep just one memory of him, it would be that one.  “My tits are too big for ______” has become my way of laughing off those in science fiction, comic books, and video games who continue to treat me like the town whore.

The flip side of “no one is immune to criticism” is that “no one should expect praise”.  This leads to a system of feedback that is skewed toward the negative, and is less useful as a result.  On the bright side, praise becomes more powerful, because it isn’t considered mandatory.  So I will hold in my heart those very Cooke moments of crusty, caustic praise.  Because they were real.

Many people have their own equally meaningful, funny stories about Darwyn.  Perhaps it’s true that only the good die young, because you’d be hard pressed to find a better, more authentic person than Darwyn Cooke.

Note: memorial donations can be made to the Canadian Cancer Society and/or the Hero Initiative.

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This week’s Youtube videos

Did you miss any?

Monday: Some steps for achieving emotional resiliency.

Tuesday: Math anxiety has a gender gap, and scientists don’t know why.

Wednesday: My first attempt at doing cosplay content again — a brief history of cosplay, interrupted by bus tourists.

Thursday: My take on the Ghomeshi apology — got a little bombarded by haters, but I still stand by it.

Friday: Feedback Friday — that a lot of people didn’t get.  I’ll write more on this.

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bell hooks, Beyonce, Spirit, and Feminism For Now

I’ve been watching the whole “bell hooks is sour on Beyoncé’s Lemonade” thing from the sidelines, afraid to comment because of the colour of my skin.  But I’ve gotten tired of “nodding respectfully”, and I want to approach this through a door hooks herself opened — her assertion that Lemonade being created primarily for a black female audience misses the point. “Commodities,” says hooks, “irrespective of their subject matter, are made, produced, and marketed to entice any and all consumers.”

I understand that I’m writing from adopted tradition.  I grew up with black people, but I’m obviously not one.  I do not claim ownership of black traditions or black culture, just an appreciation.  I don’t seek to be an appropriator.  But as a presumed outsider who sees some of the nods for black women, there’s no denying that Lemonade was made for black women.  And this matters, because the voices and art of black women matter.

hooks is interchanging the concepts of art, artist, and commodity in ways that are… duh duh duuuuuuuh… problematic.  In reducing Beyoncé’s highly metaphorical, some would say deeply personal, work of art to a good to be bought and sold, hooks is objectifying Beyoncé’s story.  Art is not a what.  Art is a who, a how, and a why.  We are sharing in Beyoncé’s message, not transferring ownership of it.  It cannot be reduced to object simply because a copy is purchased.  Lemonade will always be an extension of Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter.

hooks, who for years has taught acolytes to rage against the dominance of the presumed white male audience, now claims Beyonce’s work on Lemonade can’t be presumed to be primarily for black women because it exists in a capitalist paradigm.  Because Beyoncé has learned to thrive in a capitalist system, hooks believes that her work cannot be considered feminist, never mind black feminist.

The reactions in the white media to Lemonade prove hooks wrong.  While watching an ABC News clip that teased the project, I was marveling at the glory of Beyoncé with her hair in cornrows, showing flashes of people in Voodoo face paint, when the perky middle America-friendly commentators said “fans have commented that it looks like something out of American Horror Story”.

I immediately hit pause so I could internally scream.  These “news” anchors were missing that Beyoncé was drawing from the same source as the third season of American Horror Story: Louisiana Voodoo.  That is her culture.  Her history.  She’s not copying a TV show.

There’s a level of ancestor worship in Lemonade that the gossip rag media doesn’t get, because most people who engage with Lemonade are only connecting to the surface elements of the work — the lyrics that talk about infidelity.  Yes, that’s commodity.  Female suffering will always sell albums.  However, there are images to consider as well in this visual album, and the references to voodoo, Antebellum America, and even embodying a goddess of love, seduction, and beauty, all ochre yellow robes and running water… these matter too.  They tell another, deeper story, of the historical struggles, myths, and personifications of black women in the Americas, and these images matter so deeply.  This is Queen Bey’s descent, Ishtar-like, into the underworld, stripping down, and emerging with her power returned.

hooks’ toolbox doesn’t factor in the very old, very subversive myths that Beyoncé is invoking.  Beyonce’s working magic older than the modern patriarchy, and hooks’ academically masculinized viewpoint, her phallic set of tools, are deaf to Beyoncé’s underlying messages.

I don’t see Lemonade as the story of Beyoncé’s reaction to Jay-Z cheating.  Artists do concept albums all the time, and the work speaks for itself.  I see Lemonade as a subversive musical history of black women who sang about their men and their Christian God because society wouldn’t let them sing publicly about anything else, but the Goddess was always hiding in the bedroom and the church.

Beyoncé is examining the role of black women in the media, in business, and in the home.  It’s daring, deep, brave, and artistic as all hell.  Yes, black women’s bodies have been uniquely sexualized.  Why not explore that?  Why not say something about that?  Beyoncé doesn’t just show herself as a wife of a cheating mogul.  She shows herself as a daughter, a sister, a mother, a business woman, and the sacred feminine too.  bell hooks fixated on the body, when Beyoncé was baring her soul.  bell hooks fixated on systems, while Beyoncé was invoking spirit.  bell hooks, in essence, politicized Beyoncé’s testimony, and you can’t politicize the Goddess without losing the divine spark.

And at least a dozen brilliant black women, who can connect in historical and personal ways that I can’t, stood up to bell hooks, thanked her for her past service, but emphatically told her she was wrong.

There’s magic in this.  Beyoncé’s message of unity resonated, and her sisterhood answered.  Lone gun academics like hooks who forsook the magic of her body to be “accepted” by the mainstream can’t understand the raw power in something like Lemonade.  Taken as a whole, I don’t think Lemonade is about one story of infidelity.  I think it’s an invocation that the “men cheating” narrative is a very old one, going back to some dark places in history, and Lemonade successfully shows there’s more to the story.

hooks herself got the uniquely Southern reference — the childhood memories of girls selling lemonade as a symbol of the female businesswoman — but got lost in her head and missed the call to the spirit of womanhood that is embodied in an angry goddess, smashing stuff because SHE CAN.  hooks may be afraid of sex, afraid of violence, and afraid of feeling anything below the waist because she sees it as a symptom of dominance, but the “goodbye to the good girl” truths in Beyonce’s form of feminism CAN BE TRUSTED, despite hooks’ claims to the contrary.  Lemonade is Beyoncé’s freedom cry, her assertion that there is so much more to her than the wife of a man who cheated. She is not just “the wife”.  She is not just “the voice”.  She is the spirit and the consciousness and she’s a modern day beauty goddess.  In the traditions Beyoncé is invoking, her goddess has a vindictive streak.  She is not a passive beauty.  So she can smash cars if she damned well wants to, even if it’s not the “right” thing to do.  We won’t overcome the oppression in our own minds by saying “pretty please”.

hooks missed this.  hooks is showing the oppression in her own mind.

hooks seems very interested in the male role in Beyonce’s story, missing that Jay-Z is only a supporting character in the story of Queen Bey.  Beyoncé cannot control her husband.  She can’t force him to be faithful, respectful, or see her as an equal.  She CAN contextualize her own story in the collective tales of her ancestors, her blood, and realize that her man cheating is an annoyance, not a failure.  She will choose to stay with him or she will choose to tell him to leave her story.  Both of these are valid choices.  Beyoncé has choices because she sees herself as emancipated, and hooks has no right to deny her that.  We have to hope for a point in time when being black in America stops being a psychological handicap.

Beyoncé is standing in her power regardless of what her man did, and that’s an astounding testament of how far all women have come.  It’s a unique achievement for black women, who had to choose between their race and their sex during the second wave of feminism.  Beyoncé is not afraid of her lady parts.  She realizes that only by being whole can she also be powerful.  She is the heroine of her own story.  She’s sharing a spiritual, ancestral road map to move beyond pain, and bell hooks is telling her “not good enough”.

How is this not hooks in the role of oppressor?  The matron telling the younger female that she is not yet a woman, holding her down despite her fame?  Despite her wealth?  Despite everything?  hooks has decided none of this has meaning, and I don’t know what higher power she invokes to believe she has that right.

While hooks is using the white man’s tools — academics, non-fiction writing, and “literature” — Beyoncé is taking her message to the streets, the charts, the sports stadiums, the award shows, the runways, the airwaves, the social networks, and the salons.  hooks is only relevant in this matter because she’s the cranky neighbour who called the cops on the street party.  hooks seems to forget that one day she herself was an upstart poet saying challenging things, perhaps because her skills lie in tearing things down more than building them up.  However, black women today don’t call her “Auntie bell” because she ripped apart the work of white feminists.  They respect the words she gave black women, not the words she took from white women.  Beyoncé is adding to that dictionary and extending it to all women willing to see and hear those words, and that’s a good thing.

Beyoncé is the feminist that the culture needs TODAY.  She couldn’t have gotten to this point without bell hooks, and that’s why it’s especially sad that hooks has decided to extract the lemons from the Lemonade.  Intersectionalism means not missing the sugar and the water that also make up the drink, and hooks is so stuck on the sour notes of violence, domination, and oppression that she’s missing the sweetness and the cleansing nature of Beyoncé expressing the elements of her truths that she wants to share.

This round of artistic truths started with Formation, not Jay-Z’s antics.  How quickly some “academics” forget a woman’s art when there’s a man involved. Lemonade is absolutely made for black women, and that doesn’t change because a black woman is getting paid.

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He’s Sorry, But… How A Guy Like Jian Ghomeshi Rots A Media Team From The Inside

We finally have proof, in Jian Ghomeshi’s own words, that he committed wrongdoing against at least one female member of his staff at the CBC.  He was the boss, she was a subordinate, and the act was sexualized in nature.  No longer can he claim that he was falsely accused.  No longer can he assert that his accusers are all lying.  He had to admit he did wrong, and he only said as much as was required to avoid jail.  Because he’s rich, he’ll never know what it’s like to be truly powerless.  He’ll never totally understand what he did to the employees he abused.

And yes, employees, plural.  According to Ghomeshi’s own statement, he misled a lot of people in falsely protesting his complete innocence.  Remember that he previously insisted that every encounter of a sexual nature he’d had with a woman was consensual.  We now know that, at least regarding Kathryn Borel, this was not the case.

I still don’t believe Jian Ghomeshi understands the damage he caused by abusing his substantial media power to make at least one woman his plaything.  He still doesn’t totally get the inherent dominance displayed in the act he was accused of – humping a woman’s butt.  Most species of mammal inherently understand that this is a non-verbal communication of “you’re my bitch”.  Mr Ghomeshi is the sort of entitled idiot that is inspiring the rise of demeaning “consent classes” for innocent, considerate men by perpetuating the lie that he didn’t know that inherently wrong behaviour was wrong.

We’re expected to listen and believe his words, because he’s positioning himself as just another victim –a victim of ignorance.  I don’t buy it.  I believe he knew his behaviour was wrong for lesser men because he lectured people about it on the radio all the time via words written by other people.  He just didn’t think the exact same conduct was wrong for an important man like him.  He justified it by believing that his happiness and comfort was just more important then that of the woman he used to show what a big man he was without her consent.

Too often in the media, emotionally immature bullies end up in positions of leadership.  They’re not equipped to deal with the pressure, so they abuse their staff.  They get away with it because many in the media won’t report the bad behaviour of others for fear that their own skeletons will get ripped out of the closet in retaliation.  They’re right to fear that.  That’s exactly what happens.  A cornered narcissist is a nasty beast.

Jian Ghomeshi’s fall, however, is only one part of this story.  There are dozens, if not hundreds of stories tied up in the damage he did – there were compelling rumors about the guy for years, coupled with an undeniable string of public temper tantrums.  Worse, Jian Ghomeshi is not an isolated phenomenon.  There are so many people in Canadian media who abuse their power that I started keeping a mental list of the ones who didn’t actively treat me like garbage.  It was much shorter.

The bullies aren’t all men either.  Notorious women, at the CBC and beyond, keep getting powerful jobs and keep abusing their staff with put downs, professional sabotage, screaming sessions, stolen ideas, and even sometimes physical isolation and abuse.  With women and closeted gay men, the first thing a bully will use as a weapon is their sexuality.  Slut shaming and forced “outings” are powerful weapons in the hands of a workplace media bully.

The cycle goes something like this: the person in a position of power starts the process of negatively labelling an ambitious young employee.  For women, words like “cheap”, “unprofessional”, “star fucker”, and “attention whore’” start cropping up without evidence or justification.  Co-workers take these digs to heart because they know that to keep their jobs, they have to agree with the boss, so after about three years in the business, practically every woman has some sort of scarlet letter on her.  It’s usually not true, but that doesn’t matter. You have to prove you’re “tough enough” by labouring under lies.

Similarly, racial minorities get labelled with stereotypes such as “lazy” and “aggressive”, even though they get just as much work done, just as politely, as anyone else.  Gay men get labelled “weak” or “overly-emotional” a lot.  Especially when they point out that they’re only being assigned stereotypically gay stories.  The thing that makes these tactics so toxic is that everyone makes mistakes, especially when you’re just starting out.  But there’s a difference between having a moment of laziness or unprofessional conduct, and having that be something that defines your character.  In essence, white, cisgendered, atheist men in Canadian media are allowed to make mistakes and learn.  Gay men are allowed to be the “right kind of gay”, but that’s it.  Everyone else?  A single mistake is an easy way to “prove” that there’s something inherently wrong with you.  Even taking off a non-Christian religious holiday can stall your career.

If you’re not male and a product of some British colonial upbringing, you’re easy to cut off at the knees.  “Professional” workplace conduct is conduct that makes white people comfortable when other cultures find it slimy and dishonest – as someone who grew up in an environment immersed in other cultures, I’ve had trouble with this disconnect my entire career: I look white, but I wasn’t socialized white.  So my script of right and wrong is not in keeping with the white-influenced Canadian media culture.  Services like the CBC are apparently so afraid of the multicultural realities of Canada that one of the most popular shows is British soap Coronation Street.  That’s the culture that cultivated Jian Ghomeshi.

Canadian media companies have a diversity mandate that only functions on paper.  The beauty standard is white, but the behaviour standard is whiter.  So the sweet spot in Canadian media is to look brown but act whiter than a lot of white people.

Ghomeshi milked that for millions of dollars, leveraging his minority status as a smoke screen to hide his bad acts.  At the same time, he leveraged the privileged position of being a well-spoken, apparently non-threatening man in Canadian media.  He sneered at men who were less erudite, and apparently collected a harem of women to secretly prop up the traditional masculinity he sacrificed on air for success.  He was living the leftist lie that allowed him to hide his textbook abusive behaviour for decades.

Abuse in Canadian media is so widespread that everyone has some story.  Get four female media personalities in a private room with drinks and the stories can fill hours.  It usually involves the same four or five dirtbags – male and female – but every so often you hear a new one about some hotshot star or executive who is just as bad.  The problem is that the very things that women in media are expected to do as part of our professional duties are used against us: provocative photo shoots, sexy on camera scenes, and daring evening gowns on red carpets are all used as “proof” that we’re just “looking for attention”.  Sex and sexuality are so demonized that it’s frequently used as a lever of control by manipulators like Jian Ghomeshi.  A guy like that gets so used to being peerless that he blames the women he mistreats for his own loneliness, and the encounters get rougher and more demeaning because the victimizer increasingly feels like the victim.

In my experience, even when you’re a woman in a position of relative power in Canadian media, you’re treated as “hysterical” if you insist on getting rid of someone for inappropriate conduct.  For reasons I can only guess at, employees who stopped being employees maintained a level of respect for the male authorities involved, but lashed out at the lone woman in the process – me.  Maybe it’s driven by the same core hatred of women that caused them to behave poorly in the first place, but I refuse to accept that this is at all normal male behaviour.  This is aberrant, and deserves to be treated as such.  The thing is that it’s so hard to fire someone with cause in Ontario that you never fire them for sexual harassment.  You eliminate their job, but you do so because they’re dirty pigs who are taking advantage despite being warned to stop.

Contrary to Jian Ghomeshi’s in-court assertions that workplaces should “not have any sexualized tone”, the reality is that media workplaces are inherently sexualized, and we’re supposed to be secure and grown up enough to respect people of all genders anyway.

What I love about working in the media is that you engage with people on a much deeper personal level than you would at a desk job.  You meet the most fascinating people, and you hear their stories.  You have to be secure enough in yourself that you can encounter new things, even new sexual proclivities, and not freak out, because the media is often on the bleeding edge of civil rights advocacy for LGBTQ people.  When you work in news, you also hear stories of abuse, see photos of assaults and murders, and you have to be strong enough to resist being eaten alive by that darkness, especially when children are involved.  Being able to trust your coworkers goes a long way in that regard – everyone has days when it just gets to them and they break, and you have to trust that your coworkers understand the struggle and won’t hold it over you.  That trust is precisely what a guy like Jian Ghomeshi and his enablers destroy.

I’m not at all surprised at Jian Ghomeshi’s clueless protestations that he didn’t know he was doing anything wrong.  His reality distortion field is still operational, if weakened some by public scrutiny, but this is far from the end of this tragedy.  You’d think that seeing a guy like Jian Ghomeshi brought low would bring some comfort to the people he hurt, but it doesn’t.  Careers were still destroyed, dreams were crushed on the altar of Ghomeshi’s ego, and not all of those will come back, despite what we now know.

The CBC rightly took away Ghomeshi’s power to bully his staff, but there are still people continuing that toxic legacy, and nothing less than a total overhaul of how the industry does business will stop a future Jian Ghomeshi-style scandal from happening.  Worse, countless people will be destroyed before some other predator becomes bold enough to get caught.  That’s the secret tragedy that will never get headlines.

You wonder why you don’t see more high ranking women in politics, and many media, business, and tech companies?  There’s probably at least one Ghomeshi in those companies, and at least five other people covering up for them.  They don’t just target women, but their attacks are most effective against women, because women don’t rise to CEO when some creep humps their ass at work and there’s nothing they can go to make it stop.  As it stands, there are too many creeps in the workforce like Jian Ghomeshi, and as much as it hurts women, these things hurt men too: all men should not be treated like predators because we’re terrible at stopping the real ones, but that’s the paradigm Jian Ghomeshi set.  The courts allowed him to say that he didn’t know that his absurd, demeaning, power trip behaviour was wrong.  Boys will be boys, right?  Nonsense.  Men know better.

(NOTE:  This article is NOT about the first trial that resulted in the not guilty verdict.  This is about a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT CASE involving a different woman that was scheduled to go to trial in June.  Some commenters are confusing the cases.)

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Farewell, Toy Box – Six Reasons Disney Infinity Suffered From Slow Growth

You may have heard by now that Disney Infinity is shutting down, and the reason given was slow growth in the toys to life market coupled with relatively high production costs. As a fan of toys to life games, and Disney Infinity in particular, I wanted to take a moment to detail some of the reasons why I think this is so, based purely from personal experience with writing and doing videos about these sorts of games.

1 – Overly aggressive DMCA and a disconnect with the games press 

I stopped covering Disney Infinity on my YouTube channel because I couldn’t make any money doing so. The music would get flagged by DMCA claims, and I’d lose all the revenue. Disney isn’t the only company making this mistake: Nintendo still doesn’t have a YouTube partnership program in Canada, so I don’t do videos on Amiibo either. At the end of the day, I love video games, but my YouTube channel is a business, so I focus on companies willing to do business with content creators like me. If they don’t appreciate what I bring to the table, I don’t cover their stuff. Simple. Again, this is a symptom of a much larger disconnect between multimedia properties and the games press. These brand managers are so afraid of the noise and the bad news that they don’t realize how powerful our relationships are with our audiences. People like me do have influence because our engagement levels are high. It’s just not the sort of influence that’s easily measured

2 – Toys to Life is expensive

To complete each yearly Skylanders set, parents are shelling out $300 on an annual basis. It’s the number one complaint I get from people who got their kids into Toys to Life stuff on my advice. Now that there are three Toys to Life franchises even without Disney – Skylanders, Lego Dimensions, and Nintendo’s Amiibo – that’s nearly a thousand bucks a year for those fully engaged. I can see parents wanting to have one fight and saying no to it all, instead of having to weigh the merits of purchasing every figure. Overall, I think that Toys to Life is currently too focused on the Toys part of the equation, instead of creating add-on content that can be played with toys you already own. It’s an imbalanced business model that in part is because core gaming sites neglected coverage of Toys to Life products, but that’s not completely an excuse for creating a buying churn instead of products that provide ongoing value for money. It would have kept parents happier if more game content had been developed for existing toys, because kids are going to want the cool new figures and cars anyway.

3 – Toys to Life creates a lot of clutter

I have no idea where to put any more figures. There is a critical point involving real life stuff where I don’t want to add another Rubbermaid bin to store all those figures. I’d been saying since Skylanders Giants came out that storage needs to be something that’s meaningfully addressed, but I didn’t see it happen. Instead, another 40 figures come out each year per game, and I ran out of places to put them. The difference between enduring brands and fads is that kids form an attachment to brands that endure, and this attachment doesn’t happen when a product focuses on quantity over quality time with each figure.

4 – The rarer figures were too hard to get

I heard about fights breaking out between parents in stores over certain figures. My husband had to contact the Disney PR people because the Stitch figure was completely sold out. People can’t buy figures they can’t find, and it seems that Toys to Life, across the board, has sacrificed accessibility for collector fever. These are products for kids, guys. Make the toys available to anyone who wants them, even if it means running a second issue of them.  Parents getting into fist fights isn’t the kind of press that’s healthy long term.

5 – Disney Infinity neglected story in favour of the Toy Box

I get the reasons that the Toy Box was originally the central focus – Disney Infinity‘s playtesting indicated that kids didn’t want to be told how to play the game as much as they wanted to make their own fun. But with subsequent waves came a marketing challenge: it’s easier to sell a new product than it is to sell improvements. Therefore, “Skylanders, NOW WITH CARS!” is an easier sell than “Toy Box 3.0” — so each cycle had diminishing returns because it wasn’t easy to explain why people should buy the latest thing when the previous one worked just fine. Meanwhile, it’s difficult to review a building tool as a game. The actual game element of Disney Infinity were Playsets that provided short campaign stories, and I don’t know why there weren’t more of those that matched some of the fan favourite characters. Going back to Stitch, there were levels for him, but no actual campaign. There was no feeling of completion. So I got two hours of enjoyment out of that figure instead of six, because my attention is too divided to play something without a narrative.

6 – The brands are just too lucrative to produce games in house

Why should Disney bother making Star Wars games when EA will do it for them and pay them a license that’s pure profit? Why should they tie up those Marvel characters when they can license them to a third party and again take no risk? These franchises are just too big for the profit margins that in-house video games can offer, since Disney’s internal approvals process is a slow, bottle-neck heavy ordeal. Disney is now free to license Star Wars and Marvel characters to Lego Dimensions, who already did Star Wars Lego games, and have Batman all through Dimensions. It’s smart: create an ally out of a competitor and cut your costs in the process.

It’s ironic that Disney bean counters now have the reigns of the company, but the balance sheets don’t lie: Disney knows how to make Intellectual Properties, but it’s never quite understood video games, so it makes more sense to do licensing business with game makers instead of trying to paddle around making chump change in a business they don’t get, and perhaps don’t even like. To Disney, video games are no different than bags, t-shirts, stuffed toys, and kids’ costumes, because they aren’t interested in developing unique game IPs for consoles and PC. Because of this, it makes financial sense for Disney to get out of the video game business. Long term, as video games become a more native form of entertainment, suffer from less stigma, and become a driver of all ages entertainment beyond Nintendo, this may be short sighted. But when that day comes, Disney can just hire on a new bunch of game makers and open up their interactive division again. They’re closing this door, not bricking it over.

(Note: A reader mentioned on twitter that the heavy restrictions on which characters could be used in Play Sets hampered their enjoyment of the game.  I don’t think this would have been an issue if more all-character-friendly Play Sets were produced, hence my point about more game content overall.  However, it is a specific criticism of Disney Infinity,  so I thought I’d add that my understanding was that these restrictions were imposed on the developers by Disney higher-ups.  The developers wanted more freedom but Disney brass thought the integrity of the characters was more important.)

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What The Good Wife Finale Tells Us About The Fault Lines in Modern Feminism

(This article contains spoilers for The Good Wife)

The Good Wife is over. Well, it’s ceased, at least. The final episode of the tawdry legal prime time ode to lying was as confused as it was unsatisfying, a baffling final installment in the story of Alicia Florrick, a stay-at-home mother turned high-powered lawyer in a marriage of convenience to the resoundingly corrupt politician Peter Florrick. For some reason, the creators of The Good Wife decided to end the story of a character who literally replaced God with Gloria Steinem by defining her by her relationships with three men, destroying her most prominent friendship with a woman, and leaving her with nothing.

It is, unintentionally, a perfect summary of the victim complex that has bogged down modern feminism.

The Good Wife was, on the whole, a sharp, cleverly-written, well-acted show, but it was a show about a woman who seems incapable of ever really owning her shit despite having a fairly financially comfortable life. Despite a massive gap in her resume and an apparent refusal to take any money from her cheating bastard husband, Alicia always lived in a posh, spacious Chicago apartment, wore fabulous designer clothes, and drank copious amounts of expensive red wine. Her kids went to private school. Her hair was always fabulous. And her biggest problem always seemed to be boys. That was a fine place for her character to start, based on her back story, but the fact that she never evolved beyond that belied the show’s undeniable tendency to leverage the current feminist fad for relevance.

Alicia’s solution to the problem of her corrupt, cheating husband was to sleep with her corrupt boss, Will Gardner. She’s rich, so that doesn’t have the “sleep your way to the middle” consequences it would have for a less wealthy woman. It does, however, make her corrupt cheating husband jealous, and drama ensues, like the Governor of Illinois and his wife are still in high school… because emotionally they are.

When her boss gets killed, she temporarily goes back to sleeping with her husband, only to stop that again when some dreamy boy toys started offering her other options again. She finally decides she likes one, Jason, only to have some adolescent-worthy meltdown because he bought her a gag gift of land on Mars.

What Alicia never does is take time to be alone, get her bearings, figure out who she is and what she wants, and then make conscious choices about her life based on those desired outcomes. Instead, she neglects her children, ruins her own life supporting her undeserving husband’s ambitions, possibly lets the one truly decent guy she’s ever met realize she’s emotionally immature and perhaps crazy, and continues to moon over a dead guy who was possibly the only non-sociopathic guy on the whole show who was a more selfish bastard than her husband. Oh and she drinks. A lot.

What Alicia Florrick never actually did was grow the hell up, and in not doing so, she fell short of the basic feminist principle that adult women are the equals of adult men. When you’re taking life advice from the memory of your on-again, off-again sex partner, you are not thinking for yourself and therefore not an adult. The show’s creators have said that Alicia’s arc is from “victim to victimizer”, which is not feminism. It’s a cycle of abuse with Gloria Steinem cameos.

The series ends with Alicia publicly humiliating her would-be partner, Diane, by exposing an apparent affair by Diane’s husband. Alicia justifies this by insisting it’s defending her client, but her client is her own husband, so there was a massive conflict of interest in Alicia’s decisions. Like so many of Alicia’s decisions, surface strength is undermined by deeper bad decisions.

I don’t buy that Alicia humiliated her former friend and mentor and embarrassed her gun expert husband on the witness stand just because she was defending her client. She did it because that client was the father of her children, and she was panicking because her daughter, Grace, was going to delay college if Peter went to jail. That was actually believable, because Grace ended up parenting her parents a lot; it’s the way of children of emotional train wrecks.

To me, Alicia didn’t stay with Peter because of his career or their kids. She stayed with him because she never learned to be accountable for her own choices, and he was easy to blame when it all went wrong.  She fell for Will because he was safely emotionally unavailable, just like her, and that only seemed to become love after he died.

It’s so very easy to love a dead man. Dead men will never disappoint you the way living ones will, because they stay frozen in time as a collection of your best memories of them. Will is play pretend, like most of Alicia’s dishonest life.

And that’s the problem with popular modern feminism: actual principles of equality are hard, and many women who self-identify as feminists take the easy way out when it’s time to do that hard work. They never get over being a victim, so they become victimizers. Activism is full of victimizers. This isn’t exclusive to feminism, but… let’s face it, it’s something we do have to address. Unfortunately, the media isn’t quite ready to shake off its love of weepy women brought low for drama. What we need to see more of is women who get knocked down and get back up, but is white Hollywood prepared to do that? Even Madam Secretary became more about the struggles of her husband as the first season progressed, so I’m not seeing much evidence of those “woman up off the mat” narratives outside of Empire. Cookie is pretty badass.

The problem with The Good Wife finale is that it ends on Alicia being knocked down, not with her getting back up. She is literally smacked in the face. By Diane.

For me, that smack rang out as a metaphor for women of the second wave telling the spoiled brats of the third-ish-going-on-fourth wave of feminism to stop squandering what they fought for. Yes, there is work to do. Yes, the system is still unfair. But if you’re rich, beautiful and healthy, and you’re still unhappy… sister, you have no one to blame for that but yourself. At the end of it, Alicia’s problem wasn’t Peter. It wasn’t Will. It wasn’t Jason. It was Alicia. Her idea of being “good” meant being dishonest, and she even lied to herself. Sure, everyone on The Good Wife lied. But what separated characters like Eli Gold from Peter and Alicia is that Eli was completely self aware that he was a liar. He was capable of telling the truth. Peter and Alicia lied so much, for so long, they forgot they were lying, so Alicia spent the time between Peter’s convictions in emotional suspended animation.

“Saint Alicia”, as her public persona was called on the show, was a televised embodiment of the virgin/whore dichotomy, but when Alicia got away from being a woman, she was a pretty smart lawyer. The courtroom was where Alicia stopped being “The Good Wife” or “The Bad Girl”. Court was where she was her best self, and that’s what makes her series’ end so tragic – her worlds collided and came crashing down when she played the role of Peter’s wife in the one place she’d previously been free of that. It’s not Alicia’s fault that Diane’s husband cheated. It is her fault that she had so little empathy for Diane, especially because she’d been through that public humiliation herself.

The fact that the contrasting slaps that began and ended the series were Alicia slapping Peter and Diane slapping Alicia indicate that the partnership that mattered the most to Diane was her plans for her female-led firm. Otherwise, she’d have slapped her husband, not her legal partner. Alicia didn’t understand that because she never learned to really care about anyone outside of the domestic paradigm… even if Alicia’s brand of domesticity involved trysts and booze. It’s probably an accident that Alicia’s two friends on the series – Kalinda and Lucca – were both women of color, but perhaps it’s an unintentional character point as well. What does that say about her? I’m still thinking about that.

More clear, however, is that Diane gets Alicia alone because Alicia had been literally chasing a boy – a man she thought was Jason but turned out wasn’t. I can’t say that Alicia had the wrong priorities chasing boys, because if she wanted to be a wife, first and foremost, that would be fine. The problem is that Alicia really had no firm priorities other than Peter, and Peter’s priority was also Peter, so Alicia was left with nothing.

A truly feminist show wouldn’t tie things up in a neat little bow at the end, but the only way The Good Wife can be viewed as feminist is as feminist cautionary tale of what happens when a woman doesn’t learn to stand on her own. The surprise on Alicia’s face when Diane smacked her told me that she’d not only learned little except how to lie better, but that she had, in fact, regressed into those lies. I mean, she was so deluded that her own self talk came in the form of her dead boyfriend. Even in her own head, a man was telling her what to do.

Delusion isn’t feminist. Delusion is nothing but delusion. If The Good Wife is, as the creators say, a show about lying where the victim becomes the victimizer, then what does that say about Alicia’s replacement of religion with feminism? Is feminism her atheist opiate? Or was even her feminism a lie? I think it’s the latter: feminism was methadone, because Peter was as bad for her as heroine. As long as she could lie to herself that being a career woman could make her happy, she could resist his sleazeball charms. But when it really came down to it, when he whistled, she always came running. The only thing that broke that spell was another man. For Alicia, Gloria Steinem was a false prophet: what Alicia really wanted was male approval, because she didn’t approve of herself. Feminism is supposed to empower women to stand on their own. Alicia’s didn’t give her that. How many self-described feminists fall into the same trap: the trappings of women’s liberation without the bravery to truly be free?

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