Friday, December 28, 2012

My favourite fictional worlds

As a reader of genre fiction, in particular fantasy and science fiction, I have read a whole lot of stories set in fictional worlds (of course, one can make the argument that our own world is as fictional when put into a story). Over the years, I've gained an appreciation for worlds that are logically coherent, fantastic, or just plain neat, and I figured I'd list my favourite ones.

Annwn from the Deverry Cycle by Katharine Kerr.

Most of this series takes place in Annwn, which is a world to which the Gaul tribe of the Deveti flee from our own world in the time of the Romans. The story is set over the next 1200 years as society, technology and politics change over time, and the meeting of the immigrating humans and the peoples that already live in that world.
Apart from the interesting interactions between humans and other races, the Deverry Cycle also has well-developed magic system akin to that of the Kabbalah or Golden Dawn, as well as a clear idea how other planes connect to the physical one. Though you can notice some changes in the world-building over time, it's a well-constructed and researched world that I wouldn't mind seeing more of (especially with the technological developments hinted at at times).

Alternate Earth of 1837 (Gregorian Calendar) from Cold Magic by Kate Elliott.

The world of Cold Magic is our own. Except, you know, for the magic, the cold, the salt ghouls who took over Africa, the Malinese who immigrated with all their wealth and changed the political balance in Europe, the surviving Roman Empire, the glacier that covers Scandinavia and the rest of the north and the dinosaur-descended trolls who live in North America. Cold Magic has a great world, in my mind, that changes some fundamentals and drives those fundamentals to large-scale change millennia later. Another thing that really gets me excited is that it's a world that's on the brink of mass movement politics and the industrial revolution, and a Napoleon-like character making waves.
Apart from the physical, the spirit realm is well-represented and so far, Elliott seems to have a firm grasp of where she wants to take it.

Terra GirlGenius (or whatever) from Girl Genius by Phil and Kaja Foglio.

The world in Girl Genius is in the genre of gaslamp fantasy (earlier steampunk) but with the essential ingredient of MAD SCIENCE! to spice it up a bit. Britannia has a sunken empire with a power-mad queen,, no one has managed to travel to America and back for years, small-time sparks go insane and create various abominations to gods and nature, warrior princesses from hidden nations roam the countryside in traveling circuses, and Pax Wulfenbach keeps Europa relatively calm. That's the world we're thrown into and gets to see through the eyes of Agatha Heterodyne, heir of long-lost heroes. Unlike the first two worlds, the world of Girl Genius is not particularly famed for logical consistency, opting instead for BATSHIT INSANE, and it is completely wonderful.
At the moment, they are about to wake a long slumbering insane castle to protect themselves from the giant airship that is Castle Wulfenbach. Also dragons and mind-controlling aunts. Though I live just about everything about the world, the series keeps offering up mysteries to which I want answers which makes the world even better. And I can't wait for the battle that will ensue between Zeetha, warrior princess, and Bang, pirate queen.

The Universe of Warhammer 40k by Games Workshop.

The universe in Warhammer 40k is crazy. The setting is Gothic science-fantasy on a galactic scale, and it features a theo-fascist Imperium of Mankind, who can be seen as the "good guys" of the setting, except for sacrificing 10 000 people to their undead emperor a day, preferring to wipe out the population of a whole planet rather than accept the risk of heresy, who keep scientific advancement suppressed and in the hands of techno-priests, and other general insanity. Of course, when your enemies are the forces of Chaos  who can take over people's minds and invade worlds with demons, fungus-based orks who pillage worlds for fun, undead mechanical beings, an alien insect-like species that live only for feeding, and the other unpleasantries of that universe, maybe that approach makes sense (not really). In truth, I probably just like it for the insane quotes the franchise produces.
"An open mind is like a fortress with its gates unbarred and unguarded."

Arda by JRR Tolkien.

One of the most successful fictional worlds ever. Though I have my problems with the books Tolkien produced, I can still lose several hours reading wikis and other sources about Middle-earth, the history of the elves, the curse of Fëanor, and everything else Tolkien wove into a great mythological whole.

The World of The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold.

Though the sci-fi universe she created with the Dendarii (Miles Vorkosigan/Naismith) series is more popular, and though I like that a lot as well, Lois McMaster Bujold really got me with the world in Curse of Chalion, though mostly because of the theology. The three books in the series highlight heroes that grapple with great problems and the questionable blessing of sainthood, with the gods of that world trying to reach into the world through them to bring about their wanted end. Though not particularly well-developed, getting to see her world through the eyes of her ever-cynical protagonists makes it a joy to experience, and the five gods of Mother, Father, Son, Daughter, and Bastard make for an interesting group and theological setting.

There are plenty of other worlds I have enjoyed over the years, and series like Babylon 5, Mass Effect, The Fourlands by Steph Swainston (who takes the fantastic to the next level with gardens of meat!), The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin, the large, sprawling mess of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time, and the interesting magic system and depressing world of Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson, but on the whole the worlds above ar the ones I've spent the most time thinking about, at least recently.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I like characters to fight their story

I finished watching the anime Princess Tutu the other day, and it made me a bit more aware of what exactly I love about my favourite anime (and possibly favourite serialized work overall), Revolutionary Girl Utena. Princess Tutu is about a town that has fallen halfway into the world of stories, with the main story called The Prince and the Raven. The prince could only trap the (obviously evil, as ravens are) raven by using his own heart, leaving it scattered in the town. So the prince lives, devoid of almost all emotions, protected by his knight from the story (doomed to die at the claws of the raven), and with the raven's daughter hovering around him, looking to claim his love. You know, a fairy-tale. Into this story comes a brave duck who wants to help the prince so much that she's turned into a girl to be able to do it, as well as getting the powers of ballet, as so commonly happens.
More to the point, the story of Princess Tutu revolves around how set in stone a story is. The main antagonist in Princess Tutu isn't necessarily the raven, but the storyteller whose influence still shines through in every part of the town. The characters try to break free from the confines of the tragedy that the storyteller has made for them, especially the knight in finding a new purpose after having avoided a glorious death. It's about characters refusing to be defined by a story and roles others have written for them, whether consciously or not. In Princess Tutu, however, unlike Revolutionary Girl Utena, the story is a bit more straightforward; we know that the antagonist is the storyteller (who is a character himself, after all), at the end the characters hew quite closely to the roles they were supposed to play, having only replaced the storyteller with a more benevolent writer, and it's more the story that has been challenged, rather than what happens in Utena.
With the ending of Revolutionary Girl Utena, what is challenged is more completely the roles and archetypes that the characters are assigned by the story as it's "meant" to be told. There's no official storyteller who believes himself to be in total control, it's understood by the main players that Utena, for instance, has agency, but they believe that in the end she, and everyone else, must conform to the roles set. As a viewer, you are also led to believe that Utena should be the prince of the tale, with her princess and enemy (the evil one, the witch), and that's what you're supposed to root for. It's quite brilliant when the most visible antagonists use the approach of trying to get Utena to be their princess to defeat her, putting them as the prince and turning Utena's princess into a witch (since there can be only one princess, after all). Revolutionary Girl Utena uses the core concepts, the brave prince, the beautiful princess, and the evil witch, of fairy-tales, but doesn't otherwise use fairy tales as much as Princess Tutu, yet manages to thoroughly penetrate the problems of these archetypes when applied to characters who are multi-faceted. And in the end, instead of more or less going with the brave prince rescuing a princess, Revolutionary Girl Utena manages to deliver a message that what's wrong is not if the wrong person wins, but that limiting ourselves to roles and archetypes is what should be fought to the last breath. And that's what I love more than anything.

I love Swedish fathers

I know it's trite, and that it's true that fathers sometimes have to do way less than mothers to get a hardy "well done" from the crowd, and it remains a fact that women spend more time on domestic work, especially after a couple has children, and finally, men only take out 24% of the total parental leave. Be that as it may, seeing that one guy on the subway the other day who had a BabyBjörn on his chest and another one on his back while everyone were in heavy winter clothes just made me really happy. Having a chat with a co-worker who will take his 8.5 months of parental leave starting this week also added to my general sense of happiness about how men's share of nurturing parenting is increasing, which I think is a good thing for children, men, women, and society as a whole.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Unwanted Pregnancies Should Be Rare. Abortions Should Be Safe and Legal.

Let me start off by saying that of course I'm against cancer surgery. I mean, it's an invasive procedure that no one wants to do, so why would anyone proclaim themselves to be in favour of cancer surgery?
Okay, so it might be that I've been reading a bit much about abortion recently and am starting to get annoyed at how many people who really need to point out that they're totally not "pro-abortion". I suppose I get the urge to do so, but it gets a bit silly when we consider just about any kind of medical intervention: in the ideal world we wouldn't have to do them because there would not exist any reason to. It's kind of redundant.
Personally, I find safe abortion to be a wonderful invention that has improved the lives of countless women, whether they needed it because they didn't want to have children or because there was a medical emergency that necessitated it. I don't think we should have to tiptoe around how much better a world with abortions is than one without it. I suppose it is possible to envision a world where we've gotten rid of unwanted pregnancy, but we've certainly never had such a world, and it's a far way off today. Preventing unwanted pregnancies is an important public health objective, however, and is definitely something we should work towards and then no one would need abortions. It's just too bad that the people who proclaim to be against abortions do not seem to care to do anything useful about it.
On another note, I hope that a restrictive exception-based approach to termination (in Ireland's case abortion is allowed to protect the "life but not health" of the mother) is an exceedingly poor approach to take, whether it's a ludicrous provision about allowing it in cases of rape (proven how, exactly) or when it leaves doctors wondering whether a situation fits the legal definition of life-threatening. Of course, in the case of Savita's tragic death, it might have been the influence of the Catholic approach that lead to an all-too-late intervention, rather than the unsettled legal situation, per se.
The link about the Catholic approach is specifically about the US, and I certainly don't know if it's similar in other parts of the world, but if it is, I hope pregnant women who get health problems stay away from Catholic hospitals. This harrowing account will definitely stick with me:
I'll never forget this; it was awful—I had one of my partners accept this patient at 19 weeks. The pregnancy was in the vagina. It was over… . And so he takes this patient and transferred her to [our] tertiary medical center, which I was just livid about, and, you know, “we're going to save the pregnancy.” So of course, I'm on call when she gets septic, and she's septic to the point that I'm pushing pressors on labor and delivery trying to keep her blood pressure up, and I have her on a cooling blanket because she's 106 degrees. And I needed to get everything out. And so I put the ultrasound machine on and there was still a heartbeat, and [the ethics committee] wouldn't let me because there was still a heartbeat. This woman is dying before our eyes. I went in to examine her, and I was able to find the umbilical cord through the membranes and just snapped the umbilical cord and so that I could put the ultrasound—“Oh look. No heartbeat. Let's go.” She was so sick she was in the [intensive care unit] for about 10 days and very nearly died… . She was in DIC [disseminated intravascular coagulopathy]… . Her bleeding was so bad that the sclera, the white of her eyes, were red, filled with blood… . And I said, “I just can't do this. I can't put myself behind this. This is not worth it to me.” That's why I left.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Ah, fuck anime

I can take a lot of stuff that I don't necessarily find good in terms of gender politics, I've watched series with plenty of eye candy and varying degrees of fanservice whether in terms of visual style or character quirks. Stuff like Ikki Tousen, Re:Cutie Honey, K-On!, or a certain series that will not be named. After a while, that kind of thing just rolls off me if there are other qualities of the show that I like enough to keep watching, and to the extent that the existence of said gender politics, I can ignore and criticize it as I see fit.
So maybe it's weird for me to want to flip a damn table when I see a female character unquestioningly go stand at the stove and cook food for the male characters who lounge around a table waiting for her to finish. It might just be because it's reflects the fact that domestic work is something that overwhelmingly falls on women in pretty much every country, while the existence of super-powerful people who punch each others' clothes of is more restricted to excessively silly action shows, grounded in male gaze and viewer-attracting calculation though it may be. It might also be that I'm feeling extra sensitive about the topic in a Japanese context at the moment after reading Susan D. Holloway's Women and Family in Contemporary Japan, where the situation for some mothers in Japan is analysed based on a set of extensive interviews with mothers in Osaka. It also provided a historical background and left me fuming at the conscious policy to restrict women to domestic and part-time work, unquestioning assumptions about gender roles, and the smothering of the ambitions of young women on the altar of said gender roles, and to see part of that play out in a series I'm watching pushes my buttons a bit extra right now.
I should probably be clear in that there weren't that much in Holloway's book that was new to me, but having it all laid out at once does give it an added weight.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Legend of Korra and Republic City Politics

Moving on from Asami Sato's dire situation, let's take a look at the general political situation in Republic City at the end of the first season of The Legend of Korra. Though the crisis with Amon has been resolved and Korra has claimed her place as the Avatar not just through providence but through deeds, the general situation in Republic City is still marked by a lot of uncertainty and problems that are likely to escalate unless they are handled deftly.
The main lens for this analysis is the bender/non-bender split, which incorporates problems surrounding technological development, political structure, and the risk of a wide-spread ressentiment for both sides. Before going deeper into the situation, it should be mentioned that obviously there are plenty of people and families who exist in the middle and have no problems with either group, but since this is a political analysis, such nuance will of course be completely ignored.
At the end of the first season, Korra and her friends have defeated Amon and the Equalists, while the rather fascistic Tarrlok is dead, leaving the governing council of Republic City in wise hands that do not approve of oppression of non-benders. So, to quote a dancing demon in Buffy: big smiles everyone. You beat the bad guy.

But if we look at the bender population, what have they learned through the conflict with the Equalists? That they are, for the first time, vulnerable to attack from non-benders. As we have seen throughout both The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, benders are a bit of a privileged class, being the go-to group for the military, law enforcement and rulers of different stature are often benders. Though well-organized groups of non-benders could have created a danger in the past using bows and sneak attacks, I daresay that the Equalists were the first group that had the methods and the means to defeat benders regularly, through the equalizing effect of technology. Thus, I would claim that the general bender population are in a state of greater uncertainty after the defeat of the Equalists than before they came onto the scene. The form this uncertainty will take in practice is of course up for debate. I would claim that, since it was revealed that the main non-bender in the Equalist organization (Amon himself being revealed as a bender) was the industrialist Hiroshi Sato and that technology was used with great effects against the bender-based police and military, the benders of Republic City will react negatively towards technology itself and start pushing to keep technology out of the hands of non-benders and restrict technological advancement to keep their privileged position.

The non-benders, on the other hand, had a lot of understandable resentment that obviously generated significant support for the Equalists under Amon, and the behaviour of the Republic City government in response to the Equalist threat most likely reinforced that resentment against discrimination of non-benders. The reveal that Amon was actually a bender himself probably reinforced resentment against benders as well, since it could lead them to think that benders consider them pawns in their own power games. At the same time, the Equalist success and use of technology will probably make more non-benders realise the potential of it. As we could see in the beginning of the series there are bender mobs running protection rackets against non-benders - the existence of the Equalist technology will thus most likely lead to the rise of non-bender businessmen banding together to protect themselves. If the Republic City government tries to restrict the electro-gloves and other offensive technology, that would probably mean that these group would be extra-legal in nature and, as such things go, create the foundation of a shadow economy and more deeply entrenched mafias such as the Cosa Nostra.
The advances of technology also means that there is less reason for the police and military occupations to be exclusive to benders, so non-benders would probably push for those to open up (with corresponding opposition by those wanting to keep bender privilege).

Taken together, this balance presents a formidable dilemma for the Republic City government. In our world, of course, we have plenty of examples to draw from where a previously protected and privileged class (the aristocracy) got threatened and overtaken by a rich merchant class (the bourgeoisie), but in the world of Avatar, there really is an innate difference between bender and non-bender, which might well lead to more problems.
We'll see how much of these problems actually show up in the series.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The end of season one of The Legend of Korra and Asami

Or: what the hell did they just do to this poor character?
The Legend of Korra, for those who don't know, is the sequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender, but with an older audience. It follows the adventures of the new avatar, Korra, in the steampunky Republic City. This post, however, focuses on the situation of Asami, one of Korra's friends who help her in the final battle. Asami's father, Hiroshi Sato, is one of the main villains of the series, who has been supplying Amon's forces with weapons and equipment under the guise of his industrial empire.
Sato is one of, if not the, wealthiest people in Republic City before the end of the first season, and Asami has grown up in privilege (though without her mother, whose death created the impetus for Sato's later villainy) and wealth. During the first season, she also gets together with Mako,  who is a hot firebender.
At the end of the first season, however, Asami loses everything: her boyfriend leaves her for Korra, together with Korra and her friends, they arrest Asami's father, and the Equalists are defeated and with them all the equipment Sato's company has been supplying them with. I'll ignore the heartbreak here, because the series dwelt enough on that.
So where does that leave Asami? Her mother is dead and her father is in jail. The company that her father built from the ground up and which she was going to take over in the future will almost certainly be taken over by the Republic City authorities and sold off to pay for the destruction that the Equalists wrought. Her father's wealth, which has kept her in comfort until now, will most likely also be used to pay for damages, since he was personally involved in the Equalists' struggle. So that would leave her with no source of money and without a family, which is quite grim.
There are some possible bright spots, however; she might have received money in the past from her father, like in the form of a trust or in gifts that are thus legitimately her own (any money that she has been given recently might be taken from her on account of laws meant to prevent criminals from giving all their wealth to their families so it can't be seized). This would presumably include her car, all her clothes, and probably quite a lot of other sundry items. In addition, in the legal wrangling following the break-up of Sato's company and resources, it's possible that it will turn out that he owned other companies that were not involved in the Equalists' operation. Given Sato's immense personal wealth, it is possible that after the damages he owes are paid, he will still retain ownership of these companies (that is unless he is also found personally liable for the damages caused by his main company, in which case I don't see any way for him to pay all of that off), which would probably be left in the care of Asami. Not an easy position to be in, to be sure, but not quite as dire as having no family, no money, and no boyfriend (though still with a top-notch education and wicked car).
Personally, I would like to see Asami being left with a car shop and using it as the base to start rebuilding the Sato industrial empire. I know I won't get my wish, but I think that would be fun to see.
Now, you might wonder who would benefit from the break-up of the Sato empire, who will be in the perfect situation to accept new government contracts for rebuilding the city, and who will buy up Sato resources under their free market value - and of course it could only be the guy who always comes up on top:

I hope things will go better for Asami in the second season, I think she deserves it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What I'm hopeful about regarding Girl Genius

Girl Genius (first comic) is a webcomic by Phil and Kaja Foglio, of various geek comic (and Magic art) fame. It's also one of my most beloved comics, being about a faux-18th/19th century where MAD SCIENCE rules Europa (and the rest of the world, but we haven't seen any of that), which contains a sunken Britannia, the Wulfenbach Empire keeping the peace with the iron fist and a whole lot of mad scientists (sparks) and other freaks of nature ("An abomination of science that CURDLES THE MILK OF ALL HONEST MEN!" "Well, aren't we all?" "Oh, I SAY, sir!"). But apart from all that, and the amazon princesses, pirate queens, dark secrets, darker secrets, and the mystery of Airman Higgs, what's important is that Agatha currently has 2 beaus. One is Gilgamesh Wulfenbach and the other is Tarvek Stormvoraus, rivals and both scions of mighty empires and/or secret conspiracies. As the links make clear, they both have their qualities, but Gil still remains the favourite.
However, what I hope for is that she'll end up with both. And not one after the other, both at the same time. Why am I hoping for polyamory here? Because it's not really the type of relationship that shows up a lot in even slightly mainstream fiction (and given the number of Hugos Girl Genius has received (three in a row, before taking themselves out of the running) it's... sort of mainstream?), and more importantly, there is a non-trivial chance that it will happen! Why would I expect it from the Foglios? One, the possibility has been acknowledged in the comic itself. Second, the characters aren't tearing their hair excessively about various entanglements (which makes sense since she's not actually in a relationship with either of them yet) which gives some hope that whatever relationship she will end up in will be a healthy one. Third, Phil Foglio wrote XXXenophile, which, as the name might hint at, is an erotic comic. More importantly, it's an erotic comic that is sex-positive, and includes pretty much any consensual relationship configuration you can think of.
In addition, since the characters are pretty much equals and respect each other (and the authors seem to respect them), it would most likely be a positive depiction of a polyamorous relationship between equal partners. And though a webcomic (it's also available in physical form) isn't the grandest of stages, every little step helps.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

How to whiff on queer issues in video games - Persona 4 edition

Disclaimer: I have not actually played Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, but I have seen it played for 60-odd hours, which naturally included most of the story elements.

Persona 4 has the potential to be a wonderful game from a queer perspective, as it raises interesting questions about masculinity, femininity, homosexuality, and trans* issues. It's set in a high school and town in Japan and features a cast of eight main characters. The characters who are most interesting in light of these issues are Kanji Tatsumi and Naoto Shirogane. Kanji is a bad-ass who beats up bike gangs and gets hassled by cops because of his attitude. He also loves sewing and crafts and is the heir to a textile shop (the fact that he got bullied for his love of crafts is also one reason why he started acting as a tough guy). In the sequence where the characters enter the Shadow World created by Kanji's psyche (the main conceit of the game is that we have shadow versions of ourselves representing parts of us that we don't accept, but over the top and distorted), it's in the form of a "hot bathhouse" and the shadow version of him is an over-the-top and lisping lad-fancier. He was also seen before your team enters his Shadow World in conversation with a boy (actually Naoto) that gets him rather flustered. At the end of the Kanji quest, Kanji accepts "that part" of himself, which I think most people would interpret as him accepting his homosexuality.

The problem Kanji's storyline (apart from the over-the-top bathhouse imagery, but that could be ok) is that very little is said straight out, and not in the good way. It might just be a problem with the translation, to be sure, but I think the most common word when referring to Kanji possibly being gay is "strange" (the Japanese "hen"?) and homosexuality in general as "that thing". So the very thing is unspeakable to begin with, which doesn't really inspire confidence. This is aggravated by the other characters (especially Yosuke, but he is not rebutted by the others) pretty much making fun of him for being gay in a very heteronormative way, like at the School Culture Festival "date café" where it's suggested he should take the girls' side, and at the cross-dressing beauty pageant (which is soooooo funny), without actually saying straight out that he's gay. Being made fun of sets Kanji off, being a bit of a hothead, but it sets him off in the "I'm not gay and stop saying I am"-kind of way, because it starts being more and more clear that Kanji actually isn't. So for most of the game that includes Kanji, gay men are made fun of in a really trite manner and even when not made fun of outright, aggressively othered by both the other characters and Kanji himself, and the player is given little chance to rebut the idiocy.

The good part about Kanji's story is at least that he comes to terms with and starts taking greater pride in his love of crafts and creating wonderful stuffed animals and the like for the town's children, so at least standards of masculinity are questioned.

Now over to Naoto, who is at first presented as a boy (and a genius detective, bit of a Tintin thing going on), and is the one who makes Kanji flustered. In hir Shadow World, the part that zie needs to accept is the fact that zie is still a child on the one hand, and (big reveal!) that zie was born a girl on the other. After that reveal it's not entirely clear which way Naoto will go, as it also includes a line about accepting hir body the way it is (and implying that acting as a boy is because zie thought being a boy would make hir dream of becoming the best detective zie could be possible (which raises some interesting gender questions in itself). However, as the team goes back to school, Naoto still dresses as a boy and says that zie will go on much like zie had before. Now, however, the entire school is gossiping about how zie is actually a girl. The team proceeds to try to pair Naoto and Kanji together (which is ok), and making constant references to how Naoto is actually a girl, including the oh-so-sensitive "oh right, you're actually a girl, no wonder you got kidnapped and couldn't fight back" (never mind that bad boy Kanji got kidnapped far more easily) and comments about hir cuteness. At the School Culture Festival, there is also a "regular" (meaning, of course, one for girls) beauty pageant, where the girls of the team are signed up against their will, including Naoto, at which point I was in an apoplexy about the trans* and gay bullying going on in the game.

In Naoto's case, zie is still, at the point that I've so far seen of the game (about 4/5 in) a competent detective, but so far no mention of gender issues in conversations with hir. I sort of suspect that any lingering trans* issues will be erased as the game continues, though, and that the normative will be authoritatively restored to the school, thus utterly wasting some of the most interesting character setups in video games.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Rocky Horror Picture Show and transphobia

My apologies for any poor choice of words in this text, haven't read that many political texts about trans* issues recently.
This isn't a book review, but rather an issue that I started thinking of because of something a friend said, and I felt a compulsive need to defend something I like (because if I like it, it must also be good, right?).

Is The Rocky Horror Picture Show derogatory towards trans* people? With its flamboyantly evil Frank-n-Furter as the main character with its stereotypical glitzy look and hypersexuality, it's definitely plays to a specific stereotype, and one that has been played on in several mainstream depictions of trans* people. In addition, the movie features a brutal murder of that trans* person by supposed authority figures, and that only a few years after the Stonewall Riots had trans* people being beaten up by police in the event that is seen as a start of the queer movement as a whole. Finally, when looking at the narrative of the movie, Frank-n-Furter's role seems to mostly be there to provide a seduction for the strait-laced white middle class represented by Brad and Janet, thus affirming the role of queer as something that can provide a bit of "spice," rather than affirm queer as a viable option.

Nevertheless, I am not comfortable with labelling The Rocky Horror Picture Show as transphobic (though the murder scene gives me qualms). Though it is most likely the most wide-spread depiction of a trans* person, and that the depiction is so stereotypical and partly negative, that is not really the fault of the movie. If the movie had been cynically produced to cash in on that stereotype, perhaps with John Travolta playing the hammy trans* person, then I would agree that there is a problem with the movie specifically. Instead, I identify the problems surrounding the movie to have more to do with the movie industry and mainstream society; the movie industry for not showing enough queer people as a matter of course, and mainstream society for only embracing the chintzy seduction of Frank-n-Furter and ignoring any other trans* person in the media.

As it is, The Rocky Horror Picture Show was made in the 70s by a director, Richard O'Brien, who has subsequently come out as a trans* person, and who did it as a way to come to terms with his experiences at the time. Though it was funded by a large Hollywood producer, it was by no means a big-budget item and not (as far as I know) an idea to cash in on anti-trans* sentiment. Though we should definitely discuss what the movie means in context and its problematic role, I do not think that the fact that it presents a stereotypical (and evil) trans* person is enough to label it as transphobic. It is, after all, the result of the life experiences of a trans* man and, given its embrace by many, a movie that has meaning for the trans* and queer feelings of many. During the 1990s, there seemed to me to be a glut of movies with lesbian themes that were depressive as hell and ended with the protagonists getting killed - were the movies themselves the problem? I would say no, the problem is a culture where alternative expressions are not funded and ignored by the mainstream while the preferred depiction is put on a pedestal to the detriment of the rest.

Thus, in my opinion, we should certainly keep discussing The Rocky Horror Picture Show and its position and status in society, but to label the movie itself as anti-trans (by which I mean an expression of transphobia by mainstream society) would not be a good development - in particular, it seems to suggest that only a certain kind of trans* experience is fit to be interpreted through media.