Another rambling on problematic media

Over the Christmas holiday I watched the Jane Eyre (2006) miniseries for possibly the hundredth time. It’s my favorite adaptation, and Toby Stephens is delightful as Mr Rochester even if it’s difficult to believe he’s unhandsome. I read the book for the first time when I was eleven years old and have read it at least six times since then. I’ve read it for pleasure; I’ve read it for classes. I’ve studied it through feminist, marxist, and postcolonial lenses. Somehow, through all of that, Jane Eyre is still one of my favorite novels and one of the few stories I never get tired of revisiting again and again in text as well as its numerous screen adaptations.

The thing is, it’s a pretty fucked up story. It’s problematic.

Mr Rochester keeps his mentally ill wife locked up and lies to Jane about this, all of which is further complicated by the fact that Mr Rochester’s wife is a woman of color. I can’t ignore any of that, and it would be remiss of me to gloss over those story details.

At the same time, however, I adore Jane’s story: a coming of age story so rarely given to women, where she’s allowed to be flawed, complicated, opinionated. Jane was important to me when I was eleven years old; Jane continues to be important to me in adulthood. She knows herself and is uncompromising; when she and Mr Rochester finally do come together it is, for the most part, as equals.

Again, despite that love, I can’t ignore the problematic elements. There was a time, as a freshman in college, that I wanted to because it’s normal to want the things we love to be flawless, but in confronting and questioning its problematic elements, I’ve developed a more nuanced understanding of Jane Eyre; I’ve learned how to allow the things I love about the story to coexist with its problematic elements.

My thoughts come back to this particular example any time I get pulled into discussions about fandom and the rise of what’s being called Purity Culture. Purity Culture is, as I understand it, the pressure to disavow the entirety of any media that’s deemed problematic and for creators to scrub any problematic elements from their work.

At its worst, Purity Culture expresses itself in online harassment of people who enjoy Problematic Things; it stifles storytelling in the name of protecting people and supposes a connection between what media a person enjoys and that person’s moral standing. In case you couldn’t tell, I don’t have positive feelings towards Purity Culture.

A few years ago I was dragged on Tumblr for posting something about Jane Eyre being my favorite novel. Liking it, the argument went, makes me a bad person. This was followed by condescending lectures about the novel’s problematic elements as if I had never even considered them. That holier-than-thou approach is what kills my desire to have an actual conversation. It’s not a great feeling to be spoken to as if I’m an ignorant person who doesn’t know how to consume media critically.

I would love to have dialogue about why Jane Eyre is a problematic story, and if someone absolutely hates it, I’m not going to pressure them to change their mind. That’s true for any media, really. There are plenty of things that I find problematic in personally inexcusable ways. We all have different limits based on our life experiences, and it’s a constant balancing act of knowing our own limits, respecting others’ limits, and accepting that sometimes those limits are going to be inconsistent and contradictory. Because humans are complicated, messy, problematic creatures.

 

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2018 Reading List

*blows the dust off this place*

Anyone still here? Anyway…

Going into 2018, I’m going to attempt to blog more, write more fiction, and actually finish the approximately five million unread books piling up around my house. So because I have no sense of what a normal amount of books is, here are 50 books I’m going to read in 2018! Yeah, I’m laughing too.

  1. Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson
  2. Meditations – Marcus Aurelius
  3. The Odyssey – Homer (either Fitzgerald or Wilson translation)
  4. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Bronte
  5. Persuasion – Jane Austen
  6. Blackhearts – Nicole Castroman
  7. Trade Me – Courtney Milan
  8. Hold Me – Courtney Milan
  9. Bloodline – Claudia Gray
  10. Moby Dick – Herman Melville
  11. Antichrist – Friedrich Nietzsche
  12. A General History of the Pyrates – Daniel Dafoe
  13. Milton: Poet, Pamphleteer, and Patriot – Anna Beer
  14. Hamilton – Ron Chernow
  15. Say Yes to the Marquess – Tessa Dare
  16. Female Tars – Suzanne J. Stark
  17. Iced! – Judith Alguire
  18. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
  19. Orlando – Virginia Woolf
  20. The Tailor of Panama – John Le Carre
  21. Berlin Game – Len Deighton
  22. The Fears of Henry IV – Ian Mortimer
  23. Feed – Mira Grant
  24. The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates – John Milton
  25. Doctor Zhivago – Boris Pasternak
  26. The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
  27. Lady Chatterley’s Lover  – D.H. Lawrence
  28. Nicomachean Ethics – Aristotle
  29. Essential Judaism – George Robinson
  30. IQ84, vol. 1 – Haruki Murakami
  31. All or Nothing – Rose Lerner
  32. Beauty and the Blacksmith – Tessa Dare
  33. Butterfly Swords – Jeannie Lin
  34. See Jane Score – Rachel Gibson
  35. Body Check – Deirdre Martin
  36. Once Upon a Marquess – Courtney Milan
  37. Her Every Wish – Courtney Milan
  38. The Suffragette Scandal – Courtney Milan
  39. Lost Stars – Claudia Gray
  40. Smuggler’s Run – Greg Rucka
  41. The Craft of Intelligence – Allen Dulles
  42. The IPCRESS File – Len Deighton
  43. Two Treatises of Government – John Locke
  44. Scoop – Evelyn Waugh
  45. Death Comes to Pemberley – P.D. James
  46. A Most Wanted Man – John Le Carre
  47. Red Star Tales – Yvonne Howel, Ed.
  48. Of Love and Other Demons – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  49. Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys
  50. Leia, Princess of Alderaan – Claudia Gray

 

Preacher Lessons

I know a town like Annville.

When I was a kid, my parents and me would pack up and drive West from Atlanta to a little Texas town called Plainview. It’s my dad’s hometown. You won’t find it on any map. My earliest memories are a dreamscape of riding on two-lane roads into nothing for hundreds of miles, watching tornadoes and purple lightning touch down on impossibly far off horizons, eating at roadside diners with beehive-haired waitresses talking around a cigarette in their mouth. Those damn car rides that went on forever with nothing to listen to but country music and Bible sermons on the radio. I played a lot of video games on my Sega Nomad (anyone remember those?) but mostly I just stared out the window at scraggly landscape punctuated by oil wells and towns with more people buried in the cemetery than living in the houses.

I’ve been to enough places just like it out in the West Texas desert. Places where the sheriff doesn’t give a shit, the locals are itching for a fight ’cause there’s nothing better to do, and the damn air conditioner is always broken. Everyone *has a past*, whispered but never actually talked about. “Well he had to move away,” everyone says, “you know why.” I’m related to a few of those you-know-whys.

I laughed at Annville’s sweat-sheened residents, felt overcome with nostalgia for the worst things in my childhood. Not because I love them but because they’re familiar. People like me have complicated relationships with our upbringing. I’m dead to most of my family in Texas for living in sin with a woman, but there’s something weird about memory. If I think about it for just a moment, I can feel the sun on my face, the sweat clinging to my body never able to do its job of keeping me cool. I can smell the barbecue at a picnic in the churchyard and hear some idiot cousin of mine shooting squirrels out of the tree, an uncle lecturing my dad — his baby brother — on not raising a good Christian daughter. I’ve always been too rough and too wild for my dad’s family. For my mom’s family too, but that’s another story.

Lord, I know a town like Annville.

I love this Preacher TV show even if it’s in no hurry to get to any kind of point. I love to drink it in the way Jesse drinks a beer on a hot day, let it crawl under my skin. It’s not quite like the comic book, and exactly the version of the story I need right now.

I read the comic book when I was sixteen, hidden under the covers with a flashlight on a twin size bed while my friend slept. We were at church camp, teaching the little kids, and I hadn’t told anyone I was atheist yet. I kept that Preacher trade paperback hidden under my pillow during the day. It was the “All in the Family” one. Kind of fitting if you think about it.

I was angry at God, angry at the Church in that way that happens when you’re one of those lost souls who never could stuff herself into that Good Christian Girl box. By then I hadn’t been on good terms with the Church since I refused baptism at seven years old and passed out during a Passion play a few years later. Something wasn’t right about me, is what people said, but I kept going to church because not going to church in a small town got you bullied and I had enough of that already. Somewhere along the line I decided God didn’t exist, because no God would let people be so awful in His name.

Then I found this comic book. I found it in a Borders book store at the mall — that’s where nerd kids like me hung out. It caught my interest because Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon were the creative team. I had just finished reading a bunch of their Punisher comics, so I thought, why the hell not? The disgusting, shock value violence appealed to my teenage sensibilities. The sex stuff fascinated me. Tulip made me feel things I wouldn’t understand for another ten years. And Jesse’s anger at God cut to the core of my own.

Teenage anger is powerful, destructive, untempered by compassion or wisdom. Mine was the result of emotional and physical trauma, bottled up feelings, confusion at not understanding why girls were treated so differently and slapped with so many restrictions. I was burning up. In Jesse I found my anger reflected back at me and allowed to run rampant in all its destructive glory yet safely within the confines of those comic book pages. It was healthy in a way.

Now I’m twenty-nine and angry at God all over again. I thought I’d made my peace with the Lord and the Church, but then I came out and it started all over again. It’s hard being a queer girl in a Christian family. We stopped talking about my relationship with God a long time ago. No one in the family discusses that I’m unbaptized or that I don’t go to church like I should. I could have been quiet about everything and flown under their radar. But I’m not good at that whole meek thing.

I didn’t know what to think of the Preacher TV series when it was announced. Preacher’s one of those things I thought was firmly in my past, a relic from when I was that angry baby goth atheist who thought leather jackets in the summer and fake vampire teeth were good fashion choices (don’t judge me). And yet here we are. Some stories come crashing back into your life when they’re supposed to, I guess.

Fresh Starts and Stuff

Hi, hello, how are you?

A lot has happened since the last time I tried to Seriously Blog. I have a new job, a better job, that’s engaging and fun. I’ll write about that some. I have a girlfriend who moved across the country to live with me. I’ll probably write about her too. I’m working on a novel. I won’t write too much about it, though, because I should be actually, you know, writing it. I’m in a good place right now. The mental illness struggle is still very real, though. Oh hey, another thing to write about.

My goal is to be more comfortable with sharing my writing and more consistent with my writing process. I’ll start with weekly blog posts, and who knows? Maybe I’ll share some of my fiction along the way.

I’m finally at a point in my life where I want to be openly creative, and I’m trying a new approach: focus as much as possible on positivity and channel criticism back into producing works. In the past I’ve made a thing out of being hypercritical of media, which has been  kind of fun because I have a degree in literature. Picking apart media is my jam, but it’s easy to spiral down into a place where I have nothing kind to say about any media I engage with. So I’m re-centering myself on writing about things I love, and being critical only when I can also offer solutions.

It’s a process I’m still figuring out, so bear with me, ok?

Most of you know me from Tumblr or DragonCon or maybe even real life. Hopefully you’ll stick around for attempt number-I-don’t-know-anymore to keep a regular blog.  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve started a new blog, saying I’ll actually stick with this one, I’ll post regularly and not get bored with it like I did all those other times. This time I’m telling myself the truth. Maybe. ADHD is a hell of a thing. But it’s going to work this time, dammit.

It’s going to work.