Thursday, May 6, 2021

Podcast Episode Rec: 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' on Book Vs. Movie

Content warning: I mention violence and anti-Asian American hate in this post, below the Spotify embed.

As I sadly had to report last time, Jim Caviezel is canceled due to some QAnonsense. But you know who isn't canceled? The lady Ms. Taraji P. Henson. 

You can read my review of Taraji's memoir here. I bought it from Half Price Books, but you could also support your favorite independent bookstore by buying it from My favorite destination is Brain Lair Books, which was recently featured in Publishers Weekly

Among Taraji's best films is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, for which she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award. The Brad Pitt-Cate Blanchett vehicle (which I've technically seen but didn't observe closely - it was on in the background while I did something) is based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This week, the Book Vs. Movie podcast (mentioned in the 5 Recommended Podcasts post) compared the movie to the short story. I listen to my podcasts on Spotify. You can find the episode on Spotify here:

Next week's episode is about Ted Chiang's scifi short story "Story of Your Life," which was adapted into the film Arrival starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. Check it out. 

And if you wanted to, you could also buy Ted Chiang's book from (There are no affiliate links in this post. Informational only.) The Nebula- and Hugo Award-winning author is Chinese-American. May is Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month, and it's never a bad idea to read more Asian and Asian diaspora writers. 

It's really awful and unfortunate, but hate crimes against Asian-Americans are on the rise. I happen to live in Indianapolis, where last month we had a horrific crime take place that took the lives of four members of the Sikh community. The south side of Indianapolis, in addition to a large South Asian-American community, also has a large number of people who are Chin, an ethnicity from Burma. Many of my Chin neighbors are practicing Christians who didn't feel free to practice their religion in Burma. (Burma is in a humanitarian crisis right now, with many refugees having to flee from the government.)

I strongly favor everything that protects and empowers people of Asian descent, and you know what? Buying and reading fiction really does help, on an individual level. Not only do Asian-American authors need their royalties, but reading fiction also encourages empathy, as readers learn to put ourselves in the shoes of people who aren't exactly like us. 

Of course, I do know that buying and reading diverse authors is not a substitute for addressing systemic racism. I'm not suggesting that it is. I'm suggesting we do both. 

The co-hosts of Book Vs. Movie podcast are one Caucasian and one Latina. Support their podcast, support independent bookstores, support your local Black-owned businesses, protect your Black friends and neighbors*, support your local Asian American-owned businesses, and protect your neighbors of Asian descent - including yourself, if applicable. We're all in Year 2 of this pandemic together, so let's all do our parts and help each other out. 

*If the phrase "Black lives matter" seems controversial to you, do not interact with me in any way. This is a matter of life and death and I don't have to time to explain to people who are behaving in bad faith that human lives do, in fact, have value. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Baron Zemo: Problematic Hot Villain

 Enjoy Nostalgic Last Dance Toni Kukoc Zine, Spring 2021 (Issue #4), is out now!

Digital Issue #4 - only $1

Print Zine

Issues 1-4 package - all 4 issues for the price of 3

Since you, dear reader, know that I'm a huge Marvel nerd, you may not be surprised to read that I've been watching WandaVision and, more recently, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

One character from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) who reappears in TFATWS is Baron Helmut Zemo. You may remember him from The Avengers: Civil War, in which he killed T'Chaka, king of Wakanda and father of its current king, T'Challa. He pinned the bombing murder on the Winter Soldier in hopes of tearing the Avengers apart from within. 

I don't forgive Zemo for killing King T'Chaka. I do understand that part of his motivation for doing so was that the Avengers unleashed Ultron on the world. Ultron not only killed Wanda Maximoff's twin Pietro but also killed Helmut's father, wife, and son Carl. The Zemos, like the Maximoffs, are from the fictional country of Sokovia. 

Baron Helmut Zemo is a complicated bad guy, less sympathetic than Black Panther's Erik Killmonger, but still with some sad widower Frank Castle vibes

Zemo is played by Daniel Brühl, a Catalonian actor born in Barcelona to a Spanish mom and a German dad. Only yesterday I remembered that I'd seen him speaking German (one of his several native languages) in a movie once before: Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds (sic). I even wrote an unsolicited-by-anyone article about it, "Brad Pitt Is Not the Hottest Guy in Quentin Tarantino's Latest," written in 2010. It also singles out Michael Fassbender (before I knew he was an accused domestic violence offender - canceled) and Eli Roth

Brühl's character in Inglourious Basterds is a Nazi. Tarantino, for all his flaws (accused of sexual harassment on several occasions and poor on-set treatment of his muse/ex-girlfriend Uma Thurman, whom I adore), at least clearly hates Nazis. Brühl's character, on the other hand, is cute but not sympathetic, giving off strong "Ralph Fiennes in Schindler's List" vibes. As I say far too often in these Nazi-infested modern times, where is the Bear Jew when I need him?

Zemo on TFATWS is more sympathetic, although I'm torn. Like Billy Russo/Jigsaw on The Punisher, he's a bit queer-coded. Billy Russo, a character who was known to have been sexually abused by a male predator as a young teen, embodied that problematic trope that queer people are queer because of their sexual trauma. Not only is this not supported by clinical evidence, but it also reinforces the mistaken notion that heterosexuality is the default for human sexuality and everything else is some kind of mutation or deviation from the norm. 

It's my opinion that Billy Russo is queer-coded even though his two sexual relationships in the series are with women. He appears to be flirting with every other character he encounters, including Frank Castle. Your mileage may vary.

On the other hand, it's harder to argue that Daniel Brühl isn't playing Helmut Zemo as bisexual, especially after Episode 5. Zemo appears to be sexually attracted to Bucky Barnes (the Winter Soldier), lovingly caressing his face at one point. 

Bisexual-coding your villains skirts dangerously close to the Depraved Bisexual trope, the notion that people without a clear gender preference are, in the words of, "cold-blooded sociopaths." As a person without a clear gender preference and a non-sociopath, I take personal offence. Representation matters, and although I always want to see more bisexual and pansexual characters in the media, I want to see positive representation as well as regicidal criminals. 

Daniel Brühl is totally adorable, though. Add him to my Fictional Harem, along with basically everyone else from the MCU. 

I have an opening in my Fictional Harem, by the way. I had to kick Jim Caviezel out for being, unfortunately, an advocate of the impossible, nonsensical, illogical right-wing QAnon conspiracy theory. I'm fascinated with conspiracy theories as a species of contemporary folklore, but I cannot abide folk who take part in counterfactual disinformation campaigns that borrow tropes from anti-Semitism. As a person with an Irish-American dad and a Polish-Jewish-American mom, I won't allow my human rights as a Jewish person to be eroded in the service of white supremacist fears. 

See you at the TFATWS season finale on Friday. 

(Edited slightly for clarity on May 7, 2021.)

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Spring 2021 Zine Sneak Peek

Last Dance zine, Issue 1

Last Dance zine, Issue 2

Congratulations to Brandy Norwood for winning the Soul Train Certified Award at the Soul Train Awards on November 29, 2020!*

Ever since The Great Gatsby went into the public domain on January 1st, 2021, not a single day has gone by that I haven’t beaten on, boats against the current, drawn back ceaselessly into the past. It’s this damn pandemic; it stirs up the nostalgia for simpler times when we could, like, go outside and do things. 

Influences: My RPF Origin Story

The Bust Guide to the New Girl Order by Marcelle Karp

Bust is just about the only U.S. magazine for adult women that does not suck, and this book captures some of the best offerings of its early days. Some of its highlights include "The Mysterious Eroticism of Mini-Backpacks" by James Reling and "My Keanu: A Fantasy" Lisa Palac, which I credit with giving me the permission I needed to write some of my early writings.

Lisa Palac’s fic is an imaginary tale about Keanu Reeves. It was a real person fic (RPF) I became aware of before I knew any fandom or fan fiction writing terminology. The Bust Guide was released in 1999 and I checked it out at least twice from my local public library, which at the time was the Main Library of South Bend, Indiana. 

Episode 27 of the “The Worst Thing We Read This Week” podcast is about the book Ship It by Britta Lundin (the showrunner of Riverdale). In the book, the fictional character Tess talks about her obsession with the Jonas Brothers. Tess likes to read Jonas Brothers incest fiction - she ships them with each other. As they’re being completely squicked out by this, the podcast hosts mention the author Cassandra Clare.

Cassandra Clare wrote, very early in her career, Harry Potter fan fiction**. You can read this on Wikipedia, where it says that, spelling her pen name “Claire” at the time, she wrote something called The Draco Trilogy. What it doesn’t say is that she also wrote Ron Weasley/Ginny Weasley incest fiction. I’m not judging; it’s FICTION. I’m just saying.

Clare went on to author the Mortal Instruments series. May the memory of Godfrey Gao be a blessing. 

*It went unsaid in the Autumn 2020 issue so I’ll say it now: I fucking hate Chris Brown and I will never, ever listen to the Chris Brown track on Two Eleven. Fuck you, Chris Brown.  

**Fuck you, JKR. Trans lives matter.

*** “Having to read footnotes resembles having to go downstairs to answer the door while in the midst of making love.” - Noel Coward

“Worse than not realizing the dreams of your youth would be to have been young and never dreamed at all.” -  Jean Genet

Friday, January 15, 2021

Currently Reading: 'The Unidentified' by Colin Dickey

Good news came yesterday in the form of an email from my local library: Colin Dickey's The Unidentified: Mythic Monsters, Alien Encounters, and Our Obsessions with the Unexplained was ready for me to borrow the audiobook. I started listening to it yesterday. 

I'd listened to the audiobook version of Dickey's previous book Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places some time in the last year or so - apparently I didn't record it in Goodreads, but it was some time when I lived in my apartment in downtown Indianapolis. I could barely put it down. I'm well-known to enjoy stories about hauntings (note that I don't believe in ghosts) and modern folklore

In chapters 1 through 3 of The Unidentified, Dickey discusses the modern folklore of Mount Shasta and the alleged Lemurians. In her Demonslayers novel series, author Kate Douglas used the mythology of the Lemurians to weave her tale. She got me interested in the discarded scientific theory of Lemuria - an incorrect but perfectly respectable theory about how lemurs ended up on the island of Madagascar - and how charlatan Helena Blavatsky turned the faulty science into a woo-woo spiritualism that endures among the alternatively spiritual today. 

What I didn't learn from Douglas's fiction but did learn from Dickey's nonfiction: the indigenous people of Mount Shasta and the surrounding region are the Winnemem Wintu nation. Just like reading Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series must be taken with a grain of respecting the Quileute people, who are real human beings and not Meyer's fictional creation. 

I highly recommend that readers of Stephenie Meyer visit the Truth vs. Twilight website. If at all possible, please help the Quileute tribe move its school to higher ground, out of the flood plane, by contributing to the fund for the school. 

(P.S. Yes, I am still working my way through Midnight Sun. It's not that I'm not enjoying it, it's just that reading physical books has been difficult for me during the pandemic. I've been reading ebooks on my phone almost exclusively.) 

But back to the Winnemem Wintu people: Visitors to Mount Shasta sometimes engage in various New Age spiritual practices: Leaving crystals, building makeshift shrines, leaving behind the ashes of their deceased loved ones, and similar behavior. By themselves, there is nothing wrong with these behaviors per se. I'm not judging New Age practitioners. 

The problem with this is that before New Age spirituality existed in California, the Winnemem Wintu were there with their own religion, in which Mount Shasta is sacred ground. Just like you wouldn't walk into a mosque and leave a Christian shrine there, you obviously shouldn't leave spiritual or secular items behind when you visit Mount Shasta. 

If I'm lucky enough to go back to California, I may get to visit Mount Shasta some day. If I do, I'll be sure to observe appropriate behavior for being invited to visit my neighbors' sacred space, just as I did when I visited Serpent Mound

By the way, if you can visit Serpent Mound once we get out of this pandemic, you definitely should. What archaeology can tell us about the ancient people of what is now Southern Ohio is fascinating, in addition to the earthwork itself. Plus you're in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, which in summer is deeply green, remote, and gorgeous. 

After 4 years of outrageous disrespect for indigenous people's rights in the U.S., let's let 2021 be a return to recognizing the basic rights of all of our neighbors, no matter which sovereign nation they hail from. 

Friday, January 8, 2021

5 Recommended Podcasts

1. Oh No! Lit Class

With 93 episodes on Spotify as of today, you can probably find your favorite classic discussed among the episodes. The first episode is about Macbeth. More recently, Megan and RJ tackled "A Visit From St. Nicholas" and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

2. There Might Be Cupcakes

North Carolina writer Carla Pettigrew Hufstedler lives with multiple disabilities, and as a result her podcasting schedule isn't consistent. But no matter, because every new episode is like a shiny new gift to unwrap. She not only keeps listeners updated on her writing, knitting, drawing, and other creative pursuits, but shares ghost stories, synchronicities, folklore, and other subjects that readers and writers of speculative fiction will love. A personal favorite are Carla's Christmas episodes. In 2019, Carla introduced listeners to the tradition of Victorian Christmas ghost stories and read an early Charles Dickens tale that went on to inspire A Christmas Carol

3. Podcast Like It's 1999

This is a fun nostalgia trip for Gen Xers like me. (Relevant to my '90s NBA nostalgia zine? Not directly - yet - but maybe one of these days.) Journalist Brian Raftery argued in his book Best. Movie. Year, Ever: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen that this was film history's greatest year. This podcast discusses individual films in detail, with occasional digressions into music and other 1999 topics. 

An especial favorite episode of mine discusses the movie Stigmata starring my sweet, sweet baby Gabriel Byrne. You may also remember that this podcast made me read A Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson

4. Book Vs. Movie

Want to know exactly how Diana Wynne Jones's Howl's Moving Castle is different from the Studio Ghibli movie? Or how closely the movie Clueless mirrors Jane Austen's Emma? The two Margos will not only fill you in on how the written version translated to the big screen but also render their verdict on which one is better. It's not always the book!

5. None of This Is Real

Many, many podcasts will deliver a weekly dose of weirdness, but this one holds a special place in my podcast rotation. It's a comedy podcast about everything weird, from conspiracy theories to cryptids to ancient aliens to historical oddities and monsters. This is everything I liked to read about when I was a kid, in podcast form. 

What other podcasts should I listen to?

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

'Ship It' by Britta Lundin

Ship ItShip It by Britta Lundin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

All the Destiel feels.

Forest and Rico are the Jensen and Misha of this fictional universe. (Supernatural exists in this universe, but we don't have time to unpack all of that). They're on the first season of a show called Demon Heart.

We alternative between the point of view of Forest and of high school junior Claire Strupke, who ships their characters HARD. Claire asks Forest about her OTP, SmokeHeart, at a fan conference and then things get...awkward.

No characters in this book are on their best behavior, but that's ok, because they grow as people over the course of the book. Claire learns a lot, including some lessons she needed to learn about understanding herself, and her own sexuality, better. She meets a talented artist named Tess and goes on a maybe-date with her. Forest ships it. All ends well because, well, the characters grow, making this an enjoyable, if somewhat fluffy, YA read.

I checked this ebook out from my local library using the Axis 360 app and wasn't obligated to review it in any way.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Horror Novella: 'The Atrocities' by Jeremy Shipp

Our protagonist Danna Valdez has taken a new job at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Evers. She's set to teach the Evers' daughter Isabella. Isabella has recently had an accident.

This Gothic novella eerily drifts back and forth between the waking world and dreams. It walks a fine line between the worlds of the living and the dead, between real monsters and works of art that are merely disturbing.

I purchased this book from Powell's as a spooky read for Halloween season, but there really is no bad time of year to read a chilling Gothic story. If you're looking for something weird and different, you will not be disappointed.

I bought this book with my own funds and was not obligated in any way to review it. Follow Jeremy on Twitter