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Author of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
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Friday 31 October 2014

Snake Eyes--A Sad Response to Yahtzee Croshaw

Hello hello!

So, last time I posted, it was about Gamergate. The thing is, I ended it with a call to action for the gamer majority. To say more than "we're not all like that"; to reject the Gamergate supporters.

Now I need to tackle something even uglier.

The thing I want to talk about is an article I saw by a reviewer I like. The reviewer? Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw, also known as ZeroPunctuation, the best-selling author of Mogworld and one of the most famous video game critics in the business.

Source. Stabby time indeed. 

A bit of context

I had been looking forward to Mogworld for a long time. I finally opened it on my Kindle and settled in. It should have been right up my alley--satire, geekery, an antihero--but it just wasn't. I was reminded of this book, but without a believable female character, much less a few of them, and without the harmless sense of fun. Don't get me wrong; the prose was good and the concept was fine, but it had this eau d'Fedora (trilby, actually) that just bothered me. Maybe it was that the main character was a snarky sad-sack who had a girl throwing herself at him anyway. Maybe it was the self-satisfied tone, or the constant slams against fat people. (Seriously, there were a lot.) I had a nagging feeling I didn't like about Crowshaw's underlying perspective. A perspective I thought he'd moved past.

I wondered what his thoughts were on Gamergate, and ended up on Extra Punctuation, the blog site. I didn't see anything on Gamergate, I did, however, see this.

The comments were surprisingly civil and thoughtful, but the article itself dismayed me. Croshaw clearly doesn't understand the importance of other perspectives--nonwhite, nonmale perspectives especially.

What's wrong with it?

The idea that a white male character is an acceptable audience surrogate or vessel for everyone is, simply put, a bad one. Yes, there are lots of white men. But there's a lot more of literally everyone else. We need more characters who are female (or don't fit into the gender binary), and who are nonwhite, specifically. One of the things that kept me from gaming as a kid was the ocean of male characters. I couldn't relate to them, and so why should I care about what happened? I've developed more empathy now, obviously, but the ocean of gruffness and stubble on offer is still alienating and frustrating.

A lot of people who make this argument basically say that if you're good at empathizing, you should be able to enjoy a white male vessel anyway, regardless of your background. My question is--why doesn't that cut both ways? If we--the non (cis) male, non-white, non-etc people--are supposed to feel empathy for you anyway and just enjoy the story, why can't you do the same for us when presented with our vessel?

Considering how unimportant a character's appearance usually is in a video game, there's no reason not to. Even games that, as Croshaw says, use gender heavily, could actually still bow to this mechanic. The first Bioshock game is a really good example of this. Themes of fatherhood and daughters run through the game, and both of the first two games are very gendered. The Big Daddies, though, could easily have included some Big Mommies without breaking anything. You wouldn't even have to change the armour, and it's not as though they speak. The thing is, the story of parenthood and attachment issues, as well as building a relationship with your own child, aren't limited to men. Yeah, the third game does require the use of a white male character because it actually tackled racism in a period context, but the white male character was also a specific person, Booker. It's one of the few cases where it was absolutely required. But the rest of the time? Yeah, not so much.

Source. EEEK, A GIRL!

Let's talk about sex--not having it, that is

Compare that to Silent Hill, which is apparently the only game worth talking about in the past 20 years, based on Croshaw's article. As one of my friends pointed out in a Facebook discussion, there's no reason that the concept of frustrated desire is automatically one for men. Having grown up bi, especially without knowing it for the majority of my life (well, I KNEW it, but I didn't have a word or context for what I was feeling), I can confirm that men aren't the only ones who get lonely and frustrated. And even so, what about the loneliness women experience in dating, or failing to date? It doesn't have be a dating simulator to acknowledge that yes, women suffer from loneliness and a lack of getting laid, too, and that they're haunted by their exes. However, that would involve understanding that women are people, too, something that seems to elude a disappointingly large number of gamers.

Of course, it helps if you don't skim over the "wordy" dialogue in the game and pay attention to the character development.

Gender roles < pizza rolls

The thing with the idea that women = damsels, men = heroes is that it's not only staler than the air in an ancient crypt, it's wrong. Men need to be rescued too, and women's experiences aren't nearly as different from men's as they've been let to believe. Yeah, we're at a higher risk of rape, and some of the socialization is very different, but the emotions and the mental processes are actually a lot more similar than I ever thought when I was younger. Gender differences are kind of a trap and a lie, with the exception of the negative ones. There are bad things that are different for men and women (such as the elevated rate of suicide and social isolation for men vs the rates of sexual assault and kinds of abuse for women), but the good stuff is what we have in common. And yeah, some of the bad stuff, we have in common as well. This doesn't even touch on breaking down the gender binary; it certainly wouldn't kill anyone to represent characters who belong outside the Thug/Geek or Lady/Slut/Tomboy paradigms. One possible exception to this would be rogue-like or bard-like characters--speaking strictly in terms of their appearance--because these characters are often more tomboyish if they're female, or more feminine if they're male. So, more of that, please. Also, more recognition of the fact that there are going to people who just refuse to "pick a side" in the gender thing.

Less evolutionary psychology, though

This really disappointed me. There are gender differences between the brains--at least as far as we can tell; quantitative analysis has shown some areas are larger in women's brains than in men's, and vice versa. (There's a saddening paucity of research on non-gender-conforming individuals. I suspect that issue won't be remedied for quite some time.) However, differences are mostly focused on verbal reasoning skills and spatial reasoning skills. These differences also don't automatically make people think alike.

Still, from a psychological perspective, the concept of sexist protective instincts is ridiculous. Actual evolutionary psychology--whatever Psychology Today thinks--doesn't work like that. Protective instincts are a "thing", in that they exist, but gendering the presentation by saying that men automatically protect women because women are helpless isn't supported by paleoarchaeological findings or modern psychology. There are archaeologists who are addressing that women were fighters. Men are aggressive, but what about all the women spoilin' for a fight? What about the men who prefer to be passive? Nobody considers that women are just as aggressive and protective as men, but merely are trained to vent it verbally rather than physically. Women do fight. That is a thing that happens. We did not, and do not, always need to be sheltered. Furthermore, just because something existed in the past does not mean we need to perpetuate it now.

Source. If only the hatted mind would turn its withering commentary to gender roles.

Now what? 

I realise that Yahtzee Croshaw isn't going to respond to this blog post, and isn't going to pay attention to criticism. That's not how he rolls. Instead, I'll address this to Yahtzee's fans. Yes, he's fun and analyses games very well, but that doesn't mean everything he says is right. We need to demand more accountability from our reviewers in terms of their perspectives and limits. In the context of Gamergate, and the slutshaming, personal attacks, and harassment there, the roles of women and PoC need to be examined more than ever. I've noticed the uncomfortable dynamic in his reviews before--automatic devaluation of female characters except as sex objects--and while I'll probably still watch his reviews, I won't be able to stop noticing that.

So in a way, yes, we do need to examine gaming journalism. Just not in the way Gamergate supporters meant we did.

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Sunday 26 October 2014

A Brief Response to #GamerGate

Hello hello!

This is probably one of the scariest posts I've ever written. Merely mentioning #GamerGate, the misogynist scandal that's been setting the gaming world on fire, is grounds for online attacks, vicious comments, and doxxing. (Doxxing is the release of personal information, such as someone's address.) I've avoided talking about it because there were better and more prominent people who have already said their bit. There's also the whole thing with Felicia Day getting doxxed the minute she wrote a compassionate post about the topic.

I'm not Felicia Day. I'm not even a particularly good gamer; a lot of my gaming is done from the backseat. But I cried over Mordin's death, shuddered at Dead Space's Stalkers, spend hours every day in a gothic underworld, laugh at reviews, and I can tell you who some of the top stars in DOTA 2 are--as well as their original teams and the shakeups that happened after the recent international.

My point is, I'm still enough of a gamer to give a crap about this. And because I'm a feminist on the internet, I care even more. I'm probably safe, due to my relative anonymity, but merely opening my face and mentioning the topic is a risk. Well, it's still worth talking about.

Gamergate is not about "responsibility in gaming journalism". Zoe Quinn did nothing wrong, but her ex-boyfriend made allegations that she'd cheated on him with a gaming journalist--which didn't result in a career bump of any kind, and which happened while they were on a break. Furthermore, it's none of our business what a woman does with her body, regardless of who she is or where she works. Anyway. The other target has been Anita Sarkeesian. I don't agree with every bit of her analysis, but she's very good at evaluating things according to trends. She's good at providing an intro to feminism. And for this, and for calling out the gaming industry on sexist writing issues, she's gotten death threats and bomb threats.

If the Gamergate crowd actually wanted to make gaming journalism and people within the industry more responsible, they'd stop threatening physical violence and act like real journalists themselves. They'd do their research. They'd focus on things that matter, like the 322 match-fixing issue that's setting the DOTAverse on fire right now. They would stop going after women who haven't done anything wrong.

And if the actual gaming journalists and reviewers were responsible human beings, they'd address their fanbase and tell them to stop making bomb threats, doxxing people, and harassing them. A few have, but a few other prominent celebrities have just put an unintentional seal of approval on events. Still others haven't said anything, which is worse.

So, how do we stop Gamergate? We address it. We, as geeks, stand together and say that we will not support people who make sexist attacks or death threats against other fellow geeks. Or non-geeks. Or anyone. The thing is, "we" needs to include everyone--not just the feminists and PoC. We need the white dudebros who don't want to be represented by Gamergate to speak up, to reject what a few handfuls of lonely, hurt, reactionary people have said about women and gaming.

This is starting to happen. And sexism is starting to become unacceptable. Unfortunately, people still do it without realising that they're saying something awful.

Which brings me to a Yahtzee Croshaw article that made me so sad, I lost sleep over it. But that'll have to wait until next time.


 Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog for more. 

Friday 24 October 2014

Fetch Is Never Gonna Happen: Bildungsroman Movies, Part 3

Hello hello!

So, after this post and this post, we finally come to to what I said I'd cover in the first entry--which movies were actually good? Which ones sucked? Why? And would it be illegal to kill a fictional character?

Why do some movies suck and others rock?

TV, books, movies, music--at some level, once you cover basic levels of competence and present things well, it's up to the audience. Some things resonate, and others just don't. Some people relate to a character, others want to shiv him in the kidneys with a rusty car key (Hi, Duckie). So, with the emphasis on subjectivity in mind, I'm abandoning objectivity a bit here to focus on what I liked and didn't like in these films. Instead of focusing on individual characters, movies, or plots, I'm going to pick and choose from tropes.

The good:

Strong, three-dimensional female protagonists. They aren't all good girls, and they don't necessarily trade up their dreams for love and a magical weenie, either. Diane in Say Anything, Kate in Ten Things I Hate about You, and of course, Veronica from the The Heathers were my personal favorites. Cady from Mean Girls was pretty good, but she had too many wishes fulfilled for me to appreciate her--same as Cher in Clueless. The actresses did really well with their roles and brought a lot of complexity, including both positive and negative traits. The girls are ambitious, determined, and sometimes borderline insane, but they're no-one's pet Manic Pixie Dream Girls, charging in to fix a boy's life or walk by his side like a loyal, obedient collie. And, of course, there's Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's, with one of the best performances I've ever seen in any movie. I couldn't take my eyes off of her, really. She's got some MPDG traits, but she's also a wrecking ball, damaged, and she ain't there to fix up her faithful, subtle boyfriend's life. Naturally, I loved that.

Interesting, complex love interests. Lloyd in Say Anything, J.D. in Heathers, Patrick in 10TIHaY; they're all far more than just smooth-faced, mop-haired, clean-cut boy-next-door types. They're messy, they're a little dangerous or disorganized, and in J.D.'s case, he makes a pretty good Mephistopheles analogue to Veronica's lady!Faust. Paul in BaT is okay, but is mostly interesting because he, like Holly, is basically a sex trade worker of a sort. Still, it's a far cry from Richard Gere's character in Pretty Woman, and I prefer the difference, the equality of their characters' roles.

Snappy writing. These films are immensely quotable, even the worst of them. Mean Girls is in the memetic DNA of the internet at this point, and after a rewatch, I understood why. When I first saw it, I disliked the "popular" girls too much to empathize with them. Now, I had  chance to catch all the little details and the tiny hilarious one-liners. That's Tina Fey for you. Sure, the plot is contrived in the last quarter, and these movies all tend to be a bit contrived, but damn, they're funny and clever. Heathers, 10TIHaY, Mean Girls, Clueless, and BaT were particularly good examples of fine, witty writing. The Graduate also was well-written, but it was the cinematography in that one that really got my attention. That being said, these teen movies are often really nicely, even beautifully shot--downright lavish, saturated, and rich.

The darkness. It goes almost without saying--gods, I love it when terrible things happen to characters. Murder? Social ruin/ Exploitation? Wonderful! Throw it at me. Suffering characters are challenged characters, and challenged characters can do more than people who are mildly inconvenienced.

This is how I feel every time it seems like the films will move away from a cliche...and then they don't.

The bad:

The plots. Oh god, the plots. So many of these movies have interchangeable plots. First day at school, new friends, Christmas, big house party, mall, dance, school gym, random dancing scene, drinking/drugs scene, big fight, finale--not necessarily in that order. It's hard to create a compelling plot when the perimeters are so restrained, but the directors often try, and some of them manage to break out of the rote structure. TBC and Say Anything are probably the best examples, TBC being a locked room movie. Footloose also escaped the structure a bit, and so did Dirty Dancing and Flashdance--but those are all dancing movies. Even then, they have extremely similar plot structures, just without schools as the backdrop.

Profoundly meh love interests. FBDO is a good--or bad--example of this, and so is The Craft. Interestingly, the boyfriends are ususally much flatter than the girl protagonists in these movies, which is a callback to Shakespeare's youth comedies such as Twelfth Night and As You Like It. Clueless is based on Emma, and Easy A (cheating, I know) is based on The Scarlet Letter. All of these have much better female characters than male ones. And boy oh boy(friend), can you tell. Even the good performances tend to be a bit bland.

The ugly:

Abusive love interests. Holy hell, was this a problem. Duckie, the obnoxious, abrasive, sphincter-clenchingly unfunny, friendzone-whining rape ape from PiP was one of the worst examples of this. John Bender in TBC was a bit hammy but generally very well-played, but KEEP HIM AWAY FROM YOUR DAUGHTERS AND SONS AND PROBABLY ALSO YOUR NONBINARY CHILDREN. Seriously. He's destructive and abusive, and that we're supposed to be happy that he...nails, I guess?...Claire, is very disturbing.

Tokenism. Godsdamnit, these movies have more tokens than a Chuck. E. Cheese with three simultaneously occurring birthday parties. The Black Kid, The Suspiciously Erudite Non-Sidney Poiter Black Teacher, The Smart Asian Dork, The Sassy Latino/a, The Hideous Fat Girl (did you know that all fat girls have puffy, meaty facial features and thin, limp hair?), and a few other characters break up the sparkling monotony of middle and upper-class whiteness. However, the casting is usually pre-global climate change arctic tundra-level blanc. The films are pretty embedded in white culture, too, so you can tell who they're filming these for. Still a crappy excuse, though, and some of them are downright racist. Also, I hope you love condescending shots of the protagonist hanging out with these fat, diverse, sometimes wheelchair-bound losers to prove that they've become Better Human Beings! But not so good that they've learned to speak "Mexican", of course.

Rape jokes, gay jokes, and other fun stuff. Mineral water is magic gay juice. Gay people exist only as failed boyfriends and sidekicks who are too gay to function. Lesbians and bisexuals are party sluts or rare, mythical, nonexistent unicorns. I'm pretty sure that every single one of these included something homophobic or intensely awkward gangbang jokes, something the John Hughes movies had in abundance. Ugh. Also, how do you like your gender roles? Sorry, we only serve traditional ones here. Nonbinary people don't exist in the teen movie universe.

Conformity as the key to social success. I hated this deeply. Sure, there are different flavours of conformity--for me, the geek community was a good tribe to join because my interests pointed me in that direction anyway, but there's a uniformity to the characters' choices that drives me mad. Alison in TBC sheds her cool, gothy clothes for boring pink cupcake wear and normalcy, and it's the other reason I still hate the ending of TBC. Ty in Clueless also sheds her identity. It's unclear whether Holly Golightly trades in for normalcy, but at least Veronica of The Heathers does not. She does have a somewhat condescending ending--but she doesn't go off to a big dance, she ditches her abusive boyfriend, and she treats the fat chick like a human rather than just tossing her a showy compliment for the audience's sake. She also ditches her popularity, and that was subversive and refreshing after the other movies.

So, those are my main insights. However, there's a lot to cover in these movies. Which tropes and elements worked for you? Which ones inspired the use of terrifying metaphors to vent your hapless frustration? Tell me in the comments!

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Oh Gods, Please Not Another Teen Movie: Bildungsroman Movies, Part 2

Hello hello!

So, last time, I offered up my dignity and childhood on a plate to contextualize my lack of experience with teen movies. I also mentioned which movies I'd seen, which ones were not part of the format (Flashdance, Top Gun, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Dirty Dancing, and The Graduate) and were therefore only going to be touched on, and which ones were essential ( The Breakfast Club, Mean Girls, CluelessThe Craft, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Heathers, Say Anything,  Ten Things I Hate about You, American PieFootloose, and She's the Man.)

There are still MORE teen movies on Netflix and elsewhere, but these were some of the biggest zeitgeist defining films, so here they are. I suppose I could have included Napoleon Dynamite or even the Harry Potter series or Juno, but those have a different feel than these movies, or are too self-aware/parodic to count. Also, they weren't made in the 90s or 80s, which was an important consideration for defining the era. But what the hell was up with that era?

The 80s and 90s

Most of my readers were alive for these periods, so I'm not going to rehash history--literally. However, America, where all of these films were produced, was fairly peaceful, quite wealthy, and was experiencing a nostalgia boner of the sort that generally merits physician interference and a trip to the E.R. The 50s and 60s played a big role in the fashions of the era, and also in the priorities. After all, America had beaten the dirty commies and the Berlin Wall was coming down; Russia was waving the white flag and capitulating to capitalism, and the hamburger gut of poverty and malnutrition hadn't ruined America's high school quarterback figure yet. The other thing was that class stratification hadn't set in yet--rich kids still deigned to set foot in public schools, something that slowly ended as recession after recession hammered America. And of course, that whole 9-11 thing hadn't happened yet, so everyone in North America tends to have very rose-coloured glasses about the era.

ALL HAIL MAUD DIB--Wait, no, not that 80s movie. 'Scuse me.

The 80s

The 80s, however, were much darker than the 90s. It's significant that the John Hughes movies (Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink) and Heathers were done then. Footloose, The Graduate, Flashdance, Dirty Dancing, and Say Anything also have some dark elements to them--and Breakfast at Tiffany's, though it's a couple decades older, totally nails the feel of an 80s movie in some strange ways. It even has a party, misbehavior, and an identity crisis. When you compare the goofy gothic tone of The Craft to Heathers, it's clear which movie is superior and more genuinely frightening--and hint, it's not the one with the Spice Witches. Ferris Bueller's Day Off also touches on this darkness a bit. Honestly, I didn't like DD or FBDO, and PiP made me want to serve Duckie up in a nice whisky glaze sauce with new potatoes on the side. He was unbearable. BC was okay, but Heathers, The Graduate, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and Say Anything were definitely my favorites--especially Breakfast at Tiffany's and Heathers. 

In this batch of movies, there's a lot of abuse, arguing with parental characters, (who actually get proper development in a lot of cases), a lot of death, guns, car crashes, screaming matches that actually seem threatening, religious extremism, murder, prostitution, abortions, and suicide. Not all of these movies are better than the 90s ones, but it's hard to argue that they seem to have more depth. They still give us the big parties and the arguments and the premarital sex, but there's more at stake, a lurking sense that these characters will grow up and that life will not just be a sort of fade into the sunset or a weird flying car from a fairground escape. (Yeah, yeah, Grease was a late 70s movie. Shut it. I already made an exception for Hepburn and I'm not doing it again.)

Yeah, yeah, there's more to the discussion. Don't walk off just yet. 

But what about the 90s?

You can probably see where I'm going with this. Sure, a few movies do allude to tough things, but Clueless doesn't have the same threat-level as the 80s movies. American Pie, Ten Things I Hate about You, latecomers She's the Man and Mean Girls, and The Craft are a lot tamer than their predecessors. There's more drinking, more partying, brighter colours, and less development of the romantic hole-filler boyfriends for the most part. FBDO was pretty meh about Sloan's development, but it at least hinted that she wasn't just a smiling floppy-haired shadow. She kind of was, but...you know. The 90s movies were clearly leaning on the 80s movies for style and support, and Mean Girls wouldn't exist without Heathers--but instead of murder most awkward, that had a nasty bus accident. Bullying is also a bit less threatening--mostly--in the 90s films, and is treated more jokily. On the up side, the 90s movies are less...the word that comes to mind is "patriarchal"...than the 80s films. Those tend to have a theme of female characters being handed off from father to boyfriend like shiny sports trophies.

At the same time, there's an optimism to the 90s movies that's really likeable. There's also a weird emphasis on virginity, though, something that a more recent movie, Easy A, re-created well. 80s movies were more accepting of protagonists who had sex and girls who put out, whereas the shadow of the conservative backlash was already looming in the corners of the 90s films. American Pie was a film about losing virginity, for example. That said, Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink had jokes about rape and pregnancy, but the characters were mostly virgins there as well. Still, the 90s movies are mostly much more light-hearted and kind of innocent. I mean, there's The Craft, the barfed-up leftovers of the Satanic Panic, but as dark movies go, it's not even a decent teenager version of Practical Magic. I liked Clueless more than 10TIHaY and AP, Mean Girls was a lot better than I remembered. TC was an eye-rolling bore, and StM was a cute, fairly innocent movie for its subject matter, not unlike Easy A was. Both could have, amd perhaps should have, been much darker.

The 2000s and beyond

There's not much to say about these eras. The teen movies that have come out since are basically parodies at best, focus on more adult characters, or were just spineless, toothless inane party fests. The tropes got overused, washed out like a vintage t-shirt in the wash, past the point of chicness and into the point of developing sad little rips and losing letters. It could be The Event That Shall Not Be Named, (9-11), or it could have been TV series like Sex and the City snapping up the audience. Or perhaps the audience had simply graduated. I was a little too young at the time to know.

But still, I haven't gotten into which films are great, which ones are good, and which ones made me homicidal--or why. So, for our final installment, let's talk about quality--and why some films seriously lose their lustre, even with nostalgia goggles firmly in place.

Tune in next time for the final installment--because seriously, I'm not going all Rocky on this trilogy. Absolutely not. I have some decency.

Now it's your turn. What else did you notice about 80s and 90s movies, and how they related to the era? Am I missing out on some 2000s gems, or did they really just suck? Tell me in the comments!

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Friday 17 October 2014

Flashback Dance: Bildungsroman Movies, Part 1

Hello hello!

So, my blog has a bit of a reputation, I suspect. Sci fi, a bit of urban fantasy, gaming stuff, writing techniques, analysis of everything, occasional dives into horror, feminism (intersectional feminism, or at least I try to make it so), political/cultural trend ruminations--you guys know what to expect by now. One thing you won't see much of is romance-related material. Oh, sure, love stories and examinations of romantic relationships are all over the place, but fluffy comedies and romances? There's only a few I mention.

Caution: embarassing content warning

Well, I'm a somewhat...how do I say this...I tend to be either right on the edge of a trend, falling for something juuuust as it reaches the limelight or slightly before, or I'm at least five years late to the party. Sometimes ten. Often fifteen. I was born between the last gasp of the 80s and the first breath of the 90s, and I even have a generationally appropriate name to prove it. I'll spare you the nostalgia wank that normally follows this pronouncement, because frankly, I missed out on most of the nostalgia. Sure, I was fluent in Disney and could recite off scenes and songs by heart as a kid, but I never owned a Playstation, Nintendo, or even a Gameboy. I missed out on a lot of cartoons because I was reading and also too busy being tortured by girls in elementary school to interact properly with a lot of my classmates.

So, as you can tell from that extremely personal and embarassing paragraph, I missed out on a lot. There are a lot of cultural mainstays that I didn't watch until my (so-called) adulthood, and because I'd run out of documentaries on weird burial rituals, sex trade workers, and alternative lifestyles, I decided to play catch-up and deliberately risked brain-rot to familiarize myself with the often-referenced cultural mainstays I'd missed out on. As a result, I was mostly unprotected by the warm pink haze of nostalgia goggles; some of this stuff was both hauntingly familiar yet alien, a vaguely unsettling experience.

Like Thranduil, I have a few words to say about these movies, and they won't all be friendly.

What did you watch?

In this case, I decided to binge-semi-watch a bunch of teen comedies on my (rare) days off. That included a lot of things I'd only seen once, or had never seen. In this case, The Breakfast Club, Mean Girls, Clueless, The Craft, Pretty in Pink, Footloose, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Heathers, Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Graduate, and Say Anything. I had only seen the first two once each, and hadn't finished Mean Girls. Of course, I've seen Ten Things I Hate about You, American Pie, and She's the Man, but they weren't on Netflix, so I haven't rewatched them. I did see Dirty Dancing and Top Gun a while back--a LONG while--but Flashdance was the only one on this list that was a mainstay of my childhood.

The thing that surprised me was how tightly controlled the formulas for these movies tended to be. Now, Flashdance, Top Gun, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and The Graduate kind of fit into one strangely continuous yet diverse category, but the rest can all be comfortably classified as "teen movies". The first ones are not teen movies because they, well, don't involve teenagers at high school, even though they actually have a similar feel. So, why mention them at all? For one thing, they impacted the other movies.

What makes a teen movie?

A teen movie in the 80s and 90s was a distinct creature. It's kind of a bildungsroman, or "coming of age" story, but it's also less...responsibility-laden...than a "true" bildungsroman, such as, say, A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews or Charles' Dickens David Copperfield. Still, in these movies, there is usually:

1. An ensemble cast, or something close to it. There may be a central protagonist, but their friends will be just as important.

2. WHITE PEOPLE EVERYWHERE. SO MANY WHITE PEOPLE. NASA uses the casts of these movies to preform albedo tests for spacecraft.

3. A romance with a fairly shallowly developed opposite sex partner.

4. Fleeting, uncomfortable gay jokes.

5. Character groups that are easily identified by tropes and sociological tribal designations, such as Punks/Goths, Outcasts, Suspiciously Normal Kids, Rich People, The Foreign/Ethnic Ones, Comic Relief Hideous Fat Chick, a Gigantic Cast of other teenagers, Comic Relief Teachers, and Comically Dismayed Parents. (The capitals represent tropes. You may see acronyms in the rest of the article using these terms. There will be a test, so take notes.)

6. A plot involving socio-economic class conflict, A House Party to End All House Parties, the Romantic Misunderstanding, Friends Fighting Friends, and eventually--spoiler?--A Happy and Just (?) Ending.

7. A high-school based setting, often senior year, often culminating in the big dance/prom/fling/whatever. Lots of large, expensive houses are often a part of the setting.

Now, this is going to run long, so next time, let's talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly with temporal context. Some of these movies worked for me, and some made me rant compulsively on Twitter. Why? (Oh gods, why?)

Find out in part 2!

So, which tropes have you noticed in these teen movies? Which other teen movies should I have watched, and where can they be streamed? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out!