I went to see Star Trek: Into Darkness last night. And I really enjoyed it. It’s not quite Trek, but the flavor is there, and as a fan of everything scifi-fantasy, I was thoroughly entertained. I was probably more entertained that someone who isn’t already a Trek fan, because I got to laugh at all the ‘in’ jokes, but that is neither here nor there.

What we’re really here to talk about is Benedict Cumberbatch and his casting as the iconic Trek villain, Khan.

Benedict_Cumberbatch_at_the_London_premiere_of_Tinker_Tailor_Soldier_Spy_(4).png: Sam Hughes from UK. derivative work: RanZag (talk)

Benedict Cumberbatch

Now, Mr. Cumberbatch delivered a stellar performance. He was dynamic. He was despicable and sympathetic in turns. He was a true force to be reckoned with, and I think he carried the mantle of such a celebrated character well. But the problem is, the original Khan was a person of color, and Benedict Cumberbatch is very, very white.

Now his whiteness is not his fault, and he did do a wonderful job. Ask yourself – and be honest now – “If I were a white person, and I was offered an iconic role in an iconic franchise, and the character had originally been a POC, would I turn the role down?”

Of course you wouldn’t. If you do, you are either actually a saint, crazy, don’t really love acting, richer than Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne combined, or some combination thereof.

Now, that being said, I started thinking to myself: Is this really white washing? Or an example of blind casting? The idea behind blind casting is that you choose the best actor for the role without regard to appearance – based on acting ability alone. Naturally that has to include the possibility of white people being cast in POC roles. So I went and did some research, and rather than repeat it all to you, here are some links to the things I found most helpful:

Now, having read those (and I’m going to assume you’ve just read them too), I have to come to the conclusion that no, this is not blind casting.

Firstly, blind casting is not what I thought it was. It does not include the possibility of casting white actors in POC roles where “race is not germaine,” because the majority of roles are for white people anyway. And even if blind casting was what I thought it was, and it included the possibility of casting a white actor in a POC role, Into Darkness still can’t really claim it as a defense. Why? Because they have held true to the original race of every other character. If Benedict Khanberbatch was really blind casting, then it follows that Kirk could be a black man, Sulu could be white, Uhura could be Chinese, and so on.

So this is white washing, and that sucks.

And you know, as a white person, it’s hard for me to grasp how much that sucks. So to put it in perspective for myself, I imagined that Uhura had been genderbent into a man. A strong woman with agency and rank and an

Khan, as portrayed by Ricardo Montalbán in the original series.

identity outside of romance cast as a man because he was just the best actor for the job? My response: Oh hell no.

So if you are one of those who, like me until I sat down to educate myself, doesn’t quite get why this is a problem, try to frame it in a way that becomes personal to you. Are you gay? Gay character rebooted as straight. Atheist? Atheist character rebooted as religious. So on and so forth.

And remember, it has nothing to do with disliking Benedict Cumberbatch. You can think he’s a fabulous actor, be a fan, even think he did a fabulous job portraying Khan, but still recognize that the casting of a white actor in a POC role is problematic. And it matters.

Conclusion: Benedict may be beautiful, but white washing is ugly.

I was recently asked to help prepare a pamphlet about LGBT Family Law issues for an event held at my law school. I thought I’d post it for anyone who is interested. It is written specifically for Mississippi, but there’s some good general things in there that apply to most states that don’t recognize marriage equality.

Also, if anyone has been wondering if I’m going to write about Steubenville here, let me say that I have yet been able to formulate a post that isn’t a jumbled mess of incoherent rage. At some point in the future, I may just put together a list of links to other articles that articulate my feelings in a way I cannot.

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So I just finished watching Once Upon a Time episode 2×16, “The Miller’s Daughter,” and can I just say: DAMN.

As many issues as I have come to have with some of the writing of this show (Don’t ask. Or do, if you want a rant about believable motivation, LGBT representation, and adoption laws), this episode was really a kick in the teeth, and I mean that in the best way possible. I actually wept at least three tears, which is pretty amazing considering that I never really learned how to cry properly. No really. I just sort of screw up my face and make dying seal noises. It’s awkward.

In the wake of this truly keyboard smash inducing episode, it’s no wonder that Tumblr has exploded with text posts. ‘GO BACK TO YOUR HOME ON WHORE ISLAND, SNOW’ cry the Evil Regals. ‘UH NO, PRETTY SURE THAT’S WHERE REGINA LIVES,’ shout back the Snow fans (Do they have a name?). And occasionally someone pops up to remind everyone that this is all actually Rumplestiltskin’s fault, to which pretty much everyone says, “But Robert Carlyle. Shhhh.”

Tangent: He was looking mighty fine at the end there with his vest and those pants on those legs he has. You know the ones.

But anyway, back to the point…. What was my point? Sorry, just. Robert Carlyle. I mean. LOOK.

Okay, now the actual point: Why does Snow White’s one murderous act make us all flip our collective sh*t, when we’re pretty willing to forgive characters like Regina, Rumple, Hook, and even Cora? It isn’t because evil is sexy, that they’re affably evil, or that they were pretty much all driven to villainy, though there may be some elements of them being Draco Rumple in Leather Pants.

No, what really does it, what really makes Snow’s actions shocking, is that we don’t expect this from her. Once Upon a Time has been pretty consistent in continually defining the Charmings as the Good Guys. They’re the Designated Heroes, and that means that we hold them to different standards. Higher standards. I mean, it was just one episode ago that Snow was refusing to turn to evil to save her mother, refusing to turn to evil to save a lifelong friend – a theme that has been echoed throughout her entire story arc, barring that one time when she was incapable of feeling love because of Rumplestiltskin’s potion.

And the fact remains that, no matter how much Rumple suggested, hinted, and persuaded, this was Snow’s decision. She made it herself. She did it herself. Which can be said of pretty much all the people Rumple supposedly seduces to the dark side, but I digress. 

Now, is this action really so different from say, Regina sending Emma home with a poison apple turnover? Or Hook pretending to set Aurora free? Cora using Rumple to learn how to rip out her own heart? From any one of Rumple’s various plots? No, not really. All things being equal, they were all acts of deceit designed to lead to death or some other Unpleasantness. But from Snow, it seems so much worse, because she is one of the show’s supposed Embodiments of Good, and until now the show has not really dealt with shades of grey and moral relativism, at least not with the defined Good characters. (Except perhaps Emma, but I don’t think she counts. That’s another post, however.)

So really, what it comes down to is that they’re all as Bad (or as Good, if you want to look at it that way) as each other.

All that being said, I wish something like this had happened earlier in the Snow & Regina story arc. It’s bothered me since “The Stable Boy” that Regina’s motivation to destroy Snow has been that child!Snow couldn’t keep a secret. It’s just not proportional to her reaction, especially considering that she had already revenged herself on Daniel’s actual murderer, only to then seemingly forgive Cora for all she’s done. Regina’s whole story line would make a lot more sense if Snow had done something like this earlier, or else if the conflict was Regina v. Cora rather than Regina v. Snow.

Another thing that bugged: Snow is trading one of Henry’s grandparents for the other, but chooses to save Rumple in yet another example of Blood is Thicker Than Adoption Water. Yes, her decision makes sense because Rumple doesn’t present an immediate threat, and Cora does, but still.

Enough of that though: Let’s talk about Cora and Rumple because MY HEART… is probably in a box on a shelf somewhere. I have to say, the Rumple/Cora romance (Gold Daughter? Gold Hearts?) is just. I mean. Wow. I expect there to be ALL THE FANFICTION about what would have happened if Cora had gone with Rumple and they raised Regina together, or if Cora had been given her heart back without the death curse in place, because MAN the look on Cora’s face when she sees Regina for the first time with her ability to love intact. Do not disappoint me, fanficcers.

(Also where is the Pirates of the Carribean AU? I mean, they’re practically handing it to you. Cora is Davy Jones, Rumple is Calypso, there’s already pirate ships involved, Grumpy was actually in the movies… Regina could be Jack Sparrow.)

And can I just say that I love that Cora’s life was ruined by her own hubris, and that in her final seconds, she knows it? I just find that literar-ily delicious. If she hadn’t been so bent on revenge, so arrogant as to take out her own heart, then she would have been able to find happiness so long ago, and so much pain for pretty much everyone could have been avoided. I like the idea that the only one who could truly ruin Cora’s life was Cora herself. It brings to mind one of my favorite quotes from Legend of the Seeker: “Your life is in your hands. Only yours.” Also, Rose McGowan is a perfect young!Cora.

Back to Rumple – the moment of this episode in which I cried my awkward tears was when he called Belle. I’ve always sort of halfway liked the ship, for Beauty and the Beast reasons, but wow, this really sold it to me. And something occurred to me as I watched. From the moment Rumple meets The Seer, his life and his decisions are defined by the ladies around him. The Seer, Milah, Cora, Regina, Belle… he’s either dependent on them for something, or something they’ve done is one of the driving forces behind his actions. This was a kind of epiphany for me, as Rumple is generally portrayed as the Magnificent B*stard who is 5.6 steps ahead of everyone, a wheeler dealer seducer who takes advantage of teh womenz (and everyone else)… but now, I don’t think so. I think the women in his life have infinitely more power in their relationships with him than he does, and while that’s still not healthy, I like it. Because… I don’t know… Girl power?

Last few thoughts: Bae is probably Peter Pan. And, is Hook still trapped in a closet in Manhattan or….?

I’ve been what’s termed a gamer since I was a young child. At the age of five, I got my first Nintendo system, which was followed by a Sega Genesis, followed by a Playstation, and so on. I can say I have at one point owned or played every major gaming system to hit the market since the late 1990s.

I’ve always favored the sword and sorcery type and/or RPG type games. My first love was Mario Brothers 3, followed by Sonic and Knuckles, and then the game changer, the one that hooked me for life: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

Now there is something perfectly obvious about all of these games, that I never the less did not notice until I was older.

All of the protagonists are male.

And, all of them at some point involve rescuing a woman, who for some reason is incapable of rescuing herself.

Photo found on Google Images.

I can remember the first time I really noticed this inequality. And I had to notice – male protagonists in video games are so normalized that it never occurred to me to wonder why I could never play as a woman.

Anyway, I was around fourteen, and I was playing Harvest Moon 64 when my dad walked in and watched me play for a bit. After a while, my dad, who, bless him, was always very concerned about gender roles lest I somehow catch The Gay by wearing a Batman costume, asked, “How come you’re playing as the man?”

I was confused. There was only one character I could play as. “What do you mean?” I said.

He replied, “There’s a woman on the farm too. I saw her when you went in the house. Why don’t you play as her?”

I said, “I can’t.”

And for the very first time, I wondered why.

Why should the default gender of the vast majority of video game protagonists be male? Why can’t I have a game where Link is trapped by Ganon, and Princess Zelda has to get her hero on and go rescue him, and also at some point in the game has a talk with whatever that game’s version of the fairy companion is to tell her that she should stop being such a nag, because she’s reinforcing a derogatory female stereotype?

Yes, yes, there are a few games with female heroes. Rhapsody, a Playstation game in which you are the princess rescuing the prince, comes to mind. There’s Metroid and Tomb Raider. Other games like Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and Fable give you the option of making your character male or female. And I love those games. Love them to pieces, because they assume that I can be a hero without foregoing my gender.

But the point is that I shouldn’t feel like games where I can play as a woman are a special treat. And I do – I really do. An almost guaranteed way to get me to buy a game is to tell me that I have the option of playing as a woman.

Which is why I was so disappointed when I got the latest Fable game home, and found that you may only play as a male character. Why is that? Would it have really been so much harder, cost too much to have a choice? The character designs could have remained very similar. The character’s name could have been Gabriel either way, it’s pretty gender neutral. So why this sudden return to only a male protagonist?

Some of the more familiar arguments are market based. “Games with female protagonists don’t do as well” they say. “There’s no point in wasting money programming in the option because no one uses it. Women don’t play video games, and don’t want to.”

To that, I reply that games with female protagonists typically have lower marketing budgets than those with male protagonists – a built in guarantee that games featuring female protagonists won’t do as well. And as for there being fewer female gamers – how are we supposed to be attracted to the past time, when the majority of games marketed to us are things like Cooking Mama and, I don’t know, Let’s Back Up Sing For Justin Bieber? Why have I never seen a marketing campaign for Super Kick Ass Action Woman, Who Raises Two Kids On A Bounty Hunter’s Budget, And Kills Dragons In Her Spare Time ?

The Sims franchise is one of the most wildly successful in computer gaming history – and part of the point is that you can make characters of either gender. In fact, it is basically the video game version of a traditionally female activity – playing Barbies. But the games have a huge marketing campaign backing them, and are packaged as gender neutral. What does that say?

The market is here, Video Game Powers That Be. We’re waiting. If you call Tamora Pierce and tell her you want to make a game franchise out of the Tortall books, we will come. We will even scream and flail our arms around, and punch any dudebro who doesn’t like it in the face. If you make Alanna: The First Adventure, she’s disguised as a man for the majority of that, so that’s totally meeting us halfway right? You can even pull a Metroid and not let on she’s a woman until the end of the game, so by the time any privileged male gamers realize they’ve been playing as, horror of horrors, a woman, they might already like her and the franchise.

Really. I might start a petition.

Disclaimer: I know that not all male gamers are privileged straight white dudebros. I’m even friends with male gamers of the non-dudebro variety. Unfortunately, said straight white dudebros are usually the loudest. Google the controversy surrounding female protagonist options, and gay romance storylines in various games, and you’ll see what I mean.

Note: This article has been cross-posted to Daily Kos.

In the wake of the controversy surrounding Seth MacFarlane’s performance of his original song “I Saw Your Boobs” at the Oscars, and after reading articles concerning it on Jezebel and in the Atlantic, a few thoughts that have been percolating in my head have finally brewed into brain-coffee.

Now, I’m not going to write about the “I Saw Your Boobs” incident in particular, as I have nothing original to say on that score. What I’ve been thinking about is what constitutes humor in general. What makes something funny? And more to the point, when is it okay to mock something?

Comedians have argued for years that either everything is funny, or nothing is. Every topic under the sun must be subject to mockery, else we fall onto a slippery slope of putting more and more things out of bounds until we have hamstrung our artists and defeated the right to free speech, if not legally, then as a social construct of acceptance. Now, as a writer, I see the point. As a legal scholar, I see the point. It is very dangerous to declare something ‘out of bounds’ in terms of expression. That’s how tyranny comes about. That’s how people stop thinking. That’s what leads to things like The Hunger Games. And if we are going to limit what comedians are allowed to mock, how soon before we are limiting what topics any artist may address? How long before there is a blacklist of books and authors are being disappeared into black bags, a la V for Vendetta? Currently in the United States, we only prohibit speech that is misleading (slander, fraud, false advertising) and designed to incite harm or frighten (hate speech, threats). My inner legal scholar wishes you to know this is a very general summary of the law.

So why then should we be sensitive about mocking women’s lib, rape and so on?

I will admit that I consider myself to be a Seth MacFarlane fan. But I have long being growing uncomfortable with the increasing frequency of rape jokes on Family Guy. Not uncomfortable enough, however, to stop watching. Or maybe I’ve just gotten fatigued, as Lindy West says in her article on Jezebel. At least MacFarlane seems to be an equal opportunity rape jokester, as men are the literal victims of the jokes as often as women are.

But then I thought to myself: Why do these jokes make me uncomfortable, but not jokes about say, murder? Is it just because issues of women’s rights and the controversy surrounding rape in this country are very important to me?

And I realized, no, that isn’t it at all. Jokes about other issues that are important to me don’t offend me as a matter of course. Some of them are even tasteful and funny, and make salient political points.

So what is it about the rape jokes?

It’s because we, as a society, are still debating what rape is, how it is defined, whose fault it is, and whether it is a Bad Thing. It is because so many rapes and sexual assaults go unreported each year, so many reported rapes and sexual assaults are not taken seriously, so many victims are blamed for the crimes committed against them, and so many politicians seem frighteningly unconcerned by it.

Murder jokes are funny because, outside a satirical context, we all agree that Murder is a Bad Idea. Even the rightest of the right wing ascribe to “Thou Shalt Not Kill” most of the time. We know it’s a serious thing. We take it seriously, we punish to the fullest extent of the law, we put people to death for it because that’s not a mixed message at all, and we know that if we kill Inigo Montoya’s father, he’s going to become the world’s best swordsman and come after us.

But rape? We’re not sure if it’s her fault because she was wearing a low cut blouse, we don’t know if it’s “legitimate” or “emergency,” we think the female body might have ways to shut that whole thing down, and it just might be a gift from God. If you still haven’t got it, see this handy Republican Rape Advisory Chart.

So I propose a new rule of thumb. Nothing to be codified into law, but perhaps adopted and implemented through societal pressure. It’s really very simple:

If something horrific, negative, and other similar adjectives, is almost universally recognized by society to be a Bad Thing: mock away. If, however, said horrific, negative thing is still viewed positively or with little concern by the public at large, and your joke/creation/art sends a pro-horrific thing message, then: It’s. Just. Not. Funny.

In conclusion: Is rape funny? Is women’s lib funny? – Not until we realize that they’re not.

Edit: Apologies to Brainwrap, the actual creator of the Rape Advisory Chart. The link has been corrected!

Are you all still out there? I’m still here, though you would hardly know it!

It seems that life is always getting in the way of writing, or else writing is getting in the way of life. I’ll try to find a better balance, but for now, in penance, have a recommendation for a parody musical by the very talented group, Starkid:

Holy Musical B@man is a must watch for anyone with even passing familiarity with Batman and other comic book heroes. As always with Starkid, the songs are silly, fun, and hilarious while making salient points about their subject matter, and life in general. I was particularly taken with Jeff Blim’s performance as original villain, Sweet Tooth. If he isn’t the next Jim Carrey, I will eat my shoes.

You can watch the musical in its entirety on Starkid’s Youtube Channel. Be warned, there is coarse language, but that is part of what makes the show so funny.

Gif from Holy Musical B@man. Made by… uh, the internet?

I was going to write a post this morning about my feelings on Obama’s Re-election, but as I was gathering my thoughts I decided to check out the posts on two of my favorite blogs Whatever and TerribleMinds first. As is usual with Scalzi and Wendig, I was reduced to nodding my head emphatically along while muttering “YES. GOOD. THIS.” to myself.

So being very lazy, I’m going to link you to them, and tell you to take their words as mine. Just multiply the relief by about five, seeing as I am not a straight white male and thus directly affected by the social issues at stake:

Whatever: Next Morning Presidential Election Thoughts

TerribleMinds: Time To Participate In Democracy, American Humans

I’m also quite pleased with the election of several female (and one openly lesbian) officials, and the ousting of certain rape apologists.

In conclusion, here’s a picture of Obama on a unicorn.