Warehouse 13: “Burnout” and Steampunk Technology

11 08 2009

“Pixels will never reflect the real thing.” — Artie to Claudia

One of the most appealing things to me about Warehouse 13 is the steampunk sensibility: there’s a warehouse full of the US’s most top secret artifacts, and it’s guarded not by plasma whozitwhats or iPod-esque oojahs, but by practically fossilized early-twentieth-century technology.

But if you stop to think about that for a second, it makes NO SENSE WHATSOEVER.

I mean, sure, I can think of reasons why this might be the case.  Maybe the Secret Service is afraid to upgrade the tech because they don’t know how the artifacts will respond.  Maybe there’s just no money.  Maybe it’s such a monumental task and the Warehouse is so chronically understaffed that it’s simply impossible.  But really, it just doesn’t make sense, from a plot perspective, if you don’t suspend your disbelief.

HOWEVER.

From a thematic perspective, it makes perfect sense.  The retro-chic technology fits in with the idea that there is something soulless about modern mass-produced technology, and the individualized and detail-oriented steampunk aesthetic works against this soullessness.  Just like the artifacts are unique relics of historical moments, the Farnsworths hand-crafted by the “father of television” himself, the Warehouse is a relic of a more ingenious and intellectually ambitious time.  (It’s not a coincidence that one of the artifacts that is most prominently featured during the theme song is a moon rock, along with the television and the Farnsworths and a disco ball — these are all inventions of the long golden age of both science and science fiction, the fifty years from the 1920s to the 1970s.)

On that level, the explicit comparison that Rebecca makes between the Warehouse and this week’s artifact, the parasitic and deadly electrocuting spine, suggests an ominous layer to the show that we haven’t really seen up to now.

Also, that was some serious scenery-chewing from Eddie McClintock, eh?  And good for little old Rebecca for calmly and efficiently saving the day when Myka couldn’t!  I want more of her!

But I’m not sure how I feel about their choice to make her the voice of negativity about the Warehouse.  Actually, let me revise that: I don’t like the way they chose to make her the voice of negativity.  From the writers’ perspective, there was no need to bring her back to the Warehouse except to make her have that last conversation with Myka.  And why have Artie give Rebecca the engagement ring that was lurking in one of Jack’s perfectly preserved drawers except to make it clear that she is warning Myka about the Warehouse not out of a generalized concern for her well-being, but specifically so that Myka can “have a life,” i.e., get married and have a family?

But Myka doesn’t seem to want to get married and have a family, and that’s okay!  I hope that we never see her turn into the stereotypical career woman with the ticking biological clock, desperately in search of a man.  And this show had certainly better not go the X-Files route.  Mulder and Scully together was a disaster, and so would Pete and Myka be.  Can’t we have one independent and fulfilled single woman on TV?  They exist in the real world, after all!

What did you think of this episode, esteemed reader?  On a scenery-chewing scale of 1 to 11 (yeah, it goes to 11), how would you rate it?

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An Open Letter on the Occasion of the Psych Season Premiere

7 08 2009

Dear writers responsible for the bits of trivia on the Psych Countdown Calendar:

I love Psych.  I mean, really: I love that show.  It is hilarious and James Roday and Dulé Hill have awesome chemistry.  In general, you do such a fantastic job with the female characters: both Juliet and Chief Vick are excellent.

So it made me really sad to see this on the “Countdown Calendar” that was on the Psych website in preparation for tonight’s season premiere.

EXHIBIT A: Top Five Facts about Lassiter

Nice fish, Lassie

Nice fish, Lassie

Lassiter gets moderately funny jokes about what he does in his free time.

And what Top Five do we get for Juliet?  Well, check out Exhibit B:

Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.

Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.

Moderately funny jokes about whom Juliet might do in her free time.

PSYCH WRITERS.  LISTEN UP.  I really like Juliet!  I think you’ve done a great job with making her fun and giving her characteristics that are original and non-stereotypical.  I love that she is a great police officer who embraces her femininity, and that her femininity is an asset in her job.  I love that she is both a crack shot and an awesome dancer.  But seriously?  The best you can do for her top five is describe not her, but whom she’d date?  You write such a fantastic character, and then instead of telling us about her top five off-duty activities (which I bet would be just as entertaining, if not more so, than Lassiter’s!) you focus on what kind of man she wants?

I call shenanigans.

I’m still looking forward to the season premiere — I mean, what other procedural has a competent and awesome female police chief?  None that I know of (although I could be wrong; procedurals aren’t generally my cup of tea).  But the fact that I do love the show makes me all the more critical of stuff like this.  Please, please, please, don’t let this be a pattern.

Hugs and kisses,

R.R.





Warehouse 13: “Elements” and Race Issues

5 08 2009
Warehouse 13: “Elements”
I started this episode with an audible “OH, NO.”  The scene opens with New Agey flute music and a generic Indian performing a generically Indian ceremony over some sort of tiny generic statuette in a generic cave under the surface of Manhatten.  Visually, this is not promising, but I really wonder what language he is speaking, and how well.  If the voiceover is relatively accurate, that’s something, at least.
Cut to present-day NYC, with someone pulling up the hood on what looks to my admittedly non-expert eyes like a generically Indian  magic cloak that enables the wearer to walk through walls (and also carries its own hip-hop soundtrack, too!).  This is not a particularly sophisticated invocation of the Lenape: they’re figured, as First Nations people usual are, as mystical Others with a unique connection to the land.
Also, Artie takes one look at a <em>feather</em> and says “Looks Native American”?!  Because only the First Nations ever use feathers?  Later he gets more specific: we’re meant to be looking at a Lenape shaman or something in that first scene (did the Lenape have shamans?).  So that gets a bit better, I suppose, in acknowledging a tribe at the very least.
I do feel like Weaver’s repetition of “It’s not meant for you” in the climactic cave scene acknowledges the imperialist creepiness of
I also still really like Leena and I wish she were given a chance to talk about anything that does not involve helping  the white people ~*~understand themselves~*~!  For the first few minutes of the scene between Leena and Claudia, I thought we were going to pass the Bechdel test.  But I think it violates the spirit of the Bechdel test to have the two women characters talk about something that isn’t a man if one of them is still falling into skeevy racial stereotypes.
A note on terminology: I interchange “Indian” with “First Nations” because those are generally the terms that I have seen people of Native descent prefer to use themselves when they don’t use tribe names.  “Native American,” as I understand, is a term that was decided on by white people.

I started this episode with an audible “OH, NO.”  The scene opens with New Agey flute music and a generic American Indian performing a generically Indian ceremony over some sort of tiny generic statuette in a generic cave under the surface of Manhatten.  Visually, this is not promising, but I really wonder what language he is speaking, and how well.  If the voiceover is relatively accurate, that’s something, at least.

Cut to present-day NYC, with someone pulling up the hood on what looks to my admittedly non-expert eyes like a generically “Indian”  magic cloak, which enables the wearer to walk through walls (and carries its own hip-hop soundtrack, too!).  This is not a particularly sophisticated invocation of the Lenape: they’re figured, as First Nations people usual are, as mystical Others with a unique connection to nature and the land.  In this case, that connection is so pure as to allow supernatural manipulation of the elements.

It all just seems so very stereotypical!  I am, of course, more than willing — excited, even — to be proven wrong.  I don’t know enough about Lenape culture to know how accurate any of the representations of Lenape art and language are.  But it all seems pretty generic to me.

Also problematic for me was when Artie takes one look at the feather and says “Looks Native American.”  Because only the First Nations ever use feathers?  Later, however, he at least acknowledges the name of the Lenape, which is one tiny step in the right direction.

I do feel like Weaver’s repetition of “It’s not meant for you” in the climactic cave scene acknowledges the imperialist creepiness of the white dudes collecting Lenape and Lenape-related artifacts in order to find the sacred cave and therefore master the elements.  We’ve had 500 years of fantasies of white domination already; without Weaver’s saying that, this episode really would feel like yet another un-self-conscious instance of it.  And yet the elements are themselves white fantasies: the Water of Eternal Life, in particular, plays into the same myth of the Fountain of Youth that Ponce de Léon kept pursuing.  In fact, the four “superpowers” bestowed by the four elements in the cave all represent what Europeans dreamed they would find in the New World, and the idea of there being a secret cave hidden underneath NYC that would provide all of those things only contributes to the notion that the Lenape and other tribes had Secret Knowledge about how to dominate the earth, but that they nobly safeguarded that knowledge (and therefore the earth) from the greedy rapaciousness of others.

It’s another aspect of the myth of the Noble Savage.  The problem is really that even though this story has an American Indian artifact at the center, the Lenape themselves don’t matter at all to the story.  The artifact is just a plot device, something to enable the white characters to work through conflict and save the day.  There’s no depth to the representations of non-white characters.

Which reminds me: I still really like Leena and I wish she were given a chance to talk about anything that does not involve helping  the white people ~*~understand themselves~*~!  I was so excited for the first few minutes of the scene between Leena and Claudia — I thought we were going to pass the Bechdel test at last!  But even though the two women only talked about Claudia, I think it violates the spirit of the Bechdel test to have the two women characters talk about something that isn’t a man if one of them is still falling into skeevy racial stereotypes.

But what do you think, friendly reader?

A note on terminology: I interchange “Indian” and “American Indian” with “First Nations” because those are generally the terms that I have seen people of Native descent prefer to use themselves when they don’t use tribe names.  “Native American,” as I understand, is a term that was decided on by white people.





The Women of Warehouse 13

1 08 2009

I have been pretty charmed by Warehouse 13. First, it’s a buddy cop show, and I have a weakness for lighthearted buddy cop shows. Second, there are three women who play important roles, and while I’m hoping they get more character depth than they currently have, I’m pleased just to see them!

First, there’s Myka, the Scully to Pete’s Mulder. … You know, I was going to say more here, but really, that pretty much sums it up. I never watched The X-Files much, but it seems like Pete is notably more obnoxious, in that frat-boy kind of way, than Mulder ever was. And Myka deals with it.

Then there’s Lena, the girl who can read auras. I appreciate that she’s there, and that she’s black/mixed race/multiracial (I use so many terms because I’m not sure how the actor prefers to identify). But unfortunately, she and the third important woman, the black Mrs. Frederick, are both Magical Negroes: Lena exists to fetch things, ask probing questions so that exposition can take place, and read auras; Mrs. Frederick has been magically alive forever and she mysteriously sets the entire plot in motion by recruiting Myka and Pete and keeping them on task.

I like the premise of the show: I’ve always loved the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, so an entire show structured around the wacky adventures of a team of artifact scavengers totally appeals to me. Its steampunk trappings are fun, too.

The show’s not going to break ground as particularly thought-provoking or innovative. It’s fluff entertainment, episodic in structure — not nearly as sophisticated as, say, LOST. Still, even though I’ve missed a few weeks, I’m looking forward to catching up on Hulu.

Up soon: I’ll be reviewing unaired episodes of Dollhouse.





BlogHer 2009

21 07 2009

In a couple of days I’ll be headed to BlogHer with a very dear friend.  It’s the first time for both of us, and it’s my first time at a conference that is neither (a) for super-religious teenagers (I should post about those conferences, though; they’re terrifying) nor (b) academic.  I’m a little bit overwhelmed just thinking about it! On the plus side, I bought some desperately needed new shoes that should provide the necessary comfort while still looking stylish.  At least, I will keep my fingers crossed that they do, because if they don’t I have no other good options for footwear!

At any rate, I’m excited about the conference and seeing so many smart, savvy women all gathered in one place.  Feminist issues are dear to my heart, and, after all, what is more feminist than women writing and publishing whatever they want, having their voices heard and finding support in an increasingly isolating society?  Okay, so maybe a few things, like equal pay for equal work and universal access to health care, but how will we accomplish those goals without communication?  Not easily!  So go bloggers!





Celebrities: Diversifying Power

15 07 2009

I just wanted to make a note of the Forbes top five influential women in media: in order, Oprah Winfrey, Diane Sawyer, Ellen DeGeneres, and Tyra Banks. I am impressed that of those five, two are African-American and one is lesbian.

Of Forbes’s top 100 celebrities, the top five include Angelina Jolie, Oprah, Madonna, Beyonce, and Tiger Woods; you don’t get a white dude until #6, Bruce Springsteen, who beats Steven Spielberg at #7, and then it’s Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt, and Kobe Bryant to round out the top 10.  So of the top 10 most powerful celebrities, five are men and five are women.  It’s like the general population is also half male and half female!  Amazing!  And, interestingly (to me), four of the top ten are African-American or mixed race.  Again, it’s almost as if a significant portion of the US is not white!  Astounding!

I’d like to see what smarter people with economic training have to say, but I’m struck by the methodology for calculating the Celebrity 100:

The Celebrity 100 is a measure of power based on money and fame. Earnings estimates, which include income from films, television shows, endorsements, books and other entertainment ventures, are calculated between June 2008 and June 2009. Figures were rounded off where appropriate. Sources include Billboard, Pollstar, Adams Media Research, Nielsen SoundScan, Nielsen BookScan, Nielsen Media Research and SNL Kagan. Fame is calculated using Web hits on Google Blog Search, TV/radio mentions on LexisNexis, overall press mentions on Factiva and the number of times a celebrity’s image appeared on the cover of 25 consumer magazines.

Which 25 consumer magazines?  What’s the demographic for each of them?  I’m just wondering about using magazine covers to gauge fame when as far as I know, magazine subscriptions have been dwindling.  I assume we’re talking about magazines like People, Vogue, Cosmo, and other checkout-line staples, where anyone who buys groceries ends up seeing the faces on the cover.  But I’d like to know more specifically which magazines count and which don’t.  Rolling Stone probably does, I would imagine, but how many magazines are included in their list that target Latin@s, for example, which make up a significant portion of the population?  Does Forbes, as I suspect they do, privilege magazines targeted at middle-class white women?

The list of the 400 richest Americans is more revealing, though: there are only four women in the top 60, and it’s not until you hit #60 that you finally see a face that isn’t white: Patrick Soon-Shiong, just ahead of Steve Jobs.  Don’t worry, white dudes: you’ve still got wealth and power locked in, in spite of the way you’ve voiced your fears over the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor (*cough*LindseyGraham*cough*).





Side note: Slacktivist is awesome

5 04 2009

I have a post about the last episode of Dollhouse brewing. First, though, I’m catching up on my Google Reader, and I wanted to note this excerpt from Slacktivist Fred Clark’s latest post:

The somewhat grim seriousness of my response to these scenes [in the sequel to Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’s awful Left Behind] would probably be dismissed by LaHaye and Jenkins as yet another example of the humorlessness of feminism. That whole trope — the Humorless Feminist — is another example of the reassertion of an undeserved claim of authority. The claim in this case, is that they know what’s funny and we don’t. […]

And why do misogynistic complaints about feminists’ humorlessness fall so flat?  Why are these scenes with Buck so desperately unfunny?

Comedy is essentially revolutionary. This scene is counter-revolutionary. That’s never funny. Everything in these pages is about reasserting hierarchy and punishing anyone who challenges it. That’s never funny either.

Buck Williams isn’t the court jester, he’s the sycophantic court prophet. The court prophet isn’t funny. (Nor is he really a prophet.)

The jester is funny because he mocks the king. He deflates the over-inflated and humbles the proud. This is what comedy does. It’s what comedy is for. It brings down the powerful from their thrones and lifts up the lowly; it fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty. (Mary knew from funny.)

That’s what makes it funny. That’s what makes us laugh.

Everything that Buck does in the Chicago bureau of Global Weekly is intended to tear down the lowly and lift the powerful onto their thrones, to fill the rich with good things and send the hungry away empty.

That’s not funny. That’s the opposite of funny. And I’m not laughing.

(source)

See?  Awesome.