seeks SFC…

For about the last 25 years I have posed this as a puzzle: Name four real people to whom you are not related that have contributed significantly to your identity. Once I’d formulated this pseudo-riddle I first answered it myself before presenting it to others. The result is not exactly a Favorite Heroes list and I’m usually suspicious of answers that come within an hour. It took me a year to provide my own response.

My selections were – Gene Roddenberry for teaching me that ideals existed and which might chosen, Jim Henson for demonstrating the value of purposeful whimsy, Carl Sagan for showing that all subject matter regardless of discipline can be interconnected, and Richard Scarry for making it clear that nothing is complete when regarded only at face value.

rushmore

From about the time this question had been crafted to the mid-90s each of these men passed away. Being dead was, therefore, not a requirement to make the Mt. Rushmore of Personal Sources. Neither should being a white male have been; it wasn’t intentional but it happened.

While it isn’t necessarily an exercise in favorite heroes (my list of those is somewhat different and longer) there is some similarity in both musings. Due in part to the emphasis in history and to traditional gender roles it’s just more difficult to find heroes who were or are also women. That may be one contributing factor in the true dearth of strong female characters.

When we do find them they seem to be required to be renegade warriors such as Katniss Everdeen or Black Widow. Further we must also see them as being in a relationship – more often with a man than not – or seeking one. A demonstration of sexuality has much more emphasis with female characters than with males. Buffy Summers’ story was sometimes more concerned with her romances with Angel and Spike than with actual vampire slaying.

The hero’s journey of a SFC takes a back seat to some man’s saga by the third act. River Song, Donna Noble, and Sarah Jane Smith (all from the Doctor Who franchise) are very capable characters and, while the series is about a titular man there’s no reason his story cannot be the B-plot. There has been some recent suggestion that the Doctor might some day be portrayed by an actress.

Dame Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep have both been advocates of broadening the roles available to women over 40 years of age to include more than just witches or grandmothers. Surely it should be easy to design a fictional role as homage to women like Abigail Adams or Dolly Madison – and without her motivation being only to support her husband in his career and ambition.

Both Molly Pitcher and Rosie the Riveter are folkloric amalgamation uncounted real women. A dramatization could certainly be written in in less than a year. But how would the writer address such women being driven back to more traditional and more subservient roles after the Revolution and WWII, respectively?

Boudica, queen of the Iceni and al-Kāhina, her Berber equivalent are worthy subjects, however both met quite tragic ends after living lives of sacrifice. These two and many other woman throughout history seem to be made to pay for their heroism-despite-gender with humiliation and/or execution. Small wonder that fictional sisters face comparable fates.

wrexie-leonarWhether it’s due to fear of aging and change or to any sense of being challenged by a woman this does have to change. “Strong female character” is not a description of a fictional person as it is the name of a problem. So I’ll be letting Carl Sagan graduate from Mt. Rushmore to Elysium – with Wrexie Leonard taking his place. She was the professional companion of Percival Lowell from about 1883 to 1916. She was a scientist in her own right and there’s no evidence she felt disappointed that she and Mr. Lowell never married or viewed life as she lived it as being tragic at the end.

keumala

Jim Henson will be found on the other side of the rainbow now because his spot is going to Keumala Hayati, laksamana (admiral). Not only was she Indonesian (a nation that contributes 25% to my ethnicity and heritage) but also an opponent of the status quo she and officially a diplomat. Her 16th century career in the navy of the Aceh Sultanate seems very likely to have brought her to the attention Queen Elizabeth I during the final year of said monarch’s life and reign. I have yet to find any account of her death and – in my opinion that gives a wide territory in which to invent legends of the Lion(ess) of the Sea; which I now have plans to do.

My business partner and coauthor on upcoming work, Leanna Renee Hieber, has recently written about feminism in the gothic tradition. Coming from her discussion on these topics definitely carry more weight then when it’s on my mind.


aceh

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straight on ’til morning…

Respect and trust are commonly referred to as being earned. Other aspects of human interaction are sometimes included but only these two are held in quite this regard. We speak of both, in a sense, as social commodities.

When doing so, it is often part of a critique of someone’s behavior being insufficient to warrant such credits. We also take this stance as a reminder to those who demand admiration or belief.

Imagine if society had a literal system of accounting for behavior and personal qualities. If human interaction were directly comparable to an economy, what currency buys respect and trust? What can they in turn be used to purchase? Imagine this Confidence Exchange.

Desire would drive this market just as it does real financial systems. Reputation plays a role in these hypothetical stocks in the same way real investments are effected. Given that forms of monetary transactions predate recorded history, the idea that we’ve been participating in the Confidence Exchange (and without knowing it as such) all along may not be far-fetched.

Although coin and paper currency would come later, money existed before most early legal codes. Both Hammurabi and Ur-Nammu dealt with the role of money in civil society (among other matters, of course).

The scales of the market were borrowed to serve as the near-universal representation of justice. There is then, still, an implied pessimism in the symbol – from back in the traders’ stalls where proof of a good deal was required by real measurement.

Spoken language predates barter but for the entire course of recorded history our thinking has been driven by market-based factors we don’t spend much time considering. Case in point, how we spend our time, not to mention the idea that time is money, may have grown up with the economy more than any other aspect of civilization.

There is no symbol for the intrinsic value of a person or society. There are no signs for loyalty or honor. The Anglo-Saxon and Scandic systems of weregild may have provided small, financial comfort in the aftermath of loss but the cost in coin could not reflect the nature of the person(s) lost.

Religious symbols represent institutions, tenets, and adherents but rarely (if at all) any specific virtue. Where are these signs?

It won’t catch on but I have an idea for a symbol for Hope and Optimism.

On April 12, 1981, Space Shuttle Columbia stood on Launch Pad 39A. I was in my last year of high school and four generations of my family sat in relative silence listening to journalists and scientists trade jargon and speculation. They too fell silent when the shuttle began to rumble. With seven seconds to go, the hydrogen burn-off igniters made it look like they sparked the launch into being.

For several minutes we sat without a word. My siblings and I hadn’t seen the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs; everyone else in the room had. To them this launch seemed different. Human desires that had survived on little more than hope for 15,000 years were arcing into the sky.

Finally, the eldest person in the room, my great grandmother, spoke. “When I was a little girl they brought milk to my house in a horse-drawn cart.”

I was then and remain truly awestruck by that observation. It’s probably the only aspect of my point of view that has a timestamp. If the space shuttle is a horse-drawn cart how astonishing will the future be?

So, I offer the space shuttle as a symbol of the value and virtue of hope.

Shuttle-for-blog


 

exerceat histrionem…

During the history of cinematography, at least since the end of the Victorian era, at least one film adaption of a play by Shakespeare has been made every year but nine*. The enduring allure of the playwright’s work is not the tales themselves nor particularly the quality with which they’re perceived. In his own day, critics viewed him as ambitious beyond his talent. Today, apart from the Greek dramatists – most particularly Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides – it’s difficult to name a rival if measured by the duration of popularity.

When number of portrayals by an actor is considered (again in motion pictures and television), the most famous creations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker get more attention than Beatrice or Viola. In terms of time, Shakespeare’s work would have to fade completely then Dracula† and Holmes‡ would both still need almost three centuries to catch up.

In ancient Greece the focus on the stage was morality, usually through the exaggeration of undesirable traits. The Bard’s emphasis was less on the literal influence of mythological beasts and beings than on the metaphoric demons that drive our passions and lives.

The Great Detective and the Vampire Count are both power fantasies albeit in profoundly different ways. Taken as a whole, this very brief survey of noteworthy drama all concern the human road between some day and last day. That’s why they last as opposed to nostalgic efforts like Happy Days or That ’70s Show and dated entertainment not old enough for nostalgia to set in.

What we read and watch as a society is a little different from the same during an individual’s experience with fiction; it’s less about the human condition, more the condition of humanity. It’s impossible to predict whether Doctor Who will continue regenerating from actor to actor for the next 500 years. However, the scope of human history distills to the substance of just ten (or twenty) activities of people in groups.

We’ve been obsessed as a species with the following: ➀ Defense and Security, ➁ Information and Communication, ➂ Resources and Industry, ➃ Education and Labor, ➄ Culture and Weal (or Well-being), ➅ Transportation and Commerce, ➆ Planning and Governance, ➇ Law and Justice, ➈ Utilities and Services, ➉ Science and Technology.

Fortress

Any aspect of plot, notwithstanding a given hero’s specific journey, will fall into at least one category pair. The same is true of society in real life; these are all of the parts of civilization. What changes over time is the degree of sophistication in each. Without any prediction of whether Astral will survive for centuries, the story mainly involves 5, 8, and 10 (with the last being due to sci fi as the genre chosen).

It’s very easy to imagine that humans 500 years from now will still have forms of entertainment and that they’ll feature fictional humans. I’m having trouble picturing a future society that wouldn’t be described in terms of its approach to my [“DIRECT-PLUS”, © Thom Truelove] theory as stated.


* The missing years being: 1901-04, 1930-32, 1934, 1945

† Dracula has been portrayed in more than 270 films.

‡ Sherlock Holmes is short about 20 for close second.

Keep ’em flying, son…

Marvel Comics announced last year that a female version of Thor would feature in a new storyline. Given that an African-American would assume the mantle of Captain America was announced at about the same time, it seems a reasonable suspicion that Marvel executives might have issued a “More Diversity” directive.

There was a degree of push-back on both Thor as a woman and Cap’ as a black man. I didn’t agree with the opposition to either character and still don’t. I’m very much in favor of stories that encourage an understanding of diversity. There is great value, particularly in entertainment that appeals to children and young adults, in a reader finding heroes that are readily seen as “like me” by said reader. This should not be limited to fiction either.

But I do understand why there was opposition. People are very resistant to change. In fairness, I don’t care as much about the dozen other characters who have taken up Captain America’s shield. If it isn’t Steve Rogers

So, these additions to the Marvel Universe met with immediate and vociferous objection from many – including, in the case of Thor appearing as a woman, from fauxminist Joss Whedon. If there was a memo, he seems to have missed it. According to Variety, the creator of Buffy and director of Avengers said via Twitter:

A female Thor? What the hell makes them think THAT would be cool?”
July 15, 2014

The likelihood that I’ll meet Mr. Whedon to discuss this seems a poor one. As he identifies as an atheist, I’m not sure his negative reaction to Thor as a woman is the one in which I’d most be interested. There are practitioners of Ásatrú (i.e., those who actually do worship Thor and other members of the Norse pantheon) and I’d rather chat with them about Asgardians in comic books – should I ever meet any. A far, far distant second place would be actual readers of Thor comics.

I was able to speak with a vocal protestor of the Thor-as-a-woman panic (who will be anonymous in this entry – as a courtesy). The objection boiled down to his confessed inability to glean as much meaning from a story when the central character is female. In essence, that renders every fictional woman an Unreliable Narrator. It would not be fair to suggest that this anonymous opponent of the female Thor went on to say the same lack of apprehension applied to true stories told by non-fictional women. He did not. And I hope not.

With the prospects of Ms. Thor, the objections seemed to go deeper and in a different way than Black Cap’. There was far more bile and venom thrown up about a “God” of Thunder portrayed as a woman. Nevermind that at least three women have lifted the Hammer in past comics. Fans don’t seem to have objected as much – if at all – when Loki appeared as a woman. (And why was that okay? There’s an entire other set of questions that could raise.)

Isn’t it likely that the gender and/or sexual preference of fictional persons is rarely the point of the work of fiction in which they appear? Tales are made of emotions, decisions, and words. English, unlike such languages of Greek and French, does not gender its words. Why, then, is our thinking so gendered? When we are defensive, what are we defending? And is it really under any attack?

I learned in preparation for this post that the Thor-aswoman title is selling better than the Thor-asman issues. It was also news to me that the Captain America of at least one fictional future is Danielle Cage (the daughter of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, a.k.a. Power Man).

danielle-cageIll have to put Ms. Cage as Cap’ on my reading list.