Sci-Fi: the future of sex and sexuality

Saw this really awesome blog post by scientist and sci-fi enthusiast Kyle Munkittrick from Discover:

Science fiction knows how to play around with sex and gender. The free-lovin’ of A Stranger in A Strange Land, Commander Shepard’s bisexual proclivities, and William T. Riker’s seemingly universal interspecies compatibility are constant sources of entertainment.

And the fun doesn’t stop with organic entities. Androids, cyborgs, and robots make gender all the stranger. Why is Data fully functional? Isn’t it curious that, of all the characters in Ghost in the Shell the two most heavily cyberized characters, Motoko and Batou, are hyper-feminine and hyper-masculine respectively? And, my favorite: as a robot Bender has no gender, so if Bender bends his gender, what gender does Bender bend?

Sci-fi sex is fun to talk about, of course, but how can all of that help us understand the actual future of humanity? Simply put: we imagine what we hope to see. So the question is: what is it we imagine and hope for? An utter free-for-all of alien-cyborg-A.I. bacchanalia? I don’t think so. Instead, sci-fi is teaching the diversity of our own human sexuality back to us.

Science fiction allows for universes in which we can more easily accept alien forms of gender expression and sexual desire. For example, Ruby Rhod from The Fifth Element is perfectly and outrageously androgynous. In a normal action flick, I suspect Rhod would be a controversial and possibly distracting figure. In science fiction, however, Rhod is just another character caught up in the chaos. Sci-fi lets us explore sexuality free of the cultural and social baggage it carries in the here and now.

For more, click here.

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Because being an American citizen is overrated: “Superman Renounces U.S. Citizenship in Latest Action Comic”

He’s just so sick of being pigeon-holed as an instrument of U.S. policy. And “truth, justice, and the American way“ are ”not enough anymore.” That’s why Superman, in the latest Action Comic, has announced he is “renouncing” his U.S. citizenship.

Although he’s traditionally seen as an American hero (remember, though, he is an alien), Superman is fed up with being connected to the USA.

For more, click http://www.theblaze.com/stories/superman-renounces-u-s-citizenship-in-latest-action-comic/.

Black Swan review : so what was the hype all about again?

So it was one of those Saturday nights when I had nowhere to go and decided I’d watch “Black Swan”.

There was me, Irish housemate, single English housemate with ballet/dancing background dying to watch “Black Swan”, English couple, one half of which is the woman with the PhD and is published, the other half of which is the cook and overall houseperson.

See there was much hype about Black Swan, and well, I hate hype and wouldn’t have watched it for that. I did hear about the girl-on-girl scenes so I’d watch it for that.

In a nutshell: mentally stable, repressed, possibly virginal, ballerina (Natalie Portman) gets lead in “Swan Lake”and proceeds to have a very disturbing, gory breakdown which includes hallucinations, fears of splintering fingers and feet, fears of being followed by strangers, fears of losing lead role to hot, sexy alternate (Mila Kunis) with whom she may or may not have a night of drunken, brazen sex with, and imagining herself sprouting wings and what-not.

Let me just say – this is a load of unbelievably pretentious crap that is accidentally funny, unbearably tedious and torturous and overall, a waste of two hours of my life I can never get back. I’m still wondering what Portman won the Oscar for.

Darren Aronofsky – you owe me!

127 Hours – a study in existential transformation in the most unlikely of places

So, a former housemate of mine introduced me to “127 Hours” with the idea that it is about a guy who cuts off his arm when he is trapped in a boulder in a canyon for five days.

I didn’t think much of it, but I did copy his copy of it. I had heard it nominated for the Oscars (as of press time it had lost out to “The King’s Speech”) and that made my interest a bit more piqued. But not sufficiently piqued as to actually watch it. The thought of another film, much like “Castaway”(can you actually bear tw hours of Tom Hanks? I didn’t think so) and “Ladder 49” where someone is trapped somewhere and you watch two hours of the person struggling, just seems unbearably boring for me. So I held out on it til yesterday, when I was at home, having watched all of my movies and now ready for “127 Hours”.

After finally watching it, though, I had to kick myself for not having watched it sooner. The difference between this film and the ones that came before it, was director Danny Boyle’s trademark filmmaking style and James Franco’s gritty performance as Aron Ralston.

Boyle’s frenetic, kinetic, filmmaking style, fraught with MTV-saturated images, backed by an upbeat soundtrack that pushes rather than constrains the scenes and breathtaking cinematography of the Utah canyons, does not interfere at all with Franco’s intense depiction of a solitary, secretive man who is more at home in the wilderness than in the office, and who, moment-by-moment, manages to infuse this character with more life even without dialogue or other characters. The script is fast-paced and clean, and clocking in at one hour, 30 minutes, and proves that the age-old adage, less is more, is true in this case.

There is no Wilson in this movie, no elaborate flashbacks to stretch the drama. In fact, flashbacks are not treated as such, and are actually both memory and introspection and imagination for Franco’s Ralston, who imagines his treatment of past lovers, family and friends with casual indifference at first, but gradually, as the days progress, with much regret. But the most fascinating thing about this movie is the age-old theme of literatures past, man vs. nature and man vs. himself, when, stripped of all the trappings of everyday urban life, Franco’s Ralston comes to appreciate the daily routine only a man trapped in a boulder can appreciate: 15 minutes of sun on his toes, a bird flying overhead for eight seconds, water, camera, the luxury of memories, and also comes to appreciate the devastating realization that he was responsible for where he was in now and no other, and thus, being responsible for himself and his actions, his destiny and his future, Ralston is able to break free from his predicament by doing the one unimaginably harrowing thing anyone can do: cut off his arm with a cheap, dull, China-made knife. I think that was the most compelling part of this film – the idea of accountability and of personal responsibility, an amazing existential moment that seems unusual in post-millenium cinema.

I like this so much I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a great film to watch this year. If you are going to watch anything, watch “127 hours”.

What would you write if you wrote letters to your ex-es…?

Lazy Thursday in the office. Thinking I’ve had enough of volunteering (it seemed like a good idea a year ago haha!), and surfing the net for something to do.

Came across this contest on the Jessica Zafra website, Letters to your Ex-es, that just had to be read.

A random sampling: 

I haven’t realized that I’ve got a crapload of emotions to tell all my exes the following (well, not really all, the others I don’t even know their real names).

So this is part deux, to my exes (part 1 was reply # 3 in this post) :

To R: I am really sorry that I told you I’ll be staying in China for good. It was just a quick business trip for me, but to you it may seem like 3 years of my absence. I was overly immature to break it up that moment that I used the “long distance” get out of jail free card.

To B: I always knew that you wouldn’t feel for me the way I feel for you. I am so glad that we never consummated whatever relationship we had, at least we’re still friends now. I received the Japanese cookbook you sent me last week (thanks) and I hope you enjoyed The Killers DVD I sent you. I know – you’re the R&B kind of guy, but “somebody told me… that you had a boyfriend who looked like a girlfriend that I had in February of last year …” and I associated the music with you (fast forward to Chapter 4 of the DVD please).

To H: I stopped bugging you to return that Alanis Morissette CD “because the love that you gave that we made wasn’t able to make it enough for you to be open wide”. So please stop asking me for your Fiona Apple CD back, you Criminal!

To F: I thought I needed closure. But I guess the VD tests were enough. I am very happy not to get anything from you, even if I lost a lot of investment to you. I’m just happy I’m very disease-free. If you’re still the way you were when we were together, please get tested. For your sake.

To G: My apologies for not attending your wedding. I was really swamped with work and the date coincided with our product launch that I can’t leave behind. Thank you for thinking of me when you asked me to read the gospel in your wedding. At least I knew whatever we had meant something. I still owe you a wedding gift. See you in June?

Click here for more (it’s just addictive!).

What’s your comfort film?

So last night, whilst talking to my housemates (a Chinese Canadian guy and a new British Chinese guy – yep, it’s two guys, a gay person and a house) we were talking about homesickness and what whether we have comfort films (like comfort food) that help get us through those dark times.

Housemate number 1 (Canadian) says his comfort films were Se7en, 12 Monkeys and  Fight Club (“Do you have a thing about Brad Pitt?” housemate number 2 asks.).

I remember the first time I was overseas, I was spending a disturbingly inordinate amount of time watching movies and television series (hence the birth of this blog), and I remember watching “Hairspray”and “Stardust”over and over again at the time. I also remember watching a few Filipino films (say that fast, 10 times) as well.

When I was in Canada, for some strange, inexplicable reason, I used to watch D.E.B.S over and over again.

Alright, it's probably the short, plaid skirts, the legs attached to them, and the hotness of two girls making out that probably made this a comfort film for me. 🙂

When I went back home to the Philippines, I used to watch “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”over and over again, as well as “Battlestar Galactica”, “True Blood” and “Glee”.

When I’m feeling down, I usually turn to light, romantic, usually teen films or comedies. I refuse to watch horror now because they’ll just depress me more.

Right now, it’s “Zoolander” that I love watching over and over again, along with “How to Train a Dragon”. If I could snag “The Producers” and “Team America”, I’m all set.

What about you, what’s your comfort film?

Retro-review: All Over Me

Back from a long absence!

So I’ve been just reading (speculative fiction anthology edited by Ursula K. Le Guin, book by Terry Pratchett), or hunting for books to read (Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” – which was already sold at the bookshop where I normally go to for good bargains. I have book two, but what’s the point of that if I don’t have book one, dammit?!?), or watching (All Over Me, Mulholland Drive, Harry Potter and the Death Hallows Part 1, I Love You Philip Morris, etc.) or looking for ways to get movies without actually spending atrocious amounts of money. Well, I’ve come across a nice friend with a massive external hard drive who’s been kind enough to let me watch the movies in her  drive.

So I’m going to talk about, “All Over Me“.

File:AllOverMeIndieFilm.jpg“All Over Me” (1997) (directed by Alex Sichel, produced by  Dolly Hall and written by Sylvia Sichel)  is a movie about coming out, coming-of-age and coming to terms with the changes without imploding or disintegrating. The movie is less like the big, clean, polished, Hollywood studio produced films about coming out as of late, and more like the hardcore underground indie films where the coming out process is painful, and sometimes downright traumatic, like a bandage being ripped from a wound that hasn’t completely healed yet. Set to the riffs (and sometimes pluckings) of music by Leisha Hailey (The L-Word) and Miki Navazio, the movie effectively captures what’s it like to be 16 and to come out through the eyes of Claude (Alison Folland). Claude has an intensely close, almost unhealthy and increasingly codepedent friendship with bestfriend Ellen (Tara Subkoff), with whom she hopes to start a band with. But Ellen is in love with the abusive, macho Mark (Cole Hauser) and this makes Claude jealous and confused, and eventually realizes that she’s in love with her bestfriend. Ellen’s new relationship with Mark, and with the drugs he supplies her, makes her drift away from Claude and their plans for a rock band, ocassionally appearing only to have Claude make her feel better when she and Mark have fights. Claude meets pink-haired guitarist Lucy (Leisha Hailey), first in a music shop, then in a gay bar, and they start making out after. Claude freaks out though and realizes that she is hopelessly, irrevocably in love with her bestfriend. This is a heartbreaking realization for her, and even more heartbreaking when we see her casually confessing her love to Ellen and having Ellen angrily tell her never to tell her that ever again. Claude struggles to accept  her budding homosexuality, her separation from her bestfriend and a budding relationship with Lucy.

The film feels a bit raw and would have benefitted from a bit more tweaking, but there is an honesty and accuracy to the film’s depiction of coming out that I liked. Coming out has never been easy, even though Hollywood likes to think it is. In truth, it’s messy, it’s painful, it’s heartwrenching, but as Dan Savage et.al. have said, it gets better. It really does.

I geek out, therefore I do: Jung and Descartes in comic form are much more fun!

So back when I was making my master’s thesis on sci-fi and mythology and motifs, I have had to read a lot of Carl Jung for related literature to support my ideas on the correlation between mythology, sci-fi and the collective unconscious. At that time, I enjoyed reading him, but not being a psych major had its drawbacks, especially since I struggled with some terms he would reference from other materials. However, be that as it may, his ideas were amazing, and certainly a lot more fun than the idea of perpetual repression Sigmund Freud perpetuated.

There was a point in my life as well when I was reading nothing but philosophy all the time, just for fun, and I had a great time reading them, until I got to Descartes.

In my search for worthwhile online comic books, I came across this one from eviltwincomics.com, which has chosen to make Jung and Descartes more intelligible. 🙂

Entitled “Action Philosophers”, this is a comic book series by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey, that succeeds in simplifying Jung and Descartes and thus making them more understable for the internet-age millenium.

Their series on Jung chronicles the friendship (and closeness) between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, points out the friendly rivalry between, Carl Jung’s discovery of the collective unconscious, his inevitable break from Freudian ideas, and the falling out and bitter rivalry between them and their followers that resulted. The comic book succeeds in laying out the foundations of Jungian psychology as followsin making Descartes more comprehensible,  able to condense his ideas from his Meditations on Philosophy to bitesize form:

Jung discovers the collective unconscious

Jung discovers the collective conscious 🙂

 

“I think, there I am”: Descartes in comic form



Geek discovers: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and the dangers of a single story

There are advantages to being in Africa.

One is that it expands your world further.

Another is that stereotypes you’ve had, misconceptions you’ve had, expectations you’ve had go completely out of the window, when you come and you realize that the things you’ve read about Africa are not all necessarily true.

For another, you may discover how different you are from them, but more often than not, you’ll discover how similar your lives are, how you think and feel and dream and wish for the same things, that at the end of the day, we’re all just living under the same sun afterall.

Another advantage you have: you discover a wholly different world, of books and music and movies and artists and writers that you wouldn’t have discovered had you stayed home. 🙂

Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story (speech at Oxford, England)

A few days ago the housemate downloaded a video of a speech from a writer I had never heard of, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This is my literary ignorance, and the fact that back home, it is mostly world literature is eclipsed by either self-help books or books by Stephanie Meyer.

I listened to the speech, whilst watching an episode of a Filipino telenovela badly dubbed in English. As the speech began, with Adichie talking about childhood reading memories filled in blonde-blue eyed children, white people talking about the weather, people eating apples, and producing the exact same stories later on, not realizing that these were removed from a country where it was always hot, and people ate mangoes, and there weren’t any blonde-blue eyed children, I found myself listening to her speech.As her speech progressed, talking about the time when, as a student in America, she had an American roommate who irritated her with her ignorance about Africa and its people, I couldn’t help but listen. By the time she was talking about the dangers of a single story, how that creates stereotypes, how stereotypes are dangerous because they are stories that are incomplete, and must needs be completed, I had turned the volume on the tv down, completely engrossed in her speech.

I have, since then, been looking for the complete  text of her speech. What I have found though is an excerpt of her speech at cnn.com:

“It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power. There is a word, an Igbo (Nigerian language) word, that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is “nkali.” It’s a noun that loosely translates to “to be greater than another.” Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali. How they are told, who tells them, when they’re told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power. Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti writes that if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story, and to start with, “secondly.” Start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, and not with the arrival of the British, and you have and entirely different story. Start the story with the failure of the African state, and not with the colonial creation of the African state, and you have an entirely different story. I recently spoke at a university where a student told me that it was such a shame that Nigerian men were physical abusers like the father character in my novel. I told him that I had just read a novel called “American Psycho”—(Laughter)—and that it was such a shame that young Americans were serial murderers. (Laughter) (Applause) Now, obviously I said this in a fit of mild irritation. (Laughter)”

I remember my own childhood then, of stories about Snow White and Sleeping Beauty and of Beauty and the Beast, of white-skinned, beautiful young women who always seemed to need to be in danger and the tall, handsome, dashing young princely men who always rescued them. I never wanted to be these white young women, I was shorter, I had brown skin, I knew I could never be as pretty as they were…but I did want to be those young men – they always seemed to have more fun. 🙂 (but that will be a story reserved for another day).

As I grew, I was able to read books by Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and contemporary authors like James Michener, Leon Uris and popular authors like John Grisham and Sidney Sheldon. I’ve moved a step up, maybe, but maybe not. They were white, most times male, and they wrote about realities that were far removed from mine. Sure there were universal themes that I could relate to, love and honor and courage and all that, but at the end of the day, it was a different perspective still. This is probably why when I started writing, my stories were set in the Philippines, but they could just as well be set somewhere else – in some white, middle class suburb somewhere, with snow and maple trees and blue-eyed people talking about the weather. 🙂

I’ve since not written any story. There was a period of working and just looking for myself and wondering if writing fiction was what I really wanted. It’s a question I haven’t answered, since my years of journalism has made me want to write real stories, not fictional ones.

As I listened to Adichie, it made me want to write again. But barely. Maybe this time I might just write. 🙂

DVD Marathon: Dollhouse’s Season 2 is a satisfyingly awesome mindtrip

So I’ve been looking for the DVD of Dollhouse’s Season 2 (2oth Century Fox) since the show ended (dang you, Fox! How could you cancel such a great show?!?). I finally found one during my forays into, ehem, pirated DVD shops (it can’t be helped…it’s where the kick-ass DVDs are).

So I loaded it up into my player and, armed with food that can last me three days, ample supply of water and a good recliner, I sat back and enjoyed the show.

Whedon's dolls: (from left) Tahmoh Penikett, Enver Gjokaj, Eliza Dushku, Dichen Lachman, Fran Kranz, Olivia Williams and Harry Lennix

The season picks up where they left off last season: Echo (Eliza Duhku) was kidnapped by Alpha (Alan Tudyk) and promptly uploaded with dozens of personalities until it would seem like she was going to implode, Dr. Saunders (Amy Acker) is revealed to be one of the top active dolls, Whiskey, before she and Alpha went awry, FBI investigator Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) bargains with Adelle de Witt (Olivia Williams) to let Mellie (Miracle Laurie) go, in exchange for working for the Dollhouse, Boyd Langton (Harry Lennix) is now chief of security, actives Victor (Enver Gjokaj) and Sierra (Dichen Lachman) are falling in love with each other and Topher Brink (Fran Kranz) is still the excruciatingly annoying, but brilliant scientist that he is.

Season 2 ups the ante a bit. Echo is now revealed to be more special than the other dolls. Despite the fact that Alpha almost fries her brain to kingdom come, Echo manages to survive the procedure intact and is back doing engagements and treatments for the Dollhouse. She has begun to have memories of previous engagements and personalities she has embodied. A trip to the Washington office of the Dollhouse, during the time she gets embroiled in a controversy about a Senate  Inquiry into the Dollhouse and manages to get kidnapped by the other office, accidentally unlocks even more of her potential. Guest psycho doctor, Dr. Bennet Halverson (Summer Glau, at her brilliant best as the strange doctor) who happens to have been a friend of Echo in the past when she was still Caroline, uploads many personalities into Echo, but uploads a different program that will enable Echo to still exist as the central personality. Echo manages to control the different personalities, and recall and suppress them at will, but not without a cost: her mind and body are deteriorating at each engagement (official business or otherwise) and it is a matter of time before her mind totally gives way to the different demands of each persona in her. She thus has a limited amount of time to control the different personalities and be able to use them to free the other dolls in the Dollhouse before she is caught and put in the dreaded Attic, boxed and stored and never to be used again. Little is explored about Echo’s past, although the episode with Dr. Halverson reveals that she has had a shady past with a more unreliable, criminal, selfish self. What this season concentrates on is how much she evolves, both as a character and as a doll. As each episode progresses, and as she is able to access each personality within her more and more easily and freely, we see her being empowered and being able to finally take control of her destiny and of the other dolls.

An interesting sidebar to this is the budding romance between her and Ballard, who resists any temptation, even during the time when they were cooped up together training Echo for what’s to come. Ballard gets to have some screen time with Mellie, too, and he is shown to be consistently virtuous, but the real complex characters are de Witt, Boyd and Brink.

There is a part in the Dollhouse when de Witt is ousted as the head of the L.A. office. As always, Williams delivers as the steely, conflicted, morally compromised and confused de Witt, obsessed with power, control and a sense of her own rules and protocols. When she loses her power and position, and is exposed to have had her own engagements, especially with the doll Victor, she is revealed to be vulnerable as well, but a moment’s weakness from Brink when he reveals that he has created the deadliest technology yet for Dollhouse, shows that de Witt is still capable of betraying newfound principles of honesty and integrity in order to get back her power and position.

Brink is a surprise in this season. When he finds out, through Echo, that Sierra is being abused over and over again by one client over a series of repeated engagements, and the client requests that Sierra be turned over to him for good, Brink reveals himself to be capable of moral redemption. UP to this point, as de Witt describes him, he has no morals and he views human beings as toys to be played with, so his sudden interest in trying to save Sierra from a fate worse than the Attic seems misguided and hypocritical. But this moral dilemma shows Brink struggling to save Sierra, and the consequences of his actions provide an interesting insight into his character.

Sierra and Victor’s past and present, together and apart are explored a bit more in this season. Sierra is revealed to have been a former budding painter artist. A doctor who was obsessed with her was  responsible for driving her insane and for putting her into the Dollhouse. Victor used to be a soldier in Afghanistan traumatized by the war. He had hoped his signing up with Dollhouse would make him forget whatever happened in the war.Their engagements and their unfolding love story, are a treat to watch in this film and provide an interesting respite from Echo’s altruistic, Messianic imperative.

Overall, I liked this Season. While, as I said, Echo seems to have developed this altruistic, Messianic calling to free the other Dolls, and Ballard reveals himself to be just effing virtuous, so that both have turned boring, the presence of the other, more interesting supporting characters, make this show still worth watching. The real suprises are Brink, Boyd and de Witt – who all are such well-rounded, complex, conflicted, perpetually morally ambiguous characters. The most fun to watch are Sierra and Victor. Though relatively unknown, actors Enver Gjokaj (Victor) and Dichen Lachman (Sierra) are brilliant as the dolls who are forever getting into different characters. Gjokaj was particularly a joy to watch trying to play Brink’s annoying self, scary as the psychopathic, murderous, rich mama’s boy,  and was hilarious as the persona of the college girl that Echo was playing,  while Lachman infuses each character or persona with the right touch of elegance and vulnerability. I particularly liked her playing the haughty, snobbish, politically incorrect socialite who didn’t like “Orientals” (Lachman is part-Asian) and said as much to Brink’s assistant, Ivy (Liza Lapira), who happened to be “Oriental” herself.  Echo took a break from her boring life as the Super Doll to channel the airhead version of Buffy Summers,when she took on the persona of a vivacious albeit annoying college girl. Her accusing Chaucer (or Chauncey, as she is wont to call him) as a poet who can’t spell, and likening the “F” she got for her report on Chauncey as akin to having an “F” on her chest like that scarlet letter, were hysterical.

As for the storyline – well, it is also interesting, as it discusses corporations and their responsibility and accountability to the public, the mind, the collective consciousness and the collective unconscious, the neverending debate on what makes us us, what makes the mind tick, memory, destiny and life in general.

Final sidebar: points and kudos to Joss Whedon and company for snagging Alexis Denisof (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel) who plays an ambitious, vindictive senator in the show, who doesn’t know he is a doll himself, Summer Glau (Serenity, Firefly) as Dr. Halverson and Battlestar Galactica’s Jamie Bamber (Apollo Adama in the show), as the rich arms dealer/smuggler married to one of Echo’s many personas. The scenes with Bamber and Penikett seemed like some kind of BSG reunion and I suddenly found myself missing BSG (BSG! Why did you have to end?!?) If the show had gone on, I would have looked forward to guestings from other Joss Whedon regulars and alums (Sarah Michelle Gellar! Alysson Hannigan! more Summer Glau! Can you tell I’m a geek?).

This is a really entertaining, thought-provoking season overall and I recommend it to anyone who is looking for a new show to be obsessed with.