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All aboard the X-Force train

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Recently I started reading Marvel’s new X-Force, by Si Spurrier and Rock-He Kim/Jorge Molina (I have to stop myself from typing “Alfred Molina” instead…). It made quite an impression on me – and this is coming from someone who isn’t usually interested in the various permutations and personal crises of the X-teams.

I like good writing and female characters who are narratively strong in the sense of being interesting and complex. X-Force certainly has both of those – while Psylocke’s physical Asian-ness is still super problematic (it will never not be a problem), it at least doesn’t become a point of fetishization in this series, and she even gets to be covered up and not subjected to butt shots or anything; meanwhile, Marrow has a whole other deal going on, and while she might wear skimpy tops, it’s presented with a sense that this is how she chooses to dress rather than her being exposed for male-gaze purposes – as well as clear relationships between the characters. Plus, there’s an arrogant, nerdy, intellectual character in Doctor Nemesis, which is a personal plus. It’s a bit like my Spider Jerusalem period in high school.

It’s also worth noting that many of the characters are on the LGBTQ spectrum; there are several instances of men kissing men, and Marrow has made several not-just-platonically favorable comments about Psylocke’s looks. I can’t remember reading a series from a mainstream publisher where a large proportion of characters aren’t 100% heterosexual – and, I guess, why should they be?

But the main reason for my X-Force love is Fantomex. Specifically, the bit in issue #4 where he has a breakdown because his team members are better at certain tasks than he is, and decides that he either has to live up to the image of being The Best at Everything or kill them all.

While I’ve never entertained thoughts of the latter about anyone, the basic jealousy and insecurity contained in that moment was almost too close to the bone, in the way that the larger-than-life embodied metaphors of comics often are.

I grew up with the constant pressure to achieve. At least some of that came from my own mind: achievement was a way for me to self-validate, so if someone could beat me at my own game, what did that say about me? What did I have left? Did I still have any worth as a person?

Sometimes I could rationalize it by telling myself that they didn’t have anything else going on in their lives. If they were friends, however, I knew better, which made it more difficult.

It’s been a long road toward acceptance, and I’ve gotten a lot closer to the end of it in the past year or so. But the conflict and turmoil so succinctly captured in Fantomex’s breakdown is an excellent illustration of the thoughts that tormented me – and, I suspect, many other readers – for most of a lifetime.

Fiction, I find, is often a hell of an avenue for self-discovery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Written by Kelly Kanayama

August 17, 2014 at 10:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

It’s alive!

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My personal blog is back! And it’s all because of comics….

Written by Kelly Kanayama

August 17, 2014 at 10:08 pm

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This makes me so angry

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Are you a lonely American man who can’t get a date to save his life? It’s not because you’re pathetic or socially stunted or burdened with some horribly outdated views of women – no, it’s because women in this country just won’t cut it.

Or at least that’s what the Chicago Sun-Times is suggesting.

For those of you too lazy to click, the article focuses on what I think of as ‘marriage tourism’ – in this case, men who go to the Philippines to find wives, because (many) Filipino women are supposedly ‘not looking for sexual pleasure’ and ‘would like very much to meet a nice American man and take care of him’.

I have to say, glaring geisha-syndrome and Orientalism aside, this sounds just plain wrong. As in inaccurate.

The portrayal of Filipino women as shrinking violets is completely laughable. I’ll grant you that Filipino culture can be rather macho, but in different ways – for instance, men are expected to be good cooks, because being hospitable and providing for guests and the family is very important in Filipino culture.

Being able to dance and sing – two performance-based, public activities – are highly valued in Filipino men and women. All of my Filipino female cousins can/could dance, and participated in community or professional performances. Some of them even did Tahitian dance, which uses a LOT of hip-shaking and coconut-shell bras. The ability to dance requires being in touch with, and not self-conscious about or ashamed of, one’s body and one’s physical needs.

None of the Filipino women I know are or were anything like the (perhaps imaginary) women in the article. They are/were boisterous, risque, and anything but submissive.

Maybe women born and raised in the Philippines are different – then again, my grandmother was born, if not raised, in the Philippines, and brought up by parents who did grow up in the rural Philippines. She was hospitable and good at taking care of her family, but there was no way she just wanted to take care of a nice man. And although it sounds weird to say this about family, I don’t think sex was never on her mind, either; when she was in her fifties or sixties, and had already outlasted three husbands, she had an affair with a (married) hotel chef who wanted her to run away to Florida with him.

Other examples include:

*the old Filipino lady who worked near my dance school and who once told me, ‘My husband could get mean, you know! We used to argue all the time, but I told him, “If you ever hit me, you better sleep with a knife under your pillow, because I’m Filipino – I going to come after you, and you better watch out!” ‘
*Duanna, my father’s loud-and-in-charge co-worker, who is a lovely person and can’t utter a sentence that doesn’t contain a sexual reference.
*me, although I’m not sure if this is quite the same thing, as I’m only half Filipino. But on the off chance that I do count, I am in a so-far-successful relationship that has nothing to do with ‘taking care’ of my man.

It could be that the man quoted in the article misinterpreted general hospitality as man-specific hospitality, or that Filipino social interactions can appear ‘reserved’ to Americans from the Midwest/South/Upper East Coast.

It also could be that he and other men like him are sad and pathetic, and find it so much easier to blame women for their glaring social problems.

*********
I should point out that I’m not against two people from different countries or cultures entering into a relationship together. I’d be a massive hypocrite if I were – after all, M is British and I’m American from Hawaii. But a cross-cultural relationship should be based on PERSONAL connection, and not on some sort of cultural fetishisation. You’re dating a person, not their culture.

Written by Kelly Kanayama

February 28, 2010 at 11:56 am

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Skins: sex, drugs and indie music

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I was really prepared to hate Skins.

If you’ve never heard of it, Skins is a British show chronicling the adventures and mishaps of a group of teenagers – basically, it’s a high school drama. The trailers on Channel 4 made it look like Myspace: The Movie, and it’s true that there are some of the hallmarks of Every Indie Teen Drama Ever, such as:

*The obligatory ‘crazy girl’ with lots of eyeliner, attractively disordered hair, waiflike attitude and/or look, and some sort of mental instability that nevertheless fails to keep men away.
*Teenagers doing things which are meant to be Life-Affirming in order to Seize the Moment, such as skinny-dipping, jumping into pools with all their clothes on, or trampolining outside a house party.

Skins also has loads of gropey teenage sex, recreational drug use (pills, pot, and for some reason EVERYONE seems to smoke), clever backtalk to parents and authority figures, and mood-setting indie music. And raves.

If you already hate Skins based on this description, I don’t blame you. I mean, everything I mentioned would normally into the category of TV Things That Are Really, Really Annoying.

However, Skins pushes past the restrictions of its genre and manages not only to succeed, but to draw you in as well.

Skins is written through the filter of how you feel when you’re a teenager, rather than being an objective portrayal of what teenagers are like. For starters, Skins has just a touch of irony about it – not enough to stop you from caring about the characters, but enough to make you realise that sometimes the characters take themselves and their problems a little too seriously. It’s a bit like Grease in that respect, where the characters do things that they think are cool or life-changing or what have you, but the audience is meant to see these actions and motivations in the context of adolescence, when everything seems incredibly, excessively significant. Same goes for Skins’ authority figure characters (teachers, parents, etc), who are usually portrayed as detached, neglectful, out of touch, or trying too hard to be cool. That isn’t what all teachers and parents are really like, but that is how a lot of teenagers view them.

Skins also manages to take a fairly cliched character – the cool, charming leader of the pack – and turn him into someone interesting we can all hate. Tony Stonem has all the girls he could want, a painfully loyal best friend, and a loving (and hot) girlfriend; oh, and he’s a good singer, too. Instead of turning him into the protagonist, the show gradually reveals him to be a superficial, manipulative bastard who’s completely aware of his power over others and who revels in abusing it. When he gets his comeuppance (the nature of which I won’t spoil for you), it’s satisfying rather than sad.

The teenagers in Skins largely live in their own world. There’s no worrying about who’s popular or unpopular, who’s been asked to this or that party, or anything along those lines. Maybe this is more of a personal thing, as popularity was never a huge concern for me or my friends, but I suspect that a lot of people can identify with that.

Most importantly, despite all the wild sex and continuous pill-popping and music by Someone You’ve Never Heard Of, Skins is a reflection of how foolish and oblivious teenagers can be: the many, many bad relationship decisions, publicly making out with your boyfriend like it’s your last day on earth, lashing out at troubled or struggling parents just for fun or just to prove a point, and so on.

Added bonuses come in the form of watching comedic actors play troubled, depressed, or otherwise down-on-their-luck parents; you get to see Bill Bailey AND Josie Lawrence say ‘fuck’ on television. You also get to see Peter Capaldi being well Scottish and touchingly vulnerable, which is actually what got me watching Skins in the first place.

In summary, if you want an emotionally accurate representation of adolescence, watch Skins. I’m 6 episodes into the second series, and can’t wait to see more.

*******
P.S. I couldn’t finish Torchwood: Children of Earth. All of the actors were great except for John Barrowman, which was kind of problematic as he plays the main character and I had trouble watching any scene with him in it. In fact, he bothered me so much that I couldn’t even enjoy the scenes without him, because I knew he’d be coming back.

Written by Kelly Kanayama

February 3, 2010 at 10:04 pm

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Torchwood: Shots of Cardiff

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a.k.a. Torchwood: Children of Earth.

This is the first time I’ve ever watched Torchwood, Doctor Who’s semi-spinoff, more adult serial sci-fi thing; I have to admit that my avoidance was partially based on Charlie Brooker describing it as “tuning in to watch Deadwood, only to discover they’ve replaced Al Swearengen with the Honey Monster” and comparing its overall premise to Scooby-Doo with “a bizarre emphasis on bisexual tension” with “countless overhead helicopter shots of Cardiff”.

John Barrowman’s cartoon hero shtick aside (for real – his jarringly American accent in a show full of Welsh/standard British accents and entire look just screams Disney, but with aliens and man-on-man makeouts), Children of Earth is pretty good. This is, of course, partially due to Peter Capaldi, who I mentioned in a previous post. As in The Thick of It, he plays a high-level, Alistair Campbell-esque government employee engaged in unscrupulous activity; unlike The Thick of It, he hasn’t sworn at all (so far), he’s a lot more openly vulnerable, and he wears glasses. Although not important to the plot as far as I can tell, the glasses are a very nice touch, to the point where I think the BBC should make him wear them every time he appears on TV. Phwoar, as British men over a certain age sometimes say.

It’s also kind of fun on a personal level, since I used to live in Cardiff and a lot of scenes are shot in locations I used to visit a lot, or areas close to our old flat.

However, there are a LOT of unnecessary aerial shots of Cardiff, which is especially weird when you consider that most of the action seems to take place in or around Cardiff. I understand the shot-of-the-Eiffel-tower-means-we’re-in-France-now cliche when the action moves from one location to another, but why use it when the setting remains pretty much the same? Maybe the director just wants to remind us that we are, in fact, in Cardiff. Cardiff Cardiff Cardiff. And look! Cardiff Bay! Cardiff Bay again, but from a different angle!

Anyway, on to the plot. The miniseries – for Children of Earth is a miniseries – is broken up into five episodes, each covering the events of one day. Some sort of alien invasion is imminent, although as of the beginning of Day Two, it’s not entirely clear what sort of invasion is coming or why. We do know that children all over the world have been targeted and used as a vessel for the aliens to speak through: at exactly the same time, every child on Earth – and one man – stops all motion and speech and instead begins to chant “We are coming” in English. The man, now confined to a mental institution, witnessed a prior alien visitation when he was a child.

Torchwood, a secret government-funded organisation devoted to fighting “extraterrestrial threat”, is on the case, but there’s a problem. The upcoming alien invasion seems linked to a cover-up of the previous visitation, which certain government agents (including Peter Capaldi) don’t want disclosed.

Meanwhile, Torchwood – made up of Captain Jack (John Barrowman), his boyfriend Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd), and super-Welsh Gwen (Eve Myles) – is having personal issues. Jack and Ianto are dealing with their new status as a couple, and in Day One it seems Ianto hasn’t even come out to his sister yet. Gwen turns out to be pregnant, so she has an unborn baby as well as her man to protect when the secret government agents come knocking.

Overall, it’s pretty good. Despite the unnecessary aerial shots of CARDIFF CARDIFF CARDIFF and John Barrowman’s distracting American-Disneyness, the plot is easy to follow but not insultingly so, and events appear to be building up quite well, with bonus action violence thrown in. I still like Merlin better, though this may be because I prefer my action to either come without personal crises or for a show to incorporate personal crises into the action – the drama is a bit too foregrounded here for my taste. Or maybe it’s because I haven’t watched much of Torchwood and therefore am not as emotionally invested in the characters.

On the other hand, Peter Capaldi is in it, wearing glasses, so I’ll press on.

Written by Kelly Kanayama

January 11, 2010 at 8:01 pm

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The British TV Recap

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I’ve been at home in Hawaii for almost 2 weeks now, and it’s been absolutely fantastic. One thing I do miss, though, is the BBC iplayer, which allows me to catch up on the TV I’ve missed. I use Youtube, which seems to work fine, but iplayer’s a lot more convenient. For those in the UK, those with a Worldwide filter on Youtube, or those with a lot of bandwidth, the shows are:

*Merlin (BBC 1): a fairly family-friendly revamp of the legend of King Arthur, wherein Uther’s still alive, Arthur grows from a bratty prince to the mature future king, Merlin is his servant, Morgana is Uther’s ward, and Guinevere is her lady-in-waiting. Magic is officially outlawed, so Merlin and Morgana (who have magical powers) have to hide their abilities, but it’s getting more and more difficult.

The strength of Merlin lies in its hidden maturity. Like T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, the series grows up with its characters. I admit that I tried watching Season 1 of Merlin from the beginning and was highly uninterested – the costumes made it obvious that Camelot = Medieval B.S. Land, and the dialogue sounded like preteen banter.

OK, Camelot still is Medieval B.S. Land (e.g., despite the fact that Guinevere is probably part black, the only other black people are magical assassins or druids or whatever), but the show turned out to be great. I think the problem was that the characters were younger and were therefore dealing with lighter matters. Now they’ve moved on to identity crises, doomed love, religious-ish persecution (in one episode, a witch hunter comes to ferret out magic users) and civil war in Camelot.

For instance, as Morgana’s powers become stronger and more difficult to hide, she finds herself increasingly torn between loyalty to the family that raised her and loyalty to other people like her (but who unfortunately want to destroy Camelot). Arthur faces the uncomfortable truth that his father, whom he’s always looked up to as a paragon of honesty and integrity, has old fears, hatreds and lies hidden so deep within himself that even he doesn’t know their full power.

This sounds like an episode summary, and I suppose in some ways it is. The trouble with describing Merlin is that it’s somehow much greater than the sum of its parts: the Medieval B.S. Land costumes, the characterisation, the Arthur-Merlin banter, Arthur growing up into someone who’s not a jerk, and so on. All I can say is, watch it. Start from Season 2 if you’re not sure, and be prepared to think “Oh come ON” several times within the first 5-10 minutes. But stay with it. You won’t regret it, I promise.

*The Thick of It (BBC 2): political satire/comedy set in the Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship at Westminster, with LOTS of swearing. Although no political parties are named and all characters are fictional, there are obvious parallels – for instance, the main characters are clearly Labour and the supporting cast, who works for the opposition party, are obviously Tory.

The current season revolves around the sudden introduction of Nicola Murray, the new Secretary of State, and the unstoppable downward spiral of the main characters’ party (a parallel for Labour’s real-life decline).

On top of the screw-ups and embarrassments, you’ll find Malcolm Tucker, Director of Communications – modelled on Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair’s notorious spin doctor during the days of New Labour – an angry, aggressive, wonderfully foul-mouthed, amoral, full-speed-ahead bastard, who’s become the show’s most beloved character.

The Thick of It’s power lies in its unwillingness to take the fast satirical route. It would be easy to suggest that everyone in government is fundamentally dishonest and power-hungry, but the show’s characters are, for the most part, good people who are simply overwhelmed by a fickle public/mysterious party demands/sensationalist press/etc. Even Malcolm does what he does (threats, allegations bordering on smear campaigns) for the good of the party, not for his own personal ends.

The show is shot with handheld cameras, with no laugh track or soundtrack, and a fair portion (20% or so) of the final dialogue is improvised. If that doesn’t convince you, think about this: the script is edited by a “swearing consultant”, who adds the colorful profanity for which the show has become famous.

And because I have a horribly massive crush on Malcolm Tucker, here are some quotes (all his) to show how awesome this show is:

“‘Climbing the mountain of conflict’? You sounded like a Nazi Julie Andrews!”

“Please could you take this note, ram it up his hairy inbox and pin it to his fucking prostate.”

“He’s about as much use as a marzipan dildo.”

“I’ve never seen anybody look so fucking ugly with just one head! …And who was it that did your media training? Myra Hindley? I mean, it’s terrible… All this, hands are all over the place… You were like a sweaty octopus trying to unhook a bra!”

“I went golfing with Stephen Hawking. The little shit didn’t tell me about his handicap.”

“I’m really sorry, you won’t hear any more swearing from us, YOU MASSIVE GAY SHITE!”

*******

Individual episodes:

*Never Mind the Buzzcocks, hosted this past Wednesday by Frankie Boyle. NMTB is often a mixed bag, and depends greatly on the strength of its host. Frankie Boyle is both disdainful enough of the celebrity clique culture to avoid sucking up and sociable enough that he can get along with the guests. I’m not doing it justice here, but that was the best episode of NMTB I’ve seen in a long time.

*Tonight or tomorrow: Have I Got News For You – Dominic West (Jimmy McNulty) is hosting and using his real voice!

Written by Kelly Kanayama

December 12, 2009 at 7:30 am

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What

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Apparently the Chinese government has commissioned a propaganda/history/epic film about modern China under communism: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2009/oct/21/china-founding-of-a-republic. With all the anniversary celebrations, I’m not surprised – I don’t necessarily object, either, as I haven’t seen the film (and probably never will).

What I do object to is Chen Kaige’s involvement in the film. It’s possible that he was made some kind of offer he couldn’t refuse, or maybe he even plays an anti-Communist insurgent or something – I don’t know. But the reason I (and probably a lot of Western film audiences) know his name is that he made a wonderful, emotional and perhaps deeply personal movie that spoke out against the idea that the authority of Communism, or any government, should supersede or try to control the creation of art. The movie in question, Farewell My Concubine, revolves around the lives of two Beijing opera stars and follows them from the end of the Warlord era to the emergence of Communism. One of the supporting characters, Xiao Si, is a young man who’s semi-adopted by the opera stars and later becomes a fervent Communist. His conflicts with the main characters and their artistic ideologies could be read as a reflection of Chen’s personal experience – as a teenager, Chen Kaige was also an ardent Communist, to the point of turning in his own father. This relationship is echoed in the film to devastating effect, and drives home the portrayal of Communism as the enemy of art, aesthetics, understanding of tradition and the factors that create modern art and culture, and of course basic human freedoms and dignity.

All this is to say that I don’t really understand what Chen Kaige is doing in a pro-Communist, government-sponsored propaganda movie. If he’s there because the government says he has to be (or else), that’s one thing. If he’s there of his own free will, that’s troubling and sad.

Written by Kelly Kanayama

October 23, 2009 at 12:11 pm

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