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Image Courtesy of warhol.org. Alex Ross, Mythology: Superman, 2005. Collection of the Artist. SUPERMAN, ®, ™, and © DC Comics.

Alex Ross Art at the Warhol

Image Courtesy of warhol.org. Alex Ross, Mythology: Superman, 2005. Collection of the Artist. SUPERMAN, ®, ™, and © DC Comics.

Guest Post by T. Johnson

Heroes and Villains, an exhibit featuring the art of comic book great Alex Ross, is currently at Pittsburgh’s Warhol Museum.  It includes over 130 works, including paintings, drawings, small sculptures, and even childhood material.  I recently visited the Warhol to check it out and was awed by the skill and incredible range of Ross’s work.

I’ve been impressed by his painted comics since reading the graphic novel series The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes some years before, especially enjoying the JLA: Secret Origins story. This show has a lot more Justice League stuff, plus a generous helping of Marvel characters and miscellaneous drawings.

Fans of Ross know that he depicts his hero subjects in a hyper-realistic yet idealized fashion.  You can tell right away that this is the work of someone who has always loved comics.  Like many artists (and fans), he became interested at a young age, and one of his first drawings of Spider-Man (done at age 4) can be seen at the exhibit.

By age eight, he was drawing his own books, and he eventually studied formally at the American Academy of Art in Chicago. Ross was initially noted for Marvels (1994), a re-telling (by Kurt Busiek) of the origins of Marvel Comics characters  as witnessed by news photographer/Everyman Phil Sheldon.  A group of sketches  and actual covers for Marvels is in the show, including  a poignant painting of the X-Man Angel protectively holding a child in his arms while anti-mutant protestors rage below him.

It was the artist`s life-long love of the Justice League which inspired  DC series Kingdom Come (1996) and Greatest Super-Heroes (1998-2003). The show is heavy on DC characters: detailed portraits of nearly every JLA member are the first works one notices. There`s even a section on 1970`s Hanna-Barbera  TV show Super-Friends, an early influence on the young Ross.  Super-Friends episodes play on a small screen near sketches for Kingdom Come.

Ross emphasizes the positive qualities of comic book heroes. His universe is one of moral absolutes, with little room for ambiguity. Yet the triumph of good over evil he portrays feels fresh and optimistic rather than cliched. In fact, I got a sense of this optimism just by observing the delighted reactions of viewers. Whether devoted older fans or very young children, everyone was excited and chatting about the art.

The exhibit also has a small selection of works by Ross’s other influences, 1940`s illustrators Norman Rockwell and J.C. Leyendecker.  And there is art by his mother, former fashion artist Lynnette Ross. Appropriately enough, this includes a charming pencil drawing of a model dressed in a “Bat-lady” outfit with wings and a cowl!

It`s hard to not be enthused about this detailed and well-curated retrospective, and the added bonus is that Heroes and Villains is done with such respect for comic book art. This is truly an unusual show which is well worth the trip for any fan.

T. Johnson is a blogger, au pair, and part-time tutor who has been obsessed with science fiction and comics since roughly first grade. One of her life`s big revelations was discovering Wonder Woman comics-another milestone was  starting to read the works of Heinlein and Aldous Huxley. She has always been convinced  that girls can be as truly nerdy as any fanboy.

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Review: Forever Barbie by M.G. Lord

If you self-identify as a nerd, your favorite childhood toys may have included chemistry sets, board games, and the ever-popular action figures. I was obsessed with my superhero action figures and some of them (including my beloved Catwoman doll) even managed to survive my childhood. But since I’ve always loved fashion, I liked Barbie dolls a lot as well. Barbie played a big part in the formative years of hundreds of kids: say what you will, she’s a true cultural voice.

Writer M.G. Lord explores the many aspects of the toy in her book, Forever Barbie (1994, updated 2004). Though it’s been out for a while, it remains an interesting and well-researched look at the archetypal Mattel doll. With Barbie’s recent 50th anniversary (2009), there’s no better time to examine her complex legacy.

After a brief overview of a Barbie convention, Lord devotes several chapters to the story of her creator, Ruth Handler. During the 1940’s , Handler and her husband Elliott progressed from selling Plexiglas furniture to plastic toys, finally forming Mattel in 1945. She got the idea for Barbie from watching her daughter and friends play with paper dolls, noting that they would have the dolls “reflect the adult world around them”. She wanted to “take this play pattern and three-dimensionalize it,” producing a doll geared toward children envisioning themselves as adults.

Handler finally saw the type of figure she wanted on a 1955 vacation to Switzerland- the long-legged and voluptuous Lilli doll, basically Barbie with “racy” clothes and black pumps for feet. Lord provides a detailed account of how Mattel’s artists and manufacturers adapted the Lilli features for the first Barbies, and how ad agency Carson/Roberts crafted her role as a fashion model. Early market research showed that girls were wildly enthused about Babs. Some moms were not, complaining that she had “too much of a figure” and could be a “cute decoration for a man’s bar.” Nonetheless, Barbie was a hit. Her success made the Handlers and Mattel the leaders of a toy empire for years to come.

Forever Barbie is extremely readable because the author skillfully blends facts to delight the average toy geek with a variety of cultural ways to view Barbie. There are chapters on the doll`s status as a “transitional object” to help the child recognize the boundaries of self, her relationship to class issues, and a great analysis of the 1960’s Barbie novels.  One of the best chapters- “Our Barbies, Our Selves”- is all about the Barbie/body image controversy. Lord gives the problem an objective look, citing commentary from eating disorder sufferers and therapists, while noting that most eating disorders probably spring from a combination of family and cultural disorders. She also acknowledges the importance of Todd Haynes’ 1987 short film Superstar, a chilling look at Karen Carpenter’s anorexia made entirely with Barbie and Ken dolls.

My only real caveat about this book is that not a whole lot of space is devoted to how kids actually play with the famous doll. There are isolated anecdotes, such as the one in the preface in which Barbie is summoned as doctor to an ailing Bratz doll. And RuPaul is quoted on her childhood play with Barbie.  It would have been fun to hear from more of the toy’s gay fans.  I’m sure many of us will suddenly recall their long-ago play patterns as they read. I certainly did as I was reminded of how my Barbies fought battles, dated superheroes and GI Joes, and played jungle explorer. Forever Barbie is also chock-full of photos of vintage dolls and Barbie art, though regrettably none are in color. In summation, it’s rare to find a fun and intelligent read about a favorite toy, and Lord’s opus certainly fits the bill.

Guest post written by T. Johnson. T. Johnson is a blogger, au pair, and part-time tutor who has been obsessed with science fiction and comics since roughly first grade. One of her life`s big revelations was discovering Wonder Woman comics-another milestone was starting to read the works of Heinlein and Aldous Huxley. She has always been convinced that girls can be as truly nerdy as any fanboy.

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Disney Princesses Come of Age

Guest post written by T. Johnson. T. Johnson is a blogger, au pair, and part-time tutor who has been obsessed with science fiction and comics since roughly first grade. One of her life`s big revelations was discovering Wonder Woman comics-another milestone was starting to read the works of Heinlein and Aldous Huxley. She has always been convinced that girls can be as truly nerdy as any fanboy.

 

Recent re-screenings of several Disney films has got me thinkng about the “Disney princess” phenomenon. As animation fanatics and a majority of parents know, Disney Studios made a bunch of movies with female heroines over a fifty-odd year time span. Most of them were based on fairy or folk tales, so the heroine was usually a “princess,” even if she started out disguised as something else. The “princess” movies remain hugely popular with audiences. They were re-mastered in handsome DVD and Blu-ray box sets, inspired hundreds of Halloween costumes and were responsible for the “princess party,” that staple of little girl birthday celebrations.

The films have their detractors, however. Most of the critical vollies aimed at them have come from feminist thought. Critics complain that Disney has placed images of women in a time capsule, portraying them as passive victims waiting to be rescued, as debutantes dreaming only of their prince. They cite the 1950 film Cinderella as a prime offender: sweet-natured girl is pushed around by her stepsisters, remains sweet despite doing all the housework, then is rewarded for being a doormat by a fairy godmother who enables her to attend a ball and meet a prince.

Admittedly, Cinderella is not big on my list either. I don`t really agree, though, that all of these films present terrible images of women. I think there are some redeeming qualities in the princess film canon. I`ll discuss just a few of the movies in this post, specifically those which present heroines who are fully fleshed out as people. Quick note: I`d love to include the warrior-princess film Mulan here, but I don`t feel justified in talking about it since it`s one of the few Disney animation flicks I have not seen.

Image Courtesy of coloringweb.com

Consider Snow White of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). As she scrubs the palace steps in a tattered dress and wooden shoes, SW sings a song about wishing and hoping for the one she loves. But there`s a lot more to her than waiting around. When her wicked stepmother/queen decides to have her killed, she must fend for herself in a dark forest. She`s obviously scared, but doesn`t give up, pressing onward despite mysterious sounds and logs that resemble alligators. Snow White shows similiar courage when she meets the dwarves. This is a girl who`s never been away from home before, but she readily adapts to a group whose culture she`s totally unfamiliar with.

Instead of judging or mocking the dwarves, she befriends them. And yes, she does the housework. But one should keep in mind that the original Snow White story was told in the 1400s, a time when housework involved a lot of manual labor and the skills needed for tasks like spinning and washing clothing by hand. The dwarf fraternity respects her for pitching in, and she respects and likes them (I remember thinking as a child that they were way more interesting as people than the Prince)! Snow White displays a lot of sense and independent thinking, not to mention a genuine kindness for both animals and people.

Looking at later Disney movies makes one wonder what became of heroines like Snow White. Maybe, like characters played by Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn in the 30s and early 40s, she was shelved due to cultural reasons. After World War 2, real-life women often had to quit the jobs they obtained while men were away, leading to a quasi-Victorian idealization of the home and traditional femininity. Hollywood seemed to reinforce this by producing few films with strong female leads, and during the fifties, Disney followed suit. After the likable but maudlin Cinderella, we got characters like Wendy of Peter Pan (1953-sweet and bright, but hung up on Peter) and Briar Rose of 1959`s Sleeping Beauty (sweet and hard-working, has to be awakened by a prince). This is not to say that fifties Disney cartoons were total fiascos- they were well animated and ahead of their time- but strong heroines were not a huge priority here.

Gradually, times changed and so did the Disney empire. After several financial upheavals in the 70s, animated films began to emerge from the studio again in the mid-80s. “Princess” characters were beginning to be written in a different way, a prime example being Belle of Beauty and the Beast (1991). Belle, the daughter of a small-town inventor, is sweet-natured and hard-working like many a Disney girl. Unlike them, she seeks knowledge through reading and dreams of leaving her home and having adventures. And she`s not afraid of the ferocious-seeming Beast: when he orders her to come to dinner, she refuses until he issues a civil invitation. They gradually come to know each other as equals. The troubling issue here is the whole conceit of the Beast keeping her captive in his castle. This is how the original story went, but I can also see why some commentators read Belle warming to him as a form of Stockholm syndrome.

On the other hand, she does try to escape at one point in order to check on her father, and this makes Beast realize that he can`t merely keep her as a pet. Belle is a fully realized character who is intriguing as well as pretty. She does change clothes more than other Disney princesses, but hey, she is living in a palace with well-equipped closets-why not? And she has the courage to try and rescue her father from the creepy village folk by herself, not waiting for Beast or any of his servants to accompany her.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) has a female lead who is more than able to carry the film. This princess is merely dressed as one for Mardi Gras-she`s actually an industrious waitress named Tiana, a fine cook who is saving money for her own restaurant. She becomes involved with the lazy and conceited Prince Naveen only because he`s been turned into a frog and requests her help. Kissing him turns her into a frog as well, so the pair must hit a Louisiana swamp in search of a voodoo priestess who can transform them back. Tiana is totally uninterested in Naveen at first, considering him hopelessly hedonistic. But the two bond as they journey through the swamp, and the prince is evantually ready to embrace work and give up his player-like ways for Tiana.

Throughout the film, Tiana`s ditzy friend Lottie epitomizes the stereotypical “princess” viewpoint, in contrast to the former`s practical ways. When read the old Frog Prince story as children, Lottie sighs in contentment, while Tiana exclaims, “No way am I kissin` no frog, no matter what!” You`ve got to love a girl who`s that feisty from childhood up. She also has a strong sense of morality. The evil Dr. Facilier offers to make her human again if she surrenders a charm- trouble is, he`ll use the charm to facilitate his takeover of New Orleans. Tiana refuses, vowing to “stay in the swamp forever”, rather than aid the voodoo dark side. All ends well, but with a twist: though Tiana and Naveen become restored to humanity, they achieve her dream of opening a restaurant, instead of looking for a kingdom to luxuriate in. Good film, great heroine-finally, an action princess! Yes, there`s still a prince, but the relationship dynamic is totally different. We see the pair get to know each other as people, not just become infatuated.

Disney cartoon features have become more progressive in terms of female heroes. It`s certainly true that they lagged behind the women and girls of anime for a few decades- compare any pre-eighties Disney heroine to Millenium Actress or Princess Mononoke- but they`re genuinely losing the passive princess mindset. Now that the studio is supposedly still going to do some hand-drawn animation as well as CGI, why not research some girl power-friendly storylines? How about a remake of The Black Cauldron with more emphasis on feisty heroine Eilonwy? Or a retelling of the Artemis or Amazons myths? Future generations of girls are waiting to see their own adventures in animation- they want to protect the castle, not just clean its courtyard.

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Lights, Camera, ACTIONFEST!

A guest post by Jack Eagen

 

This year I had the opportunity to attend ActionFest. I didn’t just get to go as a film-goer, but I volunteered myself to what turned out to be a surprisingly amazing experience. I have not had so much fun at a film festival ever. I genuinely believe that this is a unique film festival that rivals to entertain patrons more than any other. I heard about the event when a friend mentioned he was going. A film festival fan, he had purchased a package to see every single film. I asked what was playing and discovered that some of my favorite film makers had projects playing. Namely, Takashi Miike, and Jackie Chan. The festival included a stunt show on Sunday. As I represent a production company, including a stunt and fight choreographer, Billy “Wylde” Wolcott, I emailed the people listed as being the organizers. I received a quick response and was please to get Robert Bradley and his Ghost Town Gun Fighters involved. Billy was able to participate and I got to work with John Cann, who was in charge of supplying the stunts. He brought his one-of-a-kind, state-of-the-art, crash bag completing two jumps, one downtown at the ARCADE as a pre-show buzz builder. He brought his air ramp and was set on fire by Buddy Joe Hooker.  They included motor cross stunt bikers that came with their own ramp, doing jumps forty feet up, in front of the Carolina Theater front marque. There was a martial arts exhibition from Ho Sin Sool Dojang, Traditional Martial Arts Center, and to my excitement my friends from Robert Bradleys Gun Fighters kicked the entire show off with a classic Wild West show comedy bit. Robert Bradley himself did an impressive death roll back on pavement and the under taker to one to the keaster.

The highlights this year at the screening was the winner of best film, A Lonely Place to Die, and the new Film by Miike, 13 Assassins. Lonely was an excellent twist on a climber story, by a British director (Julian Gilbey) and company. I had a chance to speak with Gilbey and he was kind enough to discuss some of the difficulties he had. He mentioned they shot on the RED One camera, and that some of their most expensive shots were entirely due to a safety cable crossing in front of the lead actresses face during key moment. They digitally removed the cable, hence the cost increase on their shots. The final product is a triumph for any director on the independent scene.

Colin Geddes and Peter Kuplowsky are doing a fantastic job, and can use all the volunteers they can get. Colin is an organizer from the Toronto Film Festival, and his experience is paying off. Peter not only ran a tight ship but I appreciated that when he spoke before the final screening, 13 Assassins, he mentioned Gozu, a not often referenced film by Miike. A sign that he is a true fan, and film lover. With guys running the show that have such a personal connection with the screenings, the festival is about love for the films. This is a festival about fun. Something often lacking in film festivals.

Because ActionFest is focused towards the Action, it seems to draw out some interesting visitors. Chuck Norris came to the first year, and it was gonna be tough to top that this year. Buddy Joe Hooker, Stunt Man Legend, stepped in to fill the shoes with no problem. Again, this is a good sign because people who are Action Buffs, or Film Fanatics know the name Buddy Joe Hooker. The easiest way to explain is to say he one of the members of Stunts Unlimited, he holds the record for the most rolls in a vehicle (22), and most recently infamous was his driving in Death Proof by Quinton Tarantino. Listing out everything else about him would take forever, but I seriously recommend anyone who claims to love film to make sure they know these names.

The Life Time Achievement award this year went to Russel Towery, who absolutely deserved it. He was the stunt stand in on all the Robo Cop films, a Fight Choreographer on the Pirates of Caribbean films and Machete, but mostly he was a very nice guy that was extremely approachable. Other visitors included the fighter choreographer for Troy and Sherlock Holmes, Michael Jai White who played Spawn and Black Dynamite, and Larnell Stovall who is the fight choreographer for Bunraku and the newest in the Mortal Combat films. All three of which where on a panel with guest writer, specialist, film consultant, Kung Fu “know it all” Ric Meyers, who was attending the festival to promote his new film and book “Films of Fury”. Ric was also someone who I got the chance to talk with on multiple occasions. Besides knowing more about the history of Asia, Martial Arts, Martial Arts Film, and Kung Fu than anyone I have ever met, he is also a brilliant writer. I bought a copy of his book and can’t put it down

If that isn’t enough, when I was talking with him about the difficulties of getting so much important information into a 2 hour movie when the book is over three hundred pages, I mentioned a DVD I have watched many times. I got it in a bundle with something else, which I can’t recall.  It is called The Art of Action. It is hosted by Samuel L. Jackson, and until Films of Fury, I have never seen a more in-depth and enlightening review of the history of Kung Fu films. It has wonderful interviews that opened up to many interesting details that never seem to get covered in film school history classes. Turns out that was one of Ric’s first attempts to getting this information out in front of the public. He was a consultant on that very same DVD. The new film, Films of Fury, is as Ric described it, an attempt to do something more entertaining for an audience that might have no interest in Kung Fu films, but also to more respectfully cover some of the most important topics. Ric Meyers seemed fairly pleased with the screening, which he pointed out he had not yet seen. Previously they had shown him a rough cut of the film which he hadn’t been ecstatic with. It is a long, complicated topic to try and cover in front of an audience with an increasingly short attention span.

Mostly, I would say that this festival is the little, big secret. It is a big idea and they are just getting started. The turnout seems small compared to the massive space they cover, opening the parking lot up for the stunt show. I expect the word will pass quickly and the turnout will expand exponentially over the following years. The theater is wonderful and although the Carolina is not positioned close to the downtown area, it really is the perfect space. Besides having a layout including a good VIP room and concessions including alcohol, they also have a private parking lot that allows them to meet all safety and zoning needs. This is very important when you are setting people on fire and throwing them off platforms over 35 feet up. I will definitely see you all there next year and those who missed out this year, don’t stress, ActionFest is here to stay.

 

Jack Eagen, Story Teller

Image Courtesy of StarWars.com

Skin-Showing Ladies of Clone Wars

Guest post written by T. Johnson.  T. Johnson is a blogger, au pair, and part-time tutor who has been obsessed with science fiction and comics since roughly first grade. One of her life`s big revelations was discovering Wonder Woman comics-another milestone was  starting to read the works of Heinlein and Aldous Huxley. She has always been convinced  that girls can be as truly nerdy as any fanboy.

A blog post on Wired.com assets that the female characters of Cartoon Network`s Clone Wars are “over-sexualized” by their “scanty” attire, especially Jedi apprentice Ahsoka Tano and the older mentor Aayla Secura. The author admittedly makes a good case for this in some ways. Male Jedis of Clone Wars tend to wear long monk-like robes and/or practical cropped pants. Ahsoka and Aayla do wear somewhat less.

Image Courtesy of StarWars.com

But I`m not sure if their clothing can be construed as scanty in the extreme. Consider Ahsoka`s costume: it consists of a leather halter top worn wth a short brown skirt and leggings. I never thought of it as particularly sexy or revealing. This is reinforced by the fact that AT is a character who is concerned with becoming a better Jedi, not dancing in a cantina. We usually see her in full-on action scenes, running,leaping, and wielding her light saber.

In fact, most costumes worn by comic book heroines are far more “scanty” (gasp)! Look at the stuff foisted on Supergirl. Everyone draws her with her navel front and center,regardless of what kind of shirt she wears. She and cousin Power Girl (to name but two examples) are also renowned for their amazing displays of cleavage. Marvel`s Emma Frost always sheds her snow-white or gray cloak to expose a white sports bra and miles of shapely legs. Next to these fan-boy favorites, Aayla and Ahsoka look amazingly modest.

Now, I’m no prude – showing skin (male and female) in comics and cartoons is a long-held tradition. Male heroes have always dressed to show off their chest and leg muscles, even in the fashion-conservative 40`s and 50`s. I’m sure many straight and gay folks enjoyed seeing them this way, and I do as well. But it`s interesting that no one worries about, say, Anakin Skywalker`s pants “over-sexualizing” him. This is something that is applied far more to female characters, as if they are somehow more vulnerable-even if they have good light saber skills or super strength. In fact, fretting about their attire sometimes seems to be a politically correct put-down.

A few months ago, the artists who draw Clone Wars modified Ahsoka Tano`s costume. She`s now wearing a long brown tunic and gray pants-like leggings (funny how this trouser option has never gone away, even in fiction). I`m not sure if fans will take her more seriously with covered legs. She never had much of a problem fighting in her other attire. It remains to be seen whether Aayla will suddenly cover her cleavage with a high-necked blouse. As noted above, I guess I did not notice clothing implications because I was far more interested in these women as valid people. Whether they rock short skirts or full body armor, the women of Clone Wars are competent and powerful.

 

A portion of this post can also be found at Nerd Society.

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Editorial Piece: Pulling Threads and Spinning Yarns

While participating in the Dexter ARG, I was fortunate enough to meet Michael Andersen from ARGNet.  When I started this blog with all of the wonderful fellow Nerds in Babeland, I intended for this to be a place where female nerds can write about their passions (however nerdy or un-nerdy they may be).  Well, as has been made obvious, one of my new-found passions is Alternate Reality Gaming, and I asked Michael to talk about his own thoughts on ARGs.  I know, I know, he’s not a woman (shock!) but I think it’s okay for us to have our occasional male guest writer.  Thank you, Michael!

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There’s a secret world out there, existing just outside the bounds of your perception. Most people go through their entire lives without realizing this fact. But if you’re smart enough, talented enough, or just plain lucky enough, you might join the select few who can recognize the signs and peel back a layer of reality to see what lies beneath.

This is a popular theme in science fiction and fantasy: you’ll find it in Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Matrix. There’s something eerily compelling about story worlds that could easily coexist with our own. Press a few bricks in the right order, walk down the wrong alley one night, or follow a few cryptic instructions on your computer screen, and your life will be forever changed. It’s also a recurring theme in alternate reality games (ARGs), a form of entertainment that superimposes a new set of rules over reality by peppering the real world with story fragments using a wide range of media and artifacts. I write about this kind of storytelling at ARGNet, and worked together with a handful of Nerds in Babeland contributors to explore the Dexter universe as we tried to hunt down a serial killer.

After a few years of following alternate reality games, I have become adept at recognizing loose threads in the fabric of reality. Pay enough attention, and you’ll discover the fantastic hiding in plain sight. You might even find yourself hiding clues to a secret world of your own. So what do I mean by loose threads in the fabric of reality? See for yourself, through a series of photographs I took in search of stories hidden in plain sight.

Sometimes, the underlying story is an enigma. Consider this fine fellow as an example: I found him in the middle of the road at the corner of Euclid and Mayfield, mere blocks from my law school in Cleveland. Intrigued, I kept my eyes peeled, and discovered he had compatriots scattered across the city: indeed, the Stickman is a national phenomenon, with sightings in locations from Portland to Washington DC. What secrets do these hidden men hide?

Other times, the secret is more straightforward, offering a chance at adventure. On a trip to Baltimore, I paid a visit to the Peabody Library, touchingly described by one visitor as the “closest I’ve seen to Hog-warts!” in the Institute’s guestbook. Just outside the building, a street map featured the following correspondence:

If I stayed in town for an additional day, what exciting adventure might have presented itself? Would I encounter the source of the message, or another curious soul like myself?

Nonchalance created The Jejune Institute to address these questions through an elaborate alternate reality game using San Francisco as a stage to hide puzzles in plain sight. Workers in the Business District likely pass a metal ring soldered to the sidewalk bearing the name “QUINCY” every day without giving it a second glance…but for those of us who entered the Jejune Institute lobby at 580 California Street, Suite #1607, it stands out in stark relief as an introduction into a world of cults and conspiracies.

It may seem a bit daft to obsessively seek out meaning in the countless unexplained curiosities you encounter and summarily discount on a daily basis. But those selfsame threads serve as portals into fantastic worlds that lie just beneath the surface of our own.

At the risk of coopting the expression of a Chicago-based graffiti artist with a knack for the comedic: if I ever start to lose this sense of wonder at these untold stories hidden in plain sight?

Guest Post: My Experience as a Female Engineer

Written by: Ashley

A couple of weeks ago I had one of those weeks where I burned out on the Boys Club. By the end of it I am not proud to say I was a crabby mess who just wanted to get away from work. The odd part about this was it had been a great week. I finished my first semester of my masters degree, had a fantastic performance review, and things were really going well. I absolutely adore my job, and cannot see myself working anywhere else. I just needed a break from the boys.

There are days when being the only woman in my lab is like being slapped in the face over, and over again. There is no blatant sexism, there are just the little things that seem to pile up and that week the bucket overflowed.

Ever been ogled during a data review where you are just trying to do your job? Yep, twice in a week. I made my lead go with me to the second data review since it was uncomfortable. Thankfully data reviews with that group are less frequent.

Ever had someone wave, walk right by, start to leave the room, then see your coworker and comment, “oh, so there is someone who can help me!” This was concerning things that were more in my realm too. My coworker did not even bother to send them my direction.

Ever had people listen to you pitch slides but when questions arise they address them to your coworker? My coworker was only there to see what went on in data reviews. I was the “expert” in my system.

Ever had a vendor refuse to introduce himself to you after introducing himself to all your coworkers? The vendor then proceeded to pitch his product while refusing to look me in the eye. I walked away halfway through the pitch realizing it was a waste of my time. My coworkers were all highly impressed by the vendor; I thought he was a jerk. I never want to buy products for him.

These are just some of the little slaps to the face. I have learned to tolerate most of them while working to change the tides. “Quit being such a girl about it” has already been removed from the collective vocabulary in the lab. I am still working on many other things. The other day I did something right and was given a “good girl.” Had my jaw not been busy falling to the floor I would have replied with the fact that I was not a dog. That winning line came out of the mouth of the person who has stuck up for me the most.

When backing people up for operation support I have forced myself to stand up and grow a spine. I refuse to answer to any names of the guys I am backing up since many people find it funny to say, “oh, you must be [person] today”. I am not that person, I am me. I have a name. [Person] is also not my boss. My boss is upstairs and here is her phone number. All questions about my job can be addressed to her.

Amazingly, these experiences pale in comparison to what I went through as an engineering intern at a government facility. It was there I was exposed to how bad things can be. During my internship I was not only told I couldn’t tell the boys they were wrong, I was asked what guy did my work for me, since clearly I couldn’t have done it myself. It was at that point, two whole weeks into my job, that I just gave up. I started to understand why there were no women around. If this is how they were treated I could see why no one stuck around long. I was there to be seen but not heard. They needed an image of diversity even if they didn’t embrace it. Even though this was a job I had always dreamed of, I wanted out. Add in the stares I got walking anywhere on campus and it was a fairly isolating experience. I was offered the opportunity to interview there for a position after graduation and thankfully I already had a job and was able to politely walk away.

To me part of being a woman in engineering is learning how to roll with some of these moments and keep going knowing that you are helping to make it better for both yourself and those behind you. Things are clearly still not where they should be at my current job, but they are getting better. There are also places that are better than others. Compare my internship to my current job.

Somehow that week the bucket of tolerance was drained. I was tired of looking at the hierarchy in the lab that I have yet to break into. I was tired of seeing assignments handed to the other people and fighting for interesting work. I was tired of having things taken away when I ask for help. I was tired of being invisible. I was mostly just tired of it all.

Thankfully I have a boss who is awesome. She understands this battle since she has been here. I can talk to her without fear of things trickling back to the boys. She is proof that I can do this. She even told me to go home early that Friday when I was burned out and on top of that offered to call my lead and up date him on a test they were trying to run over the weekend so I wouldn’t have to talk to him. She’s helped me learn how to deal with one of the guys, understanding I want to learn how to stand up for myself and not have someone come save the day. I know I still have a lot left to learn from her, and I hope I can continue to do so.

I hope that one day the female engineers behind me will not be facing these same battles. When thinking about the future I am always reminded of a speech Joss Whedon gave when being honored by Equality Now, on why he writes strong women characters. My favorite reply of his to the question is simple: “because you’re still asking me that question.”

Orbiter

Guest Post: Tired of being a Pioneer

So, this guest post is part of an ongoing series of posts that will be bouncing back and forth between Nerds in Babeland and Tia-Marie. The impetus behind this series can be found at Tia Marie’s blog (I’m Sick of the ‘Women in Tech’ debate).

In high school I was one of the top students in almost all of my math classes, but I also had serious confidence issues. Sadly, I gave up on those pursuits in math and science because it wasn’t “popular” to be smart in those areas (at least not at my school) and it was much “cooler” to be in drama club and do well in English. Yes, I know. I am ashamed. I’ve always regretted those decisions and that is why bullying stories like Katie’s story particularly affect me.

This post isn’t about me though. When I saw Tia Marie’s discussion about women in technology and her idea of hearing from ACTUAL women in the fields of science and engineering, I immediately contacted her about setting up these series of posts. We put out a call to women in these fields via twitter (I know, super professional, right?) and we were lucky enough to hear from these two amazing women, Jenn and Holly.

As a good intro to this series, I thought the first post should be entirely written by one of the women themselves (future posts may resemble more of a Q&A format).  A solid THANK YOU to these two women is necessary and if you also have stories you’d like to share on either of these blogs, please contact us!  The below is from Jenn’s personal blog.

For those who don’t know me, I have worked in aviation and aerospace for the past decade. In October, I volunteered for a layoff from my job as a technician on the Space Shuttle Program, as it is coming to an end soon. I am very much a space advocate, and have been using Twitter to share my enthusiasm for space for over two years. I am also the founder of the Space Tweep Society, a growing group of space enthusiasts on Twitter. Due to that role, I am often asked to participate in interviews or space outreach activities, many with the goal of encouraging girls to pursue careers in science or technology. This leaves me feeling quite conflicted because I’d love to have more women in aviation and aerospace, but in my experience breaking into these fields was really rough. I almost feel guilty for encouraging them, knowing what kind of obstacles they may face.

Of course I say “obstacles they may face” because there is a chance they won’t have any issues. A certain author who was once an engineer for a contractor on NASA’s Apollo program said in a recent interview, “All of the guys were great. No problems. I was just ‘one of the team.’ I have worked for many companies for 25+ years in technical jobs. I was the only woman in many. I was treated with respect and courtesy… There is no conflict in any job if you don’t act like a jackass.” She also tweeted, “Get rid of [the] idea that guys [are] mean to gals in Space Exp[loration]. Guys [are] great friends. I worked with men in all jobs for years. Some gals [are] idiots.” While I’m very happy to hear that she had only positive experiences, for many of us this was not the case- and I don’t think it was because we are “idiots” or “act like jackasses.” My own entry into the career field of aviation was definitely rocky, and I blogged about it a few years ago. The following is an updated version of that post:

(more…)

Photo Courtesy of io9

Guest Post: On Writing Fan Fiction

The following post was kindly written by request (from me) from an amazingly awesome friend of mine.  This writer requested that he/she remain anonymous and they will explain that below but they did give me permission to share their screen name (mysterypoet66) on Fan Fiction Net/Live Journal in case you are curious about their writing.  Now, why did I ask someone to write this? Here is my big confession: I actually enjoy reading fanfic.  I agree with the author below that a lot of it can be quite frightening but, regardless, there is the ‘shameful’ truth.  I do not have the discipline to finish my own personal story creations when I start them, therefore I have never dabbled in writing fan fiction myself.  Nevertheless, I believe there are some fan fiction writers out there that are better writers than “professionals.”  I also find it hilarious that there is such a stigma against online fan fiction while we regularly publish and promote books that could easily be at least linked to fan fiction (ie Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or even Wicked).  Anyway, yes. I read fan fiction and fully love and support my friends who write fan fiction.  If nothing else, read the following post with an open mind.  I’m not trying to recruit people into reading fan fiction (let alone loving it) so much as just trying to get the point across that people who write fan fiction? Not necessarily as crazy as you assume.

Photo Courtesy of io9

I consider myself a serious writer. Which is why I’m not revealing my identity here.  Fan fiction has been painted as something that is considered lazy, deviant, and certainly not, “Real,” writing.

(Although it’s far more accepted, these days, which is an odd dichotomy.)

Consider this: every adaptation, every reinvention of a mythos, every, “Reboot,” and sequel not written by the original author, can be considered fanfiction.  Neil Gaiman writing for Doctor Who, when he’s been a fan of the series since childhood – yup. Broadly considered, it’s fanfic. Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss updating Sherlock Holmes? Ditto.

I’m not saying that every author of fanfiction is a skilled or serious writer. But saying that every author of fanfiction is dreadful, does a serious disservice to people who craft stories as carefully as any novelist or screenwriter. Some people, like myself, write fics to polish their RL writing process, as well as engage in their love of characters. Some do it to blow off steam from their real-world writing jobs. Some do it as a hobby. Some do it for porn.

Yes, that’s right – fanfiction is full of porn. Or, if you think of it another way – it’s full of things that can’t be put onscreen, but that are logical in both human and storytelling terms.

Yes, there are some very extreme forms of porn, including things that make a lot of us very uncomfortable. They’re also things that in, “serious writing,” are taken seriously.

Okay, in fanfiction, some of it is just seriously kinky porn. I’m not particularly keen on the Harry Potter fandom, or Supernatural fandom, because there’s quite a lot that will freak me out.

One of the Original Slash Pairings - Image from THYLA.com (All-Ages Kirk/Spock Archive)

One of the things that tends to get quite a lot of attention in fanfic, is slash. Most people know that slash is a M/M relationship, although it originates from the, “/” used in any pairing. I recently saw an icon on LJ, “My fandom warns for het,” and spent a good 10 minutes giggling. The interesting thing to me about slash, is that there has been a long tradition of catering to the heterosexual male gaze in erotica, (and heavens to betsy, look at the, “Lesbian,” or, “Girl-on-Girl,” porn available on the internet,) but very little catering to the female gaze or LGBT gaze. That’s changing, rapidly.  Slash is overwhelmingly catering to anything BUT the heterosexual male gaze. Truthfully, slashfic can either be amazingly good, or really horrible. It depends on the author. Like any story, and any sex therein. An interesting point about the phenomenon of slash, is that the authors tend to be overwhelmingly female. Women are a whole lot kinkier than we’re given credit for, and don’t you forget it. In my own fics, I am someone who prefers to stick to canon (or at least canon-if-you-squint,) when it comes to orientation and relationships. I don’t do original character romantic pairings, (the dreaded Mary Sue/Marty Stu effect,) because that is not the reason I write in a given fandom. Some authors will do anything to get the characters they want in bed together, regardless of how out-of-character it is. Some are so scrupulously in-character and canon-locked, that they don’t feel fresh. It all depends on the author. As all storytelling does.

One of the things that truly inspires me, as a writer – full stop, is that the best authors in fandom, make me want to read their original work. Being able to write a character that is so familiar and beloved, in ways that are completely true to the character, and yet completely surprising, is not easy.   This is the universe you’ve been given – make it work, make it new, make it exciting to the reader. These are the rules. When authors go AU (Alternate Universe,) the challenge is greater. Is this still canon-enough, are the characters recognizable, does the universe you’ve created make sense? And fandom is harsh. You think your creative writing workshop crit is brutal, wait until you screw with someone’s favorite character, or god forbid – kill them off in a story.

And I haven’t even broached the subject of the ‘ship-wars. Try writing Jack Harkness with anyone but Ianto, or writing the Tenth Doctor with anyone but Rose Tyler, and god help you. No, I’m not actually kidding. People take their ‘ships, incredibly seriously.

A fandom can broadly be described as a bunch of people who share a love of something. Be it Star Wars, Twilight, Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Good Omens, Discworld, or Transformers. Not everyone in fandom writes or reads fic. Many do.

(Yes, there is Transformer slash. No, I haven’t read it. Although I have a certain admiration for anyone that can write it, because I can’t even imagine how to do it.)

Image Courtesy of Chronicle Books

We’re telling the stories we want to read, telling the stories we want to see, we’re telling stories, and that is the point. Is some of it weird, or kinky beyond what most writers feel comfortable publishing under their own name, even if it were original work? Yes. The vast majority of it, however, is no different from Amy Heckerling deciding to write Clueless based on Jane Austen’s Emma, or something like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

The difference is – we’re not doing it to get paid. We’re doing it, in fact, with the absolute knowledge that we won’t. We’re doing it because we love the characters and we want to tell stories.

Isn’t that what any writer wants?

Human beings have been telling stories since the dawn of time. Everything since has been a variation on a theme. Pretending otherwise is silly. What makes any story original, is how it’s told, the world that the author builds, the characters, and the skill of the execution.

I can respect authors who prefer not to have fanworks based on their work posted, but I think I respect the ones that acknowledge it, even more. Steven Moffat, Simon Pegg, J.K. Rowling, all acknowledge that people love what they do enough to riff on it, (much as I adore his work, Jasper Fforde’s insistence on no Thursday Next fics being posted is. . . odd, to me, given how much of English Lit he borrows.)

So, yes – I write fanfiction. I don’t do it under my own name, and I keep a pretty tight lock on my identifying details in fandom, because I do consider myself a serious writer, and I want other people to think of me that way, too. I’m a serious writer, but maybe I should say I’m a serious storyteller, instead.

The thing is, writing in fandom has taught me more about the craft of writing – structure, pacing, character, and narrative flow, than any of my teachers. It’s taught me at least as much as being a voracious reader from the age of three, has.

I’ve also read fanworks that are infinitely more original and well-written, than dreck that’s being published by major houses. The most valuable lesson I’ve learned though, is that regardless of how insecure I may be, and how much I have to learn about prose, (and I do,) I have the ability to tell different kinds of stories.

We make art with the tools at our disposal. Be they fanvids, or fics, or visual art. Some are funny, some are dramatic, some are sexual. That’s what we do. We make art about what moves us, we explore the human condition through a variety of modes.

Everything is a version of something else; all of it is meant to translate what we – as creators, see in the world.

I find it interesting that television and film companies, and even novelists, often draw upon other sources. How many versions of Shakespeare, or Austen, or Dickens, or. . .

How many updates of those works? When in doubt, go to the public domain.

I take umbrage at the notion that writing fic is somehow not real writing. Taking a leap of the imagination, doing research, constructing and maintaining a plot and narrative progression – in what way is that not real writing?

We write what we know. First principle. What we, as members of fandom, know – is what we love. Where we go from there, is neither required nor guaranteed.

The fact is, if I weren’t a reader, a lover of film, art, music, television, and above all – books, I would never have wanted to be a writer to begin with. Everything is a version of something else. All we do is look at it through different eyes.

Yes, I’m a serious writer. I take writing fic as seriously as I take my original work.

That’s what writers do.

Dexter Season 5 Premiere – Guest Reviewer!


Hello my fellow nerds and nerdettes!

I’m here to write a review of tonight’s premiere episode of Dexter. After a long summer everyone’s favorite serial killer has come back to television, and I think Season 5 has quite a story to tell. The first episode picked up where the suspenseful season 4 left off, with Rita dead in the bathtub of the marital home she shares with Dexter and poor baby Harrison in a pool of his mother’s blood. The season starts with Dexter in a state of shock, full of uncertainty as to what will become of his double life (blood splatter expert and dad by day and a serial killer by night). Trinity (a serial killer from last season played by John Lithgow) killed Dexter’s wife before Dexter killed him, however, Dexter is the only one that knows Trinity is dead. Most of Dexter’s fellow police officers suspect Trinity as the Rita’s killer, but the circumstances around this murder and the suspicions Quinn already has about Dexter puts suspicion on Dexter similar to that from Officer Doakes in season 2.

Guilt is eating away at Dexter throughout this episode. He carries the guilt of being indirectly responsible for Rita’s death, the guilt of having to break the news to Astor and Cody (Rita’s children from a previous marriage), and the guilt of what may come of young Harrison (Dexter’s son with Rita). You feel this sense of confusion throughout the episode. You have no idea what Dexter is thinking. Typically he has no set of traditional emotions, but we can tell he is thinking of the feelings he had for Rita and trying to make sense of his own unique form of mourning. At this point we have Dexter’s flashbacks to his first dates with Rita which I found to be a wonderful part to this episode. It gave us more info on how they got together then just Deb setting them up on a blind date. But throughout all of this, Dexter has his only rock now, his sister Deb. Deb is now put in the position of being the strong sibling helping Dexter get things in order for Rita’s funeral. In the mist of all of this whirlwind of sadness and shock, Deb turns to her old ways of taking to the first man around her who seems to show some sort of affection to her, Quinn. At this point in the episode everything is becoming too much for Dexter. He thinks destroying his past and just taking a few things and running away from everything is the best solution for him and his family. During his little get away Dexter get’s into a altercation with a passerby and finally shows the first bit of real emotion he has shown the whole episode. He realizes this is not what needs to be done and that he has to go back because, in some weird way, his family needs him and he needs his family. I see that season 5 is going to be a rollercoaster of adventure and mystery with this new storyline unfolding.

Review by Tiffany (fellow Nerd in Babeland from The Node)

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