Flying, kicking ass and having breasts

Wasp and Hawkgirl possibly one of the hottest teams up for female superheroes I could think of (this week). Drawing from two universes, for the uninitiated Wasp hails from the Marvel Avengers universe. And for the very initiated I’m referring to the recent ‘Avengers Earth Mightiest Heroes’. Whilst Hawkgirl with her ‘fight first I’m going to kill anything that gets in my way’ attitude, her home is DC’s Justice League (in this case the animated series from the mid-2000s).

These characters stand out particularly because they fly, kickass and have breasts. A strangely uncommon combination of ingredients in the superhero world. Sadly not a sustainable combination in either universe. I say uncommon because too often I find that female superheroes flying or otherwise don’t kickass. For me to kickass, is to love what you, don’t hold back and if you can throw some one liners then you’ve won me. Well for at least a week of obsessive wiking a crash course to learn your back story with a healthy of deviantart and tumblr. What I don’t want to see is you sidelined as the female character, who needs to be saved or worst still is the heart of the group their softly spoken conscience.

Sadly Wasp and Hawkgirl are an example where there kickass-ness became weighed down by trying to find the right bra to support them in a world ending fight. Here is the confession from what was an idle thought about the potential for too hot female characters from favourite shows to team up to take down Darkside and Kang, became a long winded thought (a lot like this sentence). Namely about how these characters started out great but their writers got lazy and sloppy.

Wasp’s downfall was quicker. Though she got the acclaim for naming the Avengers but then becomes the main heart of the group, the big eyed “we can’t do that” started to come into play. Things got a lot worse when she broke up with fellow superhero Antman left her. Apparently she had emotional insight when it came to –  we can’t just kill murderous villain in question they have to go to jail to face punishment situations. But when it came to her partner seemingly having a nervous breakdown, nope the power of emotional insight magically disappeared.

Then Hawkgirl was lucky to have Wonder Woman as a fellow female on her team. Surviving a couple of series before she too succumb to the travesty of bad writing. Unlike Wasp she held off relationships till the end. Even when she did finally get together with Green Lantern, she retained a healthy competitive attitude with him. Brilliant she was consistent, having from the start stood against anything and anyone that saw her as less fighter because she was a woman. Then she briefly betrays the world. Turns out she was lying to us all along and had been on a scouting mission to find out how to destroy Earth. Thankfully in the end she was loyal to her boy Green Lantern and saved humanity.

When it comes to women in fiction especially superhero universes, isn’t time we got past the stereotypes of God’s first betrayer Eve. Because I’m pretty sure the betrayal gene is not hidden our breasts.

Of course, I’m not claiming this is true of all female characters in the superheroes.  When Wonder Woman is having the sense not to become Superman’s girlfriend, she is a great character. Though like a lot of female cartoon characters lacking a sword – seriously trying naming more that 3 that have a sword and are not called She-Ra or Mulan. As with the ‘real world’, gender issues remain prevalent if you are willing to open you eyes.

Yet it could be worse it could be Black Widow of the recent Avenger’s films. Awful accent for one. And yes that is rather nicely fitted costumes but seriously your power is persuasion and manipulation. Come on! Could you be any more cliched. All the tied up to a chair and breaking free fights scenes, will not detract from the fact your power comes from being a woman. Those last five words might sound empowering but really they are just belittling. Characters should be strong in themselves regardless of gender.

I want my characters to be smart, to have a female Tony Stark. Actually for christ sakes Pepper Potts go make your own invincible suit and help save the world.


Facing the meat preacher

Given how often we have to eat its not surprising that food and what we eat plays a role in how we look at each other. We can bond or be repelled by each others eating habits. Are you with or without sugar? Is dunking a crime or an opportunity to dunk sandwiches in soup? Are you buying the love/hate Marmite ads or just loving them for their legal action against the BNP.

I’m not a fussy eater but do have a few kooky habits. There are certain situations where I am really uncomfortable about eating. Going out to eat with someone for the first time, especially if its first meeting can be hell. Loving food and having an appetite is not the issue here both of these I have in abundance. Still I can sometimes find the experience of eating with people is all too intimate. This is not to say I am always internally stressing. Creating my own montage of what could go wrong whilst I eat or worrying the person across the table might comment.

I’m vegetarian and for the most part this doesn’t make that much of impact. Most people are pretty amenable and as vegetarians we live in wonderful times – there are even corner shops selling Linda McCartney’s. But invariably I find myself dealing with defensive meat eaters. Only the cult of Apple (and as dedicated follower I can safely say) is akin to that of the meat preachers.

Off course it isn’t always the case that you get a judgemental question of what are you eating. But out of nowhere you sometimes have to face the meat preacher. Your presence as a vegetarian is reason for them to defend their brethren. Even if you are not a preachy vegetarian. Apparently you must now make your case for why you are vegetarian.

Trial by dinner table doesn’t just put you off eating meat, it puts you off the plate in front of you. However jovial the meat defendant attempts to be, they never appreciate how tedious repeating hearing “I don’t see the point” or “Why not eat meat?” or the classic “I couldn’t live without meat” can be. Engaging often seems pointless.

I’m not even against other people eating meat. Vegetarian since I was 6 and working on the Safeway’s butcher/deli counter at 17. It is one way to learn how to blag if you are selling something you’ve never eaten. However my enthusiasm for selling the two rotissery chickens for a fiver deal was unappreciated. Apparently naming the chickens Bill and Ben,  then saying they had to go together got me sales but was grounds for a disciplinary.

My real big bug bear with meat preachers the fact they are triggered by sight or mention of fake meats;- facon, soya, veggie sausages, quorn, fam (ok I may have made up the last one). Seemingly we don’t have to draw line of when it is acceptable to comment on what a veggie is eating.

Does telling me what I am eating doesn’t taste or look like the thing it is imitating, make me want to give up vegetarian. No and nor does it make me feel less of vegetarian for eating substitutes. Instead it makes me wonder how much of meat is processed to the point it no longer looks like the animal it came from. Unless you are Bear Grylls facing the wilds you might want to hold off judging my fake meat. The point is Meat Preacher I just want to eat in peace.

And to be honest I can be an awful vegetarian – I just waste my guilt on jelly babies.

An excuse to talk about voting – thank you America

US election night the final showdown between Obama and Mitt. The sights of millions queuing to make their voices heard. The tired blurry eyed watching of the states change to the blue and red with stats about seats running down the side of the map. An excuse to see how many states you can name, to break out awful impressions and to sigh a sigh of relief that UK politics is not like that.

After all we don’t have any over the top MPs willing to lose respect (and party) going on reality shows.

What we do have in common with the US, is a very similar style of covering elections. The run up to the count, is its own exciting story as each party scrambles to gain votes more so than often making blunders and an occasionally an epic speech. Then we come to the day for the vote and the media has to make do with literally just watching us vote. Till the bell tolls and the polling booths close. Then the real excitement and political commentary can begin. Results and we get to colour in the map – Yay!

I can imagine reporting on this would be a lot like watching the queues at Sainsburys. You can spot the fluctuations and low points but ultimately you are just watching people do the same thing over and over again. The killer story is if the queues are long. Even better if there is a chance people might lose their vote (aka Manchester Withington 2010).

Naturally then we the get the media questiong why are the queues so long? What is our vote worth,  can easily be heckled alongside how much is being spent on this election and why aren’t more people voting. There is a level of pragmatism to the worth of our vote. From voter information drives to ultimately staffing the polling booths the costs to run an election mount up.

It is then not a big jump to ask (like the BBC) why we are not voting online and cutting down the queues? Voting for a 21st century. Would this not be cheaper and easier – soon everyone will have smart phones? After it all it works for “I’m a Celebrity get me out of here”. Sadly it is not that simple nor are the argument surrounding online voting.

As it happens I am for online voting but also conflicted and a bit wary. Security is an issue that has to be weighed up against how we like our data used. Then of course we need to trust anonymity and the integrity of our vote. A withering look from nearby friends as I click on my vote or fraping* prone friend logged into my computer could make all the difference.

The costs to introduce online voting are likely high (maybe not baby killing high ht @no2av) for what may only marginally increase participation.But then I am wary of taking a cost benefit analysis of the costs of online voting on their own. Ideally we shouldn’t set a limit for investing both culturally and financially in voter participation. The real issue is less about whether you vote in the polling booth, by post or at your computer. It is about why you should want to vote in the first place.

Blue skynet thinking I’d have it all magically secure online voting, 24 hour polling booths on every street, roaming polling booths. I’d have a voter information campaign drive to match McDonalds marketing campaigns. I’d have politicians that valued my vote.

Participation isn’t just down to a good marketing campaign for voting. Too cynical we want more than a small fanfare election campaign once every five years but expect less. And that is where we lose the reason and value in voting.

Why not make polling day a statutory holiday? Also why not lollies for all voters? Positive reinforcement for something we don’t like to do but know on some level it makes a difference.

*I wish I could think of better word for this right now!

30 by Thirty

Ok today, I am in a bit of rush about to head off to Lewes Bonfire night. The cross burning festival in the heart of twee Sussex. Where more people vote on the efgy to burn than in local elections. A place where Christopher Lee’s Lord Summerisle would be rightly scared. Unfortunately today is not for harking back to my pseudo sussex routes. Instead you get a ramble about another challenge that I have set myself.

30 by 30. Not quite self explanatory nor a poor homage to Faith the rogue slayer. 30 by 30 is my simple challenge to reach 30 countries by the grand old age of 30. Now with just over a year and a half to go, most of Europe covered this is looking pretty challenging.

I started this project a couple of years ago but never got very far. Although I am lucky to have a parent in the caribbean, my travelling had been pretty limited to one island Antigua and lot of trips to France. Until I reached Uni but then student life and possible too much time spent in student politics, got in the way of doing any proper travelling. I don’t bemoan this, quite frankly pretty fortunate to have the joy of getting to know Antigua beyond its tourist attractions. And yeah off course fortunate to have been involved in student politics – definitely learnt the importance of a thick skin…

Last October I got the opportunity to move into a warehouse in London, the downside it was still a building site (but looking back some of the best memories of living in a warehouse come from the building site). Rent free whilst my room was being built all gave me a chance to say sod it, book myself a flight and grab an interrail pass. It was just a taster two weeks and 6 countries.

Starting of in Croatia, I pretty much went to the station and jump on the next train out – this was pretty much my approach for the rest of trip. By the end of the two weeks, I had ended up in Munich, Budapbest, Vienna, Venice, Ljubljana and back to Zadar via Zagreb just about ready to fly out. Like any traveller, the odds were in my favour that I would meet a lot of awesome people. Then at the start of the year, I did my first road trip, speeding across Europe in 10 days, via Bruge, Amsterdam, Berlin and Prague.

Not long after I took a second surprise trip to Vienna. Learning even with only fours days in Bratislava there is very little to do. Too many months on and I am very aware the time to complete this challenge will fast approach. Now Europe is pretty much covered where next to squeeze in as many countries as possible?

Zombies in Parliament

I was Ivana Bullet a lobbyist for an arms firm called Umbrella Corp turned zombie roaming parliament. How was your day?

Not your most usual Sunday unless you too have ventured into the world of storytelling games. Today I was lucky to be a part of a mega game of Fiasco. Two groups playing UK Parliament with the zombies add-on. A nice belated halloween treat. Fiasco is a gamesmaster-less role play game, where there is no need to prep and you finish it in just a few hours.

It has an ever growing selection of scenarios to play from, many based on classic films. You can be a part of the cast of a 70s mafia film or face the nightmares of school with added blood. No game plays out the way you expect. Setup is simple, the roll of hand full of dice determines the option you have to choose from with your playset.

This is how I found myself playing Ivanna Bullet who only goal is to successfully lobby the secretary of defence to buy Mace-Guns, Gun-Swords and Axe-Fire blasters during the zombie apocalypse that the government is trying to cover up. Hedging my bets I was blackmailing fellow freemason Zelda West the wife of defence secretary Andrew West to get contracts with MoD. Whilst lobbying the shadow secretary Maxwell and feeding the ducks (always need to feed ducks if doing shady business). Because of course it’s election season and how we handle the zombie disaster, will determine how the public votes.

It didn’t go well for me which is kind of the fun – to create and be the undoing of a despicable character. You create utter nonsense. Sadly Ivanna Bullet was bitten during the meeting with the secretary of defense. Her zombie form was left roaming the parliamentary lobby calling out for braaiiins and drinking irn bru. It didn’t end well for any of us…

But we all left wanting to play again. Taking out the gamemasters and limiting the number of scenes is a real advantage. Having only really tried two sessions of storytelling games using the Slaine setup. My first impressions of role play games was that they requires hours of commitment, character development where learning how to fight required homework. Intrigued by the comics and the basic backstory I was interested wanting to see how my character could develop but put off the complexity. More so the commitment needed to see those games through. Needless to say this character has fallen to the ether.

But I had a taste for role play – to build up a story with friends but not locked in for potentially years. Appealing to my somewhat scatty attention span, the great thing about Fiasco is its length and flexibility. Out of the eight of us three were new to Fiasco, all of them managed to jump straight in. I found it a real gateway into a world of gaming.that would otherwise find too intimidating and closed off.

The games are growing life of their own from a simple playset book. Fans are writing new scenarios and now with add ons. Both groups had similar feelings that the zombies add on was hard to fit on to the parliament. Each took it down a very different path, we brought zombies in early whilst the other group brought theirs in need the end. However hard and ludicrous you always find to bring the story together.

The game doesn’t go the way you expect or is tricky to bringing the different story threads. But like any good game is has replayability and the scope to build on of what you’ve learnt.

Plus it is totally an excuse to play pretend.

Dear Doctor Who please can you learn some self-discipline

Like many geeks, Doctor Who is a staple of my Sci-fi diet  And like any adult fan of a show targeted at children I am prone to over analysing and possibly expecting a little too much. Still with this in mind, I finished the latest installment (series 7) frustrated. Wishing for the days when our Doctor Who wasn’t being treated like clingy, emotionally stunted excuse for a time lord.

Coming at Doctor Who as one of the few generation of people who neither grew up with it in its first incarnation till the BBC gave up on Sylvester McCoy or with the Ecclestone reboot. My entry into the tardis came with the advantages of older brothers’ video collection and the reruns on UK Gold. In fact, I am the original hipster of classic doctor who loving, I was in to the Doctor and his companions before it was cool (again). Even going so far as to remember doing a presentation on the tardis for an english GCSE course. Popularity was all too easily compensated with the knowledge the 4th Doctor off screen got to marry one of my earlier crushes Romana.

It is fair to say I am fairly up on my Doctor enough to name them all chronologically but not enough to know all the episodes name. That’s’ healthy right? The reboot of Doctor Who would always face problems, it never truly hark back to its nostalgic roots whilst being targeted at a new generation.

But why oh why can the Doctor not learn some bloody self discipline? And I mean discipline with his companions. The final good bye to Amy and Rory compounded this issue. For the last series we have had it hammered into us that this ancient time lord needs someone to be with him, to keep him grounded. A disconnected genus needs to connect and off course humanity is all about being connected.

Apparently after 29 companions, many of which he had close bonds with like Liz Shaw, Sarah Jane Smith and lets’ not forget his granddaughter travelled with him. He is now incapable of tearing himself apart from them. To have that discipline, maybe selfishness to say enough is enough I am not looking back. To just accept that if you are a time lord, mortals with finite life spans cannot stay with you forever.

The result is repetition, 4 out the 5 recent companions have had to have insurmountable  barriers to be put up to stop him seeing them again. Rose has been flung into a parallel universe, Donna’s head will explode if she sees him, and now Rory and Amy are in a convenient paradox. The exception is Martha, quite frankly after she broke the fourth wall whilst driving the Tardis I can understand the Doctor’s reluctance to give her his new number.

Sadly so much energy is spent in to making the story arcs epic, the relationship dynamic so intense but predictable. That the simple joy of exploring spaces and battling new foes (a statue of liberty angel is still an angel just a ridiculously big one). For the most part we can argue this doesn’t matter, its children’s tv, that maybe patronisingly we can say this goes over their heads and that predictability is a good thing.

But repetition and predictability does sadden me. We do children a disservice to allow it to happen in their shows. To foster the idea that sticking to formula is the best approach. Schools don’t as a general rule encourage enough creativity or freedom to think. Schools are the product of an industrial age, to have us come out the factory line of education ready to be productive for society. We should encourage creativity in children, supposed grown ups like ourselves and fiction has big role to play. Now I feel the need to simply say….

Come on Doctor regenerate some balls and get back to leaving your companions behind to get on with their lives.

Slimer the facepalm of Ghostbusters’ judicial process

Ghostbusters one of the many classic go to eighties films for childhood nostalgia. Sitting down to curl up with Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd heading up the ghost busting super team, you know it gonna make you feel good. And if you have any level of google fu, the day following watching these films will be spent ‘studying’ up on everything Ghostbusters. Ready for next time someone suggests you watch these films and you can whip out tibbits about the design history of the logos.

Sadly the comfort I derived from re-watching the films, didn’t happen when I decide to take cartoon route down memory lane.  Surely the loveable don’t cross the streams team, could stand the test of time in all formats?

Not if you make the same foolish mistake of putting on a lesser known ‘Ghostbusters’ cartoon that involved a gorilla called Tracey and Skeletors’ cousin Prime Evil who lives in Hauntquarters that is eerily similar to Westminster.  The difference between the Real Ghostbusters and the Ghostbusters has truly been burned into my consciousness. But lets’ save that for another days blogging – today I’m calling it – why Slimer is a massive problem for the Ghostbusters universe.

I can never say I’ve been a fan of the floating green slug bucket that is our teams supposed loveable sidekick. Apparently I heard from one friend he is meant to be a ghost of a dog (I grew up with cats). Unfortunately in the pilot episode of the cartoon this is never really established. Like a lot of things that go un-explain. Our powers of suspension of disbelief are called on. Which is fair enough.  

But it isn’t the outright irritating, zeppo nature of Slimer’s character that is bugging me. It is his existence as a good ghost. Hang on – wasn’t he a bad guy in the films leaving an ectoplasm covered path of destruction. Ok well lets say he has had a massive character change, been successfully rehabilitated to become upstanding citizen of society and the nether realm. This is brilliant, a second chance even in death to turn away from crime. Yes we have progressive attitude in this wise-cracking universe. And this is the eighties – a nice tokenistic screw you Thatcher et al.  This will have happened off screen because the show leaves little time for rehab for any of the other ghosts. No the chance to change, to become better is never offered to the other ghosts. There is no grey areas, just all other ghosts are evil, all forms of crime carried out by the ghosts are to be treated equally – eternal lock up (well until the power goes out).

And there you have my nonsensical problem with Ghostbusters –  its judicial process. For some unknown reason Slimer has been deemed worthy of rehabilitating, to have that one community service place with the Ghostbusting team. Whilst the rest of the ghosts are zapped. This isnt 28 days detention without trial this is is infinity without trial. For that reason Real Ghostbusters you have left me tutting. With your no questions asked approached to lock up and crime, you have pricked my eccentric lefties senses and now this silliness has joined the ether… Thankfully you invested a lot into those dance choregraphy lessons and it seems to have paid off – its New York city you’ve stopped some ghosts lets have a parade. For the killer dance moves I can forgive a bit of fascist tactics for controlling ghost crime.