New Chapters, New Characters

It’s an amazing time to be a storyteller. It’s also a profoundly frustrating one.

For the first time in the 50-plus year history of the series, Doctor Who has turned the reins of The Doctor over to a woman, as millions of loyal fans around the world got the news this morning. It may not seem like much, but it’s truly a landmark moment in television history that’s close to 40 years in the making.

True to form, the reaction has been mixed across many different outrages. Male and female fans were mad that Doctor Who seems to be placating to the Political Correctness faction who demanded the new showrunner Chris Chibnall, and by extension, the stodgy old BBC itself, represent them.

There’s also fans who belong to differing minorities demanding to know why it was that another Anglican actor, even though they chose a female, was cast over someone who represented them, as well as LGBTQ fans who are wanting to know if the new Doctor is going to be representative of them, or will she be another cisgender version.

We live in an age where there is a broader spectrum of personality types represented in popular culture and media than ever before, which is far from a terrible thing. On a planet of nearly seven billion people, there is no logical reason why there shouldn’t be a larger cross-section of humanity that’s being transferred over to our modern stories, be they visual, audio, written, digital, animated, etc. The palate is so rich and so varied that there is honestly no legitimate reason as to why those of us who create those stories and thereby the characters who inhabit them, take full advantage of that spectrum, rather than relying on generic, homogenous stock characters.

Therein lies the problem, however, with the demands of the audience and the inability of the storytellers to meet said demand, not because they don’t want to, but because there is only so much you can cram into a singular character to represent the broadest cross-section of the audience possible, even when it’s a nigh-immortal Time Lord with two hearts, can regenerate and travels through the universe in an amazing blue box.

The decision to follow through on switching The Doctor’s gender did not happen in a vacuum, nor did it come without some degree of logical processing. When the series was at the height of its international popularity in the 1980’s, the demand was there, but the writers, the network and the society of the time weren’t prepared to follow through on them. When Doctor Who came back in 2005, so did that demand, but neither Russell T. Davies or Steven Moffat were able to do so not because they didn’t want to.

Davies, being a a proud gay man who’s previous work included Queer as Folk, and Moffat, who’d also done prior work on shows that had diverse characters of various backgrounds, recognized that in order to get to this point, a lot of pavement that had to be laid down first.

Over the past ten seasons, Doctor Who has seen a paradigm shift in its character base from the molds of the classic series, that being white, hetero Anglican men and women. To say that was done solely because of discriminatory views of the creative minds of the day is both irresponsible and stupid, though. Popular media in all forms reflects the times in which they are made. It’s when those established social taboos and standards are challenged, pushed and ultimately proven to false or no longer reflective of the prevailing attitudes that they finally fall into history.

While the show has always relied on the male-female dynamic between The Doctor and his long roster of Companions, it took more than four decades for an LGBTQ Companion (Capt. Jack Harkness), and a non-caucasian Companion (Dr. Martha Jones) to enter its universe. And while there had been female Time Lords throughout the history of the show, the closest to The Doctor himself had been a Companion, Romana, and an adversary named The Rani, until Moffat decided to turn his oldest Gallifreyan enemy, The Master, into a woman back in 2015.

This, along with stories which included examples of Time Lords being essentially a genderless society as they can fluctuate back and for with each regeneration established the foundation that if anyone else from Gallifrey can do it, then why can’t its most famous resident?

In that respect, the announcement that it the 13th Doctor is a woman didn’t surprise me at all, nor did it bother me, because the decision to do so can stand up to the weight of having earned it through character development and storytelling over multiple seasons of the show.

What irks me, though, is when there is a demand for characters to be changed to fit the current zeitgeist of a given social or cultural faction for purely arbitrary, selfish or antagonistic reasons.

Now, before I go further with this side of the argument, I want to be fully transparent in saying I completely understand the want for equal representation in popular media and being a middle-aged white cisgendered asexual American male about 95% of what is in that media is designed, marketed and produced to appeal to people like me, even though they may feature diverse or three-dimensional male AND female characters.

Of course, we want to have role models, iconography and symbols which we can relate to in movies, TV, music, books, video games, etc. That has been a cultural constant that’s been growing in speed and momentum since both this century and millennium began and damn if that isn’t a really powerful and positive thing.

However, there comes a point where as much as we all want a particular character to represent all of us, the unpleasant reality is there is no character who can, no matter what they’re capable of in the tales we create around them.

Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman can’t. The Doctor can’t. Hell, Jesus Christ couldn’t and our entire culture has operated for more than 2,000 years on the premise that he is both omniscient and omnipotent, but if you read The Bible, (and I have) there is example upon example of how Christ, despite being acknowledged as the Alpha and Omega, does not represent or personify humanity in its vast totality.

Which brings me to one of my favorite shows of the past decade, Orphan Black. 

I’ve been a card-carrying member of Clone Club since the show premiered in 2013 and, as a writer, it’s been an enlightening experience to see how it’s showrunners, Graeme Manson and John Fawcett, created a storyline focused very much on relevant, pressing feminist topics.

And yet, for their attempts to create as diverse a character spread over its five seasons, even they couldn’t concentrate all the complexities and nuances that come with being a woman into one singular character, despite having someone as talented and capable as Tatiana Maslany to work with.

She doesn’t portray one clone. She is legion. Each version is distinctly unique with Sarah being the warrior/hustler/reluctant hero, Allison, the maternal, paranoid protector, Cosima, the affectionate, lesbian scientist, Helena the damaged weapon, Rachel, the envious puppet master and on and on down the line. At last count, Maslany has played ten different variations, including a transgender clone, and if you were to lump them together into a singular persona, even that wouldn’t fully embody the full spectrum.

But Orphan Black has done a better job at trying than a whole lot of shows I’ve watched over the years and I commend it for doing so because the writers understood how to construct a storyline that not only allowed for the level of variations in characters they’ve employed, but they also gave themselves room for a supporting cast that enhances that variety on one side and establishing the old homogenous patriarchal order on the other.

It’s surprisingly easy to figure out when storytellers construct worlds capable of supporting such paradigm shifts in characters and when they haven’t, but that doesn’t stop different factions from demanding that classic archetypal characters be taken out of their traditional guises and crammed into new ones and not always for the best of reasons. With our expanding diversity has come the growth of antagonism between those very same social factions and the people who operate within them.

If you don’t create a story that can pass the Bechdel Test, you’re somehow a misogynist. If men are perceived as somehow subservient to women, you’re a neo-feminist and so on. It’s all bullshit, of course. A convenient way to do the very thing we dislike when other people do it to us, encapsulating all of our complexity into a little box you can then stamp an -ism onto.

As much as we’d like to think its possible, there are some stories and some characters that cannot be converted as easily as The Doctor can. James Bond is one of them. For years, I’ve been hearing how there needs to be a female 007 when Daniel Craig eventually steps down from the role. That a female actor is just as capable of driving an Aston Martin or swigging down a martini as the six male actors who’ve done it.

Only here’s the problem that no one really wants to address: James Bond’s world was built specifically for a man and to alter it to fit a female version would destroy what makes the character interesting in the first place.

James Bond is a misogynistic, self-destructive, sociopathic Alpha male. That is how Ian Fleming created him in the 1950’s and he did so, in no small part, to channel his own Alpha wants and character flaws into an alter ego that could overcome them, because up until his death in 1964, Fleming didn’t. If you strip Bond down and remove those elements of who he is as a character, then as much as you can argue otherwise, he isn’t James Bond anymore.

What makes him compelling and interesting is that despite his more barbarous nature, Bond finds a way to beat that selfish, internal conflict in order to save the world and he’s surrounded by supporting characters who will not suffer his playboy wiles or his misogynist tendencies lightly. We saw that on full display for the 18 years that Dame Judi Dench portrayed Bond’s boss, M and in the character of Ms. Moneypenny, among others.

Were Fleming alive today, I doubt he’d have been able to construct Bond using a similar mold. The world now is far different than it was in the small gap between the end of World War II and the start of the Cold War, when he created 007. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he deserves to be turned into something he was never intended to be in the first place.

Does that mean I don’t think a woman can portray a secret agent/assassin? Of course not. There’s a ton to choose from, from Sydney Bristow in Alias to the Black Widow in the MCU…Charlize Theron is portraying one in Atomic Blonde, and I’ll go see it when it comes out in a few weeks. Why? Because I’m interested and because I can still go enjoy those types of stories and still have good ol’ James Bond to go back to when a new movie comes out down the line.

There is something to be said for challenging conventions and something else for letting those conventions lie. Superman can’t be anyone else than Clark Kent. Batman only works if it’s Bruce Wayne in the cape and cowl, so the writers at DC created both Supergirl and Wonder Woman and done their best to make them independent of their male counterparts and especially in the case of Wonder Woman, they’ve done a better job of translating her from the page into films that appeal to modern audiences.

That, to me, is a good thing and not to be taken lightly. I wouldn’t expect someone to revamp Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to center on Mr. Darcy, no matter how dreamy Colin Firth was. The story is about Elizabeth Bennett and her encounters with Darcy and Darcy’s returned interest in Lizzy. Without that interplay, there’s no story worth following. It’s one thing to spice it up through the addition of zombies. It’s another thing entirely to turn it on its ear to satisfy the egos of one gender at the expense of the other.

I get that switching a beloved character like The Doctor from male to female isn’t going to please everyone. That fans are going to be fickle and pissed off and claim that the BBC and hated PC-crowd has finally killed a once great show. Except a lot of these people are the same ones who were pissed when their favorite actor who played the role left and was replaced with someone they thought they wouldn’t like. It’s been that way since I saw Tom Baker transform into Peter Davison in 1982…and I was all of five years-old at that time.

But when the creators of Doctor Who, in an attempt to keep the show going after William Hartnell was forced to leave the role as the First Doctor in 1966, put in his wonderful ability to regenerate into a totally new person and continue having his wonderful adventures, there was no law that he could only turn into a man.

And besides, Doctor Who was and always will be a show for kids, which those of us lucky enough to have been kids once and watched it, get to enjoy as adults with our kids.

In that regard, girls need avatars and role models to aspire to just as much as boys do. And we boys have had more than 50 years of the Doctor and his TARDIS to play with.

It’s time to let the girls have some fun with it. Personally, I’m looking forward to what that change will bring.

Executive Privilege, or Why I Stopped Caring and Learned to Hate Nike

Obama II’m seeing all over the social media sphere that President Obama is in Portland for the next two days, and to the surprise of nobody given our current political and social discourse, the opinions on it are about what you’d expect.

Downtown Portland is apparently on lockdown for the day and tomorrow, he’ll be heading out to my old stomping grounds in Beaverton and taking a tour of the mighty Swooshland that is Nike, Inc.

Now I don’t have a beef against the President. Full disclosure, I voted for him. Twice. I regret nothing.

I also grew up in the literal shadow of Nike. When I came out to Oregon 25 years ago, the apartment I shared with my dad was less than two blocks from the land which became its current World Campus. I watched all the buildings go up and the pomp and circumstance of its opening in the early 1990’s.

In fact, my brother Patrick and I once took a ride on our bikes over to Nike, Inc, in the weeks before it was christened, and asked if we could try out the bike/running path which encompasses its entire perimeter.

“Not unless you want to get shot at,” the security guard replied to the 14 and 15-year-old boys.

As we weren’t feeling lucky enough to take a chance on their marksmanship skills, we chose instead to go back home.

Over the years I had friends who went on to work for Nike, as their parents worked for Nike, and through them, I heard about the legendary Employee Store. The place where you can go and get their gear for a price more relative to the quality of and cost to manufacture said gear.

i.e. Cheap.

In that same span, I ended up living off the street which leads to the Employee Store, but in all the time I lived in Portland, I never set foot inside it and there were a couple reasons for that.

1.) While I knew people who worked there, I apparently didn’t know the right people as I never got an invite or knew the super-secret handshake.

2.) Being a kid born and bred from the low-income strata and wasn’t able to get out of it despite my ambitions, I wasn’t exactly the bulls-eye for the clientele they wanted to attract.

That said, it was hard not to develop a serious level of envy and disdain for the kids who often showed me the same level of courtesy, because they took for granted what the privilege of having their parents, or a friend’s parents, or whomever it was, got them. Whereas I felt another layer of exclusion and isolation because I obviously wasn’t “cool” enough to ever be considered worthy of stepping into the Sanctum Sanctorum which is the hallowed ground of the Nike Employee Store.

One day, in my early 20’s, I was waiting to catch a bus to take me to school (as I couldn’t afford a car at the time) when a black top-of-the-line Jaguar came bombing down the road where I was standing and pulled over beside me. The window is lowered and three guys about my age are in it, their demeanor of implied superiority reeking like cheap cologne.

“Hey, do you know where the Employee Store is? We can’t find it and we’ve been driving around all day,” the driver asks.

I told them where it was, though in hindsight, I should have told them it moved and was actually in Gresham. No doubt they could’ve afforded the gas to drive there and back. Why they assumed the guy in threadbare jeans, ratty tennis shoes and the longcoat knew where one of the most exclusive boutiques in the world resided is anyone’s guess.

If I sound bitter about this, it’s because in a lot of ways I still am. When you grow up wanting to be a part of the greater society and that society rebukes you at every turn for what is often the most petty and arbitrary of reasons, it’s hard to not be be bitter and be left with a rather large chip on your shoulder.

Now had I been found worthy enough to actually be let into the Nike Employee Store, would it have solved everything? No, of course not. I’m not vain or superficial enough to think that because I wear a pair of shoes with a swoosh on it, I’m somehow better than the next person, (sadly, that puts me in the minority, but that’s also not my problem.)

The thing about privilege is that if you understand what it provides you, then you best learn to respect and appreciate it, because you sure as hell don’t deserve it.

Despite being a lower-class guy, I’m still privy to a whole lot of privileges a lot of other people (men and women included) don’t get, and I appreciate them a whole lot more because in the course of my life, I’ve lost virtually all of those privileges at least once and had to work like mad to get them back.

I haven’t worn or bought a pair of Nike shoes in 25 years, mainly because I could never afford them. I have no doubt the President will walk out of Beaverton with enough Swoosh-swag in tow to fill Air Force One from stem to stern.

That, I suppose, is another privilege of both his office and his stature and more power to him.

If only we were all so fortunate.

Allergy Sneezin’

bigstock-honey-15741704I’ve dealt with allergies for the past 30 years and when my hay fever sets in, it’s a brutal part of my existence. In that span, I’ve tried everything (and I do mean everything) to give me some sense of relief.

Editorial Note: My personal favorite is sticking my head in a bucket of ice water. You can’t sneeze hard enough to throw your back out or displace a rib if you can’t feel your sinuses, I always say.

 

I’ve also been offered every snake oil, holistic, naturalistic and organic “cure” under the sun, by people who do mean well, but have no understanding whatsoever of how allergens interact with the human body.

Why? Because they’re not doctors.

But they might have either found an article or ad on the internet written by a self-proclaimed expert (i.e. Quack) that says it works, so it must be true…

…or else they stayed in a Holiday Inn recently. Take your pick.

One of the most common ones I’ve heard and was told about in the last few years was the idea that eating locally-grown organic honey is like vaccinating yourself against allergies. (I suspect this concept also gives anti-vaxxers conniption fits, but I digress.)

Now, I like honey. I’m a veritable Winnie the Pooh when it comes to honey. But this I know and have known for a long time.

Honey doesn’t work against allergies

Allergies are not like a virus where you can vaccinate yourself with a degraded part of it and POOF!…no more hay fever. I’m not one of those people who is entirely against holistic remedies, but for the great many of us who drew the evolutionary short straw on tolerating pollen, dust, mold and the millions of other allergens which exists out there, the only real remedy has come in the form of a pill, a spray or a shot.

For myself, I always told my friends that I got the benefit of knowing what taking narcotics was like because of the yearly 8-12 week antihistamine benders I had to go simply to get through Spring, without being at risk of getting busted by the cops.

Sure as hell made high school a lot more tolerable, I’ll tell you that right now.

 

Quick Change

Sometimes, its crazy how fast things can go from standing still to a million miles an hour.

Six months ago, I was so desperate to find work that when I got my current job, it came with the need to relocate to the middle of nowhere. Having been in the metropolitan world for most of my life, that was a bit of culture shock in and of itself.

I never expected this to be a permanent or even a long-term stop. I’d get what I needed to get back on my feet and moving forward again, and then move on.

Unbeknownst to me, it looks like that could be happening sooner than I anticipated.

It’s a surreal feeling to go from considered expendable to getting a fair chance and now having someone calling me asking if I’d like to move up to a major media market and being a part of the big time in such a short span of time. It’s not something you really plan for but you always hope it happens.

Now to just wait and see if it does  happen, and then figure out the next move.

Tally Ho.

A Call to Action

There are times where the press is lambasted, and rightly so, for not using the power it has to affect and impact social policy and evolution.

Then there’s times like these when it makes me proud to be a journalist and part of the institution tasked with informing the citizenry of the moments where informed action is not just needed, it’s essential.

CBZFU8uVIAAlJjE

 

 

 

Those Who Do…Teach?

teacher-apple-clipart“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” – George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

I’ve never known until now where that idiom came from and I suppose it also comes with the notion of considering myself teacher material.

That’s not to further degrade teachers, as I know it’s about as thankless a profession as my own. It’s simply more the idea that I never figured I’d wind up being someone in charge of assigning homework or grading exams and test papers.

Part of my beat involves covering education in my current part of the world and after meeting with a class this morning, I went from being a guest, to an impromptu guest speaker, and now have a possibility of becoming an actual teacher, all in about 90 minutes.

It’s a weird and surreal feeling, in no small part, because I don’t have much fondness for school. I was one of those slightly oversmart, undersized and underpopular kids and my classmates never let me forget it.

The more I’ve thought about it today, however, the more intriguing the idea sounds. I still hold the few teachers I connected to in very high esteem and the challenge of becoming someone like that for the next generation is something I find to be a worthwhile one.

It’s way too soon to know if this will even pan out, but I’d be lying if I didn’t think it could turn into something cool.

Tally Ho.

Greetings and Salutations!!

Welcome-designstyle-welcome-mWelcome to my new website!!

It only took 15 years for me to finally hone my internet kung-fu skills enough to attain both my own domain and piece of virtual real estate, so here it is.

The goal is to have a place to post what I’m doing with the novels I’m trying to complete, the photographs I’ll be taking and other things I’ll be coming up with for the rest of the year.

That said, feel free to look around, leave comments, and let me know what you think! Tally Ho!!