Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Ethics of Absolute Pleasure

Ever since I first watched it as a teenager, I've been a huge fan of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I've seen it countless times, both in the privacy of my own home and in movie theaters complete with audience participation. I was even a cast member in a local theater production during high school--just in the chorus, but it was still a blast.

So when I heard that Fox was going to do a television remake of Rocky Horror for the 40th anniversary, I thought that it was a terrible idea. The cheap set, the tacky costumes, Tim Curry's ridiculous face--you can't beat that. A remake could only be worse.

Until I heard who had won the coveted role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter: Laverne Cox! Suddenly I was enthusiastic about the idea. If they simply hired someone to do a poor impression of Tim Curry, the whole thing would be a mess. But casting a woman is a fantastic move; there's no doubt in my mind that Ms. Cox will take it in a direction all her own.

Ah, but then Facebook pointed me to this Tumblr post. In it, the author makes a point that I hadn't considered, but it's completely valid, and we should all be worried about it: that if Laverne Cox, a transgender actress, takes the role of Frank, it will only confirm in people's minds the awful stereotype that trans women are nothing more than crossdressing men. Society already perpetuates so many harmful misconceptions about transgender people that, depending on the popularity of the remake, this could be a blow to transgender activism.

But that's not the part of her post I want to talk about--that point speaks for itself. It's this paragraph I want to address: "Dr. Frank-N-Furter is not an example of positive queer representation. He is a ton of shitty, old-fashioned queer exploitation stereotypes mashed into a single character. He’s a vampy, cruel, selfish, abusive, violent murderer and rapist. Y’all, he rapes people and keeps sex slaves. Not a role model."

Just to be clear: I 100% agree with this point. Couldn't have said it better. Dr. Frank-N-Furter is an extremely poor example of a queer character, and he's undeniably a villain. The thing I take issue with is that the movie never tries to suggest that he's not a villain.

True, Frank is presented more as an anti-hero rather than an obvious villain. Much like his pseudo-namesake, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, some part of us is supposed to be lured in by his quest for absolute pleasure, just as we are lured in by Frankenstein's quest to defy death. However, we also recognize that both quests are impossible, and we understand that the doctors' refusal to acknowledge the impossibility of their quests is what erodes their sanity and leads them to do disgusting, horrific things. As campy as it is, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a cautionary tale: absolute pleasure leads to absolute destruction. In the name of pleasure, Dr. Frank-N-Furter abuses, rapes, and kills, and in the end, he pays the ultimate price: Riff Raff, a longtime victim of his crazed master's ill-treatment, shoots him with a laser beam.

We could debate the ethics of anti-heroes, about whether it's ever appropriate to enjoy stories about villains. But personally, I think it is appropriate. If we can't enjoy Dr. Frank-N-Furter, then we also can't enjoy Victor Frankenstein, or Erik from The Phantom of the Opera, or Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or basically anyone from Game of Thrones. I think that audiences are intelligent enough to recognize the errors of these characters' ways. We can appreciate their stories and personalities while at the same time understanding that their villainous acts are in no way justified.

If you're interested, Internet, I would love to open a dialogue about this. I am aware that I could be wrong. I have been wrong about things in the past, and I'm certain that I will continue to be wrong about some things in the future. It's entirely possible that I am too blinded by my love of The Rocky Horror Picture Show to adequately consider its faults, so I would be grateful to hear your thoughts on the subject. And really, what better subject could there be for a Halloween debate?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


I had a shocking realization this afternoon: unless I go on to get a creative writing PhD someday, the class I attended this evening may the the last time my writing is ever formally workshopped.

How can this be? It was only slightly over two years ago that my writing was workshopped for the first time (I never took any creative writing courses as an undergraduate), and now it may never be again. Well, that's not entirely true. I'm sure there are many informal workshops in my future. I do still have friends, after all. It's not like I have to go sequester myself and become a hermit now.

But still.

Fortunately, workshop went very well. I couldn't have asked for a better last workshop, honestly. I received a great deal of astute feedback, and quite a few compliments to boot. And I'll still be in workshop critiquing my classmates' pieces for a few months yet. Nevertheless, I felt that this momentous and bittersweet occasion was deserving of its own blog entry.

Cue the sappy music of your choice.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Why hello there...

Sorry for the long silence. I'm happy to report that midterms week is finally over. Not that I had to take any tests, but I did have to grade 50 student papers and submit their grades to the department, along with submitting my own work to workshop again, and on top of all that my car broke down. (It's fixed now.) On the bright side, all that stress seems to have shoved my brain out of the hypochondriac anxiety mode in which it had been stuck for a few weeks. Feeling a lot better in general.

My last few posts have been downers, so let's take a look at some good things that have happened:

I watched Father John Misty play on the roof of The Cosmopolitan! If you're familiar with Father John Misty's work, and you're thinking that Las Vegas is a strange setting for his music, you would be 100% correct. He was all sarcasm, and upon spying Britney Spears' face plastered over the Planet Hollywood casino across the street, he promptly challenged her to a singing duel. This was the third time I'd seen him in concert, though the only time I'd not seen him in Chicago. He continues to be a wonderful live performer.

I attended a board game party! We played no board games--only card games (Bang!, specifically) and a mini-RPG titled Actual Cannibal Shia Laboeuf, which is exactly what it sounds like.

I went to the Vegas Valley Book Festival!  Sat in on Olivia's panel and Maile's panel, saw popular Nevada writer Claire Vaye Watkins and the famous Irish writer Colum McCann. Took lots of notes.

I booked a plane ticket to see Leta in November! Last year's wintry visit to Denver was so magnificent that I couldn't resist a sequel. Plus I found a super cheap ticket.

I delighted in the multiple thunderstorms and not-so-thundery-storms that have watered Las Vegas for the past few days. At this point I wouldn't mind if it rained for a month--I miss weather. But I think we're back to sunshine now, with much cooler temperatures, thank goodness.

Life has been good, but it has been busy. I'm very excited for next weekend, when I have exactly zero plans. I'm going to WRITE THINGS. What a drastic change of pace.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Sweet Sight of Publication

Many of you probably already know this via Facebook, but on Monday my flash fiction story "Radioactive Teeth" was published by Paper Darts, a fantastic art and literary journal out of Minneapolis. They have artists illustrate each of the stories they publish, so now there's a painting to go along with my words. The story was a finalist for Paper Darts' Short Fiction Award, and I'm so honored they chose it. I really believed in this one--I knew it would make it someday.

Monday was an especially good day for publication, too, because I've been having a rough week. I thought the panic attack I had upon my return from Chicago was bad, but then a few days a later I had an even worse attack--so bad I went to the Student Health Center so they could confirm that lunacy was the only thing wrong with me. I have to say, the Student Health services at UNLV are top-notch. They didn't treat me like I was losing my mind at all. They took me seriously, listened to my concerns, did what they could for me, and even called on Monday to follow up. I tip my metaphorical hat to them.

I think I'm finally calming down from last week (maybe, hopefully--I don't want to jinx it). It was so frustrating, not only because panic is essentially the worst feeling in the entire world, but also because I'd been doing so well for so long. I hadn't had a real panic attack since last Christmas. But this new bout with severe anxiety has encouraged me to redouble my efforts to deal with it. I'm finally going through that anxiety workbook I purchased long ago, I finally made an appointment with a gastroenterologist to address my long-term stomach problems (fewer bad feelings in my body means less hypochondria for me), and I think I'm finally going to try to find a therapist that can see me consistently (you can only get so many sessions at the Student Health Center).

The point is, it was so wonderful to see my story published on Monday, because it served as a reminder that sometimes my brain does good things instead of stupid things. I look forward to better taking care of my brain so that it can continue to produce good things in the future.