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Posts Tagged ‘imaginative fiction’

All I could do was bend over and duck.  –  Lecresha Murray

Here’s another 1960s novelty song recorded by the stars of a hit TV show, in this case Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman of The Avengers.  They’re not really in character, though of course Blackman’s character Cathy Gale was definitely an afficionado of “kinky boots”.  The links above the video were provided by Jesse Walker, Tim Cushing, Brooke Magnanti, Thaddeus Russell, Emma Evans, Cop Crisis, and Mike Siegel, in that order.

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My go-to argument for skepticism about flying saucer sightings (which have been in the news again lately) is as follows: Any technology capable of getting here across interstellar distances would be able to avoid detection.  And if they wanted to be seen, they’d simply hover over New York City or something.  It’s basically the same as my argument against the idea that hypnosis can promote recall of past lives: If the deities or forces that control reincarnation wanted us to remember past lives, we would.  And if they didn’t, the Divine will couldn’t be circumvented by a parlor trick.  See, avoiding detection by radar and the like isn’t that difficult; we already have ideas (and elementary techniques) about how to do it right now.  But people without a background in physics and/or astronomy really don’t grasp just how difficult it is to get from one star to another within any practical timespan.  Popular sci-fi makes it look easy, but it’s incredibly difficult.  Surpassing the sound barrier was mostly a problem of engineering & metallurgy, but surpassing the light barrier is so hard we don’t even have any widely-accepted (by physicists) theory about how it might be done.  Compare the plethora of fictional ideas about what FTL travel might look like (hyperspace, wormholes, tachyons, spacetime folding, etc, etc, ad absurdum) to Renaissance fantasies about going to the Moon; the real thing, when we finally develop it, will probably resemble Star Trek about as closely as a Saturn V resembles a kite towed by birds.  I’m defintely not saying that there are no such thing as alien visitors; what I am saying is that I won’t get excited about it until I’m offered more convincing proof than, “Some jet-jockeys saw lights that appeared to move impossibly fast.”

Incidentally, there’s a reason I say “flying saucers” rather than “UFOs”.  Even when I was a tween (during the ’70s UFO craze) and people asked “Do you believe in UFOs?” I’d answer, “Yes, I believe there are things that fly that those who see them can’t identify.”  At the time, I was still young and impressionable enough to believe in alien visitation, ancient astronauts, the whole schtick.  But even then, I recognized using “Unidentified Flying Object” to mean “definitely an alien spacecraft” was dumb.

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We are quicksilver, a fleeting shadow, a distant sound…our home has no boundaries beyond which we cannot pass. We live in music, in a flash of color…we live on the wind and in the sparkle of a star!
–  Endora (Agnes Moorehead)

A couple of years ago I rewatched Bewitched, a show I always enjoyed in my youth but hadn’t seen since the early ’80s.  I’ve always thought Elizabeth Montgomery was an excellent actress, but this time the magic of cannabis (which slows down my hyperactive nervous system so that I can really watch these shows in a way I’ve never been able to before) opened my eyes to just how talented she really was; she could convey so much with just her facial expressions and vocal manner, and her comedic timing was brilliant.  But beyond that, I saw aspects of the show itself that were previously opaque to me.  I’ve always recognized that many of the episodes are veiled commentaries on racism and other forms of bigotry; that was typical of the 1960s, when fantasy and science fiction shows could sneak controversial issues past uptight sponsors and network censors by disguising them as the stuff of alien worlds or magical happenings.  When Samantha angrily denounced ugly witch stereotypes or mortals’ fear of those who are different, the perceptive viewer understood what the show was really saying.  As I grew older, I realized that there was also a more-deeply-buried queer subtext which was too radical even for most contemporary viewers who thought of themselves as liberal:  beside the fact that several of the principals were played by gay men, Samantha had to hide her true nature in order to exist in the judgmental mortal world, and only in the company of other witches could she really be herself.  Furthermore, those mortals were willing to hunt, persecute and even burn those like her merely because they were different.  But queer people weren’t the only sexual minority violently persecuted and actively hunted by 20th-century puritans; while I’m sure it was unintentional, sex workers can also see ourselves reflected in this magic mirror.

When I last watched the show, in my late teens or very early twenties, I naturally identified most with Samantha.  But on this rewatch, I found myself identifying with her mother, Endora, due in part to her age, in part to her unique personal style, and in part to her attitude toward her daughter’s marriage.  I’m old enough to have a daughter in her twenties or early thirties, and I can certainly understand how I’d feel if she married a man I thought wasn’t good enough for her.  But it goes beyond that: the association between sex work and witchcraft is a very old one, and even today many sex workers metaphorically describe our work as “magic” (not to mention the many sex workers who actually do specifically practice witchcraft, though obviously not the fantasy TV variety).  Endora’s chief gripe with her son-in-law isn’t really that he’s mortal; it’s that he wants to rob her beloved daughter of her birthright by forcing her to eschew magic and submit to mortal drudgery.  And every time I heard her say this to Samantha (in quite a few episodes), I imagined how I would feel if my beautiful daughter gave up a successful career in sex work to marry a “dumbo” who demanded she renounce her heritage, shun her whore friends, and work a shitty square job when she could make far more with far less effort by doing what she’s good at instead of letting herself be limited to behavior that doesn’t make dreary, unimaginative authoritarians uncomfortable.

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As I pointed out yesterday, there are now a lot more sex workers writing articles debunking prohibitionist propaganda, sharing the truths of our lives with those outside the demimonde, and making powerful arguments in favor of decriminalization.  Eleven years ago, that wasn’t the case; while I certainly wasn’t the only one writing, there were few enough of us that I felt very driven, knowing that my words were helping a lot of people understand that which our enemies don’t want them to understand: that sex workers are as diverse as any other social group and have real lives rather than being the cartoon victims or villain of prohibitionists’ sick sexual fantasies.  Since Day One of this blog my primary intended audience has always been the general public; I’ve always been more interested in humanizing and destigmatizing sex workers in the minds of that public instead of preaching to the choir, which is why I’ve never felt any compulsion to restrict my topics to those of interest to activists.  And now that the heavy lifting is spread out among a far larger number of far younger shoulders than mine, I think it’s time to broaden my focus even more.  Some of you may have noticed it already: I’m ignoring news stories that feel too repetitive, and there are now too many good sex worker articles for me to call attention to them all.  And I’m using the time and energy I save to write about stuff that’s interesting to me, like philosophy, construction projects at Sunset, and science fiction shows.  But that doesn’t mean I’m abandoning my mission; I’m just going about it a different way.  Instead of merely telling outsiders that sex workers are regular folks, I’m showing them instead.  And I don’t plan to stop doing that anytime soon.

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Every fictional universe has some set of stories and story-elements which are considered canonical while others are not.  Generally, most of the stories produced or authorized by the copyright holders are considered canon, while fan stories are not; however, in some circumstances some stories and plot development which were once “official” are later quietly disregarded (usually because they cause too many continuity problems, like the ridiculous “Warp 5 speed limit” introduced in a latter-season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and promptly ignored by every other writer).  But it’s not at all unusual for fans of a sci-fi or fantasy series to also have a “head canon”, a set of stories and elements that they consider “official” in their own internal picture of that universe, which is separate from whatever the corporate owners might declare.  Such mental structures allow the fan to include or exclude elements which might affect his willing suspension of disbelief or otherwise alter his appreciation of the imaginary world.  For me, one of those elements is chronology; for example, I have absolutely no tolerance for the loosey-goosey sliding past of comic books, in which superheroes always stay the same age for decades and their origins keep changing to suit a contemporary framework.  So whenever I read or watch a series, it’s important for me to keep a timeline (on a notepad or computer file if it’s too complex to organize in my head) so that I can keep track of the order in which things happen, how long it was from x event to y, and so on.  That’s why I especially appreciate shows like Babylon 5 and novels like The Lord of the Rings, in which the creator maintains a close watch on dates and sequences of events, and characters age and change as they do in the real world; when the person or persons in charge don’t pay attention or even blatantly disregard such recordkeeping, this is what my head does.  So I think we can all agree that it would just be better if everyone plotted their stories with a calendar handy, so as to save Maggie’s brain all that extra work.

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You’re fixin’ to ride the lightning.  –  “Officer” Joe Gutierrez

If Western culture emphasized composer over performer in popular music as it does with orchestral music, Jim Steinman would be recognized as one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century.  In honor of his passing, here’s a video of the one hit he had as a performer; compare and contrast with Meat Loaf performing the same song a little over a decade later.  The links above the video were provided by Lucy Steigerwald, Franklin Harris, Tim Cushing, Jesse Walker, Cop Crisis, Radley Balko, and Nun Ya, in that order.

From the Archives

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What is it going to take to get all of this to go away?
–  “officer” Josh Barlow’s swineherd, to his victim

It isn’t often that I see a good short film nowadays, much less a good sci-fi short, but this one is a masterclass in what one can do with a small budget and some excellent writing.  It was provided by Mike Siegel, and the links above it by President Dawg, Jesse Walker, Dave Krueger, Franklin Harris, and Cop Crisis (x3), in that order.

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Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil.  Usually the strength of a mass movement is proportionate to the vividness and tangibility of its devil.  –  Eric Hoffer

To paraphrase Baudelaire, the loveliest trick of religion is to convince people that the Devil exists.  Humans have never been fond of admitting blame for anything, but when someone is caught red-handed committing some evil and therefore cannot blame any other human, the truly devout buck-passer blames an invisible, intangible, supernatural force.  Authoritarians, too, love their devils; what better way to convince the Great Unwashed to render their obedience and surrender their liberty than to convince them of the existence of super-powerful evil spirits who cannot be stopped except by whatever snake oil those authoritarians are selling?  Over the past couple of centuries, belief in actual anthropomorphic deities of evil has slowly been replaced by belief in more tangible devils such as “criminals”, “terrorists”, “pimps”, and “people who vote differently than I do”, but as we head into a new dark age belief in a literal red guy with horns, hooves, a tail and a pitchfork has once again become popular in the Underdeveloped States of America.  The occult boom of the early ’70s (heralded by movies like The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby) paved the way for the Satanic panic of the ’80s and early ’90s, which after an implosion around 1994 soon returned as the “sex trafficking” hysteria; its roots in the older, more openly-religious hysteria are clearly visible in its QAnon branch and in persistent nonsense about the supposed magical powers of “pimps”.  And every so often, people whose entire understanding of how the universe works could be crammed into a chicken’s brain pan and still leave room for a politician’s moral compass, shit all over themselves because some musician employs “Satanic” imagery comparable in sophistication to that in a US television show from the 1950s.  Every society has throwbacks like this; the difference is that in America, we pretend they’re adults and let them decide who’s going to run things.

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Diary #561

Whenever a person expresses surprise upon discovering that I’m a colossal nerd, I have to wonder if they’ve actually been paying attention for the past decade.  I mean, it isn’t like I’ve made any effort to hide it; I made a Star Trek reference in my very first column, and I have frequently mentioned sci-fi stories and TV shows, comic books, horror movies, Dungeons and Dragons, and many other nerdy things here, on Twitter, and in real life (this column was inspired by my glancing up at the tiny Dalek atop my desk).  And really, it’s important that I and other “out” sex workers not hide our nerdiness (or academic brilliance, or any other trait not generally associated with hot chicks), because showing the world what we’re really like makes it harder for prohibitionists to depict us as two-dimensional victims, vixens, or villains.  Social media does a lot more for sex workers than act as a vehicle for marketing; it allows people who might never have thought much about sex worker rights to recognize us as real, complex human beings like themelves, worthy of rights and respect.  And if Maggie Fucking McNeill can admit to owning enough stuffed animals to fill a good-sized display case, I doubt it will hurt your business to ‘fess up to writing Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfic.

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Most of my regular readers know that I stay pretty busy all the time, and that it’s difficult to get my brain to slow down.  I can’t just say “I’m going to relax and watch TV tonight” as most people can; my inner nun starts guilt-tripping me about idleness and all the stuff I need to accomplish, and if I could even get past the string of compulsions sometime before 10 PM (“I’ll relax right after I wash these clothes.  Oh wait, let me do the dishes.  Damn, I didn’t answer those emails.  I have to remember to pay my taxes too.”) I’d still be overwhelmed by feelings of guilt.  I’ve grown better at it over the past three years, but it’s still so difficult that such downtime is extremely precious to me; accordingly, like hard-earned money, I don’t want to waste it on just any old thing.  Imagine you were in a restaurant, but only had a little cash and were quite hungry; would you order something you’ve never heard of before and had no idea whether you’d like?  Or would you order a dish that you had eaten before and knew was both delicious and filling?  If you’re anything like me, the answer is obvious.  That’s why I’m not really interested in trying out new television shows unless they’re short, highly-recommended and part of a social experience with a friend or friends; even if I don’t end up liking the show, I only used a few hours and I enjoyed the social experience anyway.  No, if I really want to relax, I go with old favorites I’ve seen before, especially if I’ve never seen all the episodes or it’s been so long since I’ve seen them it’s almost like watching something new (except I know I’m going to enjoy them).  Shows like that are like old friends; since I know what to expect, I won’t be disappointed.  And in a life that has been burdened with far too many disappointments and far too little comfort, the best surprise (as the old commercial said) is no surprise.

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