Since I skipped yesterday’s #ThrowbackThursday post due to my newly-written post on Derek Jeter, I’m doing this instead this week, in my continued effort to migrate some of my old Facebook writing to this blog. Original post was from February 21st 2010, during my freshman year of college.
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This week’s Creative Writing assignment involved writing a “How-To.” Rules: must be in second person, must include 4 lines of dialogue, must be based on a starter given by the teacher, one of which is “How to grow your own_______.” I think it’s supposed to be in story form, but it’s not. Sue me.
How to Grow Your Very Own Nerd
If you are reading this manual, you are almost certainly a nerd, interested in raising a child to be every bit as socially incompetent as yourself — an admirable aspiration. Given this fact, it is probably best to begin, gently, with a caveat that no nerd wants to hear: This is not an exact science. Surely that statement makes you want to tear your nerdy hair out and rant and rave that “Yes, it can be broken down into neat little categories with clever little labels! It can and it must!” But never fear. There are some basics you should follow, and when the going gets tough, just remember: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one.”
That quote actually has nothing whatsoever to do with the topic at hand, but it does tend to sound quite knowing and impressive in almost any situation. Like, “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Absolutely useless in normal conversation, but still deliciously quotable. Lines any nerd should know.
Which is as good a place as any to start.
Tip #1: Show the little guy some movies. Make that, lots and lots of movies. Quote your favorite lines to him until he starts quoting them back or threatens to bash your head in with a rock. Don’t panic that he’s too young for grown-up nerd movie lines — Toy Story’s “YOU are a child’s PLAYTHING!!” and The Lion King’s “They call me MISTER pig!” will suffice until he’s old enough for the real stuff.
Tip #2: Get him obsessed with things. True mark of nerdery is obsession. You know exactly what I’m talking about — math nerd, science nerd, movie nerd . . . It doesn’t matter which one, the approach is the same: It’s your field. Know it inside and out. Master it. Get it right.
Tip #2 Corollary: Fandom of some kind is, ultimately, negotiable. While some are considered fairly universal—Star Trek and Star Wars, for instance, and don’t mix them up; BIG rookie mistake—none are absolute. It is possible to be a nerd without fandom, because nerdiness at its core is an attitude, a mindset. But if you wish to cultivate a household where the terms “mostly dead” and “flux capaciter” are as familiar as “Mom” and “Dad,” then you should cover your bases. Recommendations: “Firefly,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and “Angel,” for starters. Teaching him the axiom “Joss Whedon is the second coming” would be a plus. Also, steer clear of Twilight at all costs. The additional axiom of “Stephenie Meyer sucked all the awesome out of the vampire genre” would not go amiss.
Tip #3: Raise him on British humor. For some inexplicable reason, not everyone appreciates it, so best to start young. Recommendations: Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and The Princess Bride (honorary British).
Tip #4: Make sure the first songs he learns are useful, like the Animaniacs’ Presidents and capital cities songs. No need to pressure him into learning Klingon, but if you’ve got some instructional tapes or CDs lying around, pop ‘em in once in a while. Because, you know, nerds are smart.
Tip #5: When it comes time for him to start attending birthday parties, allow him to choose the gift he will give. It’s important for your kid to have an illusion of control. But make sure the wrapping paper he uses is the kind that says on it “Happy Birthday!” in every conceivable language including binary and hexadecimal, and teach him that this is the epitome of cool.
Tip #6: Be aware that he may notice that he is not like the other children. Learn to respond to such ridiculous sentiments as: “But everyone else in my nursery school watches Barney!” with a firm, “Yes, but can any of them carry on a conversation about Heisenberg Compensators with a fully-grown adult?”
Tip #7: Lastly, it is good for your child to have some intersecting points of interest with non-nerds, i.e. the common folk. It is perfectly all right to introduce the kid to sports, but remember — obsession is key. Before he’s big enough to play anything, be sure that he knows the history, famous players, records, and names of statistics of his chosen sport. Some nerd elitists may scoff, but in my highly informed opinion, “sports nerd” is a worthy subcategory for a nerd in the modern world.
Well, there you have it. 7 handy-dandy tips and 1 corollary to get you started on growing your very own nerd who will, if all goes right, be unable to get a date to save his life. Good luck to you. Live long and prosper.
Keeping this review fairly spoiler free so that people who haven’t seen the show can read it and hopefully join in our madness.
Commissioned post: 3 of 8 so far.
An anonymous donor donated anonymously, as anonymous donors are wont to do, and requested that I review any episode of any Whedonverse show — i.e., any television by the renowned nerd-cult-leader-gone-mainstream-because-Avengers, Joss Whedon.
Well, as you may know, that doesn’t narrow things down much. I could choose from Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, or even Doctor Horrible (Agents of SHIELD doesn’t count), which all add up to approximately a bazillion episodes. Somehow I decided I wanted to do Dollhouse because I think it was the least popular of all the Whedonverse shows, and I have a curiosity about unpopular things made by brilliant people, and also because I really liked a lot of Dollhouse when I watched it years back. I don’t remember all that many of the specifics, but there are very vivid plot points and character moments that I do recall, and to me, television is often more about the moments than about the overall picture, so if a show has that many moments that have stuck with me for this long, it counts as a good show in my book.
I know that a lot of people couldn’t stomach it because of the consistent theme of sex trafficking and issues of consent, but for some reason that never bothered me in a visceral way when I saw the show, so I always found it more fascinating than disgusting or disturbing. And I’m pretty sure people complained that they found certain leaps in the show’s logic to be irritating and unrealistic, but again, not a problem that usually bothered me. And even if it had, the awesomeness that is Enver Gjokaj would have outweighed it ALL.
I’m going to do this review in two parts: first a little background on the first time I saw this episode and what I especially liked, and then I’m gonna watch the episode again, see if it lives up to my nostalgia, and write part two. This is my blog, so I can do that if wanna.
I first saw the Dollhouse pilot during the year I spent in Israel between high school and college in 2008-2009, when I went to visit my brother for the weekend in Yeshivat Har Etzion (aka Gush). On Saturday night we ordered Burgers Bar hamburgers (I think it was the only time I had Burgers Bar the entire year) and he sat me down in his dorm room to watch this new show he’d seen, refusing to tell me what it was about. I was confused for exactly as long as the show wanted me to be confused before it revealed its premise: the Dollhouse is an establishment that wipes people’s personalities and reprograms these “dolls” to whatever specifications their insanely wealthy clients request — a lover, a companion, a weapons expert, a master negotiator, etc. (This is where the logic complaints came in — “If you have the oodles of money necessary in this fictional universe to buy a reprogrammed human doll, why would you do that instead of paying for a real weapons expert, master negotiator, etc?” Which, fair point. But we’ll ignore that because PLOT.)
For me, what sticks with me and what sold me on this show was one particular exchange: I don’t remember the wording, but when Echo (the main character doll played by Eliza Dushku) is programmed to be the aforementioned master negotiator, one of the characters asks Topher, the amoral genius programmer of the Dollhouse, “Why does she need glasses?” Topher had programmed her persona, Eleanor Penn, to have worse vision than Echo actually has — and he explains that the poor eyesight was necessary, in order to give her reprogrammed personality its edge. According to Topher, excellence must be balanced with flaws and imperfections, and people who have to work harder to overcome inherent disadvantages in themselves and their lives are therefore stronger, more driven, more successful, so he couldn’t just make Eleanor Penn this brilliant negotiator with no inherent flaws because the personality just wouldn’t work. (He also gave her asthma. Thanks a bunch, Topher.)
I know that this is basically pop psychology at its finest, but I think it’s ingenious and I loved it. I love it. It told me right away that this show was going to be an exploration of the human condition and the nature of what makes us who we are, and that’s all I needed to know.
I’m not going to go into more detail about the plot or what else I remember because that’ll be covered in part two. Now I’m gonna go find my brother so we can rewatch it together. Symmetry.
Well, that was even better than I remembered.
It was a very interesting experience the second time around, because, having seen the entire show, I know the arcs of each character and who is a traitor and who is not what they appear to be and what certain seeds lead to down the road. That adds a whole new layer to the viewing, which of course could not be there for anyone watching the pilot as it was meant to be watched: as an intro to this world, with no knowledge of what’s to come. And it also confirmed for me that one particular twist was in no way planned from the start and was pulled out of the writers’ butts near the end of the series just because. But a lot of the other ones were set up from this very first episode, which is nifty. So if you like shows with an overall arc, rest assured that this one has that — but it starts to really get going about five or six episodes into the season, which may be why some people who shall remain nameless but not blameless got impatient and stopped watching.
I’m not going to talk about the arc plot or the plot of the pilot because spoilers, and besides, almost all episodes of Whedonverse shows have decent, well-paced central plots and that’s not what makes them great or less great — the characters and the dialogue do that. And I think this was an excellent pilot in that regard, because something interesting was being said in just about every scene. And even the scene which introduces the FBI Agent Paul Ballard, which I remembered as being weird because it crosscuts between a conversation he’s having with his bosses and some random boxing fight that has zero plot relevance, but upon a second viewing, it was pretty emotionally effective in communicating the beats of that conversation and Ballard’s ultimate intentions.
Eliza Dushku did a very good job in this episode, I thought. Echo is an incredibly challenging role, and over the course of the show’s run, I didn’t always feel like Dushku was up to that challenge because she doesn’t always completely disappear into her multiple character personas the way other actors on the show do, like Enver Gjokaj and Dichen Lachman. Those two are fantastic. (I don’t know if this is a politically correct thing to say, but sometimes I wonder if it’s because as a white person, I am not as used to reading faces of people who are very visibly of certain other ethnicities, so their characters seem more distinct to me and I don’t notice common tics between the different personas the way I might with a whiter-looking person. But mostly Gjokaj and Lachman are just insanely talented and chameleonic actors, and Dushku is slightly less so.) Either way, the slight cracks in her performance don’t start to show until future episodes, and she was very solid here.
As I suspected, the characters played by Gjokaj and Lachman don’t get all that much to do in the pilot, and the major character played by Miracle Laurie (who is fantastically talented and gorgeous and also happens to be bigger than a size zero) wasn’t in the pilot at all. And Amy Acker WAS in the pilot but her role was so small that I almost forgot about her. Which is to say that as good as this pilot is — and it is good and you should totally watch it if you haven’t seen it and if you have, you should rewatch it because it’s worth it — as good as the pilot is, the show gets even better as it goes.
Commissioned post count: 2 out of 8 requests so far.
Elissa G. donated and requested that I write about my opinion on “an individual’s responsibility to his/her community. For example, a person may not commit “X” crime, but by not speaking up and being proactive to change things, that person may be silently contributing to an environment in which “X” crime is considered an accepted thing. What can/should an individual do to take responsibility for bad things in his/her environment? How far does the responsibility reach?”
She acknowledges that this is a seriously broad topic, but I’ve elected not to have her narrow it down so that I can just write whatever I want. And since this post got away from me a bit, it’s going to be a two-parter. Brace yourselves.
I’ve decided to start this impossibly broad discussion with 4 instances where I encountered sexism, to varying degrees, and did nothing about it. (I’m defining sexism here as roughly: “degrading or demeaning remarks and/or actions toward a woman or women that probably would not be said or done to men.” I am not addressing thoughts because I am not the thought police. Your thoughts are yours to deal with.)
Incident #1: Degree: pretty minor.
Dragon*Con. September 2013. Waiting in line to see George Takei speak. (I was number 976 on the line, fyi. And it’s not like there was no other major panel going on; I’m pretty sure William Shatner was speaking in the same time slot. He had a different line. The lines wrapped around several blocks, crossing each other a couple of times which was in no way confusing.)
As one is wont to do while waiting on an infinite line at Dragon*Con, I struck up a conversation with my line-neighbor. I don’t recall exactly what we talked about, aside from basic fandom affinities and speculation about his odd accent (he was from Georgia [the state, not the country] but his accent was a bizarre mix of US southern and some kind of British or possibly Australian and even he didn’t know where it came from). He was a big man, probably in his 40s and I was probably a head and shoulders shorter than him and maybe a third of his width, but he seemed perfectly nice and non-threatening, albeit not terribly well-educated despite the accent.
Anyway, at one point, he asked me what I was dressed as. For reference, here’s what I was wearing that day:
(The shirt is blue, by the way. For some reason it looks black here. Oh well.)
I told him it wasn’t actually a costume; I’d just had a bunch of weddings to attend over the summer and bought a bunch of cheap ballgowny-type dresses and now was wearing them all in succession on the 4 days of Dragon*Con. Because as every Con-goer knows, even an unseasoned Con-goer such as myself, fandom is the only place where you never have to ask: “But when would I wear that?”
“But,” I added, “I figured that if anyone asked, I could just tell them I’m Inara from Firefly.”
“The whore!” he exclaimed.
“Companion,” I corrected, using the Firefly term for Inara’s job.
“The whore!” he repeated loudly, oblivious. “You’re the whore! I knew it! As soon you said you said you liked Joss Whedon shows, I was thinking, ‘She’s the whore!’”
I didn’t object again, or say anything about how “whore” is an extremely disrespectful and derogatory word (as is discussed within the show itself) and if he absolutely must, I’d prefer to be called “space prostitute” because SPAAAACE, and I didn’t say that using words like that to refer to people, fictional or otherwise, contributes to slut-shaming, also violence against sex workers, rape culture, etc etc. I knew that a) he didn’t mean it maliciously and b) someone who very loudly refers to a young woman as a whore in front of an infinite line of people is probably not self-aware enough to bother with nuances of word usage.
So I shrugged and changed the subject.
Incident #2: Degree: a bit worse, I think?
Brooklyn College Radio station. Sometime in 2013. Horsing around by the computer nook outside the sound studios with some of the other radio people, waiting for our turns to go on the air.
I confess, I don’t remember the conversation leading up to this at all, but there were three girls there, including me, and one guy. Everyone was bantering and joking around, and for some reason the guy returned a remark made by one of the girls with something like, “Oh, you know it, sugar-tits.”
The girl just kind of made an incredulous noise and said in disbelief, “Did you just call me sugar-tits?!”
And the guy, who looked sort of embarrassed and was not quite looking her in the eye because even he knew that that kind of comment was not warranted in this semi-professional setting or in this totally non-sexual conversation, laughed and slapped his knee, “yeah, yeah, I did.”
And of course I knew that going off on some kind of feminist rant was absolutely not what the situation needed and would just make everybody involved even more uncomfortable, plus I was relatively new to the radio station and did not need to get a reputation as a humorless feminazi, plus the guy was higher on the authority totem pole than I was and was actually mostly responsible for me even interning on my show in the first place, so I just said, “Hey, if anybody’s the sugar-tits around here, it’s me.” Because, well, yeah. And if I couldn’t properly defend the other girl from that kind of attention (which was clearly uncomfortable for her even though she tried not to show it), at least I could take the focus off her and package it in a way that gave me some control over it. And thus began an argument between us girls wherein we debated who was the true sugar-tits in the room while the guy just sat there in his shame.
But no, I did not call him out on it.
Incident #3: Degree: A bit worse than #3, owing to slightly greater power imbalances and potential safety concerns.
Heading home the afternoon after enrolling in the automotive school you may have heard me talk about. May 2014. I was semi-lost in an unfamiliar neighborhood, trying to find the bus I needed to transfer to because holy moly are there a lot of buses in that area and none of them were mine.
Walking just ahead of me down a street lined with little shops was this tall, gorgeous African American girl. She was wearing high heels, blue ones with studs, the kind of shoes that look more like a sculpture or work of abstract art than actual functional shoes, but she was walking in them so they were clearly impressively functional.
They also caused her already impressively-shaped backside to jiggle quite noticeably as she walked, although it should be noted that that probably would have happened regardless of her shoes because anatomy + physics. None of her clothes were in the least suggestive, by the way — she was wearing a fairly high-necked white t-shirt and light blue skirt that went past her knees, but like I said, she was hot stuff and it looked great on her.
As we walked by, there were, of course, catcalls and wolf-whistles and “Would you look at THAT, I like THAT”s from the peanut gallery, by which I mean the boys on the street, and narcissist though I am, I knew that for once they weren’t catcalling me. It was broad daylight so nothing was going to happen beyond catcalling, but if the same thing had happened at night, yikes.
The girl didn’t even seem to notice or hear them at all, but once we were out of earshot, I felt compelled to say something dignity-affirming to her, something to make her feel like more than just a piece of meat. So I turned to her and said, “Those shoes are awesome,” because they were, and (tip to those who don’t know) complimenting a girl’s clothes or shoes isn’t usually objectifying because what you’re really complimenting is the fact that she has good taste.
“Thanks!” she said with a smile, and I grinned back, and, both of us smiling, we went our separate ways.
But no, I didn’t say a thing to those boys.
Incident #4: Degree: Depends who you ask.
Monsey. The weekend before a cousin’s wedding. About a month ago. We were visiting the very religious and somewhat isolated enclave where my cousins live. It was what we call an “aufruf,” a huge get-together of extended family and friends giving the groom one last send-off into married life.
My cousin, the groom, asked me to speak. I was shocked, because public speaking by women in front of men is not done in this community; women don’t even sit with men at the formal meals. Sometimes they even go so far as to have separate tables with a divider between the men’s section and the women’s section. This includes separation of husbands and wives as well as brothers and sisters, by the way. I had of course not prepared a speech, but the prospect of giving one was exciting and I felt honored.
But when I told my mother, she urged me not to speak, on the grounds that it would not be well-received by this particular community and would make them uncomfortable at having their accepted norms violated. I knew she was right, and rather than make a fuss, I told my cousin that I would write up a speech for him and post it on facebook for him. After all, it was their community that was welcoming us and their community’s hospitality that we were enjoying, and it would have been obnoxious to rock the boat and thumb my nose at their customs. Even though I strongly disagree with those customs and do think that they can ultimately be harmful to young girls and their self image, as well as the ways in which they relate to men and men relate to them. That was not the place to get up on a soapbox and make a nuisance of myself. No one would have listened, anyway.
[Postscript: We wound up hosting one of the post-wedding celebration meals at my house, where men and women sat together, and I spoke there. The speech was very well-received; it got a lot of laughs and several people came up to me afterward to tell me what a great speech it was. Huzzah!]
My point in giving you all these stories is simply this: Standing up for what you believe is right is complicated.
There is no blueprint on how and when to do it. Every situation is different, with its own unique set of calculations. There are concerns involving safety, practicality, receptiveness of the listeners, and so on. Often you have to decide whether it’s worth it to stand up for something on principle, or if you should choose your battles carefully and pick spots where your standing up will actually have a chance at having an impact. If you go full throttle on every little thing, no one takes you seriously.
This is an issue with Jezebel — while I applaud many of their efforts to point out sexism and social injustice and often agree with them, and I am absolutely glad that someone is doing that, I also know that many people tune them out because they’ve become white noise, blaring at a constant volume. So I don’t have to be Jezebel; I try to add a different voice and not take vocal umbrage at all injustice. Because hey, the world is full of injustice and being upset about all of it all the time is just too much, and I don’t think that anyone should feel responsible for doing that or for fixing all of it.
You do the best you can and don’t beat yourself up for not doing more. That’s all I got.
There are other aspects of communal responsibility that I want to talk about, but they will have to wait until Part 2.
To be fair, I’m hardly a seasoned theater-goer, but I have gone to a few plays, including last year’s Shakespeare in the Park performance of “Into The Woods,” “West Side Story” on Broadway, an excellent off-Broadway production of “Our Town,” and 3 college plays of varying quality which were subsequently analyzed in my acting class. Ergo, I am an expert.
I’m basing my “best play I ever saw” declaration on the fact that out of all the plays I’ve seen, this one kept me the most consistently entertained.
I will freely admit that I am not a person with much patience for musicals. I find most musical numbers in plays to be too long and indulgent, and they often make me wish the play would just get on with the story. Also sometimes they could really use subtitles.
Not this one. The songs were so perfectly integrated into the story and necessary to the plot that I never found my patience being tested. There was also so much going on with the choreography and the costumes and performances that even if you spaced out a bit on the music or the lyrics, the hilarious visuals — a guy dressed in nothing but a fire-engine red speedo and cape, a singing tapdancer in only sequined sparkly short-shorts and vest, the four male leads spontaneously jumping into boy-band formation and serenading the girls with a 90’s pop ballad — would keep you engaged.
The utter ridiculousness of it actually made my British friends say, “This would never have been written in England. It is SO AMERICAN.”
I’m also not a big Shakespeare person. It takes a lot to make Shakespeare plays entertaining to me. Even Joss Whedon only succeeded in that sporadically for me with his “Much Ado About Nothing.”
This play kept me completely entertained. Most of the dialogue is the original Shakespeare, but it is interspersed with the songs, which are entirely colloquial, and there were occasional interjections of modern spoken dialogue as well, just enough to keep me from getting annoyed with the old-fashioned flowery stuff. (There are two uses of the F-bomb, just so you know.) The comic timing was great on all fronts, and like I said, the costuming and visual flair added so much.
I want to single out the performances of the male and female leads, Colin Donnell and Patti Murin, because they were fabulous. Murin’s “Princess” is like Elle Woods from Legally Blonde if Elle Woods were a Shakespearean princess with slightly more guile, and Donnell’s “Berowne” made me think of Hugh Jackman. He’s got a similar physique, similar facial structure, similar hair, similar voice — basically, he’s really really hot.
My only complaint is about the last five or so minutes of the play — it suddenly takes a turn for the Very Serious. I’ve been told by friends who know the original that that’s how Shakespeare wrote it, and I understand it on an intellectual level, but tonally it was extremely jarring to shift that suddenly from almost two hours of madcap, hilarious fun to five minutes of deathly seriousness, and it ends the play on a pretty flat note.
But, for the sake of not ending this review with a similar misstep, I’ll go back to one last major positive: the play is constantly snarking at itself, breaking the fourth wall, being incredibly meta about its playness. For example, in a song where one of the characters mocks rich people for being academic and snooty and privileged, there’s a line that goes something like, “Rich people pay for better plays that should be free!” (All of us enlightened citizens watching this free play hooted in appreciation.)
Those kinds of references and some other touches — like one of the actors pulling an audience member onto the set in the middle of a song without missing a beat — make me wonder if this play will ever be performed or filmed in any other venue aside from the Delacorte Theater for Shakespeare in the Park. I asked one of the actors, Bryce Pinkham (who played “Longaville”), outside the theater after the show, and he admitted he didn’t know, and that it did seem like a play designed for Shakespeare in the Park and nothing else.
Which would be too bad, because it’s the sort of play I’d pay full price to see again and that I’d love to show all my friends.