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October 19, 2009

adventures with badass sistahs in outer space: olivia dunham

Posted by dogpossum on October 19, 2009 9:43 PM | Comments (1)

I love SF telly. I love it. I watch every SF program, just in case. I also like supernatural, fantasy and general make believe stuff.
But I tend to have less patience with programs that do not have good female characters. I make exceptions for programs like Supernatural which explore male characters and masculinity in new ways.
I love all trashy vampire telly. I can't help it. It's a sickness.

I did my honours thesis on female violence in action film, and I'm still interested in the way women and violence and, more importantly, women's violence are depicted in mainstream film and television. While I was doing this honours project I came across an article which basically argued that straight-to-video releases (ie B films) were often more transgressive in terms of representations of gender than mainstream or A films. I am really interested in this idea. This is partly how I justify my passion for B telly. Partly. But I also think it's true. Telly that doesn't gain broadcast telly release, doesn't make it to prime time, or even make it to Australian television tends to be where I find the most interesting gender stuff. It's as though being B gives you a little freedom to explore different types of characters.

I gain access to these programs through the internet, and through video shops. Video shops are actually very important. DVD releases of even the most B programs has given me access to some of the most wonderfully un-top-shelf television. Accessing these programs this way (rather than via broadcast telly) means that I tend to watch them in a block, rather than one episode-per-week. I binge view. This changes the way that I read these programs. It makes me more likely to read the meta-arc, the larger story. I tend to regard individual episode stories as pieces of a whole, rather than as discrete texts. Even when the program is very 'monster of the week' (as most SF is, particularly in its first season).

I find out about these programs via websites like io9. I use wikipedia extensively to clear up plot points I haven't understood or to follow up characters and add-on texts like comics. I also use imdb for details about directors, actors and so on. I like to talk about these programs with other people, but I don't particularly want to sit down and dissect them for hours. This was something I used to do with Buffy when I was at school. These days I quite like to share programs and to mention them, or to share add-on texts, but I'm really only interested in watching them. I do talk about them with my partner when we're watching. But only the programs he's also interested in.

My PhD dissertation involved a lot of research into fan studies and methodologies and theories involved in researching fan cultures. I am self-reflexive about most of my talk about these SF telly shows. I am interested in issues of gender and class and sexuality and race and ethnicity.... and all that good identity stuff. But I am also interested in questions about technology and machinery, wider questions about humanity. But, really, gender is where it's at; all that other shit is inflected by this. And, as somebody clever said once, I'll be a post-feminist when we live in a post-patriarchy. Gender issues are so central to SF culture and texts, it's ridiculously self-deceiving to try to ignore them.

This is just one post about one character (mostly) that I like. I'll try to write other posts about other characters. And perhaps about this program in more detail. But don't count on it; I'm slack.
Because I tend to watch a number of programs at one time, and am also reading SF all the time, I tend to read intertextually. Well, of course I do. We all do. But this is one of my particular pleasures; I like to imagine characters from different programs meeting. I like exploring the industrial connections between programs - how could the director of Veronica Mars move to Moonlight and what happens when Mark Mothersbaugh does the music for Big Love. Oh - I also read and watch across genres. I'm reading lots of dodgy supernatural romances most of the time, and always reading Tanya Huff; I'm watching programs like Vampire Diaries and, of course, Blood Ties.
So when I'm watching these programs I'm not only reading the text in front of me, I'm also thinking intertextually, I'm thinking about modes and industries of production, and I'm paying attention to audiences and modes of reception. And the communities which tie them all together.

And I re-watch and re-read on a massive scale.

I also do some sessional teaching at various universities. I exploit this role by pushing the television I love on young, vulnerable middle class kiddies. I do, unapologetically and with great verve, present these programs in a feminist light. I have no - as in zero - tolerance for anti-feminist arguments from my classes. I will listen to them and then dismiss them as they deserve. I aim to indoctrinate a generation of students. They will be feminist and they will value SF.

They can just suck it up or fail.

So here's some stuff about Olivia Dunham. Main character of Fringe. All-round badass sistah. Mos def.

First, watch this:

That's a Fringe promo. The blonde is Olivia Dunham.

I'm really liking the character Olivia Dunham in Fringe. I especially liked her in the first season of the program. Why?

She's a crack shot. She is really, really good with a gun.
She's a good fighter. She wins most fights, and when she doesn't win, it's only because her opponent is, I dunno - a car or something.
She's super clever and figures things out. There are lots of things to figure out in Fringe.
She's a good explainer. Because she's a good figure-er-outer, she often has to explain things to other characters. Usually her male partner Charlie, but also quite often her boss.
She listens and thinks and listens again. She's not always flapping her lips, yapping. She's listening.
She's a good runner and jumper.
She's very gentle and patient with Walter, who's not only a habitual drug user (and abuser) but a mentally unwell older man who's been quite seriously damaged by his time in an institution. She listens to him and pays attention to him; she doesn't patronise him. She protects him when he needs it (and when he asks), but she is also willing to let him take care of himself.
She used to be a prosecutor in the military. She investigated and then prosecuted a middle aged white man who later became her boss. He was charged with sexually assaulting a number of women. When he became her boss, he sought revenge on her through systematic harassment. She didn't take that crap; she kept on being a badass agent. She didn't martyr herself; she called him on his bullshit. Her usual boss was this bad boss's friend. At first he didn't want to like Olivia because of this. Eventually he figured out Olivia was a gun, and that his friend was crap. Then he became a better boss. Olivia kept on being a gun, regardless.
She's willing to tell bosses off if they need it. She's also prepared to listen and to admit she was wrong.
She really likes her sister and her little niece.
She had good, solid, platonic relationships with her male coworkers. There is never even the intimation of sexual tension between her and (the awesome) Charlie. They are partners in the truest sense. He has a wife he loves and Olivia is busy being... Olivia.
She operates in an all-male world - the FBI (or is it CIA? Whatevs - some institution) - but she is aware of gender issues and articulates them. Most especially in her dealings with the bad boss. But she also makes comments about men in positions of power who can't handle assertive women. She has one great line in the first season about how the men around her (especially her male boss) aren't listening to her because she's 'getting emotional, just like a woman'. And then she says something, very sternly, about how she is getting emotional, because this is emotional stuff, and that this emotion is making her a better agent. Olivia is not only calling the men around her on their mysogynist bullshit, she's also reworking the role of 'great agent' to incorporate a range of characteristics not traditionally located in the male arse.
And she is a fully sick agent.

Throughout season one she is the main character. She is the centre of stories, and as the agent in charge, she is also boss of the cases they work. She's the one to call the lab and tell them to get their gear and come investigate something gross. This changes a little in season two, and she is set up as something of a victim (recovering from a 'car accident'), but this is changing. We are at about episode four, and she's already back on her feet and kicking arse. Peter has taken on a more managerial role in the group, and the 'Fringe division' has officially been disbanded. Charlie has [SPOILER] died [/SPOILER], which sucks arse, but I'm dealing. So Olivia's status has shifted. But this is ok, as Peter's character has only slowly been working away from 'carer' for Walter and 'general slacker' towards some sort of three dimensional personhood. He's also finally realising his abilities as an investigator type person. In other words, his character is gradually being fleshed out. I worry that he'll become Olivia's partner (in the sense of FBI ness and in the romantic sense), but I don't see this happening any time soon.

I really like Olivia because I don't worry about her. She's kind of superhuman, but only in the way we expect our SF protagonists to be. She gets scraped and banged and shot occasionally, but it doesn't stop her winning. Sure, she's kind of a paragon of all things awesome, but this is as it should be in SF. She is, however, flawed. And [SPOILER] probably partly psychic and awesome because she was experimented on as a kid. But she has begun dealing with this history and is assimilating and coming to terms with its effects in a phenomenally healthy way. Which in itself is a bit worrying.

Olivia is an impossible woman. An impossible character. But this is as it should be in SF. This is how SF protagonists are: they are strong and brave and clever. Cleverness is important. She is conventionally attractive, but she doesn't wear booby shirts or stupid shoes. She can run like a badass mofo and she likes suits. Just like the male agents around her. She wears her hair tied back in a piggy tail, or she wears a sensible black beanie. She doesn't wear much make up. She is conventionally attractive. But so are most protagonists.

I <3 Olivia.


Olivia isn't the only woman character in Fringe worth loving. I also love Astrid, who's the agent assigned to working with Walter in his lab.

Astrid is also awesome.
She has a degree in cryptography, another in computer stuff (or is that a double major) and she's got some sort of medical training (well, she does now). She loves cryptography. As in, she's a nerd for it. And she loves computers.
She's also an agent.
She calls Walter on his bullshit, including his inability to remember her name (which we suspect is a ploy on Walter's part). She won't let him (or anyone else) forget that she is actually a badass agent as well.
She deals with Walter's gross dissections and experiments very matter of factly.
She runs errands and also has some badass ninja agent skills.
She veers into 'servant territory' every now and then, which is particularly worrying as she's African American. But these little deviations are usually addressed: Astrid will call bullshit on Walter's behaviour and regularly refuses tasks she feels cross the boundary from professional assistance to nurse maiding.
She is super smart.
She and Olivia talk regularly about things other than men. They often figure out puzzles together.
She is fond of Walter and also deals with his mental illness and fragile personality gently, yet without patronising him. She does not take on a carer role; she is, if nothing else, Walter's lab assistant.

Nina Sharp is another important female character in Fringe. She's the CEO of Massive Dynamic, a sort of super-corporation specialising in technology. A bit like Skynet Cyberdyne Systems, but awesomer. She admires Olivia greatly and has tried to recruit her to Massive Dynamic a number of times. She and Olivia have a refreshingly realistic relationship; they deal with each other as professionals. They do not have the sort of antagonistic rivalry alpha women are usually given in SF... in telly.They talk to each other about plenty of things besides men. They often talk about technology together. And science.
Nina Sharp is middle aged.
Nina Sharp has a bionic arm and a clear glass ipod thingy. She is way cool with technology generally. This is one middle aged woman who is not relegated to earth mother status; she is technology, economic and industrial power and smarts.

I love Olivia the most, though. I love the way she stops and thinks about things. I love the way she can fighty fight. I love it that though she might, one day be interested in Peter romantically, that day is waaaaaay off in the future, and for now she's busy being a badass. He thinks she's neat. He might think she's neat in a romantic way, but for now he just thinks she's a badass and he wants to be her partner, I think.

So I love Olivia Dunham. And this is why I can watch Fringe.

PS: I'll try to add some more pics to this later, when I can figure out how to do it in this new version of MT without opening a new stupid window every time.

EDIT: I had to add this link to a drawing Jasika Nicole (the actor who plays Astrid) drew of herself.

"adventures with badass sistahs in outer space: olivia dunham" was posted in the category academia and buffy and angel and digging and fringe and teaching and television and veronica mars

July 26, 2006

Smallville v Sunnydale

Posted by dogpossum on July 26, 2006 11:18 PM

In the video shop* the other day, I picked up the first disc in the first season of Smallville.

I have to admit, I was inspired by my recent (and pleasant) experience with Superman Returns [insert insanely effusive gushing over the Alien Beauty that is the noo soops], and I'm not sure I'll stick with it (though I'm up to disc 2), and we do have plenty of Buffy and Angel to watch)...

Yeah, so anyway.

Smallville. I've been struck by the similarities between Buffy and Smallville. This is, no doubt, an illustration of the influence of Buffy on the genre I'm sure my supes would call 'teen supernatural' or something similar. I know there's been lots written about self-reflexivity and polyvocal texts 'n all - all lain to varying degrees at the door of Joss Whedon - but I think that Buffy had a more interesting influence on Smallville (or perhaps, that we can see similar tropes across this genre?).

Ok, now before I go any further, please do remember that this is a three-seconds-worth-of-thinking theory, in a post I'll probably publish as soon as I finish it, without re-reading (eek)...

Ok, so here's the thing I'd not realised about Smallville (what with never having watched it before):
In Buffy, particularly in the first 4 seasons, while Buffy was in High School (or was it 3 seasons?), the program was very much a story about teenagers, doing teen things, mostly in high school. Everyone knew there was something 'kind of weird' about Sunnydale, but nobody really took issue with it. Certainly, no one ever moved away. The city's proximity to the/a hellmouth justified all manner of strange and supernatural dealings, from girls who turned invisible to substitute teachers who were actually giant praying mantuses(i?).

Similarly, in Smallville all manner of strange things in the town are 'explained' by the presence of bits of meteorite which fell to Earth with Kal-El's space ship, way back there (in 1989 - god, it scares me that 1989 constitutes ye olde days in teenland today. I was 15 in 1989 and had already read every decent SF book known to familykind and secondhandshopdom). This is an interesting twist - it gives a little 'consistency' to the paranormalness of the town, with this paranormalness being something only Chloe seems to consciously recognise, despite the fact that there are at least a wall's worth of weirdness for her to seek out in local (and national) magazines, newspapers and other media. The whole meteorite thing also gives Clark something to feel guilty about. And guilt seems to be the S-Boy's stock in trade... maybe it's something for him to sublimate later on? Heck, I wish I was hip to psychoanalisis. I just know there's something I'm missing, what with all the father-son relationship action going down in Smallville.

All this interests me. While I don't buy that either Sunnydale or Smallville is actually in the 'country' (we all know Sunnydale is actually an outer suburb of LA - the Geelong or Ipswich of the city of Angelus, and sure as shit no one in Smallsville sports a Kansas accent...I think ?), I'm kind of caught by the idea that not only do terrible things happen more frequently in rural communities, but that rural communities also produce fiesty female characters**.

One other thing about the supernatural in Smallville that reminds me of Sunnydale is the way that 'super villians' are usually teenagers, or people in the teenage world - female students with envy issues, football coaches who need some anger management advice. Again, much has been written (and spoken) about the ways in which the monsters in Buffy represent the monstrous... or mundane in teenagerdom, but it seems Smallville is attempting the same sort of work. Far less effectively, of course, and with terribly inferior dialogue.

In a similar vein, please do read this discussion of race and class in Joss Whedon's work (from Feminist SF and discovered by Kate - strength to her for the moving thing). It's mighty interesting.
Now, I'd been thinking to myself, 'yeah, sure Whedon is neat, but, Self, should I be all yay! go! about another white guy writing for me, rather than a sister doing it for herself, television-writing-wise?'. In other words, I'd had reservations about the wholehearted and uncompromised passion for Joss Whedon which others seem to evince. I had had issues with the race thing. And that's been kind of exaggerated by Smallville, where Clark's buddy Peter is black, he has other not-white friends, and Lana Lang has this Eurasian*** thing going on.

And in a third 'why Smallville is a bit like Sunnydale' point, I've been thinking about something prompted by these comments from Wikipedia:

Technology in Buffyverse has been shown to be advanced enough to produce such an advanced robot as April

(in the I Was Made to Love You April the robot girlfriend episode from season 3)
In the Buffyverse there seems to be some extraordinarily advanced technology available to some. For example, robots are living among the ordinary citizens of the Buffyverse: in the Internet ("I, Robot... You, Jane"), produced by people decades ago ("Ted"), produced by youngsters today ("I Was Made to Love You"), and even used by dark powers ("Lineage").
(Buffyverse article in wikipedia).

That wikipedia article on the Buffyverse discusses the ways in which the world of Buffy is not like the 'real world' (and we could make all sorts of interesting segues into more talk about teenagers and the Teen World, but we won't), and technology seems one of those points. I've waxed lyrical (and slightly manically) on the issue of technology in Buffy before, so I won't go into it again, but it's worth mentioning that this matter was called to mind while watching Smallville for two real reasons:

1) Chloe (Clark's fiesty sidekick) is the technology person, what with all her digital cameras and computers (macs, no less) and things (despite Lex's best efforts) and

2) the ease with which the Sunnydale people accept robots (particularly the scoobies - and I do like the way the gang unanimously agree that April is a robot - why can they accept robots when they are usually so cynical and wise to the ridiculousness of life on the hellmouth?...look, I know it's a joke. But.) reminds me of the way the Smallville people seem cool with the whole 'meteorites destroyed my town' thing. That, and the 12 years of strange, meteorite-related events. In this 'verse, not only are Smallville and Metropolis real places, African American kids mixing happily with white kids with no hint of racial tension at the high school and teachers set on fire with no police investigations, but no one really seems to mind that kids turn into giant insects and girls shape change to rob banks.

Oh my, it's late (all of 11:08! My, how the world changes!), so I'm not sure I can write more. But if you have watched both these programs, do chime in.

Oh, and: everyone's had a doppleganger in Buffy - Buffy, Willow, Xander - who's anyone. What does that mean?

And, and: was I the only one who wondered what class Clark was reading Neitzche for in high school? And Lana with a great Russian work of lit? Hmmmm.

*soon to be the only-DVDs shop
** I'm talking Chloe, not the ever-irritating Lana Lang here.
***Well, maybe. But probably not.

[promise I'll fix the typos and add links later when I'm less tired and have more battery power on the lappy]

"Smallville v Sunnydale" was posted in the category buffy and angel and smallville

July 17, 2006

it's ok - don't panic

Posted by dogpossum on July 17, 2006 1:48 PM

To all those who've checked up on me after the sicky bubs post:



I'm ok.

Status report: as per usual, the second wave of serious head cold (which, incidentally, also struck down my father this week - in two rounds - no doubt an indication of the vulnerability of small-nostrilled people to this sort of thing) has settled in comfortably, and almost a week later, while I have now been out of the house all of 3 times, I now have the horrible ear thing again.

While it mightn't sound so terrible to have blocked ears, it's kind of awful for someone who relies on their ears as much as I do. It's difficult to dance when your balance is screwed and your awareness of your surroundings stuffed by unreliable hearing. It's bloody difficult to judge sound levels when you're DJing through an ear's worth of goob. And riding your bike is terrifying when you can't hear approaching cars or balance properly.
But I have a doctor's appointment booked for tomorrow, so either she'll look inside and be frightened enough by what she sees to syringe me to blessed unimpededness, or she'll see nothing and I'll have another day on the kick-you-on-your-arse decongestants. The latter is always a joy for someone as responsive to these sorts of drugs as I am. I am sure The Squeeze is looking forward to mildly-psychotic and scarily insomniac speed freak girl as much as I am.

On (un)related fronts, Angel and everyone else are dealing with the Darla/Drusilla fallout (don't you just LOVE those episodes?) and Buffy is freaking out under a pile of narratively excessive dramas: Glory's nabbed Dawn/the key, Spike is hot for Bot-love (and yes, he is kinda small, but pretty compact and well-muscled, Xander), Tara has been brain-drained by Glory and of course, Joyce has just passed away.

"it's ok - don't panic" was posted in the category buffy and angel and domesticity and television

July 11, 2006

I am John Travolta

Posted by dogpossum on July 11, 2006 8:37 PM

In our house The Squeeze is convinced that BB is not only foul, but also immoral. He leaves the room if it's on. I don't care much either way, in fact I'm watching it now. I'd prefer it if it was unedited, and just a bunch of people in a room with no 'tasks' - just like watching a bunch of sharehousers who're on the dole. No money, so they can't afford to go out. No imagination, so they don't go do free stuff. Eeeexcellent.

But I do have a problem with the new program 'Honey I'm killing the kids'. Ostensibly a program committed to 'helping' parents with overweight kids, rather than focussing on positive reinforcement for the parents and children, I suspect the tools are guilt, guilt and more guilt. Nice. I won't be watching that.

I've watched very little telly lately - beyond the eternal Buffy and Angel (seasons 4 and 2 respectively) - but I have my eye on tonight's OC. Nice.*

In other, more important news, I have a John Travolta obsession. I am convinced, when I'm dancing, that I am the man. It doesn't help that I think I'm funny when I strut it, Saturday Night Fever style. It's particularly unhelpful that lindy is built for strutting. Or, more importantly, blues dancing is built for strutting. A keen balboa fan was asking "you're into this blues stuff - what's the deal? I just don't get it," and of course, the only response is: "strut. You need to strut. Either take it incredibly seriously, or incredibly unseriously. But strut." It's true. Blues dancing is all about strutting.

*NB Willow now has an ibook. An oooold one.

"I am John Travolta" was posted in the category buffy and angel and lindy hop and other dances and television

June 30, 2006

i can't tame wild women...

Posted by dogpossum on June 30, 2006 12:12 PM

In response to scott's comment here, on the Whedon EqualityNow speech.

I was quite struck by Whedon's comment about not only writing strong women characters but also writing male characters who thought they were the fushizzle. One the one hand - yay! - but on the other, I was reminded of some thoughts I'd had previously about the way some men/male characters are attracted to strong women/characters. They may love and adore them, but some are also attracted to the idea of controlling or weakening them (which reminds me of a Hot Club of Cowtown lyric: "I can't tame wild women, but I can make tame women wild"). This seems to apply to people like Spike.
In the most recent Angel I've watched (Guise will be Guise) the fake swami makes a comment about how Angel needed to find a small blonde woman and trash her as a way of dealing with his anger/distress about being trashed by Darla when she found out he had a soul. Angel's response was non-verbal, but he was obviously thinking 'hm, he might be right'. That could just have been Angel piling on a little more guilt (he is guilt-meister), but it mightn't...
Of course, the blonde in question was Buffy - and Angel made an effort to trash her in the last Angel episode where we saw her in L.A. (I Will Remember you). He might remember that visit fondly, as the one chance he had to be human with her, but she left only remembering his totally trashing her. He knows this, he's packing guilt for it (as per usual), but... don't mean he didn't get some passive-aggressive payback pleasure re Darla/Buffy moving on with Reilly-ace-of-spies.

But of course - Angel has issues. That's his job.

"i can't tame wild women..." was posted in the category buffy and angel

June 29, 2006

so why do you write these strong women characters...?

Posted by dogpossum on June 29, 2006 2:08 PM

If there was any reason why you wouldn't marry Joss Whedon, his Equalitynow speech will do away with it.

"so why do you write these strong women characters...?" was posted in the category buffy and angel

June 27, 2006

so like, you know

Posted by dogpossum on June 27, 2006 9:56 PM


So I've watched the OC about 4 or maybe even 5 weeks in a row now.
I think I'm hooked.
It's so completely ridiculous - the 'teenagers' speak like world-weary script writers, everyone's either really rich or 'living in a caravan' and really rich. Even the 'poorest' characters wear clothes that are about 10 million times more expensive than mine. They all live by the sea, drive expensive cars and are ridiculously skinny.

I was a bit of a Dawson's Creek fan, in that I wouldn't turn it off it was on, but I wouldn't tape it or seek it out. I was delighted in the last episode of Buffy that I watched (Out of my Mind to see Spike declare that Pacey was being an idiot because 'she' didn't love him.

Poor old Pacey. I was sure he was a special needs character from the ads. But he ...wasn't?

Yeah, so I'm watching the OC. I forget about it as soon as the program finishes, though the ads kind of catch my interest.
It is so ridiculous. I have no idea what's going on. But I have Opinions about the characters:
Marissa (the teeny sex queen one who's on all the ads for shampoo and stuff):
Is a skinny dog who really annoys me. She needs to pin her hair back.
I'm not convinced that she's actually an alcaholic.

Seth (the dark haired young fullah):
is obviously the one I'm supposed to dig because he likes manga and arty stuff and reading.
His minor lispy thing is meant to be hot.
I like him but he kind of annoys me. I can't bring myself to be really impressed or to actually care.

Look, I've lost interest in this silly list.

Why are all the characters so young? Even the mums and dads are young, or trying desperately to look young. Yucky.

The only thing I really care about is that these kids seem to go to Buffy's high school in Beverly Hills/Sunnydale. The same school that the film Loser was set in.

"so like, you know" was posted in the category buffy and angel


About dogpossum

i live in melbourne sydney, australia, like jazz music and dance, swear too much, sew, drink a lot of tea and adore puns. ask me about my phd.