Tuesday, March 24, 2009

My Ada Lovelace Day Conrtibution: Diana Eng!

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, and I'm joining many bloggers by celebrating women excelling in technology. The first one to come to mind was one of the first people I wrote about in this blog. If you've been here before, you may remember it all started with a little show called Project Runway, just before their second season. My favorite contestant on that season, and I contend the most kick-ass person to ever be on the show, nay, reality television:


Diana Eng, self-proclaimed "Nerd and Fashion Deisgner". She was an automatic favorite of sorts because she graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design, not twenty minutes away from where I grew up, but I was completely swept away when in her audition, she introduced a hoodie that contained a small camera and a heart monitor. When the wearer's heart rate increased, the camera snapped a photo of whatever they were viewing.
Eng didn't make it to the final rounds on Project Runway, unfortunately, because, among other things, Michael Kors doesn't understand how magnets work. (Me? Bitter?) There's also the fact that the time and material constraints of the show didn't make room for her skills with technology (though in 2006, she did design and create ablogging purse with two teammates in less than 24 hours).

Of course, Eng is too good for me to define her through the show. When she was only 22, an inflatable dress she designed had been featured on ID Magainze. Here's the cover, and her blog entry marking it:

"I've dreamt of making it into ID magazine since I was 13. As a child I made really awful pamphlets and brochures documenting my latest design ideas for things such as nesting tea cups and landscape inspired furniture. Then I would send the brochures off to ID mag editors positive that they would feature me the next month. I was never selected. And after going to art school I've often wondered what they thought of my subpar entries. But this month I made the cover with the inflatable dress I made with Emily Albinski. The gorgeous girl in the photo is my roommate JungIn You."

Her first book, Fashion Geek, came out March 17th, full of projects for tech-savvy. She also helped found the hacker group NYC Resistor, where members "meet regularly to share knowledge, hack on projects together, and build community". She's included in their own Ada Lovelace day post, wearing what I believe is the same fibonacci scarf pictured above - a fibonacci scarf!

You can follow what Diana Eng is up to at her blog, Fashion Nerd.
Thanks Diana, for being my technology heroine, and showing literally millions of girls and women how fashionable math and science can be!


Monday, March 23, 2009

Damn you, Joss Whedon

For getting me so emotionally invested in this show.

So, not a full recap or analysis or anything, but yeah, the Episode That Changed Everything delivered. We abandoned the adventure-of-the-week set up, and I'd be happy to never go back- Echo is still central, but we got really involved in the other characters.

Sexual violence got serious treatment this time, and I thought these things were important: It was clearly treated as rape even though Sierra didn't say no or physically resist; and the rapist handler, whose name escapes me, tried to excuse his behavior because the Dollhouse is "in the business of using people". Obviously the excuse isn't acceptable, but I think Joss was wisely making a connection of sexual violence to the environment of objectification and exploitation.
Things that bothered me about Sierra's storyline: I can't recall if they actually used the word "rape" - I know Dr. Saunders said "Sierra's had sex" after the exam, but I don't know if they changed the language after it became obvious that she didn't (and really, couldn't) consent. Also, a little mad at Boyd for letting the other handler attempt again in order to "catch him in the act" instead of, oh I don't know, asking Sierra about him. Of course, it was hugely satisfying to have him punched through a glass wall with his fly down.

The big thing that changed with me is that I am now completely invested in the fate of Mellie/November:

I saw the reveal coming, but it was still a bit heartbreaking. Previews for future episodes indicate possible revolt against the Dollhouse. Can she just be the main character now, please?

Unrelated to this episode: another blog pointed out how wildly inaccurate the homebirth scene was... which I really should have noticed, since I've seen homebirths. Though Topher's probably not a mifwifery expert, and you probably couldn't get away with a completely accurate homebirth on TV (we need to throw a sheet over her- for medical reasons!), this is a still a case of ball-dropping. Oh well. I appreciate the attempt, if not the execution.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Problem with Echo (which is not actually a problem)

Alright, so. I've been putting off writing about Dollhouse because - besides the fact that I've only been casually engaged blogging lately - the series is young, and I felt analyzing the shit out of it was a little premature. It was episode two, and a lot of people seemed to be complaining that "this is not a feminist masterpiece yet!", and, you know, wait.

But, I want to get some writing on it in before the alleged mind-blower next Friday. I don't really want to talk about this past Friday's installment, True Believer - except for Victor's man reaction, which I'll get to in a minute. I want to talk about episode four, Gray Hour, because for me, it solved a fundamental problem a lot of people seem to have with the show, and it made me realize a direction the show could go in, which excites my obsession with the construction of identity to no end.

Particularly after the first two episodes (once again - dude, you have to wait) I read a lot of complaints along the lines of "there is no one to root for". Or relate to, or sympathize with, or what have you. Everyone who works in the dollhouse is evil (Dominic), borderline evil (Topher), or at least has big whomping moral gray area (Boyd). The dolls are either a completely fabricated person or a completely empty person. Well, people with moral gray areas seem to be a staple of the Whedonverse, so I think the answer for a lot of people was to root for Boyd, especially after episode two, The Target, in which we realize that he actually cares for Echo and prioritizes her over the dollhouse itself.

But, Echo is the main character. Though I hope, and think, we will see an episode with someone else in the A-Story (though I suppose it could be argued that The Target was really more about Boyd than Echo), this is clearly Echo's story. And the story we're following is about a person without an identity. And that's a problem. Right?

I think the pilot, Ghost, partially answered this concern for me: we can relate to Echo in an imprinted state, because even though we know it's all made up, it's incredibly real to whatever person she is that day. So we can relate to the main character for the length of the episode, which can be effective, as I think it was in Ghost - especially since we were reminded that, even if it wasn't Echo's real experience, these bad memories were real. But maybe this only works to an extent. Without something steady, it'll get harder and harder to buy into Echo's persona-of-the-week.

Episode three - I don't actually know what it was called because it was, admittedly, the weakest episode so far, the only time so far I've felt THE METAPHOR! was being shoved in my face. But the revelation that Echo was "adapting" to her assignments indicated something important - that Echo does not have a consistent identity on assignments, but she does possibly have a consistent underlying personality, that her self is shading her imprinted personalities. This doesn't really solve the relating-to-Echo problem either, though, I think, since it's not really clear what these glitches imply, except of course plot twists aplenty.

And that still leaves blank doll-state Echo to deal with. The tabula rasa state may be the closest thing to the dolls' "true" personality, and they're, you know, empty hats. Which is why Gray Hour is my favorite episode thus far, and why Victor's man reaction is important (I'll get to it in a minute!).

In Gray Hour, we're watching Echo - not Caroline and not an imprint, but wide-eyed empty-headed Echo, and we find out she's not an empty hat - she's a person. She doesn't just sit around gaping and asking where the massage table is. She gets scared, she thinks about art, she makes a connection to one person and abandons another - she's not a plaything. She's not a blank slate, not really. She's a person who just isn't given a chance to be one. And this, for me, solves the who-do-we-relate-to problem once and for all, but also asks a lot more questions.

Victor's man reaction, i.e. his crush on Sierra, is another example of this. We're being shown that not just Echo, but Dolls in general aren't robots, they're people. DeWitt's cold demand that Victor be "scrubbed" and the whole forced utopia is, you know, goddamn disturbing in this light.

I took a college course called "Science, Literature and Gender", in which we read The Cloning of Joanna May, which deals with identity in a different sci-fi scenario. Sparing the details, since this is already really long, the class talked about the idea of a whole identity versus fragmented identity. The former is usually what we think of as "identity", but the latter isn't necessarrily a bad thing. Joanna May had several outward "selves" whereas Echo has several inward "selves". Joanna May ultimately doesn't become "fragmented", but multiplied, her power increases by virtue of being split up. This possibility for Echo - which I thought of when she uttered the heart-stirring line, "I'm not broken" - really excites me.

Ok. Miscellaneous other things about Gray Hour:

I like the midwife intro, because the show finally winks at us about having too much sex, and because, yay midwives! Even though it seems only the super-duper rich can afford them - or maybe the super-duper rich don't trust ordinary midwives. Whatever. "Yay midwives" stands.

Alas, A Blog took issue with the portrayal (or lack thereof, I suppose) of sexual violence in this episode, which is totally understandable. For me, though, since the people in the show are programmed to consent, I feel much more disturbed by the "consensual" sex that's constantly happening and so far hasn't been dealt with at all. Here's hoping for improvements in this whole area.

(If I could make a subtitle for this post, it would be "And a Journey of Self-Discovery for... Topher?")

Topher knows from the get-go that Alpha would be able to achieve a remote wipe, only thinking it's impossible because he assumes Alpha is dead. If no one understands this technology but Topher and Alpha, and imprints are made from real people, could this imply that Alpha has an imprint of Topher, or at least part of Topher? It's not implausible - if something happens to Topher, how else could they keep the Dollhouse running? I've been toying with the idea that some of the faculty in the Dollhouse are dolls themselves, that this may even be the true meaning of putting someone in "the attic", and this reveal would put a new angle on the exploration of identity. We don't sympathize with Echo's constructed identities because we seem them come and go, sure, but if, say, Boyd or Saunders or Dominic were revealed to be a doll, then how does our relationship to the character change? How does the character's relationship to other characters change? Would they defend their long-term constructed personality or reject it? Of course, I'm thinking more and more that this isn't going to be the case.
BUT, if Alpha has an imprint of Topher, what implications could this have for Topher's sense of identity? Could this be the thing that takes him from witty loveable douchebag to - well, something more interesting?

Alright, that's all. My fangirl is showing.


Monday, March 09, 2009

Are you fucking kidding me?

I'm constantly bewildered by facebook advertisements, trying to get me to shave all my body hair, or telling me to OBEY this new diet tip, but seeing this yesterday was a whole new low:

The media has had a series of fucked-up and dangerous reactions to this relationship and the violence against this woman. This takes the cake though: trying to make a quick buck with direct victim-blaming.

I marked this shit as offensive, but, really? Does a giant site like facebook really have NO standards for their advertisements outside of user preferences? I shouldn't have to mark this offensive. I shouldn't see it.