Monday, January 31, 2011

How Chick Lit Supports Queer Theory (and a bonus trip to Fallen London)

I've just finished reading Chasing Harry Winston, by the author of The Devil Wears Prada, and I have this to say:

If women are as insidious and insipid as portrayed in this book, it's no wonder so many of us have problems.

I'm not going to launch into a critique of the book's literary faults, because you're either the kind of person who will read it and love it, or ignore it and hate it, so my opinion is neither here or there. What troubled me the most was that the three main characters, who are supposed to be BFFS4L(!!!!11!!!!!1) spend a lot of their time bitching about one another in their internal monologues. Do we really do that? Or is this another social commentary by the woman best known for her candid portrayal of the Manhattan fashion scene?

All it really left me with was a vague sense of unease, and a feeling that I should be making more bitchy comments at waitresses. This book was partially the reason for my rant about not wasting time on things you aren't enjoying - I should have taken my own advice, but I was already 200 pages in, dammit. There was that little voice, egging me on to find out what happened, which then turned around and questioned me why I bothered when I did. What a jerk.

Queer Theory, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, is the idea that we should get to know people as people foremost, and not concern ourselves with silly things like gender and sexuality. We are all human, you see. What better grounds on which to begin a relationship? If we were in a post-apocalyptic space dystopia no one would blink at befriending the nearest human as a symbol of our long-lost Mother Earth. Sometimes I think those chaps on the Enterprise have got it pretty good.

Star Trek, of course, being one of the big proponents of Queer Theory in the 1960s, is commonly cited as the first TV show to include interracial kissing, and Deep Space Nine included a lesbian kiss in the early 1990s. Just as the recent adaptation of Gulliver's Travels failed because it lacked the social commentary of the Swiftian original, so too have I never felt quite as removed from my gender as when reading Chick Lit. All women want the same things, right? We all struggle with having a fulfilling job while finding a supportive partner and also desperately wishing we had tonnes of babies?

Perhaps I've only been recommended books that don't suit my taste. Given that my taste generally includes epic quests and horrible things happening to characters I care deeply about - I'm looking at you, Robin Hobb and Joe Abercrombie - this is probably a given. But it would be nice, so nice, to be interested in people and not care what gender they were interested in themselves. To read a romance novel that goes through the same insecurities that each person has, regardless of their gender. Unless you're supremely confident, you will always wonder what that other person thinks of you, at least until you know for sure. Men suffer from it too, guys. Women just complain more. Do we really need an entire genre based on that one fact?

Enough. I doubt my impassioned appeal is going to turn back the wheels of the money-making printing press, so it's all just really a request for something that's targeted at my gender that actually makes me feel good about being female. Like Castle, for example. There, that's a happy place, where women are respected based on their merits. Ah, much better.

In the meantime, I also stumbled into Fallen London, due to an Extra Credits video. Like many others, I blindly follow James Portnow's trends (he's lovely - I met him at AGDC and he was an absolute gentleman) so I clicked through to Echo Bazaar to give it a try. Half a day later, I'm still not sure what I've wandered into, but it seems to be holding my attention nonetheless.

As part of an article I read earlier today stated, however, I do wonder why they've gone with the somewhat archaic use of an energy bar, and limited actions. I can only undertake so many actions a day. On top of that, I can only do ten at a time, with one energy refilling every seven minutes. I assume this is to add proper pacing to the ongoing narrative, but it feels a little bit too much like a game, if that can be a complaint. I'm horribly interested in the world they've introduced me to, and just want to get out and explore. Since exploration (e.g. gaining information) takes the form of completing quests and quest chains, this means my hunger for story is barely fulfilled.

The fact that I also have to undertake repeated tasks to level up a certain skill in order to unlock the next (invisible) tier of jobs/tasks is also something I find a little odd. I didn't enjoy it in Mafia Wars. I'm not sure why it's in here. Possibly to make it more of a game and less of an interactive narrative, but I really am wondering if that's a good decision or not.

Whatever the case, my interest is piqued for now. Further to the Extra Credits video about non-combat interaction, I'd say it's because you don't have to sit through the dinner or the chess game that Echo Bazaar works without necessarily initiating combat. Even the Sims 3 allows you to speed to the end of the chess game, rather than waiting for it to finish. Moments that require refined dignity and a keen interest in the other party are difficult to fake. I'm not saying it isn't possible, just that if a game developer somewhere can convince me to enjoy a virtual dinner with someone inside my computer as much as I would enjoy a real dinner with a charming stranger, the world is suddenly going to be a very weird place.

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