Wonder Woman, Feminism, and the Two Most Important Women in my Life

The word “feminism” seems to be the single most offensive word in the English language if you’re to believe any Internet thread you might find yourself reading. Just bring up that dreaded F-word and the comments will light up with a stream of misogynistic vitriol that makes me wonder who hurt these poor people. Call me crazy, but I was raised to believe in the equality and inclusion of both sexes by my mother, and was told that this belief is called “feminism”. Obviously, silly old me then decided that I must be a feminist, but apparently, all feminists hate men and want to murder anyone with a Y chromosome so they can then dominate the Earth. Strangely, I’ve never met anyone that holds such a belief, clearly I’m running with the wrong crowd.

I proudly call myself a feminist, as does my mother, so our joint excitement for the upcoming Wonder Woman film is palpable to say the least. Wonder Woman is nothing short of an icon, and possibly the most significant contribution to feminism in the history of modern literature. She gave female comic book readers a Superman of their own, someone to relate to and idolise. I do find it outrageous, then, that of the five most popular superheroes of them all (Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman and Wolverine), the Amazonian goddess is the only one without their own movie franchise. All she’s gotten so far is the 1970s live action Lynda Carter TV show and an appearance in last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The fact that the only mainstream superhero movie to be released with a female lead is 2004’s Catwoman honestly makes me a little sick.

Wonder Woman’s success is important to me and the women in my life, I want my mum to have her hero done justice on the big screen and I want my little sister to have that hero. The happiness I felt when seeing my mum’s reaction to Wonder Woman’s appearance in Dawn of Justice made me realise just how important this movie could be. As she drops down to confront Doomsday, leading the charge while flanked by Batman and Superman and being led by one of the best superhero themes possibly ever, I could hear an audible squeal. Looking over, I was treated to seeing my own mother jumping up and down with glee like a kid on Christmas morning, exclaiming, “Yes! She’s here! She’s my favourite! She’s my favourite! Show them how it’s done!”

Given that my mum is a fan of superhero movies and comic books in general, this was the most invested I’d ever seen her in a single moment from the genre, which is when it clicked for me. She’d never had her Captain America kicking the shit out of Nazis moment, nor had she fully experienced the majesty of Christopher Reeves’s Superman reversing time itself to save Lois Lane. For the first time ever, she was seeing a woman march into battle in a comic book movie, taking on the enemy at the front of the pack and stealing the spotlight from the two figureheads of the medium. It became apparent that it had been too long, the world needed its first Wonder Woman movie.

Then I look to the future generations of women, the age groups populated by people like my sister. In a time where America’s President can freely brag about sexually assaulting women, the empowerment of a female superhero is what young girls need right now. About a month ago, I saw a little girl staring up in awe at the Wonder Woman poster on display at the cinema I work in, a single image of the central character with the word “power” accompanying the title. This small child was being shown that there is indeed a power and a strength in being a woman, that she could grow up to inspire awe in girls her age. This experience stuck with me and put a smile on my face, this is the effect this film can have.

As my sister settles into the middle of the hell that is being a teenager, she is discovering more each day about the history of feminism. She’s learning the valuable lessons of independence and that it’s not okay to be treated as an inferior being because of your sex. The impact of Wonder Woman was felt when she asked me if I could bring home a poster of the film from work for her not long ago. I’d already reserved a poster for myself months in advance, but I knew that she needed it a lot more than I did. For me, it was a poster to have for the sake of having it, another cool design to add to my collection. For my sister, it was a symbol of female empowerment that she could draw her own might from. She’s never read a comic book in her life, and the only superhero movie she likes is the universally accessible Guardians of the Galaxy, so to see her take such an interest in one of my personal favourite characters touched me.

All of this is why I’m frustrated with the publicity that Wonder Woman is receiving. All I seem to see on the Internet is the apparent “lack of marketing” that Warner Bros. are doing for the film. I find this claim to be dubious at best, as I would think that numerous TV spots, posters and giant freaking billboards all over Times Square constitutes as strong marketing. We need to embrace the film for what it has the potential to do for women, and the audience that it can connect with in a way that no other superhero film has. I have full confidence in the success of Wonder Woman, and I frankly don’t care for what anyone has to say about feminist agendas or whatever nonsense that might be spouted. This is a movie that isn’t just long overdue, it’s owed to women the world over.

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Autism and Me (and RPGs)

Last week, I talked about the brilliance of how the recent Power Rangers movie handled its portrayal of autism and the effect it had on me. The piece received a response that I found emotionally overwhelming, I was even invited to write a guest post for a website called GeeksGamers.com, which can be found here. Such positive feedback has inspired me to start a series of sorts, linked by title and what popular culture components have done for me and my autism. While last week was focused on my own interpretation of the representation of autism, today, I’ll be exploring my own integration of autism into role-playing games, more commonly referred to as RPGs.

Video games in general have always played an important role in my life. Along with autism, I also have dyspraxia, a neurological condition that drastically hinders my motor skills and hand-eye coordination. My earliest video game memories involve Spider-Man on the PS1, an action-oriented game and a fan favourite. Through relentlessly playing this game and teaching my brain how to associate the movements made on a controller with the actions that were happening on screen, video games were rewiring my neurological connections. My dyspraxia is not as severe as it once was, but it’s changed the way I live exponentially. I couldn’t walk in a straight line on my own until I was 14, for example, and my right foot still twists at an awkward angle whenever I take a footstep. I’ll most likely never learn to drive, either, so relying on the temperamental luxuries of British public transport is my only real option.

Those early developmental stages of my gaming life planted the seeds for a world I was yet to discover, one that would spark my creativity and love of narrative storytelling. I’m not sure what the first RPG was that I ever played with an emphasis on character creation and influence over the story itself (I, like most in my generation, was a Pokémon addict as a young boy), I just have a whole host of favourites. I can remember being 8 and the hype surrounding the hotly anticipated Fable. Despite Peter Molyneux pulling a, well, a Peter Molyneux in hyping up his game far too much (trees growing in real-time, come off it mate), I was still about to devote my life to this game.

Fable opened my eyes to a world in which I could control what happened. I could be good or evil, thin or fat, a mage of extreme power or a warrior wielding his sword with deadly precision. In retrospect, Fable’s approach to RPG mechanics was relatively one-dimensional, ultimately condensing every decision down to whether or not you wanted to be naughty or nice. But if you put that aside, a video game love affair had begun, I was having an influence, I felt important. The biggest issue I’ve faced throughout my life has been social interaction. Initiating conversations scares me, making friends and keeping in contact with them is not a natural instinct. I’ll go long stretches without talking to my friends, not because I don’t like them, but because I don’t understand how friendships work.

My life is defined by rules, the fact that our time on this Earth isn’t dictated by rules, but rather by having to understand the complexities of the human mind has always been a source of distress for me. There is no real step-by-step programme on getting a girlfriend (aside from ones that expect you to already possess the ability to read other people) or getting friends, we’re just expected to know how to navigate this elaborate minefield. The clearly defined rules of video games are comforting to me and stimulate my very human needs of social and romantic fulfilment. I can have a strong circle of friends that look to me as a leader if I play Mass Effect, I can have a wife and a home in Skyrim.

Purpose is something we all search for, even though I don’t believe we all have one. It sounds bleak, but sometimes there are people that are born, they live and then die, having never achieved anything of note or making a lasting impact on anybody. Was their purpose to be a forgettable face in the crowd? No, they never had a purpose to begin with. RPGs endow the player with purpose through their very nature, the sense of empowerment one gets from creating an avatar and being granted with a mission of great importance is like a high for me. The world is looking to my guidance to save them, along the way I’ll meet people who I can choose to love or fear me. The intention of an RPG that relates to providing a sense of power is an escapist fantasy for neurotypicals, but for me, it’s an alternative lifestyle in and of itself.

In terms of character development, I’ve been presented with the chance to retroactively add autistic representation into the games I play, creating an environment of autistic empowerment. I particularly enjoy the freedom afforded to me by Bethesda’s Fallout games, most notably Fallout 3. Through the dialogue options in the game, the personality of my character can be shaped into an ASD badass that roams the Capital Wasteland of Washington D.C., executing tasks and threats with the cold efficiency of a well-oiled machine. Legends quickly spread about a man who has no connections, drifting from settlement to settlement, accruing bottle caps and lending a helping hand to the good, preferring to terminate the evil. The life I want to live will never be accessible to me in the real world, but that blow is softened with the soothing digital splendour of gaming.

With the sheer volume of RPGs currently out there on the market, there’s a lot of putrid waste to sift through in the search of a true diamond in the rough. I still have my criticisms of the Fallout and Elder Scrolls franchises, as for whatever reason, I’m even more critical of video games than I am of films. But the sense of escapism I’m given through the genre gives me purpose in a realm that I have full mastery of and, most importantly, I get to feel like a normal guy.

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WWE Fans Don’t Appreciate a Slow Build Anymore

A little under a month ago, Japanese wrestling sensation Shinsuke Nakamura made his long-awaited debut on the main roster, showing up on the SmackDown brand. His year-long tenure in NXT saw him slotted firmly into the top babyface position, taking over from everyone’s favourite arm-flailing lunatic, Finn Bálor. His stretch in WWE’s developmental territory saw two NXT title wins, awe-inspiring entrances, and a lot of people getting kneed in the face. Towards the end of this run, fans were pointing out that Nakamura had started to become overexposed, and that the wow factor of his matches was suffering from diminishing returns.

It’s easy to understand this train of thought. The King of Strong Style’s debut match against Sami Zayn at NXT TakeOver: Dallas last year was heralded by many as a Match of the Year contender, and in my mind was only bested by Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi at WrestleKingdom 10 and AJ Styles vs. John Cena at SummerSlam. Shinsuke just couldn’t seem to top his barn burner of a debut as the bar had been set far too high.

This is why his main roster call-up was so sorely needed, the change of scenery and exposure to a different audience would prove to be a brand new challenge for the man now known as The Artist (which seems a little distasteful a name, Prince’s body is still warm for God’s sake). And now, as SmackDown’s next pay-per-view, Backlash, is on the horizon, there are already complaints that Shinsuke hasn’t worked a match on television yet. Truth be told, I’m not crazy about the fact that his feud with Dolph Ziggler has consisted mainly of name-calling and repetitive promo segments from week to week, but the impatience of the modern wrestling fan annoys me infinitely more.

There is a reason why Nakamura’s bright spark burned out after only a year in NXT, and it is all to do with WWE’s programming schedule. Shinsuke’s home of New Japan Pro Wrestling doesn’t have a weekly television show like a Raw or a SmackDown, their programming is far more sporadic. They also don’t have two pay-per-views a month to accommodate for having two segregated rosters, meaning most matches feel fresh, even if we’ve seen them before. New Japan fans are salivating over the inevitable day in which Kenny Omega finally captures that illusive IWGP Heavyweight Championship from Okada, the moment will be all the more sweeter when it happens. Those two wrestlers haven’t clashed in singles competition since January, but the rivalry is always there. In WWE, they would have already worked several rematches and exchanged the belt multiple times by now, it’s just a different method of operating business.

Now that Nakamura is away from the slower build of NJPW’s model, it’s essential to treat him like a big match player. Having him wrestle on TV every week would be a mistake, and WWE have rightfully avoided it. His first match on the main roster is being constructed as a major selling point for Backlash, it’s his debut and he’s already the focus of the promotional trailer on the WWE Network and the main subject of the poster. When AJ Styles first came into the WWE, he wrestled Chris Jericho his first night on Raw, then they wrestled again, and again, and then again at WrestleMania. By the time their blow-off match came about, it wasn’t fresh and exciting anymore, it felt less like a feud and more like a series of exhibition matches.

The Artist known as Shinsuke Nakamura must be treated with reverence, it has to feel like an event every time he steps through the ropes, a must-see showcase. Dolph Ziggler has been spinning his wheels for a while now and it’s tough for me to get excited about his matches anymore, but he’s never faced Nakamura before outside of dark matches, and when you think you’ve seen everything as a wrestling fan, something new is always appreciated. Just imagining how Ziggler will sell the Kinshasha has me salivating (as long as his head doesn’t actually come off), the idea of how bombastic and insane Nakamura’s entrance might be has me actually looking forward to a pay-per-view with Jinder Mahal in the main event.

The slow build is perfect and seems to be a rarity in WWE these days, but it’s a proven formula. Kane and the Undertaker didn’t come to blows in a match until six months after the Big Red Machine made his debut, and it’s proven to be one of the most interesting and fondly remembered storylines of the Attitude Era. Cast your attention to WCW and Sting didn’t wrestle or even talk for an entire year after unveiling his Crow gimmick, skulking around the rafters and stalking the NWO week after week. The culmination of this build at Starrcade 1997 led to it becoming the highest-grossing WCW pay-per-view of all-time, and had the card been booked with some common sense, WCW may have even won the Monday Night War.

Now imagine if fans complained en masse about the “slow” progression of those storylines, failing to recognise the effectiveness of building a narrative up over time. Modern day culture revolves around instant gratification, we live in an era where a sense of being entitled to everything at that precise point is commonly accepted behaviour. WWE have burned through so much potential in recent times by having the same guys wrestle repeatedly on a weekly basis. It’s the reason why the fans turned so vehemently on John Cena and have done it again with Roman Reigns. When you have a talented performer, you will quickly expose their limitations when we’ve seen them wrestle more times than we’ve had hot meals.

So, have a little patience if you’re not satisfied with Nakamura’s main roster run so far, and if you appreciate a slow build, enjoy it while it lasts. I have no doubt that Vince McMahon will eventually peddle him out on TV once every seven days, with a disregard as to how the man got so popular in the first place. Until that day comes, however, let us admire the fact that Shinsuke Nakamura is being portrayed as the star he truly is.

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Autism and Me (and Power Rangers)

To open up about how one feels when they have autism is akin to defusing a bomb with plastic scissors, you’re not cutting that wire no matter how much you need to. This may just prove to be the single most personal piece of writing I’ve ever composed. No Facebook status, tweet, blog post or even private message will be able to compare. But my lack of comfort and acceptance surrounding my autism recently received somewhat of a jolt, a jolt that came in the form of the 2017 Power Rangers movie.

Yes, from such an unlikely place, a big screen reboot of a franchise from many of our childhoods hit my person in a way that I cannot recall happening prior or since. The decision to make Billy Cranston, the iconic original Blue Ranger, someone on the spectrum was met with scepticism by some and curiosity by others. It was a major point of interest that drove my decision to see the film as soon as I could (that and my undying nostalgia for a crazy Japanese monster show re-edited into a teen sitcom). As I sat there in the cinema, a feeling washed over me like no other, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Without a shadow of a doubt, I was witnessing the most relatable and accurate depiction of how autism has affected me for these last 21 years.

Could it be so? Were the tears that were filling my eyes the wet, salty response to something I never thought I’d see in a film ever? As each minute ticked on, I merely grew to be increasingly engaged, hanging on every word that came out of Billy’s mouth. Everything was there, we both tell everyone we meet that we’re on the spectrum as a warning for doing weird things, we both have a hard time moderating our volume of speech depending on the situation, and we certainly do not have the ability to detect sarcasm or read social cues. Was I going mad, or had the screenwriters for goddamn Power Rangers nailed autism?

Autism isn’t fun, that is my true and honest opinion. I do not like it. Instead of being able to properly interact with people, I can remember minute details that ultimately don’t matter. I’ve never been on a date, I had a girlfriend once when I was 16 and it fell apart after a month because I do not know how to connect and relate to people on an emotional level. I had a mental breakdown when she broke up with me because I thought I’d been personally attacked, but from her point of view, I now realise that I looked like an uncaring bastard. It’s tough to come to terms with the fact that I may never have a long term relationship or find love. And I’m not saying that for sympathy or out of hopelessness, I know that I lack the capacity to commit to someone that I don’t share blood with on such an emotional level. I do not want to get married, I do not want kids, I don’t even think I want to experience sex as the idea of physical intimacy is a little repulsive to me.

What I do have is a brain that has been endowed with some truly extraordinary features. When focused, I am able to produce lengthy and detailed essays with minimal effort, rarely even having to look up the facts I state, as I can recall them so clearly. I do not have hobbies, I have obsessions. I will select a thing, and that thing will then consume me as I strive to learn everything there is to know about it. I’m aware that this sounds boastful, but it’s cold, hard, objective fact. I will spend many a night crying myself to sleep because I would happily trade in autism to understand how to read a person, or to know how to talk to a girl. You know exactly what flirting is, right? Because I don’t, the concept makes zero sense to me, I do not know when or if I’m being flirted with, and I certainly don’t know how to let people know I like them. My life is a series of me talking to a girl as a friend for months, never once giving an indication that I see them as a potential romantic partner. Then, usually at around 2AM, I shall produce an indefensibly long message in which I pour my heart out to her because that’s how love works in my head. Then I’m rejected and spend the next few days confused and upset. I hate it and I want it to stop.

This is where I find the truth in RJ Cyler’s performance as Billy Cranston. Art must always contain a measure of truth, whether it is being told through the artist’s vision or the actions of their tools. In film, the artist is the director, the tools are their actors. I would like to personally commend the work of RJ, you could consider this part as somewhat of an open letter to the man. Sir, you moved me in a way that no other actor has done, and I’ve seen every damn “autistic” performance there is to see. I never once saw truth in them, just an actor playing pantomime, having no clue what day to day life is like for those with autism. Simply put, your work was beautiful, comprised of soul and compassion. I don’t know what research you did for the role or who you consulted to prepare for it, but you knocked it out of the fucking park.

As depressing as this peek into my life seems, I feel relieved that I’ve gotten it out there. I may have gotten too personal, but that’s the only way I could possibly express my love of what Power Rangers did in relation to my autism. And it is just that, my autism. It’s no one else’s, it affects everyone differently and there are likely those that didn’t see truth in Billy’s characterisation. That’s because this is my blog and thus, my views. Thank-you to the Power Rangers creative team and thank-you especially to RJ Cyler, you made me feel like a superhero, and that’s what I’ve always wanted.

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Why We Are Currently Living in a Golden Age of Horror Cinema

Of all the genres populating the cinematic realm, horror seems to be among the easiest to completely fumble. It’s an all too common occurrence for cheaply constructed piles of schlock comprised of jump scares and feeble acting to make bank at the box office these days. However, the vast majority of Internet boards behave as if that’s all we’ve been getting from horror these last few years, often trotting out that old chestnut of “X genre is dead because of stuff like this”. Such hyperbolic sentiment is par for the course in relation to popular culture right now, unless something is the next Citizen Kane of its ilk then it isn’t worth discussing. When a movie such as Get Out scores a 99% on RottenTomatoes (a score I feel it deserves, mind you), then many will wave their “overrated” banner because it didn’t blow them away to the point that they will go into shock if you shine a torch in their eyes.

The truth is that horror is at the strongest it’s been in years, and Get Out has kept that hot streak alive. For every Ouija, there’s a Don’t Breathe, for every Annabelle, there’s a Green Room. As far as I can tell, this spate of hugely entertaining American horror flicks started with You’re Next back in 2011. The fifth feature film from director Adam Wingard, You’re Next’s irreverent dark humour, over the top gore and familiar yet refreshing throwback approach endeared both critics and genre enthusiasts. It’s since gone on to obtain true cult status and has established Wingard as one to watch in the modern horror scene.

The stage was then set for a collection of maverick composers to release their unholy symphonies to the world, their orchestra a keen composition of violence, obscenity, wit and thought provoking parables. As consumers, we were treated to the gory workings of Fede Álvarez’s nightmarish Evil Dead re-imagining in 2013, a film nothing short of wonderful in its campy and absurd level of brutality. Looking across to Australia and we were blessed with Jennifer Kent’s wickedly tormented psychological drama, The Babadook, which would go on to become one of the most acclaimed films of 2014. Already, we have a healthy mix of old and new ideas being offered up to insatiable genre aficionados. A lust for extreme content was being filled but minus any kind of sacrifice of charm. How could horror possibly be weak with so much choice?

2015 sticks out as the most evident year of a golden age coming on thanks to the instant classic It Follows. A beguiling concoction of overly stylised visual spark and 80s motifs in terms of soundtrack and moral exploration of the dangers of unprotected casual sex, the film captured the hearts and minds of the horror community. Most of us are merely fans of the familiar, we’re easily drawn in by old school loveliness in the same vein as Carpenter or Craven. When such sentiment is thrown into a blender with all of the lovely technological innovations at the disposal of modern filmmakers, our love shall be practically offered up on a silver platter.

Are we being pandered to? Possibly. Are we getting awesome movies? Definitely. With 2016 being one of the single best years for horror films in history, and I seriously mean that. The Witch kicks everything off with a fearless display of pure atmosphere. A film crafted so that the harsh landscape is a character itself that merely houses the supernatural horrors that threaten the humble farming family that the narrative centres on. Constructed using appropriate language for the time and preferring to keep the scares to a minimum, this is a horror film for purists. One could argue that the film’s drawn out nature borders on pretentious, alienating those that wouldn’t consider themselves elitists. But the descent into hell for the characters tests the audience, creating its own mythology based on the folklore of old. To label it as a technical marvel would simply be understating its genius.

As we trek on through the year, our next stop is the straight up balls to the wall Green Room, a grimy, messy picture that is easy to fall in love with. Jeremy Saulnier’s follow-up to the similarly acclaimed Blue Ruin features a misfit group of punk rockers fighting for their lives against a gang of neo-Nazi skinheads, who are anchored by Patrick Stewart in an Oscar-worthy turn. What would sadly become Anton Yelchin’s final feature film to be released while he was still with us, the bizarre and uber violent trappings of Saulnier’s work feel like a lived in world. This is as close to an exploitation film as you’re likely to get in the latter half of this decade.

Fede Álvarez would then return to us, providing an utterly disgusting and depraved piece which I personally adore, Don’t Breathe. The concept is deceptively simple, kids try and rob a blind guy, blind guy is basically an evil Daredevil, fun ensues. Stephen Lang guides the passable young performers through the film with an acting showcase that is in equal parts sympathetic and downright despicable. It’s pretty difficult to discuss without spoiling, so all I’ll say is that you can expect slick cinematography and a lot of clear homages to the great Sam Raimi (which makes sense, given that he is essentially making movies through Álvarez vicariously at this point).

And now we’re deep into the drudges of 2017, with the celebrity back-patting contest that is the Oscars firmly behind us, everyone can look forward to another year of horror. Just when we thought we’d be let down, a casual masterwork comes from the mind of comedy giant Jordan Peele. I don’t feel Get Out needs any more praise than it already has at this point, it’s far too fresh in our minds to really say anything else. However, the deft combination of a frightening concept, on point comic relief, racial overtones and third act thrills makes for one satisfying meal.

I don’t know about you, but I believe horror is far from dead. If anything, it’s alive, kicking, and still holds the ability to scare the shit out of us.

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