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Tauriel – A Feminist Critique

The Lord of the Rings as a franchise doesn’t age well when subjected to critiques of feminism and racism; it is unfortunate that the original books were a product of a society that was entrenched in some very nasty attitudes towards those who were not eminently respectable white gentlemen. This does not mean that Tolkien and Lord of the Rings are ‘bad’, just that it’s an intensely male and white franchise. It is what it is, and it is as much a period piece as it is a great fantasy work.

So, along comes the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. They are undeniably great films, but have a definite gender problem. Middle Earth is a very male place indeed and there are four named women who hold prominence; Arwen, an elfish princess who is the love interest of Aragorn, Éowyn, a shield maiden of Rohan who is romantically interested in Aragorn and ends up pushed to the side to be with Faramir, Galadriel, who… gives presents and has wise voice overs, and Rosie, who is the love interest of Samwise (much to the disappointment of a generation of young women Tolkien could never have predicted). Can you see what the problem is here? Saving Galadriel, who barely features in the second and third films, the women have a function as love interests to men. And while I think Éowyn is an outstanding character, and she serves a vital function in the destruction of Sauron, she does get shoved off to Faramir right at the end. It’s as if the giant misogynistic finger of God descended from the heavens, pointed at poor old Miranda Otto in her battle gear, and loudly proclaimed for all to hear, ‘Well done, you have killed the Witch King in order to defy the boundaries of your patriarchal society. Now you can settle into babies and retirement with this man that you barely know. I hope you like beards!’.

Now, I know you’ll be saying that this is a silly criticism to make. The films were written by a predominately female writing team, can’t I be happy with that? And it’s not like Peter Jackson can just insert a female character just to fulfil your silly girly fantasies of riding around Middle Earth without washing and not having to settle for the first man that is free. They are a fairly accurate and loving adaptation of Tolkien’s epic trilogy, and the women can only perform the role proscribed by the canon text.

Aha. Aha.

When it came to making The Hobbit into a film, the Jackson writing team decided that they would turn it into three films. There are plenty of pros and cons of that decision, but the team decided that a major problem was a lack of female representation. They could bring in Galadriel, as they adapted parts of The Silmarillion in order to make the films serve as a direct prequel to the original trilogy, but The Hobbit is a 100% sausage fest. It was absolutely unacceptable that there would be a three film series with only one named woman of importance. The question was, were would the original female character be inserted? The Mirkwood elves were the best choice, seeing as they play an important role in the second and third films, and expansions could be easily made. Enter Tauriel, the female captain of the guard, and an absolutely guaranteed ass kicker. Evangeline Lily took the role on the promise that her character would not be involved into overly complicated romance plots; after all, she was well known for playing Kate on the show Lost and was unfortunately despised for her boomeranging between Sawyer and Jack. Tauriel was going to be exciting and wonderful and remind all us twenty something female fans of the moment when we saw Éowyn or Arwen swing their swords and for a precious moment knew that strength, nobility, and courage does not solely come in a male package.

I sat anxiously on opening night, with my box of popcorn and my packet of Minstrels, and… well, Tauriel certainly does kick a lot of orc backside, but she unfortunately falls right into Beaton syndrome. What is Beaton syndrome? Kate Beaton, the artist and writer behind Hark A Vagrant!, identified that ‘strong’ women in films (‘strong’ being a synonym for ‘I may be a sexy [insert job here] but I can also kill a lot of things with my pinky finger’) often invariably get pushed into a relationship with one of the convenient men around her for no apparent reason. A woman’s existence must be vindicated by her connection to a male character, and love is an appropriate avenue.

Tauriel, for all that she is captain of the guard, falls squarely into ‘love interest’ territory. Not only is she the token woman on display – where are the elves of Mirkwood hiding all their other women, I wonder? – but she is double the amount of love interest. Tauriel, despite the promises Peter Jackson made to Lily, is the focus of a love triangle. The Prince of Mirkwood has feelings for a lowly, common elf, while she finds herself attracted to the bad boy dwarf prince. This is the kind of cliché I cut my teeth on as a fiction writer, and has all the bad smell of studio hacks all over it. After all, love triangles produce huge box office returns; the despised Twilight ‘saga’ brought in the big bucks with their ridiculous ‘Teams’, and the Hunger Games is marketed to teenage girls as being the intense struggle Katniss has between Peeta and Gale. If you want to bring in an audience of teenage girls, who have lots of money to spend, then you must include this latest market fad.

That is what Tauriel feels like. She feels like the creation of network executives. She has a love triangle. She is another archer, in a market where archery is very popular. She can be sold as a toy to both boys and girls, making the most profit the company can get from the great Tolkien cash cow. She is vaguely conflicted. Tauriel feels like something created by a group of men ticking boxes for maximum demographic appeal.

It is noticeable in a year where Bryan Fuller, the noted cult TV writer, has created a new adaptation of Thomas Harris’s ‘Hannibal’ novels. The Harris books, similar to the works of Tolkien, reflect the attitudes and society of the age in which they were written – in this case, the world of law enforcement in the 1980s. Fuller knew that the Hannibal books are not diverse to successfully reflect the modern world, and genders and ethnicities of characters have been changed. It makes not a lick of difference to the show, other than to highlight what other franchises are getting wrong.

This is a tragedy to what could have been a stunning achievement as a character. Tauriel, when taken away from the love aspect of her subplot, is an elf who dreams of seeing beyond the confines of her forest home. She wants to experience a whole new world. She knows the rank hypocrisy of the system that holds her up and yet would refuse to aid those who do not conform. Like the greatest of Tolkien’s characters, she looks beyond herself to fight against evil. In the film, her feelings about the evil that is spreading across Middle Earth must be related to how it impacts on the men in her life, not upon her own instincts. All that she does must be joined with a thick line to a man, denying her any agency of her own. She does not achieve the noble aim of diversifying Middle Earth.

However, this does not mean that I dislike Tauriel as a character. Yes. I know. That does sound massively contradictory considering I’ve spent over a thousand words summarising why she fails under a feminist critique. But there is something in my gut that means I cannot dislike a woman working and striving to achieve something in a masculine world that attempts to deny her presence. As soon as I saw her, kicking orc arse and being a general badass, I liked Tauriel. She is a lone woman surviving in a world that does not accept the different. She is a woman struggling with the pain of letting down those she cares about. She finds the token that humanises a creature she despises, and makes her turn away from an age-old animosity between races. She finds herself connected to someone she might lose because of old and powerful evil that she cannot fight against alone. Evangeline Lily is an immensely talented actress, and makes a part that feels so small and so proscribed so utterly real. Despite myself, I found myself believing in the connection that she made with Kili. To tell the truth, even though it was riddled with problems and felt like the decision of a network board, I found it utterly adorable. There is nothing like impossible, difficult, tragic love to melt my bitter heart.
No matter her faults under a feminist critique, Tauriel embodies the best traits of Tolkien’s characters; compassion, courage, a willingness to express and feel love, and the determination to fight for what she knows is right, no matter what the personal cost may be. When my young niece is old enough to watch these films with me, I will not be upset or angry if she wishes to be like Tauriel. I would only wish that she would take those values, and demand more from the unequal world around her.

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Could the next Doctor be female?

I’m sure you’ve heard the news that Matt Smith has made the decision to leave his role as the eleventh Doctor in this year’s Christmas special. After an astounding tenure on the show, he’s moving onto fresh new projects where he can show off his phenomenal talent and boundless enthusiasm. As fans, we can be sad about his leaving but excited at the idea of a brand new Doctor and a brand new actor, bringing something new and interesting to the show.

Speculation as to who will be chosen to portray the next incarnation of this iconic figure began long before the news was made official.  The UK has had a recent explosion in acting talent, with those relatively unknown just a few years ago – such as Eddie Redmayne, Idris Elba, and Tom Hiddleston – all being named as potential candidates.  Others have opted for older favourites, like Bill Nighy, Paul Bettany, or comedian Eddie Izzard.

However, there is a small group within the Whovian fandom who are suggesting rather more… radical candidates.

Why can’t the next incarnation of the Doctor be female?

Now, the suggestion is met with anger and outright hatred in many quarters, but why shouldn’t the twelfth Doctor be female?

But the Doctor’s always been male!

Only so far. Remember, he comes from an alien species capable of re-writing their own DNA sequence so they can avoid dying. There’s nothing to say that he can’t be another race or another gender – or even avoid the whole messy business of gender altogether!  The potential of a Time Lord becoming a Time Lady has been brought up in show and it is possible. Just because the Doctor has been male so far doesn’t mean he can’t be female the next time.

It would ruin the show forever!

This is the same TV show that had the villains for three episodes be farting aliens, a man in a relationship with a face in a paving slab, and the Doctor restored to full health and vigour by the power of belief. Having the Doctor be female is not as bad as you think it is.

Making the Doctor female would upset the character dynamic!

Changing the gender of a character has proven itself to be a really interesting way to explore and develop character relationships in a long established franchise.  Elementary, with Joan Watson, and Hannibal, with Freddie Lounds and Alana Bloom, have both shown that changing a character from male to female provides an impetus for some stellar story telling.

Besides, I’d like to see two women kicking ass and saving people across the universe – wouldn’t you?

 I just don’t want the Doctor to be female.

If the prospect of a female leading character in a sci-fi TV show is so worrying to you, then Doctor Who is not the programme for you. The show has got a long history of women in leading roles who are clever and just as good at taking down invading alien forces as any bloke can be.

Let’s not forget that one of the show’s main messages is that everyone is special, unique, and worthwhile. If you think a woman can’t promote these messages, you might have to consider that you don’t understand how important they are.

Making the Doctor a woman is just a gimmick.

Maybe it might be. But would you label casting Colin Salmon or Idris Elba as ‘gimmick’ casting because of their race? There are no good reasons why the Doctor shouldn’t be female, and if the casting team decide to cast an actress in the role we should all support her and be excited for what she can bring to the role.

Top 5 Potential Ladybros to Play The Doctor

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1. Anna Friel

For this ladybro Whovian, Anna Friel won me over in her portrayal of quirky and funny ‘lonely tourist’ Chuck Charles in Pushing Daisies.  Friel has a wonderful warmth as an actress, and she is as adorable as a button button. However, she is an immensely talented actress, with a wealth of steely reserve that could be called in to play the last survivor of the final great Time War.

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2. Lenora Crichlow

The role of Annie in Being Human has always marked out Lenora Crichlow as a potential Doctor to me. Annie was a difficult character to play, but Crichlow brought such love, such endless enthusiasm, such cool reserve, and such great sorrow, that playing the Doctor would be an absolute piece of cake for her.

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3. Helena Bonham Carter

Wonderfully eccentric, funny, charming, drop dead cool, clever, and oh so capable of potentially destroying a few planets… and HBC is an amazing actress.

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4. Naomie Harris

Harris has shown an amazing diversity in the roles she plays; from the vengeful goddess Tia Dalma, zombie survivor Selena, to Winne Mandela in an upcoming biopic.  Smooth, sophisticated, and smart as hell – she’d bring a touch of elegant class to the sometimes chaotic role of the Doctor.

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5. Rose Leslie

Rose Leslie has become known for her role as fiery and unpredictable Ygritte in Game of Thrones. With her, the Doctor could finally be ginger.

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The Trouble With X-Men…

X-Men is one of the great nostalgic franchises of our generation. It’s been going since the sixties, but most of us carry a torch for those rascally mutants from the classic cartoon of the early 90’s and the blockbuster Singer films from the 2000’s. For some, this was our first introduction into the world of science fiction, a world which did not shy away from dealing with heavy themes – that of bigotry, prejudice and intolerance. As children, we marvelled at a medium which had the respect to treat us like adults, while having elements that were simply fantastical – giant killer robots, gravity-defying planes and people with amazing powers. Everyone has a favourite X Man; mine include Gambit, a man capable of making a Cajun accent appealing, and X-23, the female clone of Wolverine, who is a universally acknowledged general badass.
However, as you grow up you start to notice a few problems with the X-Men universe, problems which are ignored in the franchise because they’d pretty much be gamebreakers.

 
People are right to hate mutants.

 
Yeah, I said it. People in the Marvel universe have every right to hate mutants and demand they be registered. One of the main themes of the X-Men universe is that they are a metaphor for whatever mainstream prejudice society is currently exhibiting; in the sixties, they were a metaphor for the civil rights movement, and currently, they represent the struggles of the gay rights movement in America. There’s just one small catch with this though: there are perfectly justifiable reasons to want mutants to be registered and watched by the government. Mutants are dangerous! Just look at our heroes – there’s a woman who can control the weather and therefore kill an entire country, there’s a guy who likes killing everything and pretty much lives forever, and there’s a man who can kill everyone in the world with his mind. And who are they constantly fighting? A man who with the power of magnetism, in the Ultimates universe, moved the moon to cause a tidal wave that killed hundreds of thousands of people! Fearing mutants is entirely justified, and the metaphor of a wrongly treated people, hated simply because they are born a certain way, just does not fit with the characters presented.

 
And yet other mutants are not hated.

 
On the other side of the coin, there are mutants in the Marvel universe who are not hated and are accepted in society quite happily. Take the Fantastic Four, for example; they were mutated into their superhero forms through travelling in space and are perfectly accepted by the American public. Or let’s take a look at the star spangled man with a plan, Captain America. The super soldier serum changed his body, mutating it even. Then why are his extraordinary abilities which could potentially be used to hurt a lot of people not hated and reviled? What is the difference between being born with a mutation or developing one in later life? And here is the problem – the major antagonism of the X Men stories is not tonally consistent with the rest of the Marvel universe. In terms of co-existing with the rest of Marvel’s output, be it in comics, games or films, the X-Men just don’t seem to fit in with the rest of them.

 
No one stays dead.

 
This is the great joke of the medium. ‘”No one stays dead in comics except for Jason Todd, Uncle Ben and Bucky.” (well, only one of those are still dead now) But it’s a very valid criticism to make. It’s hard to write stories or events leading up to an epic conclusion where you might kill characters off when your readers don’t think it’s going to go anywhere – sure, Jean Grey might die again, but she’ll pop up again within a year. Writers of comic books are constantly thumping down on that reset button. Why not let that button rest a little? Instead of having this constant nostalgic desire to see the characters you grew up with fight and interact, why not move the story on and let it develop like any other? Change and innovation don’t have to be bad things, and yes, it’s a pretty huge game changer for Professor X to die for real and the death to stick, but it would give the writers a fantastic opportunity in story telling – and it’s the story that should matter. And really, they should let characters stay dead as a matter of compassion; poor old Jean Grey must be exhausted, popping out of her open coffin so often. Won’t you give the girl a break and let her rest?

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Is Disney buying Lucasfilm a bad thing?

Fandom is in uproar.  Everyone has woken up to the news that Disney has purchased Lucasfilm, with varying degrees of panic.

George Lucas said that, “It’s now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of film-makers.”

Disney are planning to release a new Star Wars film, episode seven, in 2015, followed by episodes eight and nine, and then hopefully a new film every two or three years.

Let’s hold up guys before we start freaking out.  This could actually be really good for the Star Wars franchise.  Let’s look at this sensibly, before we start imagining Sith lords belting out villain songs and cute critter companions.

Disney has a great record with films.  They’d be putting the Pixar and Marvel films writers onto the Star Wars films, and we all know they’re some of the best screenwriters in the business. More than that, they’re screenwriters with a deep love of the original films.  They’re the generation who grew up on these films – these films inspired them to write and create stories!

This deep admiration for the original films could also avoid some of the problems of the new trilogy.  George Lucas had some great ideas, but also had some great ideas about how to meddle with the ideas.  No repeats of Jar Jar Binks.  No more deep conversations about sand.  No more adjusting and readjusting the original films.  Disney will look after the legacy of Star Wars, because it’ll be in their best interest to do so.  They won’t reedit the original to include song and dance numbers, and they certainly would make another Christmas special (although they might try to release the original).

The extended Star Wars universe is ripe for adaptation and being seen on the big screen.  Much like the extended Doctor Who universe, there are hundreds of stories detailing the further adventures of Luke, Leia and Han Solo.  We’ve all seen how the story started, now we get to see how they continue.

Disney purchasing Lucasfilm could be the best thing for the Star Wars franchise.  It could also lead to the fifth Indianna Jones film being made and not involving giant crystal aliens.  It’s pretty much win-win.

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Who is the best Firefly character?

Which member of the Serenity crew can you simply not get enough of?  Who is – definitively – the best Firefly character?

It’s not gonna be easy, but you can only pick one…

Who is the best Firefly character?

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3 Sci-Fi Sites You Must Follow

Everyone knows all about IGN, Gizmodo etc.

But there are other sites out there that post great content every day, and are well worth your time following.

1. Geekologie

If you like your sci-fi to amuse you, take a look at Geekologie.  They get some great reader tip-offs, and some of their content is the first place on the web you’ll find it.

2. Den of Geek

Okay, so these guys are pretty popular already.

But their content is interest, well-written, bang up to date and their website’s theme is one of the nicest around.  It makes for a great overall reading experience.

3. Geeks of Doom

Another site I”m a real fan of, although it’s probably not quite as nice as Den of Geek.

They have some great content, and it’s very easy to access it.  A great way to stay bang up to date with all things geek.

And of course there’s us.  But you already knew that.