The Sunday Salon: Fiction Into Reality

Last month over at the Tor.com blog, Emily Asher-Perrin posted “Fiction Into Reality: Why We Borrow From What We Love”. Asher-Perrin talks about how we deliberately mimic our favorite characters and our stories; for example, as a little kid, she would sometimes dress up a little bit like Luke Skywalker as a little kid to liven up the humdrum routine of school. She concludes that “[m]aybe it’s a little bit about courage. About reinvention. About taking charge of yourself, and becoming the person you want to be.” I think we see the same sentiment in I Want My MTV, when artist Howard Jones states that “[s]urely that’s one of the functions of pop culture, to show people that there are many options out there and you can choose which one is right for you” (115). Given the diverse tastes of fans, we’ve got a lot of options to choose from, and reading Asher-Perrin’s post made me want to share some of the stuff that I have consciously taken from fandom.

First and foremost, there’s the hair. As a preteen obsessed with Yu-Gi-Oh!, I had bangs throughout my formative years. The logic went something like this: 1. Anime characters have bangs. 2. Give yourself bangs. 3. ??? 4. Profit. And they weren’t cute Zooey Deschanel bangs either; I blended them into the rest of my hair—a bob that served to make my already enormous head even more of a beige circle—with safety scissors. At the time, I thought I looked so cool, but it was just… not good. Ugh. Yes, there are plenty of pictures—I recoil a bit every time I see my senior photo from high school, which my mother has enshrined in the coat closet in her house—and no, you won’t be seeing them.

But the far more successful Phase II of my hair also has roots in fandom. (That was bad. That was a bad pun and I admit it, but I’m not going to change it.) I actually started growing it out for a costume, which now escapes me, (or, as my mother thought for a few years, my brother’s wedding), and I’ve ended up with long, (dyed) blonde hair. Hair is an interesting thing, in terms of gender presentation—I know I feel a little alienated from the queer community at my college because I never got that memo about how I was supposed to cut my hair and start smoking to prove my status. Instead, what I’m trying to say with my hair is “I AM A NORMAN WARRIOR PRINCESS AND ALSO A LION AT THE SAME TIME! FEAR ME!”. My hair makes me feel like Princess Zelda (ninja and pirate editions preferred) or Éowyn. Or, when my roots have grown out a bit and I’ve skipped a wash, Éomer. Hey, some days are hat days.

Eomer

As for the way I dress, I have a handful of celebrities whose style I cop all the time—Janelle Monae and Noel Fielding in most particular. I actually bought a pair of polka-dotted skinny jeans because I’ve seen him wear such a pair. But I feel that’s fairly common and, most of the time, I’m aiming at some abstract concepts of my own, which usually run along the lines of “1970s professional” to “monster goddess”. I do, however, have one item that is directly from fandom—I’ve got a John Watson sweater. It’s a cable-knit turtleneck I found in a thrift store that immediately reminded me of his Christmas jumper: same color palette, but reversed, same pattern as this sweater he’s worn on Sherlock. It’s a bit short in the torso, so I usually wear it on Sundays while doing errands, but it does make me feel a bit more like a “brave, intelligent lady killer”. In an incredibly comfy sweater.

Lastly, when it comes to a turn of phrase, I usually find myself reaching for Eddie Izzard. Last summer, while interning for my college library, I was tasked with spacing out the second level of our stacks—essentially, moving books slightly to the left. I was utterly beside myself. I quote him quite casually, and none of my friends have seen him enough to call me out, but I almost like having Izzard to myself. While I’m very much against any attitudes towards pop culture that thinks lack of visibility is somehow a determinant of value, it also makes me feel like I’ve successfully integrated Izzard’s influence into my life—basing my gender presentation on how I feel that day instead of how I’ve been presenting recently and an absurdist view towards history. (“Fact-based jokes”, to quote Simon Amstell.) It’s not a quote, but my frequent retellings of Rasputin’s death and the Norman Invasion definitely stem from listening to Dress to Kill over and over again.

Eddie izzard strike a pose.

This week has been… hectic. Always hectic. I haven’t managed to get a lot of reading done, although I did finish off His Last Bow and I’ll be finishing a wonderful book called Soul by Soul for class presumably Monday evening. So today will be devoted to chores, reading, working on my personal statement, and sleeping. I’ll probably take a walk at some point, unless the heavens open up. But it was quite lovely yesterday, so here’s hoping.

This week’s links:

  • SciFind.com’s “The Other 11 Doctors” imagines Doctor Who in an alternate universe where the good Doctor has always been played by women. Good choices, all around, well-researched (if Honor Blackman is playing the Doctor, what about The Avengers?), and the thought of Dame Judi Dench as Professor Yana made me get up and dance. 
  • Dr. Caroline Heldman’s “The Sexy Lie” TEDTalk falls into territory I consider femmephobic towards the end, such as framing cosmetics and taking an hour to get ready in the morning as utter wastes of money and time, so I considered not linking it, but her discussion of how sexual objectification gets into women’s heads and leads to “spectating” is so chilling I have to.
  • Luckily, Colin Stokes’ TEDTalk, “How Movies Teach Manhood“, is pretty much perfect. This might seem like covered ground, but Stokes has an interesting angle on the situation and offers up such a beautiful vision of a world where female leadership is treated as common, normal, and, subversively, superior to the male hero saving the day with violence. Also included: an interesting application of the Bechdel Test.
  • Patrick Radden Keefe writes about the story of Amy Bishop, a neurobiologist who shot several of her colleagues, in “A Loaded Gun” at The New Yorker. I was interested at first because you so rarely hear about female shooters, and then the twist in the story kept me reading late into the night.
  • I’m really enjoying Slate’s Blogging the Beatles series as I continue my efforts to understand pop culture.
  • This week’s installment in Steven Hyden’s “The Winners’ History of Rock and Roll” at Grantland covers Metallica. It’s perhaps not as thrilling as other installments, but posits, towards the end, that the next revolution in music was not a band, but a technology—something like the Beatles will never happen again. Whoa.
  • I enjoyed a poem and I don’t know what’s happening to me. Is this maturity? Can I reverse this process by eating too much candy? Continuing the Beatles theme, Lebanese-American writer Khalil Gibran is quoted in “Julia”. I sought out his poem “Sand and Foam” to continue my research and ended up crying. It’s not poetry how I’ve been taught it, but more a collection of thoughts about the universe. Choice line that started the tears: “Oftentimes I have hated in self-defense; but if I were stronger I would not have used such a weapon.”
  • To counter the idea brought up in Hyden’s piece, here’s Wesley Morris, also at Grantland, writing about Beyoncé’s halftime performance at the Super Bowl and positing her as a unifying force in pop culture—everybody loves Queen B. He also highlights how the performance was so woman-focused; you don’t have to perform “Run The World (Girls)” if it’s clear that you are already doing that.
  • George Saunders’ “The Semplica-Girl Diaries” at The New Yorker frustrates me, because the concept is so fascinating—impoverished Third World women can elect to be sent to America to be used as lawn ornaments and a middle-class family “hires” them—and then it turns into the spiritual awakening of a middle-class white guy due to the much more interesting (and extremely off-page) moral dilemmas these women are facing. It’s not that the story focuses on his awakening, it’s that it does so at the sacrifice of such amazing material. Let me know what you think if you read it or have read it; I want other perspectives on this.
  • I’ve started reading Zen Habits and it’s been extremely useful. I’m trying to practice mindful eating, as bought up by Leo Babauta, the proprietor, to order to fend off the concept of food as reward, not fuel. But I particularly want to share this week’s “Advice to my Kids“, because it starts off with “You are good enough” and people need to hear that more often.
  • The second consul in my consulate of advice columnists is the Awl’s Ask Polly. When someone asks Polly why people suck so much all the time, Polly gives her phenomenal advice: “You must stop trying to teach people lessons.” I identify very heavily with this one, because that is exactly what I needed to hear as a kid and never did.
  • I present the Amazonian fruits of Onion writer Seth Reiss and comedian Jake Fogelnest’s endearingly bizarre hate/hate relationship with Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip without comment.

What have you deliberately incorporated from fandom or books into your life?

8 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Fiction Into Reality

  1. Who else is in your consul of advice columnists? I adore advice columnists, I would read twelve of them a day if I could. My secret dream job is to be an advice columnist.

  2. Thanks for your link to Caroline Heldman’s talk – I thought she did a pretty good job in the short time she spoke. I didn’t think she was femmephobic at all. I suppose when it comes to make-up, it depends why you do it – but isn’t it a waste of time? However much make-up you have on has no impact at all on how well you do your job or how you react to people, unless you are using the make-up as a crutch to boost your self-esteem. That’s my take on it, anyway.

    • This is pretty complicated for me, so I’ll try and articulate how I feel about it.

      For instance, I have acne scars. When I’m getting ready in the morning and I find myself reaching for the foundation, I make sure to ask myself if I’m putting it on because I feel bad about how my skin looks and want to apologize for it. If it’s an apology or, as you say, “a crutch to boost my self-esteem” that day, it’s a no-go. But if I’m feeling particularly femme or want a consistent canvas, I do.

      It’s true that cosmetics have no direct impact on how you do your work. But human beings have always loved to adorn themselves, and cosmetics are a part of that. Heldman, in her compressed amount of time, is protesting against the idea that it’s required to get your voice heard, and I absolutely agree with that. But I also think that, in an ideal world where everybody loved their bodies and everyone respected each other for their intellect, not their bodies, people would still wear cosmetics. What irked me here was Heldman treating all usage of cosmetics as worthless and inferior to intellectual pursuits—putting them on that tired binary of beauty versus brains, which ties into the gag-inducing binary “artificial” femininity versus “natural” masculinity. I direct you to Whipping Girl for more information on that, if you are so inclined.

      • After I made my comment I did think it was maybe a bit harsh, so thanks for replying so thoughtfully. I didn’t think she was treating all cosmetic use as inferior, more that spending an hour putting on one’s make-up wasn’t a very productive use of one’s time. I quite agree that adornment is a human urge, and I wouldn’t have so much of a problem with women’s use of make-up if men did as well – then it becomes a definite human tendency rather than a woman’s need to look good for her mate. I should confess that I very rarely wear make-up myself – mainly because I hate the way my skin feels under foundation, and because I don’t look like me when I wear it. But that’s how I feel, and I know others don’t, so that’s probably why I tend to agree with Heldman’s argument.

      • Well, if you’re spending an hour, you’re probably prepping for a red carpet or in prosthetics.😉

        Masculine cosmetic usage is interesting—there are men who do so (eyeliner seems most acceptable in young men, and any male celebrity with a stylist wears make-up to public appearances and in films), but since cosmetics are so gendered as feminine and the feminine is so devalued, overt usage is looked at askance. (“Why would you want to be a woman?” the thinking goes.) This is ground much better covered by Julia Serano in Whipping Girl, which I heartily recommend.

        Right. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Heldman’s argument, but I just found it a little excluding. I like to nip femmephobia in the bud, because femmes are not the problem, the system is the problem. We are all glorious freaks etc.

  3. I love this post. I remember finding the recipe for Butterbeer on the internet when I was in middle school and how my former step-mother’s sister (I have a weird family) helped me make it with my former cousins. It was delicious. I am probably more okay with my bushy hair because of Hermione. I remember desperately wanting straight hair forever and ever, and even straightening it every day in high school, until I cut it all off and figured out to manage it. And also reminding myself that Hermione had bushy hair, so I could too. I also love the Advice to my Children article. Thank you for sharing.

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