And Yet We Are Still Not Moving To Starling City (Episode Three)

ollivergollumThis episode is called, “Emo and Dramatic.” I’m pretty sure that’s the official title.

So now, in episode three, I’m starting to become suspicious of not-Chris-O’Donnell’s methods. Maybe because we open with a super dark monologue/intro about how Starling City is controlled by corrupt bureaucrats who kill people with bureaucracy and who infect Starling City like a cancer. There’s lots of talk about cancer. Maybe this monologue would work if it wasn’t VO’d over shots of not-Chris-O’Donnell readying his arrows, because all I can think about is how you don’t shoot cancer with arrows, and that if the cancer is as entrenched and pervasive as not-Chris-O’Donnell says that it is, then killing individual people who perpetuate it will do nothing to eradicate the actual system that exists. To do that I think you need to avail yourself of the police, district attorney, and media outlets in your town (all of whom, so far at least, appear to be relatively non-corrupt). Corruption, at its core, is a social and systemic issue. I googled, and none of the typical methods of fighting corruption in business and government use arrows. (A casual perusal of a couple years of data also seems to suggest that global governmental corruption is increasing, though, so who am I to cast aspersions on new strategies?)

Oh Jesus. Know what I just realized? I just realized what Oliver’s doing. He’s murdering the competition. I know he says he doesn’t want to be part of the Queen Corporation, but that’s only because he hasn’t gotten to that part of his plan yet. He’s killing all of his rival manor lords, and protecting the little people of the city, and when all of the rival nobles are destroyed he will take his place on the throne of the Queen Corp and rule like a king in a castle. And all the serfs in the Glades will give him a measure of their bread every year and everything will be happy. He’s assembling a serfdom, you guys. Feudalism lives!

While I’m thinking about that, not-Chris-O’Donnell goes to shake down a rival nobleman, but before he can finish with his shakedown speech a sniper shoots the evil gangster capitalist. Oliver also takes a bullet to the arm before he escapes to his lair, the bullet turns out to be poisoned, Oliver takes an antidote just in time to not die but still spends most of the night unconscious.

Not-Chris-O’Donnell wakes up and rushes home to find his mother talking to cops, and immediately somehow intuits that the cops aren’t there to find him (son who’s been shipwrecked for five years and already kidnapped once and who has been missing all night and shown a tendency to slip his security detail, who is in fact here in the room with mom, and who also hasn’t seen not-Chris-O’Donnell all night).

“You look like crap,” says Lil Sis to not-Chris-O’Donnell. No he doesn’t! He looks chiseled and hot and impassive LIKE IN EVERY SCENE EVER. “He actually seems to have more color than usual,” says my roommate. Lil Sis leaves the room and Oliver steps up to give his mom parenting advice, which is another thing he picked up on the island (a list that so far includes: ninja fighting, archery, computer hacking, and a master’s in business administration).

And here we find out that Oliver speaks Russian. Something else he learned on the island, I suppose. He passes himself off as a member of the Russian mafia, or something, to get the other mafia guy to find the guy who shot the Lord of the Rival Manor. Mafia guy threatens to kill not-Chris-O’Donnell and his entire family. I think not-Chris-O’Donnell might be getting to the point where that’d be okay with him. His sister is now openly abusing drugs and alcohol and mocking anyone who says offensive things like, “Hey, stop getting drunk and go to school, you’re seventeen.”

We are also discovering through flashbacks that not-Chris-O’Donnell wasn’t alone on his desert island. Instead he was captured by a sadistic madman and tortured into what I can only assume, at this point, is some kind of epic-level Stockholm syndrome madness. Maybe he’s a sleeper agent. Maybe he’s a brainwashed automaton who’s been programmed to destroy Starling City. ANYTHING COULD BE GOING ON AT THIS POINT, GUYS.

Also in this episode we are introduced to a murderous psychopath sniper who tattoos the names of his victims on his own body, but who otherwise leaves no trace of evidence against himself. Not-Chris-O’Donnell brings an arrow to a gunfight and, unsurprisingly, fails to murder. He does steal the assassin’s computer, though. So maybe that’ll give him the information he needs until he can get a look at the dude’s body and take notes from his tattoos. He takes the computer to an IT worker at the Queen Corporation who looks like ADA Alex Cabot from Law & Order: SVU and who I will be referring to as not-Alex-Cabot if she becomes a regular cast member.

Lil Sis has really good grammar when she’s mouthing off to her mother. “Important to whom?!”

Not-Chris-O’Donnell figures out that the reason why the Manor Lord was murdered was actually just a ploy to be able to murder all the other Starling City Manor Lords, who are all showing up at an auction to buy Manor Lord’s assets. Not-Chris-O’Donnell also realizes that there’s no way he can protect 50+ capitalist gangsters who are all trying to buy stuff, so instead of calling Starling Police Department’s anonymous tip line or some such, he slams Detective Dad into a parked car and tells him he needs to provide security for the auction. Detective Dad does what he’s told, since this is concerned citizenry’s usual method for reporting planned crimes.

Also Murderous Tattoo Assassin Dude has a gun mounted on his wrist like a Transformer or something. This does not actually seem like the best idea (Assassin Dude is undoubtedly more coordinated than me. I would shoot off my own hand). It does him no good, though, because not-Chris-O’Donnell shoots him in the face with an arrow because nobody gets to kill corrupt manor lords except himself. Not-Chris-O’Donnell’s security guard is unexpectedly let in on not-Chris-O’Donnell secret identity, because he gets shot with a poisoned bullet and not-Chris-O’Donnell can’t let him die. (I really should learn security guy’s name, he’s definitely one of the least obnoxious characters so far.)

End scene.

More Reasons to Not Move to Starling City (Episode Two)

arrow2In case you missed the first post, me and Roommate are watching the WB series Arrow and I’m blogging about it until it gets good. Well, and potentially after it gets good, if I’m going to spend internet space making fun of it, I should, in fairness, also devote internet space when it gets awesome. If it gets awesome. In the last episode, a character who looks suspiciously like Chris O’Donnell got rescued from a tropical island, was reunited with his family, everyone got mad at him, he DIY’ed a secret lair from which to dispense JUSTICE(!), attempted to blackmail a nefarious businessman but ended up shooting him with arrows instead, and dispersed said stolen millions to the masses. Let us continue with our (anti) hero’s adventures in this, episode two.

We start this episode with not-Chris-O’Donnell violently avenging/blackmailing a rich corrupt person who I’m sure has been economically abusing the helpless. (How did we get the rich corrupt person on top of a rooftop? Not important.) “My family’s wealth is built on the suffering of others” Oliver tells us via voiceover. I know you’re referring to general abuse and corruption, not-Chris-O’Donnell, but this just makes me think that you don’t know how capitalism works.

We then cut to not-Chris-O’Donnell getting declared un-dead (zombie-not-Chris-O’Donnell?), which I thought was only a thing you could do in India, and involves a lot of flashbacks of Oliver’s dad shooting himself and seeing the island for the first time and a terrible castaway wig that I’m sure we’ll get to see again. And probably again. Laurel is at the courthouse, because she’s a lawyer, and she’s mad at Oliver again, which I totally support. You enforce those boundaries, girlfriend.

We see enough of a courtroom scene to see that Laurel is also fighting for justice (JUSTICE!), and then we cut to a sexy exercising montage with voiceover from Oliver about justice and carrying out his father’s dying wish. Apparently his father gave him a list of all the people in Starling City who deserve to die. How convenient. Also, excellent parenting, Dad. Most excellent.

Of course, in order to get to sexy exercising montage, not-Chris-O’Donnell had to slip away from his bodyguard again, which is starting to annoy his mother. She tells him she’s afraid he’s going to get kidnapped (which is either totally justified, because he already got kidnapped once, or totally baseless, because he’s already been kidnapped so it would seem that particular danger is past), which I think we all agree would be completely terrible because she might have to hug her son a second time or something. That would just be awkward. We must be really careful to stay away from creating situations that might make people feel things. Or have to pretend to feel things.

Lil Sis is still mad at Oliver (sorry, I mean not-Chris-O’Donnell. The actor’s actual name is Stephen Amell. The character’s name is Oliver), because he’s been home a week and all he’s done is avoid the family. He’s been home a week and all you’ve done is go to parties and be mad at him, so um, I’m not really feeling you on the “my older brother doesn’t want to hang out with me while I drink and do drugs” poutyness.

Detective Dad (that is, Laurel’s dad, who is a member of the Starling City Police) is meeting with Guy Who Owns the Port, who is the guy that was getting shot at in the opening scene. They argue about whether the police have the right to enforce laws, or if Detective Dad is just acting out of some kind of personal agenda. “I’m pretty good at keeping my emotions in check.” No, you’re not, Detective Dad. You’re really, really not.

Mom wants not-Chris-O’Donnell to take a leadership role in the company that the family owns. Not-Chris-O’Donnell, shockingly, doesn’t want to. Mom is disappointed. Very disappointed. I think she’s re-thinking being happy about having her son home. Maybe you should’ve just stayed on that island until you were ready to take over a multi-billion dollar company, not-Chris-O’Donnell. You mastered archery, computer hacking, and ninja fighting skills on the island. I’m sure the MBA was just about to come to you (Oliver actually makes a joke about getting an MBA while being stuck on the island. I might start to like this show).

The members of the press in this town apparently have nothing to do besides mob not-Chris-O’Donnell every time he steps outside. Is this what life was like for Andrew Carnegie? Bill Gates? Because it’s pretty intense. So far no members of the media seem to be investigating why Starling City’s most prominent and wealthy citizens are getting attacked with arrows, but maybe the police are keeping a lid on it.

Nineteen minutes into the episode and we discover what it’s about: Guy Who Owns The Port has been allowing a drug smuggler to use his port. Oliver is shooting arrows at GWOTP to get him to stop. Drug Smuggler’s Henchmen killed Blonde Girl’s Dad, who worked at the port and found out about the drug smuggling. Lawyer Laurel is prosecuting the Drug Smuggling Henchmen for murder but you know how hard it is with murderous conspiracy gangs. Drug Smuggler Supreme (a blonde Asian lady who is called China White because this is comics) obviously doesn’t want her henchmen convicted, and proposes killing the blonde girl who just lost her dad, because in this city it is apparently the victim’s family who controls the district attorney’s office. GWOTP says that that will bring down the formidable wrath of Laurel, so China White logically proposes that they just kill Laurel. The solution to problems with murder….is more murder! Yay.

See? Everything is totally simple and straightforward, guys.

Back in the house of awkward, Thea (that is, Lil Sis) has decided that the best way to express her pain to her brother about what she went through while he was gone is to bring him to the tombstones that his mom had erected out on the grounds that have his and his dad’s names on them. Holy shit, guys. That’s a selfish and kind of mindfucky thing to do to someone. He told you he was traumatized and not ready to talk about what happened on the island, and your response is to take him to his own memorial site and say, “I know it was hell there, but it was hell here too.” I know you’re a selfish 17-year-old, Thea, but your brother isn’t actually obligated to…I don’t even know what you want him to do. I guess he’s not shouldering his near-death experience in a way that is acceptable to you? Apologize for the absolute lack of control he was able to exert over his situation and subsequent stressing you out? How do you expect him to be all open and confiding when you act pissed off at him all the time?

Ollie feels super stressed out and guilty, so he takes his sadness to…Laurel. Who doesn’t want to let him into her apartment. I wholeheartedly support this decision. And she…oh, not-Chris-O’Donnell is acting sad, so we’re letting him in. No, this is a bad plan, Laurel, no, Laurel, don’t you remember your boundaries?

Cut to Laurel and Oliver sitting in her apartment and eating ice cream. No boundaries, then. Okay. Laurel tells Ollie to act like an adult to his mommy. This actually kind of reasonable discussion is interrupted by intruders with guns, and China White, who apparently carries out her own hits. That’s my kind of gangster kingpin. Not-Chris-O’Donnell and his bodyguard work together and foil the attack. They call the police (as you do), and Detective Dad is angry because the attack happened in Laurel’s apartment. Detective Dad wants to lock Laurel up rather than have her be in danger because of either not-Chris-O’Donnell or the drug mafia she’s prosecuting, even though….he’s a cop who’s in danger pretty much all the time. So it’s okay for her to fear for her dad’s life every day he’s at work, but he can’t handle it in reverse. Also, literally locking your daughter up is a healthy and productive way to deal with parental fear for one’s offspring. Okay.

In the meantime, Robin Hood(/Oliver/Arrow) is busy breaking up criminal gangs all by himself. My roommate points out that he’s been home a week and has already broken up like three crime rings, which makes me wonder exactly how the police force has been spending their time while he’s been away. China White and not-Chris-O’Donnell get in a fight, which is interrupted by the cops, so they break off and run away, and not-Chris-O’Donnell is stopped by Detective Dad, and he gives Dad an arrow that is also a digital recorder that recorded GWOTP’s confession to ordering the murder of Whistleblowing Stevedore Man/Blonde Girl’s Dad.

We end with not-Chris-O’Donnell interrupting a ground-breaking ceremony to tell people to stop expecting him to be his dad, which confuses me because I don’t think anyone was forcing him to say anything at this ceremony, or expecting him to be his dad at all. But he had to re-establish his reputation as a drunk, shallow playboy, I suppose. We also end with dark emo not-Chris-O’Donnell eyes and a flashback of bad-castaway-wig-Oliver burying his dad on the deserted island, and the revelation that Mom is part of the criminal conspiracy that apparently murdered her husband and son (not-Chris-O’Donnell doesn’t know this, only us). Oh, and then we end again with Oliver removing his and his dad’s tombstones from the ground. And then we end again (really this time) with another flashback to the island and Oliver getting shot with an arrow. ARROWS! I bet that ends up being significant somehow.

Reasons To Not Move to Starling City (Episode One)

arrowPeople keep telling me and my friend (henceforth referred to as Roommate) that the WB* show Arrow gets good. People whose tastes I want to respect tell me this. I got about eight episodes through season one and couldn’t take the emo angsty-ness anymore, and quit apparently “just before it gets good.”

So. I’m trying to suffer through season one and to make it to season two (which is good?). TRYING SO HARD, INTERNET. (Except now the people who tell me that season two is really good are telling me that season three is not so much. Dammit.) Blogging makes suffering bearable.

Also I want to say this disclaimer at the outset: If you like Arrow (even from the very first episode), that is all well and good and fine. I do not judge people who like the things they like. I want to say this now, and directly, because I know that when somebody is insulting and laughing at a show that you like, it’s easy to take that personally. Hell, I like Supernatural. We all like shows that other people think are dumb. I (so far at least) don’t like this show, and I’m not hiding that I don’t like the show; that doesn’t mean the show doesn’t deserve to be liked by other people. Okay? Okay.

Episode One: The Mighty Ragamuffin.

We open with Oliver Queen, who looks suspiciously like Chris O’Donnell, getting rescued from a desert island that he’s been stranded on. The mighty ragamuffin’s body is very (20%!) scarred, but otherwise not-Chris-O’Donnell is totally healthy and well-toned and not malnourished at all. He’s taken to a hospital somewhere, and his family is flown in, and his mom has a weird lack of urgency about needing to greet or hug her son, instead spending the bulk of the scene talking to the doctor in the hallway and not to her long-lost, presumed-dead son. There’s also a younger sister who I’m sure will become annoying in true WB fashion in short order.

New scene! We meet Laurel, an assistant district attorney (?) who is working in the law firm that Matthew Murdock probably should have joined rather than starting his own law firm in Hell’s Kitchen. She’s upset that not-Chris-O’Donnell has been found. Why? I’m sure it will be explained. At length. In greater depth than necessary.

Also, I will spend at least the next four episodes confusing Laurel and the sister, because we can only cast willowy female brunettes in this show and all white people look the same.

“After five years, everything that was once familiar is now unrecognizable.” That is some brilliant fucking voiceover script right there. Well done, writing staff. Not-Chris-O’Donnell is checking out his awesome hot body that is covered in scars. Awesome hotness that is covered in scars? POOR WOUNDED BOY. ME AND MY INNER EMO TEENAGE GIRL WILL FIX YOU.

Awkward family dinner time! The sister (or maybe Laurel, though I think Laurel doesn’t talk to anyone from the Queen family) asks what it was like on the island, which is apparently an inappropriate question and leads to awkward silence. Not-Chris-O’Donnell guesses that Walter is sleeping with his mom, at which point she tells him that she married Walter, and HOW IS THIS NOT THE FIRST THING YOU TELL YOUR SON WHEN YOU SAW HIM IN THE HOSPITAL THREE SCENES AGO. He found out about the past five years of Superbowl winners before he found out his mom remarried. That’s fucked up.

Not-Chris-O’Donnell’s friend wants to plan a party. Instead (in addition?) not-Chris-O’Donnell visits Laurel, who it turns out is upset because not-Chris-O’Donnell was her boyfriend until he took her sister on a yacht to screw her and then the yacht crash and her sister died and so did not-Chris-O’Donnell (except he didn’t). Okay. That’s actually a totally solid reason to not want to see a person ever again. I’m sure she will remain in this state of totally understandable aversion to his existence for at least three episodes.

Kidnapping! Guns! Guys in scary masks! Not-Chris-O’Donnell kicks their asses all on his own, then tells the detective (who is being all kinds of victim-blamey to a guy who just got kidnapped. But it’s fine because not-Chris-O’Donnell’s pre-desert island self was apparently a jerk, and the detective is just being a professional. Also this town only has twelve people in it) that a man in a hood rescued him. Sneaky devil. I assume his mom called the cops but that isn’t really explained. Also how long was he gone for? Did they realize he’d been kidnapped before he got back to his house? Maybe his friend (who also got kidnapped) insisted on calling the cops?

Best not to think about it. Not-Chris-O’Donnell is unfazed by being kidnapped, and so are we. He ducks away from the personal security his mom has hired and escapes to an abandoned factory that belongs to his family and builds himself a secret lair/personal home gym in the space of two hours and with only a band saw to assist him. I admit to being totally jealous of the pull-up ladder thing he can do. Also, building your secret lair in your family’s abandoned factory is the best idea that can have no potential for unforeseen consequences and will definitely never be discovered. We also learn that not-Chris-O’Donnell is really good with arrows, and has a green hoodie that totally disguises his identity. And that he is after justice. JUSTICE.

Onward to the welcome home party for not-Chris-O’Donnell. He is trying to be the sexy playboy when people are looking at him and dark and emo when people look away. Good luck with that. He spots his sister (at least I’m pretty sure it’s his sister and not Laurel) and OH NO DRAMA. She’s angry. Angry at him for being dead? But he’s not dead. She’s angry that he’s still alive? She’s angry that he left her all alone, like he had some choice in the matter? Also she’s accusing him of “acting like the last five years didn’t happen,” or that everything’s hunky-dory now. Girl, I know you don’t know this, but your brother spent most of the day getting kidnapped and then building himself a secret lair to capture criminals with. Your brother is not fine. He thinks he’s the goddamn Batman. Are you mad that he’s acting like a protective older brother? Is that not what older brothers do? Did you expect him to hand you some Grey Goose and a gram of coke and tell you to have fun?

Oh good, Laurel’s at the party too. This is the best party, you guys.

Laurel offers to be a sympathetic ear if he needs to talk about what he’s been through. Well, I’m glad somebody has offered to be this person, because damn does this guy need some therapy, but Laurel, you should not be that person. You should be mad at him forever, or at least for like a week. You know what’s great, Laurel? Boundaries. I advise you to get you some.

Climactic fight scene. The corrupt business owner that not-Chris-O’Donnell was trying to blackmail (because JUSTICE) refuses to send the money to the place, so not-Chris-O’Donnell arrives to beat it out of him with arrows. A fight scene ensues, with lots of machine guns and breaking glass and not-Chris-O’Donnell hitting people and stuff, and it’s actually going pretty well (in terms of being just absolutely fun to watch, well-choreographed and well-edited) until not-Chris-O’Donnell throws an arrow into the barrel of the bad guy’s gun and makes it misfire while simultaneously leaping backwards over a couch. Roommate and I watched it twice to revel in the breaking of reality–both of the laws of physics allowing this farce and of the terrible CGI special effects that are supposed to lead us to believe that such a thing happened. This is no Legolas-surfing-down-the-stairs-on-a-shield-while-slaying-orcs, guys. This is just plain ridiculous.

Also, I gotta say, having a hood pulled down over your eyes while you’re trying to fight crime seems like putting yourself at a disadvantage. Maybe it’s okay though because he’s impervious to bullets. It’s his superpower.

Turns out that not-Chris-O’Donnell did somehow get the money he was after (“via an arrow” is the explanation that Roommate offers) and Robin Hoods it to the people who deserve it, because while stuck on the desert island becoming an expert in archery and hand-to-hand fighting he also learned all about hacking secure banking systems.

…Does anyone ever realize that the arrival of the vigilante in the hood on the scene exactly coincides with not-Chris-O’Donnell’s return to Starling City? I mean, seriously.

*I know it’s been the CW for like 20 years now. I don’t care. It’ll always be the Dawson’s Creek network to me.

Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

fiftyshadesI first posted this review on my Goodreads account over here.

I try to be fair with reviews. I really do. If I don’t like something, I tell you why I don’t like it, and/or what I typically DO like, so that you (Gentle Reader) can evaluate my judgments, and decide for yourself if the things that bother me about a book are also likely to bother you. I’m not the arbiter of taste. I understand that.

And it’s not like I have super high standards. I don’t need my books (or any of my entertainment, really) to be High Art. I don’t hold a lot of truck with high falootin’ lit’ry achievements. I’ve given positive reviews to Stephen King. I find Tom Clancy and John Grisham entertaining. I enjoy Jodi Picoult. I watch more CSI and Law and Order than any self-respecting human should. I don’t need my stories to change my world. I don’t need them to be soaring artistic achievements. I just need solid tales, decently told.

All that said: I cannot even with this book. 50 Shades of Grey is bad, Gentle Readers. Infuriatingly bad. I know it’s popular (it’s outsold Harry Potter in the UK), but if ever there was an exemplar for the idea that popularity and quality do not necessarily overlap, this is it. I’m sorry if you like it. Not just sorry that I’m about to spend the next 2000 words offending and angering you (though I am), but also sorry that you apparently haven’t been exposed to more good stories, the better to compare this to. I suggest you branch out and read other things and expand your tastes, because this is bad.

As I read the book, I was so annoyed and frustrated that I started taking notes on the things that annoyed me. To whit:

  • It’s in present tense. Gah.(This actually works in the book’s favor during the sexy scenes, but for the rest of the time, it’s just jarring and annoying. There’s a reason why 98% of novels are written in the past tense).
  • In the opening scene, Ana is preparing to interview some tycoon (Christian Grey, who becomes her sexual partner) for the school paper because her roommate, the newspaper’s editor, can’t make it. I can tell you as a veteran of a school newspaper: This would not happen. First of all, in an interview as important as this one, more than one student reporter would go (and the photographer would go as well, making the whole scene in the other chapter with the photographer moot). If Kate (the roommate) couldn’t go, she’d call another editor on the paper (there are likely several), not rope her roommate into pinch hitting. Second of all, the interview is apparently a three hour drive away. Does this school not have Internet access? Skype is not a thing? Phone calls? The interview has to be in person?
  • Ana describes an elevator as “whisk[ing her] at terminal velocity.” Elevators do not do that, not even super fancy modern ones.You would be dead. The elevator would stop at the top floor and your body would continue to fly upward and would splatter you into pieces against the elevator ceiling.
  • A conference room in the office is described as having “at least 20 chairs.” Seriously? Pick a number. She’s sitting there waiting for her interviewee to become available, it’s entirely plausible for her to count them. Also, it’s a work of fiction, there’s no reason to be vague about the number of chairs.
  • In the interview, Christian Grey says he employs over 40,000 people. That makes his company twice as big as Enron. And he seems to have founded the company, not inherited it (though EL James is not specific on this point). This makes the company maybe five years old at the outside. Enron existed for 15 years before it folded. I’ve heard of fast growing companies and all, but this stretches credulity.
  • During the farcical school newspaper interview, Ana asks Christian if he’s gay. She, at least, is horrified and embarrassed (as she should be), but this comes out of nowhere, with no lead in, and at no time is Ana’s roommate (who came up with the question) challenged on her ridiculous premise that Christian must be gay because he’s never photographed in the society pages with a woman. (He’s spent the last five years building a company that’s become twice as big as Enron. I think a much more logical assumption is he’s never photographed with women because HE’S WORKING.)
  • Christian Grey is the CEO of his company, but he says he doesn’t have a board. Now, apparently, this is not a contradiction: The only companies that must have boards are ones that are publicly traded (something I’m sure Grey, control freak that he is, wouldn’t do). Most companies past a certain size have boards whether they’re publicly traded or not, but they don’t have to. And while a CEO is a common board position, there’s nothing that says that a company can’t have a CEO on his own. But still: It took me like fifteen minutes and asking four people about this before I came to the conclusion that EL James wasn’t actually wrong about this. 15 minutes that I could’ve spent reading the book. Fiction isn’t supposed to send you on fact-checking hunts, especially not this early in the game. I already distrust this author and that’s not a good sign.
  • Ana drives three hours, asks seven questions that were written for her and maybe another seven that she thought up herself in the moment. That is an extremely crappy interview, maybe half an hour long (I would read the conversation out loud to see, but I can’t bear to open the book again). It took 9 months to convince Grey to schedule the interview, and this is supposed to be an in-depth profile, and you ask seven questions? I’ve had interviews over an hour long for a 500 word article. I couldn’t even tell you how many questions I asked–I started out with a list that was maybe a page long, that I used as a guide when the conversation needed steering. Also, Christian Grey asks Ana if she wants to be shown around, and she says no. WHAT ARE YOU DOING. YOU ALWAYS SAY YES TO THAT. Even somebody with no journalistic instincts whatsoever says yes to that. Again with the “Why is Kate sending her roommate on these shenanigans and not calling another editor on the newspaper staff, especially since this is so important, and Ana is so clearly bad at it.”
  • EL James explains characters’ jokes for us after they say them: “Obviously, he’s referring to my earlier less-than-elegant entry into his office.” Yes. Obviously. So obviously you don’t need to tell us that, Ms James. Your readership is not stupid.
  • Ana goes home and offers to make her roommate a sandwich, and her roommate accepts. Even though she just had the flu a few hours ago. If the roommate–driven, tenacious roommate–was too sick to do the interview, she’s too sick to be eating a sandwich now. And yet here she is, eating a sandwich.

And that’s just Chapter One, Gentle Readers. It goes on like this. I tried to stop taking notes, I really did, but I couldn’t because this nonsense is just so frustrating:

  • Everyone mind’s everyone else’s business whether it’s needed or wanted. At a bar, Ana’s roommate Kate is about to leave the bar with a guy she just met. Ana tries to follow her on the grounds that she needs to give Kate “a safe sex lecture.” Kate is 22, and Ana is not her mother. I really hope that Kate’s learned about safe sex by now. Also, Ana is drunk, making her impulse to be the responsible mom figure somewhat laughable. Leave Kate alone, Ana. (This is outweighed by my total annoyance at Kate generally, who keeps going out of her way to make Christian angry/jealous on purpose. Interference of Roommate into Ana’s relationship aside, playing stupid high school games with guys is just….stupid, immature, and high school.)
  • At some point, Christian scolds Ana about her hair being damp. Of course it is. She just got out of the shower, Christian. Which you know because she’s in your hotel room. And you’re the one who told her to take the shower. Shut up.
  • Ana has apparently gotten through four years of college, from 2007-2011, without an email account. I refuse to believe that a middle class American girl born in 1989 did not have an email account before now. (On the other hand, I was so relieved when they started emailing each other, because James included header and signature text from all the emails, which made turning the pages that much faster.)
  • Christian has told her to start her BDSM research on Wikipedia. Sigh.
  • The narrative voice is inconsistent. Ana is the narrator, yet halfway through the book I still don’t feel like I know her. At the beginning of one chapter, she takes a moment to “admire the pretty” that is Christian standing in front of her. Later on, she says,”His gaze is impassive; his eyes cold shards of smoky glass.” It’s jarring to just switch tone and mood this way. Either Ana is Hannah Montana, or she is Jane Eyre. She cannot be both.
  • For someone who says she’s never been drunk before, she drinks a lot of wine, with almost every meal, whether she’s with Christian or not. She also never eats.
  • And this is without even getting into the assumption, which goes completely unchallenged here, that everyone who gets into BDSM is messed up or damaged. Or Ana’s assumption, also completely unchallenged, that Christian just needs to be shown what true love and acceptance are to mend his ways, and thinks that that fixer mission makes it okay to completely disrespect his needs and desires–which he went out of his way to state to her, clearly and honestly.

A few chapters into the book, I started thinking of John Laroquette’s rant from his appearance on the West Wing about hitting people with cricket bats, and couldn’t stop. And I hadn’t even gotten to the sexy tying up parts yet. (I also started sending angry texts to my friend Skippy, who doesn’t want to read this book, and didn’t want to hear about it, and now knows more about it than he ever wanted to. But he didn’t tell me to shut up once. Patient man, is Skippy.)

And yes. Most of these are petty details that I should overlook. I know. People read this book because they want to read the sexy tying up parts. They don’t care about Ana’s graduation ceremony, or the length of the interview with Christian, or the fact that EL James doesn’t seem to know that “army” should be capitalized when you are referring to someone’s employer or profession, ie, “ex-Army.” But you know what? The little details irk me. They pull me out of the story. By the time I get to the sexy tying up parts, I’m angry and frustrated and I don’t care anymore. And frankly, it’s insulting. Because if EL James doesn’t have the barest minimum of respect for me as a reader–if she did, she’d notice that she said “besieged” twice in two sentences, or think for three seconds about whether Ana can see Christian’s feet and tell us about the shoes he’s wearing when there’s a desk between them–she’d care enough to get this stuff right. I can’t tell you how aggravating it is when I just want to fall into a story, but I keep getting knocked out of it by these stupid little details. I respect you enough as an author that I spent a week reading your story. The least you can do is not treat me like I’m stupid.

We deserve better than this, Gentle Readers. We deserve solid tales decently told. Even if all you want is a story that, in the words of James, “makes desire pool in your belly,” you can do better than this (or you can search on the internet for files put together by helpful people who excerpted all the sexy bits of the 50 Shades series and put them in a single document, so you don’t even have to bother with the story). The internet has entire terabytes of bandwidth devoted to better erotic and/or BDSM tales than this. (And if this book has made you curious about BDSM and/or you want to try this with your partner, for the love of god, use something besides this book and ever-loving Wikipedia as sources/inspiration/guides.)

To make matter worse, (though it was, in retrospect, a really useful juxtaposition for reviewing purposes), I read 50 Shades of Grey the same week that I listened to Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass on audiobook, specifically the part where Whitman is recounting his experiences as a nurse in a Union Army hospital, dressing the wounds of injured Civil War soldiers. One is a story about a silly girl whose biggest problem is that there’s a disconnect between what her brain is telling her she should want and what is actually giving her orgasms. The other is about the indomitable human spirit and the sacrifices that men make, about pain and courage and friendship and humanity. I don’t understand half of what Whitman wrote, but I feel like a better person for having read it. 50 Shades just made me want to hit things, and not in a fun sexy way, either.

I think if I was offered a choice between reading this book again, watching The Human Centipede (a movie which is, I’m pretty sure, the absolute nadir of creative human output), or getting punched in the face, I’d have to think about it. And then I’d probably choose getting punched in the face. Immediately after reading this book, I started listening to the audiobook for Stiff by Mary Roach, about human decomposition and what cadavers donated to science are subjected to. It’s gooey and mushy and contains phrases like “intracranial steam,” which is what happens when the inside of your skull gets so hot that your brains literally melt out of your ears (don’t worry, you’re dead by the time this happens)–and it’s so much more entertaining and less disturbing than 50 Shades of Grey.

Approach this book with extreme caution, Gentle Readers. I wouldn’t have given it even one star but the computer didn’t give me the option of negative numbers.

I never felt like a Warrior.

photo-1.JPG For a long time, I didn’t tell people that I was from Littleton. I didn’t go to Columbine–I went to Arapahoe–but whenever people learned I was from Littleton, they wanted to know if I went to Columbine, or even assumed I did. And I just didn’t want to deal. Surprisingly enough, repetitive and painful conversations about mass murders are not the sorts of things I want to engage in with strangers.

Just when I started telling people I was from Littleton again, in 2010 or so (it took ten years for people to stop talking about Columbine, and even then, depressingly, that was only because more horrific mass murders eclipsed it). And then James Holmes walked into a movie theater in Aurora, and I stopped again. Not at first–at first I thought to myself, fuck that guy. He doesn’t get ownership of my town. I’ll claim it for mine. And then a woman in a store in New York City ask me, looking all aghast, how I felt about “all these” mass murders that keep happening in Colorado. (If I hadn’t been so shocked and angry, I might’ve asked her how she feels about all these terrorist attacks that keep happening to New York, but I didn’t). And now–a year after Newtown, almost fifteen years after Columbine–guns have returned to Littleton. But it’s different, now. Fifteen years and who knows how many school shootings later. The kids are different, the country is different.

The biggest thing that sticks out for me is the growing refusal to name shooters in the media. Rachel Maddow no longer does it. The Arapahoe County Sheriff won’t do it either. The sense of horror that I remember so clearly after Columbine is shutting down and being replaced by impatience and psychological exhaustion. We still don’t know why these things keep happening, what goes wrong inside these kids’ heads, but our patience for learning why is waning. Once you bring out a gun and start shooting people, we no longer care to sympathize with you and whatever bad thing is going on in your life that’s destroyed your will to live (or to allow others to live). If you do this thing, we will no longer speak your name, or admit that you ever walked the earth. If you read accounts of Columbine, you will often see it said that thirteen people died that day. But it wasn’t thirteen–it was fifteen. Fifteen people did. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold are so far beyond cursed that we don’t even count them among the dead anymore. And admitting this is hard, but here goes: I don’t know how I feel about that. On the one hand, that kind of hard, bitter boundary can be a deterrent. Or at least, we hope that it is. But on the other hand, I don’t think anyone is beyond forgiveness, beyond grace, or whatever you want to call it. And I wish we could phrase ourselves in such a way so that even lonely strangers feel loved (in a non-creepy, non-boundary crossing way).

The problem is, when you’re depressed, and you feel yourself edging toward that hard boundary that you know is there, beyond which lies only exile, it doesn’t help to know that people feel that stony about people who do things like what’s inside your head. It doesn’t bring you back from the edge, it pushes you over it. It doesn’t make you feel more loved to know you haven’t done this thing. It makes you feel more alone. More like a monster. Because only monsters do this sort of thing, right? That your brain is even contemplating something like this makes you different than everyone else. Makes you special. Makes you a monster. Just the act of contemplation places you beyond redemption, so you might as well play chicken with the devil.

What I remember from Columbine, my first reaction when I learned about what the boys had done and why they’d done it, my first reaction–before the media started spinning its own stories–was that I knew those boys. I knew how they felt. If they’d been at Arapahoe between 1996-2000, I probably would have been their friend. We probably would have hung out.

There but for the grace of God, right?.

I didn’t know what made me different from them. I didn’t know why it happened at Columbine and not Arapahoe. I still don’t. And most people, when they think “There but for the grace of God,” are referring to not getting shot by a bullet, rather than not being the one who fired it. Now that I’m older, I know that I’m extremely unlikely to ever raise a weapon against another person (which is not to say I won’t ever raise one against myself). But when I was seventeen, I didn’t know that. Here’s what I knew:

We are all of us angels and devils.
All of us sinners and saints.
Equal parts Judas and Jesus, Nazi and Jew.

And maybe if we were better at admitting that, at articulating it, maybe–just maybe–the kids who start losing the battle with their internal monster wouldn’t feel so alone. Wouldn’t feel so damned. Wouldn’t feel so beyond redemption, when they haven’t even done anything yet to exile themselves. In Littleton, after 1999, a popular bumper sticker for a number of years read “We Are All Columbine.” If that’s true, then we are all of Columbine–Isaiah Shoels and Corey DePooter and Rachel Scott and Lance Kirklin and all the rest of them. Including Eric and Dylan. All of them are within all of us.

Because you don’t pull shit like Columbine, like Arapahoe, like Newtown, like Virginia Tech, if you think you can be redeemed. You pull that shit when you think you’re already beyond it. Already damned. When you believe the monster’s already eaten you–it’s after that that you get truly consumed, not before.

We are all in danger of being eaten by monsters, only they’re not the monsters that our parents warned us about. And I think about all this, and about my own dark inside corners, and I feel pity for these kids. These murderous kids. Jesus Christ, they’re just fucking kids.

And then I remember that they’re murderers. And that there’s a reason we don’t speak their names.

And you know what, Karl Pierson? Fuck you. What the fuck is wrong with you, you stupid, entitled little shit? How arrogant and selfish must you be, to think that walking into school with a shotgun because you had some kind of dispute with your debate is an appropriate course of action? I don’t care what he did, I don’t care if he hit you, I don’t care if he molested you, because instead of telling the cops who could have helped you, you shot an unarmed girl and then offed yourself when you realized that actual adults were about to get in on the action. When the actual reality of the shit you’d started came crashing down around your head. Who the fuck taught you problem-solving skills as a child? Who the fuck taught you how to screw up and then learn from it? Who the fuck taught you how to deal with anger, humiliation, and embarrassment?

Fucking nobody did any of those things. Clearly.

You self-righteous, selfish, immature, misguided little twit. You colossally stupid fuckwad.

I wish that you’d told somebody what you were thinking. Just so they could say it back to you, and you could hear how idiotic it sounded once it was outside of your own head. Just how far out of scale your reaction was to whatever the actual dispute entailed. I wish someone could have told you it was small and petty and insignificant and that nobody cared, and that neither would you, in six months, after you graduated and went to college and never saw that fucking teacher again. I wish someone had smacked you across the back of the head and called you an asshole.

Maybe then you’d be alive. And more importantly, maybe Claire Davis would be alive, too.



“As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it – whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.” –Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird

Sometimes, I procrastinate posting something for so long that it becomes relevant again, or my thoughts on the matter actually change or mature. Today’s one of those days, so, huzzah, I suppose?

I sometimes have trouble getting worked up about things I should probably care about (positively or negatively). One that comes most immediately to mind is “inspiration porn” stories of people doing something nice for a kid with disabilities (This story of a boy with autism getting put in his school’s basketball game and scoring many points is a really good example; or any story of a high school senior with Down syndrome being made Homecoming Queen/King). Doing nice things for kids with challenges is just as much (if not more) about making us feel like we’re good people as it is for the benefit of the person. And, if you don’t interact with disabled people in your day-to-day and the only time they cross your path is when they’re bagging your groceries or when one of your friends posts a story like this on your Facebook wall, you may be led to the logical but perfectly erroneous impression that the best thing you can do for a person with special needs is give them one overwhelmingly awesome experience of awesomeness and make their day. I don’t have the patience for people who indulge in that kindhearted but misled attitude. I love the effort, I’m glad you want people with disabilities to have good experiences, and if you want to share them on Facebook that’s fine, but they just don’t generally touch the happy space in my heart.

On the other end, I had a really hard time getting worked up back in mid-August when a family was sent a shockingly horrendous letter about their son, a 13-year-old boy with autism.* Again, this should be right up my alley, right? Defending people with disabilities is right in my wheelhouse. If I was a superhero, I would haunt the places where adults with disabilities hang out and just wait for neurotypical teenagers to show up and start taunting them, and then I would go all Batman on their asses. But the letter really didn’t horrify me, for two contradictory reasons: one is that I think a lot of people are dismissive or hostile or annoyed by people with disabilities, though they’re obviously less caustic about it than whoever wrote this letter. To all the people who were shocked and appalled by the letter, the dark and cynical corner of my heart wonders, where have you been? Where were you in middle school when kids were calling each other retarded? Where were you when Ricky Gervais was pulling “mong faces” on Twitter, and then dismissing the opinions of everyone who was insulted by telling them they were oversensitive? Where were you when Ann Coulter called the President of the United States a retard? Where were you when Margaret Cho said that all the remaining eggs in her ovaries were “retard babies”? (And to all my queer, liberal, feminist, fat-positive friends: Do you understand why I cannot, will not, indulge in your Margaret Cho love?) Do you see how not caring about the language used to describe disabled people leads directly to bullshit like this? But on the other hand, and contradictorily, I also know that the letter writer’s feelings are atypical of the general population. I know that pretty much everyone, once they meet my sister, loves her and wants her in their lives. They want what’s best for her. They want to protect her. They want to keep her around. My sister is extraordinarily well-loved, and that love provides a buffer for me (and for her) when it comes to hostility from misinformed and maladapted strangers who don’t deserve to know her anyway. Haters gonna hate, as they say.

So yeah. Don’t really care about your hate, don’t really care about your feel-good human interest story. I’m tired of it, I’ve heard it before, I want us to have a new discussion. I have bigger worries on my plate than people thinking my sister is a one-dimensional happiness angel, or even people who think she’s a one-dimensional waste of oxygen.

All you people who post the above stories on Facebook, who want to make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities: Where were you when voters in my county defeated a ballot measure that would have eliminated the county wait list for services available for adults with disabilities, and improved their quality of life? Where were you while the rate of sexual assault of disabled adults got frighteningly, absurdly high? Where were you when my parents tried to figure out how to financially support my sister when they die, so she doesn’t end up homeless or in a state-run group home or dead? Where were you while Goodwill was paying prison wages or less to their disabled employees thanks to a law that apparently hasn’t been updated since 1939? When disabled adults started living in poverty and homelessness at several times the national average for neurotypical adults?

My sister needs people who love her and care for her, yes. She needs people who respect her and treat her like a person. And she has that. But that’s not all she needs. She doesn’t need people cooing and coddling over her. She needs people who will make sure that her safety and her financial stability are high on the list of priorities. Who know that her quality of life on a day-to-day basis matters. Who won’t let her fall through the cracks. And on that score, somehow, I don’t think I have a hope of getting a million Facebook likes. I don’t have a prayer of convincing anyone in Washington that any raise in the minimum wage should also close the loophole that allows disabled adults to get paid so little. I feel like there’s nobody in the world in between my sister and a life of poverty and danger except for me and my family. And that’s not a confidence-inspiring feeling. That feeling that Samwise Gamgee had, looking down into the pits of Mordor, knowing that all that stood between Sauron and the destruction of Middle Earth was two small hobbits? And moreover, knowing that the responsibility of keeping Frodo safe fell on him, and him alone, in that whole big bad world? Yeah. That’s the feeling.

*The response of the boy’s mother is worthwhile reading, more worthwhile than the original letter, anyway.

Reasons Why Not To Move To Sunnydale (Season One)

buffy-the-vampire-slayer-logo1. Boys turn really ugly right when you go to kiss them.
2. Cordelia.
3. You’re sitting on top of the Hellmouth. Go sit on some other mouth.
4. The town’s plumbing situation seems prone to emanating menstrual cycles.
5. Murderous invisible girls.
6. Questionable fashion choices.
7. The school administration seems either unwilling or unable to deal with the abnormally high rate of students and faculty who meet gruesome deaths while on school property.
8. The student population also appears to be eternally replaceable.
9. There’s only one nightclub in the whole town, and they allow minors inside, which means they can’t serve alcohol.
10. Demonic children. Seriously. I’m not sure if they start out deranged, or if the trauma of living in this town destroys their innocent little souls, but something is up with the kids ’round here.
11. Remember how Voldemort disappeared from history for like fifteen years after leaving Hogwarts? I’m pretty sure he went to Sunnydale.

12. The principal of Sunnydale High is really bad at his job. For example, a girl who confessed to stabbing a teacher with pruning sheers has been called to the principal’s office. Not to the local police station. And she is then given the job (along with Buffy, whom the principal says is “one of the worst students in the school”) of decorating the school cafeteria for Parent Day. Let me reiterate: the two worst students in the school, one of whom is a violent felon, has been tasked with impressing all of the parents of the school’s students.

Reasons to move to Sunnydale:
1. Invisible girls are hot.
2. The library has an armory.
3. Hot computer science teacher.
4. The internet is totally fine now.
5. Witty Slayer repartee.
6. People doing high kicks in very short skirts.

An Open Letter to the Internet

0321121711.jpgDear Internet,

Shut the fuck up. No, seriously.

I get that you have an opinion on everything and one of the glorious things about the digital age is that you have the power to share your opinion with everything and everyone, but there are many things that a) are not your business b) your opinion does not matter and c) you are ruining important things for people, all while you run your mouth about something that has no effect on you.

Case in point: Miss America Pagaent. An Indian-American woman won. Were you in the pageant? Do you have any chance at ever being in the pageant? Are you directly related to someone who was in the pageant? No? Shut the fuck up. Nobody cares about your racism or how you feel about the winner or who you think should have won. There’s a reason you’re not a judge in the Miss America Pageant. You know who this whole thing does matter to? The woman who won. Your shitty comment that you make in a moment of pique and then forget about? Has real consequences for her. Has the power to ruin what should be a grand thing for her. Shut the fuck up.

Do you think Quvenzhané Wallis’ name is hard to pronounce? Guess what. It’s not your business, and you’re never going to meet her, so you probably don’t have to learn how to say it. Also, she’s a kid. Leave her alone. Shut the fuck up.

Miley Cyrus isn’t complying with your definition of how women should act? Mind your own business.

Don’t like the hipster with the big glasses and the typewriter? Why do you care? Why do you think that we care that you care? Can’t you go away?

Like many people, I was bullied in elementary and middle school. It was nothing terribly serious; I was never afraid to go to school or anything like that, it was just part of the fabric of my public education. It was a thing that happened. And probably half of what I got teased about was my clothes, which in elementary school were largely hand-me-downs. When I moved to middle school, I begged my parents to buy me some brand-name clothes (No Fear and Mossimo were big at the time), and they did. I thought if I wore what the other kids wore, they’d leave me alone. But no. I got teased in middle school for my transparent and pathetic attempt to try and fit in, mocked for wearing the clothes that everyone else wore to fit in and be invisible.

In high school, I finally got the good sense to be annoyed, even angry, and gave up trying to make people like me, at least through my wardrobe choices. Because what the fuck, middle school classmates. Why do you fucking care what I’m wearing. What business is it of yours. We’re not friends. You’ve made that epically clear since second grade. So why are you even talking to me, about my shirts or anything else? Go away. Shut up and go away. Leave me alone. I’d rather be left alone than to have to interact with you on any level.

Some days I feel that way about the Internet as a whole. Shut up and go away.


It happens here. And here. And here. And here.

samstreetEver since Columbine, I’ve had trouble dealing with mass-murder type news stories. Which is only natural I suppose. Just like since Katrina, I’ve had trouble with natural disasters. I have dishonored the victims of the earthquake in Japan, hurricanes in New York, floods in south Asia, and shooting victims in Ft. Hood, Virginia Tech, and elsewhere by simply not being able to dredge up the depth of emotion that tragedies of that scale require. On some level, I feel like this makes me a bad person, but on another I don’t stress about it too much because it’s obvious, even to me, that my level of reaction is out of my control. I promise you there’s only so many times you can look at a weather radar map and burst into tears before you have no tears left. And Columbine grated on my soul–over the whole community’s soul–for a year or more. It faded from the national spotlight relatively quickly, but it was a constant presence in Littleton for a long time, and it wore me away. When Sept. 11th happened, and everyone was freaking out about how we weren’t safe anymore, my reaction was more or less, “Well, of course not. You’re just learning this now?”

Sometimes forcibly not paying attention is my only source of protection. So I understand that this is a delayed reaction of sorts, especially given our high-speed high-def instant-access world. But this is kids. Twenty kids. You can’t not pay attention to that.

Who wasn’t paying attention when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were asking their friends to buy them guns at gun shows? Who wasn’t watching when they drove into the Colorado foothills for target practice?

Who didn’t notice when Jared Lee Loughner started talking to himself, rambling incoherently, laughing at inappropriate times?

Who saw James Holmes booby trap his apartment and order 6,000 rounds of ammunition, and thought nothing of it?

How much longer can we characterize kids who are hurting–kids who are a danger to themselves and others–as quiet people that nobody really noticed?

I don’t know. I know other people are having discussions about gun rights and gun control. I’m not pragmatic enough to manage it. My thought process is something along the lines of, “I don’t care about gun control because KIDS ARE DEAD,” which I understand is illogical and nonsensical, but it is what it is right now.

If guns don’t kill people, as gun rights defenders are fond of saying (and I happen to agree), then it follows that guns don’t protect people either. People protect people. (People hurt each other, too, most notably the people they know: as a woman, I’m more likely to be raped by someone I know. When I was a child, I was most likely to be kidnapped by someone I know. If my household has a gun in it, I’m more likely to be shot with that gun than I am to defend myself with it. It’s simple statistical truth; it’s just how the world goes.) So while others talk about banning assault rifles and keeping guns out of the hands of “the deranged” (which I agree with) (I’ve been treated for depression, does that make me deranged?), I’ve also been asking what would it take to get us, as Americans, to protect each other a little more and prey on each other a little less. About what it is that makes us prey on each other at all. If guns really protected people, then the South Side of Chicago would be the safest neighborhood in the country. Because guns really have very little to do with whether or not a person is safe. Safe neighborhoods are ones where peoples’ basic needs are met, so they don’t feel the need to rob them from other people. Safe neighborhoods are places where people have the interpersonal and educational skills to solve conflicts in ways that don’t involve (escalating) violence (that is, even if my middle-class white dad gets in a fist fight either somebody, even if it’s someone he knows, he can be reasonably certain that when the fist fight is over, that’s the end of it. The other guy’s son isn’t going to come after my dad the next day demanding a rematch). Safe neighborhoods are where people have economic options in between “drug kingpin” and “McBurger Flipper.” Safe neighborhoods don’t have 40% unemployment rates. Safe neighborhoods, ironically, are where a dozen children die all at once in a hail of bullets fired by a madmen. Dangerous neighborhoods lose children every day, one at a time.

I do know this, though: we need to stop saying that things like this “don’t happen here.” Things like this happen everywhere. I learned that in April of 1999 (And what does it say about our culture that Columbine happened so many shootings ago that it doesn’t even make most people’s shorthand list of mass shootings anymore?). To say that it doesn’t happen *here* implies that there are places where it does, where it’s inevitable, where it’s supposed to happen. Where we can live with it happening. A place over *there* where kids are expendable, the price of keeping our kids over here safe.

Either all of our kids matter, or none of them do.

Concerning the Outing of ViolentAcrez

There’s a quote attributed to JC Watts: “Character is doing the right thing when nobody is looking.” The Internet could be the human race’s first true test of this maxim: What do you do when you perceive yourself to be anonymous and invisible, to not be at risk for consequences? If you use your Internet anonymity to taunt and abuse others, does that mean you’re an immoral person?

As long as there has been the Internet, there have been trolls. The motivation and type of troll can vary, but one thing is constant: they do not care what you think of them, and usually, the more you voice their displeasure, the more pleased they are (with themselves, with your frustration). If there is one Internet maxim you must learn, it is this: Don’t Feed the Troll. Like the kid who chased after you in the elementary school playground, if you can’t get him to see sense, and you can’t beat him up, and if telling the teacher will make it worse, your only option is to ignore him. But recently, another tactic has surfaced: publishing notorious trolls’ real names and biographical info. The most famous recent example of this is the article on Gawker that revealing Reddit troll Violentacrez’s information. Since the article was published, Michael Brutsch, aka Violentacrez, has lost his job and apologized on CNN. Reddit reacted harshly, deleting links to, and debates broke out all over Reddit, alternately defending Violentacrez’s right to privacy and free speech and gleefully celebrating his public shaming (see this article, along with plenty others).

The question at the heart of the debate, in words that I am borrowing from the Babble blog Momcrunch, is this: “…Is this the best way to tackle the increasing lousy anonymity of the abusive web? Do you think revealing the identity of these vultures, or trolls, or bullies – whatever you want to call them – should be public? Will this make people behave more kindly online?”

I guess I don’t get the question, in a way. The question isn’t “Should we do [action X]?” but rather, “What are we going to do?” I mean, did you have an easy time ignoring bullies in elementary school? We can talk about shades of harm and rights of privacy (did Violentacrez harm the girls whose pictures he posted without their permission? Did he have an expectation of privacy that Adrien Chen, the author of the Gawker article, violated?) all day, but Reddit has already done that. You could argue that if you don’t like ViolentAcrez’s posts, don’t go to the subreddits that he moderates. And yet we go anyway. We know not to feed the trolls, but we argue anyway. Watching humanity–social animals that we are–grapple with the social hive mind that is the Internet is a fascinating activity. To a certain type of nerd, it’s better than the Planet Earth series.

Humans are profoundly social animals, and we’re never really alone, even when we’re solitary. We’ve all grown up surrounded by and learning the correct behavior from others. Each of us has the morals and ethics of the culture in which we grew up embedded deeply within our brains and our hearts. We police each other, we always have. Not just in the usual ways of coercion and punishment, but with social judgment, fear of embarrassment, and social exile. We do this because it’s a big, bad, scary world out there, and if you can’t count on the people around you to act in a relatively predictable way, then the world is all the more dangerous. Many of our cultural ethics and morals are designed to keep a group cohesive and working together. The Bible doesn’t tell you to not covet your neighbor’s wife only because it pisses off God. If you covet your neighbor’s wife, if you don’t respect his property, that damages the whole community. And if the community can’t trust each other–if everyone’s just borrowing everyone else’s wife without asking–then when the sandstorms come, when the locusts come, when the marauding Romans invade, we won’t be able to solve the problem. As Ben Franklin said, “We must all hang together, or most assuredly, we will all hang separately.” It doesn’t even have to come down to a situation of life or death. Anyone who has ridden public transportation can list the many unspoken rules of etiquette that govern riding the bus, the little things that you can count on that make you willing to lock yourself in a small box with forty or fifty strangers. And anyone can tell you how alarming it is when a passenger starts violating those rules of etiquette, even if they’re not doing anything dangerous (see: the This American Life episode “Ruining It For the Rest of Us,” and listen to Act Three about the Amtrak Quiet Car).

Many people (perhaps most) don’t really think about how the Internet is different from “real life,” and behave in online forums in more or less the same fashion they behave in in real life. But some take refuge in the Internet’s insulation from the “real world,” some revel in their ability to cause trouble and push boundaries. In real life, of course, boundary pushing is subject to real life consequences (whether it be raised eyebrows or jailtime). Some of us would love to cut loose in real life, but raised eyebrows scare us, so we take to the Internet, where we are protected from raised eyebrows and mocking laughter. And some of us revel in that insulation, and use it to run rampant and cause trouble. Some of us use the Internet to provide release to our inner troll. It’s not a question of whether or not trolls are immoral because at the end of the day, we’re only as moral as the group we’re surrounded by.

But all the same, I think the impulse to shut down, shame, police, or judge trolls is damn near biological. We can’t not do it. I should know by now to not feed the trolls, but I can’t not argue with them. But since they’re removed from or immune to all the usual ways of social coercion (ostracism, financial punishment, a swift kick to the face), what are we left with? Shutting down accounts or kicking someone off the Internet isn’t really practical, so what do we do? We drag them back to where we can hold them accountable for their actions–we out them in the real world, to their employers and family members. Assholes are inevitable, and we ignore as many as we can, because we’d drive ourselves crazy if we didn’t. But to ignore them all would allow social anarchy to take over, and I don’t think our biologies would allow us to do that. Maybe there’s a better way of dealing with trolls (actually dealing with them, not just ignoring them and hoping they’ll go away). I’d sure like to hear it.