Sex and Destruction in Shatter Me

I’ve written a little bit previously about Young Adult literature. It’s a ripe field for the pickings, with its mainstream appeal as well as a litany of problematic story elements. It also can be really addictive. Most of the genre is leaning towards science fiction/fantasy at the moment, centering on young women in impossible situations, with fast-moving plots and titillating romances. The YA market has become one of my favorite indulgences.

Enter Shatter Me, written by youthful and beautiful new author Tahereh Mafi, one of the most anticipated releases of last year, already with two sequels (the novella Destroy Me, and the second part in the planned trilogy Unravel Me which dropped last week), and the movie rights sold before the first book’s release. It is the story of a 17-year-old girl named Juliette Ferrars with an uncontrollable and isolating ability – she can kill with a touch. To make matters worse, Juliette lives in a world that has depleted its resources and poisoned its atmosphere, leaving it open for an organization called The Reestablishment to come in and take control and hoard what’s left. When the novel opens, Juliette has been imprisoned in some sick hell house version of a mental institution for close to a year, barely clinging to her identity, wishing for freedom and love.

Shatter Me is the type of YA fantasy that is light on world building and high on emotion and elaborate prose. It’s not perfect, to say the least. What I found fascinating about the novel though was its implications about sexuality.

What’s immediate striking to me is how the novel as a real sense of sexuality and sensuality. A personality, shall we say. However, there is also a theme of dominance and violence that colors this, and creates a character that is both heavily defined by her sexuality and by actions put upon her. As she learns to connect with people for the first time in her life, Juliette is repeatedly defined as an object, seen as something others can use and act upon, even in a relationship that supposed to healthy and loving. Through the story elements as well as the dialogue and prose, a picture is painted of a sexual landscape fed by power struggles and destructive passions. It’s also an important aspect of the novel, as this is a story about a young woman who can either create or destroy with a touch.

(Spoilers for Shatter Me and Destroy Me under the cut)

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The Americans: Spy vs Rape

As I no longer have American Horror Story to satisfy my need for gritty camp on a late Wednesday night, I decided to watch the premiere of FX’s new original, The Americans, a drama-thriller set in the 1980s about two Soviet spies disguised as regular American suburbanites. Or, actually, I recorded it and watching Friday night because FX has way too many commercials to sit through an hour and half episode of something I’ve never watched before.

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The pilot was decent, providing an intriguing portrait of the two main characters, Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Phillip Jennings (Matthew Rhys), who have been living as husband and wife for nearly twenty years. There was also some great action scenes and a fabulous soundtrack.

I just wish it hadn’t been centered around rape.

(Spoilers, and descriptions of sexual assault under the cut)

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6 Bad Ass Females the Winchesters Should Meet

For the past couple of months I have been entrenched in Supernatural, a show I was a full seven seasons behind in (only two now) and became very quickly obsessed with. The fact that I haven’t written about it on here yet is pretty remarkable, as its occupied so much of my brain, but the truth is there hasn’t been much point. Talking about gender issues in Supernatural is a bit like commenting that grass is green. It’s a sexist show. Period.

The problem isn’t only with Supernatural, of course, the issue of institutionalized, pervasive misogyny is latent in our cultural language. However, Supernatural, with its Americana Midwestern aesthetic and extravagantly butch dudebro emotionality is a glaring example. Female characters are relegated to either blonde waifish fridge stuffing or evil harpies in tight pants with their cleavage pushed up in their chins. To fully document the problem would fill up a dissertation, nevermind a blog post.

So, I decided to take a different approach to talking about this. If you have an imagination anything like mine, then you thrive on mashups and crossovers. For me, the best way to move along an idea is to take a character or element from someone else’s work, and see what happens. So with Supernatural’s serious lacking of impressive female characters, I keep finding myself inserting some of my favorites from other stories. So, I’d like to share my list of 6 (yes 6, because whatever) Bad Ass Females the Winchesters (and Cas) Should Meet.

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He’s Not a Bad Boy If He’s Just Bad

I wouldn’t exactly call myself a fangirl. But nevertheless, I’m pretty excited about the upcoming release of the second book in the Divergent Trilogy, Insurgent. The first book had its flaws but was still incredibly engaging.

I’ve only just dipped my toe in the Divergent fandom, a group that still developing itself. While there’s some cool stuff happening there, there’s stuff also that’s a little upsetting.

I’m not trying to get involved in shipping war. I don’t really care about romance in books, and people can like whatever couples they want. But there’s a common pairing that’s freaking me out. Frequently, I keep coming across reviews or posts that express a wish to see something develop between the main character Tris and one of her primary antogonists, Peter. My reaction to this is generally

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Men, Women and Monsters

“I would never suggest a young woman to kiss a man who held her captive. What kind of message is that?” When Once Upon a Time’s Evil Queen Regina uttered this line last Sunday, I all but leaped out of my chair and did cartwheels. It was the blunt and hilarious culmination of something that has been building for months on that show, even if it was rather clumsily handled in the past.

I’m talking about how a modern show handles gender relations in a story that uses classic fairy tales as its groundwork. Fairy tales are not generally kind to women. They are often the epitome of gender stereotypes, and today are one of society’s basic ways of instilling traditional values in youngsters. Fairy tale women are often merely vessels of beauty and purity to be rescued or fawned over by dragon slaying princes and/or knights, and their worth is based on if they are married or not.

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When It’s Good To Be Bad In K-Pop

Well, it seems that the indefatigable Korean Pop scene has met its nemesis – bona fide, honest-to-whomever, female sexuality. Last month marked the debut of a girl group years in the making, Rania, with a racy song, black leather costuming, and not even remotely subtle choreography. Not surprisingly, Rania is the creation of an American producer, Teddy Riley, with ambitions of creating international juggernaut of hot Asian girls. Based on the first single, he’s off to alright start.

Personally, I didn’t think much of their debut song “Dr Feel Good,” and not just because of the blatant pandering to pervs like myself, but because the song just isn’t that great. There’s nothing new about the sound, and the hook, unlike everything about this group, is exceptionally modest. I wanted to like them. Rania’s members, who hail from all over the Asian world, are clearly very talented, and there was plenty of effort put into their packaging (a little too much, probably). Plus, I love sexy girls. Musically though, there is better stuff out there.

What I do like about Rania is their conviction. As I’ve talked about previously in this blog, K-Pop is rampant with an infantalized, doubethink kind of sex appeal, where if a girl group is going to dance in a suggestive way or in tiny shorts, they have to do it with the hapless expression of a 12-year-old. Its refreshing to see a group that simply is what it is – grown-ass women who are good at being sexy. As an American, to me Rania’s single and video were not shocking in the slightest, but in the context of K-Pop its a bit like a bowling ball to the forehead. Even the raciest of Korea’s girl groups, while they might have some suggestive lyrics, never actually sing about wanting to get some, not in a single anyway. Rania, clearly, has no interest in beating around the bush. This mentality, this unwillingness to compromise, is reflected in the finished product. Each note, dance move and toss of the hair speaks of utter commitment, performers that know where they stand. Whereas the rest of the K-Pop scene, even the boy groups, are forced to compromise and fuss around with an image that only makes their producers and prepubescent girls happy, resulting in routines that appear tired and disingenuous. While by image alone Rania resembles subtle-as-a-sledgehammer groups like 4Minute and T-ara, their solid presence is more like that of f(x) or 2ne1, two groups that are exceptional for not using sex to sell their records.

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“Lauren” and her Criminal Mind

I suppose I got what I asked for.  With Paget Brewster taking her leave perhaps permanently from Criminal Minds, comes a storyline to give her character, Emily Prentiss, a proper send off. An enemy from her past, Ian Doyle, mysteriously breaks out of a North Korean prison, intent on playing out his vendetta against her.  Prentiss and her then team put him away while under deep cover during her time with Interpol,  her role was to become as close to him as possible *wiggles eyebrows*. He was supposed to have never known who she really was – her persona, Lauren Reynolds, died in a car crash – but somehow he does and comes to D.C. to enact his vengeance. Its exactly what I said I was looking for, a true test of character. Or is it? Well, its a test of someone’s character, but no one I know.

This story is about Lauren Reynolds, not just the identity Prentiss assumed to meet an end, but the life she left behind when she left Interpol. This woman, as it turns out, is quite different from the Emily Prentiss we thought we, at least vaguely, knew. Prentiss up to this point is a woman who once struggled with acceptance and personal identity in her youth, watched as a dear friend spiraled into self-destruction as a result of the cognitive dissonance her own circumstances might have caused in him, and had a mother in politics who’s work took her all over the world. As an adult she held a defined sense of right and wrong, and viewed politics as something toxic that divides people. These things only occasionally manifested themselves in her work and life. Prentiss has had frequent struggles with what is the right thing to do and what she has to do, nothing too exciting though. We’ve never seen her really stick by her principles to the point of personal risk or undermining the rest of the team, like say the way Spencer Reid has, she just sort of shuffles her feet a bit and pouts and then decides her job is more important.

Ah, but if only we had known what she was really willing to do to get the job done. Seduce a terrorist? Tie a kid up and point a gun at him? Not a problem, for Lauren Reynolds anyway. However, a point that does stick out is when one of her former comrades, Clyde Easter, claims that she’s in the habit of running away from problems. There’s nothing in her known history in the show to suggest this, and honestly its rather mind boggling. A highly ethical FBI agent who hunts serial killers but runs away from conflict? Huh? Doyle also makes a comment consistent with this by saying that the only thing that she values is her life, though admittedly he was probably just trying to be mean. But what does she do at the end of the episode, “Valhalla”? Run away. Its supposed to be an effort to protect her team – its not fear for herself that makes her walk out the door, but a fear for them. In the moment it makes sense, but really what is happening is an effort to tell a story of female self-sacrifice that just comes off as cliche.

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