Retrospective: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Welcome back to the Hannibal Lecter retrospective! In today’s post we’ll be going over The Big One, The Silence of the Lambs. I mentioned in my review of Manhunter that that film felt dated, in part because it came before this landmark follow-up. Does Silence hold up better? Read on to find out…

I love this poster. It doesn’t give you any information about the film itself, it only gives you the title, a chilling mood and some symbolism to go off of, leaving your imagination to fill in the blanks. Also, if you look closely enough, you can see that the Death’s-head Moth’s skull has been replaced with a photograph of naked women arranged in the shape of a skull by Salvador Dali, further hinting at the film’s themes.

PRODUCTION
Sometime after completing Red Dragon, Thomas Harris began work on his next novel, which he decided would revolve around a strong female character. While not initially conceived as a sequel to Red Dragon, Harris’ female lead was almost instantly drawn to Lecter and the story developed out from there. The Silence of the Lambs was published in 1988 and was another success for Harris, winning him accolades and once again drawing the attentions of Hollywood. In 1987, prior to the novel’s release, prestige production company Orion Pictures (which were coming off a string of Best Picture winners, Dances With Wolves, Platoon and Amadeus) and Gene Hackman secured the rights to adapt the novel, despite Harris’ disappointment with Manhunter. However, they also had to negotiate to Dino De Laurentiis to get the rights to use the name “Hannibal Lector”, since he still owned these (which makes the fact that they spelled it “Lecktor” in Manhunter even more baffling). Disillusioned due to Manhunter‘s failures, De Laurentiis lent the rights to Orion and Hackman for free. Perhaps due to Manhunter‘s underwhelming reception, The Silence of the Lambs would be produced as its own stand-alone film, with references to the events of Manhunter/Red Dragon which were present in the book being omitted. Hackman was initially set to direct and star in the film, but halfway through the first draft of the script he dropped out and the studio had to step in to finance the film and find a replacement director. The job went to Roger Corman alum Jonathan Demme.

Jodie Foster had expressed great interest in the role of Clarice Starling, but was initially turned down by Demme, who approached Michelle Pfeiffer, Meg Ryan and Laura Dern instead. However, when these choices didn’t work out, Foster secured the role. For Hannibal Lecter, Demme originally considered casting Sean Connery, but he turned the role down (a pattern for Connery, who might be the most comically stupid actor in Hollywood for turning down projects he doesn’t understand). The role instead went to Anthony Hopkins. The role of Buffalo Bill went to Ted Levine, who was largely unknown at the time, having played mostly bit parts up until that point.

The FBI cooperated with the production, providing consultation with the actors and even allowing the crew to film at the FBI Academy in Quantico. Hopkins drew inspiration for his iteration of Lecter from studying criminal case files, visiting prisons and presiding during several court cases. Meanwhile, Ted Levine focused on Buffalo Bill’s queerness, visiting gay and trans bars and taking as much inspiration from David Bowie as he did from murderers like Ed Gein and Gary Heidnik. This led to the book and the film receiving criticism and protests from feminist, gay and trans activists over the portrayal of Buffalo Bill, who was viewed as demonizing gay and trans people, a reputation which still sours appraisal of the film to this day. In spite of the controversy, The Silence of the Lambs proved to be wildly successful, grossing $272.2 million on a $19 million budget and winning a number of accolades including sweeping the “big five” at the Oscars (Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director and Adapted Screenplay), only the third film in history to do so.

PLOT SYNOPSIS
Clarice Starling, a student at the FBI Academy, is recruited by Jack Crawford to interview the imprisoned Hannibal Lecter – outwardly, to try to profile his behaviour, but secretly because they suspect that he may have insight on a serial killer who has been kidnapping, murdering and skinning women. Hannibal finds Clarice intriguing, but tires of her questioning. However, when a fellow prisoner flings his semen at Clarice, Hannibal decides that he will give her a lead. This leads Clarice to an abandoned storage locker, where she discovers the severed head of one of Hannibal’s former patients, a man named Benjamin Raspail. Lecter reveals that he believes that Buffalo Bill murdered Raspail many years prior and that he will help to try to catch Bill if they will move him to a more accommodating institution.

While this is occurring, Bill kidnaps his latest victim, who happens to be the daughter of the state senator. Knowing that time is short for this latest victim, Jack and Clarice craft a deal with Lecter for his cooperation, with him demanding insight into Clarice’s childhood before he will accept the deal. However, it is soon discovered that Clarice betrayed his trust as the deal was entirely falsified. A new deal is made between the institution’s overseer Dr. Chilton and Lecter, which is agreed upon with the senator herself. However, Clarice realizes that the information Lecter gave her was misleading and confronts him at a holding cell in a Tennessee courthouse for more information. After providing more details about her childhood, including a traumatic event where she tried to save the spring lambs from being slaughtered, Lecter tells Clarice that everything she needs to know to solve the case is included in the case files. Clarice is escorted out of the building and soon after Lecter escapes by killing his two guards and then cutting one of their faces off, disguising himself as an injured officer as the paramedics rush him out of the crime scene.

Meanwhile, Clarice studies the case file in greater detail and realizes that Buffalo Bill must have known his first victim, which gives her a new lead to start from. After tracking down this lead she realizes that Bill is skinning the women because he’s using them to make a woman suit. Clarice begins tracking down acquaintances of the first victim and comes across Buffalo Bill himself. Quickly realizing that he is the killer, she confronts him and discovers that the senator’s daughter is still alive, trapped inside a well. After a tense chase, Clarice shoots Bill to death and the case is closed. Later, at her FBI graduation ceremony, Clarice receives a phone call from Lecter to congratulate her before he tells her that he’s “having an old friend for dinner” and hangs up, stalking an anxious Dr. Chilton into a crowd…

REVIEW
I’ve grown a lot in the decade since I last saw The Silence of the Lambs and watching it again has given me a newfound appreciation for just how overtly feminist this movie is. (What’s that, we’re talking about feminism on IC2S? Shocker!) Like, if this film came out today, completely unaltered, you’d have chuds whining about how it’s unrealistic, agenda-pushing propaganda. Conversely, it feels very timely for its release year of 1991, when films were still grappling with the idea of women having careers. The film isn’t even subtle about it, within the first couple minutes we get a shot of Clarice walking into an elevator at the FBI Academy surrounded by men who are all nearly twice her height and size, visually symbolizing her upward struggle. We also see several instances of Clarice being hit on and objectified by the men around her when she’s just trying to do her job – when she meets Dr. Chilton, when she tries to do research on the Death’s-head moth and when she is doing her morning jog and all the male recruits check her out after she passes. Oh, and that’s not even mentioning the fucking sexual assault prisoner Miggs subjects her to and the sexually explicit taunts Hannibal directs her way. Clarice always brushes these encounters off, but it’s obvious that they all make her uncomfortable at the very least and undermine her attempts to be taken seriously as an FBI agent on the basis of nothing more than her sex. This theme is woven throughout the film’s narrative, as Buffalo Bill is also exclusively preying on women, making their lives even more difficult and dangerous. Similarly, it is later discovered that Bill is, himself, trying to become a woman while Clarice is trying to shed the prejudice that comes with her gender (I’ve seen some critics say that she wishes she was a man, but I personally don’t get this sense, she just wishes that men wouldn’t objectify her). Clarice even delivers a haunting line near the middle of the film which is straight-up a declaration of the film’s message: “If he sees her as a person and not just an object, it’s harder to tear her up.” Clarice knows the feeling of being objectified by men constantly, but she is determined to achieve her goals in spite of these prejudices and prove that everyone is underestimating her capabilities. All the problems I had with Will Graham in Manhunter? They don’t apply here. Clarice is a fantastic emotional core to the film and she’s played wonderfully by Jodie Foster, who plays up Clarice’s strength, determination and desperation flawlessly. My only slight criticism about her character would be that Clarice’s goals stem, in part, from the well-worn female protagonist daddy issues trope (her father was her hero, a cop who died when she was young). This isn’t a major issue, but it might have been nice if the character’s motivation was just a tad bit more original.

If Clarice is the emotional core of the film, then Hannibal Lecter is the spellbinding agent of chaos, the true antagonist of the piece. Hopkins’ portrayal is truly electrifying. Whereas Cox played the character as a smug dickhead, Hopkins instead aims instead for a more theatrical portrayal, an irresistible mixture of charming and dangerous. His introduction has to be one of the greatest in film history, with Jack Crawford and Dr. Chilton both hyping up just how overwhelmingly dangerous he is to mind and body alike for nearly five straight minutes before we get to meet him. Lecter himself seems to follow a pattern with his playthings – he starts out charming, asking questions politely, reeling the subject in to make them interested. Then he says something shocking or repulsive just to see how the person reacts. In Clarice’s case, she stands her ground and even goes along with Lecter, in the senator’s case she becomes insulted and leaves him. However, Lecter then reels them back in again with a promise of something that they want. In Clarice’s case, he dangles the promise of helping her solve the Buffalo Bill case, making her career and some clues on Bill’s whereabouts, while in the senator’s case he provides details on Bill’s appearance. It’s a pattern that always sees Lecter in control, even though he’s in shackles for nearly the entire film. In spite of this, he does display moments of sympathy and honour, such as when he first agrees to help Clarice after she is sexually assaulted by Miggs. In retaliation, Hannibal convinces Miggs to kill himself in retribution, even though it results in him having all of his privileges stripped away. One particular detail that I found fascinating is Hannibal’s eyes. He spends the entire movie staring like a predator, fixated intently on the things that he wants. Initially we only really see him with Clarice, so it’s not particularly notable when he spends all their time together staring at her. However, later when he is being transported to meet with the senator, he spends most of his time staring forward, blankly… that is, until he sees something he wants, a pen which he plans to use in an escape attempt. Whenever this pen is on screen, Hannibal’s eyes dart to it and he stares with intensity at it. It’s a detail which makes his interactions with Clarice even more interesting. Like the other men in the film, Hannibal is fixated on Clarice’s body but there seems to be more to it than just simple lust. Clarice and Hannibal play off each other with fantastic chemistry, making for two phenomenal leads to the film.

Rounding out the main cast is Ted Levine’s Buffalo Bill and… well, this is where the only substantial complaints I have about this film lie. Before I get into this analysis though, I just want to make it clear that I’m going to refer to Buffalo Bill as a man here, mainly because the film tells us that he isn’t transgender and that it seems to be the actual intent that he is not (as opposed to, say, Ace Ventura which portrays a trans woman but then acts like she’s a man). I definitely feel like there are issues here, but based on what we’re given I feel like this is the reading we’re supposed to come away with. Anyway, with that said, the portrayal of Buffalo Bill is fucking problematic. On its surface, the idea of having a character kill women because he wants to become one is ripe for reading as transphobic. I’m actually kind of impressed that Thomas Harris was aware of this and tried to go to great pains to avoid this interpretation, working a couple scenes into the novel of characters explaining that Bill is not a trans person, but rather has so much self loathing that he wants to become someone as far away from himself as possible. The film struggles even more with this, only including one scene where Hannibal states that Buffalo Bill isn’t really a trans person, which isn’t exactly the most reliable source. That said, considering that Harris was aware that this was an issue, it prompts two questions:

  1. If you know that this character is going to read as problematic, why are you bothering to include the problematic parts?
  2. If you’re insisting on going forward with it, why not get consultations from trans figures to ensure that you make it as respectful as possible?

Harris may have at tried to cut off any potential criticisms, but it didn’t seem to work because the popular perception became that Buffalo Bill was a villainous trans character and the explanations were forgotten. It also doesn’t help that the film tries to leave Bill’s queerness ambiguous, but Ted Levine plays the character so stereotypically gay (he’s got a goddamn bichon frise named Precious for Christsakes) and we’re clearly meant to find his “otherness” to be a monstrous aspect of the character. Levine is quoted saying “I think [Bill] at one point thought that he might be a rock star in the mode of a David Bowie, those guys who were really masculine but feminine at the same time”, denoting that we’re meant to be disturbed by Bill’s androgyny. The infamous “tucking” scene is also indicative of this (and, notably, was improvised by Levine), only really existing to make us think how strange and fucked up queer people are. I feel like the film might have gotten away with its explanations that Bill wasn’t really trans and avoided backlash from the LGBTQ community, but the tucking scene and the unambiguous queer coding push it way too far, especially at a time when positive queer representation was in a noticeable dearth. Buffalo Bill’s entrance a half hour into the film is truly chilling, with him preying on his victim’s sympathy to lure her into his clutches, it’s just too bad that he turns into an offensive stereotype from there. Luckily, his screentime is fairly limited, but it’s unfortunate that his portrayal is a permanent black stain on this film.

While the characters are the beating heart of The Silence of the Lambs, they’re greatly aided by a top-tier screenplay and direction. The films story is tense, exciting and lean, giving the audience the clues to solve the mystery on their own while not wasting a moment of screentime. Aiding this is Jonathan Demme’s expert direction, which allows the actors to get the most out of their performances. I noticed that Demme frames his characters in closeups and extreme closeups constantly throughout the film, giving us more insight into the characters’ unspoken emotions during all of the tense exchanges of dialogue. It’s a simple technique, but it’s utilized masterfully throughout the film to convey more than is said and helps to get around some of the issues translating a book to screen. There are all sorts of great moments utilizing these closeups, most notably during any scene with Hannibal and Clarice, but I was particularly impressed during the scene where Clarice inspects the body of one of Bill’s victims. The body itself isn’t shown, except in bits and pieces, and the focus is instead on Clarice’s face as she records the details. A lesser film may have revelled in the chance for some squeamish gore, but The Silence of the Lambs places the focus squarely on Clarice and all of the emotions that she clearly has just roiling beyond the surface, since this is what’s truly important in this scene. Demme also pulls out some truly thrilling sequences, such as Lecter’s grand escape (I can still remember the first time I saw it, piecing together what happened as I watched and being amazed when the big reveal was made) and the voyeuristic and claustrophobic night vision sequence at the end of the film. All-in-all, it’s little wonder that the film swept the Oscars, because nearly everything here is top notch.

I’ve always regarded The Silence of the Lambs highly, but I was curious to see how it would hold up nearly a decade after I last saw it and with a more critical eye directed towards the film’s representation issues. While I have to say that I’m disappointed by the problematic LGBTQ representation, if you’re able to look past this issue, everything else about the film is engrossing. I was also particularly impressed by the film’s feminist themes, which I hadn’t appreciated in previous viewings of the film. There really isn’t much more to say, The Silence of the Lambs is still a great, if flawed, film and definitely my favourite movie in the franchise.

9/10

Be sure to tune in again soon when we look at the next entry in the franchise, Hannibal!

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Retrospective BONUS: Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (1988)

Surprise! You didn’t think that I was totally chainsawed out, did you? While working through the Texas Chainsaw retrospective, I was reminded that Gunnar Hansen appeared in another chainsaw-based film – 1988’s Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers. I’ve been aware of this film for a long time, having frequented BadMovies.org as a high schooler. Naturally, the bonkers title and some hilarious plot points (including an ancient Egyptian chainsaw cult!) have always kept this film on my radar, so I figured what better time to watch it than now, especially considering that this is my 250th blog post? After all, this is probably a Texas Chainsaw parody, so might as well append it onto this retrospective series, right? Read on to find out…

Objectively, this is a pretty bad poster, with shots from the film badly cut and pasted in, lots of wasted space and the main characters are probably the smallest part of the whole image. But, for this kind of movie, it works well enough. Also, that is a really great tagline!

PRODUCTION
(Pretty much all of the info I have on the production of this film comes from this featurette on the making of Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, I definitely recommend checking it out if you have the time!)

Fred Olen Ray had been working as director on low-budget films for a number of years in Hollywood, kind of like a cheaper, sleazier, less-successful Roger Corman. By 1985 he had begun working on several films per year, shooting as quickly and cheaply as possible. By the late 80s, Fred had struck a production deal with an adult video company called LA Video and their subsidiary, mainstream distribution company, Camp Motion Pictures. LA Video expressed interest in distributing a new film for Fred and it was here that he pitched his idea for Chainsaw Hookers. LA Video added “Hollywood” to the title to make it sound more like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Fred managed to rope Gunnar Hansen into the project. This was, of course, at the time when both Cannon Films and New Line Cinema weren’t interesting in working with Gunnar Hansen since they didn’t think he was a big enough star, so it just goes to show how much wiser Fred Olen Ray was than either company. With Hansen on board and $25,000 in hand from LA Video in exchange for the home video rights, Fred went about making his film, rewriting a script by T.L. Lankford.

In addition to snagging Gunnar Hansen to play the main villain, The Master, Fred Olen Ray managed to get Linnea Quigley to play the female lead. Qugiley is best known for being naked in a number of famous horror roles throughout the 80s, and by this point had already been in Silent Night, Deadly Night and Return of the Living Dead, so Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers was more-or-less the perfect role for her. John Henry Richardson was also cast as the male lead, Detective Jack Chandler.

Naturally, this being a Fred Olen Ray film, he made it while working on other projects. While doing pick-ups on a low-budget movie called Moon in Scorpio, Fred agreed to take a lower pay cut in exchange for the use of Trans World Entertainment’s studio space and film equipment during downtime, which he would use to film Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers. As per the agreement, he had the equipment from Friday to Sunday, filmed the pick-ups for Moon in Scorpio Monday to Thursday and then finished Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers the next Friday to Sunday. All in all, he took about 5 1/2 days to shoot the film on a measly budget in the neighbourhood of $55,000. Naturally, the filming conditions were extremely sketchy – it was shot with no permits, on leftover sets from other films, with real chainsaws and even with real hookers on occasion! Even the film stock was as cheap as possible, using short ends which were left over from other films. The audio was all shot on set as well, so considering that there are chainsaws revving loudly on a number of occasions, you can’t tell what the characters are saying at all sometimes because there was no budget for redubbing dialogue. The conditions were also potentially dangerous for the cast, particularly since they were using real chainsaws – in one notable instance, Linnea Quigley (who had already spent seven hours in makeup) was locked inside of a coffin with two running chainsaws so that she could preform the film’s iconic virgin dance of the double chainsaws. Naturally, this meant that the coffin was quickly filled with chainsaw fumes and Quigley can be visibly seen stumbling out of the coffin because she could barely breathe.

Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers ended up being one of Fred Olen Ray’s more successful films. That said, I want to just look at his career a little bit. He’s been making mockbusters, sexploitation films and, most recently, freaking Hallmark Christmas movies in order to get by (I’m pretty sure I’ve even seen at lest one of those Christmas movies too, holy shit). He’s like The Asylum before that studio cornered the mockbuster market. Most obviously, in 1994 we’ve got Dinosaur Island (riffing on Jurassic Park), in 1998, Mom Can I Keep Her? (Mighty Joe Young) and in 2011, Bikini Time Machine (Hot Tub Time Machine). Oh, and he’s been releasing sleazy, borderline-softcore porno films throughout his whole career, although they seem to have picked up and become more pornographic since the 2000s. Just trolling through his directing credits, we’ve got such fantastic titles as Bikini Airways, Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfold, Thirteen Erotic Ghosts (which must have the best IMDb description ever), Genie in a String Bikini, Super Ninja Bikini Babes (which sounds like an alternate title for Dead or Alive) and Tarzeena: Jiggle in the Jungle. Lately, he’s been slumming it with shitty Christmas movies, having released 10 since 2007 (and 9 of those have been since 2012, bloody hell), and with cheap crime films, which should probably give you an idea of the cultural zeitgeist when these are the only profitable genres left.

PLOT SYNOPSIS
The film opens with Detective Jack Chandler recounting one of his strangest cases, via voiceover in true hardboiled noir style. We follow a hooker named Mercedes as she picks up a man and then kills him with a chainsaw later in her apartment. Apparently there have been a number of chainsaw hooker murders going down in Los Angeles lately, and Jack Chandler heads to the police station to check in on a chainsaw murder suspect who might be related to a missing girl case he’s taken on. The suspect is not the missing girl, Samantha, but Jack steals a piece of evidence with a phone number on it in order to get closer to the source of the chainsaw murders. The phone number leads Jack back to Mercedes and he arranges to meet her at a local club. When he gets there, he finds Samantha dancing as a stripper at the club, but is drugged by Mercedes before he can notify the authorities.

When Jack awakens, he is tied to a bed and surrounded by killer hookers, including Mercedes and Samantha. The Master comes into the room and informs Jack that he is the leader of an ancient Egyptian chainsaw cult and that he is going to sacrifice Jack to their god. The hookers then try to kill Jack, but their chainsaw has run out of gas. They order Samantha to guard Jack while they go to get gas from the corner store, but Samantha frees him. She reveals that she’s infiltrating the chainsaw cult because they killed her friend and she wants to get revenge on them. The pair escape back to Jack’s apartment, where Samantha suddenly falls in love him and the pair have sex.

That night, they try to sneak into the cult’s temple in order to stop their plans, but it’s a trap and they are captured. Samantha’s given a mind-control drug in order to be used in the ceremony, while Jack is tied up and prepared for sacrifice. After performing a ritual dance, Jack is brought to Samantha by The Master in order to be killed, but Samantha instead kills The Master and then gets into a chainsaw duel with Mercedes. Mercedes is killed by Samantha and the police arrive and round up the rest of the cult. Jack and Samantha kiss and Samantha is hired as Jack’s new secretary.

REVIEW
Okay, so other than featuring Gunnar Hansen in a chainsaw killer movie, there’s basically nothing that connects Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s not even a slasher parody like I had originally expected. Instead, it’s a parody of pulp, noir detective films, very similar to The Naked Gun (which, coincidentally, came out the same year as this film). Naturally, this movie isn’t anywhere near as funny as The Naked Gun, but it is much funnier than I was expecting it would be… usually intentionally! John Henry Richardson’s Jack Chandler doesn’t have the same sort of comical ineptitude or deadpan delivery as Leslie Neilson’s Frank Drebin, instead Jack Chandler is played with more of a sarcastic, over-confident tone that often gets him into trouble. He makes for a great stereotypical detective lead, which just makes it funnier when he spouts some of the absolute best, cheesiest lines in the whole film. The delivery of lines like “If my head wasn’t hurtin’ so much, I’d have sworn I was in heaven – heaven for guys who liked big tits” was enough to have me laughing out loud throughout the film. John Henry Richardson’s acting is by far the best in the film and I definitely need to give special mention to the monologue that he turns into Jack’s best line in the whole film:

“I’d stumbled into the middle of an evil, insidious cult of chainsaw worshipping maniacs. I had to wonder if we’d let our religious freedom go too far in this country, or maybe our immigration laws were just too lax. I’ve never been much for politics, but I kept thinking about that pretty girl’s warm head on my lap, and then I wondered how many other pretty girls would never be able to put their heads on my lap because they’d been cut off by that refugee from the BTL club and his slice-happy sluts, I started to get mad.”

Holy shit, that is the funniest anti-immigration screed I’ve ever heard, I love it. Honestly, I was cringing when that monologue started, but by the middle I was in stitches I was laughing so hard.

There really are a lot of good jokes in this film and I just want to highlight a few of my favourites here. When Jack gets captured he keeps guessing The Master’s plan by throwing out the most ridiculous ideas he can think of (“What is this, some ancient chainsaw-wielding cult?” “Actually, that’s just what this is”) to the point where he just starts saying tropes and The Master ends up asking how Jack knows all of this. The idea of there being an ancient Egyptian cult with chainsaws is also lampshaded in a very tongue-in-cheek fashion which I appreciated. I also found it hilarious how the official police explanation for one of the chainsaw murders is that it was an accident and the victim “was just cleaning his chainsaw when it went off”. There’s also a chainsaw murder at the start of the film where a hooker kills some police officers during an interview and later it is explained that the policemen forgot to take the gas out of the chainsaw, paving over a pretty obvious plot hole in the funniest way possible. There are also some pretty good sight gags in the film, such as when Jack’s voice over during a scene is obviously at odds with what actually happens, just so that he can make himself look better. My favourite WTF sight gag though is when Jack enters a strip club and the camera focuses on the tough customers at the bar staring at him, which inexplicably ends with this pissed-off, twelve year old ginger kid (who, apparently, was Fred Olen Ray’s son). The film doesn’t even acknowledge it, which makes it even funnier.

Like I said, most of the jokes in this film land, although there are plenty of laughs to be had from the cheap film-making and bad acting. Most of the dialogue is on the level of a bad porno, especially during the chainsaw murder scenes. The early scene where Mercedes murders Bo Hansen has some of the funniest bad acting that I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. Hearing Bo, after realizing his sexy times are coming to an abrupt, gasoline-fueled end, whelps “Oh no! Oh no! GAHHHH!!!” in the funniest way possible. The murders themselves tend to be really funny too, as there’s obviously someone off-screen spraying the hookers with fake blood while someone else tosses a bucket of blood at them and someone else throws fake fingers (to top it off, someone tries to grab Mercedes’ boob with a fake severed hand, fantastic). It’s so obviously fake and amateur that it makes these scenes really funny to watch. The terrible, Value Village-quality Egyptian costumes at the end also could only work in a cheap parody movie like this.

That said, not all of the jokes land and there are some stinkers in here. Probably the most offensive joke is when Jack calls the homicide squad the “homo squad”, which came across to me like it was meant to be “funny because gay”, but just made me cringe a little. Thankfully, I didn’t notice any other homo- or transphobic jokes in the film, which is actually somewhat impressive for a film this old. The film also seems to think that it’s hilarious that a slang term for detective is “dick”. Sure, it was actually quite funny the first time the police chief complained about having “another private dick in my face”, but by the fourth or fifth “dick = detective = penis” joke, it was a bit much. Then there are a few jokes which are just stupid, like when Jack tries to get the bartender’s attention by… making shadow bunnies on the wall? Umm, okay, that feels like they were trying a little too hard for a laugh.

Of course, in addition to being a comedy, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers is a straight-up exploitation film with tons of gratuitous nudity to satisfy its thirsty audience. The film has tons of nudity and porno-level dialogue, but I wouldn’t say it reaches the level of a softcore porn film, if only because there are no sex scenes. That said, the chainsaw killings are treated in the way that a sex scene normally would, where the killing is the… er… “big climax” that the narrative builds towards, and of course they are all shot with topless women getting coated in buckets of blood. Naturally, there is plenty of gratuitous nudity even outside of the chainsaw killings, to the point where I’d estimate that maybe half of the movie has some nudity in it… and hey, considering the type of movie this is, at least it’s delivering the goods. Funnily enough, Fred Olen Ray has stated that the film was intended to be a message about safe sex – after all, any person you pick up could turn out to be a chainsaw-wielding maniac if you’re not careful.

Unfortunately, the film loses steam towards the end after The Master appears and Jack meets Samantha. Part of the problem is that around the forty-minute mark, Jack starts turning into a misogynistic douche bag. For one thing, Samantha is introduced as a surprisingly strong woman, who infiltrated this cult in order to get revenge for her friend’s death. However, she is quickly knocked down a peg when Jack headbutts her to knock her out, and then when she wakes up she immediately forgives him and then… tries to have sex with him because she’s so impressed!?! What the hell? This is followed-up by Jack’s girlfriend walking in on them, but Jack doesn’t care when she breaks up with him because he’s found himself a younger, hotter woman now. At this point, all of Jack’s one-liners start becoming about objectifying Samantha. Oh, and if that all wasn’t bad enough, it’s definitely implied that Samantha is lying about her age and is possibly a minor. I get that this is parodying noir tropes, but it doesn’t have any sort of consequence for Jack, which really bothers me and just makes it come across like they’re just playing it straight. It certainly doesn’t sink the film, but it makes it harder for me to give a shit about the film’s hero.

However, the last fifteen minutes of the film are by far the worst. The film is barely over the hour mark and I feel like the last fifteen minutes suffer because they were padding for time to get the film a proper runtime. There’s a good eight minutes that bring the film’s pacing to a grinding halt. Picture this – we’re in the cult’s temple and watching a ceremony, wondering what is going to happen. Then, we’ve got several minutes watching a priest pour a can of oil out… and then pour another can of oil. Umm, okay, where is this going? Then a topless hooker comes out and starts fire breathing, again, for several minutes without leading to anything. Then we get the film’s virgin dance of the double chainsaws, which manages to be iconic, badly done and pointless at the same time. On the one hand, it’s Linnea Quigley dancing topless with a pair of chainsaws, so there’s an inherent level of sexiness and coolness to the scene which helps to carry it. Unfortunately, it’s also hard to ignore that the dance is not particularly sexy in itself – as I’ve mentioned, Linnea was high on gas fumes, exhausted from seven hours of makeup and wielding two real, heavy chainsaws and trying to do something to arouse the audience. Again, it works because of her inherent sexiness, but it’s extremely obvious that she’s not able to give 100%. Add in that the editing during this entire temple ritual sequence has tons of pointless cut-aways to random hookers (I swear that several of these shots are recycled during the scene as well), and it becomes obvious why the final fifteen minutes of this film are so tedious to sit through.

As for the performances in this film, they’re pretty bad on the whole. Like I said earlier, John Henry Richardson’s acting is by far the best, but nearly everyone else is pretty bad. Unfortunately, even Gunnar Hansen puts in a very bland performance as The Master, saying all of his lines in a very monotone voice. That’s just too bad, I was hoping we’d get some scenery-chewing from him. I’m also sad to say that Linnea Quigley’s acting is really poor in this film. Her line deliveries are all unconvincing and the choreography during her epic chainsaw duel with Mercedes is just pathetically awkward – like, imagine a grade-school film project sword fight and you’ll have an idea of how badly-choreographed this fight is. Thankfully, as Jack Chandler says, “The kid talked like a frosted flake, but she had the nicest set of knockers that I’d seen in a long time”.

Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers was shot for about $55,000 in five and a half days. That’s an insanely low budget and shooting time for any film. You can definitely tell that this film was done under both of those constraints, but dayum it looks really good in spite of that. I can’t exactly call this a good movie in terms of quality, but in terms of pure fun it’s a hoot, even if the last act brings it down somewhat.

4/10

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Conservatives and Pedophile Virtue Signalling

A few months ago I touched lightly upon the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, a historical mass hysteria which I find absolutely fascinating. The panic started from a single claim by a mother who insisted that her child was molested at a daycare facility, but quickly snowballed into hundreds of accusations across the world. As it turns out parents were so disturbed by the initial accusation that they worked themselves into a frenzy and coerced their children into saying that their daycare facilities were being run by pedophile satanists who had been secretly committing ritual murders and sexual assault for years. Of course, there wasn’t a shred of physical evidence to corroborate any of this, but lives, reputations and careers were destroyed without cause as a result of the twisted beliefs of the parents spreading the hysteria.

Now, let’s bring this back to the present. In the last month we’ve not only seen the unfolding of the James Gunn smear campaign by alt-right activists, but also the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy (followers of which believe that a high-ranking government official is leaking information about mass pedophile rings run by evil globalists) has reached the mainstream media. Indeed, if the last few weeks in news have brought anything to light, it’s that conservatives are obsessed with pedophilia. It’s not like this is a new thing either – everyone has those conservative friends and relatives who use their Facebook profiles to gleefully declare their desire to kill, castrate or prison-rape pedophiles. Furthermore, in the last few years we’ve had quite a few high profile examples of conservative activism which used the prevention of pedophilia as their primary justification:

  • Pizzagate was a loony conspiracy theory which claimed that Hillary Clinton was behind a (obviously non-existent) pedophile ring run out of a pizzeria. That theory would have been just a total joke to most of the world, until it began a harassment campaign against the pizzaria and its employees which climaxed when some utter moron burst into the pizzeria with an assault rifle, fired shots and demanded that the staff release all of the captive children. Bloody hell.
  • When the Ontario government updated the province’s sex education program, one of the main opposition points for social conservatives was that a man convicted for child pornography had been involved in drafting the curriculum. This, of course, led to some people claiming that he had designed the curriculum to enable easier grooming of future victims or that the references to masturbation or learning about proper terms for genitals were part of his sick jollies. Of course, social conservatives didn’t want those parts in the curriculum at all, but it made for a convenient scapegoat considering that they’re well aware that their own beliefs can’t be forced on society without some sort of flimsy excuse.
  • When trans rights were gaining more recognition within society just prior to the 2016 election, the big battleground for social conservatives involved which bathrooms that trans people would be allowed into. After all, they claimed, a pedophile can just claim that he identifies as a woman and then follow my daughter into the bathroom and stare at/or molest her! This is, of course, the sort of claim which has been levied at all groups gaining civil liberty, from blacks to homosexuals. It should hardly be surprising that it’s been dragged out again, along with violent transphobia.
  • And, on the funnier and smaller-scale side of things, concerned parents accused Pokemon Go of being a means for child predators to lure in victims, because at the time the news cycle was linking in everything with the game, so why not trot out their old favourite hysteria to go along with it?
Sigh… is anyone surprised that this was posted on a Facebook group called “Liberal Logic 101 aka Libtard Insanity V 2.0”?

It’s pretty clear that this is a topic that people on the right have been fixated on for decades now, but why is that the case? While this isn’t a problem in-and-of itself (obviously it’s a good thing to stand against child predators, no one is going to argue against that), why do they feel so willing to believe, once again, that there are cabals of child-rapists out there preying on children in the thousands? While I can’t claim to have the answer, I do have some thoughts and theories on this that I feel hold merit and are worth discussing.

One potential theory for why people on the right are so sensitive to pedophilia right now is that they are using it to unconsciously compensate for the blatant immorality of Trump and the alt-right. For what it’s worth, I don’t give this theory a ton of merit as I believe that it is rooted in an assumption that right-wingers don’t truly believe in the things they stand for (which sounds far too similar to me of the “there are no true atheists” fallacy in evangelical belief… seriously, click that link, it is infuriating), but it is worth bringing into the conversation at least as there are probably some grains of truth in the idea. I feel like it’s more accurate to say that, if there is any sort of moral compensation going on, then it would be for conservatives (particularly the sort which would be suckered into Pizzagate and QAnon) who view pedophiles as the “greater evil” and therefore anything Trump or the alt-right does to get rid of them is justified. We have seen this in the past few years, as anti-Islamic propaganda has shifted away from fear of immigrants spreading terrorism to fear of social and moral decay as they “invade”, supplant our culture and commit violence against our people* – therefore, so the argument goes, we must keep them out of our country. This is also paired with such colourfully hyperbolic language as “white genocide” or “rape gangs” to sell the idea. This was clearly one of the driving forces behind Brexit and we are seeing similar bouts of xenophobia all over Europe and North America. Your average right-winger will tell you that they don’t have an issue with Muslims, or homosexuals, or trans people – “but…” and so the other group’s civil freedom is curbed in the name of preventing a greater evil that they imagine will occur.

A far more compelling theory about why pedophilia is so prominent right now is, quite simply, that it is effective propaganda. As Emma Grey Ellis puts it:

“Alleging that your enemy preys upon children is an ancient propaganda tool that’s been used by everyone from medieval Catholics to the Soviet Union. It’s a powerful indictment because it trades on fundamental human fears. It’s designed to otherize the opposition and sabotage any sympathy you might have for them. It’s a ubiquitous tactic because it works. It’s easy to piece together how this strategy emerged: Someone figured out which crime their society viewed as most morally reprehensible and went with that—the unforgivable act that almost always involves kids.”

Honestly, this one is barely a theory and is more-or-less confirmed through multiple notable examples. Mike Cernovich seems to be the biggest fan of pedophilia out there: in addition to popularizing the Pizzagate conspiracy and dredging up the James Gunn tweets to get back at Gunn for anti-Trump sentiments, Cernovich also has been caught organizing falsified banners at protests to make it seem as if left-wing groups support pedophilia and NAMBLA, and then go viral with the misinformation campaign. Even more cynically, Cernovich made it seem as if they were protesting him by putting his name on the banner to drive even more traffic to himself, the stuck-up fuck. Of course, the average person who comes across one of these accusations isn’t going to know the source or the history of Cernovich, they will just see the propaganda. I would hope that they would be able to discern truth, clearly that is something that Cernovich preys upon with his frankly deplorable tactics.

Cernovich is not the end of it all though of course. As Jim Edwards put it, “my prediction is that we’re about to hear a lot more about fictitious ‘leftist pedophiles’ if Steve Bannon and Tommy Robinson are successful in setting up their international European far-right nationalist ‘Movement.’ What is less obvious is that the influential ultra-conservative pushers of this theory do not believe it themselves. They know it’s fake. They just like the outrage it causes.” Edwards also expounds upon the efforts of the alt-right to spread the idea that the end goal of leftists and identity politics is to make pedophilia socially acceptable, engaging in a slippery-slope fallacy to convince people to oppose social advance. A left-wing pedophile manifesto was also leaked onto the internet to considerable furor, until it turned out that it was another right-wing smear campaign meant to make conservatives outraged**. Oh, and let’s not forget that this isn’t all just innocent fun and games either – in addition to numerous harassment campaigns and at least one shooting linked to false pedophile ring accusations, someone has already committed murder because he believed that his father was one of these secret pedophiles. Bloody hell, people. Of course, Mike Cernovich, Alex Jones, and the rest of that lot continue to demonstrate their lack of any integrity by continuing to knowingly spread falsehoods regardless.

“Wait a second… Mr. Mime’s Pokemon #122, Sharpedo is #319… 1+2+2+3+1+9=18, the legal age of consent set down by God himself. It has been hiding in plain sight all this time, Pokemon are pedophiles. We should have known that a game about devilution and playing with your balls would be secretly grooming children! Pokemon Go? How about Pokemon, no!!!” -Alex Jones in the near future, probably, now that this image is on the Internet.

Clearly it makes sense for influencers and propagandists to spread false claim of pedophilia, but the question still remains – why does this topic resonate with the general right-wing audience so much? I mean, Mike Cernovich and his shitty contemporaries know what content is successful with their audiences, so the fact that they trot out knowingly false pedophilia accusations again and again suggests that they’re aware that their audience laps it up. Hell, even looking back at other examples in this article, the anti-pedophilia memes that conservative-types love have been being posted and shared for years without an organized effort behind them, and the Satanic Panic occurred organically, long before the Internet could allow people to even attempt to weaponize the movement. For this question, I have the following theory: social conservatives tend to be exceptionally prudish about sex, especially here in the west, and tend to focus on what they see as “degeneracy” in society. They also tend to advocate for the protection of their children from whatever they see as “corrupting influences”. With that in mind, it’s not hard to trace each of these back to a common “worst”: after all, pedophiles combine the worst sort of degeneracy along with abhorrent sex and the exploitation of children, so is it any wonder that they would be so sensitive to this topic? Furthermore, with groups such as homosexuals and trans people gaining acceptance and increasingly no longer being considered “degenerate”, the number of other targets that conservatives can acceptably go after are growing smaller.

It’s also fascinating to me how the Satanic Panic and the associated pedophilia hysteria occurred during the Reagan presidency, when America was undergoing a major conservative resurgence, coinciding with social changes which were clearly threatening to the concept of the family unit. Women were entering the workplace in greater numbers (look at Die Hard in that light and consider the perspectives of the writers and you’ll see how these social changes affected that story), divorce was up, religious adherence was dropping, etc. In some ways, the panic felt like a conservative backlash to the changes occurring in society. After all, daycares were the primary target, and they were only being used because mothers were no longer at home, and the Satanic element suggested a society which was being torn apart from the inside by anti-religious evil. Similarly, the modern, growing hysteria is growing off the back of comparable social change – gay rights, trans rights, expanding awareness of racism and identity politics, etc. If the pattern holds the same as last time, then this period that we’re in now is merely the backlash that comes before the tacit acceptance of the social issues of our time.

Naturally, there is a certain amount of partisan hypocrisy to this right-wing fixation. Roy Moore would be the most high-profile example, and while he did lose the election, it was bloody close. 48% of Alabamans who voted would rather have a sexual predator in office than a Democrat it seems. Trump himself has also been dogged with numerous examples of either purported or confirmed lurid behaviour towards underage girls, which doesn’t seem to phase his supporters in the slightest:

“An election year lawsuit, withdrawn at the end of 2016, alleged that he’d raped a 13-year-old girl at one of the ‘infamous sex parties held by billionaire and known pedophile Jeffrey Epstein,’ a longtime pal. A BBC documentary featured multiple people recalling his predatory attitude toward models as young as 17 during the 1980s and 1990s. Five women who had competed in the Miss Teen USA pageant said Trump walked into their dressing room unannounced while girls aged 15 and older were changing. His history of lecherous comments about his own daughter, Ivanka, are legendary — and he even allegedly asked if it was ‘wrong to be more sexually attracted to your own daughter than your wife’ when she was 13.”

Beyond these specific examples though, the things that conservatives stand for are often enabling an environment where children can be preyed upon. One criticism of the Ontario sex ed backlash was that not teaching your kids about proper consent will just make them ignorant and more easily exploited. Furthermore, as much as people like to harp on the mysterious stranger in a dark van or gangs of secret pedophiles, the truth is that the family itself is most often the place where a child predator operates. Religious institutions are also notorious for covering-up child sexual abuse – and I don’t just mean the Catholic church either. Part of the controversy with Josh Dugger’s sexual assaults was that his church helped to cover it up rather than take it to the authorities, which happens distressingly often. And then there’s the general hypocrisy of the right’s desire to see itself as the side which “defends the children”:

“Apart from standing idly by as kids are gunned down in underfunded public schools, the American right denies our youth their life-saving health care, and GOP administrations oversee higher infant mortality. Children are disproportionately at risk from the climate change that Republicans refuse to acknowledge and stand to inherit an inhospitable planet (if they get to exist at all). Every day, we see photos of children kidnapped and thrown in cages by the president’s beloved ICE, who feed them psychotropic drugs, and whose negligence may have killed a toddler this week. QAnon’s vision of an underground child slave economy mirrors what’s happening in plain sight, and that is no coincidence.”

If you’re looking for further hypocrisy, just one article ago I was reading comments by the anti-PC crowd who were bemoaning how SJWs took away their loli-porn.

As much as the right loves to throw around the term “virtue signalling“, how can I view this pedophilia obsession as anything other than that? Especially in light of all the hypocrisy I’ve listed and when nearly all of the causes that I’ve listed in this article, from James Gunn, to Pizzagate, to QAnon, to the pedophile’s manifesto, are literally fake news. At that point, it feels like the outrage is little more than virtue signalling to show how good the person sharing it is and how much better they are than the degenerates in society. Here’s a bit of news: no one is sticking up for child molesters***. At most, some people are trying to raise awareness that pedophilia is a treatable condition, but even then there isn’t any sympathy for the people who actually commit sexual assault against minors.

These are my thoughts and theories on why it seems like conservatives are so sensitive to pedophilia. Perhaps I’m missing the mark or overlooking some things, but I’m confident that I’m hitting on something close to the truth of the matter. As I said near the start of this article, ultimately there isn’t really anything wrong with conservatives being sensitive to this topic – obviously, it’s a serious issue and worthy of being given attention. However, my main concern is with how this sensitivity is becoming weaponized by people without a shred of integrity. I’ll end this article with a quote from Miles Klee, which sums up the worst case scenario I can see this weaponization going in:

“QAnon sets the stage for mass arrests leading directly into fascist rule. When one side is keeping kids in sex dungeons, the QAnon logic goes, they don’t deserve due process — and must be thwarted by any means necessary. Conversely, anyone convicted for child porn or sexual abuse of a minor is part of the conspiracy.”

*For the record, I saw the article here and it instantly resonated to me as bullshit – a thousand sexual assaults and the police didn’t do anything because they were “afraid of being called racists”? As far as I could see, this story was only being reported on in such colourful terms in right-wing tabloids such as the Sun and Daily Mail and I struggled to find anything of note from credible news sources. It’s almost as if, shocker, the xenophobic-types are churning out anti-Islamic propaganda.
**That link is actually quite interesting to see – you’ve got a lengthy original post by a conservative blogger breaking down how evil this pedophile manifesto is, and then at the end there are just a number of addendums as they come to realize that the document is fabricated, but they attempt to justify their outrage against liberals anyway. That just goes to show the power of both propaganda and hardline-partisanship.
***Unless they’re a Republican, heyo!!!

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Oh Look, Another Manufactured Dead or Alive Controversy

When last we checked in with the Dead or Alive franchise, anti-SJW types were stirring up a controversy about how Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 wasn’t being released outside of Japan and this was all feminists’ faults (despite no one actually giving a shit about Dead or Alive Xtreme 3, the fact that this was 100% Tecmo-Koei’s decision, and that PlayAsia was clearly co-opting their outrage in order to make money). Fast-forward almost 3 years and now there’s a new controversy brewing about Dead or Alive 6. Sigh, what now? Are those special snowflake, easily #triggered SJWs complaining about the series’ trademark objectification of women and gratuitous jiggle physics?

Oh wait. No, it’s the anti-SJWs who are complaining again. And this time, it might be even more stupid situation than the last non-troversy was.

So, what could get people so riled up about Dead or Alive 6? Well, it all boils down to one simple statement that game director Yohei Shimbori made when the game was announced: female sexualization was going to be toned down and breast physics would be more realistic. Predictably, fanboys are threatening to boycott the game now just based on this statement alone. For example, One Angry Gamer is livid about the sheer mention of toning down and that the game is using a different engine than DOA5 and Xtreme 3Meanwhile over on Sankaku Complex, a Japanese hentai and porn news site (link is NSFW, obviously), there has been plenty of butthurt whining that SJWs have “ruined” the game before we’ve even gotten a chance to really see it in full. Perhaps even more predictably, some players are claiming that they’re going to buy Soulcalibur VI instead because it is leaning harder than ever into the fan service (for what it’s worth, I was planning on buying SC6 because I really enjoy the the gameplay of that series, until I saw how embarrassing the fan service was this time around). The reaction to this one little change really shows you how much value these “fans” put into the actual mechanics of their favourite fighting games.

Some of the funnier/stupid comments on Sankaku Complex.

Beyond that though, there’s more to why this is such a clear non-troversy. For example, read the following statement made by Yosuke Hayashi:

“We’ve always had the sex factor in the game; in the past, the female characters had to have big breasts, they had to have scanty dress. […] We’re trying to focus on the real women that surround us; the voice of a female, the mannerisms. We are being realistic about it. We want to show something that’s more high class, that adult males of our generation could look at a woman [character] and be impressed with her as a woman, not just as a pin-up. That’s what we wanted to tell our fans.”

That sounds like the sort of thing which would really rile up the anti-SJW types… except that this was said 6 years ago about Dead or Alive 5, and in terms of the sheer volume of swimsuits and new fetish-bait characters, that game ended up being the most sexualized game in the franchise (outside of the Xtreme spin-offs). Compared to this, everything said about Dead or Alive 6 has been pretty tame thus far.

This isn’t even taking into account the deluge of DLC which is sure to find its way into DOA6. DOA5 and (to a slightly lesser extent) DOAX3 both made bank off of their sexy costume packs, which would cost players literally over $1000 to purchase everything. Since DLC game into vogue last generation, fighting games have basically turned into costume factories and I can’t possibly see DOA6 passing this opportunity up. However, does this mean that all of the sexy costumes have been shunted off behind a paywall as some players are saying? Shimbori even made a point of changing series lead Kasumi’s sexy robes in favour of a more functional body suit, so are we no longer getting bikinis as default costumes? Well… it’s too early to say for certain, but somehow I doubt it. For one thing, take a look at Kasumi’s DOA6 costume and tell me that that isn’t sexy in its own right, even without having to show off skin. But not only that, the reveal trailer itself made it pretty clear that the game isn’t going to neuter the sexiness. Just look at Helena:

Camera pan to cleavage shot? Check. Panties visible? Check. Outfit that makes more sense for stripping rather than fighting? Check. Now, this is obviously just one character, but we haven’t seen what the more overtly-sexualized characters, such as Tina and Christie, are going to look like, nor have we seen whether the two most popular fetish-bait characters, Honoka and Marie Rose, will make the cut. In any case though, I do feel like the outrage that anti-SJW types have worked themselves into is premature right now at best, or downright ridiculous at worst. I’ve dragged Sankaku Complex into this article because, quite frankly, their coverage and pearl-clutching in this non-troversy has been hilarious. When Hitomi and Lei Fang were teased in fully-clothed silhouettes, they decried that “the developers [are] clearly sticking to their socjus agenda of preserving the purity of fictional video game girls”, which is particularly funny because they’re clearly wearing costumes of theirs from DOA5 and because the franchise has always had this weird sense of hands-off purity and innocent to (most of) its characters, emphasizing a voyeuristic take on sexuality rather than an active owning of it (which, honestly, is the main issue with DOA’s take on sexiness in the past).

Beautiful.

As for the breast physics, the One Angry Gamer article about claims that they aren’t even present in the current build of the game, but from what Shimbori has said, “we are trying to achieve some natural movement, so when you move, things move naturally. That’s our intention.”… so, the boob physics are going to be like the physics present in Xtreme 3 then? Yes, it does sound like they’re cutting out the exaggerated physics options which most games in the series have had… but oh well. That’s really all I can say about that, I’ve never understood the appeal of laughably exaggerated jiggle physics, especially when the game is going to aim for more natural movement similar to DOAX3.

The toning down of the sexier aspects of the franchise also coincides with a design shift towards esports and more brutal fighting. DOA has always prided itself on being the best-looking fighter on the market, which you can really see when you put it up next to Soulcalibur VI for example. Past games would dirty-up the fighters, but only to a certain point – for example, DOA5 made a big point about introducing dynamic sweat and dirt systems as the fight progressed which coincided with an art style shift, from more of an exaggerated anime aesthetic to one that looks much more natural. However, DOA6 is now building upon that more realistic aesthetic, introducing cuts and bruising which looks, quite frankly, painful. It has been stated that “the shift to more realistic graphics […] is thanks to the new engine. Characters visibly take damage during fights, with bruised faces and blood making combat feel more visceral in the process. Shimbori also said that they are thinking about adding in an option to disable those details for players less interested in violence.”

This right here feels like a fulcrum in this issue that is being overlooked by the more reactionary fans of the series. Let’s say that they kept this battle damage in and continued to play up the sexiness. Suddenly, we’d have a game which overtly sexualizes assault against women… hell, even with the toning down that they’re doing, I’m not entirely certain that it’ll be enough to make this not feel uncomfortable. Speaking as someone who enjoys this series, I’m actually questioning whether the move away from always having their fighters look “beautiful” is going to be worth it (especially if they start adding in the sexier outfits later on), but I’m willing to wait and see for now.

Other than the pervy, voyeuristic aspects that the Xtreme games really push, I don’t have a problem with the sexiness in the DOA franchise. It’s mostly harmless and the series has been tucked into its own corner for quite some time where it doesn’t really influence the industry much. However, that right there is something that Tecmo-Koei is clearly trying to escape – you can see how the excessive fan service since at least the release of Xtreme Beach Volleyball has made the series more and more niche with each entry. Clearly, something had to give if they wanted to try to broaden their audience. We’ll see if they manage to pull it off and come up with something worth supporting on its own mechanical merits.

Oh, and in the meantime, we get to laugh at people claiming that Dead or Alive now sexualizes the men more than the women (because men fighting without shirts is the exact same as women fighting without shirts of course).

95% of the comments section is people whining about SJWs to a chorus of upvotes, and then these guys pop in, say the objective truth and get downvoted, naturally.

Never change internet, never change.

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Quick Fix: Beta Uprising

In the time period between #GamerGate (ugh) and the rise of Trump (BLEH), I started reading We Hunted the Mammoth to get an idea of the sorts of extreme sexism present in our society which people are largely unaware of. However, as the American election began to ramp up, these stories began to evolve. Small communities in the “manosphere” of men’s rights activists, incels and “red pillers” were becoming more extreme and latching onto other groups. More than a year before neo-nazis came back into the public conscious at Charlottesville, I was seeing how the manosphere was drawing people into the alt-right and neo-nazi beliefs through their insulated communities centered on little more than hatred. That’s why men’s rights activism is a total joke – men face real issues which could be fixed with a concerted effort. However, trying to organize an effort to combat these issues is like trying to throw a white pride parade – the people who latch onto that cause will steer the ship towards the people they hate and blame for their problems.

This brings me to the recent van attack in Toronto, in which 10 people have been killed (so far) and 16 injured. Initially, it appeared that this might be an organized terrorist attack of some sort, as it was clearly premeditated. However, it is now coming out that the perpetrator, Alek Minassian, was likely a member of the manosphere and alt-right, specifically an “incel”, who was radicalized by the group’s hateful rhetoric. To put it simply, this rhetoric has grown from, and appeals to, groups of insecure and sexually frustrated young men who are “involuntary celibates” (hence “incel”). In their version of reality, “Chads” are the successful men who horde all the sex with the “Staceys” (aka, “sluts”, because even in this version of reality, a woman is worthy of scorn if she has sex with somebody). They also have a very social-Darwinist view of the world, where the Chads are alpha males and the incels are all betas (if you ever hear an alt-right dumbass calling you a “beta cuck”, now you know exactly why to laugh at them). Even the name “involuntary celibate” belies a belief that they feel that men are entitled to sex and that it is women who are in the wrong for denying them this right, with some even going so far as to fantasize for a world in which men can force women to have sex with them.

If it seems odd that this might cause someone to go on a killing spree, you’d be right, but the hatred that brews within the alt-right is literally radicalizing people in a manner not unlike that of a more organized terrorist organization such as ISIS. Incels’ fantasies about a world where the betas get their revenge has led to further fantasies of a “beta uprising”, to the point where it has basically become a legend among incels (seriously, that is not hyperbole on my part, just Google beta uprising). To this end, we have had mass killers inspired by this rhetoric, most notably Elliot Rodger of the Isla Vista killings in 2014. Perhaps most disgustingly, some incels have latched onto Elliot Rodger as a hero who started the beta uprising.

Predictably, Alek Minassian is being hailed as a hero once again by some within the incel community. It’s actually kind of a funny situation, I wonder how many of these people would paint all of Islam with the same brush in this situation, but say “hey, not all incels celebrate mass murder” when the finger gets pointed at them. But I digress – as one of my friends put it yesterday, this isn’t a mental health issue, but it’s going to be painted as such because that’s easier than dealing with the serious issues that are funneling young men towards radicalization in our society. People will rail against political correctness and feminism, but sexism is still alive in our society and this attack in Toronto is, as it seems with the evidence we have right now, the sort of result that it leads to at its most extreme. We should remember that it isn’t religion that causes people to kill, as the common scape-goat goes, but deep-seated hatred, dehumanization and radicalization.

I’m going to end this Quick Fix with the words of David Futrelle in his comments on this latest tragedy:

“[…] It would be dishonest and dangerous to dismiss this as a ‘mental health’ issue. Incel is a poisonous and hateful ideology, not a form of mental illness, and killings carried out in its name should be considered deliberate terrorism just as ISIS bombings or KKK lynchings are. Misogyny is hate, just as racism and religious intolerance are. As I’ve been saying for some time, the incel movement is a real danger; it appeals to young men consumed by bitterness who don’t think they have much to lose. And instead of helping them solve their problems it radicalizes them and ratchets up both their bitterness and their ‘nothing to live for’ nihilism. It’s a movement that idolizes mass killers and that has only slightly ironically heralded Elliot Rodger as its patron ‘saint.'”

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Witch Hunts

Lately I have been reading Richard Beck’s We Believe the Children: A Moral Panic in the 1980s, a very interesting tale of the social and political attitudes which helped to foster the 1980s “Satanic Panic” regarding daycares being places of ritual satanic sexual abuse. Thankfully our society is so far beyond such ridiculous hysteria, but there is a through-line in the narrative which has been making me slightly uneasy about the way that #MeToo has been progressing, especially after the backlash faced by Margaret Atwood after she made a cautionary op-ed about the movement.

To put it simply, the title of We Believe the Children shows the philosophy which was circulating during the 1980s – historically, the stories of abuse done to children have not been believed, therefore it is imperative that we believe the children because they will be honest and are too innocent to lie about sexual violence. Now, obviously this isn’t a zero-sum game where you either believe the children or assume they always are lying, but there’s obviously a level of discernment which needs to be taken into account. The main issues in the case of these kids were that the parents essentially coerced their children into making up stories of abuse (thereby giving them actual traumas to deal with later in life), prosecutors would refuse to believe that the children were telling the truth when they said that they weren’t abused and would pressure them into giving a confession just so they would be allowed to leave, and the prevailing belief that children’s accounts should not be questioned*.

Now, before I get any further, don’t get me wrong – I think #MeToo is ultimately a good movement, and one which has been long overdue. However, in reading about how hysteria about child abuse overturned due process and led to grave injustices, I can’t help but get a bit uneasy about how #MeToo is progressing. In the article published on the Globe and Mail, Margaret Atwood calls for more transparency and cautions about “the historical dangers of ‘guilty because accused’ in which ‘the usual rules of evidence are bypassed.’ […] ‘Such things are always done in the name of ushering in a better world,’ she writes. ‘Sometimes they do usher one in, for a time anyway. Sometimes they are used as an excuse for new forms of oppression.'” The parallels to the witch hunts and Satanic Ritual Abuse of the past should be glaringly obvious just from that description. So what sort of response did Atwood’s words of caution receive?

Sigh. I get that Twitter isn’t exactly the place for reasoned discussion, and you can obviously make a real case about why Atwood’s argument is harmful, but bloody hell if this tweet isn’t the picture of the pigheadedness which typifies social justice types. Like, I disagree with the presentation of this tweet in basically every way. First, she calls for Atwood to stop warring with women, basically asking for there not to be a dialogue or any sort of gradiation within the #MeToo movement. Secondly, she talks about war on “younger, less powerful women”, which smacks of the highly flawed use of “check your privilege” to shout down contrary opinion. And third and perhaps most insultingly, she signs off with a call for Atwood to “start listening”… like, are you even aware of how that comes across? Does it sound like you’re listening to Atwood? Do you even think that she deserves to be listened to? Why should anyone give you any sort of respect if you aren’t going to give them respect in turn? And how dangerous is it that you seem to be arguing against fair and due process in a time when authoritarianism is on the rise? Is it only okay when it’s in the name of your own interests?

This controversy also happens to coincide with another public dialogue about how the name, shame and ostracize nature of #MeToo might be over-extending its reach, with an op-ed about allegations against Aziz Ansari dividing people on how far this movement should be reaching and whether there needs to be more thought given to control the damage it can cause. Is this more about educating people on proper consent and respect, or is it about naming and shaming for any sort of sexual grievance? Should we be comfortable with a situation where a public accusation can tank someone’s career and reputation with a presumption of guilt? This is very much the sort of questioning that Atwood was addressing and, if everyone is willing to listen, then such controversies might prove that “[#MeToo] is big enough to encompass another layer in the discussion”. These questions were not asked during the ritual abuse moral panic, and many innocent people suffered irreparable damage to their lives for it, including the children who were supposed to be being protected in the first place.

Now, there is one very obvious qualifier here which I must point out that differentiates #MeToo from the Satanic Panic, and that is that the accounts of women should probably be held to a higher level of reliability compared to that of children (who, as the Satanic Panic showed, were susceptible to coercion and coached statements). In addition to having the statistics to back up their stories, women who come out about sexual assault are almost always going to be subjected to uncomfortable levels of public scrutiny, leading to further harassment. And this is why I’m so uncomfortable about these developments in #MeToo – on the one hand, these accusations are statistically reliable and I can’t think of a high-profile case in this movement which I don’t actually believe to be true. However, on the other hand, we just saw how one false story can wipe away all good-will for a movement, with the story of the 11 year old Muslim girl who lied about being attacked as part of a hate crime. That whole embarrassment and the subsequent hatred it fostered could have been avoided entirely if some scrutiny was applied before it became a headline. That’s really what I’m concerned about in all of this – I want justice to be done for the women who have been abused, I would like guilty perpetrators to face that justice, I would like for the innocent to not be smeared unjustly and I would like to see attitudes towards sex and consent change for the best in the future. Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer on how best to achieve all of these goals, but I will just sit here watching #MeToo with some unease, watching to see if they compromise any one goal for the benefit of another.

*The obvious hypocrisy here being that the parents and the prosecutors, the people who are supposed to be defending the children, clearly did not believe childrens’ accounts when they said that they were not abused. They were under the impression that children will hide any abuse, which prompts them to force them into a confession, but that is just wildly irresponsible.

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Movie Review: All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006)

There few experiences more baffling in enjoying movies than coming across a movie which is incredibly flawed, but that you love regardless. It’s exactly how I feel about the absolutely brilliant, but fundamentally hamstrung Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, and it seems like a lot of people have been feeling this about Suicide Squad as well. Recently, I rewatched another film which I felt was brilliant but flawed, the 2006 slasher film All the Boys Love Mandy Lane… and dammit, I just cannot stop thinking about it. The film is way deeper than it might appear at first glance, or even more than pretty much any slasher film I can think of for that matter, and yet it feels like the film was totally passed over and in need of a revisiting.

Good God that is a gorgeous poster, largely thanks to the equally-gorgeous Amber Heard. Fantastic tagline too, this poster basically single-handedly sold me on the film years ago when I first saw it.

Oh, and be warned – I’m going to attempt to dig deep into this film’s themes, so expect spoilers galore. Got it? Good.

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane revolves around a girl, Mandy Lane, who comes off of summer vacation to find that everyone in the school now seems to agree that she has become smokin’ hot in the past couple months. She is content to stick with her nerdy friend, Emmett, but with her newfound attention, she starts drawing the eyes of the popular guys on campus, including football jock Dylan and his friends, Jake, Bird, Red, and also the admiration of these guys’ girl-friends, Marlin and Chloe. Dylan invites Mandy to a party in hopes of hooking up with her, but Mandy insists that Emmett has to come if she does, much to Dylan’s consternation. True to form, Dylan tries to seduce Mandy unsuccessfully, but then Emmett makes him look like a fool, causing Dylan to punch him in the face. Later, Emmett heads to Dylan’s roof to look down on the partiers, but Dylan comes up and tells him to get down. Emmett then convinces Dylan that he needs to do something to impress Mandy and make her fall for him – like jumping from the roof into his pool. Dylan decides to risk it and jumps, but strikes his head on the edge of the pool and is killed instantly.

9 months later, pretty much everyone in the school hates Emmett, and Mandy has seemingly moved on to the more popular cliques. She receives an invitation to go to a house party at Red’s ranch, which she agrees to attend along with Jake, Bird, Marlin and Chloe. All 3 of the guys brag about how they will be the “first” to hook up with Mandy, while Chloe and Marlin both vie for Jake’s attention. Throughout the party, Mandy is subjected to attempts to seduce her by the guys (particularly Jake and Bird), but she is very tepid about going along with the advances – she clearly isn’t interested, but the guys try regardless. Red’s ranch hand, Garth, shows up around the property at various points to keep things in order, and Mandy clearly finds him instantly intriguing (as does Chloe).

As the night goes on, Chloe and Marlin make a joke about Jake having the smallest penis at the party, which causes him to storm out in a huff towards the barn. Marlin chases after him and proceeds to give him an apologetic blowjob, but when it comes time to reciprocate, Jake just laughs and tells her to piss off. Marlin is furious, but is suddenly attacked and fatally wounded by a hooded assailant. Unaware of this, Jake returns to the house to try to force Mandy to sleep with him, but she rebuffs him aggressively. Frustrated, Jake gives up on Mandy and steal’s the group’s only vehicle and a gun as he drives off in a drunken stupor to find Marlin for another round. When he finds her, he gets drawn into a trap, where he is shot in the head by the hooded assailant.

The partiers hear the shot and assume that it’s Jake acting stupid and drunk, but Garth threatens to put an end to the party. Mandy manages to convince him to hold off until morning at least, until the car drives back to the house and the driver (who the partiers assume is Jake) launches a firecracker at them. Bird chases after the truck and Garth threatens to call Red’s parents, but they decide to just put an end to the party instead. When Bird catches the truck, he finds that the hooded assailant is actually Emmett. The pair fight, but Emmett ends up slashing Bird across the eyes to blind him before stabbing him to death.

The next morning, Emmett sneaks into the house to admire Mandy and leave a blood-stained message. Realizing that something is badly wrong, Garth tries to lead the group out of the ranch, but is shot in the shoulder by Emmett. Red and Chloe make a break for it out the back door of the ranch to get help, but Emmett intercepts them and shoots Red. Chloe runs back to the house to try to get Mandy to help her, but when she runs into her arms, Mandy stabs her to death. We discover that Mandy has been in on this with Emmett all along, and they had planned to kill the popular kids is a testament to their love for one another. However, when Emmett insists that Mandy kill herself and then shoot him in the heart, Mandy decides against this. Emmett becomes infuriated and tries to kill her, but Garth suddenly appears and shoots Emmett, wounding him. Emmett stabs Garth a few times before chasing after Mandy with a machete. The pair fight, but Mandy gets the upper hand and stabs Emmett to death. She then heads back to find Garth and save his life by rushing him to the hospital.

From the plot synopsis, it probably sounds like the film is pretty standard for the genre, but there are a few things which make it stand out. First of all, the film is absolutely gorgeous, with some fantastic cinematography from Darren Genet. That said, the night scenes, which make up the bulk of the film, aren’t nearly as memorable as his unnerving, incredibly harshly lit daytime segments, which run the gamut from an almost-tender shot of hand-holding in the sunset (if not for the rapey connotations of the scene itself) to the almost documentary-style way that the camera tracks Chloe as she runs away, screaming, as Emmett chases after her in his truck. Much of the film reminds me of the harsh, washed-out grittiness of Tobe Hooper’s slasher classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which almost-certainly was a major visual influence on the film.

The performances in the film are also fairly solid. No one really stood out to me as being poor, although the only one who stood out to me as particularly noteworthy was Whitney Able as Chloe. It might be because that character had the best material to work with, but she goes from “typical mean-girl cheerleader stereotype” to a truly pitiable and tragic person that I genuinely felt sorry for… unlike basically every other character in this not named “Mandy”. I also thought that Luke Grimes played a really contemptible asshole with Jake, putting in enough smugness that he’s kind of entertaining to watch rather than being unbearable (you should have been taking notes, all you irritating sacks of shit from Project X). I’d like to say that Amber Heard did great as Mandy, but I’m a little indifferent on her performance. To be totally fair though, she’s playing a character who spends the vast majority of the film in a (seemingly) passive role, so she isn’t able to really assert herself until the end (where she does a good job). If nothing else though, she definitely has the looks to sell the idea that these guys are all going crazy over her.

My main beef with All the Boys Love Mandy Lane though comes down to the script side of things. If you go into this expecting a slasher film, then you’re probably going to find that it’s fairly boring – very little seems to happen during its middle segment, and you literally get 60+ minutes into the film with more than half of the total body count occurring before any of the characters even realize that there might be a killer on the loose. For my first viewing, I was just sitting there watching the movie slowly go by with characters just getting killed off occasionally, seemingly without much consequence in the film itself, which was making me wonder what the whole point was.

However, the film is much more interesting on that second viewing, where you already know what you’re going in for and have your context recoloured. I didn’t miss the film’s clear commentary on aggressive hypersexuality the first time (it’s incredibly in-your-face about it), but when you go into the film realizing that it’s the entire point of the film (rather than being a generic slasher), it makes the film so much more coherent. My understanding of gender relations has also improved considerably since I first watched this film, which helped colour my perception quite a bit. When I first saw this movie, I was probably leaning more on the idea that this was a “Beta Uprising” slasher film and kind of empathized a little bit with Emmett. I had realized there were feminist themes to Mandy Lane in my initial viewing, but after my second viewing it seems pretty clear to me that the film is just saturated in them.

Of course, most reviewers picked up on the feminist themes in the film, but some didn’t think that the film’s approach was successful. Bitch Flicks’ review of Mandy Lane claims that the film stops short of being feminist because they felt that the film was declaring Chloe and Marlin were traditional slasher “whores” who were deserving of their deaths, and claimed that the film would have been better if they had only killed off the men as a message about the harmfulness of toxic masculinity*. However, I believe that this analysis was unfortunately shallow and off-center since they seem to think that Mandy is supposed to be the film’s innocent feminist icon. In particular, I’m not so sure that the film is condoning Marlin or Chloe’s death for being sexually active like they claim – after all, Chloe’s death in particular was incredibly sad and didn’t occur to me as being “comeuppance” like “whore deaths” so often do in slasher films.

From the moment that the film begins, Mandy is absolutely immersed in a culture of in-your-face hypersexuality and superficial relations. There’s a clear element of sexual entitlement amongst most of the male characters, as nearly all of them seem to believe that they are going to be sleeping with Mandy at some point. Even the least-aggressively entitled character, Red, seems to think that he is going to get with her at some point, despite not actually doing anything to see this hope through. In my opinion, the superficial relationships on display throughout the film are one of the first keys to understanding the narrative. If you pay attention you’ll find that, for all of their big talk about hooking up with Mandy, none of “the boys” actually bother trying to get to know her. Most of the time, their interactions with Mandy seem to come down to gazing at her lustfully, telling one of the other guys that “they’re gonna hit that” and then trying to woo her with transparently-empty attempts at charm. Chloe and Marlin aren’t much better – despite supposedly being best friends, the two girls constantly tear each other down, such as Chloe’s repeated insistence that Marlin is fat (she isn’t) or Marlin insulting Chloe for having pubic hair (which she insults as being “Sherwood Forest” down there). Both girls are completely complicit in the boys’ objectification of them. In particular, Chloe’s relationships also clearly revolve around the superficial – she spends the entire party trying to get with Jake, and when he ignores her she tries to seduce Garth in turn, unsuccessfully. In one of the film’s more tragic scenes, she also laments to Mandy in private that Mandy is so much prettier than her. Her melancholy tone conveys utter defeat, but the fact that this is the first thing she really says to attempt to connect with Mandy suggests that prettiness is the only thing that she really understands. Honestly, I think that this exchange might have been the moment which sealed her fate at the film’s end.

However, the film gives us a clear counter-point to the superficial relationships in the film in the form of Garth (pay attention, this is going to become a trend). Garth is the one character who actually makes an effort to get to know Mandy, and without the ulterior motive of trying to fool her into sleeping with him for that matter. In fact, during one of their bonding moments, he ends up feeling like he can’t be with Mandy because she is “about 10 years” too young for him. This conveys that he respects her and finds her very interesting, but doesn’t want to force a relationship with someone so much younger than him, while also standing in stark contrast to the other guys, who only really talk with Mandy if they think it’ll get them closer to sleeping with her. It’s also worth noting that Garth demonstrates his responsibility and seriousness throughout the film – on a number of occasions he decides not to party with the teens because he has work to do around the ranch, or he wants to keep them safe. Contrast this to Bird, who only volunteers to walk to the ranch because he thinks he will get to hook up with Mandy on the way there, or who gets pissed off when he needs to restart the generator because he thinks he’ll miss another opportunity. Mandy, for her part, clearly finds Garth very intriguing, but unlike Chloe, she wants to get to know him and not just use him as a one night stand.

The second major key to understanding the film is the idea of sexual competition. This is made very obvious near the beginning of the film when Emmett chases after Mandy wearing a shirt which has “natural selection” written across the front of it, which is intended to convey the old “survival of the fittest”/Social Darwinian philosophy shared by assholes everywhere. Going along with the superficial relationships, the film is absolutely awash in hypersexual competition amongst the characters. Pretty much every sexual reference which is clearly framed in a negative light is linked to some form of attempt to tear down or compete with others. Just as a short list of examples, we have Chloe insisting Marlin is fat, Marlin’s comments about Chloe’s “Sherwood Forest”, Jake bragging about having hooked up to girls from 42 of the 50 States, Bird volunteering to walk back to the ranch so he can get rather rape-y with Mandy, Jake refusing to reciprocate to Marlin after she gives him a blowjob, etc. One particular instance that deserves further elaboration though is when Jake’s rather extreme reaction when Chloe and Marlin agree that he has the smallest dick in the room. Jake is such a toxically-masculine character who has been constantly attempting to one-up everyone, that this rather public declaration of him having the smallest manhood is nothing short of a devastating blow to his ego (especially since he’s trying to get with Mandy at the time). This explains why he gets so worked up about something so trivial, because as far as he is concerned, he’s the top of the pile, the alpha male if you will. Chloe also comes to fit into a similar mold as the film progresses. She brushes off the “Sherwood Forest” comment at the time, but later in the film, she is seen breaking down and crying as she attempts to trim her pubic hair in order to up her perceived value. At one point, we also see that she wears a padded bra in order to make it appear that her breasts are bigger than they actually are – a superficial and somewhat short-sighted move in many respects, but one which allows her to compete more “effectively”.

It’s also pretty clear that all the obsession about Mandy is just an extension of this hypersexual competition. Everyone wants to get with the “pure virgin”, Mandy Lane because she is unconquered, and whoever gets to her first will have their status instantly boosted as a result. In contrast, Marlin and Chloe are both sexually active, so hooking up with them isn’t considered particularly desirable. This is most clearly demonstrated when Jake finally gives up on Mandy and decides to just go have sex with Marlin again, claiming that he’s going to go “back to the well”. There’s a sense that if any of the guys do get with Mandy, then that will be the end of it – they may obsess over her now, but that’s only because she is “pure”. If she started indulging the boys’ desires, then their interest in her will wane considerably until her “sexual currency” is worthless. The toxic masculinity of this mindset is extremely clear and should be distressingly familiar to anyone who anyone who pays much attention to the manosphere (particularly pick-up artists): the idea that real men should be having lots of sexual partners, but women who have had lots of sexual partners are dirty, worthless whores with shrivelled vaginas. The hypocrisy of this mindset is staggering, but in Mandy Lane, Marlin and Chloe are complicit in it – it’s not a coincidence that both girls are lusting after Jake, the biggest misogynist in the entire group. It’s also worth noting that this competition for Mandy’s attention ends up coming down to grand gestures (eg, Dylan jumping from the roof into the pool, as if that would make Mandy instantly drop her panties for him) or really transparent lies that they think will impress her (eg, Bird claiming that he “respects the woman” and then forcing Mandy to hold his hand and give him a not-so-innocent kiss on the cheek… as if his words speak louder than his actions). Who does end up impressing Mandy, you may wonder? Garth, who just… is. He doesn’t do any grand gestures or lie to try to impress her, he just is himself and does the right thing when it is needed. He out-battles the competition without even having to consciously compete.

The third key to understanding the film is in Emmett’s role… which, compared to the other two keys, the film doesn’t shed quite so many answers on, and so interpretation is going to be relied on a bit more. Based on the previous two keys though, it would seem to me that Emmett is representative of a different, more primal sort of “competition” than the other boys are involved in. I believe that this is the entire point of the film’s opening 10 minutes, which focuses almost entirely on interaction between Dylan and Emmett. In this opening, Dylan attempts to woo Mandy through sweet words, charms and his physique. Emmett very clearly realizes that he can’t compete with Dylan in this arena, as demonstrated by the scene of him standing in front of the mirror without a shirt… which he then puts back on in defeat before sitting alone at the pool during the party. However, when he heads up to the roof, Emmett figures out that he can compete using his brain and convinces Dylan to effectively commit suicide. In Emmett’s (clearly sociopathic) mind, he may think “sure, Dylan might have been a more charming fellow and have a nicer body, but what good does that do him if he’s dead and I’m not?” Emmett may hate the superficial nature of the popular kids in the film, but many ways, he’s not much different than they are.

Emmett’s ruthlessness can ultimately be boiled down to just more gestures and competition – on a far more vicious scale, but gestures and competition none-the-less. He believes that Mandy is impressed by his viciousness (and, to some degree, she kind of is), so he attempts to escalate it show just how devoted he really is. His obsession pushes him too far though, as the gestures and the ideas become the real thing he’s in love with. For example, I believe that Emmett is basically holding Mandy up like a goddess of purity. When he kills Marlin, just after she gives Jake a blowjob, he is particularly vicious. He forces her to fellate the barrel of a rifle before breaking her neck, a level of sadistic “comeuppance” which he doesn’t reserve for any of the other characters. While Bitch Flicks might argue that this is just a misogynist moment of “slasher-flick whore punishment”, I’m not entirely convinced that that is the intention – rather, I think it is intended to signify Emmett’s own sense of twisted misogyny which has developed from his obsession over a single, idealized woman. It is certainly within reason to believe that he views Marlin as a worthless slut who gratifies other men, unlike his perfect angel, Mandy, hence why he forces Marlin to fellate the gun barrel (an image which effectively symbolizes “sex = death”).

The crux of Emmett’s big display at the film’s end is that he and Mandy have a suicide pact, which he believes will show his ultimate devotion to her to the entire world. In fact, he believes that this display will be so effective that it will inspire “copycat killings”, like they’re the Romeo & Juliet of mass murderers. However, what would this gesture actually do for Mandy? The only person who “benefits” from this suicide pact is Emmett, because it will show the entire world just how much he loved Mandy Lane, while preserving her role in the plot so that everyone will still believe her to be the pure, virginal woman (in fact, if she’s dead, then she’s eternally untarnished). In a sense, the mass murder and then suicide pact would (in Emmett’s mind) set him up as the ultimate conqueror – the man who overcame all the other men he was competing with in a permanent sense and then won Mandy’s heart forever. Does he really “love” Mandy though, or is he in love with this idealized notion of her? The fact that he goes berserk when Mandy rejects the suicide pact suggests to me that he’s in love with his idealized angel and his own grand gesture, rather than Mandy as an actual person with her own beliefs and wishes. Ultimately, Emmett reveals that he’s no better than Jake or Bird – forcing his will on Mandy and believing that he is entitled to her, but unable to comprehend that maybe she isn’t interested (the fact that she rejects his suicide offer by saying “you should never do anything for me” just hammers this home harder).

As screwed up as that mindset is, I’ve been to the sorts of places that Emmett’s mind has gone in this film, and so I find his logic disturbingly understandable (y’know, minus the murder). In high school, I was obsessed with this one “pure” Christian girl who I missed my very brief chance of dating before she moved on. However, I couldn’t get over her and ended up shielding her from other guys in the school who I thought we assholes, much in the same manner. In fact, at one point I was sorely tempted to push one asshole down the stairs who wouldn’t stop creeping on her, and at the time I decided against it… because she’d probably sympathize with him and not me. Now I probably would have been too level-headed to actually go ahead with it, but that was the sort of obsessively-screwed up I was in high school. I was also so obsessed with her purity aspect that I was very consciously shutting out any sort of sexual thoughts or feelings in regards to her, and would get pretty furious if other people spoke about her in a sexual way. In fact, it was unhealthy enough that I wondered what the hell I would do if we ever did actually end up dating and get together, I’d probably not be able to cognitively handle it. So… yeah. You can probably understand why I saw a lot of Emmett in myself when I first watched this film.

The final key to understanding the film is Mandy herself, or rather, understanding her motivations. We’re never really given an entirely clear understanding of why she turns on her supposed “friends”, to what extent she was involved in their murders, or exactly why she turns on Emmett at the end (although, as I stated above, it’s likely that she had come to realize that he was no better than the other boys). As I wrote earlier, I think Bitch Flicks makes a mistake in holding up Mandy as a straight feminist symbol in the film. While there are certainly feminist ideals attached to her, her sociopathy makes it a little difficult to view her as a simple, Nathaniel Hawthorne-style walking symbol. It’s pretty clear that she’s not just railing against the patriarchy throughout the film, but that’s hardly enough to make the film “not feminist”. Rather, to me she seems to be more of an independent character through which feminist themes are explored.

In an initial viewing of the film, it feels like Mandy is a passive figure for most of the action. She spends most of the film being gazed at while other characters attempt to get with her, or is off somewhere else while those characters get brutally killed. However, on a second viewing, it becomes much more clear that she is in control nearly the entire time. Scenes where she appeared passive as she watches the other characters bragging about sexual conquests or belittling one another gain a sinister subtext as we realize that Mandy is not just witnessing – she’s cataloguing their sins. She’s an interesting sort of slasher anti-hero – instead of hunting down and killing the characters, she influences other people to eliminate the characters for her. This also is where I disagree with Bitch Flicks’ assessment that we’re supposed to hold her up as a pure feminist example, because as the film goes on, it’s pretty clear that we’re not supposed to be condoning the deaths of the characters. Chloe and Red in particular begin to grow close during the increasing stress of the night and are set up in a manner which makes it seem like both of them are blossoming into a real relationship which could help them both (particularly Chloe with her tortured self-loathing and feelings of inadequacy). However, when they are both dispatched, it is a truly tragic and heart-wrenching moment which we pretty clearly are meant to not feel good about. I’d rather see these characters become good people than lose their lives as punishment for their mistakes, but Emmett and Mandy see things otherwise.

Where does Mandy’s murderous motivation come from though? This is a puzzle that I had to mull over for quite a while because the movie doesn’t give us a straight answer. However, I think I might have come up with a convincing answer: the one big common feature which unites Mandy and Garth is the fact that both of them have lost someone incredibly close to them (in Mandy’s case, her parents; in Garth’s, his wife). If you’ve ever lost someone close, or listen to the Dead Things podcast, you’ll know that it’s a life-altering event which changes your entire outlook on the world. Now picture this – Mandy is surrounded by this superficial, belittling hypersexuality, which she has come to realize is meaningless next to the grand scope of mortality. Then, after the summer break, she comes back to school and suddenly finds herself immersed in the fickleness of this superficial attention, which causes her to resent it even more. She’s almost like the Jigsaw killer, lashing out at people for not appreciating their lives, and the lives of other people who they just use and abuse. This idea is also demonstrated when Mandy kills Emmett, declaring that she wants to finish high school instead of dying for him, suggesting to me that Emmett isn’t even really all that cognisant of the finality of his own actions.

There is also a seemingly inconsequential scene in this film which I think really hammers home this link between Mandy, Garth and death. During one conversation, Garth reveals that he had to kill off the entire herd of cattle at Red’s farm because they came down with an illness, to which the partiers are incredulously surprised that he had the stomach to eliminate the entire herd by himself. As Garth explains, it was his responsibility and it had to be done. The fact that Mandy and Emmett have their final confrontation in the mass grave that these cows were buried pretty-explicitly draws a link between the characters and this idea of eliminating the diseased for the greater good. For Emmett, eliminating the other characters improves his standing and acts as a gesture of his devotion to her. For Mandy, it would seem that she shares Garth’s view – she views the superficial, the toxically masculine, the competitors, as the diseased which must be eliminated for the good of the “herd”, and values honesty and the responsibility to step up and do what is necessary – hence why she turns on Emmett. This also helps to explain why she likes Garth so much, because she sees a connection in this philosophies… although Garth may not see them as quite so similar if he understood Mandy’s true nature.

And that’s All the Boys Love Mandy Lane. I do hope that I helped shed some light on why I love this film so much, in spite of its rather slow plotting in the middle. I understand the reasoning behind it, but I can’t help but be kind of deflated by the way that the film kind of drags and feels inconsequential at times. If you look into the film beyond the surface level though, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is a real treat full of interesting themes and ideas – I mean, after all, isn’t looking beyond the skin what Mandy would want you to do anyway? Something to consider.

7/10

*For one thing, this could easily be construed as misandrist, which is something that the feminist community doesn’t need to be getting legitimately thrown our way. Furthermore, I believe that the existing message in the film is more nuanced than that heavy-handed sort of conclusion would have been anyway.

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Video Game Review: Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 – Venus (2016)

This happens to be my 200th post on I Choose to Stand, and I’ve put together something special… After all the shit-talking I’ve done about Dead or Alive Xtreme 3, I thought that it was pretty unfair of me to just dismiss it off-hand. As a result, I picked up a copy of the PS Vita version (like hell I was going to get caught playing this on my TV) and set about writing this review. Is it as bad as I had predicted? Read on to find out…

Note that the game is very careful to highlight that you can use the touch controls to manually jiggle the girls’ boobs. Stay classy Tecmo, stay classy…

DOAX3 is a… umm… well, it’s pretty hard to place it within a genre really. The most succinct way to describe it is that it’s a minigame collection based around a voyeuristic appreciation of sexiness, with some very basic happiness-management and dating sim elements layered over it. The first thing that really struck me about DOAX3 was just how similar it felt to previous DOAX games – I had previously played a little Dead or Alive: Paradise, but even that cursory glance was enough to notice that DOAX3 has basically the exact same menu-based user interface and layout. Hell, even the locations are the basically the same, and the thumbnails look very similar too (the Sports Shop in particular looked almost identical to me). The game is also clearly carrying over a number of art assets from Dead or Alive 5: Last Round – the characters themselves appear to be updated, but the swimsuits and even some of the environments have been very clearly shared between the two releases (and the bulk of the “new” swimsuits are just palette-swaps).

Perhaps most egregiously, I also noticed that a very significant portion of the game’s gravure videos are lifted from previous games in the franchise, reusing the exact same animations and even camera angles. I didn’t do a comprehensive count, but when cross-referencing Hitomi’s scenes in Dead or Alive: Paradise, I noticed that quite a few were reused wholesale, such as her riding on inflatable orca in the pool, her very cute improvised dance session, eating an ice cream cone and going for a bike ride. They also directly lifted Hitomi’s Private Paradise scene from Dead or Alive 5: Ultimate‘s DLC. I’m sure there are more of Hitomi’s scenes reused that I just haven’t encountered in DOAX3 yet, and the fact that I’ve found this much recycling for just a single character is kind of a demonstration of how little effort seems to have gone into differentiating DOAX3 from previous games in the franchise. I don’t want to accuse Team Ninja of being lazy, but the sheer amount of recycled content makes me feel like they basically just put in a minimal amount of effort on this release – hell, they couldn’t even expand the cast past 9 girls, possibly because this would have required them to add in more items for the dating sim elements.

Controversially, DOAX3 also removed some features from previous DOAX games – in particular, the Marine Race (aka, Jet Skiing) and Water Slide have been removed entirely, presumably because the marina has been excised from the game (for no apparent reason other than lack of effort). The cast of characters is also kind of disappointing. Series mainstays, such as Christie, Tina and Lei Fang have been replaced with DLC characters from DOA5. I know that they put this up to a popular vote, but the fact that some of the main characters of the series have been excluded and have been replaced with people that we don’t have any sort of story context for makes the game feel significantly less true to the DOA name (naturally, the two highest-voted new characters in the poll were the two biggest fetish bait – the lolita schoolgirl, Marie Rose, and the biggest tits and ass in the franchise, Honoka).


On the plus side though, Team Ninja seems to have put most of their effort into the graphics and physics engines, which definitely shows. The PS4 version obviously looks superior, but the PS Vita’s graphics are pretty damn good as well. Aside from a reduced framerate and resolution, the only really noticeable downgrades in the handheld are, for whatever reason, that the girls don’t get suntanned and can’t suffer SFW “wardrobe malfunctions” during some of the minigames – hardly make-or-break issues, but their exclusion is a little odd. The game’s physics engine is also probably the best that the series has ever seen – DOA is notorious for its hilarious (often intentionally-so) boob-physics, but DOAX3 seems to have stepped up its game in a surprisingly-positive way. The boob physics appear to be much more, uh, natural this time around… plus they added butt physics too, because Team Ninja understands priorities. The only really annoying graphical issue is one that has persisted throughout the series – hair physics. The characters’ hair goes crazy all the time, clipping through characters, objects and generally just going bonkers while the physics try to make sense of their programming. Some of the swimsuits have the same sort of issues, particularly the leis (which are apparently glued to the girls’ nipples or something) – the dangle physics don’t seem to have been figured out yet, which is probably why we don’t have any men in the DOAX series yet (BADUM TISH!). Still, for a game based almost entirely around sexiness (and with so much recycled content), the emphasis on the graphics was probably the right call to make, with all of the girls looking even better than they already did in DOA5.

The actual gameplay of DOAX3 takes place over the course of 14 in-game days, each split up into morning, afternoon, evening and night-time segments. The morning, afternoon and evening segments can be used to play minigames, relax or buy new swimsuits, while the night-time segments basically just give you the opportunity to gamble your cash at the casino. There’s about one line of story for each of the girls which explains what they’re doing on the island, but beyond that there’s basically no overarching plot – you’re just on the island and you get to choose how you want to spend your vacation time. The game does present you with missions in order to earn “Zack Dollars”, upgrade your “Owner Level” and increase your girls’ happiness levels, but it’s really just up to you whether you want to accomplish these missions or not. The only real goal is to make the girls happy by the end of your vacation – the happier they are, the higher your final score is.

The bulk of the gameplay in DOAX3 revolves around a series of 6 minigames. Of these, volleyball is by far the funnest and most rewarding. It’s not particularly deep, but there is some actual strategy involved in winning and skill involved as you learn how to defend, set up plays and master better (but more risky) serves. The payouts are also considerably higher than any other minigame, so you’re probably going to spend most of your time playing this unless you’re just hunting missions all of the time. It’s also legitimately quite fun to play, with a reasonable amount of challenge involved.

The second minigame is tug of war, in which you just move the analog stick left to pull, or right to feint, and tap X to regain balance. However, when I’m playing I don’t find that there’s much reason to do anything other than just tug it constantly (heh heh). Easy-level opponents don’t really react quick enough to fight back, so if you just tug then you’re pretty much guaranteed a win. Normal-level opponents require a bit more strategy, but even when I’d open with a feint trying to be strategic, I found that I was losing a lot more. I just ended up tugging it mindlessly again after that (heh heh), and won 3 matches in a row with no effort. Honestly, winning in tug of war seems very shallow and is basically a crapshoot, because feints are unpredictable and can cause you to instantly lose if they pull one off. It can be fun as a diversion, but it gets stale pretty quickly.

The third minigame is butt battle, which feels like the most stripped-down (heh heh) fighting game ever. Basically, press O to bash the other girl in the butt with your own butt, and use the analog stick to dodge or sidestep. However, I have found that there isn’t a lot of reason to do much more than just hammer on O to win most of the time. For normal-level opponents and higher, butt battling feels a little more like a rhythm/timing-based game as you just wait to see if your opponent dodges or not. It’s still pretty shallow and doesn’t really seem to exist for much more reason than to make you laugh and appreciate the butt physics (oh and to show off the wardrobe malfunctions on PS4).

The fourth minigame is beach flags, which is basically just an HD remaster of NES Track and Field. Basically, wait until the game says go, then button mash X as fast as possible and then press O to dive for the flag before the other player does. It literally takes seconds to finish (heh heh) and, if you’re like me and can’t button mash for shit, then winning against hard-level opponents is basically impossible. It’s just not particularly engaging or skill-based, providing little more than an opportunity for quick cash if you don’t want to spend a lot of time on a minigame for whatever reason.

The fifth minigame is pool hopping. It’s sort of like a speed-based QTE game, where you jump to platforms marked with one of the Playstation face buttons on each one. Platforms are spaced apart at different distances, with a tap of any of the face buttons being required to make a small jump and a hold being used to jump over longer distances. In addition, players can use the face button that matches the platform to perform the QTE to gain additional cash. Honestly, I think pool hopping might be my least-favourite minigame, mainly due to the controls – the difference between a button press and a hold is miniscule, making it super easy to accidentally throw yourself into the pool and then scream in frustration at the annoying controls. Plus the game emphasizes speed, so it’s very easy to screw up as you try to stay ahead of your opponent. I find that I can’t even finish it if I’m trying to match the buttons on the platforms, so I usually just focus on whether my next move is a hold or a tap. Pool hopping definitely takes practice, which I guess makes it more interesting than most of the other minigames, but the frustratingly finicky controls take a lot of patience to acclimate to.

The last minigame is rock climbing, which was added in place of Marine Race and Water Slide. It’s literally just 40 seconds of QTEs, making it arguably the most boring minigame in the entire collection. It feels like it’s just an overglorified gravure video with some button prompts overlaid on it, but at least you get Zack Dollars for completing it (which is far more than I expected). Once you’ve finished it once, you’ve seen everything it has to offer.

In addition to the main minigames, the game also features a casino where players can choose to gamble their Zack Dollars with the other girls. The three offerings (blackjack, poker and roulette) are certainly functional but are very basic even in comparison and lack much visual flair to keep them interesting for long periods of time. Roulette seems like the most throwaway since it’s almost 100% luck based whether you make any sort of payout. I spend most of my time in the casino on blackjack and poker (which is using the five-card draw rules rather than Texas hold ’em, sadly), since there’s actually some skill involved. Poker in particular is pretty easy to rake in money with consistently if you know how to play, since you can just bluff opponents off the cards most of the time if they have weak hands (and as long as you don’t just go in with awful hands yourself all the time). A poker session can a pretty fun diversion sometimes, but most nights I just skip going to the casino since it doesn’t really change or give you much reason to keep going back aside from farming for money. Oh, also, for a game that is all about sexiness, I’m also disappointed that Team Ninja still won’t actually put animations of the girls you’re playing against in the casino. Instead, they just show bubbles with the characters’ heads in them acting as an avatar (the same system used in previous DOAX games). It once again smacks of a modicum of effort being applied, and is doubly unsatisfying since this is a game about sexiness – you think they’d play that up shamelessly here. As a consolation, we get images of the girls on all the playing cards, but it’s not much of an effort (especially since the pictures are basically all promotional renders, which might have taken an afternoon of work to apply to all the in-game cards).

Aside from the minigames, the other main feature in vacation mode is the ability to watch the gravure videos of the girls relaxing around the island. While they’re clearly intended to be the game’s main draw, I find that they aren’t particularly well-integrated into the game. You can choose to initiate these videos by visiting parts of the island to relax, but this is where, one of the major failings of all of the DOAX games comes into play – the games are clearly meant to be playing up sexiness, but triggering these scenes uses up a portion of your very finite schedule with no practical gain (as far as I can tell, they don’t even give you satisfaction, which is mind-boggling). Time you spend on relaxing could have easily been spent on volleyball, which is both funner and provides you with currency to buy new swimsuits. It’s like the game’s systems are actively discouraging you from doing the very thing that the game is designed to do, which is frustrating (good thing a quick Youtube search will give you all the DOAX3 gravure videos you could ever want without wasting any of your vacation time or spending a penny). This is my general problem with sexy/porn games – the “game” parts tend to clash with the actual point of the game (and where all the effort was actually directed… in this case, appreciating skimpily-dressed girls). While I’d probably rather be appreciating the gravure videos, I’ve got no practical reason to do so, which just ends up highlighting how unsatisfactory the gameplay itself is. I think it would be more interesting if the game gave you higher satisfaction yields for choosing to relax, while continuing to give you good money and satisfaction yields for completing activities, which would at least give you a strategic reason to pick between the two options.

It’s also worth pointing out that all of the minigames take up the same amount of in-game time, whether you spend 15 seconds playing beach flags (or falling into the pool on the first button prompt in pool hopping), or spend 2 or 3 minutes on a heated game of beach volleyball. It feels kind of strange to me that you can end up completing a whole 14 day vacation in probably 10-15 minutes if you choose to blaze through the shorter games. It might have been a little more interesting if there was more of a time-management risk/reward factor, where you can play volleyball for longer times but with a greater payout if you win, compared to the shorter games which would have lower payouts but smaller time investment, meaning you can play more games. As it is, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to play anything other than volleyball most of the time, since it’s both the funnest activity and the highest paying of them all.

That said, the emphasis on volleyball just highlights how poor the other games are. A glance at the trophy statistics shows that (as of the time of this writing), the percentage of players with 10 wins in each of the minigames is as follows: volleyball (41.3%), rock climbing (32.2%, shockingly), beach flags (27.6%), butt battle (26.9%), tug of war (26.8%) and pool hopping (20.5%). As you can see, the contrast between volleyball and all the other games is pretty stark. With only ~30% of players even hitting Owner Level 10 (about the equivalent of completing 3 vacations), it makes me wonder how many people grew tired of the game’s offerings within a couple hours, or how many spent all of their time on the only really good minigame on offer.

The one big addition to DOAX3 is the new “Owner Mode”, which allows you to play as a caretaker who Zack has entrusted ownership of the island over to. The basic ideas kind of play out similarly to a management game (think like the absolute simplest Football Manager ever). You can start a vacation as the owner if you’d like, or you can switch to it seamlessly at any point in the menus. The point of playing in owner mode is to maximize the happiness of all of the girls on the island as best as you can, which is where the game’s basic dating sim mechanics come into play. Each girl has favourite items, food and colours. While the game doesn’t just go out and say what each girl likes this time (aside from their colours, which makes it basically impossible to give them a bad gift wrapping), a quick Google search makes it easy to figure out what their preferences are. I know that some people enjoy dating sim elements in games, but I have always found them to be an absolute bore at best, and an irritating chore at worst since I’m just following a set of instructions to get the outcome I want. There’s no real strategy to it, you just do what the game expects you to to get the girl to accept your gifts. The only real reason it seems like they’ve thrown this in here is for the bonus sequences where the girls will try on their new swimsuit in front of you (giving you the option to peek, but of course this ends up being both SFW and exceptionally pervy).

Beyond happiness-management, owner mode also gives you a second pool of Zack Dollars which can be acquired by completing missions and gambling in the casino, and which can be spent to gift girls new swimsuits. Owner mode also gives you access to the Owner Shop, where exclusive swimsuits can be purchased. This is where the game’s microtransactions come into play, because of course they do. The microtransaction system (known as “Premium Tickets”) is disgusting – as you would expect, they allow you to buy premium swimsuits from the Owner Shop for real world money. This is egregious for a number of reasons. For one thing, many missions require you to buy a girl some special swimsuit from the Owner Shop. However, most missions don’t tend to have particularly great payouts, so the odds of you having enough Zack Dollars for the better ones have clearly been designed to incentivize the sale of Premium Tickets (unless you get really lucky in the casino). With the more expensive swimsuits running 14+ Premium Tickets, you’re looking at $10 (Canadian) or more just to gain the privilege of dressing your virtual characters in a single swimsuit that’s already in the game… and that’s before factoring Team Ninja’s inevitable future DLC plans (and their demonstrated history of horrifically shitty business practices there). Also, the contents of the Owner Shop at any one time are semi-random meaning that, like the shittiest free-to-play games, they force you to spend money to get the items you want because they might not be there when you can afford them. Microtransactions are just such a shitty thing to include in a full-priced game like this, especially when they have been so obviously manufactured to push players into spending money on them, and doubly-so on a game which seems to have put as little effort into it as this.

The other big feature of owner mode is your Owner Level, which represents how much work you have put into the game. It is also tied into some special swimsuit and item unlocks, but unfortunately the game expects you to put in an absolutely ridiculous amount of grinding (heh heh) to get stuff. Some of this is stuff that should be an absolute necessity for this sort of game, such as the ability to freaking pause gravure videos, which requires you to be a mind-boggling level 80 to unlock (a feature which was available from the start in Dead or Alive 5: Last Round, a game where sexiness and taking photos isn’t even the whole point of the experience). Honestly, the amount of grinding that the game expects out of you is absolutely ridiculous considering how little content or substance is on offer. As much as I want the ability to pause gravure videos, the thought of having to grind to level 80 makes this feel like the game is wasting my time.

Oddly enough, the least-flashy aspect of owner mode might just be the best part since it sticks to the central philosophy of sexiness – the ability to just sit back and watch the girls doing their activities without having to take direct control. This can be pretty relaxing, particularly if you’re enjoying a good volleyball match, and gives you the opportunity to take (inevitably pervy) pictures. The lack of a pause ability right out of the box is even more egregious in this mode because snapping quality photos is very difficult to pull off when you can’t anticipate the girls’ movements. Still, snapping photos is pretty fun and the in-game controls are robust enough that you can get some really great shots if you practice.

Honestly, DOAX3 feels like the sort of game which would have greatly benefited from a next gen design philosophy overhaul. How much cooler would this have been though if New Zack Island had used an open hub world system where you take control of one of the girls and navigate the island, relaxing and performing activities to your heart’s content? If nothing else, this would have been significantly more interesting and exciting than the existing menu-based UI system. The game could also do with some co-op functionality, especially since you spend the entire vacation with a partner anyway. Multiplayer was actually a feature from DOAX2 which was removed in this game, co-op could have been a great step forward. Naturally, I understand that Tecmo-Koei probably doesn’t expect the game to sell very many copies, so they probably figured that they couldn’t justify the sort of work that would be required to rewrite the game from the ground up. However, with Team Ninja’s insistence on recycling content, we’re left effectively playing an early Xbox game, just with shinier graphics than before. This already didn’t cut it when DOAX2 dropped in 2006, and it’s even more noticeable in a world where identically-priced games feature more refinement and meaningful content than ever.

As you can probably tell from everything up to this point, I don’t think that DOAX3 is a particularly good game. However, in spite of all the shittiness on display, I have to admit that I was actually finding it to be somewhat enjoyable in spite of itself. It’s a strangely relaxing change of pace from my usual sort of gaming entertainment, as I get smacked around in Bloodborne, Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest and XCOM 2… and then use Rainbow Six: Siege to cool off. DOAX3 just lets me lean back and enjoy some minimal challenge while basically giving me the ability to do whatever I want to on my 14 day vacation. It’s kind of difficult to review in that sense, because it’s clearly extremely niche, lacking in meaningful content and difficult to quantify. I can kind of understand how it can get reviews as low as a 1.5/10, but I can also see why someone would give it something as high as a 6/10 if they were being very forgiving of its obvious flaws. For my own part, the lack of content, ridiculous insistence on grinding to make up for said lack of content, disconnect between gameplay and sexiness, and Team Ninja’s seeming overwhelming laziness push it into the negative side, but there is some sort of intangible relaxation that the game brings which make me feel like being at least somewhat generous to it. I don’t exactly recommend the game, but it is definitely going to only appeal to a certain kind of niche gamer.

4/10

…Oh, and did you think I’d not bother to mention anything about sexism? I decided to set that aside for my feelings on the game, but honestly I didn’t really have a particularly difficult time doing so. Maybe the shittiest sort of SJW-type would bristle at the very idea of this game existing, but I didn’t really care all that much when I was playing. The voyeuristic aspects of the game can be rather pervy at times and I sometimes have to stifle a laugh at how silly the game is when it’s trying to be sexy, but the game isn’t particularly offensive. It’s also strangely chaste in some ways – while the girls enjoy looking sexy, they seem to have little interest in sex itself (especially since the series’ more sexily-dominant characters, Tina and Christie, didn’t make the cut). Naturally, this has some troubling implications in itself, but at least the girls are all presented as “look, don’t touch” and beyond attainability, rather than just being sex puppets for our gratification.

If DOAX3 had come overseas, I honestly don’t think that there would have been much of a furor. Hell, I was at an EB games just this morning and saw Onechanbara and a bunch of other typical “sexy Japanese” games on sale without giving a shit. Of course, Tecmo-Koei used the controversy that grew from the lack of a Western release to bait even more controversy for sales (the announcement of “Owner Mode” was probably the most obvious example of this), while PlayAsia basically turned it into an art, effectively netting them their intended audience without having to spend a dime on localization. Really though, I think there’s room for this kind of game to exist – as I have emphasized all through my review, DOAX3 is a game all about sexiness, so if it wants to be sexy then fine. My problem is when otherwise-serious games, particularly ones with an exclusively-male-gaze version femininity in them (such as Metal Gear Solid V) come out and end up dominating the market share. We’re at a point where there are enough positive female characters, from Tomb Raider, to Life is Strange, to the upcoming Horizon: Zero Dawn that I think we can afford a cheesy bit of fantasy in the form of DOAX3 without setting women back decades.

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The Rebuttal: Telekinetic Rape!

We’re starting up a new column here on IC2S (to go along with Quick Fixes, Retrospectives and Reviews) which I have decided to call “The Rebuttal”. I get a lot of stupid bullshit in my Facebook feed; I’m sure that you do as well. Sometimes however, we get something that is a new level of stupid though which can’t just be ignored – it needs to be corrected. That is where The Rebuttal comes in. Here, I will attempt to give a reasoned analysis of the post in question and hopefully dispel some of the ignorance it was fostering. Got it? Okay, let’s get started…

Oh look, feminism! Who would have guessed?

This was posted on a parody Facebook page called “Meninists” (sigh), and shared by a friend who thought that the 4chan reply was funny. Honestly, on a certain level the snarkiness of the reply is kind of funny, but that is only the case because of what the feminist wrote. Personally, I think that this is a great example of the issue of “not explaining yourself” and “picking your battles poorly” which I have suggested that fellow feminists should be careful of if they want to have a better public perception. Saying that “men can rape without laying a hand on a woman” isn’t one of those things that is going to get you to say “oh shit, maybe I do need feminism!”, but rather it’s going to raise a lot of eyebrows. At worst, it’s hyperbolic and trivializes “real” case of sexual violence. At best, it’s a poorly worded argument and weakens the definition of what constitutes “rape”. Personally I’m feeling that she tried to come up with something that would sound profound and compelling, but ended up wording things really poorly which made her look somewhat ridiculous.

That said, it shouldn’t be too difficult to understand what she meant. Women spend their lives being catcalled, objectified, pressured and threatened by men. I know that many women who go jogging are well aware that they get creepy men stalking them… and as a man, that’s horrifying. Most women live with the threat of rape hanging over their heads, whereas guys like me don’t really worry about it beyond “don’t take candy from strangers” when we’re little kids. This is demonstrated in the “only good rape joke” by Ever Mainard where she jokes about her relief at finally getting “her rape” which she has been warned about all her life. In any case, as badly worded as this feminist’s statement is, it should be pretty freaking obvious what they’re referring to, and not even all that controversial either.

It’s also worth noting that, by specifying that it is “men” who can do this, the feminist in question kind of ignores that this is a potential problem for both sexes. Obviously, rape is a MUCH more common problem for women, but of course men can be objectified and threatened as well.

That brings us to the other side of the issue. Someone obviously went and cherry-picked this picture and posted it to 4chan for maximum snark. By meme-ifying this image, it no longer becomes an opinion open for dissection, it becomes a case of “dude, check out how this feminist got PWNED!” It occurs to me that this is similar to how Merlynn132’s analysis of why there aren’t female characters in gaming was extremely troublesome, but throw in a stupid comment about how it’s the greatest thing on the Internet and suddenly it gains legitimacy and focuses the perception. That’s too bad, as I think that the original picture has plenty of room for reasoned discourse. What exactly is she trying to say? How are women subjected to sexual harassment in our society? Is her use of “rape” trivializing the more traditional definition of rape? Just how prevalent is sexual assault in society? There’s a plethora of dimensions to this.

…of course, instead the subscribers of the Meninist get to enjoy jokes about telekinetic rape. Umm… congratulations on having your world-view reinforced?

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SJWs Part 2: Xtreme Beach Volleyball

Depending on how much attention you pay to gaming news, you might have heard about the latest controversy to engulf SJWs. Koei-Tecmo’s refusal to release Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 outside of Asia has created a torrent of ill-will, the ferocity of which is hard to fathom. So how about those SJWs, amiright? Taking away our erotic volleyball matches and cartoonish breast physics! Well… the I think that the truth is far more complicated than the prevailing voices in this controversy would have you believe.

First off, I need to make one thing clear: unlike most people on either side of this controversy, I am actually a fan of the Dead or Alive games. I bought 3 different DOA games in the past couple years. I have actually played one of the Xtreme spin-offs. I follow Tecmo’s Facebook page, meaning that I actually got to see the progression of this controversy. I also have been mulling over a blog post about how the DOA franchise actually has some very positive and progressive elements about it for the better part of a year now. Hell, I even thought the DOA movie was a hell of a lot of fun. If there’s someone qualified to comment not only on this controversy but also on the DOA games themselves, then I think I’d certainly fit the bill as a reasonably educated party.

Hitomi is my fav! <3 I also really like Momiji and Ayane though, probably because I got into the series through Ninja Gaiden.

With that in mind, let’s look at how this controversy game about. From its very announcement, it was obvious that Koei-Tecmo was targeting the Asian market with DOAX3. They had a character poll to determine which girls would make the cut, and it was only open to Asian voters. Furthermore, while they did leave some possibility of a western release, they iterated during its reveal and all subsequent marketing that the game was going to release in Asian territories only. There was certainly some complaining and disappointment among people interested in the franchise (not to mention a petition to drum up interest in a Western release), but it was fairly muted and there was an assumption that these fans would just import it or create a Japanese PSN account to play it.

So what were SJW-types saying during all of this? Honestly, very little. When the game was announced, there was the expected head-shaking and “oh look, another one of these games are coming out”, but that’s more or less where the media coverage began and ended. There were no calls to ban the game or anything like that. This was not another Hatred-level controversy – people just didn’t care.

Context: you should learn it.

The problems began when someone asked why the game wasn’t coming to North America on the “Dead or Alive Game” Facebook page. A Koei-Tecmo employee responded with:

“Do you know many issues happening in video game industry with regard to how to treat female in video game industry? We do not want to talk those things here. But certainly we have gone through in last year or two to come to our decision. Thank you.”

Obviously, this is a pretty poorly-translated response which makes it hard to discern the exact meaning. However, based on what is there, I can actually understand why people would assume that the comments meant “SJWs took away your bewbs!” There also seems to be an undercurrent of wanting to avoid controversy in these words. However, it’s hard to be sure how seriously to take this, between the bad translation and the fact that Koei-Tecmo have since put out an official statement distancing themselves from this post (albeit, one which is extremely non-committal and unenlightening).

Even then, things still didn’t truly blow up until almost a week later when PlayAsia threw in their own 2 cents. Looking to get some sweet, sweet controversy dollars, they put out the following tweet:

“#DOAX3 will not be coming to the US due to #SJW nonsense. However, we will have the English Asia version available”

At that point, the floodgates absolutely poured open as DOAX3‘s lack of localization was no longer a point of consternation for what few fans of the series existed – it was now a political battlefield because damn those SJWs for taking away games that I never even planned on buying!

Oh, and by the way, during all of this SJW were still saying “guys, we don’t care about DOAX3, Koei-Tecmo can release it if they want to and you can play it if you want to as well”. There were no calls to get the game banned, meaning that all of this “SJW nonsense” was merely an accusation or a scapegoat rather than something which was actually happening. However, there was one troubling response which helped to fan the flames of the controversy. Likely in response to PlayAsia’s attempt to bait anti-SJW-types by creating another wave of controversy, a former IGN employee “Carolyn Velociraptor” tweeted that they had industry connections with PlayAsia who would be boycotting the company. This sort of strong-arming was obviously the wrong approach and just gave the anti-SJW crowd more things to complain about. Look, I’m not going to Carolyn Velociraptor’s actions here because they were ineffective, thuggish and out of step with the average SJW’s position on the whole controversy. If you have a problem with her response then that’s fair enough, but don’t think that this is concrete evidence of your crackpot SJW conspiracy theory.

Dammit Anita, we were so close!!!

Normally, when a controversy like this happens, it stems from the actions of one extreme individual or from some stupid action which ends up colouring the whole group as a result. For an opposing example, think of how feminists were shouting down all MRAs for the comments of a single blog poster who thought that Mad Max: Fury Road was going to be propaganda. Normally this is how these kinds of controversies come about, but this case is a little more interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, it stemmed from the poorly-translated and unsubstantiated words of a single community manager, which were then passed on with the “SJW” hashtag thrown on to foster controversy. Secondly, we see that the hate for SJWs has hit such a boiling point that people will oppose them just based on principle. By and large, non-fans of the DOAX games didn’t give a shit about the franchise until someone publicly associated it with SJWs, at which point it became volatile as all hell. Thirdly, it demonstrates that “SJWs” and their actions are defined by those who are opposed to them. SJWs got our game banned! Oh wait, they didn’t actually do anything of the sort? That doesn’t matter, SJWs have created an environment which kept the game from being localized! When you have control over the label, it becomes… er… “xtremely” difficult to prove or disprove these sorts of grand assertions that have made up the bulk of the controversy – in the anti-SJW ideology, they already believe that they’re right and can spread the hate amongst themselves easily.

When it comes down to it, the SJW argument just seems to be incredibly overblown, especially when compared to the economic factors. Despite what the controversy would have you believe, DOAX is a niche spin-off of a second-tier fighting game, a relatively mediocre sales history at best, subject to poor reception in the West and hasn’t seen a proper sequel in almost 10 years. The fact that they’re even bothering to make another DOAX game is shocking enough to me, but the decision to not localize it actually does make some economic sense.

First of all, let’s look at some of the realities of game localization. There’s a pretty interesting thread on Reddit which has some info on the costs associated with it, from which I pulled this quote:

“Some publishers like releasing niche games in the west and such, but remember this is the industry obsessed with low risk-huge sales formula. 10-100k sales in the west even if localisation cost a fraction of what you earned or just reclaimed it’s budget? Fuck no, too few. 300-500k sales are more like it for a niche game in eyes of big publisher. That’s why we don’t see Yakuza 5 localization from Sega. These games just don’t sell a hundreds thousands copies.”

Koei-Tecmo is a relatively small publisher whose focus is clearly on the Japanese market – most of their games don’t even get an international release at all. As a result, they don’t really have a ton of money to throw around on a release that won’t earn them much of a return, especially with the rising costs of development, distribution and (especially) marketing. You also need to keep the market potential in mind – in Japan, hyper-sexualized voyeur minigames are far more economically viable than they are in North America. This isn’t necessarily a consequence of SJWs destroying the market, it’s just because we as North Americans aren’t all that interested in beach and pool party minigames, we want action, shooters and other traditional genres (such as RPGs, platformers, sports games, etc). In fact, I think this might have actually been what the Koei-Tecmo community might have been referring to in that fateful Facebook post. Is it so hard to believe that these comments might mean “the west has different views on female sexuality, which I believe make voyeur minigames and dating sims economically unviable”? I mean, if you’re freaking out about DOAX3, how many games like this have you picked up over the years? Perhaps the market might be more welcoming if we were exposed to a more diverse assortment of game types…

Hardcoregamer has some pretty interesting stats on the DOAX games’ sales figures and how small the North American market share is compared to Japan:

“According to VGChartz, 2003’s Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball has sold 0.59 million copies worldwide to date. Here’s the breakdown by territory:
North America: 0.36 million
Japan: 0.14 million
Europe: 0.08 million
Rest of the world: 0.02 million
By the time we get to 2006’s Dead or Alive Xtreme 2, the numbers drop precipitously. Xtreme 2 has sold just 0.25 million worldwide to date, less than half of what Xtreme Beach Volleyball sold. The ratios by territory are roughly the same, but the numbers are much lower for each.
At first glance, you’d think that means that North America is the obvious market for the game. After all, it sold more, right? Well, take a moment to consider that while Japan is a single country of 145,000 square miles and 126 million people, North America is an entire continent of nearly 10 million square miles, made up of 23 different countries and has a population of 565 million people. Simply put, it costs a lot more to market and distribute a game in North America than it does in Japan; it’s not a 1:1 comparison of sales figures.”

This is why I’m surprised that the game is being made at all. If the North American market wasn’t there back when the original DOAX games were released, how much worse will it be now? To get an idea, I used VGChartz to look into the sales of the most recent game in the DOA franchise, Dead or Alive 5. After I added up the sales of the 4 separate releases this game has gotten on various consoles, we end up with a rough worldwide aggregation of around 1.15 million copies sold. Looking at the regional breakdowns, the North American sales are usually only slightly more or slightly less than the Japanese sales, but considering the costs of localization and the much wider distribution that is required to actually give the game a chance of selling, this is pretty wretched. If you factor in the fact that the DOAX games tend to sell even less worldwide, then the economic prospects for a worldwide release of DOAX3 looks pretty grim for Koei-Tecmo. As a result, it actually makes some sense to release it in only one territory, go through certification and distribution expenses only once, focus your marketing, allow those who are interested in the game to buy it via import and, yes, avoid any potential criticism that might come its way, if that’s really something they care about.

With all the economic factors which are almost certainly the primary issue with the game not receiving localization, can we really pin any blame on “SJWs” for Koei-Tecmo’s decision not to release? Perhaps, but I’m really not convinced. For one thing, I can’t recall the last time there was a major feminist outcry about a video game since Dragon’s Crown. Anything since then has basically boiled down to criticism, which is something that you just have to deal with if you’re going to put out a piece of art. On the other side of the coin, you didn’t see Anita Sarkeesian stop her video game tropes series over the criticism she received, which was significantly harsher than anything that has ever been said about the DOA franchise. If she can stick to her guns and put out a product she believes in, I have a hard time believing that Koei-Tecmo can’t, especially if there’s a significant amount of money to be made.

If Koei-Tecmo were concerned about the opinions of SJWs, then why would they have released Dead or Alive 5: Last Round just this past year? In this release, they doubled-down on the fan service by adding Honoka, easily their… er… “biggest”* slice of fan service ever. Even with Honoka, DOA5:LR really didn’t make much of a splash amongst the SJW-crowd, who basically just shrugged their shoulders as they have with DOAX3 (and DOA5:LR even received reasonably good reviews which were more critical of it being a cash grab than anything else). If Koei-Tecmo were truly concerned about SJW backlash, then I doubt that they would have put out DOA5:LR in the first place, or especially made it “sexier” than ever.

Which brings me to my final, and definitely most important, point: guys, please stop freaking out about this game. I can guarantee you that DOAX3 is not worth your outrage. I seriously question how many of these angry people have actually played a DOAX game, because they are utter shit. For a laugh, I tried out Dead or Alive Paradise, and it was absolutely wretched. If all you wanted to do is oogle girls in bikinis, you should realize that that is barely a feature in the game. Most of what you do is boring menu-based busywork until you decide to play a minigame for about 30 seconds. It has more in common with dating games than you would expect. Now obviously there is a certain niche market for that kind of game, which is fine, but I doubt that they’re the ones doing the bulk of the complaining here. The extremely creepy tone and general pervy-ness are just a veneer over a husk of a game which very quickly goes sour. At least the DOA fighting games are build upon great game mechanics which make them very fun in their own right, even if you aren’t interested in the voyeurism. DOAX lacks that though and ends up being nothing more than sexploitation in the same vein as such esteemed “classics” as Bubble Bath Babes or one of those pornographic Tetris machines you see in the especially seedy bars.

As if that wasn’t enough, Koei-Tecmo have demonstrated through DOA5:LR that DOAX3 is going to be packed full of many of the corporate practices that gamers have been rallying against for years now. If your favourite part of the old DOAX games was unlocking all the skimpy bikinis then prepare to be disappointed – DOAX3 is going to be a DLC factory. Every re-release of DOA5 has been packed with a glut of DLC. DOA5:LR alone had over $200 worth of DLC available on day 1!!! Want to know what’s even worse? A significant portion of that (around $90 worth) was already on the disc and available in previous releases of the game as DLC. Usually when you put out an enhanced re-release, you pack all of the content that was available in the previous release, not sell it to everyone again…

Arguably the absolute worst offense they have committed though is releasing a $90 season pass… which literally was good for only a few months of mediocre costumes. Without warning, they launched a second season pass for the next year of content for the exact same price, meaning that super-dedicated fans of the franchise can be looking at upwards of $240+ to get the “full” experience of a game which came out years ago. Koei Tecmo is just taking the piss and this is almost certainly going to carry over into DOAX3. Oh, and all of those characters who failed to make the cut for the game, including such main characters as Tina Armstrong and Lei Fang? They’ll almost certainly be added in as DLC in the future as well.

After all of this controversy though, I wouldn’t be surprised if Koei Tecmo relents and announces in the next couple months that they’ll release the game exclusively via PSN and Xbox Live. Anti-SJWs will declare it a victory for free speech, while SJWs will just continue to sigh, shrug their shoulders and not care. Personally, there seems to be room for games like DOAX3, similarly to how we can have movies like Piranha 3D and Magic Mike. At this point, we’re more concerned about female representation in AAA games like Watch_Dogs and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, rather than the business of softcore porn fantasies. If you’re looking for someone to blame for this controversy, here’s where I would direct you: Koei Tecmo. If they really are being strong armed by us nasty SJW-types, then they should just have the balls to stick to their guns and trust the market.

And anyway, if they don’t release it in North America after all, then that’s what Rule 34 is for, right?

*Man, I’m really killing it with the puns today.

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Fuzzy Bunny’s Guide to You Know What

So if you live in Ontario like me, then you have probably heard that there’s a bit of a kerfuffle regarding Kathleen Wynne’s sex ed curriculum, with social conservatives/religious folk going mildly insane (to put it lightly). My parents have said that if this curriculum was in place when my brothers and I were going through school, they would have home schooled us instead of putting us through the public school system. However, as much as I dislike Kathleen Wynne, I actually think that there’s a lot of fuss being put up unreasonably here. Don’t get me wrong – coming from a socially conservative background, I can understand why a subset of people are freaking out about this, but I believe that the amount of things that they would find objectionable are significantly less than they would expect (in case you didn’t notice, there is A LOT of ridiculous misinformation and hyperbole being passed around conservative political circles to try to create a public outcry out of sheer ignorance).

Let’s go through some of the more “controversial” aspects of the curriculum. First off, is the fact that the curriculum starts in Grade 1 (ages 6-7). This might seem a little early to some people, but it’s not like they’re actually learning about where to stick their naughty bits. Is it so horrifying for children to learn the proper names for their genitals? I don’t see a problem with this at all. I think in Grade 1 I was tittering like a madman whenever someone mentioned a “pee-pee” and quite embarrassingly didn’t realize that “boobs” were not the same thing as “nipples”, leading to me to idiotically claim that some other kid was showing off his boobs. Boobs-aside, I was basically 100% ignorant about what made girls different at this time, but having children be aware of these sorts of things is hardly going to destroy their innocence. If anything, it’ll be good to pave future groundwork, hence why they’re starting the very, VERY basics so early. If nothing else, it’ll make for the funniest day of class for a first grader.

After that, I can’t really see anything else that’s potentially objectionable until Grade 6 (ages 11-12) and Grade 8 (ages 13-14), where they bring in the idea of gender identity and sexual orientation. Now I personally do not see the issue with this, there are some that will argue that the intent here is to cause kids to become more open to homosexuality and trans-gender people and view it as something “normal” and “natural”. And you know what… as a Christian man, I say FREAKING GOOD. I’m obviously intimately aware of how difficult the subject of homosexuality is in the church (and for good reason, let’s admit), but the general consensus at the moment in the evangelical church seems to be “love the sinner, hate the sin”. However, the historical approach to homosexuality has shown anything BUT love to these people. What Christians have shown is centuries of exclusion, belittlement, ignorance, outright hatred and violence towards homosexuals. Children have been forced out of their homes for being gay, lost friends, have been kicked out of communities, have committed suicide, have faced barrages of insults, have suffered with AIDS while the government ignored them (“because it was just a disease that affected the fags, so good riddance”), etc. If this can be stopped, then bring it the hell on as far as I’m concerned, and maybe we’ll start seeing less disproportionate vitriol thrown towards these “sinners”. Not saying that the church will/should suddenly become a-ok with homosexuality or start performing gay marriages, but we at least should give them equal treatment and avoid discrimination and judgement… y’know, like our religion instructs us to do.

Furthermore, homosexuality and gender identity IS A THING THAT EXISTS, as much as some people may want to ignore it and regardless of the causes. If anything, Grade 6 might be too late to bring this topic up, since many people who identify as homosexual claim that they knew it at a young age, and the other kids were definitely calling each other “fags” long before this… In any case, it’s obviously a topic that has to be raised at some point, and pretending it doesn’t exist or isn’t something natural (which it is, like it or not*) isn’t going to make it go away or help your children when they encounter it for themselves… or, God forbid, identify as queer in a religious family.

Grade 6 also brings in the concept of masturbation, a very… er… touchy subject for the religious folk. For one thing, it happens to be something that kids are going to be encountering around this timeframe, and considering that almost every man (and a great deal of women as well) does it, it’s kind of hard to call it something “unnatural” (and that’s not even mentioning the damn, dirty apes). It’s also worth noting that it’s a rather grey area in Christianity at least: it isn’t considered an inherently sinful thing, but the argument is that it is straddling about a half dozen other sins, so it’s best to avoid it. Some people, like my parents, believe that this curriculum teaches children to masturbate, but that’s not really the intent – like I said, many kids are already going to be starting this practice by this time, so it’s more meant to come across as “yeah, you’re not crazy for doing this, basically everyone does”. As for whether kids are going to start because of this… well, that’ll be up to the kids I suppose, but there’s a good chance that they already have heard about it by this point. If you don’t want your kids doing it, be sure to shame them for it early so that they’ll feel awful about it for the rest of their lives when they inevitably start doing it.

Anyway, moving on. In my opinion, one of the more ridiculous controversies is how, in Grade 7 (ages 12-13), students are taught about oral and anal sex. Well let’s get this out of the way first – they already teach this in the current Grade 7 curriculum if I remember correctly (or, at the very least, my class was taught about it). In addition, kids are probably already aware of these concepts by the time they hit the 7th grade. Again, I grew up in a sheltered home and I was still at least dimly aware of both of these concepts, even if I didn’t understand why someone would want to do either (and I’m sure my classmates were far more familiar than I was). It’s not like this is a new idea they were implanting in our heads. With access to the Internet, kids are going to come across these ideas earlier and earlier, so it’s important to educate them at a realistic time period. Finally, the curriculum DOES NOT ADVOCATE ANAL SEX. My parents are in an uproar about them teaching the butt-stuff because they view it as an abomination and figure they’re trying to get kids to try it out. However, the curriculum explicitly states not to do either of these activities because they can give you an STI. I believe that by Grade 7 I had heard the old jokes about how “Catholic girls do it in the ass”, and that is a stereotype in the first place because girls try to avoid getting pregnant, losing their virginity (because it only counts if it’s vaginal apparently…?) and/or getting an STI. Letting them know that they can still get an STI is probably going to help to discourage some people from trying it out. Similarly to masturbation, anal and oral sex are things which exist, and science can’t determine if anal sex is going to make God angry. If you want to bring the your own moral compass into it, then supplement your childrens’ education with your own teachings when they get home.

Anyway, moving on again. In Grade 8, students “analyze the benefits and risks of relationships involving different degrees of sexual intimacy”. I can definitely hear my parents saying that this is encouraging kids to have sex, but I’m not so sure I agree. If anything, it’s being realistic and getting kids to make an informed decision, because I good deal of them are likely going to do it anyway within the next few years, no matter what they have been brought up to believe (for reference, I am aware that at least a half to two-thirds of the professing Christians I grew up with had sex in high school without a regret, despite all of them having been taught by the church and their parents as well likely not to do so). Being aware of the risks may not get them to abstain, but at least they’ll be aware of exactly what they’re getting into if they do decide to go forward with it.

However, there are also some positive elements that those who decry the curriculum fail to acknowledge. First off, starting the curriculum so early will actually help to prevent child sexual assault. In many cases, exploited children are unaware of what constitutes exploitative behaviours and so they go unreported. For my own part, we were simply told not to talk to strangers, but we had no idea why or what they were trying to protect us from. I easily could have gotten abused and not realized it. Leaving it at “don’t talk to strangers” also ignores the fact that the vast majority of molestations are committed by family members or their friends.

The Grade 3 curriculum is pretty realistic. I can remember pretty clearly quite a few kids “going out” at this time, so best to get those under control so they’ll start to get the groundwork for more realistic future relationships. Developing safety guidelines for Internet use is also extremely critical, and would hopefully be supplemented by parental discussion. Grade 4 (and Grade 9) is pretty similar in that regard – kids seem to be getting cell phones earlier and earlier, so sexts and snapchatting and various other things will need addressing, PRONTO.

People also seem to be missing one of the overall messages of the curriculum – it recommends not having sex until you are physically and emotionally ready (be that in marriage or whenever, that’s up to the individual, as it should be). Holy shit, are you telling me that this evil curriculum co-written by Satan himself and contracted by a diabolical lesbian who is hell-bent on transforming our children into lustful paedo-orgy machines actually teaches kids not to have sex? Conspiracy! Furthermore, the emphasis on consent is EXTREMELY important in a day and age where “rape culture” is becoming more and more visible, and will probably result in less sex as well. Identifying STIs is pretty important as well, I think we might have gotten 1 day of that in sex-ed back in grade 7 or 8, and I can’t remember a single thing from it. I couldn’t tell you what any STI looks like, let alone specify them.

The high school curriculum is quite good as well. I had about 2 days of sex-ed in high school, in grade 10, and only because I took phys-ed after it became an elective (most people ditch it after grade 9). 1 year of sex-ed, when a lot of people are already engaging in sexual activity and when some of them are going to be giving birth or freaking married in a few years, is woefully inadequate. Even if you are against having your kids having sex in high school, this stuff is still extremely applicable for later in their lives to help them make healthy choices and relationships, and will probably make their marriages more fulfilling.

Beyond all of this though is the major issue of growing up in a world where the Internet has always been a thing. Kids are now getting more access to sexually explicit material and misconceptions at a younger and younger age, making frank, honest, realistic education absolutely crucial. Sure, perhaps you happen to be an amazing parent, but so many children won’t get the necessary information at home, and if we keep the current system then we’ll only continue to churn out children who think that “donkey punching” or yelling “fuck her in the pussy” on live television is hilarious, who joke about rape and sexual assault, and who don’t even have the presence of mind to realize that pressuring someone into sex is wrong.

I’m going to have to put some special grilling towards the Campaign Life Coalition as well, since they’re one of the main organizations protesting the curriculum changes… and because they’re batshit insane. The hypocracy of CLC (a pro-life organization) protesting these changes is that they will probably LOWER the number of abortions compared to an abstinence-focused curriculum. Educate kids on their bodies, encourage them to make healthy choices and provide them with contraceptives, and suddenly teenage pregnancy rates drop significantly, reducing the need for abortions. Of course, CLC is obviously more of an ideological mouthpiece rather than an issue-focused organization, so this should hardly be surprising (their website is also good for a laugh with their extremely one-sided insanity).

CLC’s delusions about kids in Grade 7 still being sweet and innocent is so ridiculous that I have to go on my own little mini-rant about it. As they get further from kindergarten, kids become less “innocent little angels” to more “dirty little bastards” in my experience. Most boys are introduced to pornography when they’re around 8-12 years old, and while I was super sheltered as I have mentioned, one of my brothers and I actually fit into this one like a glove (I was 11 or 12, and he was a year younger). I had an abusive prick of a friend who invited both of us over one night, and we were hanging out when he mentioned that his sister had a porno tape. We didn’t really believe him, nor did we really want to find out if it was true, but he threw it on anyway and… well, yeah… I was too young and too sheltered to get any sort of enjoyment out of it, and it was probably mildly traumatic for me at the time. Many kids stick with it from that time onwards though – I can remember another group of friends when I was 13 or 14 talking about their favourite types of pornos (I distinctly remember one saying they blindfolded a guy and then hid a drop of honey on a naked woman, and he had to find it with his tongue). Maybe I just had really screwed up friends, but it kind of shows the sorts of things you probably weren’t aware that your kids were aware of… and c’mon, if we ditch this curriculum, then are we really going to be stupid enough to leave our childrens’ sexual education up to freaking pornography?

To summarize things, I believe that enlightenment is far preferable to so-called “blissful ignorance”. Taking kids out of this environment might make them accept their parents’ ideology… for a time. I know that for myself, discovering that an authority has held information back from you for no real benefit to yourself makes you want to look into the stuff that was withheld from you. My advice to parents protesting these changes: put your children through it, but be sure to talk with your damned kid about the things you disagree with, because they’ll probably agree with you until they’re old enough to make up their own minds about it. Teachers can influence their development of course, but a parent’s advice almost always holds major sway. Treat it kind of like how Evangelical parents treat evolution already and I imagine the results will be pretty similar. I went through science classes but always rejected evolution because I had been previously taught that it was incompatible with my faith. However, over time, I reexamined the relationship between science and religion, explored other theological ideologies outside of conservative evangelicalism and came to my own decisions about how that all works. That said, many others stick with their initial beliefs, but at least they make their own decisions in the end. If nothing else, I’m sure they’ll appreciate the knowledge gained later in life when they find themselves entering into relationships – whether you approve of them or not.

*And by this I mean that homosexuality/transsexuality isn’t exactly something that people choose, it’s something they’re either born into or develop over time (science seems to be still uncertain of the exact causes). Considering that it happens in nature is a further support that it is something which occurs naturally. Whether you believe that homosexuality only exists because of sin, I don’t think you can make a really convincing argument that it is something which is unnatural (in our modern world at the VERY least).

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Breastfeeding and the Male Gaze

Gender relations return, with a vengeance! The core basis of this post has literally been sitting in my drafts list for around a year and a half now as a single point-form statement, but I never got around to doing anything with it – I liked the observation enough that I didn’t want to just delete it, but I also didn’t want to go on yet another feminism rant. However, a TV commercial of all things caused this idea to bubble back to the surface and set my imagination running wild. So here we go: we’re going to examine the concept of the male gaze.

As I have probably alluded to in the past, I grew up in a fairly conservative family. My father instituted (and still does whenever he’s around) some pretty strict rules about what media content we were allowed to consume.* We were generally restricted to PG-13 movies and Teen-rated video games: violence was largely permitted, as long as it wasn’t too bloody or gory and swearing had to be kept to a minimal level… but nudity was basically 100% off-limits. Honestly, of all the restrictions he instituted, I think this one screwed up my psyche the most… but I might get into that another day.

It took me 14 freaking years to finally see this movie…

In any case, this blanket restriction eventually occurred to me as having a couple blind spots. First off, is this including male nudity? I’m pretty sure this never really occurred to my dad, although he’d probably be questioning why the hell we were watching a movie with naked men in it. When I came across this issue though, it made it pretty damn obvious that the whole point of the restriction was because of the classic conservative hysteria about preventing boys from touching themselves, in which case, male nudity wasn’t a big deal (although now that I think about it, I imagine that my dad would argue that God told us to cover our nakedness). The other blind spot I noticed was that, since this was restriction was obviously intended to keep us from temptation, what were we supposed to think about intentionally un-sexy nudity? This was the more important issue as far as I’m concerned, and the one which ties into this post the best. Schindler’s List, for example, has a fair bit of nudity, but the majority of it is unsettling and very un-arousing. Or what about The Impossible, where a breast gets exposed, but it’s pretty horrifically shredded from a very nasty wound and the woman is in a state of utter shock? However, I can pretty much guarantee that this would have been also considered “off-limits” as well, because my father (and much of society for that matter) consider the naked female form to be something that is always subject to the male gaze.

In case you aren’t aware of what the male gaze refers to, it is basically the idea that, in media, the camera tends to “see” and portray women as men see/fantasize them, focusing on their curves and doing their best to make them look sexy, seductive and passive. Possibly one of the most egregious and idiotic uses of this in practice are in regards to Miranda in Mass Effect 2, where the camera constantly frames the scene emphasizes her ass, sometimes dedicating up a third of the screen to it (which, of course, is further emphasized by her skintight bodysuit).

Notice the extremely subtle framing difference here?

When I first heard about the male gaze in school, I wasn’t sure that I believed it was a real thing, or at least that it could affect society outside of the media. However, I believe I have stumbled upon a perfect example which was this whole article: the bafflingly touchy subject of public breastfeeding. I hadn’t really understood why this was considered so controversial to so many people: babies have to eat, moms have the means to do it, and babies aren’t known for their timeliness or consideration for others. It occurred to me about a year and a half ago that the reason that people get so uncomfortable around breastfeeding women is likely because we have been taught as a society that female nudity is supposed to be sexy and something for men to enjoy, but when it is used to feed a baby, then it suddenly becomes socially confusing, awkward and decidedly un-sexy.

I mentioned that a recent commercial brought this thought bubbling back to my consciousness. In the commercial, they were showing serene images, and then suddenly cut to a close-up of a child breastfeeding. I was kind of taken aback by it, because I don’t think I have ever seen a commercial flirt so flagrantly with a supposedly controversial subject (not to mention that there was like 90% of a boob on screen, which is unheard of in any commercial I have seen). A lot of women who campaign for public breastfeeding like to say that it is something that is “beautiful”, but I never really understood that position until right now: I have been looking at that sort of thing through my own lens, the male gaze. If I had imagined it from the female perspective, the female gaze if you will, I’d have pictured a mother sustaining and comforting the soul that she brought into this world and loves with all of her heart… and, you know what, that actually is an extremely beautiful way to look at it.

So hopefully that all made sense, and demonstrated how the concept of the male gaze has applications outside of media. Public breastfeeding seems to be becoming more and more of a non-issue every year, so hopefully soon mothers will be allowed to actually do what they have to won’t have to worry about some dickheaded prude calling them out for making them feel awkward.

*Don’t get me wrong though, letting kids watch whatever the hell they want to is not something I condone. I don’t think it’ll turn them into a psychotic murderer by any means, but kids should probably avoid some subjects until they have reached a certain level of maturity to begin to understand it.

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