Sunday, September 30, 2012

What Abhorrent Nonsense Is This? Or, Gods and Generals: a Movie review

So last night, Dr. Skull took the kid out to buy new markers for her; they stopped at Best Buy after, and of course Dr. Skull hit the remaindered movie bin.

He brought home two movies, Gettysburg and Gods and Generals. Both in Blu-Ray.  He loves Blu-Ray.

And he talked me into watching the latter with him, which I did mostly because we're all in some serious need of cuddling.

And I tried to be polite, because I know Dr. Skull loves these Civil War movies.

But wow.

First, there are a few things to like about the film.  It does a nice job of explaining both battle strategy and how mistakes by Generals (and others) can lead to disaster in the field.  And the battle scenes themselves, though they have real problems, also go a long way toward showing how strategy and error worked in winning or losing this war.

And the scenery is often beautiful.

Other than this, the film wavers between dull, infuriating, and ridiculous.

I'll leave aside the dialogue, which falls into the category of ridiculous, because I think it's just a misstep on the part of the director (and maybe those who wrote the script).  Basically, we have characters standing around making lengthy speeches to one another -- I think the director was going for Shakespearean, but in the effect it's just bizarre.  (A) No one in real life makes long, heart-felt speeches, rife with rhetoric, to his friends or his fellow generals, and much less to his wife; and (B) if anyone did try that sort of thing, his friends, wife and (probably) fellow generals would interrupt him and mock him and argue with him every two sentences, not stand about watching him talk with expressions of intense awe.  And I'm not even getting into the writer's attempt at black dialect.

But that brings us to the biggest problem: this movie falls right in line with the Revisionist view of history still being taught (and believed) all over America.  It tells us, over and over, that the South did not start the Civil War; that the South did not even fight the Civil War over slavery -- that slaves had nothing to do with it; and that in fact slaves were loyal to their Southern masters, and as eager to fight off the Union "invaders" as their owners were.

Thus, every black character we see is a happy slave, or in one case a happy ex-slave, extolling the virtues of his or her owner; every slave-holder we see loves his or her slaves deeply, treating them like members of the family.

(Re the ex-slave: this is a trope I am seriously sick to death of.  Every time we see a Confederate in film or television, that Confederate, we are told, freed his slaves, because he recognized the immorality of slavery.  See for example the current show on AMC, Hell On Wheels, which has as its hero and main character a Confederate soldier who -- you guess it -- freed all his slaves well before the war.  He didn't fight for slavery, see?  He fought to Defend his Country!)

Even when the slaves speak up against slavery, as they do exactly twice in the movie, those speeches are undercut by the white (Southern) characters earnestly assuring the slaves that they too hate slavery, and want it to end.  The war isn't about slavery at all, see? It's about those Yankees invading our country, and our right to defend ourselves against their tyranny.

And this is crap.  When I hear people arguing that the South fought the war over States' Rights, I always point out that this is true -- the states' right to continue holding slaves.  The Southern Generals in Gods and Generals were in fact -- all of them -- adherents of white supremacy.  They may have believed in treating their slaves well, but they also believed firmly that the white race was superior to the black race, and that blacks were natural slaves.

(And yes, it is true that many fighting on the Union side also adhered to this notion of white superiority.  But none of them aligned themselves with a treasonous movement designed specifically to keep black people under the bonds of slavery.)

(And what about the Southern soldiers?  Frequently people bring that up.  Most of the Southern soldiers did not own slaves, and never would.  So why would they fight to preserve slavery?  This question, which is often presented as a triumphant refutation of the South starting the war over slavery, ignores the real facts on the ground.  (1) Even a soldier without slaves nonetheless benefited from the preservation of slavery, or thought he did, since in the caste system of the South, the poorest white guy was automatically superior to the best black man; and (2) Soldiers today are fighting to preserve the rights of our 1% to exploit them and to get fat off of the American system: these soldiers who will never be among the 1% themselves.  Why do they do it?)

The film also ignores -- erases, essentially -- everything done by the free blacks and those still held in slavery to fight against the Southern side.  Indeed, the only blacks we see are those who joyously support the Southern side.  The existence of black proponents of the Southern side is, of course, unlikely and not supported by actual historical records: is, IOW, a myth much beloved of historical revisionists favoring the Southern side of the war.

The black soldiers and the ex-slaves who participated in the war -- and there were many of them -- are, in fact, all fighting for the Union.  Among these were Fredrick Douglass's sons, and Harriet Tubman, who might be my favorite Civil War warrior of all time.

This movie ignores all of that -- no black soldiers appear, no mention is made of figured like Douglass and Tubman, who were highly instrumental in the direction the war ultimately took, no slaves or free blacks are shown upholding the Union cause.  No.  Just as the Civil War has nothing to do with slavery, according to this film, slaves and other blacks do not affect the war or participate in the war in any meaningful way.  Not only are white men at the center of this film, white men are (really) the only characters in it.

(A few white women characters exist, but their role is only to give the white men someone to talk at, or -- as with the little five year old Stonewall Jackson takes a liking to -- to die and give the white men a way to exercise their emotion. The erasing of important women, btw, is nearly as immense as the erasing of blacks. )

In the end, this film is not just historically repellent, it is dangerously so.  As has become clear over the years, many Americans get their understanding of history not from the study of history or the reading of history books, but from historical novels and films.

This film reinforces a mythic view of history which too many (white) Americans are already happy to believe.  Having watched the horrible movie, they can now happily believe that the version of history that presents Southern rebels as saints and good Christian men, only out to defend their country and their independence.  Given a chance to believe it, as I can attest, most of them will believe this lie.

Luckily (I guess) not many people actually will watch this crap film, and far fewer will be able to finish watching it once they start.  It's just that bad.

Friday, September 28, 2012


We finally had to give in and have our little dog Spike put to sleep today.

It had been coming for months -- he was sixteen years old, and couldn't see well, or hear; about six months ago, he started losing the ability to control his back legs (he was part dachshund and part Schnauzer, the toy versions of each).  For the past few months, he hadn't been able to keep down most of what he ate.  And he was totally incontinent, which I guess went with the loss of function in his back legs.

But he was still our Spike.  He still barked for biscuits and followed Dr. Skull around, sleeping practically on his feet whenever he sat down.  Even though he couldn't really see, when he looked at us with his one eye (he lost the other in a fight five or six years ago) we could tell he knew it was us.

These last weeks, he didn't seem to know where he was, or to recognize us, much of the time.  He was down to ten pounds (from his fighting weight of 16 pounds) and wasn't following Dr. Skull around anymore.  And he was in pain.

So we did it.  And our vet was great.  And he went easily.

Even so, it was hard.

"He was a good dog," Dr. Skull told me.  "He had a good life."

This is true.  From the day we got him, picking him out at the shelter in Pocatello, Idaho, where they had him stored among the cats because he was so little, he was always a tough little guy.  He ran away a lot when he was younger, making me crazy with anxiety; once when we lived in Charlotte he was gone nearly three days, and I thought we had lost him for sure then, but he finally came staggering home, found Dr. Skull on the front porch waiting for him, and collapsed at his feet.  He slept most of the next two days.  "I don't know where he went," I said, "but it must have been quite a dog party."

And he loved the kid, especially when she was a baby.  Every time she would fuss even a little, he would come and find me and stand looking accusingly at me.  "Can't you hear that?" he seemed to be saying.  "Don't you hear her crying?  The baby needs you!"

We got Big Dog when he was four or five, because a dog book I was reading said that sometimes thug dogs would calm down if you got them a friend.  Dogs need packs, it explained.  So we brought home Biggie, a blue-heeler/fox hound mix, and the book was right.  Spike calmed down considerably, although then we had Big Dog on our hands, a wild if very friendly lout of a dog.  He and Spike have been boon companions since, though they did have a bad habit of fighting over scraps, especially Beanie Weenies.

And Big Dog seems to be missing him.  He's wandering around the house a lot, sniffing at Spike's blanket in the corner, and keeps asking to go outside, as if maybe he thinks Spike is lost out there.  I pet him and give him extra biscuits and tell him (as I keep telling the kid) that things will look better tomorrow.

Sleep well, Spike.  We'll miss you.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Life of A Writer

Spent all day yesterday working on my short story about shape-shifting aliens who like pie, and then today (as well as part of yesterday) finishing up the proof-reading of Menial, the anthology I've been working co-editing for Crossed Genres for the past forever.

Okay, past several months.  Editing an anthology turns out to be surprisingly labor-intensive, though, so it did feel like forever.  And we're not done yet!

It's a beautiful anthology, btw.  Great cover, and just excellent stories.  And deal with a subject dear to my heart: it's all stories about workers.

Due out in January or February 2013 -- I know you can't wait.  I'd link the cover here if I knew how to do that.  Sadly I am inept at embedding photos.

Anyway, now it is nearly 8:00 p.m. and I must begin prepping for the week's classes.

And this is (pretty much) how my weekends always go.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Arkansas Forever!

Driving home from the Harps today, the kid says to me, in a give-it-to-me straight voice, "So...we're going to be stuck in Arkansas forever, right?"

"Darling," I said, "I am applying for jobs as fast as I can."

"It's not that there's anything wrong with Arkansas," she said, looking out of the window as we drove down what was, admittedly, probably the worst street in all of Fort Smith (Zero Ave -- well, okay, Midland or Towson might be worse -- but Zero is pretty horrible).  "It's just..."

"I know, I know."

"It's just I'm happier when I'm anywhere else."

"I know."

But!  Today!  On the Chronicle!  A job appeared that I can actually get.  One I'm qualified for, I mean, that's my perfect job!  In Billings, MT.

I cannot tell you how much I have always wanted to live in Montana.  Oh, boy, oh, boy!

I am applying forthwith.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Women's Lit -- Suggestions?

So I'm teaching a Women's Lit class next semester. I've got some ideas for texts to teach, but I'm looking for suggestions -- y'all tell me: if you were teaching a class called Women's Lit and you could teach any books (fiction, non-fic, plays, poetry, whatever!) what would you put on the reading list?

In actual fact, I am probably going to be limited to about eight books. And the list I have already compiled is already too long.

Still! Give me suggestions!

I am especially interested in books outside the box, btw. I have already thought of the obvious -- Room of One's Own and Herland and all that. Give me some rockin titles!

Update: Here's the list I have already -- but it's very tentative! As in I want a lot of suggestions, because I'm not at all happy with this list!

Women’s Literature Possible Reading List

Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own

Christina Rosetti, “Goblin Market.”

Shulasmith Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex

Larsen, Nella. Passing

Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Davis, Rebecca Harding. Life in the Iron Mills

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. Herland

Butler, Octavia. Bloodchild.

Kingston, Maxine. The Woman Warrior.

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaiden’s Tale

Bujold, Ethan of Athos

Joanna Russ, The Female Man

LeGuin short stories

Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

Thursday, September 06, 2012

TOC for The Other Half of the Sky

Here's a very cool TOC for the anthology The Other Half of the Sky.

Not just the table of contents, but the first lines for each story, and something I have never seen before, a little mini-book of the same, very nifty.

Go see.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

This is like the plague

I don't know what this disease is, but it's horrible. I've been in bed since Saturday -- today is the first day I could even really get up, and I still feel awful. I'm teaching my morning classes at the U. and then going home again.

Probably it was a mistake to come in at all.

High fever and bone aches, vomiting, headache, sneezing -- I guess it's a flu?

I don't recommend it.

Monday, September 03, 2012

More News of The Other Half of the Sky

(X-Posted at FanSci)

I've been sick as a dog with some sort of virus (I hope it's a virus and not Ebola) all weekend. (My kid informs me that Ebola is a virus.)

So I bring you, rather than an extensive post, a link to two interviews with Athena Andreadis, one of which -- this one, on World SF -- talks extensively about the new anthology she has put together, The Other Half of the Sky, and the other, at SF Signal, where Athena talks about SF more generally.

You might remember The Other Half of the Sky because I was so pleased to have my story in the anthology; in any case, it's an impressive project.

Here's is Athena Andreadis' list of what she wanted in the stories for the anthology This is taken from the World SF interview):

– Space opera(ish) and/or mythic, but it has to be SF — not fantasy;

– female protagonist(s), who do not (nor are made to) feel guilty about career versus family;

– content and style geared to adult readers, not YA “finding one’s self/place”;

– no “big ideas” Leaden Age SF or near-future earthbound cyber/steampunk.

The TOC will be out in a few days; I'm already itching with anticipation.