First Post! Reflective Draft

Last year in my Intro Class for the Sweetland Minor, I put together a zine based around the non-human, non-organic female characters featured in the 1960’s version of the Twilight Zone television show. The project grew out of an essay I had written in my Sexual Objects class examining a documentary about Real Doll Sex Dolls called “Guys and Dolls”. In the essay, I argued that the true appeal of these dolls were not just the customizable aesthetic features, but the ability for their (mostly male) owners to impress a kind of imagined autonomy on these dolls; that their ideal woman was the kind who could not have a life beyond the one their owners/partners created for them. I was interested in this idea of imagined autonomy being expanded from the idea of sex dolls to the idea of the robot/doll/mannequin/other non-human women that populated the original 1960’s run of The Twilight Zone: I wanted to pay tribute to these characters whose characters often hinged on the question of how real their own perceptions of their autonomy/humanity were. I also wanted to explore their characters and the implications of their lack of physical humanity in the worlds they inhabited beyond the confines of the (and I don’t think I’m being controversial here) sexist 1960’s television landscape. It was a good way for me to indulge in my love of white-knighting underrated/underwritten female characters, and it gave me a new way to think about the iconic characters and stories from a television show that I absolutely adored growing up.

For my project in my Capstone class, I want to return to the idea of the robot woman and how she exists in different capacities in other sci-fi stories/genres. I’m still figuring out how I want to engage with this subject in a different way, but I definitely know that the work I’ve done previously in exploring these character archetypes will lead the way in understanding how to unpack this subject in Capstone.

Final Experiment! The Choosening

The experiment I’m choosing to continue with for my final piece is my second experiment: a zine about non-human women in the original run of The Twilight Zone. Since high school I’ve loved zines as a medium over pretty much everything else! I love the different kinds of subject matter they can tackle, the diy feel of them, just how special they feel as a medium. I also really love The Twilight Zone; even as the granddaddy of modern sci-fi/horror genres and tropes, there are still elements of its storytelling that feel fresh and innovative. But, at the same time, I want to critique, or at the very least try to understand, how it treats its female characters, specifically the ones that are explicitly not human or “Living” by traditional standards. I want to know how these women are used to explore human consciousness, and what it says about the contemporary roles and attitudes for women this humanity is drawn upon. I think this genre is perfect for the kinds of critiques/associations I want to make for a few reasons:

  1. Zines and fanzines have been famously used by fans of science fiction and riot grrl 3rd wave feminism to create radical content that wouldn’t necessarily be featured in a mainstream publication, and
  2. It allows me to relate to the pieces in a way that’s much more organic to me than simply writing an essay or structuring a comic book.

Figuring out a venue of publication is tricky for zinesters, since many zines are self-published and circulated. However, there are a few semi-major publications that put out zines, such as Silver Sprocket, that I could send my materials for publication to and plenty of local comic book stores (Vault of Midnight! Green Brain! Prolly not Big Ben!) that would pick up circulation of my zine.

Experiment 3 Reflection

This experiment made me realize how hard it is to write horror! As much as people like to complain about the triteness of the horror genre, crafting a story that thrills as much as it compels is as much a Herculean task as any other type of more “acceptable” genre fiction. To make this piece feel more like the other comics I picked for my mentor pieces, I would need to do more brainstorming on what exactly bothers me about objectification and what scares me about what attitudes and structures it feeds into. When I began diving into that itself more is where I believe I started getting into the meat of what this story could focus on, if I dove more into those feelings over storytelling beats I think I could find a theme that I could build a story around. If I had focused a little more on those foundations in the sketch draft over trying to figure out characters and plot right away, I would be more satisfied with what I have.

That being said, I had to think really hard about making work about womanhood in the horror genre, which is supersaturated with completely outdated notions of femininity and the place of a woman within the genre. Women are certainly central characters in many a slasher flick and Creepshow comic, but their fates are usually determined by whether or not they’ve had sex in the last 80 minutes of the movie (if you’re a final girl or the one who goes first). Plenty of pulpy horror comics are populated with, intentionally or not, women who act as overzealous stereotypes of ye olde “nasty woman”: the incredibly beautiful yet totally vain, unfaithful, and greedy ex wife who get what’s coming to her, the naggy wife who drives her man away, and on and on until the end of time. While I feel like the comics I picked worked actively against those stereotypes of women in the horror genre, it didn’t change the fact that even most of the stories I picked were written about women by men (I was especially thinking of movies like “It Follows” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, both horror movies that can be read as critical of society’s ownership of women’s bodies/sexualities, both written and directed by men). As much as I love horror, I was really worried about falling into these genre conventions in trying to write a story of my own. I also wish I had done more work with the pieces I picked that were written by women, taking inspiration in the ways they specifically apply themes of objectification to the horror genre.

I’ve also been wondering if it would be a smart idea to make a horror comic that more closely resembles my origin piece or if it built more solidly off of my previous experiments. I remember some parts of my first experiment were focused on what specifically about the films I watched in my origin piece made me so frightened/affected by them, and in my second experiment I focused on “object-women” specifically in the granddaddy of sci-fi horror tv shows, “The Twilight Zone”. If I had looked to more of the conclusions I had made in each of these pieces, would I have had a better time figuring out my sketch draft? Maybe. But this is definitely not the last time I want to experiment with this genre.

Experiment 2 Reflection

Working with a genre I had a lot of experience with (zines!) for this experiment was still surprisingly challenging and fulfilling to do! The research I performed putting together the sketch draft, from watching and writing notes about old “Twilight Zone” episodes to taking the time to really appreciate the careful construction of my mentor pieces, was as fun as it was difficult making decisions about how I should execute the darn thing. In the end, I’m happy with the samples I have and the work I’ve started to do, but it only makes me want to actually complete the project all the stronger. If I had the time (and the will power) to put this project together, I would probably pull in collaborators who would each focus on a different character (I would also try to comb through the Twilight Zone episodes that didn’t make it to Netflix, if I want to make it more thorough) and would ideally have a clean mix of artistic interpretation and critical thoughts about the characters. If I ended up creating a collaborative project like that, I’d certainly have a slew of newer, maybe more boring problems (distribution? Payment? Layout?) but I think I wouldn’t lose steam on the project if I had the same momentum and interest in it that I’ve kept up for the last week.

This experiment is definitely spiritually further and further away from my origin piece (from sex toys to robo-grandmas) but I’d like to think I’m not wandering too far away from the ideas I explored in the first one. The focus with this project definitely wandered back into the realms of women’s roles in society, and how control and objectification seem to define that role. In looking at the ways these female characters, most of whom are quite literally objects (dolls, mannequins, robo-grandmas, and the like), are portrayed in the 60’s, I found some confirmations of the conclusions I reached in my origin piece as well as some surprising subversions. While I was right that many of the characters that were somewhat defined by the people who controlled them (the character of “Grandma” in “I Sing the Body Electric” is made and named by the children she nannies), many of the instances of these “non-living” women in the show lean towards questions of sentience and morality in regards to the thoughts and feelings of these conscious beings a step to the left of humans.

I started thinking about this when I was rewatching the “Living Doll” episode (the one that scarred me for life as a youngin’) looking at Talky Tina’s actions as Rod Sterling described them at the end of the episode: as a “friend, defender, guardian”; when I did that I could see Tina’s murderous impulses as more of a punishment for her owner’s abusive stepfather. Her personality, her world is not based around her ownership, she very clearly thinks for herself and doesn’t feel the need to love and respect Erich just because she is part of the “family”, unlike Grandma from “I Sing the Body Electric” who exudes patience and calm even in the most turbulent emotional circumstances. It got me wondering how strange it was that the non-human characters with the most independence from their owners, from the roles they are supposed to play as inanimate figures, were the ones most considered to be evil.

Working in more visual mediums for this project was really valuable to me! I hope I can find a genre that’s similarly stimulating for the next experiment.

A DAY IN THE LIFE!!!

Hey what’s up it’s ya girl Marge! For this blog post, I’m going to be focusing on a writer that I picked to study for my first experiment and talk about their process for publication/writing from my research about them. This time around, we’re talking about Hanif Abdurraqib!

Hanif Abdurraqib does a lot of things! Mostly essays, poems, and articles on music criticism. A few books of his have come out, including a book about A Tribe Called Quest called “Go Ahead in the Rain”, a book of Essays called “They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us”, and a book of poems called “The Crown Ain’t Worth Much”. Though Abdurraqib is a (capital p) Published author, much of his work can be found online through web publications/extensions of news media platforms. He’s also a performer, he does live readings of his poems, so his work exists in the 4th dimension! Ain’t that neat? I’m mostly going to focus on the music criticism part for this post though.

Abdurraqib used to have a column in the MTV News website and it seems that his pieces are a combination of criticism and personal experiences, so I would guess that his research encompasses learning about the musician he’s writing about and examining his life experiences that most closely correspond/relate to him re: the artist/work he’s writing about. The Carly Rae Jepsen article I referenced (“Carly Rae Jepsen and the Kingdom of Desire” on MTVNews read it!!) is partly about personally finding a reprieve from personal anguish, partly about the experience of being at the concert, partly observations of her behaviors as a performer and the subjects of her songs, partly knowledge about CRJ cribbed from other experiences of her work/some presumed research.

Here are the levels I assume there are in publishing articles online: story is assigned/approved by an editor, there’s a back and forth of drafting pieces and sending them for review until the piece is approved for publication. I’m not sure if there’s an extra level of approval required with stories about celebrities? An extra level of scrutiny? There’s probably more pressure to get it right. But Abdurraqib steps up to that pressure with some absolutely amazing writing. What a dude! I skim read an article about getting paid as a columnist and it looked like it’s typically like $30 per hour of writing it (so like around $65,000 per year). But does music criticism count as a column? Hmm! Questions abound! In this case, I’m going to assume it does.

Experiment 1 Reflection

After choosing a personal essay for my genre for my first experiment, I learned very quickly that the genre was a bit more flexible than I gave it credit for. I found that a lot of different things could be considered a “personal essay”, it wasn’t just what I thought it was in high school; it was a bit of a stranger beast altogether. I liked that I could talk about why things were important to me while still being able to retain an element of it that was more in the realm of an analytical piece: I could combine and retain the exploratory aspect of the origin piece with an element that was more relatable and fun to write as an author.

However, from the proposal stage to now, I realised that I didn’t need to necessarily use this genre if I wanted to tell this kind of story. I thought a lot about media like graphic narratives and video essays as transcendent genres that could be used as a vessel for the same kind of work I was doing, and, while it made me more confident about directions I could go for my next experiment, it made me admittedly lose a little steam in preparing this one for reflection.

Reading through my origin piece, I found I was inspired by the topic of power and control through the men of “Guys and Dolls”, but also the way i felt somewhat stifled in trying to cover all of my feelings in its original form. For this sketch draft, I focused more on this subject and explored a new way to approach this topic through an attempt to understand what stuck with me about this documentary so much. I ended up on the idea of consciousness and the assumption of consciousness in dolls at younger and older ages. In doing so, I left some of the themes/media addressed from my previous paper behind, but it let me find a more intriguing subject to pursue in earnest.

I feel like if I were to pursue the experiment further, I would need to include some more research, either through a closer examination of the documentary, or a deeper dive into the subject of the impression of consciousness on inanimate objects. Perhaps a study of parasocial relationships? I remember watching a video essay that related the relationships formed between elderly japanese people and the robotic baby harp seal they as a community were charged to take care of to parasocial relationships as we know them now. I think in general, maybe more than my personal experience of these ideas is needed to follow the thread I would want to explore in a fully-realized version of this paper, but I’m a little worried that it at that point it would fully leave the genre of the personal essay and enter a purer form of research. But again, maybe that’s okay! Maybe there’s a way to retain both modes in the same piece, maybe there doesn’t need to be such stark rules to a genre.