Links & Stuff

If you’re here because you saw my talk on constructive criticism at work at GOTO Chicago yesterday, welcome! I really enjoyed meeting so many of you and I’m interested to adapt the talk to make it more applicable. Thank you for letting the weird art kid come play in your sandbox. Edited to Add: My slides and video should be available through the conference site soon, but you can also access a pdf here if you like: PeepasGOTOMay1 [/Edit]

I’m going to be thinking about Erin Horáková’s essay about the collective retconning of Captain Kirk for a while. Disclaimer: I am a mere Padawan learner in the lore of Trek, so your comments about the details of the episodes and the character might go over my head. Things I really love:

  • Her portrait of Kirk as quite a lovely, thoughtful, dutiful person (vs. the “Chest Manbeast:Ultimate Rebel” he’s become a shorthand for) made me want to go back and watch.
  • The idea that the Boring Guy You Meet At Bad Parties is part of “a vast eldritch horror sitting in another dimension that extrudes its thousand tentacles into our own, and that each one of This Guy is merely an insignificant manifestation of the beast: they couldn’t all be so boring in precisely the same way by chance, surely.”
  • The discussion of Dickens and Helen Keller and Norman Rockwell and the way stories get updated and remanufactured to erase their radical roots and ideas. We love a truth-teller and a rebel and a hero, as long as their radical acts are safely in the past and can have the edges sanded off for the “nation-building, heritage-canonising costume drama adaptations.
  • This sentence:Robinson Crusoe is a dull, badly-written, racist pile of shit (and it’s “the first novel” like I’m Romy and it’s my high school reunion and I invented the post-it note).” I don’t know you, Erin Horáková, but I think I like you.
  • And finally, this:

“Thus it becomes a matter of reclaiming texts via attentive reading. In the post-truth world, attention is a skill. Reading is a skill. We must vigilantly listen to the hum of the currents of power running through texts and their interpretations, to actions and their spin. We must insist upon reality in order to meaningfully and morally do the work of relativistic interpretation: there are four lights, for fuck’s sake. We do have to have stories, and so we need to be able to see them. It’s important both to add marginal voices to canons and conversations and to protect the marginal elements already there from conservative erosion, for the sake of accuracy, artistic quality, and politics. We need to have access to their resources and to be able to use our own, not to host within ourselves an enemy that occludes all we see, that drains the progressive potential of everything we have access to. What good things we have done ought to be preserved. There are histories of resistance, large and small, that we ought not to lose; that we cannot afford to lose.”

I also need to write something about that essay where dudes keep recommending David Foster Wallace to women and then women who post the link get their mentions full of dudes recommending David Foster Wallace, but it’s still percolating. Don’t @me and please definitely don’t tell me your favorite DFW work.

To close out, I wrote this out for a writer friend on Facebook and I think it’s a pretty good list so I’ll share it here. He asked for visible signs/clues/hints that someone is cheating on their partner – maybe things we’ve seen on TV, maybe things from personal experience. Here was my list:

1) Mentionitis.

2) The person is always on their phone, smiling down at it, like they are in their own secret world that doesn’t include you. I realize we’re all on our phones these days but there is a telltale constant back-and-forth pinging and smiling and laughing at stuff and when you ask or, especially, when you don’t ask they say, “Don’t worry, it’s nothing” or “Oh, it’s just Mentionitis-Person From Work.”

3) They become suddenly very protective of their phone, taking it with them everywhere and (this is key) become weird and paranoid about you touching it or seeing it. I do not go through my spouse’s phone, nor he through mine, and I would be wary if a partner thought they could read all my communications because it’s a scary sign of controlling behavior. However, if he’s driving and gets a call or a text he might hand his phone to me so I can tell him who it is, or so I can navigate where we’re going or fish an address out of his email. Cheaters I Have Known would probably dive across traffic to keep me from ever touching their phone. If it rings while they are in the bathroom they will yell “I got it!” even though you had no intention of picking it up or even looking at it – I have seen a dude come out of the bathroom with his pants down, clearly about to poop or maybe even in the middle of pooping, to grab his phone from another room and take it back into the bathroom with him

4) They over-explain stuff and work too hard at coming up with alibis for where they are going.

Non-Cheating Partner: “I’m having drinks with X tonight, see you later!

Cheating Partner: Long Involved Story Timestamped Story About Every Logistical Errand And Move They Are Planning To Make. Why so many details about really needing to buy drain cleaner right now?

Also, in my experience, they manufacture lots of little errands is a way to bring their phone along and talk/text to the person.

5) The relationship has sucked lately but improves in the short-term b/c the person either feels guilty and wants to be nice or the presence of the other person takes the pressure off somehow.

Two I wish I’d clocked but other people in the thread were on it:

6) A newly-observed pattern of coming home from work or being out and about and *immediately* taking a shower. Like, they used to come in and give you a hug and a kiss and chill out for a second or sort through the day’s mail, but now it’s straight to the bathroom, and they seem to avoid touching you or coming near you or interacting with you until after the shower? Huh. That’s strange.

7) Accusing you of cheating (classic projection!)

Any one of these by itself, or absent a pattern, is not a smoking gun, but many of them together plus that icky feeling in the pit of your stomach that something is off? Worth digging into, in my opinion.

This has been me using my blog as a pensieve. Hope you’re all well.

40 comments
  1. I’m fascinated at the ep “The Gamesters of Triskelion” is cited in this essay and in Jonathan McIntosh’s recent video essay, “Born Sexy Yesterday”. Cited in very different ways (which can both be true).

  2. PLEEEEZE the DFW essay! Please do it!

    • I see “DFW” and I can only think of the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. I actually had to scroll back up to see if the airport was indeed to be the topic of an essay, and why.

    • Flora said:

      Seconded. PLEEZE PLEEZE.

      My anecdata:

      I bought IJ for my now ex-husband’s first birthday after we were married, running all over the city to find possibly the last copy of the first edition in stock. He never read it, but I did (every last footnote) during a bout of unemployment after two cross-country moves in short order for his career. Rest assured, I did not love it (the book or the moving). He still displays the book prominently on his bookshelf for visitors to see.

      After my ex became my ex, I fell in love with somebody else, who broke my heart on an ill-fated snowy New Year’s Eve. I had just acquired a used copy of The Pale King on his recommendation. After I saw him for the last time I set out to read it. It wasn’t all bad, but the ridiculous fetishization of the Asian lady character (rumored to be an Easter egg from DFW to Jonathan Franzen, eyeroll), and the failure of DFW’s one supposed genuine woman character near the end, pissed me off so much that it got me over the rejection.

      • I also too found IJ to be a slog. There are some gems hidden in it but it could all have been said more tersely and without the “it’s part of the experience!” / dubious joy of flipping back and forth to read footnotes in a book that weighs more than some infants. I don’t hate it, but it’s one of the few books of any size that I have not read straight through cover to cover before wandering off to other books, and that includes James Joyce’s stuff.

  3. Maria said:

    This happens in general in fandoms (see Han Solo). It’s the fandom drift, a phenomenon sometimes co-morbid with flanderization and the centralization of the protagonist in the writing. Fans project onto their favorite character and then respond only to that projection. I don’t think it’s retconning as much as it’s the way we have a limited ability to step outside our learned perception of the world, even with evidence to the contrary. There’s a tendency in people to believe that their favorite character MUST believe and think about the world as they do, and MUST also be the pinnacle of that world’s virtues (a certain type of masculinity often being one), because they like the character (this can also happen to characters which are disliked too).

      • Jenny Islander said:

        In a brighter, cleaner universe, Han Solo Organa is the goofy grandpa to Ben Organa’s kids. (Organa because, obviously, Han married into a royal house, and Ben because it’s a good solid common Tatooinian name and Luke ended up naming the baby after listening to his sister and buddy dither and argue for days. DAYS.)

        (Because they never stop finding things to argue about.)

        (So they can make up.)

        (And gross out their children and grandchildren.)

        (The other kids are named Lando, Breha, and Beru.)

  4. Jack V said:

    I was fascinated by the kirk essay.

    I agree with most of it, as best as I can remember ST:TOS.

    My impression is that kirk was portrayed as a womaniser in the sense of, often women were shown apparently finding him attractive and he reciprocated, whether or not they actually dated or hooked up. I don’t know if that’s true or if it’s just the same exaggeration from a small number of examples.

    What I *do* think is that whether there were many examples or few, they were mutual and consensual — it didn’t seem Kirk sought out or expected sexual gratitude, but rather, was ok flirting with people if they were both interested.

    Of course, that’s very two-edged. If the examples *shown* include women being romantically enthusiastic about the hero, is that just all ok? Or is it with-fulfilment from assuming that they *must* be? I think there’s a lot of media which fell into the latter category by default, hitting the “A saves B, romance” trope without ever establishing the characters actually like each other romantically and end up looking quite rapey. But it’s also possible there’s a lot of media which portrays consensual mutual flirting fairly often, and serves a basically ok model for life.

    My impression is that lots of people assume Kirk fell into the “expect sexual gratitude” side just because they remember a lot of women or it fulfils the prejudices they’ve come to expect. The essay pushes something more on the other side (or maybe even further than there wasn’t much flirting at all), which I find persuasive, but I don’t remember enough to say for sure.

    • Eh, speaking as a big TOS fan, I think you’re being a bit generous. Kirk isn’t actively predatory (except when he’s Evil Kirk), and he definitely doesn’t expect sexual gratitude, but he does an awful lot of flirting with alien women who don’t have a cultural basis for romance/flirting/feelings of attraction, and it can be a bit icky. The “hero who introduces the naive woman to love” trope. In one episode, he kisses a female android to sort of confuse her android brain and get her to become an ally. Not all of his interactions are that way, but enough to form a pattern.

      He’s very much not James Bond, though.

      One of the things I really like about Captain Kirk, though, that gets left out of the “macho” portrayal, is that the version of masculinity he portrays specifically involves emotion and emotional reactions. Much of TOS revolves around the Kirk/Spock/McCoy triad balancing emotion and logic, with the recognition that both are important to making the right decision.

      • segertsch said:

        Spock = mind, Kirk = heart, McCoy = body.

        I totally didn’t just realize that just now.

        (Because westerners are all stilll Greeks on some level.)

      • Yeah, I’m in this camp. Values dissonance may also play a role: there’s a bunch of stuff that constitutes normalized flirting by 1960s standards but does not live up to the value of active, clear consent (on a tangential note, my mom, who was in her teens and twenties in the 60s and 70s and a feminist activist to boot, and I often have VERY different reactions to works from the era, where things she likes or finds unproblematic look unacceptably rapey to me). IIRC, as a work (to some extent) of anti-Soviet propaganda, TOS winds up positioning Kirk as a (Liberal American) Terran chauvanist, uncritically holding his particular values as superior to those of alien cultures and violating the Prime Directive with a fair degree of frequency (11 out of 12 times it comes up, according to this count) in defense of and sometimes imposing those values. TNG tended to do better on that count, at least exploring the philosophical complexity of competing ethical systems to a greater degree, though its naive, simplistic, binary (human) gender essentialism and heteronormativity get tedious very quickly.

        • Nanani said:

          In fairness, at least some of the Prime Directive violations are because the Prime Directive as we know and love it post-trek was not yet fleshed out in the days of TOS – neither in universe nor in the minds of the writers.
          Values Dissonance is a great term for this.

      • Yes! I’m watching/re-watching TOS now (I grew up heavy on TNG) and I love how the three of them are a very defined trio. Each of them have relationships to the others as individuals, and rarely are women a large part of it. I like seeing bro-somes where there is genuine respect, care, conflict, etc. It reminds me (duh, see above) of Geordi and Data from TNG, whom I both loved as a kid. They’re pals! Even when they don’t really understand each other!

      • caraway said:

        One point the essay made was: he’s not doing this for fun, he’s just using sexual and romantic attraction as a tool to save his ship / mission / important plot. But that’s what I actually find sketchy, the repeated use as a tool. And especially the way the scripts are written so this is reasonable behavior in the context the script presents. It’s like fiction that systematically sets up a scenario where a Tragic Hard Man has to use violence because the writer has closed off other options.

        Zooming out, a criticism I see of ST:TOS (among many other works) is that it sets up a spectacle for the creepy male gaze. The essay didn’t really deal with that. It takes Kirk as a person and talks about that person — but doesn’t look at the viewer or the writer.

        I take its point that I’ve probably misapprehended Kirk as a person, though.

      • JustKate said:

        Yes, I agree. The character isn’t bad or predatory, but around an even slightly attractive woman, his default setting is “Flirt flirt flirt flirt flirt. And then flirt some more.”

      • aebhel said:

        What I find interesting about this (and it’s brought up in the essay as well) is that I think Kirk actually does use his sexuality as a weapon; it’s just that he’s doing it in a very feminized way: he knows he’s attractive, and he’s willing to use people’s attraction to him, but it’s generally a means to an end. He’s very rarely pursuing sex for the sake of sex; his goal is often to either gain an ally or distract an enemy by seducing them. He is actually quite ruthless about it in a way that’s more than a bit morally questionable, but I don’t think it falls neatly into the ‘hero who introduces the naive woman to love’ trope.

  5. Chechina said:

    I dont know if you meant that as a joke, but if you innocently and genuinely referred to yourself as a Padawan of Trek lore, that is super charming.

    • JenniferP said:

      It was a deliberate joke. 🤓

      • solecism said:

        What happened to “don’t cross the streams” though?

  6. DropTable~DropsMic said:

    Hey Captain! I saw some pictures of your presentation–any chance you’d post the slides at some point? I work in tech and I’d love to show it to my coworkers.

    • JenniferP said:

      Sure! I added a PDF to the post above. Go nuts.

      • DropTable~DropsMic said:

        Thanks so much!

  7. Jenny Islander said:

    So we’re actually rewatching TOS this month. It’s been long enough for me that I don’t remember some of this stuff. I must say I was surprised by the amount of Kirk chest, Kirk shoulders, and tightly trousered Kirk butt on display. The camera diiiiips when he’s walking out of his cabin on his way to discuss the situation with his department heads and his glutes are center stage for a rather long time. I wonder whose creative decision that was.

    • Jenny Islander said:

      Sorry–the episode is “Dagger of the Mind.”

  8. ladysugarquill said:

    and it’s “the first novel” like I’m Romy
    wait, people are saying Robinson Crusoe is the first novel? what in the- who- what

    The first novel in history is El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha, published in 1605, and a genuinely, objetively awesome book.

    /is ridiculously protective of her first fictional crush

    • sorbus said:

      I think the idea is that it’s the first novel written in English. Which is only true if you ignore Le Morte d’Arthur, the Arcadia, Oroonoko, and The Pilgrim’s Progress. (I’ve also heard Genji monogatari, Hayy ibn Yaqdhan, and Romance of the Three Kingdoms cited as earlier novels than Don Quijote, but I have no idea if they actually count as novels.)

      • whingedrinking said:

        “Hayy ibn Yaqdhan” is…a philosophical parable, I guess? An extended allegory? Ibn Tufail wrote it in the twelfth century to illustrate certain principles. Which, admittedly, doesn’t make it not a novel. At any rate I read it in translation as part of my Arabic* Philosophy class at uni so we could understand how Muslim philosophers of the period understood cosmology.
        (Nutshell version: boy grows up alone on a desert island, nursed by a deer. As boy becomes man, develops profound understanding of the universe and the nature of God from first principles. Therefore, clear and eternal truth of Islam, or something.)

        *Most of the philosophers we read were actually Persian. Ibn Tufail *was* Arab, but lived in Spain his whole life. The professor of the course kept trying to get the name of it changed without much luck.

        • sorbus said:

          It actually sounds really interesting! And very twelth century.

          • sorbus said:

            TwelFth century, even.

    • blnkfrnk said:

      Huh, that’s not what I heard. The first novel ever is the Tale of Genji and it was published in 1008. Maybe Don Quijote is the first Western novel, or maybe there’s some criteria for “novel” that I don’t know.

      We can definitely agree that Robinson Crusoe is not the first novel!!!

    • Nanani said:

      Murasaki Shikibu might have a few things to say about that, and several centuries earlier to boot :p

    • I thought the first novel was some interminable thing called Pamela. It went on and on about some virtuous servant girl who resists and resists and resists her master’s advances until he marries her.

      • blnkfrnk said:

        I looked that up. It’s from 1705. It sounds really interesting as a product of its time!

        How do you define a novel, anyway? It could be one of those situations where the same thing was invented many times, like paper was.

        • Muffin said:

          There are many college courses on the subject (I suggest avoiding those taught by That Professor Dude who seems to be the live-action version of a Jonathan Franzen short story), but the short answer is: the novel wasn’t “invented” many times, because the idea of the “novel” is a cultural construct specific to a particular moment in early modern European history. Now that English speakers have access to a wealth of world literature, a lot of non-European texts, such as the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, get classified as “novels” because they broadly fit a number of the important characteristics of the “novel”: long, fictional, written (usually) in prose. Add in the fact that publishers have started to republish out-of-copyright works in various Great Novels series because it’s cheap to produce so the profit margin is good, and voilà: no one knows what a novel is or when the first one was written.

          For my money, something should only be counted as a “novel” if men hate it or think it’s beneath their dignity to read, because the novel was (in England, in the early days) considered a garbage art form which was ruining women’s minds. Then it because a Serious Genre Written By Serious Dudemen, and boom, Ernest fucking Hemingway.

          • Nanani said:

            Tale of Genji totally wins by all those definitions

  9. sorbus said:

    I’ve been making my way, slowly but surely, through TOS for the first time. For some reason I hadn’t absorbed or paid much attention to many of the stereotypes about Kirk, so perhaps I had the chance to give it a fresher eye than most. One thing that’s really stood out to me is the number of episodes in which Kirk seems to have elements of the classic Trickster Hero archetype. (I’m thinking mostly of Arena and The Squire of Gothos here, tbh.) Is it just me or is this a real thing that other people have noticed?

    • Great point! I’ve noticed that lately too. He’s always got a scheme or trick of some sort up his sleeve.

    • aebhel said:

      Kirk is very much the Trickster Hero, IMO.

  10. Yara said:

    As someone who’s spent years wondering if I’ve somehow been watching some magical twilight zone version of Star Trek no one else did, thank you.

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