In the Hands of the Goblin King

Just fear me, love me, do as I say, and I will be your slave.

I may have thought about this offer a bit over the years. Yes, yes, all right: I’ve spent hours of my life on it. I know from talking to other women who first saw Labyrinth in their mid–teens that I’m not alone.

Sarah, on the other hand, didn’t think about it at all. She didn’t even listen, reciting her memorized lines instead. I couldn’t forgive her for that. It’s been nearly 30 years since I first heard those words, and I’m still angry, though no longer at her.

With the benefit of some growing up and some time spent writing fiction, I realize it isn’t really her fault. The movie was never set up to let her consider the question. Jareth’s love was never going to be more than the framing story, the necessary element to set the plot in motion, the final obstacle for Sarah to conquer. That doesn’t make me any less angry that the offer was made and thrown away.

Let me say right now that I don’t think she should have accepted the bargain—probably. Even without goblins, there’s a lot to consider in that statement. What kind of fear are we talking about? Does it have to be real, or does everyone have their roles to play? What do you want me to do, and what are you willing to do for me?

When I was Sarah’s age, I’d have given a lot for a movie that took my sexuality as seriously as it took my escapism and my fear. I’d had sex before watching Labyrinth, and I’d been grappling with desire and figuring out what I wanted in a partner for years before that. I was slightly precocious, but I wasn’t alone by any means. Where were the movies for teenaged girls like me?

It wasn’t that there was no media aimed at my adolescent sexuality. I was part of MTV’s target market, and no one really blinked an eye when I saw Prince’s Purple Rain concert shortly after turning 13, even though it was decided I needed a chaperon. Eighties pop was delightfully full of “unusual” options for sexualized performers and lyrics, presented with a variety of levels of awareness that some of the pretty candy was poisoned. Not to mention all the “romantic” male singers of the 70s who had been guest performers on my children’s shows even earlier.

There were a handful of books as well, but the ones with protagonists near my age talking frankly about sex were mostly “issue” books. “Oh! Look at the trouble that comes when this young teenaged girl feels and expresses and maybe even follows through on her desire!” No. Just no.

Movies were slightly better, to the extent girls my age were represented in them at all. If you were a character played by Molly Ringwald, you could experience a polite modicum of embarrassed lust. If you were played by Brooke Shields, you could even do something about it. We just weren’t supposed to watch it.

Then there was this movie that put David Bowie in a wig and makeup and tights. Those tights. Then it gave him pining songs to sing in his best feelings voice and orbs to twirl so he looked delightfully dexterous. And he just kept offering himself to us our through our protagonist proxy, both in abstract form and in his own person.

Then we didn’t get to think about what any of that meant and make up our own minds.

Read the rest of this essay over at Uncanny Magazine. And for a very different perspective, read Sarah Monette’s essay on Labyrinth as well.

In the Hands of the Goblin King
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The Breakfast Club, Updated

A user-made Someecard with a woman in early Victorian dress. Text in the post.

If The Breakfast Club took place today, all those kids would just be silently texting about their shitty Saturday and never make friends with each other.

This has been going around Facebook the past few days. I’ve seen it from friends my age who use social media almost as an afterthought to their busy lives. There’s nothing wrong with that usage, of course, but it’s not mere coincidence that this is who is sharing it. They’re the people who least value social media and are, therefore, most likely to get it wrong. Let’s talk about how.

First off, let me note that The Breakfast Club was an idealistic fantasy when it came out. Having been a teenager in the 80s, I can tell you from experience that it took more than temporary isolation from the outside to break down the social defense mechanisms that kept kids from bonding across class and tribe.

Yes, even the unhappy kids. In fact, it was often the kids who were the most unhappy who clung hardest to their tribal affiliations. Adding stress wasn’t going to change that. The movie was an escape fantasy aimed at kids who’d suffered from tribalism, but it was just that–a fantasy.

So if we were going to update The Breakfast Club for today’s social media landscape, we’d be looking at the best of all possible outcomes, just as John Hughes did. That’s good, because otherwise, we’d already be running into problems with the premise that kids would be allowed to bring their cell phones to detention. Instead, we’ll just suspend that bit of disbelief.

Once we do that, here’s a taste of what a modern Breakfast Club would look like, social media and all. Continue reading “The Breakfast Club, Updated”

The Breakfast Club, Updated

Copyright and Keeping a Tune

Do you know how to sing, “Happy Birthday to You”? Are you sure? I’m a bit uncertain myself, and I’ve had a few years of choral training.

This morning, I tweeted this:

This has led to some interesting discussion on Facebook that’s worth repeating for a broader crowd, because the reasons behind this particular bit of bad singing are interesting. Continue reading “Copyright and Keeping a Tune”

Copyright and Keeping a Tune

In Defense of "Unhealthy" Music

This is one of the essays I delivered to my patrons last month. If you want to support more work like this, and see it earlier, you can sign up here.

Content note: When I talk about “unhealthy” music, I mean things like music expressing and embracing mental illness, stereotypes, victim-blaming, and lack of consent. I give examples and do my best to explain their appeal.

I was in high school the first time it happened. I was enjoying a piece of music and wanted to share it with a friend. “Here. Listen to this.” I handed her a cassette tape I’d already gone some way toward wearing out.

The rejection was prompt and personal. “That’s really messed up. How could you listen to that?” Her eyes told me she blamed me for her exposure to such terrible stuff.

The answer was simple, of course. I listened to fucked up music because I was fucked up. I was coping (or mostly not) with serious anxiety and depression and probably had minor PTSD from childhood abuse. While the pop music of the 80s had plenty of dark weirdness embedded in it, it rarely met me where I was. That took pretty, mopey boys and angry women and strange fantasists of all stripes.

It wasn’t the first time I was out of the musical loop. In fact, aside from Free to Be You and Me, I’d never been in it. Most of my peers had parents who raised them on The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, and southern rock. I mostly listened to 60s political folk music. Helen Reddy was about as mainstream as I got, unless the revivals from The Muppet Show count. Sound of Music soundtrack? No? Just me? Right.

It was the first time someone told me my musical choices were harmful, however. Or at least, it was the first time I was told that by my friends instead of some adult who wanted me off their lawn. Continue reading “In Defense of "Unhealthy" Music”

In Defense of "Unhealthy" Music

In Defense of “Unhealthy” Music

This is one of the essays I delivered to my patrons last month. If you want to support more work like this, and see it earlier, you can sign up here.

Content note: When I talk about “unhealthy” music, I mean things like music expressing and embracing mental illness, stereotypes, victim-blaming, and lack of consent. I give examples and do my best to explain their appeal.

I was in high school the first time it happened. I was enjoying a piece of music and wanted to share it with a friend. “Here. Listen to this.” I handed her a cassette tape I’d already gone some way toward wearing out.

The rejection was prompt and personal. “That’s really messed up. How could you listen to that?” Her eyes told me she blamed me for her exposure to such terrible stuff.

The answer was simple, of course. I listened to fucked up music because I was fucked up. I was coping (or mostly not) with serious anxiety and depression and probably had minor PTSD from childhood abuse. While the pop music of the 80s had plenty of dark weirdness embedded in it, it rarely met me where I was. That took pretty, mopey boys and angry women and strange fantasists of all stripes.

It wasn’t the first time I was out of the musical loop. In fact, aside from Free to Be You and Me, I’d never been in it. Most of my peers had parents who raised them on The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, and southern rock. I mostly listened to 60s political folk music. Helen Reddy was about as mainstream as I got, unless the revivals from The Muppet Show count. Sound of Music soundtrack? No? Just me? Right.

It was the first time someone told me my musical choices were harmful, however. Or at least, it was the first time I was told that by my friends instead of some adult who wanted me off their lawn. Continue reading “In Defense of “Unhealthy” Music”

In Defense of “Unhealthy” Music

The Other Hugo Ballot

One of the biggest problems with the Sad and Rabid Puppies Hugo slates was that slate voting pushed much-loved work off the ballot. That’s a moderate problem for the awards, though I think it became a net positive as so many people signed up to participate in the process. It’s a much larger problem for creators.

One thing the puppies got right is that award winners are often not the most popular representations of their field. Of course, they then turned around and got things desperately wrong by declaring this proof of cliquishness or conspiracy. Unless you have an award that specifically polls your biggest spenders, awards don’t align with revenue. Any time you poll an audience selected for their special relationship to the material, your nominees won’t look like your best sellers. This should be obvious.

It does provide special challenges for those creators who appeal to the specialist market, though. Continue reading “The Other Hugo Ballot”

The Other Hugo Ballot

What Vox Day Can't Do

Theodore Beale likes to claim that any outcome of the Rabid Puppies sham is a win for him. Of course he does. Why? Because the only way to make himself a winner is to declare it by fiat.

In reality, aside from making threatening noises and encouraging others to do the same, Beale is weak and ineffective. He’s potent only as a bad example and an impetus to cringe. After that, he’s most notable for being able to achieve none of the things he’d like to. A short list:

Face it, aside from threats, Beale’s got nothing going for him. And while those threats are an ugly thing to be on the end of, they’re not getting him any closer to his goals. If anything, he is his own worst argument for his positions.

What Vox Day Can't Do

An Open Letter to the Opening Act (Updated)

Congratulations! You’ve landed a great gig, opening for a band that’s bigger than you, whose fans already like more or less the kind of music you play. It’s your chance to build your audience!

You’ve created your set list, picking out a combination of songs available for sale and new material that’s your best yet. You’ve rehearsed your little hearts out. (You have rehearsed, haven’t you?) You’ve put serious thought into the esthetic you want to present on stage. You’re all ready to go and make a great impression!

Are you ready to be reviewed?

Do you even know how to tell? Continue reading “An Open Letter to the Opening Act (Updated)”

An Open Letter to the Opening Act (Updated)

It's Skepticon's Turn

Wow. You good folks floor me. The Skeptics for Ada fundraiser hit its goal in the first day. That means Valerie Aurora of the Ada Initiative will be coming to Skepticon to run their Ally Skills Workshop. So now that we’ve paid for the Ada Initiative to do their thing, it’s time to help pay for Skepticon itself. With the conference just over a month away, it’s only two-thirds funded. There is still over $13,000 to be raised.

Because Skepticon is a free conference in the south-central U.S., it’s the only conference that many of the attendees can afford. But someone still has to pay for the whole thing. If the attendees can’t, funding Skepticon falls to those of us who think access to these events shouldn’t be limited to those who can pay hundreds of dollars. Are you one of those people?



If you need another reason to donate, keep reading. Continue reading “It's Skepticon's Turn”

It's Skepticon's Turn

TBT: Destroy Ferris

It’s been five years since John Hughes died. Having been a teenager in the 80s, I couldn’t not have an opinion.

So, you know John Hughes just died. Everybody knows that John Hughes just died. Almost everyone my age is talking about how sad it was and talking about the movies it’s made them remember.

I haven’t been doing that. Not because Hughes’ death didn’t bring back memories for me, but because it did. I was a suburban teenager who didn’t fit the mold. I should have been his target audience. I just didn’t like his movies much.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s still too soon to talk about them, but I’m going to do it anyway. Continue reading “TBT: Destroy Ferris”

TBT: Destroy Ferris