Frivolous Friday: Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters 2016 Leslie Jones Melissa McCarthy KristenWiig Kate McKinnon

We saw Ghostbusters last weekend, and we’re seeing it for the second time this weekend. Because it was so freaking entertaining.

Because I missed a bunch of stuff the first time I saw it, from all the laughing.

Because fuck the racist haters, ‪#‎iloveleslie‬.

Because fuck the sexist haters.

Because I want the movie to do well, so studios will know that an action sci-fi comedy with a mostly female cast can do well and will make more.

Because Kate McKinnon as Holtzmann, HOLY MACKEREL. (Aoife O’Riordan has a great piece on the awesomely queer awesomeness that is Holtzmann)

Because it was such big fun.

Frivolous Fridays are the Orbit bloggers’ excuse to post about fun things we care about that may not have serious implications for atheism or social justice. Any day is a good day to write about whatever the heck we’re interested in (hey, we put “culture” in our tagline for a reason), but we sometimes have a hard time giving ourselves permission to do that. This is our way of encouraging each other to take a break from serious topics and have some fun. Check out what some of the other Orbiters are doing!

Frivolous Friday: Ghostbusters

10 Pop Culture Characters Who Stayed Friends or Lovers With Their Rapists

Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O Hara in Gone with the Wind

“Well, sure, he raped her. But it’s not a big deal. Rape, shmape. All friendships and relationships have their ups and downs. They can still be friends, or get married. Heck, maybe the rape could be the start of a beautiful love story.”

Does this sound like an absurdist attempt at ghoulish humor? It’s not. This trope is all over pop culture, and has been for decades. In some stories, rapes happen while characters are friends, lovers, or married, and the relationship goes on as if little or nothing happened. In others, rapes are the beginning of a happy relationship.

Here are 10 characters in pop culture who voluntarily stayed friends, lovers, colleagues, or spouses with the people who raped or tried to rape them.


Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, 10 Pop Culture Characters Who Stayed Friends or Lovers With Their Rapists. To read more, read the rest of the piece.

10 Pop Culture Characters Who Stayed Friends or Lovers With Their Rapists

Where to Invade Next: Guest Post by Donna Jay

This is a guest post by Donna Jay. Her opinions do not necessarily reflect mine, although they’re obviously sympatico enough for me to post this piece. Content note: racism, racist violence and murder. -GC

where to invade next movie poster detail

I fulfilled my duty as a white-appearing middle-aged liberal woman. I went to see the latest Michael Moore movie, Where To Invade Next? I had heard mixed reviews but, fitting the core demographic for his films, I headed down to the local Alamo Drafthouse to catch an afternoon showing. It focuses on Michael traveling Europe finding ideas he would like to bring back to America – better prison systems, free higher education, free medical care, etc. Some have described it as watching a recent college graduate go to Europe for the first time and return with the belief “everything is better there – America sucks.”

Starting off the movie Moore shows the multitude of problems in America through a series of film clips. How best to set up the premise and show why these European ideas would be better for America. Moore relies on humor to get his message across. In his films, he may lay out the facts; however, he wants people to laugh along the way, making social commentary more palatable through comedy.

In the series of America-in-ruin clips he included the video of the death of Eric Garner. We were shown the video of multiple police officers standing around Eric on the ground. We’ve all seen it. Collectively, we watched a snuff film. The officers hold their stance, glaring at the people around them, almost challenging them to make a move. Try to help Eric, you will be on the ground next to him. Eric repeats, again and again, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I. Can’t. Breathe.” The movie cuts to a different clip before we see Eric die, but we know what the end result is. They do not show his final breath. But we know this man lost his life because he was poor and black and selling single cigarettes to other people who are poor and black and cannot afford a pack of cigarettes, his death the result of systemic racism empowering a police force that saw no reason to treat him as human. A minor crime was turned into a death sentence. He was black and poor so he must be a dangerous criminal. His life was viewed as having no value. His pleas for help were meaningless to the officers because he did not matter to them. He could not breathe and no one who could or should have helped him cared. So he died on a street surrounded by people who were sworn to protect him. He died within minutes of when the footage shown was filmed.

Moore did not expect us to laugh specifically at this scene. It was a short clip in a series of clips, a rapid fire series of issues in the US. But we were expected for find some humor in the seemingly out of control state of things in the US. With the music and the voiceover, we were supposed to find absurd humor in this series of events. And Eric Garner was in that mix, dying on a sidewalk.

And people laughed. Continue reading Where to Invade Next: Guest Post by Donna Jay”

Where to Invade Next: Guest Post by Donna Jay

What the Bechdel Test Means — And What It Doesn’t

The Bechdel Test is not — repeat, NOT — the sole test of whether a movie (or any story) is sexist. In fact, by itself, it’s not even A test of whether a story is sexist. It is not a test of whether a story is feminist, or whether the writer or writers are feminist. It is not a test of whether a story has strong female characters, awesome female characters, or admirable female characters.

The Bechdel Test is a test of one metric, and one metric only: Does the story revolve around men, or do women have their own lives? And while it’s sometimes appropriate to apply the test to individual movies or other stories, in general it makes much more sense to apply it to the film industry as a whole, and to show persistent patterns in pop culture.

essential dykes to watch out for book cover

In case you’re not familiar with it: The Bechdel Test comes from a Dykes to Watch Out For comic strip by Alison Bechdel, later of Fun Home fame. In it, two women are discussing whether to see a movie, and one says she’ll only see a movie if (a) it has two women in it, who (b) talk to each other, (c) about something other than a man. (She says that the last movie she could see was Alien — two women talk about the monster.) Later discussions of the Bechdel Test have refined and clarified it: the usual standard now is that the two women have to be named characters (i.e., if Woman At Bar #1 discusses the overly-warm martini with Woman At Bar #2, it doesn’t count). It’s a ridiculously low bar, and yet large numbers of movies fail to clear it. The Bechdel Test sometimes gets cited as The Test For Whether A Movie Is Sexist — and in a classic straw-feminist tactic, the fact that it fails at this is given as a reason for why it should be dismissed entirely. So I come back to my point:

The Bechdel Test is a test of one metric, and one metric only. It tests whether a given story revolves around men, or whether women are depicted as having have their own lives even to a small degree. And while people sometimes bring it up with individual movies — “Why didn’t The Avengers pass the Bechdel Test?” “Does The Lego Movie pass the test?” — it’s much more a test of common pop culture patterns. When it’s applied to single movies, it’s usually in service of pointing out the pattern. And while sexist patterns of this form are often unconscious, there’s at least one report of this one deliberately being taught in film school.

Matrix movie poster
Here’s why I bring this up. Ingrid and I were watching The Matrix the other day (me for the first time since it came out in 1999, her for the first time at all). We started wondering if it passed the Bechdel Test; and rather than watch the whole movie again, we decided to go to one of the many Bechdel Test websites and discussion boards. On this particular discussion board, some people discussed whether the movie was lacking in strong female characters; or they objected to putting The Matrix in the “fail” category, since Trinity is a powerful character and therefore the movie isn’t “anti-female.”

Sigh. Yes, Trinity is a powerful character. But that’s not what the Bechdel test is testing. It’s testing whether women talk to each other about something other than men. It’s testing whether the story revolves around men.

It’s testing who the world is about.

If men talk with each other a ton about their mission, their jobs, which road to take, which guns to use, which restaurant to go to, which religion is true, which farts are funnier — and women only talk to each other about men — that tells you who the story is about. That tells you who the world is about. Continue reading “What the Bechdel Test Means — And What It Doesn’t”

What the Bechdel Test Means — And What It Doesn’t

#mencallmethings: “frigid Stygian-witch”

Content note: misogyny

Quick bit of context: There’s news that filmmaker Michael Moore wants to make a movie about atheism and atheist comedians, featuring (sigh) Bill Maher, Seth MacFarlane, Ricky Gervais, and Sarah Silverman. I posted a brief series of tweets tagging Michael Moore, saying, “Re proposed ‘Kings of Atheism’: If it happens, please, PLEASE, have it include plenty of atheist women and atheists of color.” “Media representation of atheists typically is overwhelmingly white and male. Makes many atheists feel unwelcome in our community.” “In particular, Seth MacFarlane’s repeated, unrepentant sexism makes women atheists feel unwelcome when he represents atheism.” In the ensuing discussion, which included a list of several women comedians who might be good additions to the movie, I got this response:

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 12.37.24 PM

“Why not invite Janeane Garofalo, Julia Sweeney, Kathy Griffin? Could have been a more interesting atheist/com group”

“Besides the fact that they arent funny, but probably not as reactionary as frigid Stygian-witch Greta

Right. Because if you’re trying to convince the world that there isn’t a misogyny problem in atheism and there’s no need for a major media production about atheism to have diversity of gender and race, the best way to make your case is by calling women reactionary and frigid, and insulting them for being old. (I’m assuming that’s what the “Stygian-witch” bit was about.)


Continue reading “#mencallmethings: “frigid Stygian-witch””

#mencallmethings: “frigid Stygian-witch”

Frivolous Friday: Meta-Merch

Frivolous Fridays are the Orbit bloggers’ excuse to post about fun things we care about that may not have serious implications for atheism or social justice. Any day is a good day to write about whatever the heck we’re interested in (hey, we put “culture” in our tagline for a reason), but we sometimes have a hard time giving ourselves permission to do that. This is our way of encouraging each other to take a break from serious topics and have some fun. Enjoy!

One of my favorite super-nerdy pop-culture phenonema is meta-merch: T-shirts, coffee mugs, and other swag that advertise, not the show or the characters in the show, but products or shows or games that are featured in the show.

Examples: Ingrid has a Crying Breakfast Friends T-shirt from Steven Universe:

crying breakfast friends shirt

And I might get a Cookie Cat shirt at some point:

Cookie Cat shirt
Continue reading “Frivolous Friday: Meta-Merch”

Frivolous Friday: Meta-Merch


I’m thinking about meta-stories. Stories about stories. This starts off being about Christmas stories — but that’s only where it starts. It goes somewhere else. I’m not sure where it ends.

Stephanie Zvan has an interesting piece about Christmas stories, and how many there are other than the obvious one. She wrote this paragraph, which struck a nerve and got my brain wheels spinning:

Christmas accretes stories the way Thanksgiving accretes recipes for disguising vegetables. Charlie Brown and his lonely tree. Scrooge and his ghosts. The little girl with the matchsticks. Jo’s Christmas “without presents”. Reindeer on the house-top. A Grinch with an undersized heart. A snowman willing to sacrifice himself for a little girl. A desperate man on a bridge. A ski resort in need of saving for the old man. A couple with nothing but the ability to sacrifice for each other. A consuming desire for an unsafe “toy”. A hostage situation, of all things.

the-little-match-girl-(a-living-story-book)-cover 200
I read that paragraph — and had an immediate, vivid flash of memory. Stephanie wrote “The little girl with the matchsticks,” and what jumped into my head wasn’t so much that story itself, or even the memory of the picture book with the heavy, glossy cardboard pages. It was the meta-story. What I remembered was the time I was talking with my mother about “The Little Match Girl,” a story I loved and was somewhat obsessed with — and she said she hated the story, because it was a justification for why it was okay for children to freeze to death in the streets. I realized that Mom was right, and suddenly saw through the gloppy sentiment, and had a small moment of growing up. I had a small moment of realizing that the world wasn’t always okay — and I had a small flash of understanding about critiquing art.

Christmas doesn’t just accrete stories. It accretes meta-stories. I’m sure everyone who celebrates Christmas has these: the first time they watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” after their parent’s divorce; the time when they’d just moved into their new home and watched “It’s A Wonderful Life” sitting on lawn chairs in a house full of boxes; the time they put on the Christmas play and accidentally set fire to the manger. The stories aren’t just stories: they become part of our own.

But of course, that’s true of all stories. The story of The Phantom Tollbooth is also the story of listening to my father read it aloud to me and my brother, and reveling in his pleasure in the story as much as my own. The story of The Godfather is also the story of my seventh-grade class passing it around to each other, whispering the page numbers of the dirty parts. The story of Star Wars is also the story of my younger cousins haunting the suburban mall where they watched the movie over thirty times. The story of Alice in Wonderland is also the story of the first year Ingrid and I were involved, when she was in New York and I was in San Francisco so we talked on the phone constantly, and she had a sore throat one time and couldn’t talk, so I read Alice in Wonderland to her over the phone.

So now I want to know: What are your meta-stories?

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPG
Coming Out Atheist
why are you atheists so angry
Greta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.


“They’re supposed to be stand-ins for all people.”

noah still

Ari Handel, co-screenwriter of the movie “Noah,” on why the cast was all-white:

From the beginning, we were concerned about casting, the issue of race. What we realized is that this story is functioning at the level of myth, and as a mythical story, the race of the individuals doesn’t matter. They’re supposed to be stand-ins for all people. Either you end up with a Bennetton ad or the crew of the Starship Enterprise.

And then:

You either try to put everything in there, which just calls attention to it, or you just say, “Let’s make that not a factor, because we’re trying to deal with everyman.” Looking at this story through that kind of lens is the same as saying, “Would the ark float and is it big enough to get all the species in there?” That’s irrelevant to the questions because the questions are operating on a different plane than that; they’re operating on the mythical plane.

Because white people are “stand-ins for all people.” White people are “everyman.” Whereas people of color or a mixed-race cast “calls attention” to race.

He actually said this. In words.

Jesus. Fucking. Christ.

In case you were in any doubt about how whiteness is seen as normal and default, and non-whiteness is seen as other: This.

You know what? If the issue of race “doesn’t matter” and is “irrelevant,” then why not make a mixed-race cast? If it doesn’t matter, then how about not being a racist douchebag?

And the thing that really gets to me — well, a thing that really gets to me — is that they actually thought about this. This wasn’t just generic, unconscious, reflexive racism of thoughtless omission. They actually considered this question carefully — and after this careful consideration, decided to make white people the mythical, iconic stand-ins for all of humanity.

Oh, and for the record: There are, in fact, people who find mixed casts to be, you know, representative of humanity, and who find all-white casts distracting and weird.

“They’re supposed to be stand-ins for all people.”

"Hug an Atheist," and the 5th Atheist Film Festival, Sept. 14

Hug an Atheist
I’ve been watching a preview of the “Hug an Atheist” documentary with great pleasure. A not unbiased pleasure, obviously — it’s hard to be unbiased about a movie that you’re actually in — but I think I would enjoy this movie tremendously even if I weren’t in it. It’s a pretty straight-up talking-heads documentary — interviews with different atheists about our lives and views and experiences, woven together thematically by the questions being asked — but the content is far from ordinary. I like how the filmmaker, Sylvia Broeckx, didn’t shy away from difficult topics: the film spends about as much time on how atheists handle illness and suffering and death as it does on how we experience meaning and morality, or parenting and Christmas. And I like how people’s answers aren’t your standard “positive happy atheism” PR: the interviewees acknowledge difficulties, expose vulnerability and pain, reveal real differences in philosophies.

5th atheist film festival banner

“Hug an Atheist” will have its premiere at the 5th Atheist Film Festival, coming up in San Francisco Sept. 14. Other film topics include: Charles Darwin, a fake guru (I know, they all are, in this case it’s a deliberate fake), creationism in the public schools, religious proselytizing in the public schools, the Magdalene laundries in Ireland, and Heaven. For several of the films, the directors or other folks involved in the production will be on hand for Q&A. Plus there’s a directors’ reception the night before, which I’ve been to before and is always a blast.

The Atheist Film Festival will be at the Roxie Theater — 3117 16th St., a block from the 16th and Mission BART station — on Saturday, September 14. You can get all-day passes, or tickets for individual films. And if you get both a festival pass and a ticket to the directors’ reception, you get a discount on both. Hope to see you there!

"Hug an Atheist," and the 5th Atheist Film Festival, Sept. 14

5th Atheist Film Festival in San Francisco, Sept. 14!

5th atheist film festival banner

Mark your calendars! The 5th Atheist Film Festival is going to be in San Francisco on Saturday, September 14, at the Roxie Theater (3117 16th St., a block from the 16th and Mission BART station). Festival passes are on sale now! (Tickets for individual films will go on sale August 14.)

There’ll also be a directors’ reception the night before, on Friday September 13 with directors Sylvia Broeckx and Scott Thurman and reporter Sophia Winkler (featured in the film Sophia Investigates the Good News Club). I’ve been to the director’s shindig several times now, and it’s always a blast: well worth it. This year’s featured films:

Creation. Creation traces English naturalist Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution from a simple idea to a god-killer. The film tracks how the man struggles to balance his revolutionary theories on evolution and his relationship with a religious wife, whose faith contradicts his work.

Hug an Atheist
Hug an Atheist. The world premiere, featuring director Sylvia Broeckx! A documentary film about atheism in the USA, dispelling the myths and untruths that plague ordinary American atheists on their journey through life. Director Sylvia Broeckx will be present to answer questions and maybe even give hugs.

Kūmāré. This feature documentary film shows how filmmaker Vikram Gandhi impersonated a fake guru and built a following of real people. For those who question the cult of personality–or who have considered starting their own cult.

The Magdalene Sisters. The triumphant story of three extraordinary women whose courage to defy a century of injustice would inspire a nation. While women’s liberation sweeps the globe, in 1960s Ireland four “fallen” women are stripped of their liberty and dignity and condemned to indefinite servitude in the Magdalene Laundries, where they’ll work to atone for their “sins.”

The Revisionaries. Featuring director Scott Thurman live at the festival! The theory of evolution and a re-write of American history are caught in the crosshairs when an unabashed Creationist seeks re-election as chairman of America’s most influential Board of Education–in Texas, naturally. Watch a story as unbelievable as creationism unfold as the board strives to crush facts and elevate opinion by influencing textbook choices in the nation’s second-largest state. Director Scott Thurman will be at the festival to answer questions about the making of this award-winning film. You can even submit your questions in advance to have them answered at the festival!

sophia investigates the good news club
Sophia Investigates the Good News Club. Featured reporter Sophia Winkler will attend the festival! A window on the powerful religious fundamentalism that is forcing public schools to subsidize and promote its agenda. Learn why the Good News Club is bad news for kids. The intrepid skeptic reporter Sophia Winkler will be at AFF to answer questions about her experience diving into the Good News.

An all-day pass to the entire film festival is $40.00. The directors’ reception is $35.00 — and if you get both an all-day pass and the directors’ reception, it’s just $65.00. Hope to see you there!

5th Atheist Film Festival in San Francisco, Sept. 14!