Of Handmaidens and Cheerleaders

After Texas handed down their new draconian restrictions on abortion and the Supreme Court upheld the law (for now), the image above started making the rounds on social media. It’s funny and striking at the same time. A state that loves its symbols is having one of its most famous shrouded in a play on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaiden’s Tale. Women without control over their body or their means of reproduction, their bodies hidden from all but those with high enough rank to have access. They have no agency, something the Texas law chips away at.

Yet, the problem with the meme is that Texas, America, the Western world isn’t like this. Shrouding the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders makes no statement because, even in the march toward Gilead, we would never allow that symbol of good, old-fashioned football and sex to be hidden behind a visual metaphor as clunky as this one.

See, we need women to be beautiful and visual, sexually available and on display. The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders represent a free spirit of healthy masculine fun, the red-blooded man’s fantasy. The new law changes none of that. The new law does not restrict men’s access to women, nor give women more agency over their bodies. The new law isn’t a step toward the type of totalitarianism in The Handmaiden’s Tale, for the female body will never be forced to be covered under true capitalism. To shroud the female form is to eliminate one of the most lucrative commodities the Western world has ever seen. Sex sells in the West, but only while you can see it.

The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders are athletes; probably underpaid performers; and one of the most enduring symbols of Texas. While the meme is worth of at least a smirk, the cynic in me understands that control over the female form already has a multitude of wardrobes, engineered for endless visual consumption.

My Demon Slayer movie review

What a crap title.

Inosuke was the reason I watched Demon Slayer in the first place. I’d come across a manga panel of him… being himself…and I thought, ‘I want to know more about that guy.’ I’ll probably go back and read the manga at some point, but I truly enjoyed the first season of the anime (even if it took a while to introduce Inosuke).

So I was truly excited to see Demon Slayer: The Movie – Mugen Train last night. Not only had I been aware of the great reception the film had and how well it was doing at the box office, it would be my triumphant return to the movies in over a year. The last film I saw, funnily enough, was My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The theater was packed and everyone cheered at the end. Last night was a bit different, only about eight people in total. 

I don’t know if it was months of hype or the fact that my Starburst Minis were stale, but I didn’t get the chills I expected. We purposefully chose the subbed version (I’m a sub snob) because I really like Hino Satoshi, the voice actor of Rengoku. I love this character, I can’t explain completely why. Is it that his fiery sense of justice is played out in his hair? His ability to see the quality of a person while not remembering their name? His googly eyes? Who knows. But I couldn’t wait to watch Daichi kick some demon ass.

===Here There May Be Spoilers===

I am used to the expository dialogue of anime, especially fighting anime, but this time it felt excessive, especially coming from Enmu, the main(?) vilain through most of the film. I’m far from watching the season, so I went back and watched the final episode as a refresher before last night’s showing. I wondered how much of Enmu’s simpering vocal style I’d have to endure in the movie, and it was a lot more than I thought. For the his entire span on screen he was emoting and explaining to the point of distraction. Even at the end, his final moments of disintegration, we were subject to his internal monologue and I wondered why. I felt little to no satisfaction in his dying, only in Tanjiro and Inosuke’s success in killing him. Enmu was a non-entity for me, just something for the main characters to aim at. 

This is the lesson where your villains need to have some trait for the audience to connect to. 

Just as the last ashes of Enmu fade away, I was left wondering if that was all. Where was the big battle scene? When would the stakes be raised? Welp, let me introduce you to Akaza, an upper-tier demon that decided to show up about thirty seconds after his silhouette foreshadowed his presence and then boom. FIGHT! 

Akaza would have been more exciting had I not just finished season 1 of Jujitsu Kaisen who’s king of curses, Sukuna, Akaza felt like a pale imitation of. His showing up at the final turn of the film, calling out Rengoku felt tacked on. I left thinking the movie needed Rengoku to die and Enmu wasn’t powerful enough to do the job.

The animation and sound design were wonderful. My friend and I agreed that the whole dream plot line was the most interesting part, particularly Tanjiro’s method of breaking out of his dream (and how it almost backfired.) There was just enough Zenitsu and almost enough Inosuke. And those scenes with Tanjiro’s family, I felt like Sukuna had ripped out my heart, not Itadori’s. (Mixing my anime again, sorry). Ugh.

Overall, though, I left feeling a bit flat. I still love the story and the characters, but I didn’t cry for Rengoku like the characters did. To be fair, I didn’t spend enough time with him, and to be honest, neither did they. The sadness felt forced and Rengoku deserved better.

I wanted to love Scrivener

This morning I had the second of two software meltdowns. Meltdown is harsh, but they happened in my allotted writing time, so I guess the meltdowns were had by me. Twice, when opening Scrivener, I received a notice for an update. Without me selecting an option, the application closed and deleted its own .exe file. Yesterday I reinstalled the previous version and was able to work. This morning I had to uninstall and reinstall, twice, the new version. That was it for me.

Scrivener is something I use mostly for my fiction writing and I think it’s a wonderful program…if you have a Mac. I think historically more attention has been paid to the Mac version over Windows. It took a long time to pull a Windows version out of beta and I was excited to work with version 3 when it came out, even paying to update my license (I’ve had Scrivener for a long time). But the problems the last two mornings reminded me of the worry I’d been carrying in the back of my mind. The Windows version just doesn’t feel like a priority, or, more precisely, it’s feels like an afterthought.

When I finally got the latest version to load (and stay loaded) I set to work exporting everything out. I could have scoured the .scriv folders for the text if necessary, but I was already frustrated. Boom. Everything into Google Docs, where I can work on it in relative safety from my PC and my Chromebook and my phone.

It’s probably no lie that I wanted to make this shift anyway, but needed the right push. It was also a good way to procrastinate doing anything else productive.

At once time I considered adding my comp exam notes into a Scrivener file, but opted for a wiki instead. The ease at which I can make connections and interwiki links works well with the thought flow I need for that type of work. Also, this is a good reminder that I’ve got to get back to that work soon.

I would still recommend Scrivener to my Mac friends. It’s can be very powerful if used to its fullest. However, I would suggest to my PC friends to find or build a system out of what already works for you. If possible, something that allows you to never worry about what type of computer you can afford.

In which I coin the term panicfic

This post is brainstorming, not research. Clearly.

I’m fascinated by these little stories we create in the middle of a moral panic. I was going to coin the term panic-dote but it’s used for something else according to the Urban Dictionary (though, in an extenuating circumstances there is a way this established definition could fit).

Perhaps panicfic is a better phrase.

I grew up in the 70s and 80s, so a lot of the panicfics I’m aware of are racist, homophobic, and misogynistic, but others I’ve heard recently seem to fit the bill and are a little softer, though that is relative to the teller and listener.

They’re not urban legends. They’re smaller than that. They’re shorter than that. These stories are these clipped, little anecdotes that allow people to express their outrage. They’re often a way of putting yourself within a group, testing people to make sure they think the same way you do. There’s never really a basis in fact. It’s always something that you heard from your cousin’s neighbor’s dog‘s husband‘s best roommate.

One of my favorites from recent times is the “My friend said Merry Christmas to a woman, and she yelled at him, saying ‘I’m an atheist and that offends me’ and she was very upset,” and of course the story isn’t true. If it’s close to true, the lady was fucking with you and your satire gland is shriveled and useless. Atheists can love Christmas, too. We love cookies. We love materialism. Just like Jesus!

Building upon an idea I threw out there in my last post, these panicfics are fanfiction, a genre of wish fulfillment where people tell comforting stories to themselves. Some of these are offshoots of overplayed media outrage, but most start as juvenile play. I often think about my own school days, centuries before Livejournal, tumblr, and AO3, where my friends and I had to pass notes back and forth, always describing a “dream” we had involving some band, or athletes. It was never a dream, friends, it was fanfic and it was great.

But this is darker, this is destructive and viral and dehumanizing. Panicfics always show more about the person telling the story (let’s face it, the person making up the story) than the story itself. As as for the people they are trying to target, they say nothing. No one creating these stories has ever interacted with the people they hate.

It’s really difficult to extract panicfics from urban legends as they have a similar vector of spread, especially now in the Internet age, but it is their reinforcement of insecurities that make them so powerful. The two that come to mind for me are awful. In an early draft of this essay I wrote them out in full, but that’s what the panicfics want, they want to spread.

I’ll be vague: [edit]on second thought, I’ll be vaguer: [edit 2]fuck it: one was misogynistic and homophobic, the other racist and classist. You figure out which I mean.

If you’re my age, you probably have heard them both. If you’re younger and have an inkling, I am very sorry. We have failed you.

If you’re younger and haven’t heard them, but have a cesspool of hate and misinformation coming at you every day when you’re just trying to post your dance videos – WOW we have all failed you and your strength is an inspiration. Please save us.

If I searched through news databases or Google to trace some origin to these panicfics, I’m sure I will find the story somewhere. I’m sure I will find them presented as funny or amusing or, in some cases, presented as “this actually happened.”

It didn’t happen. It’s made up. It’s a fiction. It’s a desire to show the listener that the teller has “heard a thing or two” and “knows the way of the world.” It’s the gossip of the idiot, too scared to crawl out of their own backyard and talk to a person that doesn’t look like them. Even if, digging deep, down into the bowels of public discourse, there appears to be a shred of an inkling of a microscopic point that seems parallel to one element of these panicfics, they’re still not true. They only truth they hold is in their power to inflict pain and death.

I started out fascinated by panicfics to the point I made a name for them. Now I’m just mad.

That guy that told me the Atheist-Christmas story? I was so shocked at the blatant bullshittiness of the thing, I didn’t know what to say. I said “sorry? People are weird.” I wish I’d had a better comeback, but stupid stuns.

A Medical Story

I had a conversation with the clerk at my pharmacy the other day. I was picking up a prescription for a family member and he said “You know it costs $XXX?”

“Yes, and I still don’t know why you ask me. It’s not like we don’t need the script.”

“Well, we let people know because when they hear the price, sometimes they don’t want it.”

I paused. “No. It’s not that they don’t want it, they can’t afford it. There’s a difference.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

“Words matter. They change how you think.”

This is as close to quoting as I can remember and nothing like the political fan-fic you usually read online about “let me tell you what happened when I told this person a thing-or-two.” It wasn’t a confrontational conversation and it happened pretty sporadically and I didn’t feel particularly proud afterwards. We so often think of storytelling as reading to children, instead of how the choice of words we use to describe our experience then inscribes that experience onto our conscious. I left frustrated.

There are a lot of nuances to the Humana-Medicare fraud story that came across the news-feeds a few days ago. I saved it with the intention on writing about the piece, not because I am someone who regularly comments on the health insurance industry, but because it is complementary to some of my research and what I think about all the time. This story and its $200 million dollar headline is not how we’ve been trained to think about insurance fraud, and that’s the point.

We have seen those local news investigations of the person on disability payments for back issues, somehow able to build a deck in the behind their house, or the person who, in conjunction with their doctor, fudges the severity of their symptoms to get more coverage for medical supplies that they would not normally be entitled to. These are the stories about fraud that we’re used to: the individual scammers, the advantage-takers, but where does the overpayment to Humana enter into this narrative. For the wider audience, it doesn’t.

Humana has a huge presence on daytime cable television, along with other Medicare supplemental programs promising to put more money in your social security check every month by switching to their insurance. None of these commercials (easily) disclose that you’re forgoing part of Medicare (hence the refund) only to pay that money to the separate insurance company. It’s a boon for the corporations and seems like a no-brainer to the hapless person wanting an extra $100 in their Medicare check every month.
Yet, still, that is a story told about individuals, the lonely seniors unable to see through the smoke and mirrors of television advertisements. The “boomer” generation taught to trust the evening news and the sales pitches in the commercial breaks never unlearned that trust. Even after Watergate, they turned to television to get the information they needed. The channel hardly mattered, and, when it comes to insurance advertising, still doesn’t. There are a lot of generational generalizations in those previous sentences, but there are sparks of truth within. We still think of Medicare (or any health insurance) fraud as an individual problem. We tell the stories of individual people scamming the system, which allows us to shake our heads and feel better about how we aren’t the scammers and maybe the system is the problem.

I don’t believe in universal truths (aside from the lack of universal truths) but something I find to be a consistent occurrence is that any system created by humans can be exploited by humans. The Humana-Medicare story suggests that the largest exploiters of the system are at the corporate level. Yet we never tell the story like that. We always focus on the man building the deck, or the woman with too many diabetic supplies. We focus our attention and our scorn on targets that are the same size as us: individuals that can be outed and shamed. We understand the individual scam because we perpetuate them ourselves in any number of ways: we drive a little fast, we needle our way out of jury duty, we find advantages to pay less in tax, etc. Perhaps we get upset not at the scam, but at the scammer being caught. It tightens the rein on all of us.

Or at least that’s the impression. The watchdogs will start scrutinizing individual actions more closely, because that’s where the story takes us, if not the data. The story is the reality and if multiple people committing $100 a month in Medicare fraud is the scourge presented, then where does the $200 million assessment against Humana fit into that story. Honestly, it doesn’t. We won’t cancel our individual Humana plans because by purchasing them in the first place, we’ve agreed ith the idea that the corporation is a better adjudicator of our health care than government-funded Medicare. We have already sided with the individual over the communal in our story – the individual as the mighty sovereign of liberty and the individual as the mighty sinner in violation of justice and fair play.

Justice, sovereignty, fair play, are all stories. We tell ourselves these stories day in and day out in order to feed and reinforce the world view of our communities. And that community is a story of people telling the same stories in the same way. Humana is a corporation that told a number of small stories in distorted ways that entitled them to receive more money than they were owed. The federal audit is telling that same story from a different point of view.

NPR only uses the word “fraud” in two places: one, while describing what extrapolation is to the readers, and two, in one of the story tags: “medicare fraud.”