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Sissy Killer: Silence Of The Lambs’ “Good/Bad Queer” Dynamic

24 Mar Sissy Killers Queer Coding

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It’s been 25 years since Silence Of The Lambs was released, and there have already been plenty of hot takes to go around. Recently, Jos Truitt over at Feministing posted an unflinching and thorough deconstruction of what the character “Buffalo Bill” represents to the trans community. Naturally, cis people completely lost their shit.

“How could anyone identify with a serial killer?” they lamented. Good point, it’s not like Hannibal Lecter wound up in four novels, five films, and a television series currently on it’s third season where he is the protagonist. Oh wait.

sissykillers2Dinner’s Ready.

Why is it considered ok to empathize with Lecter and not Jame Gumb? Both were brutal mass murderers known for short tempers and for mutilating their victims. Gumb was a gender dysphoric survivor of child abuse and neglect, and Hannibal Lecter was a calculating abusive manipulator that shut her off from medical care and murdered her boyfriend. So why do people root for Gumb getting gunned down yet also for Lecter’s escape and promise to kill again?

Seriously, check out the last couple minutes of Silence Of The Lambs again. Lecter all decked out like Truman Fuckin Capote bragging about “having an old friend for dinner”. He’s a triumphant anti-hero rather than a villain. And it gets worse with each subsequent film/tv depiction.

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The answer is simple: Lecter represents the “good kind” of queer, and Bill represents the “bad kind”.

While I don’t share Truitt’s particular tattoo choice (although I have seriously considered both the spear wound and the “LOVE” hand tattoo), I do have a tramp stamp of “In Voluptas Mors”, and yes it is a reference to Silence Of The Lambs. I, also, have a bit of a soft spot for the movie. A particularly fascinating element of the movie is that it features two queer codedsissy villains”, but coded in different ways and pitted against each other.

What’s that? Hannibal Lecter isn’t actually gay? That’s ok, because Jame Gumb “isn’t actually transgender”, right?

sissykillers3Meanwhile, the only definitely gay person in the movie is dead.

In the book, the infamous “tucking scene” also invites the reader to voyeuristically review Gumb’s hormone regimen, thinning body hair, voice training, electrolysis and even passing mention of breast development. This is presented with both a clinical air and a sense of disdain at the progress. But this is ok because Gumb is not “really transgender”, right?

Later in the book Agent Crawford threatens to have federal funding cut from the Johns Hopkins sex-reassignment wing and have the surgery re-classified as of non-medical necessity. There’s no telling how many transsexuals ongoing medical treatment were effectively being held hostage as an afterthought in this power-play. But this is ok because Gumb is not “really transgender”, right?

I’m sure there is also something to be said about namechecking the Johns Hopkins Trans Surgery wing as a plot point in the book, considering the actual one was shut down a decade before.

And even as Ted Levine’s lumbering, gangly tr*nny monster performance is frequently superimposed over depictions of the lives of trans folks, and the spectre of which haunts discussions of everything from “bathroom bills” to TSA clearances, Lecter represents the opposite of this stereotype. Lecter is theatrical without camp. He is effette but not effeminate. He drips with sarcasm and is impeccably refined and cultural and worldly.

The comparisons don’t stop there. In the novel, through Agent Starling’s feminist hero eyes she recognizes Lecter as “small, sleek, and in his hands and arms she saw wiry strength like her own” in contrast to Gumb’s frequently referenced large hefty frame. In the film, Lecter is depicted as deliberately clinical and meticulously clean, a contrast to the squalor of Gumb’s living area and poor hygiene and posture. Anthony Hopkins came up with the idea of having Lecter dressed in white in order to invoke imagery of doctors and dentists and peoples instinctive unease around them. But it also positions him yet again as an virtous-appearing authority figure. Perhaps this is why we are expected to continue to take Lecter’s gatekeeping of Gumb’s dysphoria at face value, despite the fact that it’s coming from a man restrained in a strait jacket and spitter’s mask.

“He’s not a transsexual, Clarice. He just thinks he is, and he’s puzzled and angry because they won’t help him.”

There’s almost definitely a “high/low functioning” mental illness dynamic going on as well that someone may choose to explore further down the line. How does nobody ever question Lecter’s capacity to make psychological diagnoses not only without clinical observation but while also himself deemed in a dangerous enough capacity mentally to warrant institutionalization?

sissykillers4Definitely someone with authority’s best interest in mind – Everyone Somehow

It’s not like positioning the audience to arbiter Lecter as a gatekeeper of queer sexuality is limited to his interaction with Jame Gumb. I mentioned earlier his murder of Gumb’s boyfriend, named after a leftist French intellectual. In the opening to the movie Red Dragon Lecter is literally shown in judgement of Raspail’s performativity, and Jesus Christ as Lecter scowls at Raspail’s unsatisfactory ability to blow the flute I’m sure Freud was doing cartwheels in his grave. And then, in the following scene, a bunch of progressive intellectuals giggle over Raspail’s missing status and subsequently nonperson him based on the same inadequate perfomativity Lecter judged him worthy of death over.

sissykillers5He’s either decided to kill a man or poop himself.

This sort of gatekeeping, this arbitration of judgement over folks less desirable is clearly the role the unexamined audience wants from Lecter. He returns to this role over and over and over, evolving from a useful monster to a justified protagonist in his own universe, while his gruesome body count silently grows.

Maybe y’all should re-evaluate what you consider so identifiable in Hannibal Lecter.

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Let’s Play (And Overthink) Clash At Demonhead: Part 1. #retrogaming #NES #

30 Jun

Honestly, I have no idea why this game was so obscure when it came out and didn’t become a classic with multiple sequels for this reason alone: THIS GAME GIVES YOU A JETPACK AND A SUIT THAT LETS YOU SWIM IN LAVA. Seriously, think about that for a second.

clashatdemonhead1Don’t worry, we’ll wait.

This game is amazing and full of wacky goodness, really. Anyway, this post is gonna focus more on the “Overthink” than “Let’s Play” part because there’s already plenty of play-by-play analysis of the game these days. I just want to compile all the oddball facts about the game into one place, because there is a surprisingly large amount of weird trivia for a one-off game.

clashatdemonhead8For instance, I went decades without knowing the names of all the bosses.

Also, I’m not gonna mention Scott Pilgrim. Because, meh.

Anyway, Clash At Demonhead was a platform game released on the NES in 1989 from Vic Tokai, the communications branch of a natural gas company. Seriously. A natural gas company. Apparently EVERYONE in Japan tried their hand at making video games in the late 80s.

The game has you playing Billy “Big Bang” Blitz, a secret agent who, for some reason, looks like he’s auditioning for My Chemical Romance. In the actual game itself, at least the English version, he’s just called Bang. However, his full name is leaked in this Nintendo Power spread about the game, which also mentions a few other things left out of the translation from the original, called Dengeki Big Bang.

clashatdemonhead2Which, incidentally, had a way cooler title screen.

Sargent Bang is pulled back to duty from vacation to rescue Professor Plum, who’s been captured by an evil gang called The Lawbreakers to build a Doomsday Bomb that threatens to blow the world up. What the gang planned to do after blowing literally everything up is not elaborated upon.

clashatdemonhead3These guys can’t collaborate on a dress code, much less a plan.

The bomb is set atop a mountain that dominates the map, which is possibly part of the Bear Lodge Mountain Range. You chase the members of the gang and other assorted baddies through this map, which might be set in North-Eastern Wyoming, based Devil’s Tower being a prominent in-game landmark.This would make the dense forests in the surrounding area part of the Black Hills Forest, which are dominated by pine and hardwood trees, much like the game depicts, and the winding river would be the Belle Fourche.

clashatdemonhead4I’ve, ahem, put a lot of thought into this.

As you go along, the plot spins completely out of control with a strange series of subplots involving demons and aliens, mind control, clones. At one point you even talk to a dead guy. You recover a magic sword and board a spaceship, fighting samurai, goblins, robots, punk rockers, bigfoots, and talking skeletons and mushrooms. And that’s before you even defuse the Doomsday Bomb. This game has everything.

clashatdemonhead6even, um, this

One of the really amazing things about this game, however, is the attention to detail and revolutionary programming/gameplay elements for a game with no licensed property involved. Apparently, it incorporates whatever Variable Width Fonts are, which is apparently a super rare thing. There’s also a huge range of dialog images depending on whether you are wearing any special suits. Not only that, but the outfit you wear changes the way some of the lower level enemies act around you.

clashatdemonhead7and they apparently get increasingly sarcastic

But seriously, the game is a whimsical treat with a ton of easter eggs and definitely worth tracking down. I plan on doing a sequel of this piece sometime where I follow a playthrough I created as a teenager, where you stumble across all the cut scenes in the correct (or at least most sensible) order and you don’t repeat paths (well, you don’t repeat paths more than a couple times, there’s some situations you can’t avoid it). There will also be comparisons between this and the import version.

6 Oddly Specific Types Of Inappropriately Sexualized Vintage Computer Ads #retrogaming

27 Jun

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Sex is the McGuffin of advertising. It’s delivered without justification, hell in some cases it’s expected to be its own justification. It’s there to catch the eye, engage the reptile brain, fill any plot holes, and logic be damned. It’s commonly accepted as just another trick of the trade.

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The computer and video game industry, primarily targeting young men, is no stranger to sexualization. In it’s early days, however, they apparently had no idea how to advertise their products and instead just smeared a greasy, sticky, sexy film on top of everything.

sexycomputer1I’ve barely started this article and I need a shower.

We’ve reviewed dozens of these images from the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s (for, um, research of course). It occurs to us that many of these can be broken down into highly specific (and completely batshit) categories.

1) Computer As Marital Aid

sexycomputer3Sharing a keyboard wasn’t a thing in 1983, and it isn’t now.

Here in the 21st century the idea of bringing a computer into bed isn’t quite as absurd as it was in the days of 8-bit computing. And yet several of these images involve folks with clunky console computers and CRT monitors in all sorts of ridiculously intimate situations. This was decades before RedTube; the folks in these pics are playing (dubiously) sexy text adventure games. Because nothing gets you in the mood like squinting at mononochrome not-graphics and typing in commands to keep the action going.

sexycomputer4Am I the only one that noticed the monitor text is faked?

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Well that just looks… unsafe.

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And this, this just looks… sad.

2) Sexy Ladies Are Waiting… At The Arcade!

sexycomputer8WHAT. DOES. THAT. EVEN. MEAN.

There’s a lot of these images from the 80s. Women in implausible Leg Avenue outfits in the general ambivalent proximity of an arcade machine. Not actually playing the games, mind you, but just sort of draped over them awkwardly to the accompaniment of increasingly incomprehensible “sexy” captions.

sexycomputer9“Oh hey, not like I’m playing a reflex-dependant arcade machine”

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“Yeah boys, just picture this joystick, that I have a suffocating death grip on, as your… ugh never mind can I sit down? This is obviously an incredibly uncomfortable way to stand.”

sexycomputer11“Yes, this is a plausible scenario.”

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“Why yes this anti-aircraft gun would likely give multiple 2nd degree burns to my unprotected legs. Are… you into that?

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WHAT. DOES. THAT. EVEN. MEAN.

3) Sexy Ladies Are Waiting… On Everquest?

Honestly, I haven’t found many examples of this one. However, the idea of marketing old online service subscriptions like Prodigy, and especially early MMORPGs like Everquest, like one would a phone sex line is too bizarre not to mention.

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4) Computer Users Sexily Doing Things You Should Never Do With Computers:

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Poses of women and computers, but also doing the opposite of demonstrating the computer and almost definitely endangering it. Because nothing speaks to the effectiveness of highly expensive, delicate electronic equipment like…

sexycomputer7…posing nervously with it next to a massive body of water…

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…standing on it, with a gogo boot, in the woods for some reason…

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…and whatever the hell is going on here.

5) Computer Literacy Makes You A Sex God.

This is, like the ultimate nerd revenge fantasy. All the years spent pecking away at machine language and studying error codes and… I dunno whatever. This knowledge makes them damn near godlike or something. All of that pays off when they discover the legions of sexy ladies craving that tech prowess.

This is extra depressing when you consider that computer programming was largely a realm of women throughout the early 20th century, and was turned into an interest for antisocial male nerds through calculated effort in the late-1960s. The fantasy of these ads is rooted in women craving the knowledge that had been theirs for decades before it was denied them and they were forced out of their own dominant field.

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Honestly, I look at these ads and root for one or all of those ladies to stab one of those smug bastards in the face Game Of Thrones-style.

6) Computers Themselves Are Sexy, Maybe Even Sexier Than Sex Itself.

And this… just turns the whole thing on it’s head. The ladies are still there, are still sexualized, but they’re a distraction. Because the machines and games themselves are the real object of desire.

sexycomputer20Like, seriously, he’s fucking that Game Gear isn’t he?

sexycomputer21This seems like the opposite of multitasking; doing both things badly.

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“So distracting you’ll forget you’re a serial killer.”
Seriously someone just needs to call 911 here.

These are ads that someone had to pitch and that magazines eventually ran. Dozens of people looked at these images along the way of their design and were like “Yes, this seems like a sensible way to represent our product”. Like even the one where it’s like “screw it, just fuck your Game Gear what do I care you hopeless chronic masturbator… that I hope will buy our product”.

I don’t even try to understand anymore.

LET’S PLAY (And Overthink): Bubblegum Crash For The PC-Engine.

4 Mar

A couple weekends ago I finally beat Bubblegum Crash for the PC Engine, and that was kind of a big deal for a few reasons. The game was part of my massive vintage game collection (that I sold to pay for my move to Portland), and not only had I never beaten it but I never got particularly far on it either. You know, because it’s a “digital comic” text adventure entirely in Japanese.

bubblegumcrash2It was also the only reason I hung onto my “Purple Barney” converter so long

Thankfully, about a year ago a fan-translation ROM of the game surfaced. Playing through the whole thing, the translation is fantastic, with very little ambiguity or awkwardness. Which is good because the game includes plenty of that for itself. The game opens up with mysterious armored battle suits breaking into a bank. You start out playing Nene Romanova, one of the vigilante Knight Sabers, who finds out about the robbery because her day job is boring. It’s worth noting that the entire Bubblegum Crisis franchise does a pretty tenuous sexual politics balancing act between showcasing four relatively self-actualized woman protagonists (a business owner, a rock star, an actress and… a traffic cop) that are kickass robo-suited vigilantes behind the scenes but also making them ditzy, irrational, and surprisingly helpless on occasion.

bubblegumcrash3Then again, for 1980s Japan, this *was* progressive.

So anyway you go inside to talk to Leon McNichol and Daley Wong and let’s just stop there for a second because Daley Wong. Seriously, even for anime, having such an unapologetically gay male character in the mid-1980s that wasn’t, like, dying of AIDS or otherwise weighted with hubris was really badass. Even though it doesn’t come up at all in the game, they even made sure that looking at him, you just know.

bubblegumcrash4You’d be sassy too if you had a 10-inch… neck.

Like other digital comic adventures, you have a series of commands you can use on the right side of the screen. One of the things that is endlessly frustrating if you don’t have a walk-through handy is that there are separate commands for “Talk” and “Listen” (bottom left and middle left) and many interactions require you to alternate between them in a non-intuitive (read: seemingly random) manner to keep the conversation going. Anyway, you find yourself investigating the bank and immediately the fourth wall between yourself as player and Nene finds itself broken. After a brief glance in their direction, Nene resolves that the nearby garbage bins aren’t worth searching and are gross anyway. Well, turns out you can *force* her to investigate them anyway. Doing so doesn’t even find anything, except a vague sense of horror at a player/character contract the game allowed you to violate.

bubblegumcrash5The fuck kind of game is this?

 Most of the game involves investigating broken pieces left behind by the unfamiliar robo-armor of the criminals that performed the robbery. This requires going back and forth to various computer vendors, sleazy hackers, and military factory workers for bits of information. Eventually Nene just says “fuck it” and HACKS INTO ONE OF NATO’S DATABASES… WITH A POLICE HQ OFFICE COMPUTER… THAT SHE LOGGED INTO WITH HER POLICE BADGE. You know, as one does.

bubblegumcrash6Sure, ok, fuck it why not.

Shit, why not just tell rando homeless street hackers about your plans, as a police officer, to bypass NATO security? Nah that would be so impossibly reckless oh wait she does that too…

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While Nene is busy breaking international treaties, the bank robbers strike again, acquiring a total of 5 billion yen. Further investigation reveals they are also raiding the safety deposit boxes for the pieces of a top-secret super AI. At this point, Nene finally decides hey maybe this should actually be an actual Knight Sabers game…

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Oh wait nevermind, this just means you hang out in Linna Yamazaki‘s apartment while she takes a shower. At this point of the game, in another strange fourth-wall breaking moment, you can peek in on Linna in the shower if you are persistent enough. Not you as in Nene, you as in the player. The game talks directly to you the whole time.

bubblegumcrash10Yeah, like Gamergate would be concerned about a woman’s privacy.

After some story exposition, you find yourself playing as Linna. During this interlude you head to the stock market to hear buzz about Zone Co, the company that manufactures the stolen Super AI. Then you get sexually harassed in an alley be the same guy that harassed Nene earlier in the game. And then you call Nene. And that’s pretty much it.

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Nene then uses the police computer she already committed international espionage on to stalk and harass an old man into telling her more about the Super AI. Because apparently Internal Affairs isn’t a thing for the AD Police. And then this happens-

bubblegumcrash12Oh, Leon. You suck so hard.

Priss (who suddenly becomes a thing in this game) then pursues the escaping battle armor with her motorcycle, which moves about as smoothly as trying to play shuffleboard with a Christmas ham. I cannot emphasize how awful the controls are or how infuriating this motorcycle stage that just appears out of nowhere is.

bubblegumcrash13At least it looks cool when you die. Which you will. A lot.

Once you manage that (takes surviving through three to seven stretches of road) this ridiculous bullshit happens. It’s a 3/4 view grid board game where you chase the mobile suit and manipulate the board to trap it. Seriously tho, apparently somebody thought this was a good idea, and worth adding/keeping in the game. They took the time to program a top-view movement engine, and created these cartoony RPG sprites in a style that appears nowhere else in the game. For this. I’m half-convinced parts of this game were just bullshit unused shovelware hobby projects they had lying around that they inserted the BGC characters into and shoehorned in. Look at this and try to convince me otherwise.

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Then, after investing so much energy into keeping her motorcycle intact through the chase, Priss just shoves it right up Armor Suit Guy’s ass.

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Then we go back to following Nene around, showing some of the pieces of what was left of the armor suit to various folks until she gets a note from Sylia Stingray, which she immediately misinterprets.

bubblegumcrash16Oh God shut up, Nene.

At this point, finally, after what is likely around two to three hours of gameplay, the four Knight Sabers get together in the same place and this thing turns into something that actually kind of looks like an actual Bubblegum Crisis/Crash game. Sort of.

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The remaining part of the game is in Stephen Lab, and if you die you have to play the whole thing over. The gameplay here is like a standard first-person RPG maze game. It’s a three floor maze where you have to trip three levers to get the main service elevator (which takes you to the final battle) to work. While wandering through the maze you will be attacked by the traditional boomers from the series as well as more men in armored battle suits. With each battle all chars HP starts at full, so you don’t have to worry about that, but other than that the fight themselves is like a bare-bones RPG. You’ll wanna switch out characters to keep them from dying. Also, Nene has a “Scanner” tool that will increase your defense while weakening the enemy’s attack, so you wanna use that each battle. Other than that, all four characters have the ability to use physical combat or shoot, which you will also alternate for effectiveness.

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After sludging through the generic “dungeon” of Stephen Lab you fight the leader of the battle armored criminal gang, and it is actually kind of boring as shit. To be honest, after wanting to beat this game for like 20 years, I feel a bit ripped off by how corny the ending is.

bubblegumcrash19seriously that’s it

Like, I think there were elements here that could have made a much more solid game. Literally everything taken care of in the digital comic scenes could have been accomplished as a standard RPG if they’d just developed that aspect. As they were, the RPG elements did offer a challenge and a change of pace, but one that wears off quickly because the elements were so rudimentary and lead to dreary repetition.

That said, it’s an interesting eclectic conceptual grab bag. The graphics are mostly rendered gorgeously and it stays true to the source material. However, the gameplay is clumsy and non-intuitive. Depending on how much of a fan you are of the source material, the latter may be forgivable to an extent. I just happen to be one of said fans, so your mileage may vary.

So Like What The Fuck Is Ookla The Mok’s Face Actually?

2 Mar

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This burning question has been haunting me since I was a child. The character above is called Ookla the Mok, and he’s one of the main characters of the old Ruby Spears sci-fi fantasy cartoon Thundarr The Barbarian . Although most of the characters on the show were designed by Jack Kirby, Thundarr, Ariel and Ookla here were designed by Alex Toth. Apparently his name comes from a nickname for UCLA. He’s like some sort of lion-gorilla-man-thing in a speedo (three years before the first Thundercats episode), speaks in grunts like Chewbacca (though voiced by one of Fred Flinstone’s voice actors) and was an all around badass but can we seriously talk about his face?

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I mean, what exactly is going on there? It’s kind of feline but kind of simian with this whole blue steel thing going on (the metal, not Zoolander). It’s completely mismatched to the rest of his body. I was pretty sure it was some sort of robot face when I was a kid but apparently all the Moks have this face-

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Even the awkwardly sexy lady-Moks have it-

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Considering the Moks are a sort of indigenous tribal, um, people, I’ve wondered if it was some sort of face-paint or a mask.

ooklathemok5Kinda like the hyena people from Buffy The Vampire Slayer I’ve been compared to.

I mean, I’m probably expecting a bit too much logical consistency from a cartoon about magical post-apocalyptic barbarian tribes, but this has stuck in my craw my whole life. I feel surprised and betrayed not only that the internet hasn’t clarified this for me by now, but also that I appear to be alone in having such concerns.