Saturday, December 14, 2013

Notes of the Importance of Queer Characters

Trigger warning for mentions of murder, suicide, and suicidal ideation.
In the third episode of Dracula, two gay characters died violently and graphically. When I heard about this, I didn’t find it upsetting so much as eye-rollingly predictable. Modern television has a long tradition of killing off its gay caracters with extreme prejudice. But the actual image of Daniel, a young gay man, shooting himself after watching his lover die violently was very upsetting. (This episode also included the violent murder of two characters of color. And while this particular post is specifically about the queer death trope, I don't want to ignore the fact that killing characters of color is just as tired and harmful a trope as killing queer characters.)
            I know that Dracula is a work of fiction, and a rather surreal and ostentatious one at that. And I know that things are a lot better now than they were a hundred years ago or even ten years ago.
            But right now, today, there are still so many of us who feel lost. Too often, we are still scared and ashamed and isolated. Too often, we still have a good reason to be scared. There are still people in the world who devote time and energy and resources to making us believe that we deserve to feel lost and scared and ashamed.
            I am not saying that the writers of “Dracula” are the same as the people who are trying to deny us our fundamental rights; in fact, I’m quite sure that the writers of “Dracula” had good intentions when they introduced Lord Laurent and Daniel (and queer Lucy as well). When writers kill off their queer characters, I know that they are not doing it to be mean. They are not out to get their queer audience members. They are not trying to hurt us.
            But as a queer person, watching a gay character die can be hurtful in ways that it’s hard for a lot of people to understand. When Tara MacClay was gunned down on Buffy, Joss Whedon assured viewers that it hurt him just as much as it hurt them. And I’m sure that Joss Whedon had empathy and affection for Tara as a character, and that it made him sad to kill her off. But there were people in the world who decided not to kill themselves because of Willow and Tara’s relationship. And I’m not sure that Mr. Whedon completely understands how hurtful it was to those people (and a lot of other people) when that bullet tore through Tara’s heart.
            “Oh, so you’re saying that nothing bad can ever happen to gay characters?”
            No, I am not. Death is a part of life, and stories about death are essential to our understanding of our world and ourselves. I understand why someone decided to tell the stories of Omar Little and Jack Twist, and I’m glad they did. Those stories needed to be told.
            But here’s the thing: off the top of my head, I can count the number of books and movies I’ve seen where things ended well for the gay characters on one hand.
            “But isn’t it ok to kill off gay characters if you kill off straight characters too?”
Honestly, I don’t want to make any grand pronouncements about when it is or isn’t ok to kill off your characters, gay or otherwise.
But I will say this: when a straight character dies, it is often tragic. Fans of the character are devastated. But it does not feel like a referendum on who or how or why that character loved. When a gay character dies, it often does feel like a referendum on the way that character lived and loved.
And here’s why: remember the Disney movies you watched as a kid? Many of those movies feature a heterosexual couple at the center of the story. And when their love triumphs over adversity, and when they kiss each other at the end, it is good. It is right. In our culture, we are introduced to stories that celebrate heterosexual love and affection at a very young age.
So imagine, if you can, going through childhood seeing zero portrayals of people like you kissing each other and living happily ever after. Imagine getting a little older and seeing a few people like you on TV only to discover that they die horribly a surprisingly large amount of the time.
Stories matter. They matter so much. The stories my mother read to me as a child played a huge role in my developing sense of empathy and kindness. They affected the way I see myself, the way I treat others, and the way I live in this world.
For a gay kid or adolescent, a story can literally be life-sustaining. Unfortunately, stories also have the power to be harmful, especially to young, queer people.
Sometimes it is so goddamn hard to be brave. And it’s easy to believe you’re going to end up alone and miserable when most queer love stories end in tragedy. It is easy to notice the number of characters with non-normative gender identities who are portrayed as morally suspect. It’s easy to believe that there’s something icky and shameful about physical intimacy between same-sex couples when so many TV networks are still so goddamn squeamish about same-sex kissing. It’s easy to believe that you are doomed when so many gay characters are the villains who have to be killed off for the greater good, or the redshirt who has to heroically sacrifice herself so the straight heroes can live happily and heteronormatively ever after.
We live in a day and age in which people are making “It Gets Better” videos and photographing themselves with duct tape over their mouths and almost every TV show has a token gay character (who may or may not ever actually kiss anyone and/or die horribly in the third episode).
But you remember Daniel crying alone in his room? That is still happening today. There are still far, far too many of us who are lost, and silent, and scared. There are those of us who want to die, because eternal, dreamless sleep seems preferable to the demons that haunt our steps and hide in our shadows, whispering that we are doomed.
So for the sake of those of us who are still scared, still silent, still lonely, I’m asking all the storytellers in the world to do something: give us hope. Don’t just tell us that It Gets Better and call it a day: give us a reason to believe that it gets better. Don’t just tell us stories where we die. Tell us stories where we live and love and laugh. Tell us stories in which our love and physical intimacy is not punished or frowned upon. Tell us stories in which our love triumphs over adversity. Give us something to believe in. Give us courage. Give us strength.
Give us hope.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Michele Carragher: Game of Thrones' Embroidery

     If you follow our tumblr, you'll have already seen a post on Michele Carragher. Carragher is the artist behind all the FREAKING AMAZING embroidery in Game of Thrones' costumes. The attention to detail, both in artistry and in commitment to story detail is truly extraordinary. The tumblr post includes pictures and information from her website (which everyone should visit, seriously). Here we'll be doing a comparison between the detail pictures by the artist and the costumes in play during the episodes.

Sansa and Catelyn Stark, Episode 1:

     Getting to see the embroidery up close really adds to the experience of these costumes. In our original post we said that Sansa and Cat were wearing two different versions of the same dress. We can now see the details that set these dresses apart: Sansa's dress has a lot more decoration, including embroidered bows, flowers, and (you guessed it) dragonflies.

     You'll see a lot of this detail to the lives and experiences of the characters in Carragher's work; she's an artist who knows that costumes should tell stories.

     And check out the Tully trout jumping all over Cat's scarf... roll... thing. Whatever. It's awesome.

Cersei, Episode 3:

     This is the first, but by no means last time we'll see this bird-embroidered dress, which is good considering the INSANE AMOUNT OF DETAIL the artist put into it. The bird pattern on the shoulder in repeated throughout the rest of the garment, but it is the only part visible during this scene. (Appropriate, considering the main topic of conversation here concerns Sansa.)

     This dress in all its glory will repeat in future seasons. Larger views of the dress as a whole are available in the artist's Game of Thrones Gallery.

Sansa, Episodes 4, 5 and 8:

     Amazingly, this dress has even more detailing than previously thought, due to Sansa's habit of draping a shawl around her arms.

     It really is a pity (for a lot of reasons) that Sansa and Loras couldn't get married. Sansa's got the embroidered roses down, and we know that Loras appreciates her style.

Arya, Episode 4:

     Our original assessment of this outfit included the observation:

     "The scarf/collar beneath her tunic looks like northern roughspun but is embroidered in  a way that calls to Sansa's richer and delicate roses."

     Sarah is waaaay too smug about this.

     Going forward, we'll be featuring spotlights on the embroidery as we analyze more and more costumes. The seasons to come feature a lot of Michele Carragher's truly extraordinary work. We recommend checking out her website, for the artist's own explanations of her work, which include features on Sansa's wedding dress and the new embroidery technique she invented for Daenerys known as 'Dragonscale.'

     We cannot wait to get back to Dany. 

     Also, it's Fan Art Week over on our tumblr! Every day we'll be featuring the Game of Thrones work of our favorite artists, so come join us for A Dance with Drawings!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Special Feature: Catching Fire and Capitol Couture

     So we here at A Song of Ice and Attire, Inc. do not spend all of our time having in-depth discussions about Game of Thrones. Sometimes we have in-depth discussions about Harry Potter. Or Tamora Pierce's books. Or The Hunger Games.

     Fashion and clothing were discussed at length in The Hunger Games. Clothing and food were two of the factors that distinguished the wealthy citizens of the capitol from pretty much everyone else. (Even the people in the more affluent Districts did not, as far as we know, dye their skin green or pink.) And while the books were trying to make a statement against the kind of excessive consumerism that actively harms other people, we do not think that these books were actually anti-fashion. Katniss herself values Cinna's ability to make beautiful things, and admires the beauty of the outfits he designs.

     So can we talk about the fashion in the Catching Fire promo photos for a moment? (This will not be as in-depth as out GOT commentary, but we just really wanted to talk about this at least a little. This is, however, a hint of awesome features to come.)

     SPOILERS for all three Hunger Games books, consider yourself warned.

Entire outfit by Alexander McQueen, but sadly without the metal visor.

     Starting with Effie Trinket, because how could we not? In the books, Effie's style is overstated, garish to the point of being grotesque. And we kind of love that the costume departments answer to Futuristic Garishness is basically just "Looks straight off the Alexander McQueen runway, altered to fit Elizabeth Banks." (This really is straight-off-the-runway McQueen. And they toned it down.)  Even though Katniss does not particularly love Effie (with good reason) we kind of can't help but love the Barbie Doll matchiness of her hair, makeup, dress, gloves, and shoes.
     Also, we think Effie is actually a lot smarter than Katniss gives her credit for. Sarah was ridiculously relieved when she found out Effie survived Mockingjay.

No word as yet on the suit's designer.
     Ah Haymitch, you alcoholic badass. He basically has the look of the weird uncle whose definition of "formal" is throwing on a blazer over his t-shirt. Which, considering his disdain for anything and everything in the Capitol, makes perfect sense.

Caesar's boots are by John Fluevog (which makes so much sense). No word yet on the suit.

     This is going to sound odd, but compared to the way Caesar Flickerman was described in the books this outfit is almost... restrained. I mean, granted, he looks like someone who should be headlining in Vegas but we're kind of surprised that they went with a black suit, shirt and tie. We were imagining something a bit more Mabel Pines.

Cinna's books are by Rick Owens. No word yet on that badass leather suit.
     And then there's Cinna, who is also comparatively restrained in his fashion choices. Notably, though, this is still the outfit of someone with money; his clothes are well-made, with quality materials, and look relatively new. We totally dig the gold eyeliner and four earrings.

Glasses by Moscot Originals (of course the only designer info we get for Beetee is glasses). No word on the suit; the shoes are most likely Rick Owens.

     On to the tributes. Hi, Beetee! We are big fans of Beetee, particularly because he survived his Hunger Games pretty much on brains alone. And it would appear that he's a little bit of a hipster (or at least, that's the persona that his stylists have chosen to give him). He is also James Bond's CIA friend Felix, which means we love him extra.

This gown is by Dutch designer Jan Taminiau, from Fall/Winter 2011 Collection Nature Extends. Very appropriate for Our Lady of Awesome Lumberjack Fighting.

     Another straight-off-the-runway look for Johanna, this one also made entirely of ruffles. She looks cold and calculating, even in warm colors. (Johanna is Sophie's favorite character.)

No word on the designer; boots most likely Rick Owens.

     Hello Mr. Fanservice! Do not ask us what's going on with Finnick's pants. We don't know. He really could work as one of the Pirates Bodacious.

This gown is by Indonesian designer Tex Saverio, from his November 2010 Bridal Collection showcased at Jakarta Fashion Week.
     Katniss, looking even more dramatically high-fashion than Effie. Yet another dress made entirely of ruffles. (We're pretty sure that's the technical term for this sartorial technique.)
Credit where credit's due: Katniss really does look like a very fashionable bird here.

Peeta's suit is by Korean designer JUUN.J, and his books are by Rick Owens. Now we're imagining Cinna taking Peeta shoe shopping and no one died and everyone was happy forever.

     Peeta looks like he's in an add for expensive vodka. With weird lapels. (What is that in his pocket? Is... is that a golden pocket square? Oh Peeta.)

No word on the designer(s), but Sarah really wants to know where that cape came from.
     President Snow doesn't really partake in Capitol culture or fashion. He is too busy poisoning everyone. This is an outfit for a public appearance; with the cloak and the long coat he looks more like a general than a politician. The cape clearly illustrates that President Snow lives for drama.
No designer info either.

     Gale doesn't get to be fabulous. None for you, Gale...

'Catching Fire' movie: Effie in her Victory Tour dress
This outfit was designed by the film's costumer Trish Summerville out of patent leather. Not sure who designed the shoes, but we are sure we want to go to there.

     ...because Effie stole all the extra fabulous for herself. We approve.

     There's plenty more over at Capitol Couture. If you recognize any of the designers we missed, please drop us a line in the comments or tweet at us!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sansa Stark: Episodes 4, 5 & 6 - with special guest Arya!

     When last we saw Sansa, she was still mourning the loss of Lady and in full-on resentful-teen mode.

     And she hasn't changed much since. Sansa is back in the dress she wore at the Inn at the Crossroads: light blue, bell sleeves, knotting at the neck designed to call to mind a wreath of flowers. The same dress she was wearing when she lost Lady. She's worried about her marriage to Joffrey, particularly that she might not be able to bear him any sons, and that everyone will hate her. Septa Mordane is, as ever, kind and awesome. After this conversation Sansa recommits to endearing herself to Joffrey. She's had enough of cold reality; now it's time for a fairytale tournament!

     This dress was most likely made specially for the tournament, and Sansa's clearly taken extra care with her appearance. This look, from dress to hair is a combination of northern and southern styles. This event is in honor of her father, but she's trying to impress Joffrey and get him back on her team.

     Sansa is slowly but surely becoming evermore the southern lady. This dress is lavender, a color we've never seen her wear before but exactly between her usual light blues and her eventual southern pinks ; the detailing at the neck is designed to look like a wreath of roses. That design element is an adapted version of her usual knotted neckline, but much more elegant and clearly more expensive. This is also the most skin Sansa has ever shown; she's trying to look mature and start acting like a grownup. And her hair is inching closer to full-on Cersei Lannister crazybraids. She's got the cinnamon buns on top of her head, but she's kept her single northern twist and let the rest of her hang loose like her mother. Compare her to Arya here: the prim southern lady and the unkempt northern girl. It is notable how put relatively put-together Arya looks here. No doubt Septa Mordane caught her chasing cats a few hours ago and made her take a bath. The scarf/collar beneath her tunic looks like northern roughspun but is embroidered in a way that calls to Sansa's richer and delicate roses. If she got Arya into all this, Septa Mordane must be a force to be reckoned with.

Arya you are the cutest and even your nice clothes have detachable sleeves because you are a warrior.

     Petyr Baelish, you are a giant creep. Arya seems very suspicious of him and even Sansa is a little weirded out as well she should be. Sansa continues to wear her dragonfly necklace. She is a delicate little thing and her innocence is quite resilient, since it survives this massively disturbing conversation with Littlefinger in addition to all the over-the-top tournament-sanctioned bloodshed.

Petyr Baelish: still creeping.

     On the next day at the Hand's Tourney she's wearing the exact same outfit as before (again, this ensemble was probably produced specially and expensively). Sansa still hasn't forgiven her father and is giving him a cold shoulder, acting as prim and grown-up as she can. Then Gallant Ser Loras brings Sansa a rose, the perfect image of the fairytale knights from Sansa's books, and she's a little girl again, living her dream. There are a lot of similarities between Loras and Sansa, which will become very notable in Season Three. Here they share a theme of roses: she has roses on her dress, he has roses on his armor and saddle blanket. Sansa grabs her father's arm and tells him not to let Ser Gregor hurt Loras, and the look on Ned's face when he realizes she needs her dad again is so precious. While she's doing her level best to be a cool and collected lady, she is still a little girl, hoping (and once more trusting) that her father can make everything okay.

     While Sansa's been working hard to be a proper Southern Lady, this is the first time we see her hair go full-on Cersei. And this is a very significant scene! Because...

     Joffrey the Fairytale Prince is back! 

     Joffrey decides to follow his mama's advice and Does Something Nice for the Stark Girl. To wit: he brings her a Lannister Lion necklace. We have a theory that all the Lannister men give their women these necklaces. Cersei's necklace is symbolic of her relationship with Jaime; Tyrion makes a gift of (a MASSIVE) one to Ros, perhaps as a subtle jab at his family. And now Sansa has one too.

Moth ring!

     Can you honestly blame Sansa for believing that her life with Joff is going to be a fairy tale? The way this scene is shot, that kiss at the end: it is like a goddamn Disney movie. They are even awash in the golden glow of the evening sun. (Ironically, Sansa's relationship with Joff does sort of turn out like a classically gruesome, non-Disneyfied fairy tale. The Brothers Grimm would approve.)

     And just when Sansa's decided to trust Ned again, he announces that they're heading home to Winterfell. Sansa is such a little girl here, and it is sad but still cute: "I love Joffrey! I'm meant to be his queen and have his babies!" Arya replies "Seven Hells," and when Sansa says she wants Joffrey instead of someone "brave and gentle and strong" Arya gives the most excellent smirk we've ever seen. 

     Then their conversation about Joffrey and how he's nothing like his father leads to Ned having an epiphany about how Punnett Squares work, so a fed up Arya drags Sansa out to pack. Pack like the wind, girls!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Arya Stark: Season 1, Episodes 4-10

     When we next see Arya, she is deeply committed to her dancing master's training. This includes balancing exercises that (because it's Arya) are adorable.

     Arya has clearly never been happier, rattling off bits of Syrio's sword wisdom and her plans to chase cats, taking every hurt as a lesson. She asks her father if she could be a great leader someday, to which he replies that she will marry well and have sons to do that for her.

     Arya is understandably unhappy with this answer, and replies, "No. That's not me," before going right back to dancing practice. Ned's doesn't quite know what to do with Arya. He wants her to be happy (hence providing her with a teacher), but can't see a future where her training could be put to use.

     Arya wears a shirt and pants to practice "dancing." They are the sort of rough clothes a boy would wear to practice swordplay. Other than the shirt (which is one she wears under her northern dresses), Arya's practice clothes don't fit her particularly well, and that belt was clearly made for someone much larger than she is. Arya probably wouldn't have any trousers of her own; our best guess is that these belonged to Ned or one of his men and he had them altered to (sort of) fit her. Note the scarf she wears wrapped around her neck: her mother wears one just like it.


     Arya's new clothes make her stand out, and apart from the ladies of the court to the viewer. But in the palace itself, her dirty, ill-fitting clothes might make her conspicuous for her lack of finery, but simultaneously almost invisible because of it. Also: cats. Sansa has a delicate winged creatures motif, Arya has a cat motif. And all swordsmen should study cats.

     Arya is starting to have the ability to blend in anywhere she goes. Even Varys the Spider doesn't notice her hiding in the shadows of the dragon's bones.

     Arya also sports a practical ponytail now, rather than braids, reinforcing her current look of common born obscurity.

     And she has no trouble blending in with the smallfolk and fishermen in the city, either. (Foreshadowing!) She really does fit in anywhere...

     Except the palace. The Knights Who Say Ni over there mistake her for a street urchin and try to send her on her way. But for the first time Arya unleashes her inner Sansa and tells them that she is the daughter of the Hand of the King, and if they touch her, her lord father will have their heads on spikes.

     Daddy Stark chastises her for running off and sends her back to her room. As per usual, they are both cast in shadow. Even though Arya mostly wears androgynous clothes now, she doesn't really resemble a high-born child, male or female. She looks like a common-born boy, wearing his father's hand-me-downs.

     Arya's having one last dancing lesson before leaving King's landing. Again; giant trousers and a belt that was clearly intended for an adult man. These clothes tie her to Syrio in this scene: they have almost the exact same silhouette.

     Syrio lunges left when he tells Arya to go right, and when she is indignant about his lying gives Arya a little speech, and final lesson.

"My tongue lied; my eyes shouted the truth. You were not seeing. Watching is not seeing, Dead Girl. The seeing, the true seeing: that is the heart of swordplay."

     And then Janos Slynt and some Lannister guards come to take Arya... somewhere. Or kill her, possibly. BAD THINGS ARE GOING TO HAPPEN.  Syrio (in a nice continuation of his demonstration) sees through their lies, and Arya picks up her wooden sword, seeing too.

     No amount of Braavosi bravado will stop them from attacking, but Syrio isn't First Sword of Braavos for nothing.

     As Syrio holds them off, Arya begs him to come with her. Arya doesn't want to run but Syrio reminds her what she must say to the God of Death. 

Not today, motherfucker. Not today.

So Arya runs.
And runs.
And stabs a kid.

     And runs some more, disappearing for the first (but by no means last) time.

     It's safe to assume that Arya has been wandering the streets for days or possibly weeks without money or a place to lay her head. She is wearing the clothes she had on when she escaped the palace, her hair still in its ragged ponytail, her blouse untucked and hanging down as it would when beneath a dress.  Ever resourceful, Arya wrings a pigeon's neck and attempts to trade it for a lemon tart. Who says she and Sansa have nothing in common?

     But it would seem that Arya has places to be.

     Arya watches as her father is dragged to the Sept of Baelor, in front of a jeering crowd, to be publicly humiliated and executed. But Arya still has Needle and damn it if she isn't going to try to do something.

     She runs through the crowd, and probably would have tried to take down the Lannisters single-handed if Yoren hadn't seen and stopped her.

     But the heartbreaking truth is that neither Arya nor anyone else can do anything to save Ned. So she does the only thing she can: she buries her face in Yoren's chest and closes her eyes.

     Some trauma and a haircut later, it's goodbye Arya Stark and hello Arry the Orphan Boy, first of Arya's many alter egos.

     Yoren gives her a rundown of what will happen to her if she doesn't remember to keep a low profile. They're heading to the Wall where she could be safe with big bro Jon Snow, but it's a long way to go, and in bad company.

     Arry is introduced to the life of common orphan through the traditional bullying of the weak. Hotpie's mistake is to think that Arry's the weak one in this situation. 

"You want [my sword], I'll give it to you. I've already killed one fat boy. I bet you never killed anyone. I bet you're a liar. But I'm not. I'm good at killing fat boys. I like killing fat boys."
     Hotpie backs away quickly (like anyone would, goddamn, Arya) and straight into Gendry, who gives his own version of Arya's threats, replacing 'sword' for hammer and anvil. Gendry's is good at what he does, and immediately recognizes Needle as castle-forged steel.

Best roadtrip buddies, hooray!

     And so Arya leaves King's Landing in a far different manner than she entered it. From a lord's daughter to an orphan boy, from the finest silks she refused to wear to ragged hand-me-downs, from reluctant lady to true fighter, from her father's protection to the dangers of the road. She's Arya Stark, though, whatever guise she's in. The list of dangers on the road should have her at the top.