This blog is part of the Scáth na Feannóige/Shadow of the Hooded Crow project exploring fénnidecht as a practice to follow the War Goddessses, Badb, Macha and the Morrígan whose name is Anann. This is a less formal place for me to discuss various issues of interest to someone on a modern version of the Outlaw warrior path such as physical training, history, Old Irish literature, pop culture inspirations, werewolves, ecstatic trance (okay, I find that one tough to write about but I may try), gender issues the wilderness....


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Meeting Idols and Role Models

As noted in my last entry, my mate and I went to Chicago ComicCon in August, with the primary mission to meet Linda Hamilton and other women who have been role models of strength. Along with "Sarah Connor" these included her roommate "Ginger" Bess Motta, Kristanna "Painkiller Jane" Loken, Lindsay "Bionic Woman" Wagner and Claudia "Commander Susan Ivanova" Christian.

It's really quite difficult, and likely not just because of the Mercury Retrograde (which is over now, but we're still in the shadow for the next couple of weeks), to really discuss this. Photos and ZOMG! is about all I've managed so far. There's always going to be a lot of emotion when you meet someone you've admired from afar for so long. But with some it was more difficult than with others. Lindsay Wagner was an emotional meeting for me in a different way, so that first.

As a teenager, I idolized Wagner's Bionic Woman role "Jaime Sommers" much as I now do Hamilton's "Sarah Connor." I was, after all, very much the pacifistic, hippie Witch at the time, a strong female role model that eschewed violence was perfect. Certainly, the message that if one is strong enough, violence isn't always necessary even in responding to violence, still holds for me. But I'm sure Wagner would be horrified by some of the choices I have made in my life, things I promote to defend ourselves. Certainly my 16 year-old self would have been!

During the panel with Wagner and Richard Anderson, who played her boss Oscar Goldman, the theme came up a lot. He brought up her sensitivity to violence, the ways that caused the show to differ from the Six Million Dollar Man. Prompted by a fan, Wagner described her character's way of dealing with things as distinctly "feminine." Any of my readers are likely to know that engendering such things pushes my buttons, but I certainly wasn't going to get into it there. But it gave me much to think about, especially about my feelings of disconnection in meeting her and the feelings of sadness about it. Which was made all the more sad because my late mother was a fan, we had watched her show together, and it was perhaps the only action show we both enjoyed.

And, yet, as noted in a previous post, the character helped shape my interest in women's strength and in the idea that being strong does give us a better chance to be safe in the world. Yes, maybe it even means not having to always resort to physical violence, because our options are greater, we're less likely to feel we can't avoid dangerous encounters if we are aware of our own power to get out of them if we do.

Strength, in all ways, is clearly demonstrated by the very first of the actresses I met, Kristanna Loken. While you all may know Terminator 3 was not may favorite movie, I did become a fan of Loken when she was in the television version of PainKiller Jane, a very different version from the comics, but with a lot of power and ass kicking. Loken's passions are evident in her work with several charities, especially involved in helping children. Among recent movies she has made Darfur and is currently working on Love Orchard that confronts the issues of migrant workers whose families are often torn apart by current laws. Fans can become involved in this movie through the Kickstart link on Kristanna's website as well as find information on her charities and other activities. Kristanna obviously doesn't just play strong women in movies and TV, she lives it.

While we then waiting in line to meet Linda Hamilton, she went on break. Others in the line were gracious enough to let me slip out to meet Bess Motta, who was Ginger, Sarah's roommate, in The Terminator. She was also one of the 20-Minute Fitness instructors in the 1980s, and is still a fitness instructor today. That she's keeping up that part of her career is quite obvious, as she's probably as fit or fitter than she ever was. She was a delightful person and seemed to be having a great time at the con herself.

The favor we got was paid, um, backwards as the women who were behind us and saved our spot had theirs saved by those behind them while they went to see Michael Biehn. I'd been warned that fellow fans in these lines might be nice during what may be a long wait.

Okay, so yeah.....here we go! Trying to describe meeting Linda. OMG! I can't. It was amazing. As I was picking out photos and paying for the autographs with her assistant, he has commented on the shirt (the shirts got many comments, actually...including one guy who did ask if I had more than one on Sunday, which I did, btw). Linda quoted the "siempre como culebra" and explained to him that it was from T2 and what it meant. After that, it's sort of a blur.

As the shirt was already brought up, I babbled a bit about The Sarah Connor Charm School, of course. And the prerequisite, "what an inspiration you were" stuff. When I noted the purpose of the SCCS, which is also the purpose of this blog, to pass on inspiration to other women to find their own strength, Linda said, "In the end the only thing we have is our own strength." Gods, mine pretty much was gone, but I managed somehow to stay upright, get the autographs and some photos with her. Oh, there was also a bit of "looking so forward to seeing you on Chuck" and her saying she was excited about doing the show too.

I also told her that I'd be back because I had a gift for her. This being my first con, and with some of the things written up, I wasn't sure if this was okay, but she was open to it. The next day I did see her, Bess and Kristanna along with Michael Biehn very briefly as we went through for our professional photos which I still need to scan. We also went to the Terminator panel, with Linda and Michael, which was delightful. They were very open about not liking the later two movies all that much, he especially did not mince words. A number of fans seemed thrilled to know that the love scene in the first film was uncomfortable because they did have feelings for each other and spouses who knew it and were there. But for me, I was touched by several other women who told her how much Sarah Connor was an inspiration of strength, especially one who told her that she helped her through a really difficult time in her life. This reflects what I wrote earlier. This is why these roles are vital to us, we need role models.

I did learn a few very important things to keep in mind if I go to a ComicCon again. The most important is stick to the panels and avoid the floor on Saturday. That's when most people are there. Yet, I did have a professional photo with a different photographer, who offered jpgs as well as prints, on the floor (the Terminator ones were where the panels were) with Lindsay Wagner and Richard Anderson. And the Terminator actors were all across from William Shatner and other Trek stars, so between the two the aisle there was jammed packed. We did manage to get back to see Bess and to see Michael Biehn. So, yes, I did get photos and autographs with two men, so see I'm not sexist because I have token male representation here! *snerk* Bess even asked us to pose with her for a photo for her FaceBook page!

The next day things were a little calmer. I also got to meet Claudia Christian, of Babylon 5, whose Commander Susan Ivanova was another ass kicking woman. And Lisa Loring, the original Wednesday Addams. Yeah, maybe not an ass kicker in the same sense, but those Addams, and Frump, women were not afraid of their own power. She was delightful to meet, and of all was the first of these celebrities that I was a fan of.

But, of course, the highlight was again seeing Linda, this time with the certificate from the Sarah Connor Charm School to present to her. She even remembered how I spell my name, for when she autographed the group Terminator photo she noted that Michael Biehn had spelled it wrong. (Bess noticed too!). I showed her the certificate and she seemed thrilled by the words, saying that she'd treasure it for ever.
It reads:
Certificate of Appreciation
Linda Hamilton
The Sarah Connor Charm School
thanks you for your inspiration to women
to be strong, prepared and save ourselves, our loved ones, the world

And then:

Do I even need to say there are no words?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Still living, still training and meeting an idol

So I've never managed to get into the swing of regular blogging since taking up Teh Project again. I'm still training, but I've not done a lot that is worth writing about in that respect. We're hoping to get back to actual shooting classes come fall and winter, so look for reviews of those in the coming months. But writing offline has taken up a lot of my writing energy and while I do have something I plan to put on the web, it's gotten a bit cumbersome for a blog post so I'll be doing an actual old-fashion webpage for it...then blogging a bit about it here. That will be soon.

In the meantime, I'm preparing to meet a couple of my idols, my current biggest one, Linda Hamilton, and my teen years biggest one who I still adore, Lindsay Wagner. Yeah, Jaime Sommmers of the Bionic Woman may seem a bit pacifistic compared to my current stance, but she was an inspiration for strength and as I knew no one would make me bionic even if the technology was developed like that, the idea that being strong was something that could mean you didn't have to fight actually inspired me to first pick up weights and start running. Um, okay, those "weights" seem pretty silly now, but it was a start.

Both are going to be at Chicago ComicCon this coming week and so am I. I'm beyond words excited to meet them and I will probably share some of that on this blog. However, the most immediate updates will be in the Sarah Connor Charm School Facebook page and LiveJournal Community.

What will likely get reviewed here, especially as I wish to put more of my interest in Celtic cultures and ancient women warriors into this blog as well as the contemporary and pop culture material that makes up much of it, will be Neil Marshall's new movie Centurion that he'll be screening and doing a public interview and question and answer session on (sadly the screening comes after, you get tickets at the Q&A as there might be more questions after the screening). Marshall is the man who gave us Rhona Mitra kicking ass in Doomsday so that this film includes "Pictish" women warriors may not end up badly. But I find anything that does go into Things Celtic tends to go real bad. And "Pictish" even more so...such as King Arthur featuring the "Woads."

I am a bit picky about this stuff, as can be noted by two articles I have had up (and which could use some updating I'm sure) for awhile now. One on The Picts and the other on The Problem of the Woad itself. Oh, you might have also caught on about this interest when you saw the tattoos, huh?

When it comes to the on going debate about women warriors among the Picts or other Celtic (and as the article notes, I'm persuaded to refer to them as a Celtic speaking people) I've got the Outsider view; I'm neither on the side of those who say they were a common fixture of the cultures nor the side of those who say they were purely fiction. What we can prove is another matter. And so far I've found this exploration filling an introduction (mostly on the non-Celtic evidence) and two chapters.

So I expect this will be an all around interesting four days for me and that it will give me a lot of food for thought. And, of course, a way to combine the subjects here...which, of course, they always sort of do come together for me. As, should I ever finish this book I refer to as Teh Project and get it published, you'll see someday. Or you'll just have to see what future posts here offer.

Sadly, no one else from the Sarah Connor Charm School is going. I am hoping to meet more women so inspired though. I hope I'm not the only one who is preparing for this con by upping her weight training.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

It's about the pain, or what we want to do with it.

In an interview at the MCM London Expo last May (which tells you how long I have been thinking about this), Linda Hamilton remarked regarding fans wanting to be like her Terminator and Terminator 2 character Sarah Connor, "I was playing a character in a hell of the world's making. She's in so much pain. Why would anyone want to be like that?"

My immediate reaction, which I did briefly express in comments on that page, was, “Well, because we’re ALL in pain and we’re looking for a role model to help us figure out how to deal with it.” I don’t know that in all these years of wondering “What Would Sarah Do?” and before and after looking for role models to match her, I really thought of it that way. But, really, isn’t that exactly what it all comes down to?

We all have pain. We may not lose our mother, friends, lover and many surrounding us to a machine from the future, but we do lose those we love to other terminators throughout our lives. We may not face the fact that our child is going to be entering a known dangerous future, where he’ll be burdened with saving humanity, but those who have children (their own or those of others close to them) are faced with, at best, their unknown futures, and sometimes very real and immediate fears for their lives and safety. Our pains might not be quite interesting enough to be a subject of a movie, and when they are they are usually such direly depressing movies that we don’t watch them, but they are real.

“Escapism” really often is about watching someone else have pain that is more interesting than ours. At times perhaps it is escape we are looking for, to see someone go through something that just makes us, for an hour or two not think about our own. But I think many of us “fangirls” and “fanboys” of particular, especially action, characters, often do so because we like the way those characters deal with their pain. And while we would not want their pain as well, certainly do not wish those horrors upon ourselves and our loved ones, we want to be able to deal with what we do face in a similar manner.

This means that the fiction we tend to prefer may well say something about how we wish to cope with or solve the problems and sorrows in our lives. Those who mostly watch comedies might prefer search for laughter to soften the blows of life. We who favor action, horror or science fiction movies probably want to cowgirl up, face things down and carry on. Of course, most of us probably want different coping methods at different times which is why some of us have varied tastes in our fiction.

I think that Sarah Connor is revolutionary in this way, as much as she is for her physique and prowess with arms, in that she gives women that role model to carry on and do what needs doing. And, indeed, that strength and fighting skills were part of her answers is revolutionary as well. The training, the preparation, the choosing to become a warrior, rather than just remain the reactive Final Girl, these things are hard to find in female characters, especially in film.

It’s not hard to realize that the fictional “solution” to pain focused on female audiences has often been, in one way or another, to be saved. Whether it’s the lighter offerings of romantic comedies where the heroine is in a bad relationship or none at all until she meets the right guy who helps her out of her current situation or the darker action where the heroine’s very life is in peril and the hero must risk his to save her, this has been a standard message. It’s been there for a long time, whether the saving of the damsel is the main story or just a side-bar of the hero’s journey. There have, however, long been plucky heroines who have saved themselves in many cultures, sometimes even by taking up arms. Some even trained hard to do so, but this has been rare and still is.

Even when we’re not being taught that we must wait for our Knight in Shining Armor to come sweep us to safety, we may be taught to just wait. Many of our more physically active heroines, after all, are endowed with the power to solve their dilemmas from some outside source. Whether it’s the Bionic Woman’s science fiction enhancement or Buffy’s supernatural vampire slaying powers being awakened or so many comic book heroines who go may run the gambit between “science” and mystical, we may well wish for suddenly being gifted with the power to take on our own problems. Even those heroines born with powers can instill the same desire, their typical “alien” identity often calling out to our own feelings of being alienated, that we might wake up to the realization that we are special and do have powers we never expected (that many do believe this these days, in the Otherkin phenomenon, is a can of worms I probably shouldn’t open). (I'm not going to say there are not similar male characters, just that there does seem to be more of a balance between them and those men who take action for themselves.)

But the truth is, Otherkindred aside, we’re not going to get those powers. So, certainly, we have heroines who have no powers but persevere. Ripley and a parade of Final Girls in horror films never prepare to any real extent. Ripley in Aliens goes through some weapons training after the threat has been established, but that’s about the most we ever see in any of these movies. This gives us hope that any woman could survive, given enough attitude. And so, we can survive our own trials, we’ll face them as they come.

As women we are supposed to constantly fear sexual violence, and so we have “good” examples of women saving themselves with attitude and ingenuity. In fact, we have an entire B-movie genre, the Rape Vengeance movies. I Spit on Your Grave is, of course, the representative of this genre. Like other Final Girls, the heroine doesn’t prepare and her sense of power is continually tainted with terror while her success is often dependent on just plain luck. It gives us a gratifying sense of vengeance, but no real role model.

Similarly, the cinematically superior, but inaccurately (or was it meant to be ironic?) titled, The Brave One, followed a similar formula replacing rape with the death of a loved one (which in a world where women are trained to see men as protectors this alone gives a similar sense of vulnerability) and the hillbilly hell setting with the dangerous urban world that the character had always lived in but seemed to be previously oblivious of. Many women related to Jodie Foster’s character’s fear and her striving to protect herself and avenge her lover, but instead of offering a role model of developed strength we get one of continued fear and powerlessness. She substitutes a gun she never learns how to use for real power, for real preparation, she never really gains control, she remains reactive and in terror to the very end. She is perhaps a good example of how many of us do deal with our day to day trials, scared, unthinking, out of control, nearly hysterical, sometimes getting lucky in our blind actions but never acting with strength. Again, a message society often tells women we are and can never get beyond, irrational, vulnerable, even when we do manage to enact our revenge.

In The Terminator Sarah starts out like Final Girls and those who are gifted with powers as just one of us, someone most of us can relate to. She works a very typically female shit-job, she is in college but there is some sense that she’s not really found her path yet, she’s stood up by a date with someone she apparently barely knows; she’s nowhere and we’ve all been there. Fate intervenes and she does find out she’s special, but instead of getting gifted with a power which will make her tasks easier, she’s given the burden of knowing she’s to bear a son who will be a great leader but in a world of utter hell. She’s a Final Girl, reacting, whining and scrambling in a situation she’s unprepared for, with tragedy after tragedy striking in just one night as her best friend, her mother and her lover, along with many others are killed. But in the end she makes a choice, to stop whining, to stop being reactionary, to prepare her son for what he must face by preparing herself. It might not be a totally independent decision, for she is told that she was the one who trained her son of the future, but for that young woman who “can’t even balance my checkbook” it was a big one.

We don’t see that preparation, but we see the results from the moment Sarah appears in Terminator 2. We see her chinning in a situation where maintaining any fitness level would take such a stronger degree of commitment than any of our own issues with motivation at getting to a gym can compare. She soon is picking locks and taking out orderlies with the skills she learned. These things tell us she prepared. And to those of us whose desire is to face our problems by being prepared, she’s awesome. Hard, inside and out, yes, but there are times this is needed. Hair triggered, but even “out of control” she’s got power because of her training.

It might seem strange that a character who onscreen never faces the threat of serious rape, face licking sexual abuse is as much as we’re shown (even the non-sexual beat down from the same orderly was not shown in the original theatrical release), has become an icon for many to prepare against sexual violence. It’s actually that she never is shown to be so imperiled that is at the very core of why she’s so inspiring. In a world where women are considered constantly at risk of sexual assault, she actually represents a woman who isn’t at the same degree of risk. Even in taking the gross face lick, there’s a strategy, she’s biding her time for what needs to be done, and that insult isn’t that important in the long run. Even taking the orderly out, though there might have been some feelings of rightful revenge, is more about getting him out of the way to deal with real problems. The threat of sexual violence is something to be dealt with efficiently and quickly, not pondered upon, just get the problem man out of the way and move on.

It has been pointed out that her muscle and Krav Maga skills would be pointless against the machines, but that doesn’t mean they were pointless in her training. We can well imagine that in the “man’s world,” a literal jungle, where she sought out paramilitary training, there were men who would have gladly taken out their violence upon a lone woman. She may well have been a rape survivor during the early days, that may indeed be an added pain, one many of us share, that is never revealed. But considering the future she and her son face, there are greater threats. So, the skills needed to deal with those men are acquired with the skills needed to deal with the future threats, again, when the threat is presented, get the problem man out of the way and move on.

Likewise, muscles, guns and hand-to-hand combat skills, which many of have been inspired to pursue (and some of us where before but just found our role model) might not help any of us with most of the problems we face. But the fact is, sexual violence is a threat that women live with everyday, the statistics remain high that we will be assaulted in some way by someone, stranger or “loved one,” at some point in our lives. Many consider it just a fact we have to contend with. It’s not our only problem, it’s not a problem most of us actually face on a daily basis (although some might fear it almost constantly), but the truth is, it’s a major burden lifted from your life when you feel just that much less vulnerable than you did before.

Knowing that should it come up, you have a good chance, that you are prepared, that perhaps that asshole who thinks you are a victim is the one that should be worried more than you, it does change how you handle other things. Living in fear, feeling that at least half of the world could take you out in a moment, does not empower you on any level. Sarah showed us that such threats can be just something to get out of the way should they come up. Until then, you can do what needs to be done to deal with the other shit in your life. So she becomes a symbol of the ultimate preparations against any sort of assault we might face.

This is, as I've noted before, the greatest travesty of Terminator Salvation, that the franchise that gave us this ultimate role model of strength, turned around and made the one female character who could have carried on that legacy into just a victim. A victim who needs a big strong Knight to save her. That demonstrates the very thing that Sarah Connor represented our journey away from.

And when it comes to other problems in our lives, Sarah can still offer us hope. We can face the loss of loved ones and still strive towards our goals because she did. If our tasks seem hard and overwhelming, we can stoically strive on, with out whining (or at least not for long), without faltering, because, well, she got through her burdens and, even when there seemed no hope, fought to find a better solution. Certainly she mourned her dead, she went from just conceiving to very pregnant in the last scene of Terminator, but she shows eventually you pack up your dog, gun and Spanish dictionary and head head out to prepare for what's to come.

Of course, there is another factor in dealing with the sadness issue at hand in what Sarah inspires for us. Moments of sheer joy. It’s the endorphins, baby. Working out, martial arts/self-defense training and defensive shooting training all give us strong endorphin dumps. It might not solve the problems, it might not cure the source of the sad, but it certainly is nice to have those periods of elation.

So, Linda (although I’m sure you’ll never read this) and others who ask this question, this is why we want to be like Sarah. No, we don’t want her burdens added to our own. We just want her strength, which you demonstrated so well, to handle them. Strong and hard, sometimes too alone and shut-off but we can find our way back to love too, sometimes ranting and raving at a world that can’t grasp the hard truths, always prepared, with a plan, getting the small problems out of the way so we can deal with saving the world as best we can.

And it’s kind of nice if we can groove on some endorphins and look our buffist while we do it, too.

Copyright © 2010 Kym Lambert ní Dhoireann