Ass-kicking chicks are cool, but why?

From Heinlein’s Friday to Underworld’s Selene to Sanderson’s Vin to my own modest (*snrk*) effort’s Lilta, there’s something about chicks who kick ass that’s cool. But what is it? No one has ever defined the quality that makes ass-kicking chicks so very excellent.

Feminist grrrrrrl power? No, it’s not a political thing. Besides, it doesn’t matter whether the ass-kicking chick is kicking female ass or male ass.

Violation of expectations? Maybe thirty years ago! But nowadays what’s more common than chicks kicking ass? So no, that’s not it.

What, then? What, Fleet? Please enlighten us with your superior insight!

Very well, since you said “please.”

It’s the lack of ego.

See, being physically tough is part of masculinity. So when a man kicks ass, he’s more masculine as a result. Or anyway, he’s perceived as more masculine. For a man to kick another man’s ass means he, the victor, has out-manned the other man, so to speak. So even if he’s not thinking, “Ha! I’m more man than you,” he might be thinking it, for all we know.

Now contrast this with women. Since kicking ass is not part of the definition of femininity, a woman who kicks another woman’s ass is not thinking, “Ha! I’m more woman than you,” or “Ha! I’m more feminine than you,” or whatever. There’s no female ego thing that is on the line here.

This leaves open the idea that the woman is kicking ass only because she has to. Indeed, the best female ass-kicking scenes, in fiction or movies, have this quality: The woman is a good guy in a situation in which she has to fight her way out or die, or something like that. This applies, e.g., to Heinlein’s Friday, who never picks a fight in that book; she only fights her way out of bad situations when they descend on her.

Notice that when it’s drawn off into messaging, in the nature of a woman kicking a man’s butt to show that Girls are just as tough as boys!!! it becomes boring message fiction. Yawn. Suddenly the fun is gone.

There is more dignity and drama in a person fighting because she has to than because she’s like, “Whoo hoo! I kicked your butt!”

You have to love that scene in True Romance in which the young woman kills the professional hit man who was sent to kill her. He almost does her in, and she takes a lot of damage. But in the end, she kills him. And you’re like, “Whoo-hoo! Thank goodness!”

“But wait,” you say. “Men can kick ass in an ego-free way too.” Well, maybe, but you never really know. And even if a man doesn’t pick a fight, he can still be glad in a male-ego way that he won it. Note I’m not saying that there’s necessarily anything wrong with being happy about winning a fight – that depends if the winner is a bad guy or a good guy. Nor is there anything wrong with being glad specifically in a male-ego way. But it can be a distraction from the drama you, the author, are trying to create in a fight scene. And it changes the emotional tone of the fight.

Undeniably, the emotional sense of two men fighting is different from the emotional sense of two women fighting. If we want the reader to be focused on good versus evil, or something like that, we don’t want the irrelevance of “Ha, I kicked your ass so I’m more of a man than you!” distracting us.

And that is why chicks kicking ass is a cool thing: It’s pure kicking ass, devoid of ego distractions.

Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet and Art

A pounding, furious Shakespeare, a blizzard of passion, romance, rage. This is not youthful passion viewed through a polite filter of iambic pentameter. This is just youthful passion; savage, wild. Did Shakespeare himself intend this play to be this raw, one wonders? Or did Baz Luhrmann see something in this drama, this wild thing, that not even the Bard himself fully realized was there?

Shakespeare has been part of the canon for so long that we tend to treat him like grandma’s fragile antique china; if we handle him too roughly, we fear, he’ll break. Boy, is this wrong. Of all the authors who aren’t breakable, Shakespeare’s probably Number One. “We have to analyze him with delicate, careful, refined sensibilities,” we think, “or we’ll shatter his subtle– ” No. Shakesy is robust, rough, strong, bold. He’s not grandma’s delicate china dinner plates; he’s the bull rampaging in the china shop.

We also tend to be overawed by Shakespeare’s towering reputation, but that too is mistaken. If you let professors of Literature (no doubt inadvertently) make you afraid of Shakespeare, you’re mistakenly thinking Shakesy belongs to Literature professors. No, Shakespeare belongs to you and me. Everyone can understand his plots, which are about things like love, power-lust, jealousy, revenge, war, etc. They are things all human beings intuitively comprehend well enough to follow along, even those who have never been in a war or been in love, etc.

Baz Luhrmann saw all this in Romeo and Juliet and put it into his production of the movie. He perceived, or perhaps remembered, what’s it’s like to be madly in love at age 14, when you have no emotional control, when your skin has not yet been thickened up by the scar tissue we all inevitably accumulate with experience, when you are not experienced enough to have a “been here before” distance on love.

Shakespeare is not mannered, or rather, sometimes he is, but the manneredness is just a part of his style (sometimes). His substance is brutally, nakedly human. Baz Luhrmann saw that in Romeo and Juliet, and made sure it made it onto the film.

(The main genius here is Shakespeare, obviously, but Luhrmann is also a genius for seeing through the fog of reverence that surrounds Shakespeare and producing R&J the way it should be produced, as uncontrolled young love.)

For another good example of this, consider… Beethoven. “An evening of music!” you say. “How charming! I shall purchase tickets to be seated in the center of the seventh row. I look forward to tonight’s performance with pleasure! Perhaps some wine and cheese later!” BEWARE. Beethoven is not polite, and you are at a performance of the mighty Third Symphony. (Yes, I said Third. If you attend a performance of the famous Fifth, you know what to expect. If you go to hear the Third, you have no idea what’s about to happen to you.) Beethoven is about music that slams out of the orchestra and punches you in the face, hard. After you stagger to your feet, you spit out a couple of teeth, wipe the blood off your chin, and say, “Holy Shit, that music isn’t polite! It’s a force of fucking nature!” Welcome to the Beethoven club, noob. From the grave, Ludwig says, “You’re welcome.”

Why weren’t you expecting that? Because again, Beethoven is such a classic, he is so totally part of the canon, that you think he’s fragile, like your grandma’s china. Wrong. See, the thing is, some artists get to be in The Canon because they deserve to be. What did Beethoven see that let him compose music like that? For one thing, he saw that music is not supposed to be polite. Fuck the string quartet! Music is supposed to be expressive. And that means, among other things, that it’s supposed to get your attention. Boy, does Ol’ Ludwig know how to do that! Those opening notes… no, you can’t call them that… those opening blasts of the Third… You won’t just put your cell phone down; you’ll drop it to the floor in shock. And off you go.

Before you know it, you’re on the musical equivalent of a roller coaster, and not just any roller coaster either, but the Extraterrestrial Nuclear Chemical Warfare Superman Death Spiral. This is the one that doesn’t just have the usual pro forma sign saying, “People with heart conditions shouldn’t ride this ride.” It’s the one that actually has a history of lawsuits because of all the people who went into ventricular tachycardia while they were on it. And several virgins emerged from the end of the ride pregnant, somehow. Yeah, THAT roller coaster. (Why doesn’t the music world warn you about this one? I think it’s because it’s more fun for them when they don’t. They probably attend performances of the Third just to look at the expressions on the n00bs’ faces. [Note to self: I should totally do that.])

The point is, Ludwig had a definite vision of how music should be, and he gives it to you, hard.

That is how to do Art.

Another kind review of The War of the First Day!

From Bob R. Milne of Beauty in Ruins:

The War of the First Day is an epic fantasy novel that has something of a Mistborn feel to it, with the comic book sensibilities of a Dr. Strange or Green Lantern. …Magic permeates the tale, from beginning to end, and it drives the plot as much as it accentuates it. As for the sorceresses, they are both the heroes and the villains, locked in a rebellious conflict that began with an act of near-genocide, populating a story that is almost wholly female-focused.

…It’s predominantly focused on the war between two factions of witches – a war of attrition that’s full of massive battles, covert operations, and scenes of torture and interrogation… It would have been easy to let the magic and the spectacle overwhelm the story, but Fleet keeps his characters at the forefront, developing them quickly and significantly throughout. There’s also a lot of thought beneath the story, with some interesting themes on the power of knowledge… logic, and even cryptography, not to explain away the magic, but to provide context and a deeper meaning.

…The writing is fluid, with some nice terms of phrase, and the dialogue is worthy of the action, which is where this veers back towards epic fantasy and away from comic book clichés.

I was hoping for a lot out of The War of the First Day, and I am pleased to say it delivered. My only regret, in fact, is that I let it linger on the shelf for so long.