Greetings from Maaretta! This moth will be a divide of post-Valentine subjects and reivews of classic Black American Novels (due to it now being Black History moth). Stay tuned.
Greetings from Maaretta! This moth will be a divide of post-Valentine subjects and reivews of classic Black American Novels (due to it now being Black History moth). Stay tuned.
Well, the years is coming to an end, and Missmagic girl sent this tag to make promises I probably can´t keep. But as a dreamer and a reader who adores a challenge, I will promptly answer these questions in all my humble, enthusiastic honesty. Let´s begin!
1. The promise to read a Classic: This year I saw the newest film adaptation of “Far from the madding Crowd”, which is based on the 19th century novel written by Thomas Hardy. The films was so poignant and wonderful that I instantly bought myself a copy of said novel. The film dealt with issues such as female independence, stability vs. passion and realistic depictions of Victorian age farmers. The book is usually always better than the filmic version, which makes me hopeful that those themes will be even more present in the novel.
“Seven Brothers” by Aleksis Kivi is a book that as a Finnish speaker I´m ashamed of admitting I´ve never read. It is one of the founding literary works in Finnish literature as well as Aleksis Kivi being a pioneer in writing in the Finnish language, paving the way for future of the Finnish language. Therefore it is a must read for all Finnish speakers.
“Germinal” by Emile Zola is about Miners in 19th century France. It was a big influence on changing the way France viewed worker´s rights. Sounds interesting.
“I am a cat” by Natsume Soseki. It´s a novel with a cat as a narrator that snarks about society and human frailty. How can one not want to read that book?
2. A promise to Finish a book series: I have two books still to go in the “Sms from Soppero”-Quartet by Ann-Helén Laestadius, that focus on the Sami girl Agnes. The series’ first book, “Sms from Soppero”, is a masterpiece. The sequal “Hej vacker (Hey beautiful) was a bit of a let down, but still enjoyable and in fact informs the reader about Sami culture a bit more than does its predecessor. I have also bought “Ingen annan är som du” (“No one else is like you”) and “Hitta hem” (“Finding your way home”), which I pray won´t be delayed by too much university work to get to quickly!
“Wizard of eathsea” is a series I have read the first book in, but never read any of the other books in the series. Same goes for the “The giver”-quartet by Lois Lowry. I hope to be able to continue both series, since the first installments were highly thought provoking and entertaining.
3.A series I promise to start: “Uglies”-Quartet by Scott Westersend. It seems to have everything I love in books; strong female protagonist, social commentary and topical issues (in this series case, body issues and beauty standards).
“Pimeys”-trilogy by Asko Sahlberg is another series I want to desperately read. It follows a lonely, bitter Finnish man living in Gothemburg during the 60´s and 70´s. The subject matter seems like one that might hit a bit close to home for me, but then again the best reading experiences do just that.
I haven´t read many books by Romani writers, so hopefully that will change next year with me beginning this endeavor with reading Katarina Taikon´s “Katitzi”-novels, a classic children’s books series that deals with the everyday joys and discriminations in the life of the Swedish Roma. Same for Kiba Lumberg´s “Musta perhonen”-trilogy (Black butterfly), which on the other hand discusses gendered violence in the Finnish Roma community.
3.A writer I promise to read something from: So so many. So I’m going to cheat and just make a name list: Mariama Ba, Ngugi Wo Thiongo, Maya Angelou, Moses Isegawa, Percival Everest, Grace Ogot, Alice Walker, James Baldwin, Ernest Gaines, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Samar Yazbek, Hanan al-shaykh, Susanna Abulhawa, Mohammed Choukri and Heidi Köngäs.
4.Books I will re-read: “Nervous conditions” by Tsitsi Dangarembga, which I loved in high school but remembered only partially now. After a re-read I would like to review it on this blog.
“Beloved” by Toni Morrison, because it´s so epic it needs a second read. “Candide” by Voltaire would be fun to re-visit, as well as “Joy Luck club” by Amy Tan.
5.Genre I promise to try out: Arabic, Korean and Kurdish literature! I haven´t read much of from those literary fields but would love to explore them. If anyone has any good recommendations, feel free to leave them in the comments! I will also try out reading a fantasy novel (a genre I miss continually in my reading), specifically “Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman which according to Mr. Gaiman himself is a supernatural exploration of homelessness.
6.Graphic novel I promise to read: “Make me a woman” by Vanessa Davis has been on the radar for a while, as well as “All-star superman” by Grant Morrison. “Vagina Dentata” by Emmi Nieminen is a comic I recently heard about and sounds interesting. It explores male sexual trauma.
7.A Short Story I promise to read: Any of the short stories by Grace Pailey I can get my hands on!. “The Crab Cannery Boat” by Takiji Kobayashi is a short story I read half way through for a University class in Japanese literature, and I would like to Finish. Also More stories by Yu Dafu would be awesome. I wish to also be able to read the collection “Below the line” by Sara Chin.
8.A book I promise to read despite it dealing with a tough but important subject: This promise is the easiest one for me, since as you can probably tell by my book reviews I tend to read novels and stories with heavy issues quite often. However there are still subjects that repel me and that can be quite upsetting to come across regardless of the amount of exposure. For me, two of the roughest things to get through are torture and sexual abuse against children. So I promise that despite it being infamous for the gory depictions of torture, I will read “The feast of the goat” by Mario Vargas Llosa. I will also try to read Lydia Cacho´s memoir “Memorias de una infamia” (Memoirs of An Infamy) which deals with her struggles after her whistle blowing on a corrupt, pedophilic network inside of the high powers in Mexico.
9. A book that for the longest time I haven´t read but will: “Tuez-les tous” by Salim Bachi (“Kill them all”) is a book that´s been on my radar for two years but I haven´t read yet. Hopefully that´ll change this year.
10. Debut I will want to read: “Ole hyvä” (“You´re welcome”) by Riikka Takala, which is a satire about unemployment and idealism. Its focus and center is on unemployed women, which is refreshing, since most books on this theme have a male protagonist. It was the novel debut of Ms. Takala in 2014.
11. A book or book series I have previously judged as uninteresting, but will give a new chance next year: “Is” (“Ice”) by Ulla-Lena Lundberg. I judged previously, and maybe prematurely, as sounding boring and without plot. But all my close friends love it so I´ll give it a try.
Happy New Year! Take Care/ Maaretta
Before I begin this review, I want to tell a small anecdotal story: while skyping with my father one evening, I mentioned to him that I was reading a Zambian novel called “Patchwork”. I claimed it was a novel that dealt with such issues as “alcoholism, the stigma of being a child conceived through infidelity, class, the subtle stress of having a bully father, child molestation and domestic abuse”. My father responded in a bewildered voice: “Oh wow, that´s a lot of heavy subjects for one book to deal with. How long is it?”. “216 pages long” I said before adding: “Also, one of the protagonist´s friends dies due to an unsafe, illegal abortion”. My father was stunned by this bleak description.
For it is true, “Patchwork” is perhaps one of the most pessimistic books I´ve read in quite a while. It is also a book that truly stays in a reader´s mind and is very difficult to put down. It deals with stigma, class, family dynamics, mental health and the negative consequences of insecurity.
The opening lines in itself already say so much and are so intriguing: “I´m two different people according to the register of births. My birth was registered twice”. The main protagonist explains that her mother named her Natasha, but her father named her Pezo. However, everyone calls her Pumpkin. Pumpkin has always known that she is what´s considered “bad seed”. This leads her to being spiteful towards her neighbor’s children, who are partially her friends and partially victims to her bullying. Pumpkin insists to her friends that her rich self-made father brings her gifts and expensive dolls, but in her inner monologue she admits to herself the sad truth of not even beginning to be in any consideration to her father’s – Tata’s – priority. This situation is worsened by her mother’s alcoholism, which has tainted the previously loving relationship between daughter and mother: “I lay a towel lengthways on the floor. It used to be fluffy and pink. Ma used to wrap it round me and lift me out of the bath. She would jokingly ask me to hold it tight around myself so that no one could see my ´secret´. Now the towel is flat more cream than pink but it still keeps a secret”.
Despite Pumpkins and her mother’s best efforts, Tata finds out about the mothers alcoholism and at once takes Pumpkin to live with him, without asking his wife beforehand and despite Pumpkins mothers pleading to keep her child. There Pumpkin meets Mama T, her father’s self-centered wife and Sissi, a Zimbabwean housekeeper who takes a liking to Pumpkin.
At the new home for Pumpkin the nature of Tata’s a bully and pompous nature comes to blatantly reveal itself, and Mama T wallows and spews in open resentment towards the newly displaced Pumpkin. Pumpkin herself responds to this by committing to the fact of family hate and dysfunction directed towards her, and becomes the awful child image imposed on her. In one truly horrifying scene Pumpkin gets a man fired after betraying a promise to the same worker´s daughter – despite that it will probably lead to this family to starve. In an ordinary case this narrative device of the horrific protagonist – and sensitively dead, morally diseased secondary characters – would make a book falter due to its lack of a sympathetic ground and an ethical vertigo fundamentally embedded in the story arc; however Ms. Banda-Aaku´s beautiful prose and psychological insights guide the reader through the messy lives of these frightful and unappealing people.
The novel carefully shows Pumpkins internal torment and fright. She is in need to have her father talk to her, but he is oblivious to her. Mama T is clearly hurt by her husband’s betrayals and lives in a sphere of utter disrespect created for her by the distains of the patriarch (in one scene he maliciously mocks her activities at the church when she isn´t present). The characters are so superbly written, it´s psychological authentic feeling reminds me off Jelinek or even Dostoyevsky.
Banda-Aaku even deconstructs a number of common tropes in the narrative trajectory. For instance Pumpkins Grandmother, Grandma Ponga, is first introduced as a powerful, strong woman who takes no nonsense from anyone. But it is revealed in the unfolding of the novel that the grandmother secretly resents Pumpkin for causing a scandal in the family. Pumpkin states that while Grandma Ponga is kind to her, the grandmother’s overt and condemning body language places her continually in the depressing depths of self doubt and on the cusp of a constant nagging apology for her personhood. That Grandma Ponga owns a tavern is shown to both make her a cool old lady and a figure of fear: her fights with unpleasant customers are shown as both as awe inspiring in their steadfast resolve, but also as petrifying memories of uncontrolled, impulsive violence for Pumpkin.
Another character that toys with the readers expectations is Sissi, the housekeeper at Tata´s. While at first Sissi seems happy with her job and to love the family she works for, to be a stable person of few problems, it is soon shown not to encompass the entire truth. Sissi lives in the shadow of an alcoholic and abusive boyfriend who, despite that he drinks away all her money, she can´t find the strength to leave, since she loves him, as she explains to Pumpkin: “Love and hate are same-same”. Sissi also embraces a missing former husband who traveled to Zaire to find a fortune for his family and promised to return to endow Sissi with a slew of “emeralds”. The narration makes it clear that this husband is most likely dead, yet Sissi, turning face from the discouraging truth and reality, stumbles on in the dead dreams of denial: “He promised her he would be back and she´s still waiting. She often says, ´the day he comes back for me my days of washing clothes, polishing floors and referring fights in Tata´s house is over”. Despite her brave face, Sissi feels as much pain as the rest, and is no stereotypical domestic worker who only lives for her boss´ family.
There are brief descriptions of the Rhodesian war of independence which Zambia was partially involved in. It consisted of giving refuge to Zimbabwean rebels, which meant that the white colonizers eventually start bombing in Zambia as well. When bombings take place at Tata´s farm, Mama T enacts her most horrifying behavior in the entire book sending the family careening from the horror of war to the horror of the brutal family and back again.
In the later section of the novel we follow Pumpkin as a grown up having negotiated this deadly terrain of her childhood. She has become a woman locked into her past and we travel her adult life through an uncontrollable jealousy dissolving her marriage and a forlorn path of destructive decisions dovetailing in wounds to herself and those about her. Though passing off pains and deceits to the circle of friends and lovers about her, Pumpkin’s mind steps back from the horror of her own action’s and she ineffectually fumes at herself for these shows of torment visited on others.
It is also revealed that one of her playmates, Bee (who it was hinted at was being molested by the houseboy in the neighborhood at the early age of 12), was impregnated by a houseboy and had her first child at age 14. Pumpkin’s mother and grandmothers reactions to this abuse show both disquieting discomfort and horrific rationalizations of how Bee was probably fine with it coming finally to a mild concern that Pumpkin may have also been one of the houseboy’s victims. It is hinted that the adults’ can´t deal with failing the girl, and fear that they neglected the other children as well.
The book, not to reveal too much, has also a moment where the writing takes a certain skeptical turn. Pumpkin, due to several complications, comes to believe, near the end of the book, that she together with Bee´s mother has cast a curse. In her panic she explains this belief to Bee. However Bee rejects this idea as a paradoxical mixture of unaware superstition and mindful manipulation: “My mother is a herbalist and, yes, she has a strong sense of intuition, but she also sees a lot of things the rest of us don´t. if I took note of all the so-called evil spirits my mother sees around me I would spend my days carrying out endless rituals to get rid off them”. Bee says there are a lot of mind games in her mother’s work, which involve cold reading. It is very similar to the way so-called mediums, psychics and fortune tellers in the West operate. This struck my interest in that it is one of the first books written by an African writer to discuss skeptic viewpoints in a sympathetic way; Bee´s words ease Pumpkin´s guilt. This scene made me wonder if there will be featured more skeptic viewpoints in the future of African literature. Naturally, it would be good to also add here that atheist and skeptic themes are rare in all forms of literary fiction (and I haven´t read any of Wole Soyinka’s works yet, who supposedly talks about his agnosticism/atheism in his memoir).
This book is full of little moments and reflections on many more issues than I can mention in this blog post. It is intense, complex, sad and thought provoking. It is cynical in that mistakes are continually made, communication is neglected and past secrets remain secrets. A bitter take on humans, “Patchwork” claims that some relationships are broken beyond repair.
As a full time student and constant seeker of summer jobs, I have been neglecting my blog for quite awhile. I will try to change this right now, starting with a short post following a tag which many a book vlogger and blogger are sharing at the moment. It was created by Thebookarcher; you can visit her YouTube page here. Despite blogging about a lot of movies, cartoons and occasional political comment, (and despite that I wasn´t tagged by anyone to do this) but having written many a book review, I was quite eager to consider and reflect on these questions. Hopefully those that started the tag will not find it remiss that I write these questions in this post.
The tag consists of nine questions which I will list one at a time and proceed to answer. Unfortunately I will have to mention a lot of Swedish authors at times, since, due to living in Stockholm, I am exposed to lots of Swedish literature. It is also crucial to remember that these are just my opinions, and everyone is free to enjoy which ever books they enjoy.
1. A popular book or series that you didn´t like:
There´s actually many best sellers I just didn´t like at all, so I will mention just a few that I really, really didn´t like at all: “The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz was boring, way too long and its main character – Oscar – was much too self-involved and reckless to be likeable. The narrator, and narrative voice, is a single tone of an obnoxious womanizer, and worst of all the political oppression that is present in the book (specifically, the atrocities committed by former Dominican Republic dictator Trujillo) takes a back seat so that men can either brag or complain about their sex lives. “Fight club” by Chuck Palahniuk was well-written, but the plot was ridiculous and the plot twist made no sense. “Allt” by Martina Lowden is an 800-page book where the author whines about bus stops, postmodernism and tends to lists of all the books she reads akin to a casual grocery shop list – really not my thing.
Other books far from my favor: “Svinalängorna” by Susanna Alakoski (a black-and-white portrayal of Sweden Finns, where this group is heavily demonized), “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe (found it impossible to care about the protagonist), “The Great Gatsby”, “Kalla det vad fan ni vill” by Marjane Bakhtiari, “My friend Percy´s magical shoes” by Ulf Stark, “It´s just a little AIDS” by Sara Graner (I didn´t find it funny), “Willful Disregard” by Lena Anderson (a novel about a older man, younger woman cis, straight, white-Swedish, economically stable couple in which the man emotionally abuses the woman. The book, in its unreflective stance to the abuse, misguidingly thinks it´s saying something profound about love. The novel also lacks any character growth) and “The Sorrows of Young Werther” by Goethe (lots of people find this book romantic; I found it creepy).
Without a doubt, the novels of Nobel Prize winning Elfriede Jelinek for this one (maybe not popular, but most certainly infamous). She´s often accused of Misandry and writing grotesque pornography, but to be frank those accusations are entirely, and undoubtedly, unfair. Jelinek´s books tend towards the misanthropic if anything, but the misanthropy is not in vain. Jelinek´s prose is elegant, her sentences literary punches and the themes of her books are as relevant as they are universal: totalitarianism, fascism, and violence towards women to name a few. For a more in-depth view into my opinion on her work, go here.
I will give one example from both of those questions. The love-triangle where the girl ended up with the wrong guy in my opinion is from Guus Kuijer´s children´s book series “Polleke”, about a young Dutch girl and her life. The books tackle and discuss subjects such as arrange marriages, racism, drug addiction, child abduction and First native rights. (Spoiler): the protagonist Polleke ends up with her classmate Mimoun who´s she´s dated since the first book. However Mimoun is not a very supportive or particularly nice boyfriend; he yells at Polleke for kissing him (she´s not allowed to because she´s a girl) and cheats on her with her best friend. To be fair he was a likeable boy in the series first book, but becomes quite unintentionally cruel as the series progress. Polleke flirts with a farm boy who lives near her farming grandparents, but I didn´t really care for him either. Honestly the love triangle should have perhaps ended with Polleke becoming single since both of her love interests were kind of useless characters. An OTP I didn´t like was Harry and Ginny from the “Harry Potter”-books, which was a very rushed romance with clumsy build up and had a lack of chemistry.
4. A Popular Genre you hardly reach for:
Fantasy, Detective novels, and Romance. Just don´t read much genre literature at all, really.
5. A popular or beloved character that you don´t like:
Fred and George from the “Harry Potter”-series. Out of all the colorful, imaginative characters I found these two to be extremely one-note, lazy (they don´t even try to get good grades!), bullish and slimy. They also are basically copies of one another; no distinctive trait that marks them from each other. Another beloved character I don´t care for is Puck from Shakespeare’s “A midsummer night’s dream” – all the messes could be avoided if it weren´t for him!
Again, I have quite a few. I can´t really get into the Nobel Prize winning Japanese writer Yasunara Kawabata – he´s a fantastic writer no doubt, but his works don´t really ever seem to coalesce into a plot, making the narrative line meander about for no reason. The characters rarely do anything of importance and once more the reader can find no line of thinking for this emptiness. For some these absences don’t matter, but I am continually frustrated by the question of what do these lacks mean. Another writer I just couldn’t ever get into was Yoshimoto Banana. I read two of her books, “Kitchen” and “Hardboiled & Hard luck” which were dull. Her plots are all over the place. The books also contained a lot of Heteronormativity. For instance in “Kitchen” the romantic leads continually misgenders the hero´s transgender mum. As a final note, her writing might improve if she would use the “Show, don´t tell”-technique more in her books.
Per Nilsson, a Swedish young adult writer, also makes the list of writers I can´t quite stand; he romanticizes things such as stalking in his books, does a hand-wave towards anti-immigration and racism and honestly in my opinion doesn´t write women very well. With Nobel Prize winning writer Mo Yan, I also have issues with for his normalization of violence towards women and demonization of disabled people. In “Big breast and wide hips” the protagonist´s mother is repeatedly raped with it never really affecting her or the plot of the novel at all (in fact rape seems to be used just to victimize the mother). The writer Yiyun Li actually points out many of my issues with Mo Yan; go see a review where she points the problems out here. So yes, unfortunately Mr. Mo´s and Mr. Nilsson´s books are really not for me at all, to be honest I think there both pretty terrible writers.
7. A popular common trope that you´re tired of seeing:
My biggest complaint with books I dislike is often romanticized abuse. It´s exhausting to read books that have men who abuse women and children (and sometimes the protagonists male friends get into the abusive act as well) with the writers of these tales horrifically using the trope to either showcase their male protagonist as “real” tough men, or to position male possessiveness and entitlement as something to admire. Needless to say, I have no patience with such writing.
Quite a few actually. The “Divergent” series isn´t appealing to me, mostly because of it seems oddly anti-intellectual. I never had any interest reading the “Twilight Saga” (“Twilight” is one of the few books I never finished). Same goes for the “Fifty Shades”-trilogy. I also have avoided Stieg Larssons “Millennium”-trilogy like the plague since the things it was praised for you can find a ton of in Japanese and Finnish fiction (that were published before Larsson´s books), as well as some blatant male fantasy stuff. I am also avoiding the “My struggle” book series because those books are way too long (I am a university student, and there is homework!) as well as the writer Karl Ove Knausgård coming off as fairly arrogant and obnoxious (this usually wouldn’t matter, but the books are about himself, and his “Fight”…. so). While not a series per se, I am also not interested in Harukumi Murasaki. None of the praise has gotten me curious, unfortunately.
9. The saying goes that “The book is always better than the movie”. But which movie adaption did you prefer to the book?
“Carrie” directed by Brian De Palma. While the novel is very good, the movie was able to build up the suspense better.
“My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” is a show that gets most of its press regarding the large and diverse fandom which has grown up around it. The surprise comes from a sizeable community of fans of the Little Ponies newest incarnation being a substantial, vociferous, and creative following who trend towards men of about 20 to 30 years of age (there also exist quite a few female adult fans of this age group, as well, but the Male Section of this fandom, going by the moniker “Bronies”, has caused the most stir).
“My Little Pony: Friendship is magic” is a fresh reboot of an old series which has had four versions up to this point and gained some notoriety from the dedicated adult following of this “Fourth Generation” (that is the fourth adaptation of the series) of the Little Ponies animated Television Series. The newest reboot premiered in 2010 and was created by award-winning animator Lauren Faust, who has previously has worked on such shows as “The Powerpuff girls”. Faust, after creating the new reboot, worked with the show for two seasons (there are four seasons out now), and has said this about the working with MPL: FIM: “When I took the job, I braced myself for criticism, expecting many people — without even watching the show — to instantly label it girly, stupid, cheap, for babies or an evil corporate commercial. I encourage skeptics like this to watch My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic with an open mind. If I’m doing my job right, I think you’ll be surprised.”
After watching the documentary “Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans Of My Little Pony” (an excellent film, by the way) I decided to fill out my knowledge by viewing the initial two part pilot of the New Little Ponies series. Much to my surprise, found the show (other than obviously charming) exceptionally humorous, teasingly contemplative and manifesting some of the best character studies on TV right now. One of the best show-cases for the strengths of the series is found in the second season’s fourth episode, “Luna Eclipsed” and it´s intriguing character study of Princess Luna.
The show takes place in a fictional pony-ruled world named Equestria, which is “ruled” by a Pony named Princess Celestia. This ruling, however, mostly is manifested in her duty of daily raising the sun. Her younger sister, Princess Luna, is in charge of the raising the moon. In the shows pilot, Luna was originally positioned as the villain (she was driven to evil by jealousy and bitterness towards her sister, who was adored and worshipped, while Luna was forgotten and ignored). Luna, moved by her angry resentment, created an eternal night, but, after being thwarted in her scheme, was banished to the moon for a thousand years. Upon returning from her banishment (and seemingly not learning her lesson) she again tried to inaugurate a darkness of the eternal night. However the bookworm protagonist Twilight Sparkle and her friends were able to defeat Luna and, following this second defeat, Luna has subsequently attempted to redeem herself. In “Luna Eclipsed” she re-appears during a fictional holiday based on Halloween, “Nightmare night”, where the ponies go around trick’o’treating and playing games all the while recounting spooky tales of Luna´s former evil persona (Nightmare Moon). Luna sees the night as a chance to appease her past crimes and integrate with the others, due to this being one of the few nights the ponies forgo sleep for a night of revelry. However when she arrives, her social cues are completely off. She talks in a loud, intimidating voice, while using a bombastic body language. The ponies, confronted with this aggressive facade, run away in screaming terror.
After the shock her personality creates, the episode follows Luna trying to find her place amongst others and society, asking Twilight Sparkle to help her fit in. She tries to adjust her speaking tone, she tries to play games, but nothing seems to work. Luna in frustration loses her temper, while the other ponies, in an ill-advised attempt to play games with Luna, once again are terrified into fleeing Luna’s hostile presence. The episode has a distinct melancholic tone where Luna comes to believe she will never belong and must always be the lone outcast. Twilight doesn´t want Luna to give up, but she does. Despite this being a children’s show, there is no sugar coating when it comes to portraying Luna´s despair and the question of the irreparability of some outcomes.
Every culture has its own codes and unwritten rules, which seem innate to the integrated cultural individual of the culture/society, but which makes integration tricky for those find these rules applied later in life. Confronting a new set of rules, and ones which seem “natural” by the dominate culture/people, can be frustrating and depressing for the immigrant imbued with a divergent set of rules (both implicit and explicit, and which being “brought up in” these valuations, seem “natural” to them). Trying to understand another culture and feelings, the immigrant will continually fail to “get it” as the rules which seem obvious to the ingrained members of a society will always be felt (at some level) as imposed, accidental and arbitrary to the integrating other (and, of course, the reverse as well). Watching Luna try her best to speak properly and learn how to act around the other ponies is heartbreakingly familiar for those who have attempted to integrate into new worlds. Luna´s attempts to be accepted are actually an eerie experience to watch, especially since she keeps failing to get others to accept her, which is how many immigrants feel.
When Luna seeks from Twilights kindhearted friend Fluttershy tips on how to speak with a normal tone, it rings true of the struggle the immigrant faces to get over ones culture shock. With the term “culture shock”, I´m referring to unwritten social rules which everybody takes for granted inside certain societies and cultures, and which the outsider to such cultures doesn´t necessarily understand or find as common thought. This causes a feeling of disjointedness for the immigrant/outsider, and makes the insider think that the immigrant seems disconnected from reality because the rule is obvious and natural to them. Twilight first has to explain how Lunas loud voice is intimidating to others, which Luna at first strenuously protests against: “But this is the traditional Canterlot voice!” Luna is used to operating through the way of how things worked a thousand years previously before her banishment and this is reflected as the metaphor of immigrants being socially, and individually, imbued with the way things operate, and are accepted as the “natural way”, within their home country, but are now asked to reject and interject a new set of “natural rules”. As the saying goes; “The Past is a Foreign Country” and Luna encapsulates the metaphor of the immigrant other, par excellent, here. When Fluttershy states that Luna in fact has learned the proper way to speak, Luna is so overjoyed that she picks Fluttershy up and shakes her, while singing thanks. Fluttershy though is paralyzed with fear by this physical joy, something Luna fails to notice within the confines of her otherness. Later Luna gets angered and frustrated over not understanding a commonly played game. All these scenarios ring familiar to those who grow frustrated for not understanding, not “getting it”, always doing something wrong. It also rings true to those who in their enthusiasm don´t notice that others are uncomfortable.
Inside of the show, Luna´s misadventures in fitting in are explained by her past mistakes. However, her struggle to understand and to integrate can also be comforting for anyone who has ever felt that they never really fit in. Luna laments to Twilight that the other ponies have “never liked me, and they never shall”. Often, this refrain is voiced by many outsider groups within a society. Whether it´s immigrants that face prejudice and confusion for not being like others in the society, or other groups which deviate (even ever so slightly) from what is considered the “norm” of a cultural position or social expression within a defining cultural group (nation, ideology, ethnicity or action). Being different, an outsider, is perfectly captured in Luna. But her outsider status seems to stream from being from a different time, a different “world”. Any immigrant, or any outsider, excluded class will find a core concern within Luna’s struggle.
This being said (and without a recourse to simplify answers to how the other is to find a place within the networks of nation and cultural thought) this was also a hopeful episode. The episode goes on to present that both individuals embedded or excluded within a culture must struggle to find the chance of a new inclusion, a new way of being “together” as a society. This inclusion will become an engine to transform differences and weaknesses of exclusions into the social strengths of the open possibilities which a society can strive towards and attain.
Luna in the end is able to turn her scariness into something fun; despite not coming to a full understanding and a complete integration, one can always find ones place in a strange new world.
(Before we get started, I will like to say that this is not a spoiler free post. It should also be noted that it can be triggering for some readers as well, due to discussions of rape.)
Dan Harmon, the creator of the genius sitcom “Community”, has just recently along with Justin Roiland created a brand new animation that blends science fiction with black comedy. It follows the chaotic adventures of Rick, an alcoholic rough-personated scientist and his grandson Morty, a timid boy who semi-willingly goes along the madcap dimensional adventures instigated by his grandfather. The storylines are filled with gore, death and tragedy. The humor is quite dark, and the stories don´t always have happy endings. It is in the same mode storytelling as a slew of cartoons meant for adult audiences such as “Drawn Together” and “South Park”. However, when one looks beyond the gore filled scenes, one can see that “Rick and Morty” is a show that explores deeper themes as well. For instance, “Rick and Morty” is one of the few television shows that depict rape culture properly, without buying into myths of victim-blaming or simplifying ideas about who is a rape victim or who can be a predator.
The pilot of “Rick and Morty” show cast the series as filled with dark humor that joked about death, violence and trauma. The plots consisted of Rick dragging his fourteen year old grandson to all sorts of terrible dimensions, much to the rest families dismay. Mortys family consists of the dimwitted, insecure but goodhearted Jerry (his father) who Rick loves to belittle. Beth, Morty´s veterinarian mum and Ricks daughter. And Summer, Morty´s sister who wants to join in on her brothers and grandfathers misbegotten adventures. Rick and Morty’s travels are often dangerous, violent places that are filled with all sorts of peculiar creatures. The main selling point was its bleak sense of humor; however as the first season progressed it increased it´s serious world building and in the process was able to actually say some important things about violence.
In the first seasons fifth episode, “Meeseks and Destroy”, Morty asks Rick to allow him to decide what kind of adventure to have, since up until then, Rick had been the one who called all the shots. They make a deal that if Morty is able to handle the adventure he picks he will be allowed to choose every fifth adventure. They travel to a world that resembles the generic fantasy scenario, where Morty decides to help a poverty stricken village. In a reference to “Jack and the bean stock”, Morty and Rick climb up a bean stock and accidentally get the first giant they encounter killed. After being released from murder charges for the accidental Giant-slaughter, Rick and Morty end up at a tavern in the groundside village where things take a dark turn. Frustrated Rick goes off to gamble and Morty goes to use the restroom. There he meets a soft-spoken jellybean-shaped man who offers advice to Morty, which Morty initially appreciates. Suddenly, the benignly, supportive Jellybeanman begins getting uncomfortable close to Morty. The encounter proceeds into an uncomfortable scene where the Jellybeanman attempts to rape Morty, accusing Morty, all the while, of being a “tease”. Morty fights the Jellybeanman off, and, after the encounter, walks back out to meet Rick.
The scene is played straight; it is not used for black comedy in the slightest. This is not only remarkable because the show itself tends to poke fun at dark subjects, but also because rape jokes in today’s television shows while full of such references to sexual assault rarely show the trauma which “Rick and Morty” conveys in this brief scene. Shows such as “Two broke girls” and “Robot Chicken” tend to use rape as a throw away punch line and shock value. Casual jokes are made at both female and male survivors dispense. The problem, particularly with rape jokes, is that they tend to minimalize the violence of rape, and tend to more often fall into common victim-blaming, misogynistic language (or homophobic, if the joke is about male rape). The problem with such jokes are that they take a huge global issue (one in three women and one in six men have experienced sexual violence world wide) and treat it without any caution or seriousness. But in “Rick and Morty” the attempted rape of Morty is treated seriously; the writers cleverly decide to let the scene be gritty.
“Rick and Morty”, having the Jellybeanman accuse Morty of being a tease, underline the continued instance in media of making victim-blaming jokes and the writers highlight how rapists themselves use victim-blaming to further their abuse.
After escaping the restroom assault of the Jellybeanman Morty silently tells Rick he wants to go home. Rick sees the Jellybean man leave the restroom and figures out what happens. Then an incredible piece of writing takes place; Rick doesn´t pressure Morty into telling him what happened. He doesn´t blame Morty in any way. He does what many survivors have claimed is the best thing to do; he doesn´t say anything, but let´s Morty know that he´s there for him. Rick shows Morty the cash he´s won gambling and tells Morty they can end thier adventure and giving Rick praise for the choice of adventure. Having Rick not pressure or blame Morty is incredible and a good moral to send: give abuse survivors space but also make sure they know you´re there for them. The episode however does give into some fantasies; in the end of the episode, when Rick and Morty are leaving the world, Rick quickly shoots (and kills) the jellybeanman, unbeknown to the already departed Morty.
The show also dwells into deconstructing rape culture myths. In episode six, “Ricks Potion #9”, Morty is shown pining after his crush, Jessica. He´s gloomy for not having a date to the schools dance, and is obsessed with the idea of Jessica. Utterly love struck the boy turns to Rick for help. His grandfather tries to ignore Morty, but after Morty has a protracted outburst about how he always helps Rick and never gets anything back, Rick gives in and hands his nephew a potion made from animals DNAs that will make Jessica fall forever in love with Morty, wanting to mate with Morty for life. While the potion is a success, it turns out its success spreads through bodily fluids and therefore becomes an epidemic due to flu season.
Everyone at Morty´s school dance becomes infected and aggressively falls into a deep love/lust with Morty. Students and teachers alike start to fight over Morty, creating a fairly funny scenario. Rick turns up to help Morty via one of Ricks favorite mode of transport, his spaceships. While the whole world becomes more and more infected, Rick desperately tries out different potions to find a cure. Unfortunately this just leads to everybody on earth turning into horrible looking monsters.
When Morty starts to complain that Rick is being irresponsible, Rick then says to Morty: “All I wanted was for you to hand me a screwdriver! But instead you had me buckle down and…make you a…roofie…juice serum, so you can roofie that poor girl at your school. Are you kidding me, Morty?! You’re really gonna try to take the high road on this one? Y’know your-you’re a little creep, Morty! Your-you’re just a little creepy creep person!”. This speech brilliantly points out the ethical problems with love potions, and points out the predatory nature of Morty’s request. (Though our western society has come to give some acknowledgement to the horrid problem of drugging and raping; as the Finnish-Swede journalist Johanna Koljonen has said: “The problem then lies in that we then believe that only nasty, horrible men could do such things. The reality is that even so-called sweet, nice boys and men could be rapists”.)
Having instigated a drugging for assaultive, forced physicality Morty shows us the everyman and sympathetic protagonist, the nice guy, attempting sexual violence while denying, with the common thoughts of our society, what it is. This critique of the offensive action, and its insidious ideological justification, is a brave, important move for a television show. When asked why they rape, a lot of men express the opinion that they felt entitled. Morty, in his weakness, felt entitled as well. He may be a “nice boy”, but he has bought into societies misogynistic views and therefore did something horrible. Morty of course admits to Rick that he was wrong, which happens less in real life, but the fact that a show actually depicted a common mental state that any man (the “Privileged Person”) could have and then points out how this mentality devastates the women and girls (and actually the entire society, which this action comes to destroy) is straight out fantastic to see. This sense of entitlement of a “Privileged Person” for the “lesser person” of the “Oppressed Body” is a problem, and it should be more often addressed in these ways.
The show is also a great example of understanding that anyone could be a victim to sexual violence. Mortys dad, Jerry, gets held at gun point by a woman in the season finale. She tries to force him to have sex, but is rescued by Beth at the last minute. Beth even calls the woman “a rapist”. When Beth says she couldn´t have guessed from the woman’s looks that she was a rapist, Jerry angrily points out that it´s nonsense to assume you can tell such things from ones looks. It is true; looks are deceiving, and the sad truth is that rape culture is deeply ingrained within our society. This means that while men are taught that they may be entitled to a woman´s body, women are taught that men are always eager for sex. Therefore anyone, regardless of gender or race or age, can be a rapist. Both Jerry, Morty and Jessica were nearly raped in the show; and the perpetrators were both male and female. “Rick and Morty” is clear in its message that rape is rape.
Rape is often an shoddily used tool for drama or a lazy source of comedy on television, but “Rick and Morty” is able to avoid most of the insensitive tropes foisted upon us by the pop media.
“Rick and Morty” is careful with this subject, showing a full understanding that when discussing sexual violence it is important to respect the sufferer of the assault and consider the personhood of the survivor in our interactions with them.
Lastly, while bringing the subject up, it is about time that we as a culture actually talk about the culture that creates predators and gives them a set of rationalizations for their brutality , instead of minimizing them and stripping them of their justifications of violence .
(After being trapped in a chamber, that got filled with sticky mudlike substance, in a adandoned city)
Zuko: Who are you yelling to? Nobody’s lived here for centuries!
Aang: Well, what do you think we should do?
Zuko: …Think about our place in the Universe?
– From “Avatar: The Last Airbender”, season three, episode 13: “The Firebending Masters”
About the post I was suppose to write: They are still on the way, but keep patience, I´ll have them up next week!