Category: Cartoons


2017: New Year, new plans.

Hi Everybody.

It´s 2017. Due to exams, I was not able to be very active on this site in December. However Now it´s a new year, and I have three major plans for the future on this blog.

– Around the end of February, there will be the start of a series called “Pop goes the art!”, where I will examine the portrayel of art in popular Western animation shows.

– I´m starting probably at the end of this moth a long ongoing series called “Maaretta reads Salman Rushdie”. Each post will be a review of novel by Sir Rushdie, starting with “The Satanic Verses”.

– There will also be the ongoing series called “The Literary Quest for Freedom”, where each blog post will contain a review of a book that discusses democracy and human rights.

Hope you all had a good holiday, and let´s fight the power in 2017!

Take Care/ Maaretta

My sincere apology for a very late wrap up of June. Here are five awesome things that took place last month:

1. Favorite Cultural Event: Chris Kraus at the Culture House´s International Writers Scene.

On June 2th Chris Kraus, the author of cult-classic mosaic-like novel ”I love Dick”, visited Stockholm´s international writers scene. She talked about failure, writing, and art. Kraus explained that while failure is a painful thing, it is also at times necessary: ”When you fail, you hit a brick wall. That means that it is truly over, and you must start again, on something new, and when you start trying something new you will discover new things”, Kraus also spoke about how her debut novel came about: ”Well, I started writing a letter to this man I was infatuated with, but as time went on, I started to view the Chris and the husband in the letters as characters instead. They seemed funny to me”. Kraus continued with adding: ”It was important that I imagined this Dick (this man I was writing to) as my audience. When you write, you need to think of an audience, to think of how someone will react and respond to your text, otherwise writing is nearly impossible”. (This seems to have truth to it. Writers that brag about only writing for themselves seem always unreliable in their talents). When asked if her most famous quote from ”I love Dick”, ”WHO GETS TO SPEAK AND WHY? IS THE ONLY QUESTION ”, is still an important question to regard, she replied: ”Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. While it is much more easy for women to get their voices heard nowadays, the question is still relevant when it comes to class. Because how often do we get to hear the voices and experiences from the lower classes? Almost never”.

2. Favorite Cartoon Moment: Steven Universe season 3 so far. (Spoilers!)

Last Month I binged watched the season 3 of ”Steven Universe”, which gave two exciting conclusions to season 2´s major story arch’s and had Alexandrite (the fusion of Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl) return. Steven also had a almost bottle-like episode with the newly reformed and befriended gem Peridot (while they were drilling into the earth’s center). We also got a sweet, tender episode with Steven and Lapis Lazuli bonding. Lapis and Steven have such a great dynamic together, and it will be super exciting to see what direction the show has in store for Lapis´ character. Hopefully we will see more screen time given to her and Stevens touching, and budding, friendship. Also, in this set of the series their was a baseball themed episode and it is as hilarious as it sounds.

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Steven and Lapis

3. Favorite Outdoor Event: Dancing around the May Pole

In Sweden, during the day of midsummer, it is traditional to dance around a decorated pole that is adorned with grass and flowers while singing classic children’s songs. This is done to celebrate the rebirth of nature during summer time and sunnier days that are ahead in summertime. It is believed to be a ritual that steams from pre- christian beliefs (maybe the phallic nature of the pole?). Where I live they have, nearby, a annual dance about the “Maypole” to celebrate the longest daylight of the year, and the beginning of summer. I´ve attended this festival for three years in a row now. At the same location they have a Four-H club/farm/stable with pigs, chickens, ducks and horses. The pigs are just the cutest!

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The dancing and the maypole look like this

4. Favorite Reading experience: ”The Lover” by Marguerite Duras.

Last month was a great reading month for me. Many of the books that I read I ended up loving, but my favorite was Duras´ adult novel ”The Lover”, which is often marketed as a sexy and steamy read, but to my surprise is also a book about class, race and features one assuredly maladjusted parent-child relationship with a frightening portrait of an older brother who´s a violent bully thrown into the narrative mix. The prose is so beautiful that the words leap from the pages, and many of the marvelous sentences feel as though one should re-read over and over again. The main character talks about a desire to become a writer, being super-aware of her white privilege (despite growing up in an economically unstable family), and the two major loves of her life: her younger brother Paolo and the elder Chinese man who was her lover in her teen years. The book also describes in stunning detail the complicated emotions that occur when ones parent is suffering of a bipolar disorder, which leads to the mother sometimes becoming so depressed that she´s unable to feed the young of the family. Despite being only 117 pages long, this petite novel covered so many topics in such a engaging way that it´s hard not to just fall in love with it. One of my new favorite books, definitely.

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5. Favorite Shopping moment: The Helsinki Academic Bookstore had a 70% sale.

When visiting Finland for a week, I always drop by my second favorite book store in the world (first one being Strand in Manhattan). In June I was lucky to discover that they had a 70% (!) sale on various books, and to seize the opportunity I bought 5 novels and two graphic novels. 6 of these were written in Finnish by a Finnish writer and one was from an American author. One of the purchased Finnish Novels was a middle grade book dealing with immigration and depression. This Novel is quite well known in the Finnish context as it was the winner of the Finlandia Junior prize in 2015. I also bought Elina Hirvonens third novel, Emmi Nieminens ”Damage limit”, Joel Haahtolas novel ”Lumipäiväkirja” (”Snow diary”) and Ronald De Feos second novel. Pictures down below.

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That´s it. How was everybody else’s month?

Best Regards , Maaretta

Film adaptations are a difficult prospect. How much to keep, what will translate well enough to the alternative media, how to avoid deforming and misusing the original source and its intentions. Especially in childrens media/culture, it is common for a screen adaptation to become lighter and unnecessarily softer, removing things that would be seen as “too depressing”/”scary”. Though certain subjects, or their presentation, may be problematic for children, it is still a fact that life itself is quite messy and at times unpleasant and saying otherwise to kids is just a gratuitous and deceitful deviation from the real. On top of that, children by nature are curious and often quite philosophical, and the world being the chaotic place that it is will lead to children experiencing things like death, divorce, bullying etc. to which literature can offer help in coping and understanding these issues. This inclination goes a long way to explaining why the “Moomins”-books, that are chock-full of philosophy and curiosity, have been so poorly adapted when it comes to cartoons and films. Therefore it is no small pleasure to say that in 2014, a fantastic adaption was made of the Moomin comic strip, “Moomins At The Riviera”.

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left to right: Moominmamma, Snorkmaiden, Moomintroll and Moominpappa

The Moomin series started out as novels and comic strips, created by Tove Jansson who wrote the original eight novels, and add-ons, following the Moomin family and their friends. The novels delved into a slew of issues, including death, morality, family, loneliness and middle age crises. The characters who were primarily focused on were the naïve yet kindhearted Moomintroll, the wise, gentle Moominmamma, the angry adopted sister Little My, Moomintrolls vain yet tough girlfriend Snorkmaiden, and the proud Moominpappa. The comics, outside of the novel series, were initially written by Tove Jansson, and then later were run by her brother Lars Jansson. The comic strip was massively popular in England and Japan, and is regarded to this day as Finland’s most popular comic strip. However, inside of the Moomin-fandom they are slightly controversial; some fans love them, some fans dislike them and feel like the novels are fair superior. There is also a third camp (in which I am in) that feel like the comics are at times great, at times lacking.

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The animated film “Moomins at the Riviera” (2014) is based on a comic strip arch that satirized class and social norms, but the comic arch suffered from a poorly written Moomintroll – he was written as a bit possessive and unkind to Snorkmaiden in the original comic strip. The animated film adaption keeps the satirical elements, while also improving on the character development.

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As the film begins, the viewer is introduced to the Moomins and their friends. Life in their valley is relaxed, tolerant, and blissfully tranquil. However Snorkmaiden reads about a fancy hotel in a magazine, and after telling the rest of the gang about the fantastic place she´s read about, they decide to embark on an adventure to find this hotel. When they get there, it turns out that their adventure becomes more of a misadventure. Snorkmaiden gets caught up in the superficial glamour, Moominpappa gets swept up in his own pride and neglects his family, and Moomintroll after seeing Snorkmaiden flirt with others feels abused and abandoned. It is only Moominmamma who keeps her head high, trying to help her depressed son and other lonely creatures at the hotel. As Moominmamma points out: “If only this place wasn´t such a bad influence on us”.

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While the humor and the characters are as loveable as in their book and comic counterparts, what makes this movie a wondrous continuation of the series (and also watchable to people not familiar with this franchise) is it´s witty, intelligent social commentary. At the films beginning the viewer is introduced to an honest, straightforward narration to the family´s philosophy. This is laid out in in the story line through a brief encounter with a lively band of self-proclaimed pirates. Moominmamma mistakes their feverish search through their home as a hunt for a missing “treasure” chest of tropical seeds she had found, while, in reality, and of course, the pirates were scavenging for the booty of a chest of gold. Moominmammas honest confusion at the pirates disregard for the seeds is comical, but also speaks volumes of the alternative lifestyle the Moomins live; that is, one not consumed by wealth or focused on the materialistic.

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In the film version of “Moomins At The Riviera”, while being residence at the hotel, the gang for the first time has to cope with real judgment for their ways and mannerism. They are constantly too clumsy, too obscene, they don´t have the right clothing etc. Snorkmaiden however learns to blend in and Moominpappa is befriended by man from a high class family who´s impressed with Moominpappas “boheme” lifestyle. However Moomintroll becomes more and more helpless as Snorkmaiden becomes enamored with someone else.

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Scene from original comic, duplicated in film

A clear rift is driven between the individuals of the Moomin band, yet despite this wedge sundering to the group Moominmamma and Moomintroll try their best to rekindle their old life. Moomintroll tries to woe Snorkmaiden with a boat trip, Moominmamma tries to help a dog who has an unfortunate fondness for cats. In one beautifully written scene, Moomintroll falls into a deep melancholy when he once again gets dogged by Snorkmaiden and ends up just sulking by himself. Moominmamma tries to engage Moominpappa in this, telling him “our son is a little down, maybe you could give him some advice?” which Moominpappa hand waves away as Moomintroll just being “philosophical”. With such simplicity the pain of the rift is made clear; popularity and outward glamour have in fact corrupted them.

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It is also in Snorkmaidens and Moomintrolls conflict where the film becomes a superior production to the original comic. In the comic strips arch, Moomintroll has a tendency to get angry when Snorkmaiden wants to go to parties and has a habit to belittle her (which he never did in the books). However in the animated film production, he supports her desire to go to the hotel and doesn´t demean her as in the comics. Additionally his jealousy is explored more as a symptom born of his insecurities in light of his girlfriend openly flirting with strangers, as well as the hotel’s general alienating nature. In other words, he is more like the lovable Moomintroll from the books, which gets the audiences sympathy even in his more flawed moments.

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The film, on top of its family dynamics and life style philosophy, also focuses sharply upon the issue of class. The Moomins are read by the hotels celebrities as poor due to their lack of knowledge of fancy food, of their lack of materials and appearance. This assumption creates a hostile attitude, but also naïve admiration; Moominpappa impresses a man from a well-to-do family who wants to “suffer for his art” and live as “the poor”, however he quickly abandons this notion when he lives upon common food for a day, and endeavors to sleeps outside for one night. His one day experiment in downward mobility ends with his exclamation “I´ve lived in poverty quite enough now”. This satire of the exotification of poverty is quick biting, and spot on.

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Moomins at the Riviera” is a fantastic film that loyal Moomin-fans and casual viewers will both love. The atmosphere is gentle despite the satire, the characters are instantly loveable and the themes resonate in an international tone. A must watch.

Today´s post will be a book tag, that was created by the booktuber A Clockwork reader. All the questions are based on characters from Nickelodian´s most popular cartoon, “Avatar: The last Airbender”, which is a fantasy-based world where different nations have unique people that can control certain elements. The summary of the shows three seasons arch is:

Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, could stop them, but when the world needed him most, he vanished. A hundred years passed, until one day two teens Sokka and Katara discovered the new Avatar, an airbender named Aang. The Trio must then travel the world looking for teachers to help Aang control all four elements, so he can then save everyone from the ruthless Fire nations head lord.

A Clockwork Reader divided her questions into the four nations, and the questions are regarding the central characters of each nation and how they relate to other structures of literary or narrative mythos. Let´s get started.

Water:

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1. Sokka and Katara, or your favorite sibling relationship: (Sokka and Katara are the shows main leading heroes along with the Protagonist Aang, being a loyal and steadfast brother-sister team). Hansel and Gretel from the classic Grimm´s fairy tale. While it is a short fairy tale, it has always seemed remarkable to me how Hansel and Gretel are so fiercely loyal to each other. Despite being abandoned in the woods, and then being enslaved and breed for eating, Hansel and Gretel never double cross each other and never leave the other to their own faith. It´s even Gretel who in the end not only saves herself, but her brother, and together they bring back gold to their parents. While no doubt the parenting can seem more than lacking to modern audiences, the shere comradeship of these two is just awesome.

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2. Yue, or your favorite cross-stared lovers: (Yue is a princess that Sokka falls in love with, but due to complications they are never able to get together).

This was the most difficult question, and it seems the best answer would be the German girl Regine and the polish boy Jan from the young adult historical novel ”His name was Jan” by Irina Korschunow. It´s the story of a German girl growing up during WWII who accidentally falls in love with a Polish boy, something that is forbidden. The two are tragically split up apart by the 2/3´s mark of the novel, and Regine is left speculating whether or not Jan has been killed. It´s a little known book written by a German writer who herself was a teen during WWII and the novel displays a hauntingly accurate portrayal of the propaganda of the Nazis, the rounding up of Jewish neighbors, disappearances of dissidents, and fear of death being common place in this sad novel.

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3. Bloodbending, or a book with a disturbing concept: (“Bloodbending” is the knowledge of how to control a person through taking control of their blood; inside the show this was seen as the ultimate violation of a person).

For a song and a thousand songs” by Liao Yiwu. This prison memoir is disturbing in not only it´s theme, an inside look into infamous Chinese prisons, but also in its execution of sparing no detail of the gruesome fates the prisoners meet; violence, rape and humiliation. While the book recounts many of the prisoners helping each other, it is especially Mr. Liao who comes to the assistance of the more bullied prisoners. There are several scenes that make the reader squirm at the recounting of the most horrible acts you will ever read in your life. But the author´s beautiful prose will help the reader through it all.

Earth:

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1. Toph, or a character who´s strength surprised you: (Toph was a blind, young girl who many underestimated due to her disability, but turned out being powerful enough to become a teacher to Aang).

Moomintroll, from ”The Moomins”-series. In the series, Moomintroll is, in the first of these series of novels, shown as a very kind creature, but very naive. A creature who often bumbles his way through life. However, in the fifth book, ”Moominland Midwinter” and in the seventh book, ”Moominpappa at sea”, we see that despite his naivety Moomintroll is a strong person in his own right, and that his kindness gives him an advantage. In ”Moominland Midwinter” he kindly and adeptly balances several spontaneous, unexpected, even slightly bad-timed guests imposing on him and his family, and in ”Moominpappa at sea” he is able to befriend and give comfort to Groke, the series’ most scary character, something that no other character does in the entire series. These actions illustrate that being nice makes Moomintroll able to overcome prejudices and to take a closer look at individuals that others simply reject. This kindly openness may not often or traditionally be considered a physical power, but nonetheless in the novel it is shown as a form of strength worthy of admiration.

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Original picture from “Moominpappa at sea”

2. Tales of Ba sing se, or your favorite short story or poetry collection: (this was an episode that was a collection of small stories of many characters, which was a one-time “bottle episode” in the continuity of the show)

Dreams in Harrison Railroad Park” by Nellie Wong. Ms. Wong´s almost entirely unknown poetry collection has short, prose like poems that discuss racism towards Chinese-Americans, sexism, poverty and family. Her poems are as beautiful as they are powerful, talking about melancholy themes with a honest voice.

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3. Kioshi Warriors, or your favorite warrior character: (Kioshi Warriors are respected all-female armies that appear in the show)

Mulan, from the Disney´s “Mulan”. This is cheating since this one is a cartoon character and not the original literary one. Anyhow, she is still very endearing and one of the best heroines in children´s cartoons ever. She´s been discussed on this blog before, so just shortly this: what makes her such a great warrior is not just strength, but also her use of intelligence to undermine her enemies (instead of just using brutal force) while her loyalty is strong and steadfast. She accepts no rest until she has successfully protected those she has sworn to defend. That is what makes her a great warrior.

Fire:

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1. Zuko, or your favorite redemption arch: (Zuko is a character who starts out as a villain, but as the series progressives changes his ways and befriends Aang)

Macon ´Milkman´ Dean III in ”Song of Solomon” by Toni Morrison. While Macon technically is never a villain, or necessarily evil in this novel, he does come to a realization regarding his male privilege and more unkind actions towards the women around him. This book is cool and epic and important, so there will be not much detail here, but Macon has a prideful and disregarding relationship to his sisters and mother, that changes after some maturing and life changing events. He realizes that he has not been the most understanding or empathic to this female relatives, and comes to regret his actions. This all takes place inside Macon´s mind, where he asks himself hard questions about himself, even cringeing when remembering what he´s said and done, and comes to realize that his sister’s critique of his behavior was correct all along. It´s a stunning, amazingly written scene, where the deep thoughts of a character create much more drama than many action scenes would.

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2. Iroh, or the wisest character: (Iroh is Zukos uncle, who often is the shows source of elderly wisdom).

Dumbledore from the ”Harry Potter”-series. For better or for worse, Albus Dumbledore is the smartest person in the ”Harry Potter”-series, and one of the most famous wise characters in literature.

3. Azula, or best downfall: (Azula is a villain who falls from grace as the show progressives). Difficult question, but guess a good example would be the downfall of Thomas´ abusive father from ”The Book of everything” by Guus Kuijer. For more details, here´s my review.

Air:

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1. Appa, or favorite pet/animal: (Appa is Aang´s pet flying bison).

Cheshire Cat from ”Alice in Wonderland”. While he´s mostly trouble in Disney´s animated classic, he´s more of a harmless trickster in Lewis Carroll´s novel. Alice, who is a definite cat person, even becomes somewhat friendly towards him. The Cheshire cat is just the right blend of befuddling kindness, and playful trouble. Of manifest weirdness, but grand sanity by Wonderland standards. As a highlight his levitating head successfully trolls the Queen of hearts, starting a serious debate about decapitations. Fun!

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2. Aang, or the purest cinnamon roll: (Aang is often portrayed as the kindest, purest character inside of the show).

Josef K från ”The Trial” by Franz Kafka. While one of the driving questions in this novel is whether everyone by just mere existence is guilty of criminality, or if society continously, willfully, and wrongfully accuses everyone of crimes, Josef K is still a character who gives of impressions of being overly nice even in the face of empty madness. While Josef K could very well have done something to bring upon the notice of society (he is after all very quick to say he hasn´t) his actions throughout the novel are incessantly altruistic and exceptionally humble. He tries helping others, he is soft spoken and never causes any trouble (that we know of). His character is very lovable, with his awkward bumbling through a nightmare, and whether or not he is guilty of the unnamed crime he nonetheless always comes across as a sweet, nice man.

3. Avatar state, or a stubborn character/a character that has trouble letting go: (Aang, when triggered, goes into a state where he is mentally absent with a concurrent dark force taking control of him. This causes often much destruction, but can result in both good and bad effects).

Lila from ”My Brilliant Friend”. While I have only read about 40% of the first Neapolitan novel, which means that all the characters could very well change, so far Lila, the narrators friend, is by all accounts a very stubborn, competitive and prideful child. She is too stubborn to ever admit defeat or to being wrong. She´s determined to get to all her goals despite it often being hurtful, and she is very manipulative. She has trouble letting go in the face of being second place, and stubbornly claws her way through life. Quite the hellraiser.

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Hope you all enjoyed, comment down below what some of your picks would be!.

Take Care/ Maaretta

Without a doubt, we are in a new golden age of Children´s Animation Shows. Series like “Gravity Falls” portray mystery and family dynamics. Shows like “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” details the values of team work, tolerance and a diversity of different kinds of femininity. Even shows that I don´t necessarily like, for example “Adventure Time”, are an admirably and innovative experimental venture in storytelling and narrative structure. And of course, we have shows like “Steven Universe”, an animated family science fiction show which deal with homesickness, queerness, and the questions of a Post-war environment. Despite these downbeat themes, the universe of Steven and his family and friends is a funny and upbeat show, with a constant of heartwarming moments and admonishments to tolerance and compassion. Mixed with a slew of sly insights in a surreal environment bouncing off of a bounty of really, really cool concepts “Steven Universe” is a gem in the harvest of the new children’s programming.

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“Steven Universe” centers on a young, 13-year old Steven who lives with his deceased mother´s former friends, the crystal gems. The crystal gems consist of Pearl, Garnet and Amethyst who, in quasi-human form incarnations, are aliens protecting the earth from the authoritarian and destructive species of their own kind, as well as mysterious creatures focused on vicious intent towards our planet. These Crystal Gems have the individual power to summon a personal weapon, per their own unique personality, and are almost indestructible. Steven is the child of the now deceased Rose Quartz, the former leader of the crystal gems, and a human father, Greg and the first season finds Steven´s struggling to discover how to control his powers bequeathed to him through being his mothers progeny, and how to summon his own variant of the crystal weapon. The second season depicts him as having discovered his weapon, and follows him as he learns to summon it at will and wield it in communal protection of the earth with the Other Crystal Gems. The show, now in its second season, is a narrative of wondrous world building, bubbling tolerance, and open optimism in a world prone to the dark twist.

“Steven Universe” is one of the few shows where every character, main and secondary, are individually detailed and given specific and elaborated characteristics making each presentation of personage in the animation memorable, noteworthy and precise. As the major protagonists of the show, the triad of the crystal gems have contrasting, fun personas; Steven is adorable, good-natured and charitable, as well as a great role model for young boys. His father Greg is amusing, open-minded, struggling, and lovable, and the various regulars of which the town is composed of have a surprisingly diverse and detailed cast. Steven´s best friend and possible love interest Connie is Indian-American, an African-American family runs the town’s single pizzeria and we find a roster of the shows characters being ambiguous regarding the question of ethnicity (as seen notably in the city mayor´s son, who appears sturdily biracial, though with a obviously stereotypically white Politian father. The ethnicity of the character goes without mention in the show, nor sight of a possible black mother, leaving this a normal condition to the shows population. This is note worthy story telling since the actuality of inter-ethnicity is becoming more and more of the majority of the population of the earth as time goes on).

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Pearl, one of the Gems that Steven lives with, is one of the shows most complex characters. Through her character, and her biographical history, the show has explored subject matters as prejudice, consequences and normalcy of bad decisions (and how to transcend them through the everyday actions of living and the acceptance of a broadminded community of peers), and homesickness. The subject that this post will focus on is Pearl´s homesickness in all its bittersweet depiction.

The beauty of many fantastical works is that through the use of fantasy, surrealism or science fiction is that, when done cleverly, the imaginary world can explore and develop subject matters that are universal, deeply philosophical or describe sociological subjects in a clear language. “Steven Universe” as a show was created by Rebecca Sugar to explore gender and sexuality. In “Steven Universe’s” first season it is revealed that the gems are aliens, and are in fact somewhat stuck on Earth. Due to complications from their decision to protect the earth, they both physically and politically cannot leave the planet. While Garnet and Amethyst are fairly ok with this, Pearl has a lingering longing for space, and the questionable companionship of her, sadly, authoritarian species.

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Right to left: Garnet, Amethyst, Steven and Pearl

In the episode “Space Race” Pearl starts to tell Steven about how she and his mother used to travel the galaxy together. This was a big deal to Pearl; in fact the show has implied that those years were some of Pearls most happy years. She tells Steven that she wishes she could show him how amazing the vast diversity of space and its travel is. This prompts Steven to suggest they build a space ship together, which Pearl enthusiastically accepts. Steven and Pearl work idealistically on this project, with a the shanghaied Greg contributing to the dubious enterprise. Upon finding that Greg doesn’t take the project seriously, Pearl rejects his further contributions and determines to build the space ship herself. She does in fact build one, and while Greg is asleep Pearl tries to sneak herself and Steven on a test drive of the newly created ship.

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Unfortunately the space ship starts to fall apart while leaving earth, with Pearl having to confront her illusion of leaving the confines of the planet, Steven desperately laments: “I know you worked hard, and I know you miss space, but sometimes you got to know when to bail”. Pearl in reluctance ejects herself and Steven from the failing apparatus of the ship.

While confronting the dilemmas and depressions of homesickness and alienation, this episode has amazing pacing and truly fantastic dialogue. When Pearl says somewhat bitterly that she used to travel the galaxy but that she´s know “on earth, forever”, it perfectly captures the frustration of feeling trapped, lost, and the other to yourself. Pearl doesn´t quite understand Earth; she puts on a brave face for Steven but the life on Earth is in fact alien to her. She goes into denial after Steven´s innocence has awoken hope in her, and it is just heartbreaking to watch Pearl accept that she can´t leave earth despite hard work and the resolve to capture a life abandoned to all of her correct and noble decisions. To feel nostalgia for another world and to even, to some extent, idealize it is a common trait of homesickness in people who have immigrated or otherwise feel at odds of where they are located. To feel resentful to where the homesick person lives is all too real, which Pearl´s dialogue hints at. The show doesn´t hit you over the head with its directness but with sincere story telling of the dilemma of loneliness and alienation instead; Pearl´s actions and words are subtle and gently animated getting to the core of a feeling not resolvable.

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The most powerful part of this episode however is when Pearl cradles Steven as they parachute back to Earth. Steven comforts Pearl by saying that while she waits for a new chance to get to space she can stay on earth with him. Pearl can find a home with a new community of acceptance, while not denying her aches of otherness in her new address.

This episode explores how Homesickness is not always and necessarily about wanting to go Back home. It is more about wanting to feel like you belong, experiencing things that are familiar, not wanting to be the odd one out. Pearl is shown to be in deep mourning for both her lost sense of belonging to a place and the added loss when Steven´s mother died, becoming mirrored reason for her longing for space. Pearls feelings comes from a myriad of conflicting and confusing directions – her difference from humans, her loss of autonomy in the lack of travel, and the loss of friendship in the empty unfillable space left by Steven’s mother. Recognition by the community around Pearl, especially by Steven, of the many causes of loneliness and longing becomes acceptance, sadness and comfort for the possibility of a new home.

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In these times with immigration being a norm for almost all countries, and many people perhaps feeling like they were born in the wrong place, Pearl´s story most certainly can resonate with many people.

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Pearl´s decision and conclusions to the irresolvable question of homesickness (and the feeling of otherness) also mirrors many of the decisions regarding immigration and resettling seen in our contemporary moment. Resettling individuals and general immigration, is founded on a myriad of diverse reasons, most directly related to the case exemplified in Pearl is the person who finds love or have children in the new land. Additionally Pearl finds, as many a political/cultural immigrant, she is forced to resettle to earth because going back might be dangerous. Pearl, also has the added moral and communal incentive of having to be the new family for Steven after the demise of his mother (and naturally to protect the Earth from monsters which would threaten Steven and his species). Her new responsibilities and identity make her stay on earth more prominent, but also easier as her ethical imperative is to be a family for Steven. (We can find a like, and real world example, of this ethical imperative to family in the Iraqi writer Hassan Blasim who stated, at the Stockholm Literature conference of 2015, that one of the overriding reasons that he hasn’t moved from Finland is because of his son who was born in Finland, and because of the Finnish mother of this son).

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While Pearl complains, and has deeply sad feelings about being confined and alienated upon Earth we simultaneously see a Pearl as determined and devoted, even creating herself as immigrant and other, to protect and give Steven stability, love, caring and a family. Given the real activities and world of immigrants, this following by Pearl of the moral imperative of family, community, and obligation to comforting the young, is one hundred percent believable. Pearl´s struggles and realization is a true and determined call to action for a world facing the questions of nationality, community and immigration, despite being fantasy.

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Steven: “You can stay here with me”  Pearl: “Yes, with you”

In “Space Race” this show tells the struggles of many, many people worldwide, and is able to show that despite not always getting to go back home, one can always make the best of what one has and in doing so make the world a better place.

This post is an outcome from getting inspiration from a post by Missmagic girl, who listed her favorite couples from literature. It was a fun blog post, so thought that I could write my own version for this blog. Unfortunately I couldn´t quite make a top ten list from literature alone (I very rarely enjoy the romantic plotlines in novels), so had to resort to films for help. But without further ado, let´s get started.

1. Peeta Mellark and Katniss Everdeen from “The Hunger Games”-trilogy by Suzanne Collins: This relationship works partly for two reasons. One is that it is slowly built up during the course of all three novels. The second is that while Peeta is profoundly kind and nice, the two younglings still are portrayed in a realistic fashion of occasional resentment and confusion, balancing these emotions with altruism and understanding. Both characters are also quite likeable, and the love story is also enjoyable for deconstructing our society’s ideas on masculinity. It´s just pleasant to have a relationship built on mutual trust and honesty, and Peeta´s overall kindness was just a refreshing form of romantic lead when I read it nearly four years ago. (I had gone through high school being frustrated at the so-called broody bad boys that was offered in young adult media back then, so the contrast for me personally was wonderful).

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2. Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger from the “Harry Potter”-series by J. K. Rowling: Total honesty, during the whole course of my adolescence I was rooting for these two to get together. It was a big celebration when, in 2008, I finally finished “The Deathly Hollows” where they were shown getting together. Their bickering is fun, as well as their tender moments being very believable. Most fictional relationships are often quite filled with angst, or are sappy and are unrealistically tension free; Ron and Hermione, like Peeta and Katniss, however are able to both argue with each other, while simultaneously having enormous trust and faith towards each other. Finally, as a plotline, it was quite clever of Rowling to have Hermione to end up with Ron, a deuteragonist, since the cliché is often that the most prominent female character would end up with the stories hero. The relationship is subversive in structure and honest in depiction, and as a bonus quite cute.

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3. Ronja and Birk from “Ronja the Robbers Daughter” by Astrid Lingren: While technically only remaining very close friends in the novel, the romantic subtext is quite heavy. The narration implies that due to both Birk and Ronja being roughly 12 year old, they naturally don´t quite understand romantic love yet, but as they get older they might end up getting a relationship upgrade. Yet even if the romance is just subtext, Ronja and Birk have a quite dramatic and powerful relationship. First they resent each other due to their parent’s disagreements, then they become such close friends that they find the courage to stand up for each other even if it results in their parents disowning them. While being forced to live alone together in the dangerous wild, it is proved that the duo make quite the team. Ronja´s and Birk´s friendship, and possible future romance, is embodied in fierce loyalty, and regardless of how the reader sees the implications of the relationship, is hugely touching.

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4. Petite/Åsa and Torfinn from the “Vikinga”-trilogy by Maj Bylock: In these historical children´s books, we follow a young French girl who is abducted by Vikings and made a slave in Viking era Sweden. She escapes, is adopted by a kind couple, and grows up to become willingly engaged to a young man who himself wants to become a Viking. As a child I found myself surprisingly invested in this romance, since it raised questions of how one views themselves if they marry a person of questionable ambition, and how much one should change for their significant other. There will be no spoilers in case anyone wants to read these books (it is recommended), but let´s just say that the conclusion that the couple comes to at the end is quite heartwarming, making a sacrifice on both ends. Compromise is something that relationships truly need, but few fictional couples portray that, which I guess is why this couple actually did capture my interest as a kid.

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Cover of the second book in series

5. Jelkele and Ulangalu from the fairy tale “Ulangalu”: This is a Monglian-Chinese story about a resourceful young mortal man, named Jelkele, who falls in love with a Snake spirit princess, Ulangalu. She´s essentially a snake that quite often takes human form. While the two hit it off instantly, Ulangalu´s father, the snake King, disapproves and decides to keep Ulangalu imprisoned in his home (which is essentially just a fancy cave). Jelkele decides to aid Ulangalu in her escape, and together they kill her abusive parent. While this couple´s story is noticeably more brutal then most couples´, the theme of loyalty is still quite strong in this tale. And while most (western) fairy tales would end up with the guy single handedly saving the princess, this tale ends with them charging the villain-father together. Like Ronja and Birk, they make a great team, and work off each other to make the best of the situation. Ulangalu, when not given the right to choose, gives herself agency. Just an overall nice, if a tag violent, story.

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Image from a similar chinese folklore, “Madame Whitesnake”

6. Kien and Phuong from “The Sorrow of War” by Bao Ninh: Just as a heads up, this novel is really intense but really, really heartbreaking. Kien is a former soldier for the North Vietnamese side from the American/Vietnam War who suffers from severe Post-traumatic stress syndrome, while Phuong is his former high school sweetheart. The novel goes back and forth in the narrative, showing the horrific times of the war and the propaganda for the war both before and in its aftermath. The romance is shown in a similar fashion. Kien is idealistic and shy, Phuong is energetic and daring. Later on, Kien is disillusioned with life in the aftermath of the war, while Phuong attempts to help Kien and resolve his emotional and intellectual dilemmas. While Kien´s problems prevent the couple from remaining together, their interactions are quite romantic. Phuong is quite straight forward in her opinions, but Kien doesn´t mind; in fact he always considers what she says. Phuong empathizes with Kien, and is much more sexual than him. But most of all as a reader you really feel that they love each other, but after how things have gone about in the world it is sadly not possible for them to work it out. While many War novels depict these kinds of scenarios, it is few that are this devastating to read about.

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7. Toni and Maria from “West Side Story” (1961): A New York, musical version of Romeo and Juliet does not only have great songs, but a surprisingly good chemistry between Natalie Wood (who plays Maria) and Richard Beymer (who plays Toni). Beside the chemistry, the couple, despite suffering from Insta-love, is well written ground for interplay of an amorous pair. They are playful, overly sappy in dialogue, impatient and forgiving. My favorite scene with them is when they imagine getting permission from their parents to get married and make up silly dialogue towards mannequins that represent the parents. It´s silly, but sweet. It is a perfect instant of showing and not telling; the filmmakers show the couple as getting along and enjoying each other’s company, instead of constant flowery speeches of eternal love.

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8. Jack Skellington and Sally from “Nightmare before Christmas”: Once more, what makes this couple great are the characters and how they interact. Sally is wise and brave, Jack is passionate, ambitious and energetic. They complement each other nicely. While for the most of the movie Sally believes her feelings for Jack are unrequited, the ending of the film features by far one of the most romantic getting-together scenes ever made, period.

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9. Balto and Jenna from “Balto”: One of the reasons this couple is so intriguing is that unlike a lot of children´s films, the protagonist Balto´s love interest Jenna is interested in him and knows he´s a decent guy from almost the beginning of the film. The reason for them getting together later is because of a tuberculoses outbreak, which is endangering the town’s child population including Jenna´s owner. This works in the films advance, since the film is more about Balto, who´s half dog and half wolf, coming to terms with his own identity by using both of his dog and wolf traits to bring the needed medicine into the town (through his sled pulling skills). Balto and Jenna, like a lot of couples on this list, come to each other’s aid when needed and Jenna believes in Balto when none of the other dogs do. The film keeps their story simple, which works perfectly. It´s just a story of two generous, kind dogs who find each other, nothing more grandiose needed.

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10. Homer and Marge Simpsons from “The Simpsons” (pre-season 18): Truth be told my original pick was another relationship based on subtext, so I decided to go for a couple that´s explicitly in love but is a relationship which is both complex and enduring. Homer, despite his stupidity, does truly love his wife and kids, and Marge loves Homer irrespective of his many and overt vices. In several episodes Homer works strenuously for his love of the family. And even when Homers flaws overwhelm the family, prompting Marge to get angry and temporarily leave him, he respectfully lets her and considers why she is angry with him. Marge always defends Homer to her sisters, and is shown to be a good listener towards Homer. While Homer drinks too much and does mistakes, they as a couple find ways to make things work. Even if they are perhaps a bit of the typical screw ball family, the Simpsons are a family that sticks with each other, and despite their problems love each other dearly. This bonding and devotion, in its self, makes them deserving of being one of the most iconic couples, as well as family.

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Honorable mentions:
R2D2 and C3PO from the “Star Wars” franchise: …What? Don´t look at me like that, they are totally meant to be a couple! On top of that, their bickering is legendary and their bond is unquestionable. One of the best written lines in “A New Hope” is when C3PO says, before R2D2 has to go off on the mission to blow up the Death Star with Luke is: “Promise me you´ll come back, won´t you R2? Because if you don´t my life will be boring. You don’t want my life to be boring, do you?”. That line right there is a better declaration of love than Han´s “I know” and everything that was written between Anakin and Padme, let´s be honest.

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Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt from “Parks and Recreation”: Not much to say here but that Ben is a very sweet person, Leslie is also very kind, together they are just adorable.

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Gabriel and Batsheeba from “Far from the Madding Crowd” (2015 film adaption): A slow burn romance, but, therefore, all the better. Both Gabriel and Batsheeba are power focuses of activity, while leaving Batsheeba to her stubbornness, and Gabriel his honest kindness. Just watching them grow closer and remaining friends until the end where they decide to become a couple is a moving journey. Plus, Gabriel is not brooding at all, a huge plus in my opinion.

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So those are my picks in this category. I´m going to do another second list along these lines, but with focus on Interspecies couples. So if anyone has some suggestions, feel free to comment, or just comment if you have any other favorite literary or otherwise fictional couples!

“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.”

Lauren Faust, folding a plush toy of her Pony-persona

Lauren Faust, holding a plush toy of her Pony-persona

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.

Picture from  the documentary "Bronies"

Picture from the documentary “Bronies”

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.

Luna arrives in a scary carriage

Luna arrives in a scary carriage

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.

Luna (left) and Twilight (right)

Luna (left) and Twilight (right)

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.

The ponies scream in terror when they see Luna

The ponies scream in terror when they see Luna

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.

Luna thanks Fluttershy (the yellow pony)

Luna thanks Fluttershy (the yellow pony)

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.

Lunas shock at being liked

Lunas shock at being liked

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.

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(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.

Morty (right) and Rick (left)

Morty (right) and Rick (left)

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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

Jessica after the drug kicks in

Jessica after the drug kicks in

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”.)

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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.

Jerry held at gunpoint

Jerry held at gunpoint

“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 .

Awareness Ribbon for sexual violence

Awareness Ribbon for sexual violence

(Spoilers, dear readers)

One of the newest “The Simpsons” episodes, “Brick like me”, was an experimental episode which was mostly Lego based animation. It was a clear and unashamed reference to “The Lego Movie”, as it copied the film’s formula style and message. It was an interesting idea, but poorly executed. For one, the episode wasn’t brave enough to just fully center on Legos; large parts of the episode were still animated in the traditional Simpsons Style. The episode was lacking in jokes, and much of the characterization (consistent within the show’s trajectory) was nonsensical. For instance we are given a joke which implied that Homer was used to being sexually rejected within his marriage, this comes off as bizarre to those who have been following the show as many episodes have actually portrayed Marge and Homer as quite happy (and playful) in their sexual life. This was of course one of the new writers’ many jokes where women are portrayed as unfair shrews (whose supposed “horrible actions” stem from the fact that they don´t do whatever their husbands wants. This is a problematic portrayal of marriage since it implies that a husbands desires are more important than the wife’s comfort zones), despite it going against the Simpsons female characters established personalities.

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In another episode of this new Simpsons trend of belittling women (and their concerns and struggles) we find a scene where Lisa complains about Christmas gifts being too commercial and that she intends to buy fewer, but more significant presents for her family. Millhouse responds to Lisa´s plan by asking if she’s doing so merely to make herself feel good. Lisa then lectures Millhouse angrily that women only want to be listened to and heard, but never really questioned about what they say. This is mere reiteration of the stereotype of the babbling and empty communication of women. This is a sad dismissal- and not a funny one – of the concerns and thoughts of Women, who have been kept out of the public sphere of debate and discussion and now want places and relationships where they can be heard and taken seriously within dialogue. Lisa, while at times a bit arrogant, has listened and learned from men’s critiques many times. One instance which comes to mind, and which informs her character for many of the shows that follow, is the episode “Lisa the vegetarian” which finds Lisa taking Apus words of tolerance towards meat-eaters to heart. Another episode shows Lisa deciding to celebrate Christmas with her family, despite her being a Buddhist, after discussing and contemplating Belief and Celebrations with her Co-Buddhists Richard Gere, Lenny and Carl.

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The new writers are more concerned with their abilities to make sexist jokes than to capture the lovable, progressive story lines that made Simpsons great and notably Lisa a Standout in her stances to the male status quo. Not only did the episodes of the past “Simpsons” deliver great political satire, brilliant plots and subversive storytelling, it was also in fact one of the few shows that depicted both its female and male characters as complex and fully-realized human beings.

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This dismissive inclination towards women is best captured in the episode “Brick like me’s” (Season 25) last few minutes, when Lisa goes to see “The Survival Games”, a parody of Suzanne Collins “The Hunger Games”. The problematic depiction of the books and films by this episode lies in that the main characters are portrayed as being solely interested in nothing but a love triangle between the female protagonist and the two perfect boys vying for her love interest. This is compounded when we see Homer viewing and complaining that the film is not violent enough (despite a 12-year old child being paled to death and one of Katniss’ love interest being nearly whipped to death, to name a few gory things from the films and books). Marge hushes Homer since she wants to pay attention to the heroine trying on dresses.

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If anyone has seen the films or read the books, they will be able to tell that the writers of “Brick like me” have not the slightest clue of the actual content, intention and trajectory of both the Book and Film Series (and its very odd given the Characterization of Liza that she wouldn’t “understand this intention of the Author”) . The love triangle is nearly absent in the second “Hunger Games” film, “Catching Fire”, and is a small portion in the novels. Suzanne Collins actually did this deliberately; Katniss’ relationship with Peeta (one of the “love interest”) is mostly for show, as it creates a possibility to survive the games. In actuality it is in fact mostly a burden for the heroine to perpetuate this facade.

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Katniss’ main goal is to protect her little sister and friends. Collins depicts Katniss as someone who has little option than focusing on survival of self and family, and romance must take the back seat to the important realities of life. When Katniss is forced to try on different dresses, she is shown as extremely uncomfortable and emotionally out of place in both the book and the film series. In the books, she states that she has zero interest in fashion and clothes. She feels objectified and humiliated while forced to dress up in a mandatory show before the actual killing begins. The novel devotes the majority of its time to her hunting skills, her intelligence and how she solely rescues her entire family from starving to death. But since “The Hunger Games” has a female protagonist, the writers of “Brick like me” have decided, without actually getting familiar to the subject they ridicule, that the main protagonist being a female must be focused on boys and dressing up (fantasy). By also having Homer, while watching the film (some rows behind Lisa, but with Marge in attendance), complaining that he hasn’t got to see kids fight to the death and that’s all he wants, the writers continue their blind denial of the main point of the whole franchise: This Series of Katniss is a critique of our cultures obsession with violence and disregard for the fellow person. That the children are sent to die for entertainment is supposed to be a horrific dystopia – not something the viewer is meant to enjoy.

Additionally Katniss is the True Human and therefore is the outsider to the Political and Cultural oppressions. The fashion scenes are also a satire of that very culture of oppressions, both legally and socially, which the “The Hunger Games” series resist. Katniss’ description of the fashion show can be summed up by Katniss seeing it as form of distraction; an opium for the masses. The short scenes of Katniss trying the dresses are not for eye candy.

The fact that “Brick like me” ignores the social and political commentary that exists in “The Hunger Games” seems to be solely because the protagonist is a girl and that the fan base consists of lots of young girls and women. The new “Simpsons”-writers don’t critique anything that really happens in the films and books; they taint it for being what they consider “girlie”. They ignore the male fan base that the franchise has also accrued, actually implying that such a fan base doesn’t exist by having Homer complain non-stop. This is misogyny, plain and simple. The writers dismiss that a woman writer can actually write novels that tackle political issues such as poverty, disability and political oppression. They dismiss that despite the protagonist being female, she is not obsessed with romance. In fact Katniss’s lack of interest in romance is part of what has made her into such a feminist icon; to have a female protagonist prioritize other things than dating was seen as a breath of much needed fresh air to many female readers. And they dismiss that boys and men can enjoy media aimed at young women. It implies that by being female centered, it is automatically shallow and empty.

It is a great shame that women and girls as consumers of culture are still looked down upon and ridiculed due to their gender.

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This is not to say that all culture aimed at women has always been good; or have avoided the misogynist, “Twilight” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” for instance do deserve to be critiqued for their romanticizing abuse and their echoing of traditional gender roles. Even the “Hunger Games” films can be critiqued for whitewashing characters and keeping characters able bodied when the book described them as disabled. But no culture should be critiqued solely for centering female characters and for being loved by female consumers; it is shallow, sexist and shows a wilful ignorance. Even worse this ignorance goes, in fact, against what “The Simpsons” used to speak and stand for. Lisa was never ridiculed for her interest in Barbie dolls and ponies, despite being what our society considers “girly” interest.

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Why have the writers suddenly changed their tone and start to openly mock women who consume culture, when in the past this was strictly averted? One can only wonder.

(Spoilers for both “Frankenweenie” and “Alice in Wonderland” (2010)!)

As a director and visually insightful storyteller, Tim Burton has been a critical darling as well as an icon and initiator of Popular Goth Culture. Successful as a director, writer and producer, Burton has done some truly fantastic films, such as “Beetlejuice” (1988), “Batman” (1989) and “Edward Scissorshand” (1990), with the latter film being a film classic and arguably still his best work to date. After 2005, Burton has had a bit of a creative decline which can, perhaps, be pinpointed in his being too overly productive (Looking at his resume at IMDB, it’s stated that Mr. Burton made two films in both 2005 and 2012) and stuck in the trap of his own brilliant style and quirky narrative deployments. His current work has also grown towards the habit of filming adaption’s of previous existing films, novels and plays, and many of his critics have claimed this to be an ongoing error and a major cause of his fall from his high style.

Tim Burton working on "Frankenweenie"

Tim Burton working on “Frankenweenie”

However Burton is, and has always been, good in plying at the fresh fields implied in the adaption’s he has tackled. His darkly comical version of “Sweeney Todd” was extremely engaging and fascinating, as was his vision of the comic book hero Batman. Making his own personal interpretation of already existing ideals is not necessarily a bad move. The problem lies more in that Mr. Burton doesn’t seem to always think through the interesting aspects of the stories he re-creates.

Adding to the faults which have motivated criticism of Burton’s work since the new millennium, and which can be seen in his latest work “Alice in Wonderland” and “Frankenweenie”, Burton has begun to rely more on demonizing marginalized groups in the guise of shaping his villains and uses the soft narrative contrivance that conflates the normal attractive, or beautiful, guise with that of the good person of the narrative.

Victor and Sparky

Victor and Sparky

“Frankenweenie” is a re-make of a short film Tim Burton made when he was just starting out as a film maker. The story centers a young boy, Victor, who through a logic-free science brings his dog back to life. The story begins with showing Victor being a loner who instead of wanting to have friends prefers the company of his dog Sparky while making inventions and homemade films, starring of course Sparky. After introducing their protagonist, who at this point should be mentioned is white, cis-gendered, male and non-disabled (his character modeling is made personify the cute, i.e. fits our society ideas of what is a decent looking person would entail), the viewer gets a glimpse of his schools class: they consist of a heavily over-weight boy named Bob, a Japanese-American boy named Toshiaki, a girl with pale hair and giant black circles around her eyes, a boy who is most certainly a person of color (possibly having roots in the Middle east) named Nassor and a hunchbacked boy named Edgar. At first it’s a refreshing scene, seeing so many different types of children; especially seeing children of color and disabled children, since these groups are often ignored in mainstream films and media. But very quickly it turns out the roles for all these children are the roles of antagonist. Everyone is a bully. Victor is the victim.

Nassor (left), Edgar (beneath Nassor), Weird girl (next to Nassor), Elsa (right), Toshiaki (next to Elsa), Bob (next to Toshiaki)

Nassor (left), Edgar (beneath Nassor), Weird girl (next to Nassor), Elsa (right), Toshiaki (next to Elsa), Bob (next to Toshiaki)

The Weird girl, the one with pale hair and the sullen eyes, warns Victor that something will happen to him in the near future since her pet cat has had a vision. The vision being that one of its feces is shaped like a “V”; apparently the cat Mr. Whiskers has had feces in the shape of a letter that each student’s name begins with and shortly after something big has in fact happened to the kid in question. Victor blows this warning off since he doesn’t believe in this odd take on a superstition. Fair enough, however Victor is rather dismissive of the Weird Girl (who doesn’t even get a name) and openly shows her with his hostile body language that he doesn’t want to talk to her. He just says curtly “sure” and quickly leaves. I myself am a hard-core atheist and find superstition illogical, but for the sake of goodness, when someone is just trying to be nice and warn you without being offensive, you should at least be polite back.

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After this exchange with the Weird Girl we see Edgar, another of Victor’s classmates approaching to ask of Victor a favor. Edgar, in this scene, is shown having trouble understanding personal space, so Victor being uncomfortable with how close Edgar gets to him appears reasonable to the viewer. Nevertheless, Edgar has approached Victor to simply suggest that they work together on a science project since neither of them have any friends. Victor responds simply that he wants to work alone, while crawling away from Edgar. Why? This revulsion is never explained. Edgar is not being mean. He is simply stating that they could work together since both are friendless. Victor denies the request but no reason is forthcoming, though Edgars socially “odd looks and behavior” seem swimmingly obvious.
The pivot point of the narrative of “Frankenweenie” comes when Sparky the dog is run over by a car and killed and we follow the trajectory of grief this brings to Victor. Victor’s obsession with Sparky’s death is transfigured when, during a science lesson, he is enlightened by how the muscles of even the dead respond to electricity. This inspires Victor with the plan to attempt the same technique to bring his dog back to life (as even Mary Shelly was inspired by the like experiments in her day to incorporate them into her “Frankenstein”). Victor succeeds in reanimating his pet, but wisely decides to keep the fact that he has awoken his dead dog a secret. This attempt at concealing the reanimated falls apart when Edgar spots Sparky chasing a cat. Edgar then proceeds to blackmail Victor into showing him how he brought the dog back to life. If Victor doesn’t show Edgar how he was able to bring his pet back to life, he will tell everyone about Sparky. Victor then reluctantly demonstrates the technique with a gold fish.

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Before this point, the film was a typical Burton kid film: comfortable macabre with a light heart. A boy brings his dog back to life because he loves his dog so much. But then Edgar starts blackmailing Victor, bullying him into bringing a gold fish back to life. Edgar happily goes to school with the re-animated gold fish. It is then reveled that all of the other students are bullies: after Edgar blackmails Victor, he is cornered at school by Nassor who threatens him. Nassor makes it clear that if Edgar doesn’t tell him what he’s hiding, he’s in trouble. Simultaneously, Toshiaki and Bob are shown bickering about the upcoming science fair. Bob claims Toshiaki is the “smart one” out of the two, stereotyping the over-weight Bob as naturally stupid and Toshiaki as the naturally smart and science-obsessed one. Toshiaki is also shown being sinister and malevolent, as illustrated when he decides that a proper way to win the science fair is by forcefully strapping Bob to a small rocket and launching it off the roof, all while speaking in poor English. Toshiaki in short embodies every negative stereotype against Asians imaginable.

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While it is refreshing to see a children’s film with a diverse cast, it is unfortunate that the entire diverse cast is in fact demonized. The only character that belongs slightly to a marginalized group and is not demonized is Victor’s science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski, who is an immigrant (but, he is not a Person of Color like Nassor and Toshiaki. Make of that what one will). Mr. Rzykruski is shown being an energetic and supportive teacher who is falsely accused of inspiring children to do deadly experiments. This results into an awesomely funny speech while he tries to defend himself, which will be linked below. (The science teacher’s design is strongly modeled after the deceased legendary actor Vincent Price, who worked with and strongly influenced Mr. Burton. Mr. Price was a major inspiration for Tim Burton’s first short animation, “Vincent” (1982)).

Mr. Rzykruski is the one to tell Victor he should become a scientist, which brings up another major problem with the film.

Whether it was intentional or not, the film sends the message that only white, “decent looking” men should be involved with science. The science replacement teacher the class gets is a woman, who formally taught PE. One of the students proclaims she knows nothing about science, to which she then snaps that she knows enough. The problem here is that there is an extreme lack of women in science as well as their being many harmful prejudices against women that make it difficult for them to take place in science. By having the female teacher being mean and ignorant of science is not progressive. It is also an outdated stereotype that strong women are mean.

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In the films climax all of the kids Victor has interacted with decide to bring an animal back to life. After Victor’s secret is reviled Toshiaki, Nassor, Weird girl, Edgar and Bob all try to bring an animal back from the dead. After blackmailing and threatening, the kids enter Victor’s room, looking for the device that brought Sparky alive. The children all decide to experiment and to try to bring an animal back to life. Edgar brings a rat back to life, Toshiaki his pet turtle, Nassor his hamster and Bob sea creatures. Weird Girl tries the technique on a dead bat, but accidently mixes the creature with her cat. As one can predict, all of the creatures become uncontrollable monsters that start wrecking and terrorizing the city. The only explanation that is given for the significant different results of bringing the animals alive are that one must “love” the science or experiment. The explanation does not hold up, for Toshiaki and Nassor brought back their pets; sounds like there was a hint of love in that experimentation. True, they are more concerned with winning the science fair, but they actively chose their own pets instead of random dead animals. Weird Girl most definitely loved her cat. And lots of great science has been driven and performed by curiosity and ambition, which Edgar and Weird Girl probably were embodying in their own experiments. So the message of the film is that only white, non-disabled, thin males should do science. Everyone else – People of Color, women, the disabled – will only cause trouble. The film hammers home the message by even having Victor figure out how to destroy all the monsters and save the town. The person who no doubt has most of the privilege saves the day, proving that only white men can do science and fulfill its consequences. The statement about “loving science” becomes only an excuse for prejudice.

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As a side note, it’s also worth mentioning that the meanest adult in the film is a bald man. He bullies his “pretty” niece and yells constantly at Victor. So people who fit our society’s ideals of “unattractive” are also bad since beauty and looks is what marks out the parameters of a good person.

Another case in point is the work of “Alice” by Tim Burton which moves along the same direction in the demonization of marginalized groups. In “Alice In Wonderland”, the villainous Red Queen is given an abnormally large head. The Mad Hatter in the film revels that residents fighting against the Red Queen use a slogan that goes: “Down with the Bloody Big head”. Even worse, the White Queen is hinted at being a bit dangerous (has served human fingers in a jar), yet she’s the one the audience is suppose to root for and the happy ending is encapsulated in the storyline with her being crowned Queen in the instead of her repugnant sister the Red Queen. The film implies that the White Queen should be the ruler, since she’s “prettier” and the lack of attractiveness on the surface pierces deep into the soul (causes or is caused by is never fully explored). Using the Red Queens looks (which may be a form of disability) as a way to critique her is placed on the viewer as a “given” and hints if not commits ableism. It also hammers home the message that only the attractive should be in positions of power and visibility.

The White Queen and The Red Queen

The White Queen and The Red Queen

This rejection of the outliers of accepted “looks” in Alice (the Red Queen has a “misshapen” head) along with placing the hunchbacked Edgar in “Frankenweenie” as a villain and mostly to blame for the problems in the film (he’s the one to push Victor to show him the device and then tell about it to others) makes a disturbing new pattern in Burton’s film. Indeed, the man who once defended people’s rights to not fit into our society’s norms now appears to be demonizing the very same.

The menagerie of children in “Frankenweenie” are supposedly a reference to different horror films, with each character being a reference to classical horror genres and it is no surprise that Burton wants to express an ode to these influential and important classic horror films. The problem lies with the ill conceived and notable disregard of the historical context of these films. The majority of these films were made in times when a lot of marginalized groups were completely deprived of rights, dismissed by the society at large, seen as problematic to majority culture, marginalized by negative imagery, and were nearly always portrayed negatively in cinema. So casting these old stereotypes into his film does not work without insight to the historical ethnicity and becomes double edge sword cutting towards the highly offensive. You simply cannot have a privileged person being the victim and all the marginalized groups being villains. Yes, even the privileged can have difficult lives, but that does not take away the fact that we still live in a highly hierarchical world where those of marginalized groups struggle to be engaged equally in the social, cultural and political. When Victor is the hero and is shown as the only one we should like and the only one who should be allowed to do science that hierarchy is strengthened. And that is fairly harmful, if not irresponsible.

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Tim Burton has been and remains an important filmmaker. There is no other director quite like him. In his earlier works, Tim Burton has even strongly defended outsiders and probably doesn’t mean to be offensive. It is crucial that he should start thinking more about what roles he gives to marginalized characters; then he will once again be on top of his game.