Tag Archive: Loneliness


2017 is already half way through. A lot has happened this year; There´s been marching for Science and Women´s rights. Wonder Woman finally got her own live action movie. The Midterm election 2018 in the US is coming up. And the UK begins the stumble out of the EU with seemingly no plan. Since a little over a year has gone by, it seems like a good time to share some great books that are yearned to be discovered already this year.

1. ”Inexcusable” by Chris Lynch: This 2005 young adult novel centers on a teenage boy named Keir, who considers himself a proper, honest guy. The book starts with Keir arguing with a girl named Gigi, who accuses Keir of raping her, which Keir considers impossible, due to his (according to him) good nature and due to the fact that he loves Gigi. Thus Keir decides to set the record straight.

The chapters alternate between the present and the past with the voice of Keir narrating the kaleidoscope of temporal slices. His story is comprised of misbegotten attempts to explain his reputation, his actions and emphasizes his own wounded state. The language and tone of the narration is distinctive and memorable. Lycnh uses the trope of the unreliable narrator to raise questions of self-image, consent, violence and masculinity. While following Keir´s story, the book tackles and deconstructs ideals and norms regarding ”good guys”, abusers and how both are viewed in society. ”Inexcusable” tells us something that our black and white, victim-blaming society often neglects: that rape and sexual assault occurs much more frequently than we would like to admit, and is committed by what the social order wants only to dismiss as the ordinary behavior of men and boys. This book is perfect for lovers of unreliable narrators or for those interested in the issue of toxic masculinity. A brave book, with an also twisty narration to make for a great reading experience.

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2. ”Signs Preceding the End of the world” (2015) by Yuri Herrera: This slim volume of a novel is about Makina, a tough girl living in a crime-filled small town in Mexico. The book opens with Makina getting a request from her mother; that she go find her brother who migrated to the US and who dropped out of contact with the family thereafter. Makina embarks on her quest crossing the US/Mexican border without papers, encountering the world of the tentative and shadowy, a world where the immigrants face many dangers and strange characters.

Signs preceding the end of the world” tackles immigration and borders from a surrealistic, dark view. Makina throughout the book shows a strong, rough side and brutally defends herself against the many trails of racism, sexism and the place of the invisible other. Along her journey to find her brother Makina places herself as a handmaiden of help to many of the numerous people she encounters on her quest (including, even those who have shown her evil both ethically and sexually) and takes from even her meager and slight actions and possessions to be generous to all she encounters in her travels. Makina is a rare type of female character one encounters not often in standard literature or as protagonist in our normative culture: a tough, fiercely independent person who doesn´t let her independence make her indifferent to others around her. Makina is meant as a protagonist outside of the self- centeredness of our individually based culture who embodies a genuinely nice person who is simultaneously steadfast and believes in herself while not taking from others. With Makina as the pivot of this optimism of the possibility of social responsibility, the book shows how much violence, hatred and despair immigrants crossing borders have to endure and makes us wonder at the uselessness of this suffering.

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Not ignored in the text is the disconnection and separation that families experience by the growing machinations of neoliberal inequality which pressure the migrations while instigating nationalist crowds to blame the migrant community for problems created by this. Makina´s narration shows the gap created in social and income instability between her brother and the rest of the family, as well as high lights what the actual face global income inequality looks like in the midst of a community it raptures. The book packs a great punch despite it´s size.

The author, Yuri Herrera, lives in the US, writes in Spanish, and was born in Mexico, making this book somewhat #ownvoices.

3. ”El Deafo” (2014) by Cece Bell: This is a middle grade graphic memoir on how Ms. Bell at the age of four lost her hearing, leading to her needing the help of a hearing aid. The memoir follows her struggles with fitting in, being insecure about her hearing aid, learning to read lips, and navigating friendships and crushes. At the same time these many insecurities and upheavals that are occurring in her young life, Cece envisions herself as a superhero with the codename El Deafo, to help her cope with the slew and chaos of the difficult times of her adjustments.

Cece Bell wrote and illustrated this book herself, giving the text and graphics a lighthearted yet serious tone similar to graphic memoirs such as Raina Telgemeier´s”Smile”. The book tackles the difficulties of dealing with condescension, the feelings of the heightened obviousness of her different ableness in the device of the aid, and how small things like watching tv changes drastically due to her new hearing parameters. At the same time, while navigating this specific course laid upon her in the developments with her hearing, young Cece deals with problems many will recognize from their own childhood, like the painful PE classes we were forced to endure.

El Deafo” is able to navigate the pain of finding friends and of learning to accept oneself, all while using ones imagination to empower oneself. A heartwarming, as well as educational read.

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As mentioned, this is a memoir, and therefore has #ownvoices deaf representation.

4. ”Wayward Women: Sexuality and Agency in a New Guinea Society” (2006) by Holly Wardlow: This is a book I started reading for a class I took last year, but found interesting enough to continue afterwards. The book is a non-fiction anthropology text about an ethnic group called the Huli in Papua New Guinea. The book is a little over ten years old, so some facts may have changed, but nonetheless the book felt both exceedingly fresh, and very insightful. Wardlow spent years in the Huli areas in Papua New Guinea and her fieldwork concentrated primarily on the women of the Huli group. ”Wayward Women” discusses in particular female sexuality among Huli women, and half of the book solely discusses the women among the Huli who become prostitutes, or ”Passenger women”. While most non-fiction out there focuses on how sex work is done in desperation to earn money, or how sex work is something forced on the women, this book deals with women who choose to sell sex not because of money, but often, in many cases in the Huli group; out of a means of revenge against family injustices they have endured (often it involves rape). Wayward shows all the complexities in the Huli gendered discourse, never taking an easy answer to what she describes in her study.

An absolutely fascinating account.

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5. ”Exilens Dilemma” (2015) by Razak Aboud: This very petite volume of poems is unfortunately only available in Swedish, but the title means ”The Exiles Dilemma”. The poems discuss just this, the aftermath of escaping and seeking asylum. The issues masterfully explored in this slim text of poems include not only the social stresses of the exiled but the continually incurring loneliness, confusion, trauma and the separations of the migrant experience. The opening poem describes a narrators search for ”the sun of freedom”, but ends up washing dishes and not seeing any sun at all after coming to a new country. Other poems which leap from the pages with devastating emotion include an immigrant confronting a Christmas which chrysalises the feeling of emptiness and ostracization caused by both his loss of youth and home; and another gripping poetic narration when a doctor visit excavates the deadly past into the banal present of a health examination including the necessary medical enquirers “did they beat you and where?” and ”were you raped?”. The poems are exceedingly sad, yet beautiful in their crafting. The themes confronted in the power of the words are dealt with in grace, honesty, without fear. Each poem is devised as a small story that deals openly with the hopelessness of feelings confronting the refugee, the overwhelming of feelings which are packed with the chaotic attitudes that refugees meet; how they are often either invisible looked upon as deficient cultural beings, or perceived as a threat to the social. Especially poignant in the series is the somber feeling of being unseen in the midst of your fellow humans which runs decisively through the thread of the texts and exposes a melancholy feel even to those without any relatable experience to the plight of the exile.

A small volume worth the time for all.

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The author, Razak Aboud, has stated that these poems are based on his own experiences, making this #ownvoices for refugee/immigrant representation. He also writes in Arabic at times alongside Swedish.

6. ”There are more beautiful things than Beyoncé(2017) by Morgan Parker: This collection of poems has been getting a lot of buzz, and for no small reason! Mark my words, these poems will completely blow you away.

Morgan Parker is a relatively new voice in the literary world, making her debut in 2015 with ”Other Peoples Comfort Keep Me Up at Night”. ”There are more beautiful things than Beyoncé” is her second collection which Parker worked five years on. The title is taken from a saying inside the younger black community which Parker elaborating on the icon of Beyoncé as a representation of the myriad of double standards and struggles black American Women face in today’s society. Using Beyoncé as well as Jay Z, Nelly, and Earth Wind & Fire as referents Parker delves into the social power of the imaginary of pop culture to discuss issues of oppression and living in a myriad of specific social communities; Black, white, male, female, and where they diverge and intersect. In the poem ”99 Problems” Parker references Jay Z´s most quoted song to list actual 99 problems, which range from dating, oppression’s, drinking too much, being sexually pressured, and the very notion of a Black woman ”being strong”. In the poem ”What Beyoncé won´t say on a shrink´s couch” the narrator despairs that she is unseen (and unheard) when she says she´s tired. In her invisibility to asking for recognition of humanity she laments in song. In Parkers text ”All they want is my money my pussy my blood” a last gasp to point out the crisis she cries: ”I don´t mean YOLO I mean they are hunting me”.

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The unseen theme of the black voice and life (#BlackLivesMatter) is also devastatingly exposed to in the poem ”The president has never said the word black”, in which Parker critiques former president Barack Obama for the silences he (even) occulted the Black with in order to be heard by the white. Strong and painful to even the hand that writes it this poem, the short text here captures the binds that exist inside politics and race.

Parker´s poems discuss both the beauty and pain of black womanhood, with poems that are as eye opening as they are alluring. The collection details the daily despair, fear, exhaustion, and power of being black and female while cautiously navigating a world that selects to objectify and hurt you. Yet still in the forest of the words the poems also have a wry, witty sense of humor, and an uplifting message that black women are, in fact, more beautiful than anyone can imagine.

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For people just getting into poetry, as well as being newbies to Black feminism, this collection is a must. Naturally, this book is also #ownvoices.

So those are some real good books read this year so far. What about you readers, what have you loved this year book wise?

Note/Spoiler alert!: If you have not read this book, It is my sincere suggestion that you should read this fine novel first before reading this post. It is a book that´s fantastic with a surpising and well done plot twist.This is also my second post for Child Abuse Awareness Month.

Lygia Bojunga, like Guus Kuijer in my previous post regarding child abuse, has won the Astrid Lingren Memorial Prize. Bojunga was born and lives in Brazil, and received the Alma award in 2004. Her books are petite, as with ”Seis Vezes Lucas” being discussed here, and the novel ”My friend the painter”, barely reaching the length of a hundred pages. Her main motives in her writing is seeking out a strong solidarity with children, and questioning “adult” society . She mixes a stark, harsh realism with the recurrent sense of wonder of childhood, with often clear criticism of a society which forgets and ignores the fragility of the young.

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Lygia Bojunga

Aiming to capture the child´s perspective, Bojunga formulates a prose which sounds believable for the young while detailing a story coherent and focused in its intent to interrogate the adult social world. In ”Seis Vezes Lucas” Bojunga delightfully captures just the right tone in the experiences and feelings of the six years old Lucas. His voice, actions, considerations and mannerisms are evocative of childhoods groping, and the young protagonist Lucas stands in the novel as a true personality in his own right. He is more than a the stereotypical little boy, he is an individual.

The form of child mistreatment that Lucas is subjected to is active emotional abuse which consist of belittling, mockery and erasure of personhood, as well as a general neglect. Lucas’s selfish and spiteful father abandons the responsible role of parent and nurturer, turning instead to hostile abuse. The mother enables the horrors meted out to Lucas by the father despite it being clearly destructive for the growing Lucas.

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From the very first chapter we are shown the fearful abandonment of the young Lucas by the father for all night soirees. When Lucas confronts his mother about the fears, and terrors that are apart of the long nights alone, pleading to be allowed to accompany his parents for just one night, his fears are causally glossed over in their hurry to leave for the night and the only concern is that the father hates having to wait. The parents then returning very late is however no relief for the anxious Lucas, but another horror as it is filled with a continuous fight due to the father´s constant philandering leading inevitably to the father violently bellowing and belittlement of both the mother and Lucas. Enclosing the young Lucas and the mother as “against him” the father scripts the young Lucas as anything but ”manly”. A tirade continually pointed at the brittle youngster.

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Lucas has found some relief from the misery of this abuse in a children´s art class where the frail child has developed a formative crush on the teacher. She teaches Lucas that good art pieces have to express, in some way, the soul of the creator artist. Therefore Lucas begins an exploration of his dismay which results in a tiny mask. Lucas begins an exploration of his heart and fears in the speaking of his very own art.

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On his birthday, Lucas ´father goes out and finds a stray dog, and gives it to Lucas as a present. Lucas is instantly enamored with the dog as in the long and forbidding nights of solitude he has often dreamed of a pet to dissipate his loneliness and fears. He and the dog soon become inseparable, and even in her dismissals of the child the mother notes grudgingly how the dogs presence is helping Lucas to become brave and independent. Unfortunately, this turns the father´s irritable focus upon the dog and a grand dislike begins to ferment.

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The focus of the dog, and Lucas’s feelings of connection and emotions to the dog, become the beginnings of a tipping point for Lucas in the novel. As the family one day is driving out of town for a short visit, the father suddenly becomes so angry at the dog that he stops the car and forcefully throws the dog out, leaving the beloved dog behind. Lucas enters a state of shock, but a budding distance is created in Lucas from the father and a founding ground is created to give Lucas the possibility of growth.

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The second tipping point is when the father begins an affair with Lucas art teacher. While the father has previously mocked Lucas ´artistic interest, he fakes interest later to be able to seduce and begin an affair with Lucas teacher. Lucas ends up witnessing parts of the seduction, that pushes him to verbalize in his mind what he has long denied to himself; his mounting rejections of the verbal violence and abuse embodied in the father.

Lucas grows to the realization that it “is not fun to like daddy anymore”. Due to the fathers belittlement and violent rejections, Lucas has always been pushed forcefully to a distance with his father, but due to the twin betrayals of the father in abandoning the comfort and safe haven of the dog, and then the seduction of his teacher (whom the father knows Lucas´ has a crush on but still goes ahead with the affair anyway), Lucas admits to himself that it is difficult for him to like his own father. This insight of rejection of the cruelty of the father is hard fought in Lucas however, leading to a great load of shame and a wonder by Lucas about his abnormality.

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“Lonely child” by Emma Jane Beech

Bojunga masterfully says so much in so little, in a simplicity that is complex. Lucas´ thoughts are of shame for realizing that his father is less than agreeable. However, as it is with many victims of abuse (emotional or any other kind) Lucas feels shame for something that is not his fault. This is due to the taboo of speaking of less than ideal, less than loving families. There´s also the fact that children´s thoughts and emotions are often looked down on, not seen as worth notifying. Lucas is especially been told he is not important, and, due to the father overruling anything Lucas ´says and his mother constantly prioritizing the father over Lucas and herself, Lucas is positioned to reject himself instead of beginning the building of the personality he will become.

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The ending is particularly heartbreaking, but yet quite empowering. The mother, tired of the father´s affairs, decides to move away. This delights Lucas, in that he won´t have to be near his father anymore. Unfortunately the mother becomes too fearful of being alone and due to this phobia moves back to her husband after an extremely short separation. Wondering if the affair with the teacher was a precipitation of his mothers leaving, Lucas comes to find a web of lies and deceits his father lives and imposes, along with his aggressions, on all around him. His returning mother is told by the father that he will end his philandering and become a faithful husband, but to the art teacher he has given the impression that he loves her in return and will leave his wife. Gathering his feelings and beliefs finally into himself, Lucas calls his mother out on once again prioritizing the father over him and concludes that adults don´t make such great decisions. As he puts it: ”I thought that you adults knew better”.

This somber ending, tells of a violence and deceit which must be rejected. The constant deceptions and ruthless bullying are shown as unforgivable. The child most certainly does not have to love or like their parent, in this case, and even in doing so circumvents what will make them possible to become as independent adults themselves. Lucas concludes that his parents are neither rational nor kind, and even if he does not state so explicably, Bojunga tells the reader, through Lucas´actions, that he has found it impossible to like his father, and that it is okay to feel this way. Lucas may be too young to change his situation, yet he can still empower himself by knowing that his parents are in the wrong in the way he has been treated. This rejection is the true path to adulthood, and a rational world.

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Many adults have noted the dark tones of the book, and have considered it untenable for children. However, I strongly disagree. What this book tells children is necessary and, ultimately, can be comforting. If a child is a victim of emotional abuse, they have a right to be displeased and that love is not a mandatory of anyone. By giving children an option instead of telling them to always blindly love and honor, Bojunga´s work empowers children who are stuck. Bojunga´s novel, ”Seis Vezes Lucas”, tells verbally bullied and neglected children that they have a right to be angry, a right to see the fault – because it is true, if the feeling of liking your parent ”is no longer fun” for a long period of time, that is no shame on the child. Despite its gloom, Seis Vezes Lucas is a powerful, helpful book for children who´s needs are too often not considered. A unique, honest and important masterpiece for children and for adults.

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.

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“The Letter” (1976) by Fernando Botero

Kreetta Onkeli (born in 1970 in Jyväskylä) is a Finnish writer who won several awards and has been a bit of a critical darling. This year she won the Finladia Junior Prize (one of the major literary prizes in Finland for young adult/children’s books) and also received the “Kalevi Jänti” award for her debut novel, “Iloinen Talo” (“A Happy House”). Her work has encompassed narrative satire, biographical novels, shorter essays as well as opinion journalism.

Onkeli’s  debut novel, “Iloinen Talo” (1996), was based on her childhood memories and chronicles the life of two young girls living with an alcoholic mother and the occasional foster family. In Finnish the title plays on the ironic and inclines to the double entendre. The novel is anything but happy and the context of the word “happy” in its “double sense” alludes to prostitution (prostitutes are sometimes referred to as Ilotyttö, “Happygirl”). Ironic tittles are a favorite trope of Ms. Onkelis; her fifth work “Beige: Eroottinen Kesä Helsingisä”(2005), in English “Beige: An Erotic Summer in Helsinki”) does take place in Helsinki, but it is anything but erotic.

Kreetta Onkeli at the Finlandia Prize Ceremony

Kreetta Onkeli at the Finlandia Prize Ceremony

“Beige” focuses on the protagonist Vappu, an overweight girl who is painfully insecure. She is a complete outcast, being nearly completely friendless. Her homelife, mirroring her disconnection with humanity,  is composed solely of a oblivious father with whom she has no real connection. Onkeli starts her novel describing the depth of this disconnection with Vappu declaring the sun “was not a friend. It laughed at my figure, my pale and clumsy body.” Musing about a previous and unseen scene in the narrative Vappu reflects on being unable to find a swimming suit and whether the reality was a purposeful forgetting to hide her shape from others. Attempting to get into the building she lives in, at the end of this dire contemplation, her landlady denies she recognizes her and refuses her admittance to the building claiming she doesn’t know anything “that fat”. Already on the first two pages Ms. Onkeli establishes two of the most important themes in “Beige”: Vappu’s immobilizing belief that her “undesirability” justifies her rejection by others and how others around her define and magnify this self-doubt through their commonplace cruelty.

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Vappu lives in a small town, where she develops a habit of escaping into daydreaming mixed in with her awakening sexuality. Vappu deeply desires sexual intimacy, but, due to the compounding of her unfortunate circumstances and the mental state this creates, is unable to. She invents an imaginative boyfriend, which she then goes onto graphically describe having imaginative sex with. She tells people around her she has a boyfriend, even if no one believes her. As times goes on, Vappu turns  18, which means she is no longer a minor. Her father takes advantage of this fact and sends her off to live in Helsinki so he can have more time with his new girlfriend. Vappu’s father informs his daughter that in Helsinki she will find a guy quite easily. Using the details of language Onkeli lets the reader know that Vappu is aware of her father’s true motivations but Vappu cannot but help to embrace a hope of finding love and sex in Helsinki. Onkeli masterfully indicates each of her characters motivation while showing how the crux of the human relationships revolving around Vappu is far from the ideal and is founded on a grim combination of the malicious, deceit and hope . It works perfectly for setting up the main conflict in the book as well as getting the reader to sympathize with Vappu.

Ms.Onkeili's first novel

Ms.Onkeili’s first novel

However nothing goes as Vappu hoped. She is ridiculed and mocked at work. When the few episodes of kindness are expressed to Vappu, her reaction is based on the rejections she has endured and she becomes too frozen to respond. Her time in Helsinki becomes a spiral into the paranoid about herself, and even the exposure of being outdoors becomes saturated with the feeling of shame for Vappu. A continual monologue is channeled through those around Vappu detailing how she resembles a man and how she should exercise to counter all of the faults which she has. Pushed by this continual stream of chatter about her defects Vappu begins to lose control of her situation and dwells more and more within her sexual daydreaming, which begins to take a violent turn.

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“Benefit Supervisor Sleeping” (1995) by Lucien Freud

The usage of people daydreaming to escape their reality is a common theme in fiction. Such as the short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber, where a bored man has regular daydreams and fantasies as a means of escapism. The man is timid in life, but fearless in his daydreams, much like Vappu who, though remaining a virgin throughout “Beige”,  has constant sex with every man she meets in her daydreamed life. Other literary examples are the Finnish writer Joel Lehtonens “Rakastunut Rampa” (1922, “A Lame in Love”) where a poverty-stricken hunchback fantasizes about being a ladykiller while in real life he faces prejudice and hatred. This theme also appears in a Moomin novel, “Moominpappa at Sea” (1965) by Tove Jansson . In the novel Moominmamma, who can barely stand having to leave Moominvalley, paints a garden similar to the one in Moominvalley as a wall mural, which, motivated by her extreme homesickness, she finds she enter. Onkeli takes this classic theme and does an incredible twist to it. She uses it to describe female sexual frustration, a nearly unrecognized subject in literature. She also makes the subject modern by making the person who faces constant rejection from society an overweight person. An acerbated problem of the contemporary era as consumerist culture endeavors to create a model of the “attractive women” more and more out of reach to the normal human.

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Painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (he used plus-sized women almost exclusively)

Kreetta Onkeli illustrates a world where Vappu is constantly being punished for being overweight. People shun her, laugh at her and ignore her. She is mistreated because she doesn’t fit a norm and standard others expect her to. Onkeli goes into detail regarding the shame that is placed on Vappu, how Vappu internalizes this monologue into herself (and how she only “sees” through this horrible model), and how this sends her into a horrible spiral of impossible resolutions. She slowly loses grips on reality. As time passes, her self-hatred overwhelms her, as it must in this skewed image of self, ending in tragedy.

That this novelette is not translated is unbelievable. It has a great main character while dealing with intense, current and timely issues. This narrative erupts to the surface of our real experience as it speaks of a society which ridicules people who don’t have the perfect body, a society which openly despises people outside of the norm. Vappu represents women who are not considered beautiful or desirable in the narrow perimeters which are aggressively set by a culture of consumption and image. Vappu’s narrative exposes a world where women are constantly judged on the altar of advertising media normativity for their body. Vappu is laid bare in the story as the excluded and ultimate other, as her father’s girlfriend states, “a different type of women”. Vappu becomes sexually frustrated since society does not allow her to be sexual, to be a desirable woman. She is not allowed to be a whole person, a person whose sexuality is equal to others.

“Beige” is a perfect depiction of how women are stripped of their sexual positions and possibilities and how this is founded on the obliteration of even the most meager right to exist as their own persons established on their own considerations of being.

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A more relaxed Kreetta Onkeli

“Beige: An Erotic Summer in Helsinki” is a real gem that should be much, much more known. It speaks of people who face a new and terrible form of alienation. It should be translated; it is a crime that it is only available in Finnish.

“I think most human beings go through some sort of depression in their life. And if they don’t, I think that’s weird” – Kirsten Dunst

Yu Dafu (郁达夫) was born in Fuyang (a country-level city under jurisdiction of Hangzhou, which in turn is the provincial capital of Zhejiang, an eastern coastal province in China) in 1896. He died in 1945, probably executed by the Japanese during the final moments of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Yu Dafu lived his yearly childhood years in poverty. However, he was able to study due to receiving several scholarships from the government of the time. Mr. Yu studied at several Universities, for instance the Hangchow University, which he only studied at for a short time since he was expelled for participating in a student strike. He then moved to Japan, where he met several Chinese intellectuals. Together they founded the “Creation Society”, which promoted modern literature. Around this time he also started publishing his earliest works in Japan; in 1921 he published the short story “Sinking” (“Chenlun”, 沉淪), his most famous work.

Yu Dafu

Yu Dafu

“Sinking” was mandatory reading for a university class I took last term. When discussing it, the class was fairly divided; many accused the story for depicting an egotistical person who does nothing. One woman in my class however stated: “This man seemed fairly isolated and hasn’t received any affection, any love from anyone. I think this character could have used some therapy”. Her thoughts reflect exactly the take this review will have of the protagonist in “Sinking” and what the story, arguable, describes: A man with severe emotional difficulties due to an unbalanced society.

The protagonist in “Sinking” is never named. He remains just simply an anonymous “He”. However his back story has many similarities to that of Yu Dafu, such as his father dying at the age of three and living in poverty as a child. It has been stated that Yu’s short stories and poems often reflect his emotions and are influenced by his experiences in life. However, this is a little questionable as a major theme in “Sinking”, found as well as his other works, is the feeling of being alienated from women, while the author in actuality was married three times with three different women. On the other hand similarity to Mr. Yu can be found in the stories protagonist is pursuing a study course in Japan and this is the environment which we explore with him. “Sinking” begins with the protagonist lost in a field of alienation triggered by the deep well of “lonesome” which engulfs his person. So begins a story tightly focused on the main characters feelings and moods which unmoored by the feelings of disconnection cause the mental state of the protagonist to uncontrollably (and drastically) undulate over the short span of the narratives unfolding.

One of the very first covers for "Sinking" (Unfortunately sexist)

One of the very first covers for “Sinking” (Unfortunately sexist)

Depression has only recently become a topic which our society can openly confront and discuss. And even if a new openness has been conceded to the subject within Western cultures, it is still one which finds an “uncomfortableness” in the normal conversations of the public and one which finds some stigma lurking in the background. In the midst of this silence and awkward speech, however are to be found some wonderful and insightful works of fiction that depict depression. The most famous example within this “genre” for the Western Reader is Sylvia Plath’s magnus opus, “The Bell Jar” and interestingly, Yu Dafu’s young, lonesome “He” shares similar traits with Esther, the protagonist of “The Bell Jar”.

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“Sinking” is, frankly, another great literary depiction of depression and the whirlpool of desperate emotions it entails.

Both Esther and “He” find it impossible to enjoy literature. In the “The Bell Jar” Esther describes with great alarm to her psychiatrist and her mother that she “no longer reads books”. The protagonist of “Sinking” is described as picking up books, reading “out of sequence”, deceitfully deciding to himself that it would be a pity to just gulp down a book, and abandoning the text . Yu describes the fragmented thoughts engendered by this depression: “Everytime he closed a book, he made up similar excuses for himself. The real reason was that he had already grown a little tired of it”. Both start irregular sleeping habits, such as Esther describing that she “no longer sleeps”. “He” from “Sinking” starts to over sleep, also developing irregular eating habits: “Without bothering with lunch, he slept until four o´clock”. Other than that, the main character in “Sinking” has also a habit of crying spontaneously as well as has mood swings. “He” is prone to self-pity, a common trait of depression in men.

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Naturally one can’t claim this story purposefully wants to solely illustrate a person with depression due to its simultaneous political agenda, however the text openly states that the character suffers from “melancholia” and arguable depression is the terrible and tumultuous state which Yu Dafu is hoping to explore.

Chinese symbol for "hopelessness"

Chinese symbol for “hopelessness”

Yu Dafu was a known critic of society and was known for highlighting government incompetence. During the 1920s, Chinese intellectuals (especially the ones who participated in the May Fourth Movement) believed that in order to improve Society one had to begin by looking, not at the State, but at the individual. To tone up the “I”, so to speak. “Sinking” is purposefully about a man who is not feeling well due to society. Similar to Esther’s depression in “The Bell Jar” being primarily triggered and horribly engendered by the rampant sexism in the American society, Yu’s protagonists depression is caused and sustained by the unstable economical and political situations in China, the alienation and racism he faces in Japan, and a Society which stoutly refuses to recognize its own problems placing it on the individual instead.

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Critics have often pointed out that “Sinking” is highly nationalistic, which of course resonates differently today then what it did back in 1921. Personally, this inclination in the text bothers me little since it was mostly expressed as a sense of wanting to be just seen as equally good as others (Yu Dafu as we find in “He” is a Stranger in a foreign land)*. In Sinking, the protagonist laments: “Isn’t the scenery in China as beautiful? Aren’t the girls in China as pretty?”. “He” does wallow about in fantasies of revenge and violence, which is assuredly unnerving to the reader, but the statements and questions do strike a sort of truth regarding “He’s” chaotic, alienated mental state and the veiled hostile abandonment a society and State imposes on the “outsider”. The Japanese students who “He” continually encounters in the milieu of his study treat him coldly and venture into the adjacent terrain of alienating indifference and covert intimidation to which “He” naturally reacts to with insecurity and anger. It can be said for all that when engulfed in a shadow of forces beyond control and sense even the sanest of us respond with insecurity, confusion and resentment. Using the Plight of “He” Yu Dafu endeavors, along with this question of the inhumanity of person to person, to lay a ground to motivate China to reform and improve itself. To look at the how the State may encourage and nurture the individual and consider a Society formed at the best intersections of Personnel and Political, the individual and the Nation/State.

Yu Dafu was also fairly shocking for his time with his frank dealing with sexuality. Indeed, “Sinking” makes frequent references and depictions of the protagonist masturbating. This works as a way to demystify self-pleasuring, but also a way to portray the protagonist’s alienation. He is insecure and uncertain of himself and barely can find the courage to approach women (or any person, really). He is friendless and unable to bond with another human being. The masturbation scenes are not for shock value, but an honest way for the author to speak of his protagonists’ feelings of guilt and his hopeless earning for love.

Other works by Mr. Yu

Other works by Mr. Yu

The story also is interesting in how openly the protagonist is, in his own way, a little bit too romantic for his own good. He even considers suicide since, as he puts it: “And what would life be without love?”.

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Not much happens in “Sinking”, Yu just lets the story of a sad man’s life unfold. “Sinking” is a tale about emotions, deep unhappiness and despair. No doubt the story will speak to anyone who has ever felt lonely or hopeless at some point in their life. It is a raw, honest and painfully candid tale with timeless themes.

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*As a person of Finnish descent, I can relate strongly to the insecurity of being in another countries “Shadow”. In fact I have asked similar questions to myself as “He”. Here’s a music video recorded by a Finnish Band about living in Swedens shadow (My apologies for the title, it was written in the fifties). No English, just Swedish and Finnish sorry.

This post is my second and last part of the series “Sci-fi Speaks Of Us”. View the first part here.

The rough “Black Mirror” is a three part television drama series which aired in December 2011, which was created by the British journalist and passionate satirist Charlie Brooker. He was the writer for the first episode, “The National Anthem”, which was a political thriller. In “The National Anthem”, a prime minister is more or less pressured into having sex with a pig on live television. Peer pressure is also a heavy theme in the second episode of “Black Mirror”, co-written by Charlie Brooker and his wife, Konnie Huq. The final episode, “The Entire History Of You”, was however handled by comedic writer Jesse Armstrong.

All of the episodes took place in different realities and settings, but as Mr. Brooker himself said: “They’re (the episodes) are all about way we live now – and the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy”. When explaining the title of the series, “Black Mirror”, Mr. Brooker stated: “If technology is a drug – and it does feel like a drug – then what, precisely, are the side-effects? This area – between delight and discomfort – is where Black Mirror, my new drama series, is set. The “Black Mirror” of the title is the one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone.”

“15 Million Merits” stars Daniel Kaluuya as Bing, who lives in a depraved dystopia where everyone is forced into harsh physical toil, the only escape being to earn enough money to enter a TV talent show called “Hot Shots”. Overweight people are stigmatized by obligatory yellow clothing, being the lowest class in this fictional society. Commercials are constantly forced upon people in their homes, where the walls are all screens – you can skip them only if you pay. In the overly commercial society, Bing lives a lonely life until he meets Abi, a sweet natured young woman who has a beautiful singing voice. Enchanted by her voice, Bing convinces Abi to appear on “Hot Shots”. Abi does, she sings and moves the audience to tears, but unfortunately the jury is not pleased. Abi is then pressured into a rotten deal and Bing is left heartbroken. Eventually, Bings broken heart eggs him on to find a way to speak out against the unjust system…

The “Black Mirror” episode “15 million Merits” offers social commentary in its finest form. Through a tragic love story, Mr. Brooker and Ms. Huq tackle issues as sizeism, commerciality, the cost of privatization, the dysfunctional dream of celebrity and peer pressure. The world created in “15 Million Merits” is due to the people’s obsession with fitness and materials, neglecting any depth. Both Abi and Bing try to bring some form of feeling into the viable world they live in only to conform into the system by the end. “15 Million Merits” is honest in its depiction of humans: some people do want to rebel against systems that are cruel. Simultaneously no one’s completely immune to peer pressure and thus lose their rebellious or unique nature.

The extreme prejudice towards overweight people imagined in this Dystopia is pretty chilling to watch. A newly morphed and highly exaggerated form of prejudice found in this future of the media image is one which we can readily recognize, the prejudice against people of a larger girth and bigger bodies. Our common stereotype that overweight people are food obsessed and total slobs is inflated in by the politics of distraction in this dystopian moment and the population of this time are served video games and television shows where this stereotype is used as the misguided focus where citizens are encouraged to humiliate and underscore their misconceptions of the large sized among them. “15 Million Merits” addresses the danger points of marginalizing people for their body types in our society (or any type of prejudice) and shows us how viewing the “other” in our midst is used by an oppressive society to distract the populace from the actual horrors being carried out upon them and us. The subtle and constructed loathing that which leads to plus-sized people being viewed as less worthy citizens and persons is used by the weighty hand of the dominating social system to defer the majority from seeing, and recognizing, the tangible arrangement of subjugation forced upon them.

Along with this indictment of the politics of prejudice this wonderful episode also delivers a scathing and exact depiction of reality television. Mr. Brookner seems to nestle with the beliefs of satirist Bill Maher who once said: “reality television is nothing but cruelty and people enjoying cruelty”. Imagining if cruelty were used by the system to make of a person’s life only this as the founding principle of existence, Mr. Brookner and company explore the politics of distain and how this forms the core of existential emptiness.

The Jury of “Hot Shots”

It is this deployment of prejudice and emptiness by a system, far removed from the living experience, which fuels and is critiqued in the horrifying future Mr. Brooker and Ms. Huq illustrate here. And, sadly, one which is most readily seen in the trajectories and moments of our lives lived now and the political and corporate systems which hope to contain us.

While the story line in “15 Million Merits” is great, the acting is also superb. Daniel Kalyyla and Jessica Brown Findlay are perfect in their roles as lonely outsiders, trying to find a connection in an isolating and media deadening world. (Spoiler alert!) I truly felt for the Bing and Abi as an unlucky couple, which made the ending all the sadder.

“15 Million Merits” is a must see for Science Fiction lovers.

Konnie Huq and Charlie Brooker

“One thing I love about speculative fiction is its ability to explore difficult topics. Because of it’s separation from our current timeframe, it can comment on Socio-economic and Cultural issues in really engaging and interesting ways” – Anita Sarkeesian

Recently, I’ve seen two fascinating films that take place in “the future”, which tackle subjects in both a political-satirical way as well as asking some basic questions about the general human condition. The six minute long “The Terrible thing from Alpha 9”, a tragicomic animation by Jake Armstrong delves into the human fears of otherness while the gritty and gloomy “Black Mirror: 15 Million Merits”, written by satirical and serial pessimist Charlie Brooker and Kanaq Huq looks to the trajectory of a society created by our own individual weaknesses. The reviews of these works will be featured in this series, “Sci-fi Speaks Of US”, presented in two parts; in part one I’ll review “The Terrible thing from Alpha 9”. Part two will contain a review of “Black Mirror: 15 Million Merits”.

“The Terrible thing from Alpha 9” is a completely dialogue free short, with the character’s actions (and some brief clips of news papers) being the only clues the viewer will get as explanation of what is going on and what the driving motivation is of the two lead characters. The animation begins with an astronaut landing his spaceship on a seemingly empty planet. He’s is in search of a “terrible creature” which has supposedly taken 40 lives. With grim determination the space travel holsters his gun and heads out to kill. However, upon stumbling across the terrible thing, the hunter is cut off guard. The blue, five-eyed alien jumps at the hero, knocking his weapon out of his hand and starts greeting him by licking his space helmet (in attempt of licking his face). At this point it clear to the viewer that the creature is perhaps not a dangerous vicious monster, but more of a dog-like alien which wants to be friends. Despite this possibility, the astronaut runs from the creature, resulting in the accidental death of the supposedly deadly hunter. After this decidedly odd turn of events, the viewer quickly learns what, in humorous actuality, happened to the 40 first “victims” of this creature. The viewer is left with a lingering glimpse of a lonely and desperate creature that yearns for friendship and continually fails to find it. A heart-breaking ending sees the horrible demonstration of a creature, no matter what bad luck it haunts it, will give up its dream of companionship. Hope against all odds lingers in the grand wishes of the creature.

“The Terrible thing from Alpha 9” strength comes from the two main characters in the film. The astronaut is a man who tries to be really overly-manly and macho, seeking without thought to kill a scary looking beast because it is considered, against all fact, to be dangerous. His motivations for going out on this mission are never given, yet one is lead to assume it’s strongly tied with the fame and honor which he feels he would garner from killing a thing deemed to be so dangerous. In fact, he is so determined to assassinate a scary beast that he doesn’t even stop to think how peculiar it is that the supposed savage creature acts gently and playfully towards him while he pursues his fatal vendetta towards his victim. The supposed hero obvious finds the looks of the creature distasteful and threatening (and which seems to be the motivation of all the humans to seek this creatures demise), which drives his already made-up mind that the creature needs to die. The astronaut’s determination ends up fatal for him, making his quick decisions seem unwise. The creature on the other hand acts just like an attention starved pet; from fetching things the man throws away to following him loyally regardless of where he wanders. This makes the creature come off as something in distressed need of companionship, which he seeks from the space wanderer and hunter, in spite of latter rejecting him strongly, fearfully, and constantly. The monsters sturdy willpower is also a great personality trait highlighted in the short. It’s a universal subject of wanting something and frequently doing your best to get it, even if it’s most likely that your desires won’t ever be met, as well as an analysis of the superficial creations of hate which humans impose on what they do not understand.

“The terrible thing from Alpha 9” has a simple, tragic plot point: The creature just wants a friend, but probably won’t get one due to people’s constant disgust with its looks. Isn’t that unfair? Wildly funny, but also a bit of a tear jerker, this short is a must-watch for fans of cartoons and Science-Fiction.

View below the full short “The Terrible Thing from Alpha 9”:

“Valentine’s Day is a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap” – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Ah, the 14th of February! The day is slowly, but surely, coming upon us with all that it entails with its meanderings and commercially tinted vocabulary of love. Usually we are fed the most mundane and conservative of loves: predominately focused on the heterosexual, circulating around the material gift as its expression, and, usually, one sex seen as passively accepting the honors of the day. Not to mention the holiday’s neglect of love that isn’t “successful”; i.e. the holiday’s depiction of romance that is blissfully ignorant of the times when love falls far short of happy endings. Valentine’s Day uplifts the beautiful, harmonic side of love, which no doubt is important. On the other hand, the sad and dark parts of love are a major part of romance and relationships. Therefore, it is my pleasure to contemplate those most unhappy of love tales which I invite the curious reader of this post to watch, read, or listen to on Valentine’s Day.
(Note: I will talk about the tragic parts of the tales and stories of love and betrayal, so this post will harbor the most conclusive of spoilers).

The series “Powerpuff Girls” was a children’s cartoon about three kinder garden aged girls with superpowers which ran for six seasons from the years 1998 to 2004. The episodes were filled with irony and amusing reconstructions on the superhero and the story-telling around them. The series was also a delightful blending of action and cuteness, featuring very bold and strong heroines who never drifted far from their adventurous and comical personalities: Blossom-the intelligent, but slightly vain leader, Bubbles-who’s naïve and passive-aggressive, and Buttercup-the rough and tumble tomboy (who despite being a tomboy always wears a dress). Most of the episodes concentrated on the girls solving the mysteries, and actively fighting crime and the criminal. Still the episode “Buttercrush” which aired on season one as its fourth episode, found the tough and unsentimental Buttercup embroiled in her first crush. She falls for Ace, a bully and mean leader of a criminal gang, who manipulates Buttercup by sweet-talking himself and his gang out of trouble. After successfully getting Buttercup to believe he returns her affections, Ace sets out a plan to use the situation as a chance to kill off Blossom and Bubbles. However, Buttercup finds out about Ace’s plan and doesn’t take to the attempted murder of her sisters kindly.

“Buttercrush” portrays two different types of love. Firstly we are presented with Buttercup’s blind infatuation with the bad guy Ace, which is exploitive and manipulative. This theme is extremely universal, for haven’t we all sometimes been taken advantaged of due to our emotions blinding us? The second form of love is that which we find between siblings. This love is demonstrated by Buttercups ultimate loyalty to her sisters and her sisters understanding and forgiveness to their sister’s misguided crush. The girls share an unconditional love to each other, which strength saves Buttercup from the deceitful Ace. Even if it is sad to see Buttercup get her heart shattered, it is still extremely touching to see how important the bond with her sisters is to Buttercup. Bad love and good love, both demonstrated in this fine episode!

Greek Mythology is known and regarded for its near soap-opera like tales of the gods and god-like creatures. When I was young, I read all the myths I could come across, and at the age of ten I read the myth of “Apollo and Daphne”, which details Apollo’s first love. Humorously, it was the first love story I enjoyed (and the only one I would enjoy till recent years), so much that I read it out loud to the grownups around me. In the legend, Apollo enrages Eros by claiming he’s too much of a boy to handle his arrows. Eros decides to prove Apollo wrong, so he shoots one golden arrow into Apollo and one blunt dart into the nymph Daphne. Thus Apollo falls violently in love with Daphne despite Daphne not wanting anything to do with Apollo. This leads to Apollo obsessively chasing Daphne, begging her to marry him. While Daphne sees Apollo as an ultimate terror, Apollo can’t stop thinking about how wonderful Daphne is, even when she runs from him. The nymph tries to escape Apollo multiple times, and in her most desperate hour pleads the earth goddess Gaea to destroy her beauty. She is then transformed into a tree. However, Apollo loves Daphne even in this form, and concludes: “Since you cannot be my wife, you shall become my tree”. The love sick god takes the tree to his heavenly garden where he intends to keep it eternally. After his last soliloquy of love he embraces the plant.

“Apollo and Daphne”, famous statue by Bernini

This legend is an intense take on obsession, unrequited love and despair. Daphne is a woman who can’t escape her stalker and not even as a tree finds freedom. Apollo is a lost, immature man struck with feelings he can’t handle. The ending is bittersweet in the realization that Apollo didn’t love Daphne for her looks, but for who she was and how she expressed her being. Daphne having her beauty destroyed couldn’t alter the feelings which Apollo felt for her. Even though we find the stalker Apollo as unsettling in the extreme in this story, we still find ourselves oddly moved by the tragedy which unfolds. Apollo, as immature in his emotions, doesn’t have the means to handle unrequited love and reacts to it as a child would, making his actions sympathetically tragic in hindsight, while still overdone and horrific in his refusal to accept her wishes (no means no). In short this could also be a cautionary tale of what happens when you refuse to take no for an answer. If you can get your hands on a collection of Ancient Greek legends, make sure to read this tale of woe.

“Futurama” is an animated series created by Matt Groening. The series centers on Philip J. Fry, a delivery boy who is accidently frozen in 1999 and thawed out in the year 2999. There he befriends a scoundrel robot named Bender, a warrior-spirited Cyclops named Leela and starts working for an absent minded professor Farnsworth, who is Fry’s last living relative. Due to Fry’s situation, many episodes explored the things Fry had left behind back in his 1999. The most famous, or infamous as some would say, was “Jurassic Bark” (season four, episode seven). Fry uncovers the remains of his late dog and learns that 29th century science will be able to resurrect his beloved pet, Seymour. Fry is thrilled, but his best friend Bender grows painfully jealous, disliking the fact that Fry is paying more attention to Seymour’s remains then he is to their mutual friendship. The plot portrays Bender’s jealousy leading to near disaster, but Bender redeems himself in the end, learning to sympathize with Fry’s wishes. The episode at that point seems upbeat and will end happily, until Fry learns that his dog died at the age of fifteen. He then decides not to resurrect Seymour. The last scene takes the viewers back to the 21th century. Seymour is shown patiently waiting for Fry, year after year, in summer sun and in pouring rain. He dies of old age while still contemplating the return of his human friend Fry. Fry’s decision to leave the past as it is and not resurrect the long dead friend makes the episode a complete downer, since Seymour will now never get to be with Fry again.

“Jurassic Bark” is perhaps the saddest episode from “Futurama”, and as one of the most powerful and touching one we find in the series. Bender learns to become a better friend to Fry, which is an uplifting plot point. However Seymour’s love for Fry is devastating, and he uncompromisingly waits for his owner to return to him in a past without mercy. Fry will never return, and love and loyalty is depicted in a dark, bitter light. This episode is a must see. However, a fair warning is that you should have many boxes of tissues beside you while watching this utterly depressing, striking episode.

“Pokémon” is a Japanese children’s Anime show which takes place in a world filled with so-called pocket monsters. People in this world collect these creatures by “catching them”, maintaining them in small magical globes and then training them to fight each other (i.e. this world is a member’s of PETA worst nightmare). Ash, the show’s star, is a young boy who travels this world finding and pursuing a multitude of adventures with his favorite Pokémon, Pikachu, and his two friends, the feisty Misty and the caring Brock. The team of friends is constantly chased by Team Rocket, a criminal trio who steal Pokémon’s from others. The members are Jesse and James, and the talking Pokémon Meowth. Meowth is a cat-like creature, who is the only one of his species who can speak and walks on two feet. This is a mystery many characters in the show ponder about aloud, but it’s not until the seventy-second episode, “Go West, Young Meowth!” that an explanation for this phenomena is given. Team Rocket decides to go to Hollywood, which awakens painful memories in Meowth, causing him to reveal his past to the viewers. Turns out Meowth started out as a hungry homeless Pokémon, who couldn’t talk and walked on four paws. After seeing a block-buster film, Meowth decides to traveled to Hollywood in search of glamorous food, ending up in a thieving league of other Meowths and a Persian (another cat-like Pokémon). Finally having and abundance and grand access to food, he comes to longed for love as well. His craving for love is fulfilled in his becoming smitten with Meowsie, a female version of a Meowth. His love will never be returned since, as she is more than boldly willing to tell him, she is rich and he is not, and she values beyond measure her rich owner who will give her constant love in the guise of expensive gifts. Meowth becomes determined to win the love of his heart through making himself as human-like as possible to emulate the owner and master of Meowsie. Throughout a torturous process, Meowth learns to talk and walk like a human. Yet, Despite this massive effort, Meowsie still turns him down, telling him, in no uncertain terms, that though he has achieved these behaviors, he is a street-cat. Meowth leaves the pain of unreturned love to seek out riches, hoping he then would finally win Meowsies heart. After this past is revealed in the story, Meowth finds himself returning to Hollywood with Team Rocket, where he meets his lost love Meowsie again, only to find that his ex-love has been abandoned by her owner and need to be with Meowht’s old criminal gang to survive. Meowht promises Meowsie to help her leave the gang and he fights in order to gain her freedom from the gang, only to have Meowsie reject him again and stay with Persian. Meowth, at last, realizes he’ll never win Meowsie’s heart and is shown at the end of the episode devastated.

This episode is the only Pokémon episode I’ve re-watched since my early childhood, and it made a bigger impact on me now than when I was seven. The episode brings up a painful, yet solid truth about love: sometimes you will make great sacrifices and deeds for the one you love; only to find rejection and denial. All the pain and forfeit will be for nothing. This happens to everyone at least once in their lifetime. It’s nearly shocking how honestly Pokémon is able to portray this fact, considering the love martyr being a talking cat-like creature. The issue of class is also brought up nicely. A strong recommendation for anyone who has sometimes felt used!

Ang Lee is a Taiwanese-born director who has made a number of great films, many which have love as a major theme. He’s two most famous films are “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000) and “Brokeback Mountain” (2005). The Latter is an adaption of the short story written by Annie Proulx, and follows the literary works plot to the letter. The film stars Health Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, who do stunning portrayals of star-crossed lovers in the 60’s Wyoming, capturing all the heartfelt wonder of two guys who, despite loving each other, never really get to be together. The film is beautifully shot, the characters are complex and the ending brutal. Few romantic films are this well done. Proulx’s short story is also a great read for those who haven’t examined it yet, too.

Nancy Sinatra’s song “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” is a beautiful song about falling for your friend in early childhood, only to be horribly abused and abandoned by that friend once you’ve grown up. Listen to the song below. (The Clip features the lyrics!).

Kraftwerk’s song “Sexobject” deals with feeling emotionally neglected and used. View video below.

Jack Off Jill’s song “Vivica” depicts friendship, abuse and repressed feelings. Lyrics and song exist below.

These sagas of woe and misfortune all depict harsh realities that come with loving another person, despite the stories varying from cartoons to mythology to grittier down-to earth films and songs. All of these tales are exquisitely interesting takes on love, friendship and devotion, and all are handled with care and marvel.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Take Care/ Maaretta