Tag Archive: Pop Culture


Doctor Strange” (2016) is a superhero film that is one of the latest additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, followed by this year’s ”Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2” and ”Spiderman: Homecoming” (both of which I have yet to see). The films comprising the series of Marvels cinematic Universe are constructed not only internally to a worldbuilding fiction but are additionally intended to have (slight) continuity amongst themselves as a group. Movies such as ”Iron Man” (2008), ”Thor” (2011) and ”Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011) lead up to ”The Avengers” (2012). After that, films such as ”Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier” (2014) built on the previous movies events. However, while ”Doctor Strange” is a part of this universe, it relies very little on the many previous films and focuses more on introducing Doctor Strange as a new hero, encased somewhat notably in its own world building.

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The plot follows the pompous, yet brilliant, doctor Stephen Strange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch. The doctor, specializing in neurosurgery, is world famous for being able to do near impossible surgeries with stunning results and we are witness to a short introduction to his brilliance from the movies very beginning. However one day, due to texting while driving, Stephen gets into an accident and undergoes himself massive surgery to survive. Strange survives, but his hands are irrecoverably damaged, destroying any possibility of his continuing being a surgeon. In his despair, Stephen does everything he can to get his hands back to the way they were, which leads him to a secluded unknown temple in Nepal. There he meets a woman named The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who´s a teacher of an ancient mystic art of magic. Stephen, realizing with these techniques he would again be able to use his hands as he did before, and even a bit more, starts studying along the ancient one. And as usual in superhero movies, an old pupil from the past emerges as a foe for the newcomer Stephen to defeat.

Doctor Strange” was plagued with controversy as soon as it was announced that the Ancient one was re-visualized from being male and Tibetan in the comics to Celtic and female in this cinematic incarnation. This is a complicated issue that I don´t really have an authority from which to comment on (I am not familiar with Doctor Strange comics and am Caucasian) so will link to some articles on the issue here.

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But beyond this issue, the movie has other problems. One is that the film itself is dull at times; the pacing in the beginning feels off and there are times that (while most likely intentional) the titular character comes off as whiny, trivial, and cruel, in the strongest sense, making it hard to connect with him. The fighting scenes felt lacking as well. While the battle scenes certainly are meant to invoke a psychedelic experience, they sometimes failed to capture the attention of the audience which the whirlwind sensation of the scenes most assuredly should.

On the flip side, there are lots of elements that work really well. The film features a scene where The Ancient One and Stephen discuss how he can learn to use magic, with the punch line being ”by studying, duh!”. That learning and achieving greatness takes a lot of practice is often glossed over or not even mentioned in most block buster films, which makes this scene both refreshing and honest. Also notable, engaging and tantalizing in the narrative is the character of Wong (Benedict Wong), the librarian who guards the books that contain all the knowledge of which Stephen is studying. Wong is portrayed as a very stoic, no-nonsense type of person but also as someone with a hidden soft side, with a welling sense of enticingly hidden humor. (It´s also shown in one scene that he enjoys Beyoncés music, which is both touching and hip! A hard duality to pull off in a film.).

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Left to right: Mordo, Stephen, The ancient one and Wong

Also as a resonating relation and nuanced capture of the personal in the Doctor Strange storyline, and, surprising despite the controversy around Tilda Swintons casting, the film actually does manage to showcase and develop a believable and moving connection between Stephen and the Ancient one.

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However ”Doctor Strange” also suffers from great lost opportunities and re- enforces tired tropes. It is, despite the films great efforts with Wong´s character, still jarring that the temple Stephen studies at has a mostly POC cast, but the token white guy has to be the lead and hero. ”Doctor Strange” also uses disability as motivation for the more able bodied characters. In activist circles, this trope is known as ”Inspiration porn” or ”teachable moment”. This trope has been a predominant role given to disabled characters, often reducing them to mere motivational slogans rather than giving them the narrative body of actual characters with their own stories elaborated to be followed in the text. In ”Doctor Strange” we are hit hard with the trope of a disabled person being a teachable moment – and simultaneously loose a potentially cool story line.

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When Stephen in one scene is in despair over learning the arts, there is a scene where the Ancient one states that it is Stephen himself who holds himself back. Stephen explains he simply can´t accomplish anything giving the blame to the damage in his hands. In response, the Ancient one calls a pupil, Master Hamir (whom previously had one scene where Stephen mistok him for the ancient one), to come forward. It is revealed then that Hamir has only one hand, but is able to perform magic all the same. He then leaves, and Stephen realizes he can achieve greatness despite limitations.

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Hamir as a character immediately and definitely disappears after this incident. Even in this pivotal scene to the story arch the Hamir is given no lines of dialogue (it is worth noting that the film does not confirm Hamir as mute). When the major battle against the villains takes place Hamir is not seen fighting along other pupils. His capability to fight and use magic despite being disabled is merely there to inspire Stephen, who is written as able-bodied. Some would argue his injured hands are a disability, however Stephen himself only talks about not being able to perform surgery and never of the multitude of common day events which would impact those of limited mobility with hands. While this is a limitation, it is not the same as a disability; the most which is confronted by the character is the inability to perform surgery. Stephen seems never to note the marginalization which would occur in the vast arrangements of the social (and its hardware) to the character. This means that ”Doctor Strange”, despite its meagre attempts at diversity, falls into having it´s only Canon disabled character as a ”teachable moment” to transcend (which is only due by his hands becoming now “usable”). Both Hamir specifically, and Doctor Strange more generally, become textbook examples of ”inspiration porn”.

What makes this even sadder is that the world building in ”Doctor Strange” makes this trope very easily avoidable.

Since ”Doctor Strange” canonizes the fact that the magic the Ancient ones pupils use is available to people regardless of their bodies limitations, the film opens up the possibility of having people with varying disabilities (as well as different cultural/racial background) as pupils and guardians. It is odd that one would make such a thing possible, only to end up playing it safe. Diversity is a hot button issue in pop culture right now, and it is important to remember that part of diversity is including people with various physical and mental disabilities. When it comes to things like ”Doctor Strange”, that uses magic, it is odd that the story limits itself. Why not have a mute, one handed warrior as a part of Strange´s squad? There literally, inside the story, is no reason to not use the world building to justify diverse and unusual superpowered fighters. In fact given that many superheroes development their powers begin with “accidents” it is assuredly odd that this doesn’t find its way into more usage.

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Yet still the genre remains often enclosed and encircled by a set tired tropes and unfortunate clichés. Why not use stories with odd powers to include and shake up hierarchies? With more brave writers, Hamir could have been more than a small role, lingering outside of the story which was actually about such a character and therefore become a text of more power and insight.

My hope is that while superhero movies are trying new things, they will also try to do more daring things and use the potential in their stories to go to places further than the imaginings that we have in the ordinary of life. To the place where all abilities can find a place of not only understanding and acceptance, but one of unfolding, becoming powers.

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Inspiration porn has been going on for long

While ”Doctor Strage” is enjoyable, it ends up playing it safe in both race and able- bodieness. It is desirable to see the (most likely upcoming) sequels try to fulfil a more disability positive spin on this lore.

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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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(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.

“All of the great artists get censored!” – Linda (voiced by John Roberts)

“Bob’s Burger” is an animated series created by Loren Bouchard and premiered on television in 2011. It centers on the misadventures of the Hamburger restaurant owning Bob and his family. The family consists of his wife Linda, who is perky and peculiar, and their three children: the continually exaggerating Gene, the socially awkward Tina and the sly, mischievous Louise. “Bob’s Burger” is packed with great lines and quirky dialogue, and finds its way to dealing with impressive subjects from time to time. The show is also pleasant in its interesting depiction of a working-class family; “Bob’s Burger” is not a “down-to-earth” realistic but does portray the plight of this class’s persistent economic trouble, which is important and appreciable to represent. And it is firmly refreshing to see a show that is which is finally female-friendly (i.e. free of overly sexists jokes) in this genre (naturally excluding the “Simpsons”).

Left to right: Louise, Bob, Gene, Tina and Linda

Left to right: Louise, Bob, Gene, Tina and Linda

In “Bob’s Burgers” first season, the eight episode “Art Crawl” tackled the issue of censorship. More specifically the episode was about censoring art, as well as has some amusing musings about cultural assumptions about art itself.

The episode begins with Bob walking around the neighborhood with his kids as they check out the neighborhoods annual street event focused on art. The event is an “Art crawl”, where people display their indolently done paintings. Bob points out quickly that he does not want the children to think that the Art crawl represents what real art is meant to be or obtain. Considering how artist and art have at times been the punching bag for mainstream comedy, it’s pleasant to have Bob make a sincere defense of art. Tina then suggests that they visit a museum to learn more about Art. This is met with strong protest from Bob and her siblings (this is met with the idea of a “art visit” is going to far). Already in the first four minutes of the episode lazy and stereotypical attitudes towards Art, especially mirrored in television culture, are confronted and parodied. Bob points out the “art festival” is a profoundly narrow idea about what Art both is and entails. The scene defends art as a cultural form, stating that it is much better than many may believe, yet uses a singular relatable scenario as showing Bob falling into the common and routine avoidance of culture.

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The show also plays with the myth of the unstable and conceited artist as well. Gayle, Linda’s extremely insecure and erratic sister whose art the family is not allowed to critic, is a an embodiment of this trope (it is mentioned that she had eaten lipstick to become “red inside”).

Linda's sister, Gayle

Linda’s sister, Gayle

However, the idea of the unstable artist is also satirized. The youngest child of the family, Louise (voiced by the always awesome Kristen Schaal ) sees the potential in making money in the “Art Crawl” phenomena and tries to get her siblings Gene and Tina to make street art for her. However her siblings express themselves as “true” artists, to which Louise then decides that she must cut off her brother’s ear, in reference to a supposed action done by Van Gogh. This highlights how people focus on outsized legends and absurd stories to constantly create the odd mythical presence of the mad artist which alienates these workers in Art from the normal working class. The constant mystification art, and the creation of art, to the point that art and artists are viewed more as characters from ridiculous melodramas instead of being engaged with as serious creators of our visual culture.

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However the most prominent theme of the episode is censorship. Other popular cartoons have dealt with censorship before, for instance “The Simpsons” episode “Itchy and Scratchy and Marge” and the two-part “South Park” episode “Cartoon Wars” (which was later discussed again in the episodes “200” and “201”). These two previous shows dealt with censorship through fictional controversies, i.e. with the Simpsons cartoon violence and with South Park the representation of the prophet Mohammed. In both of these cases the object of controversy was not a product made by a family member. In “Bob’s Burger” this is the case.

Gayle, Linda’s sister, visits the family for a while and hangs her new paintings around the walls of Bob’s restaurant in tandem with the neighborhood Art Crawl event. To Bob’s horror, Gayle has devoted all of her works to the depiction of various animal’s anuses. Bob surmises, quite correctly in fact, that the paintings will have a negative effect on the customers eating in his establishment. Bob makes the case strongly to his wife, Linda that she has to tell her sister that Gayle has to take down the paintings. When she refuses, Bob comes up with a scheme to take down the paintings without Linda noticing. He also decides to come clean with Gayle and state that he just doesn’t want the paintings hung on the walls of his restaurant. This plan quickly changes after Edith, the elderly woman who runs the “Art Crawl” event, shows up to complain about Gayle’s paintings. Bob explains that the paintings have been removed, to which Edith than replies: “Good, they were indecent” adding “I won’t allow them to be shown”. Bob becomes furious after hearing Edith state that she won’t allow people to see this art given her own interpretation of what art should be available, and therefore hangs all of the paintings back up. Bob’s actions are strikingly similar to an old saying: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, that Voltaire among others have used when defending freedom of Speech and expression. Bob absolutely hates Gayle’s paintings but will not let her work be censored by authoritarian personas. He decides to make a stand since he feels that someone has tried to rob him and others of their choice to express themselves. Edith continues to protest against the paintings while Bob tells Gayle to paint more. Bob fights back against censorship by encouraging more provocative art. So Bob takes his protest against censorship a step further – he not only will defend Gayle, but encourage her as well. Bob takes the idea of defending a person’s right to express themselves freely, but also encourage them to express themselves in a way he doesn’t like.

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The Episode “Art Crawl” takes an interesting turn on censorship when the family discovers one morning that the paintings have been vandalized. The animals have been given pink underwear as a cover up. Bob assumes the person responsible is Edith and heads over to her store. There he confronts Edith and vandalizes her artworks in revenge (by giving all of the paintings in her shop “anuses”), only to find out later that it was his wife Linda who vandalized the paintings, since she was so disgusted by them. While Edith wanted to censor the paintings, Linda is the one who actually takes to vandalism to censor. The family pays Edith for the damage caused and Linda realizes that she should have perhaps just honestly told her sister her opinion of the paintings. The episode portrays the vandalism as an act of censorship, which it is. Edith praised the vandalism act but did not do it herself. Linda did because she could not express her dislike. Naturally, it is harder to critic art when someone close to you is the creator, but it is pointed out that Linda should have just voiced her opinion. Once again the importance of expressing one’s self is highlighted. It is also stated that Bob’s anger was understandable, but his action of changing Edith’s paintings was over the top, since he also does a form of censorship by editing Edith’s paintings against her will.

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“Art Crawl” illustrates the measures a person will go to fight against censorship. Bob can’t stand people bossing others about their expression. It rings a truth about censorship in the real world; to defend freedom of speech, people must sometimes defend things they despises themselves. “Art Crawl” strongly defends freedom of speech, realizing that we will not always like everything culture produces, but censorship is not, nor is ever, the answer.

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Superhero films are at a height of popularity at the moment, with many superhero movies launching huge franchises. The most successful ones so far have been Nolan’s “Dark Knight”- trilogy and Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers” and many of the myriad of film adaptations of this comic book genre go on to get cinematic sequels. Often when a sequel is a particularly big flop, there will be an attempt to start a new franchise by re-telling the Hero’s tale on the big screen. In other words, a re-boot is made. Case in point was with Marvel Comic’s Spiderman.

Sam Raimi directed Spiderman’s debut film, “Spiderman” (2002) which held an enormous charm with its straightforward, effortless, and humorous storyline intertwined with a romantic tone and carried through with a stable of charismatic actors. Of special note was the pivot point of Tobey Maguire as the masked hero. The first of the Raimi interpreted Spiderman franchise was followed by “Spiderman 2” (2004) which was an interesting exploration of the cost of being a hero which pursued and elaborated the darker logic of the first film while never losing its own sense of charm and wit. The third Spiderman film however fell prey to a “upmanship” mentality regarding its own trajectory of films and became a total catastrophe, having too many plotlines and undeveloped characters, including an infamously inane dance scene (which everyone has made fun of, so I won’t comment on it!) performed by the main character.

This year has been witness to the reforming of this floundering series with the release and re-booted consideration of the hero with the film “The Amazing Spiderman”, directed by Marc Webb.

The film details Spiderman’s path to becoming a superhero with the same classic structure featured in the comics: Peter Parker, an outcast nerdy teenage boy, is bitten by a rather unusual spider and therefore gains powers such as the astonishing ability to stick to any surface, a pre-natural super strength, a intuitive sense of his surroundings, an extraordinary sense of balance, etc. Peter at first uses his newly acquired powers for his own personal amusement and benefit, but after his beloved Uncle Ben dies at the hands of a criminal (who Peter could have stopped during a previous crime) Peter rethinks his attitude to his powers and, after some growing up, which is a staple for this genre, becomes the mask vigilante Spiderman.

The new filmic incarnation of the Spiderman tale, following the original comic book title where the character was granted his own franchise, is called the “The Amazing Spiderman” and, with the logic of the reboot, infuses the story with some few alterations to Peter Parkers narrative in order to rejuvenate the tale and bring the franchise back from the Spiderman 3 pitfall.

“The Amazing Spiderman” stars Andrew Garfield, who is utterly fantastic as Peter and Spiderman. Garfield puts everything he has into this role, which results in a deliciously engaging performance. As Peter Parker he perfectly embodies the complex nature of teenage years: he’s insecure, he’s irritating, he’s wrapped up in his own world, and he’s sympathetic and adorable, all at once. As the masked vigilante, “The Amazing Spiderman” tones up the snarky and wisecracking nature of Spiderman a lot more than Tobey Maguire’s interpretation; this seems more true to the comics and the general ambiance of the character. In this adaption, Peter also invents the spider-like super-webs weapon (instead of just shooting them out of his wrist which is a feature of Spiderman as portrayed in Sam Ramie’s films) which animates the character with more of a academic and scientific inclination and gives foundation to narrative flows within the story line.

Tobey Maguire’s Peter was more sweet and kind, than the manifestation of Garfield’s character, but feels less connected with the reality of complexity the environs of New York entails and the weight of criminality infesting the city. In Raimi’s films, Spiderman’s sense of humor comes from his small comments of how much trouble he always finds himself in, not as a wisecracking hero, while Garfield uses this aspect of the “spidey” character to confront evil and violence in the only rational way (i.e. laughing). All of this is a construction of Maguire to play Spiderman as a pivot to tone up the heroic aspects of the masked vigilante while Garfield’s tone is to pull the characterization away from the heroic to the normal . Since Toby Maguire was in fact so good at doing a heroic and believable individual, one thrust into the role, but ascending to it requirements , it seems impossible for anyone to overshadow his performance. But Garfield succeeds, and succeeds well.

Garfield is what makes this movie work, since the viewer truly wants to see what happens to this charming young man. It’s good that the protagonist is engaging in “The Amazing Spiderman”, since neither the villain nor the love interest is. The villain is the one-armed scientist Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). Dr. Connors is using the genetic code of lizard’s regenerative capacities to re-create limbs on mice, hoping to be able to do the same on humans some day. After a series of complex tragic events (which I won’t go into here), he is forced to take an untested doze of the genetic mutations and turns himself unwittingly into The Lizard, which affects his body leaving his mind intact. Ifans tries his best, and actually there is a lot of potential in this villain. The writing and acting does capture the sorrow and desperation of Dr. Connor’s character, but never really depicts Dr. Connor as a person who would willingly hurt someone. His character is depicted as continually nice and, even as a Monster Lizard, as overtly rational and humane, making us wonder why he would become the villain we find in the Narrative.

In The Lizards first scene, you see him cause destruction on a bridge while trying to stop a massive humanitarian and criminal act and only causes the damage due to his lack of understanding regarding his strength. In the scene, the writing gives a good explanation for his actions. However, near the end of the film, The Lizard makes some very extreme decisions and seeks out to do horrible things to the entire city. This diversion to criminality veers drastically from the logic of the character we have been presented with, since Dr. Connor is shown to be a man of science whose major ambition is to help others, and he has never shown any dislike for humans or human nature in anyway. When The Lizard becomes a real villain, it is not believable or has any credibility at all. Needless to say this lack is fatal flaw for the development of a villain, let alone a super-villain.

Also Emma Stone was pretty boring as Gwen Stacy. Ms. Stone is trying her best, but her character just wasn’t interesting.

But no doubt the worst part of this film is the scene where Peter first starts to realize he has superpowers. After being bitten by a genetically mutated spider, Peter travels back home, sleeping on the subway. After some hassle, Peter accidentally spills some beer on a woman’s shirt. He attempts an apology by saying sorry and laying his hand on her shoulder. However, due to his now emerging spider superpowers, he can’t peel his hand of off the woman’s shoulder. In a panicked state he yanks his hand forcefully away from the woman along with ripping off the woman’s blouse. The men around the scene proceed to attack Peter, only for him to discover more powers by jumping to the ceiling and beating the men senseless. The problem is that even if the men were being violent, Peter did from their point of view rip a woman’s clothing off without her permission – something that in all reason made them quite upset and willing to protect the woman. Even if from the audience’s point of view, Peter ripped a woman’s clothing off by accident, his action was none the less a form of aggressive behavior or at least a crime though accidental. In either way, the writers had decided to write in a scene where Peter commits a sexual assault. The scene plays out like an accident, but there is no going around the fact that the writers thought a good introduction to Peter’s superpowers was having him rip a blouse of an unwilling woman. Not to mention the fact that the scene is mostly played for laughs. The scene gives off the vibe that the writers don’t mind exploiting major problems that many women have to face, such as sexual harassment and assault, for the sake of developing the protagonist’s fate.

The scene is also bizarrely infantile. Even if we can forego the strangely aggressive vibe of the scene, we are still left with the first presentation of the Spiderpowers as making it able to gawk at a scantly clothed woman. Considering how “The Amazing Spiderman” was meant to be a more adult and serious take on the Spiderman character, a scene like this contradicts that statement.

So while some parts of the film felt like they were written under infantile motivations, other scenes were done with much tenderness and cleverness. Spiderman’s first heroic act consists of him saving a small child from dying from the horrible traffic accidents the Lizard caused. The scene follows the classical element of having the little boy trapped in the car as a representation for vulnerability, which leads to Spiderman’s (who’s previously used his powers for selfish reasons) change of heart. What’s new is that the writers not only have Spiderman use his powers to save the child, but Spiderman also uses psychological encouragement to make the boy braver and therefore easier to save. The scene is fairly emotional and exciting. It is puzzling to see such a contrast to the scene where Spiderman first discovers his powers. While the scene in the subway felt juvenile and offensive, the rescue of the child is captivating and thrilling. The contrast is extreme, which bakes the question of how the writers could zigzag like this.

Some other complaints worth mentioning are the depiction of Aunt May (Sally Field). Her role was ridiculously down played, making it almost seem like her and Peter had no connection. This is unfortunate, since, after uncle Ben’s death, the two are suppose to become very close and Aunt May is the loving caretaker Peter needs and loves. In Sam Raimi’s films, and what I have understood from some comics I’ve looked at, Aunt May is suppose to be very sweet and kind, but also a little tough. In “The Amazing Spiderman”, the audience does get the feel that Aunt May is sweet, but her tough side is totally ignored. The result is then a very bland overly kind caretaker typecast, instead of the interesting full-blooded character.

Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field)

It is also worth mentioning that the school bully at Peter’s High School is made into a more three dimensional person, in this version of the Spiderman film canon, instead of the classic brute, which is a magnificent plus to the film. Also Denis Leary as Gwen’s father and police chief did a solid performance.

This film was good, but had an assortment of titanic problems. However, a sequel will be much anticipated.