Tag Archive: Sexism


Trigger Warning: Sexual violence.

Also spoilers for “Gotham” and “The Killing joke”.

This week I was a guest on Missmagicgirl´s youtube Channel. We discuss the classic comic “The Killing Joke” by Alan Moore (1988) and the movie adaption with the same name that was released in 2016. The conversation can be found below (I´m the one on the right). Enjoy!

(Before we get started, I will like to say that this is not a spoiler free post. It should also be noted that it can be triggering for some readers as well, due to discussions of rape.)

Dan Harmon, the creator of the genius sitcom “Community”, has just recently along with Justin Roiland created a brand new animation that blends science fiction with black comedy. It follows the chaotic adventures of Rick, an alcoholic rough-personated scientist and his grandson Morty, a timid boy who semi-willingly goes along the madcap dimensional adventures instigated by his grandfather. The storylines are filled with gore, death and tragedy. The humor is quite dark, and the stories don´t always have happy endings. It is in the same mode storytelling as a slew of cartoons meant for adult audiences such as “Drawn Together” and “South Park”. However, when one looks beyond the gore filled scenes, one can see that “Rick and Morty” is a show that explores deeper themes as well. For instance, “Rick and Morty” is one of the few television shows that depict rape culture properly, without buying into myths of victim-blaming or simplifying ideas about who is a rape victim or who can be a predator.

Morty (right) and Rick (left)

Morty (right) and Rick (left)

The pilot of “Rick and Morty” show cast the series as filled with dark humor that joked about death, violence and trauma. The plots consisted of Rick dragging his fourteen year old grandson to all sorts of terrible dimensions, much to the rest families dismay. Mortys family consists of the dimwitted, insecure but goodhearted Jerry (his father) who Rick loves to belittle. Beth, Morty´s veterinarian mum and Ricks daughter. And Summer, Morty´s sister who wants to join in on her brothers and grandfathers misbegotten adventures. Rick and Morty’s travels are often dangerous, violent places that are filled with all sorts of peculiar creatures. The main selling point was its bleak sense of humor; however as the first season progressed it increased it´s serious world building and in the process was able to actually say some important things about violence.

In the first seasons fifth episode, “Meeseks and Destroy”, Morty asks Rick to allow him to decide what kind of adventure to have, since up until then, Rick had been the one who called all the shots. They make a deal that if Morty is able to handle the adventure he picks he will be allowed to choose every fifth adventure. They travel to a world that resembles the generic fantasy scenario, where Morty decides to help a poverty stricken village. In a reference to “Jack and the bean stock”, Morty and Rick climb up a bean stock and accidentally get the first giant they encounter killed. After being released from murder charges for the accidental Giant-slaughter, Rick and Morty end up at a tavern in the groundside village where things take a dark turn. Frustrated Rick goes off to gamble and Morty goes to use the restroom. There he meets a soft-spoken jellybean-shaped man who offers advice to Morty, which Morty initially appreciates. Suddenly, the benignly, supportive Jellybeanman begins getting uncomfortable close to Morty. The encounter proceeds into an uncomfortable scene where the Jellybeanman attempts to rape Morty, accusing Morty, all the while, of being a “tease”. Morty fights the Jellybeanman off, and, after the encounter, walks back out to meet Rick.

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The scene is played straight; it is not used for black comedy in the slightest. This is not only remarkable because the show itself tends to poke fun at dark subjects, but also because rape jokes in today’s television shows while full of such references to sexual assault rarely show the trauma which “Rick and Morty” conveys in this brief scene. Shows such as “Two broke girls” and “Robot Chicken” tend to use rape as a throw away punch line and shock value. Casual jokes are made at both female and male survivors dispense. The problem, particularly with rape jokes, is that they tend to minimalize the violence of rape, and tend to more often fall into common victim-blaming, misogynistic language (or homophobic, if the joke is about male rape). The problem with such jokes are that they take a huge global issue (one in three women and one in six men have experienced sexual violence world wide) and treat it without any caution or seriousness. But in “Rick and Morty” the attempted rape of Morty is treated seriously; the writers cleverly decide to let the scene be gritty.

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“Rick and Morty”, having the Jellybeanman accuse Morty of being a tease, underline the continued instance in media of making victim-blaming jokes and the writers highlight how rapists themselves use victim-blaming to further their abuse.

After escaping the restroom assault of the Jellybeanman Morty silently tells Rick he wants to go home. Rick sees the Jellybean man leave the restroom and figures out what happens. Then an incredible piece of writing takes place; Rick doesn´t pressure Morty into telling him what happened. He doesn´t blame Morty in any way. He does what many survivors have claimed is the best thing to do; he doesn´t say anything, but let´s Morty know that he´s there for him. Rick shows Morty the cash he´s won gambling and tells Morty they can end thier adventure and giving Rick praise for the choice of adventure. Having Rick not pressure or blame Morty is incredible and a good moral to send: give abuse survivors space but also make sure they know you´re there for them. The episode however does give into some fantasies; in the end of the episode, when Rick and Morty are leaving the world, Rick quickly shoots (and kills) the jellybeanman, unbeknown to the already departed Morty.

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The show also dwells into deconstructing rape culture myths. In episode six, “Ricks Potion #9”, Morty is shown pining after his crush, Jessica. He´s gloomy for not having a date to the schools dance, and is obsessed with the idea of Jessica. Utterly love struck the boy turns to Rick for help. His grandfather tries to ignore Morty, but after Morty has a protracted outburst about how he always helps Rick and never gets anything back, Rick gives in and hands his nephew a potion made from animals DNAs that will make Jessica fall forever in love with Morty, wanting to mate with Morty for life. While the potion is a success, it turns out its success spreads through bodily fluids and therefore becomes an epidemic due to flu season.

Jessica after the drug kicks in

Jessica after the drug kicks in

Everyone at Morty´s school dance becomes infected and aggressively falls into a deep love/lust with Morty. Students and teachers alike start to fight over Morty, creating a fairly funny scenario. Rick turns up to help Morty via one of Ricks favorite mode of transport, his spaceships. While the whole world becomes more and more infected, Rick desperately tries out different potions to find a cure. Unfortunately this just leads to everybody on earth turning into horrible looking monsters.

When Morty starts to complain that Rick is being irresponsible, Rick then says to Morty: “All I wanted was for you to hand me a screwdriver! But instead you had me buckle down and…make you a…roofie…juice serum, so you can roofie that poor girl at your school. Are you kidding me, Morty?! You’re really gonna try to take the high road on this one? Y’know your-you’re a little creep, Morty! Your-you’re just a little creepy creep person!”. This speech brilliantly points out the ethical problems with love potions, and points out the predatory nature of Morty’s request. (Though our western society has come to give some acknowledgement to the horrid problem of drugging and raping; as the Finnish-Swede journalist Johanna Koljonen has said: “The problem then lies in that we then believe that only nasty, horrible men could do such things. The reality is that even so-called sweet, nice boys and men could be rapists”.)

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Having instigated a drugging for assaultive, forced physicality Morty shows us the everyman and sympathetic protagonist, the nice guy, attempting sexual violence while denying, with the common thoughts of our society, what it is. This critique of the offensive action, and its insidious ideological justification, is a brave, important move for a television show. When asked why they rape, a lot of men express the opinion that they felt entitled. Morty, in his weakness, felt entitled as well. He may be a “nice boy”, but he has bought into societies misogynistic views and therefore did something horrible. Morty of course admits to Rick that he was wrong, which happens less in real life, but the fact that a show actually depicted a common mental state that any man (the “Privileged Person”) could have and then points out how this mentality devastates the women and girls (and actually the entire society, which this action comes to destroy) is straight out fantastic to see. This sense of entitlement of a “Privileged Person” for the “lesser person” of the “Oppressed Body” is a problem, and it should be more often addressed in these ways.

The show is also a great example of understanding that anyone could be a victim to sexual violence. Mortys dad, Jerry, gets held at gun point by a woman in the season finale. She tries to force him to have sex, but is rescued by Beth at the last minute. Beth even calls the woman “a rapist”. When Beth says she couldn´t have guessed from the woman’s looks that she was a rapist, Jerry angrily points out that it´s nonsense to assume you can tell such things from ones looks. It is true; looks are deceiving, and the sad truth is that rape culture is deeply ingrained within our society. This means that while men are taught that they may be entitled to a woman´s body, women are taught that men are always eager for sex. Therefore anyone, regardless of gender or race or age, can be a rapist. Both Jerry, Morty and Jessica were nearly raped in the show; and the perpetrators were both male and female. “Rick and Morty” is clear in its message that rape is rape.
Rape is often an shoddily used tool for drama or a lazy source of comedy on television, but “Rick and Morty” is able to avoid most of the insensitive tropes foisted upon us by the pop media.

Jerry held at gunpoint

Jerry held at gunpoint

“Rick and Morty” is careful with this subject, showing a full understanding that when discussing sexual violence it is important to respect the sufferer of the assault and consider the personhood of the survivor in our interactions with them.

Lastly, while bringing the subject up, it is about time that we as a culture actually talk about the culture that creates predators and gives them a set of rationalizations for their brutality , instead of minimizing them and stripping them of their justifications of violence .

Awareness Ribbon for sexual violence

Awareness Ribbon for sexual violence

(This is a guest post written by Shujie, a Chinese political activist, torture survivor and refugee. Shujie is a proud socialist and pro-feminist, fighting for democracy, worker´s rights and women´s rigths. He has worked on articles about enviremental issues andhas done many translations of political articles. He currently lives in Sweden after fleeing China due to political issues).

“The state-sponsored media campaign about ´leftover´ women is part of a broad resurgence of gender inequality in post-socialist China, particularly over the past decade and a half of market reforms.” – Leta Hong Fincher

Leta Hong Fincher grew up in a bilingual envirement, learning both English and Mandarin in the US. The family visited China frequently throughout her childhood summers from the years 1970-1980. Starting from the end of the ´90s, Ms. Fincher worked as a China-based journalist for several American news agencies until 2003.

Her acclaid book, “Leftover Women: The Resurgence Of Gender Inequality In China”, is the result of two and half years of dedicated research, which Ms. Fincher started upon in 2010 along with her final studies in sociology at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Book cover for "Leftover Women"

Book cover for “Leftover Women”

Hong Fincher had began to take notice of the so-called “Leftover women” phenomenon in China. Growing both curious and concerned to what this meant for the women of China, she began to investigate. Following her research, she interviewed many high-educated women in the end of their 20s, who described themselves as in a hurry to get married, even though they considered their fiancés very lacking of any positive traits. As a result of becoming a wife, many previously economically stable, independent women were drained of economical and financial independence after they made their marital promises.

Hong Fincher discovered that despite having no interest in their fiancée and rightfully worrying what marriage would do to their economy, many women still reluctantly married to escape the stigma of being a “leftover-woman”, a term which is has been prevalent in Chinese media since 2007. According to Hong Fincher, the CCP’s (Chinese Communist Party) claimed feminist-based “All-China Women Federation” defined the term “leftover” women as a single, unmarried woman older than 27. This term is sometimes also branded on women as young as 25.

One article that was published on many Chinese sites and newspapers, including “All-China Women Federation” website, claimed that numerous women were overly critical of their partners, and when they finally express interest in marriage, the men who are of similar age and have similar education are no longer available.

Ms. Leta Hong Fincher

Ms. Leta Hong Fincher

In response to this accusation, Hong Fincher points out that the country’s gender imbalance can be seen in the birth ratios: in 2008 121 boys were born and only 100 girls were born, which is a mark of the results from the countries one-child policy. In the Chinese culture it is tradition to prefer a son instead of a daughter. This leads to many women being forced to abort girl-fetuses. Or that, in some extreme causes, parents outright abandone new-born baby girls (causing them to die of hunger or lack of warmth).

Hong Fincher revealed that the motivation behind the “leftover” women media campaign was to motivate marriage to keep a social stability. The government believes too many unmarried men is a threat to stability. (Here it can be pointed out that the Government sees the men´s need for a wife as more important over women´s reproductive rights).

Another reason that Hong Fincher could see as an explanation for the sexist campaigns is that the lack of marriage was, to the government’s anxiety, supposedly effecting the countries population planning policy. This policy was designed for not only to control the quantity but also the quality of the Chinese population. Therefore the regime wanted the “high quality” women to get married and birth out “the best” children for the state.

One of the many propaganda posters used for the "Leftover women" campaign

One of the many propaganda posters used for the “Leftover women” campaign

One myth that is wide spread among Chinese people is that babies will be born with more disabilities and defects if the mother is over the age of 28, although no scientific research supports this belief. Many women that were interviewed by Hong Fincher were warned by their doctors not to have children “too late” since their baby would be “less than perfect” if they chose to give birth at the ages 28 and older. (The Chinese society has, as many cultures do, deep-seated ableist prejudices)
Furthermore Ms. Hong Fincher shows the mechanism between the housing market and the promotion of marriage between 20-30s male and female: “According to sales professionals, gang xu demand[rigid demand] comes largely from urban consumers experiencing the following life events: (1) marriage; (2) pregnancy and birth of the first child; (3) a child starting school.”

The idea of a rigid demand (gang xu) is constructed by the state so that they may control the property market; “it won’t become too hot or too cold”, as Ms. Hong Fincher writes.

According to Hong Fincher, the demand for residential real estate is kept high in these ways:
at one side, if I may quote her once again: “state-owned property development companies do not lower their prices significantly”. The new house buying policies in cities are often biased. For instance in big cities such as Shanghai, the real estate sellers discriminate against unmarried home buyers . On the other hand, as Ms. Fincher writes once more: “ property development companies collaborate with state media and matchmaking industries to reinforce the norm that couples need to buy a home when they get married…state media and real-estate advertisements perpetuate the myth that Chinese women will refuse to marry a man unless he owns a home”.

Hong Fincher also notes that the government probably wants to maintain high housing prices, so most of the middle-class home buyers must work under inhuman and overly-consuming conditions just to earn money for basic living. This results in the Chinese population having no time to reflect on their political and social situation and rights, especially the younger generation that are pressured into marriage and to buy a home the same minute they finish their university studies. A subtle and devious way to keep people under control.

“Angel No. 4”, 2006, by Cui Xiuwen

“Angel No. 4”, 2006, by Cui Xiuwen

Hong Fincher points out that middle-class activism tend to resolve around “NIMBY”, which stands for “not-in-my-back-yard” environmental concerns, such as to protest the construction of a chemical plantation that might pollute the neighborhood. However middle-class activisms among homeowners have not yet shown any serious potential for collective action that challenges the central government’s totalitarian rule. These activists are not concerned, for instance, with the lands poor or the lands oppressed minorities (such as the Tibetans or Uigur).

The world famous Sociologist Jean-Louis Rocca explains that homeowners in cities tend to support the one-party state and usually believe that engaging into politics is dangerous both to themselves and the Chinese society. Their motto tends to be: “China does not need a change in political regime. It needs stability.” Moreover, Hong Fincher says that aspiring home buyers in their twenties and early thirties tend not to show opposition to the state because of the “pursuit of money for a deposit on a new home saps much of their time and energy”. (It should be noted here that other journalist have stated that the Chinese do infact show a sense of dislike and distrust with their government, but accept it out of fear and the despairing idea that no other type of rule is possible.)

Ms. Hong Fincher elaborates: “Rather than causing political instability, high property prices and the norm of middle-class home ownership(home ownership is at 85% in China) might actually promote social stability by forcing young Chinese to focus on saving money to buy into the propertied class rather than agitating for social change.”

"Tattoo II", by Qiu Zhijie

“Tattoo II”, by Qiu Zhijie

Ms. Hong Fincher reports that the status of women in China has gotten horrible worse over the years and wealth inequality between men and women is the biggest form of wealth inequality that exist in todays China.

Most of the homes are owned only by the husband even though most of the women also have contributed to the home in different ways, Hong Fincher states. According to the nationwide “Third Survey” on the Situation of women, 51.7% married men are the sole owner of the home.

The problem lies in that when a women wants a divorce, she is at high risk at losing her entire apartment. According to a new interpretation of the Chinese martial law since 2011, it is stated that if the marital home is only written in the man’s name, the man gets everything automatically once a divorce is settled. Although many women contribute to housing in different ways, such as paying a part of the down payment or mortgage, they usually lack the documents to show their involvement. The Situation is even worse for housewives and stay-at-home moms who do unpaid housework.

Therefore, many women have difficulty to escape from their unhappy marriages, even in cases such as domestic violence. Many women are worried about losing child custody to the abusive husband and afraid that they will have nowhere to live if they end the marriage. In sort: abused women are forced to stay with their abuser to avoid homelessness.

A particularly heartbreaking example is when a woman was murdered by her husband in 2009. The woman had previously reported her husband’s behavior to the police eight times. The man was convicted only six and half years in prison for the abuse of his spouse. Women who report abuse to policemen are often ignored and left into the hands of their abusers.

Hong Fincher also describes women who resist the authoritarian state, at both collective and individual level.

One person Hong Fincher interviewed was Li Maizi, who was 24-year-old when the book was being written. Ms. Li is a feminist activist and openly lesbian. In the small space for activism in China her group organized many public activities such as “performance art” to protest gender discrimination. For example, they organised the famous “Occupy Men’s Toilets” campaign in Guangdong in 2011, where they were calling on local governments to provide more public toilets for women and in the same year she and other young women dressed in white wedding gowns splattered with red, blood-like paint to highlight the domestic violence issue.

Another famous activist is Ye Haiyan, whose blogger name is “Hooligan Sparrow”. She is a long time campaigner for women’s rights, especially in high-lighting issues around sex workers. After she protested against the cover ups of a officials and headmasters history of sexual abuse towards young girls, she was arrested and made homeless.

Ms. Fincher explains that since there is almost no space for independent women’s movements, many activist work in some NGOs registered by the government and work with agencies such as the All-China Women’s Federation. Many such NGOs are lobbying for legislation for domestic violence, according to her.

However, Hong Fincher observed that Li Maizi and many other radical feminists choose to work outside of the system.

In addition, Hong Fincher describes many women who struggle individually. For example, Hong Fincher interviewed a domestic violence survivor Kim Lee who immigrated from the states and married a famous entrepreneur, Li Yang. Even though she is an American, she still had to fight for several years before she got a result from the court. She received support and thanks from many anonymous Chinese women who live with domestic violence, which gave her the strength to continue, despite the constant threats by many other people, including a incident where a man walked up to her in the subway, spat in her face and screamed: “American bitch! Hope he beats you to death next time!”.

Interestingly, Hong Fincher sees many simularities between feminists and Chinese revolutions. During the bourgeois revolution in China which overthrow the Chinese empire in 1911, the famous feminist revolutionary Qiu Jin advocated for gender equality. In the May Fourth Movement, the women’s emancipation became one of the goals for the revolution. After the CCP gained power, the women’s position had been promoted considerably. But unfortunately these promotions have become merely lip service.

Qiu Jin

Qiu Jin

For instance many of these statements are mere mansplaining, i.e. they are often done without taking into consideration what the women of China are asking for. One problem that Ms. Hong Fincher forgets to mention is that these male bourgeois revolutionaries usually stand at a nationalist point of view, meaning that they merely see that China “needs” modern women to improve Chinese population’s qualities, which were inherited by the CCP. Ever since the CCP came into power, they also wanted to free women’s labour force. Hong Fincher describes how the women are ordered to work equally as men in the Great Leap Forward in spite of the fact that women still had to take care of the family and do all of the housework. Many women were forced to leave their infants at home when they went to work, which gave them lifetime traumas.

Chinese University students dressed as battered wives hold banners in front of an office of China’s Civil Affairs department, where local people register for marriage, in protest of domestic violence.

Chinese University students dressed as battered wives hold banners in front of an office of China’s Civil Affairs department, where local people register for marriage, in protest of domestic violence.

But that is not all. Ms. Hong Fincher also illustrates a vivid image the situation and struggles for the LGBTQ community in China and the transformation of the woman’s status since 1000 years ago.

It is an extremely well-detailed, layered and thought-provoking book. It gives a much needed insight into the lives of Chinese women, letting their voices be heard and their woes be expressed. It pulls at the readers heartstrings and educates the readers mind, and should absolutely be read by anyone interested in the situation for today´s women of China. I applaud Ms. Hong Fincher and her fine book!

It must be agreed with her that the women of China, as all other women of the world, must continue their long and hard battle to equality and emancipation. This fight must be fought by the Chinese women themselves; male allies in China must show solidarity to the brave women’s work. It would also help to use a certain intersectional view within the Chinese feminist movement, one that includes also highlighting the poor women’s, the jailed female political activist, the minorities and also the Tibetan women´s issues as well. At the same time others social justice, human rights and democratic movements should also take part in the feminist movement and take a stand against sexism including sexism within these movements. An economic Social transformation is also needed to provide the foundation of the woman’s liberation such as free public day care and fair, humane jobs for both men and women. To me, there is no feminism without socialism. And there is no socialism without feminism. Will Chinese feminist activists reach their goal of overcoming the oppression of the authoritarian government in China? We’ll see.

(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.

Hello and Happy International Women´s Day! To celebrate, this blog will feature various articles and reports about Womens´s struggles for justice and equality, for respect and freedom. Enjoy and become aware!

Firstly, it is time for us as a society to not be friends with rapist.

Buzzfeed has a collection of animated depictions of society´s most beloved couples, where such characters as Marge Simpson and Wonderwoman are vitims of Domestic Abuse. Chilling and powerful. Serious Trigger Warning!

How US Politics contribute to the the epidemic portions of gendered violence in Mexico.

The Aftermatch of the Rwandan genocide, from the Rwandan´s womens perspective.

The horrific situation when millions of women worldwide are denied abortions.


The dangers women face when religious beliefs dominate hospitals.

One brave Afghan woman´s film about rape.

Two takes on Jared Leto´s role in “Dallas Buyers Club”.

What does the recent election in Honduras mean for the countires women?

A factsheet about the almost forgotten Comfort Women.

Amnesty Internationals campaign for Reproductive rights and justice.

Seeking justice for the thousands of murdered Indigenous Canadian women.

A factsheet of Chinese activist Cao Shunli.

Black women and the burden of HIV.

15 facts on sex, pregnancy and violence.

In Nepal, widespread gender discrimination has lead to a crisis in sexual and reproductive rights.

(In Swedish, use google translations). Poor women don´t get access to women´s clinics.

(In Swedish, use google tranlsation). Same situation in Burkina Faso.

(In Finnish, use google translation). Everyone must have the right to decide themselves what their genderidentification is.

Take Action! Sign this petition to prevent a new law in Mocambique which gives rapist the right to marry their victims instead of facing jail.

Take Action! Help a Guatemalan mother find justice for her daughter, who was brutally raped and killed.


In China, single motherhood and having children outside of weddinglock are the final taboo.

A crisis for women´s sexual rights in Poland.


In China, a activist protesting child rape was made homeless by the authorities.

India´s period problem.

How landgrabs in Kenya hurt the Sengwer women (an Indeginous people in Kenya).

There is still hope for Arab feminism!

The scars of the Iraq war lead to depression and drug abuse in Iraqi women.

Breaking the silence of Domestic abuse in the palestian communities.

Israel admitted to forced birth controll and sterilazation of Ethiopian women refugees.

Breaking the silence on violence against Indeginous women, adolescents and children.


Peru will reopen the cause of forced sterilizations, subjected to thousands of Indeginous women.

Top five issues which is killing of Native Americans.

A mother was charged with fellony since she heloed her daughter to get access to an illegal abortion pills online.


19 things women writers are sick of hearing.

Some articles on the Woody Allen controversy: An former lawyer who worked on many child molestian causes explains of how despite not being convicted, it doesn´t mean Allen isn´t guilty. Another piece shows the 1993 papers from the trial, showing he infact wasn´t found completely innocent. Vanity Fair spells out 10 facts about the cause. And finally, a piece on how bizarre it is that Mia Farrow is always accused of brainwashing and Woody Allen isn´t.

One-third of European women suffer from either sexual or physical abuse.

Take Care/ Maaretta

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

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

Tim Burton working on "Frankenweenie"

Tim Burton working on “Frankenweenie”

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

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

Victor and Sparky

Victor and Sparky

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

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

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

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

frankenweenie_flickan

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

FRANKENWEENIE

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

tumblr_static_toshiakis_evil_smile

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

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

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

frankenweenie-picture05

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

TOSHIAKI-IN-FRANKENWEENIE

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

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

The White Queen and The Red Queen

The White Queen and The Red Queen

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

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

frankenweenie-2012-sparky-dead-with-tears-images

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

Hello everyone,
A lot has happened. So, a lot has been written and talked about. Here’s a short guide to some recommended post.

Kelsey Wallace over at “Bitch Media” wrote about the ten douchiest reactions to the Sandy Hook Tragedy.

Ann Somerville wrote about Gun Controll.

The author Vijay Prashad wrote about the deaths of children that don’t make news.

Rebecca Carroll viciously attacked Quentin Tarantino’s newest film, “Django Unchained” and rightfully so.

Nuala Cabral, a feminist activist, wrote an open letter to Universal Music Group’s corporation CEO Lucien Grainge regarding the music corporations constant exploitation of women of color.

On the same note, click here to watch a video where women of color tell the rapper 2 Chainz what they want for their birthday (in response to his hit single, “Birthday Song”).

If you haven’t or have heard of 2 Chainz and his single “Birthday Song, check out the Rap Critics deliciously funny review of his hit single.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Best Regards, Maaretta

Hello everyone, here’s a short collection of articles that are worth reading!

Over at Ms. Blog, Elizabeth Kissling wrote about scientific research showing that our ideas about PMS are overblown.

Anita Little at the same blog wrote about the black-white gap in Breast cancer mortality.

At Feministing, Lori Adelman bravely stated that the iconic kissing sailor photo depicts sexual assault, not romance.

Zerlina Maxwell explained why Republicans need to shut up about rape forever.

Lori Adelman also wrote about Republicans problematic views on rape. (The article was written a couple weeks before the election.)

Update! Ms. Adelman has recently written about how the rape apologist Republican candidates did last night.

Lastly, over at the “The Guardian”, the journalist Adam Frost and designer Jim Kynvin studied all of the Man Booker Prize winners to see what the most likely winner will usually be. (Spoiler! The answer of course being: white, male, English, from somewhat wealthy families and writing about the past. Well, at least they are more diverse than the Nobel Prize for Literature).

Irony, as any form of comedy, is an art hard to master. It has been said that it’s much harder then drama which, though debatable, is in all likelihood accurate. In 2004, a gem of perfect crystal irony titled “Desperate Housewives” aired. The show centered on the lives of four women: the perfectionist Bree (Marcia Cross), the clumsy Susan (Teri Hatcher), the materialistic Gabriel (Eva Longoria) and the smart Lynnette (Felicity Huffman) and their series of purposefully melodramatic adventures. “Desperate Housewives” was an instant hit to no surprise. The writing was a sharp and loving parody of Soap operas and the show was just a pure joy to watch. However, the final season did tone down the ironic narrative as well as making some fairly problematic storylines. In this post I will lay-out three of the major problems which the show stumbled upon and will explain how exactly the regrettable elements played out in the narrative.

From left to right: Gabriel, Lynnette, Bree and Susan

For those who haven’t seen the final season yet, it is important for you to note that this whole post will be loaded with spoilers.

1. Katherine’s insensitive comment about French culture -This would seem to be a fairly minor, and almost not worth mentioning, flaw which occurred (almost off hand) in the final season of the show. However it was a more than borderline prejudicial comment about a foreign country and planted itself squarely in the realm of the sexist. The scene occurred in the episode “Finishing the Hat”, where Katherine (Dana Delany) returns from her time spent in France to tell her old friends about her successful new job as well as offering one to Lynnette. While chit-chatting with her friends, Katherine states that in France none of the women shave and the men all use handbags, so it’s hard to tell who has is who in the sexual realm. The comment clearly expresses disgust with other cultures harmless norms as well as shames women and men for not following gender roles prescribed as normal (within the shows culture).

Katherine (Dana Delany)

What prescription is ordinary for women and body hair? Various cultures have different ways of relating to Body hair and this should be respected. And claiming men using handbags caused gender confusion seems more than highly unlikely. I realize both of these statements were meant as a joke and they were. A really, really cheap and unfunny one.

2. The shows representation of Bree’s Promiscuity – Approximately midpoint in season eight, Bree returns to her alcoholism, a subject dealt with in previous seasons (in fairly sophisticated and tender ways, too). Bree also begins a tendency of picking up men from bars to have one-night stands. The show could have depicted Bree’s new habit as a side effect due to fear of closeness mixed in with her shame for her addiction. Unfortunately, instead promiscuity in itself was portrayed as an intuitively horrible act. As Brees friends bear witness to a large train of men leaving her house early in the morning, they automatically assume they should intercede to insure she is OK. The Problem is that this is not because they wonder if she has started drinking again, but because she seems to be having too many one night stands. The implication is that an adult woman can’t nor should be allowed make decisions about her sexuality by herself, nor have a sexual life which is to “full”.

Bree is the focus of lingering and disapproving gazes from the whole neighborhood, which is portrayed as reasonable instead of judgmental behavior. In the final episode, “Finishing the hat”, Bree states that she can’t believe her lawyer wants to marry her since she has been an alcoholic, involved in a crime, and been promiscuous. The man proposing to her answers her with a simple “I love you because your imperfect”- statement. All fine and good, except that the show, through the written dialogue, places a promiscuous phase into the same category as alcoholism and crime. Lovely. If the man proposing to Bree would have asked: “Well, you were safe and therefore didn’t catch an STD, weren’t you?” Brees protest would have made more sense. Instead, the fact that Bree as a woman had many sexual partners is seen as a major personality flaw. You would think that in this day and age, people would start to be more accepting of people’s different forms of expressing their sexuality, instead of reducing to outright slut-shaming.

3. Julie’s pregnancy – Susan’s daughter, Julie, arrives back home in this episode “Is this what you call love?” to tell her mother she’s pregnant. She also arrives to tell her mother she wants to give up the child for adoption which Susan does not take well. Despite Julie showing concern about not being ready for motherhood Susan argues constantly that Julie does not understand how difficult it will be for her to give up her child. Julie points out that the decision was hard for her to make and needs Susan’s support. Julie is asking for acceptance yet Susan, as confidant and mother, continually ignores this and purposefully sabotages Julie’s attempts at finding an adoption agency. Despite this atrocious immoral behavior, the viewer is expected to sympathize with Susan since she does it out of “love”. Additionally, Julie’s decision is, later on during the season, persistently shown as wrong. A major refrain for this “bad decision” of putting the child up for adoption is that she will, as all women according to the series, have “motherly feelings” for the baby and live a life regret in the “abandonment”. Needless to say that this implies that all women making this decision are in the wrong.

Julie

But here’s the thing: its Julie’s body and therefore her decision to make. And it comes down to whether or not you think women are capable of making decisions over their own bodies and their lives (as well as making possibly good decisions for the baby’s life). Later in the episode “With so little to be sure of” Julie states that she wanted to give the baby away “just because it was inconvenient” and decides to keep it. This is not only a cope-out and showed that the writers were being lazy, but also sends the unfortunate message that adoption is not really a good decision and a real mother keeps her child*.
As a cherry on top of this dreadful cake we get the implication that the father of Julie’s baby will get very little if any contact with the child, despite him making the decision to work intensely to support the child and expressing how he already loves the child. Susan makes the decision for the father, making it unintentionally a tragic tale of a young woman guilt-tripped into keeping her child and a young man straight out denied a possibility to raise his child despite hard sacrifice.

The flaws were nearly fatal in the final season of “Desperate Housewives”. However, even in this season, the characters kept their familiar quirkiness and hilarious oddball personas. The show held and elaborated characters that emerged as strong and determined and all of the major protagonists went through impressive developments and growth (with special mention to the characters of Gabriel and her Husband Carlos, played by Ricardo Antonio Chavira).

Carlos (Ricardo Antonio Chavira) and Gabriel (Eva Longoria)

Not the best season by a long shot, but perhaps a sign that it ended right in time. Still, all and all, the series was wildly funny and we will certainly miss it.

* And here is where I wanted to send flowers the all the people involved with the film “Juno”, because despite my intense hatred of that movie due to the film’s nasty attitude towards abortion on so many levels, at least they showed that a young woman’s decision to give her baby up for adoption is not a selfish act as well as a decision to respect.

What can you say about Detective stories and novels? That they wouldn’t have gotten anywhere had Sir Arthur Conan Doyle not invented his iconic character Sherlock Holmes, that’s for sure. The first detective story of the modern genre type was written by Edgar Allen Poe, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, in 1841.* And even if the detective and its archetypical form of narrative detective structure as formulated in Poe’s short story was an inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, his character Holmes is by far the one that set in motion the beloved rules which became the detective story: a strong, outstanding personality, the importance of details, the use of deductive reasoning applied to the material of the world, the righting of social (and personal) injustice, and a loyal (and documenting) sidekick.

Edgar Allen Poe

Sherlock Holmes is the most recognizable detective in Literature. He is well-known and loved for his wit, ability to notice minor details that crack cases wide open and his love for lingering around in his morning robe, as well as smoking a pipe. Sir Conan Doyle’s detective stories also featured Holmes’ loyal friend Dr. Watson, who provided the narration for all but a few of the stories, and who has become one of the most famous of sidekicks. Among the famous and infamous characters which line the hall of fame of personalities which inhabit the Holmesian canon are the characters Irene Adler, an actress who is the only one to outsmart Holmes, and Holmes’ archenemy Professor James Moriarty. These two particular characters find glad residence at the heart of Sherlock Holmes Fandom and discussion, and have been portrayed in various films by various actors. In fact, they too have found themselves being re-invented countless number of times along with the principles of the case Holmes and Watson.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The two most recent and popular re-inventions of the Sherlockian Genre are Guy Ritchie’s two “Sherlock Holmes” action packed films starring Robert Downey Jr. and, now, BBC’s modernization “Sherlock”, a Television series created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. Both of these adaptions are pretty well done as well as being interesting interpretations of Sir Conan Doyle’s creation. Ritchie’s films move more towards the comedic while BBC’s series land a bit more in the realm of the dramatic. In this post I will analyze how both these Adaptations’ portray their re-invented characters, as well as their tone in the story telling.

Portrait for Strand Magazine, by Sidney Paget (where the famous “detective hat” first appears!)

Let’s start with the chief anti-hero himself: Sherlock Holmes. In “Sherlock”, he’s portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch, who represents Holmes as a very cold personage who is often beyond the merely cruelly blunt. He openly shows great delight in murder cases, especially very elaborate ones, like serial killings. Holmes in “Sherlock” seems to not care for many people, except for very few friends. And even towards his friends he can be, what can only be labeled, a jerk. The interpretation of Holmes in “Sherlock” is a quite brutal one; He is often mean, but always is largely talented. Downey Jr.’s Holmes is portrayed less as mean spirited, but lacking and devoid of social skills. He is largely obsessive, but more affectionate towards Watson in this version. His erratic behavior is more bizarre than cruel, and Ritchie uses the peculiar personality for laughs. However, even Downey Jr’s version of Holmes can come off as rude at times, but it does feel less malicious than Cumberbatch’s version. Both Holmes are shown to be experts at detection though attention to details and extraordinary fighters.

The Holmes which gets more character development is Cumberbatch’s. During the first season of “Sherlock”, Cumberbatch depicts Holmes as not caring about anyone besides Watson and seemingly doesn’t care about the murder victims whose cases he is attempting to solve. However, in the last episode of season one, he is briefly shown panicking when a child is endangered by Moriarty and his detection solution (which he has counted on to save the child) is shown to be lacking a key point. In the second season, Holmes apologizes to people he says vicious things to and shows more concern for his friends. Even committing himself to heroic sacrifice to protect those close to him.

Moffat’s Sherlock Holmes

Downey Jr’s character doesn’t develop much in either film, be it “Sherlock Holmes” from 2009 or “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” from 2011. The only change we see is his growing acceptance of Mary, Watson’s fiancée/wife. So, in terms of a character, Cumberbatch’s Holmes is more interesting as well as probably how Holmes is suppose to come across in Sir Conan Doyle’s stories. But Downey Jr. depiction in Guy Ritchie’s films is hilarious and often lightly and springingly entertaining. Both Downey Jr. and Cumberbatch bring their obvious talents to the character of Holmes and believe in the passion of their roles and its spirit. So my conclusion is that Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the detective is more serious and complicated, therefore more superior to Downey Jr’s. But both make excellent Homes.

Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes

The two versions of Watson also differ greatly from one another. In the Guy Ritchie’s version, Watson (Jude Law) is a soon to be married man who grows impatient with Holmes and the wild situations Holmes sucks him into. In the BBC version, John (as he mostly goes by, played by Martin Freeman) is fiercely loyal and quite enjoys the “adventures” Holmes gets him into. The BBC version of Watson as character additionally functions as a conscience for Sherlock, calling him out when he is rude or insensitive. John, in both versions of the characterization also dislikes Holmes butting in on his dates and mating habits, for example where Freeman objects to Holmes showing up on a date he has with a fellow doctor (“Watson: Actually I’ve got a date. Holmes: What? Watson: It’s where two people who like each other go out and have fun.”) in “the Blind Banker” or Law’s Watson who shows a marked distain of Holmes intervening on his honeymoon trip in “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”. While Freemans Watson is more serious, Law’s portrayal of Watson is quite snarky, often throwing sarcastic comments here and there, for the purpose of creating comedy. Law’s line deliveries are quite good and I specifically enjoyed the scene in Ritchie’s first “Sherlock Holmes” film, where after getting thrown in prison Watson says: “I’ve been analyzing why I do all the things you ask me too. And my conclusion is: I’m psychologically disturbed”. This remark while being funny on its face also becomes a meta-comment on the Sherlockian writings which have questioned Watson’s strange unstoppable loyalty in the original stories, making a pretty funny reference to a second tier of literature about the writings of Doyle in the Sherlockian stories (Both series use the “Sherlockian Writings” from the Sherlock Groups to make in jokes to this faction of the Holmes Fandom).

Guy Ritchie’s Watson

Freeman’s version of Watson is, like with Cumberbatch’s version of Holmes, more dramatic and played more seriously. It is also made more clear in “Sherlock” why John and Holmes are such close friends: he is shown to be one of the rare people who truly thinks Sherlock’s gift in crime solving are amazing, vocalizing it pretty honestly, which flatters Sherlock. He’s also a fan of adventure, like Holmes, which makes it easy for them to bond. This makes the friendship between the two men seem more understandable and deep. The friendship is depicted more through bickering in Guy Ritchie’s films, with a few very tender moments. All and all, I find John from the BBC’s “Sherlock” to be a more interesting Watson, since he functions as both a faithful sidekick as well as a voice of reason, while Law’s more of a conflicted friend who becomes a devoted helper in solving crimes when needed.

BBC’s Watson

I will be blatantly honest and say that I’m not fond of either Guy Ritchie’s re-interpretation of Irene Adler, nor Steven Moffat’s. In Guy Ritchie’s films, Irene Adler is a spy for Moriarty who does do some impressive manipulation, but is just suddenly (spoiler!) killed by Moriarty in “A Game Of Shadows”. I wouldn’t have minded Ritchie killing Adler off if she would have died while putting up a fight. Instead, she’s declared too weak by Moriarty since she’s in love with Holmes, and dies by getting “poisoned” by an extreme form of tuberculosis.

Guy Ritchie’s Irene Adler

In “Sherlock”, Adler is introduced in the second seasons premiere episode “A Scandal in Belgravia”, where she’s over sexualized and is ultimately de-powered by needing Sherlock to save her. As Jane Clare Jones wrote at the Guardian: “Not-so-subtly channeling the spirit of the predatory femme fatal, Adler’s power became, in Moffat’s hands, less a matter of brains, and more a matter of knowing ´what men like´ and how to give it to them”. Jones’ whole article really spells out perfectly what was wrong about this characterization of Adler, so do read the essay on it here.

Strangely, both versions of Irene Adler are weakened by their attraction to Holmes, making it seem like all powerful women can be weakened through (superficial) emotion. Also, both Adler’s are somehow working with or helping out Moriarty, which is peculiar since the two characters never even met in the original stories. But none the less, it was nice that the BBC version hired a woman, Lara Pulver, around her forties (“Older”, as known in cinema and TV) to play Adler. And Rachel McAdams was pretty energetic in the 2009’s “Sherlock Holmes”.

BBC’s Irene Adler

Professor James Moriarty is perhaps one of the earliest archenemies to appear in fiction. Andrew Scott, who portrayed Moriarty in the BBC adaption, and Jared Harris, who plays Moriarty in Guy Ritchie’s films, had a difficult task: to live up to all the expectations from viewers. Now, Harris did an excellent job on portraying a sophisticated, intellectual villain who does pretty gritty stuff. He is convincing. However, he doesn’t come off as memorable as the deadly and controlling Moriarty. Scott’s first performance as Moriarty in the episode BBC “The Great Game”, the final episode in season one, was far too flamboyant and giggling to be truly frightening (and a bit of overacting further diminished the feeling). But, come “The Reichenbach Fall”, the finale of season two, Scott changes his performance tremendously. He depicted Moriarty as being wildly intelligent and Machiavellian, but bratty, arrogant and childish as well. His combination of the different character traits blended well. Not to mention making him quite unsettling, as well as probably what a person like Moriarty would be like. A criminal mastermind, but immature – which are a pretty scary combination. Harris, as the deadly and devious Moriarty, had the misfortune of starring in the second film in Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes” franchise, which previous film had already featured a memorable and great villain, Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), who had a noxious charisma.

Guy Ritchie’s Moriarty

Considering how Moriarty, the archenemy of Sherlock Holmes, ends up in the shadow of another villain in Ritchie’s franchise, one can say Harris ends up a little weaker in comparison to Scotts. Scott was a wonderful surprise in “The Reichenbach Falls”, being the perfect deadly brat.

Moffat’s Moriarty

And lastly, on both franchises on a whole. Guy Ritchie’s both films are highly entertaining and a lot of fun to watch. BBC’s “Sherlock” is also entertaining, but a lot grittier and darker in tone (though “A Game Of Shadows” did have nasty bits as well). As the BBC is practically the Shakespeare of Television, it’s pretty obvious why, with its archetype-characters and the historical nature of the literature Holmes springs from, this adaption becomes firmly the better of the two.

In the Moffat-BBC version of this canon the characters are more fleshed out and complex, the writings more interesting and perhaps more alike the original stories. But all is not lost for Ritchie. The 2009’s film “Sherlock Holmes” did follow the tradition from the original stories in that Holmes gets to prove that the “supernatural phenomena” happening in the film aren’t really supernatural in the least and can be explained through reason and a insistence in the actuality of the lived world. This was a common theme in the original stories, for example in “The Hound of The Baskerville” and “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire”. Ritchie’s films also had some nice scenes where Holmes figures out how to win fights through wit and thought. The Ritchie movies would have done well, and served the humanistic traits of the character and stories better, to highlight the scientific methods Holmes is known for using to solve cases. Oddly enough (as well) during “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” Ritchie seem to be implying that the world his Sherlock Holmes was living in was (some form of) the perfect world; Watson and Holmes, for instance, dance a waltz together in a major Ballroom scene among politicians and diplomats. The year is supposedly 1891, But not a comment is made about this behavior (remember Oscar Wilde had been convicted and sent to prison in 1895 for the “Love that dare not speak its name”). So when Moriarty makes a speech about humans natural desire for conflict and fights, I felt like saying: “No, Moriarty, you’re the only one who’s mean in this universe. Everybody else is perfectly fine”. The point being that films, while taking place in the 19th century, are neither terribly nor historically accurate in this regard and the dance would have meet, at the least, with revulsion by the crowded participants of the dance. Yet this may be a mote point and the film doesn’t have to meet this historical standard since Ritchie’s take on both Sherlock films is in the sphere of the action comedy. Within this Genre who can argue with the Ritchie take? Both films are satisfying in this regard and are funny with good fight scenes and become, in this way, more than decent Sherlock Holmes adaptations.

The BBC/Moffat series “Sherlock”, in distinction to the Ritchie interpretation, is a lot more similar to the original stories, with Sherlock’s wits and talents, his interest in science and logic, his humanity and glaring faults, being a driving force in the series. The murders are a lot nastier and gruesome in the BBC outing and cleave more to Doyle’s sense of the uncanny which permeates the crimes that inspire Holmes’s interest. The Series characters, as well, have a sense of identity to the ones peopling Sir Conan Doyle’s works, even if the character of Sherlock is made a bit crueler and lacking in humanitarian compassion in this adaption than is found in Doyle’s writings. So in my humble opinion, this adaption of Sherlock Holmes is the better of the two.

Re-inventing Sherlock Holmes seems to be hip right now, which should be meet with no surprise. Holmes is a historically significant character for not only literature, but other Medias as well. His and Watson’s friendship is an interesting portrayal of team work and loyalty, Holmes’ skeptical attitude towards supernatural things is still one which should be grappled with in a world which forgoes reason for hate, and accurate subject for our consideration is given us in the Bravery of Watson and the Contemplation of Holmes. What better means to explore ourselves than through a Holmes as a character one can interpret in different ways and so make us wonder what might make us worthwhile.

Ritchie’s and BBC’s interpretations are both interesting takes on the character and now that the doorway has been newly opened to reconsider the dual character of Watson and Holmes it only remains to see what other adaptations will emerge next?

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*Poe was to write three stories informing the structure of the Detective Story and following the adventures of the “deductive” detective, C. Auguste Dupin. The most famous of these three tales is Poe’s, “The Purloined Letter”, a story which shares some slight similarities of tropes and narrative structure with “A Scandal in Bohemia” in which Irene Adler makes her famous appearance.