Tag Archive: Sexual Assault


Inspired by Missmagicgirl´s monthly wrap up post, where she lists her favorite events and memories from a previous month, it is my ambition to (starting from this month) to feature a similar monthly wrap up here at Ruby Soup. The wrap up will cover books, comics, movies, activism and all sorts of fun news from the previous month. With no further ado, let´s get started.

1.Favorite Activist Moment: Protesting Torture in Mexico with Amnesty International.

A former fellow activist (who I had worked with previously in a University based Amnesty group) posted on social media that she was going to attend a protest about the torture of civilians by the military in Mexico. After asking if I could participate, and despite living in Stockholm, I jumped on a train and went up to Uppsala (it´s about 30-60 minutes away from Stockholm). The event was a mash up of protest walking, with activists (including me) brandishing signs stating ”Stop torture” and ”Stop torture in Mexico”, while others dressed up as military folks or their (through fake rope, chains and make up) tortured victims. We marched for about an hour and 15 minutes. Some of the activists asked onlookers to sign Amnesty´s petitions that would be sent to Mexico´s authorities. The activist group was friendly, and the protest was very fruitful.  We got five pages of signatures.

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2. Favorite Graphic Novel: ”All My Darling Daughters” by Fumi Yoshinaga.

This one-shot manga is written in a series of short story form. All of the stories follow a woman and the friends and family around her. The manga is melancholy, at times bittersweet, at times gloomy, exploring the ways that life can go wrong. “All my darling daughters” begins with a woman who, convinced that her mother’s new husband (who is young enough to be our heroines younger brother) is conning her mother, decides to leave the family home. Other stories follow the woman´s sister, who is struggling to find a husband to avoid the stigma of being ”too old to marry” (it is hinted that she may be asexual); the protagonist´s male friend who accidentally gets involved with a student who suffers from severe low self-esteem and a former class mate who is heartbroken to see his female friend become more and more disillusioned, loosing her ambition for independence. ”All my darling daughters” shows life at its most uncomfortable, most unresolved and most frightening. The subject of abuse (emotional, physical and even sexual) is intertwined with the themes of power, relationships and family. The manga gives us candid depictions of the limited working options given to women and unequal division of labor. In fact, many of the female characters express frustration regarding the sexist double standards women face in the work place, like being dismissed as unqualified solely due to gender, as well as the injustice of the wage gap. The occasional humor is pitch black and the human interactions captivating. Along with the question of gender, the manga also explores mother-daughter relationships with a complex look at human psychology. Despite the stories often leaning towards a depressing angle, the reader will most likely have quite the difficulty putting this manga down.

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3. Favorite Film:”Spotlight”, directed Thomas McCarthy.

This Oscar nominated film, based on a true story, follows the whistle-blowing of the systematic cover-up in the Catholic Church regarding the sexual abuse of adolescent and pre-adolescent boys and girls suffered at the hands of priests. While perhaps not the best of movies dealing with this subject, the film still gives a fascinating look at how journalism works (real life journalist have praised this films accurate depiction), features several accounts of survivors telling their stories and gives some chilling insights regarding child abuse. As one quote from the film states: ”If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one too”. The acting is great, but the pacing is at times a little slow. Still worth a watch.

4.Favorite TV Moment(s): John Oliver tackles the economic meltdown of Puerto Rico and the journalistic simplification of science, while the wonderful Holly Walker at ”The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore” nobly rages at sexual assault in the military.

Right now we have golden era for political comedy shows. ”Full frontal with Samantha Bee” is fiercely feminist and funny. ”Nightly show with Larry Wilmore” discusses politics and race in a honest dialogue while having a diverse cast of correspondents, with four kick ass women being part of that cast. ”Last week with John Oliver” is hilarious, while giving American TV a much needed international lens. I myself try to watch as many episodes of all these series. The ”Last week” episodes mentioned, that tackled the economic meltdown of Puerto Rico, saw many hospitals and schools having to be shutdown. Oliver went thoughtfully through the issue, and ended the subject with a actual live performance of Lin-Manuel Miranda who has written and directed ”Hamilton”, who himself has Puerto Rican parents. Oliver also discussed how science, through click-bait culture, has been made misrepresented and belittled into more of a headline than the complex field that it is. With a fun parody of Ted-talks to top it off.

Holly Walker, one of the most energetic correspondents on “The nightly show”, took the viewer through a sketch on how infuriating the lack of action around sexual assault in US armies is. It was short, but fun. Holly Walker, just by her sheer presence, is smashing the erasure of middle aged women of color in mainstream media.

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5.Favorite Novel: ”Florian Knol” by Guus Kuijer.

This children´s novel tells the story of  10-year old ginger Florian, who one day has a bird suddenly land on his head. The next day he meets Katja, an big and tall girl who goes to the same school, who confesses her love to him. The duo later bumps into an old woman who can´t find her key (which she calls a ”fork”) and has only one shoe on despite being out in the streets. The pair decide to help the woman  in secret, but things get out of hand when Florian has to juggle his indecision with dating a bigger, taller girl, his parents constant fights and keeping the old woman’s increasingly severe Alzheimers disease unknown to the adults who they fear would send her to an alienating retirement home. A tragicomic novel that addresses aging and anxieties of oneself in a clear, hopeful way that also has a colorful cast of characters. Recommended.

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There´s my month. How was your month, dear readers?

Dear readers, I joined a group on Goodreads called Top 5 Wednesday. It was created by a bookblogger and booktuber called Ginger Lainey, and is now hosted by Sam from the Youtube channel “Thoughts on Tomes”. Check Sam´s stuff out, she´s smart and classy. The topic which engaged me is a couple of weeks old but I was inspired to write about it regardless: novels that deal with disturbing issues.

1.“Holy Week” by Jerzy Andrejevski: This polish novel was published in 1947, and tells the story of a woman of Jewish descent named Irena who during WWII seeks refuge in hiding at her former lover Jan and his new wife´s home. What follows is the haunting anxiety of waiting and precarious hiding, while the trio discusses gentile privilege, hopes and cynicism in the face of war and genocide. While Irena revolves around her anger towards a society that is determined to wipe her kind out, the wife of the hiding couple follows a different path of denial as she is pregnant and therefore can´t afford to believe that the Germans will never leave Poland. Jan, numbed by events is clueless in the face of the horrors of the regime, but he knows he must go on hiding Irena. The book, though occurring in a horrid past, really revolves around issues that resonate even today and has one of the most brutal, heartbreaking endings of all time. This forgotten gem of a novel not only discusses what it meant in those times to have privilege in the face of the ultimate oppressed, but also discusses the religious side of anti-Semitism and even touches upon the sexual assaults that Jewish women experienced during the war. The novel, while keeping the reader in a tight grip, makes the reader continually hold their breath to find out what happens to Irena and the polish couple hiding her. “Holy Week” was a pioneering work, and should be rediscovered by new readers.

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2. “The Hunger Angel” by Herta Müller: This novel is Nobel Prize winning Herta Müller´s magnum opus. It tells the story of a young man who is sentenced to a labor camp during Ceausescu´s regime in Romania. The man endures harsh, soul crushing labor while being essentially starved, like all of the other prisoners at the camp. The man, it is implied, is sentenced to the camp due to being of the German speaking population in Romania, much like many prisoners who find their sentences as the ultimate ghastly act of the absurd and arbitrary. Müller, through haunting poetic language and simple but deep symbols, exposes the reader to the constant hunger, the cruelty, and dehumanization that the labor camps were. Müller´s inspiration for the novel came from the witnesses that her own mother experienced, who was a survivor of such a camp, and a single other close friend who provided her with the majority of the research. “The Hunger Angel” is not only heartbreaking, but uncomfortably real. A must read.

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3. “Native Son” by Richard Wright: This novel is about a young man named Bigger Thomas, who is a disillusioned black youth during the US´s era of segregation. Published in 1940, the novel tackles the stereotype of the dangerous black man and, through its shocking but subtle social commentary, deconstructs the racist caricature imposed on people. Bigger ends up killing two women, the first by accident in a state of panic, the second one in an act of expression of his rage. The novel digs into Bigger´s mind and psyche, showing how systematic racism effects and damages a person. “Native Son” shows alcoholism, poverty and the horrors of condescending language that is tough to read, but is a document of an uneasy time and an exploration of how society creates its own bad guys.

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4. “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov: A classic novel about a man who falls in love with a 12-year old girl, and then proceeds to first marry the child’s mother, only to (possibly) kill the mother in order to rape the child. One of the most beautifully written, but also wildly misunderstood, books to ever be written, “Lolita” is from a manipulative, sadistic mans point of view. The novel is filled with nightmare-like context, making the reader squirm while reading it and creates a space in the narrative where you feel like a actual sociopath is sitting next to you, explaining away his atrocities, tempting you to believe him, but every once in a while his narration slips and the true horror is shown. One of the most chilling scenes is when Dolores (the girl’s real name) sees a police car and tries to escape, only for Humbert (the man) to blackmail her into silence. Worth a read, but disturbing.

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5. “Prince de la rue” (“The prince of the street”) by Dominique Mwankumi: This is a picture book aimed for toddler aged children about two homeless young boys in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of The Congo. The story is based on the experience of many children in Mr. Mwankumis homeland. Shégué is a young, inventive small child (around 8-9) who makes a living by using thrown away objects and trash to make toys, which he sells. It is mentioned early that his parents simply didn´t want him and since his early childhood he has been living on the streets. The picture book has a clear, sad tone with beautiful, gentle drawings that feel like an art museum of its own. The book follows the boy’s survival tactics and the constant struggle to avoid adults who wish to harm them. Yet, despite this cruel situation, the boys strive to overcome their setbacks and the story implies that one day their luck may turn. A sad tale, but important and with fantastic art.

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A picture from the book

There´s my picks. Anyone else read a really good book with a really tough subject? Comment below!

Trigger warning: This post will have discussions of sexual abuse. Reader precaution advised.

This is my third post for Child Abuse Awareness Month.

My first introduction to Dr. Patton was when I read her piece in the Washington Post, “Why is America celebrating the beating of a black child?”. This article cast a critical eye on the heaps of praise a woman got for forcefully getting her son to leave a protest in Baltimore. Taken with Patton´s arguments, I ordered a copy of her memoir which delved into the subject of child abuse from the perspective of her own survival of brutal physical abuse. Patton is known for her work with children´s rights issues as well as race, which her memoir discusses in great lengths.

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The memoir opens up with college student Stacey suffering from flashbacks of abuse and deciding that the means to end her suffering was to kill the people responsible for the abuse, her adoptive parents. However, this plan did not succeed as she forgets to add bullets to her gun, and decides to abandon the plan. Motivated by the memories of her own past, and the desperate act that she felt pushed into is followed with the adult Doctor Patton’s research into the institution of American slavery; this begins the memoirs journey. Stacey Patton recalls all the times her foster mother beat her, with telephone cords and twitches; a pain so great she often thought she “will surely never survive this”. Such beatings were consistent through her childhood, with some of the beatings going so far as the young Stacey having to go to the emergency room.

When five years old, the young Stacey Patton was removed from foster care and adopted by a couple. The mother turned out to be an irritable, constantly angry woman who beat Stacey for the slightest and absent provocation. The memoir captures the sorrows and fears that abuse has on the mind; Stacey recalls crying herself to sleep many nights and being terrified when her adoptive father informs her will be late home as the absent father means she will be completely at the mercy of the violent whims of the mother. Ms. Patton mentions more than once that as a child, she feared that she might even end up dying one day as a result from the violence. These are feelings and emotions that many abuse survivors will recognize and the anxieties of a child locked in such a situation are beautifully, heartbreakingly captured.

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The scenes of physical abuse are not just directed towards a young Stacey. The memoir recounts how other members of her adoptive family beat other children for simply playing/pretending to be preachers or how she witnesses a classmate being beaten by his mother for calling a white girl “honky”. Even at an early age Stacey questioned these actions, where we can see the beginning of the seeds to her later activism.

Her years in school were tumultuous and troubled, since the teachers only saw Ms. Patton as a slow child, to which Patton states: “Let me tell you that your mind is changed if you are beaten every single day”. The text is tragic in its description of abuse, but what makes “That mean old yesterday” a diamond in the rough is that Ms. Patton not only details her years of abuse, but also finds a link to her situation and to the horrendous legacy that American history has had on its own disenfranchised people, with special concentration on the Black American community. Using the springboard of her own brutalization Ms. Patton delves into the abuse of children and offers a critique of societal norms when it comes to violence and children.

The memoir is about the double oppression and marginalization of being a black child. When speaking of her adoptive family, where her silence and capitulation are enforced, the young Stacey lives with both fear of abuse from the hands of the mother, and a terror of being abandoned by her. Stacey as a young girl learns from her parents that her thoughts and experiences are secondary to the adults. Adults are the ones that call all the shots. The memoir discusses how violence seems common place in the house holds around her. Which through the books narration on the history of slavery gives a certain historical explanation to the violence. Institutional racism and racial violence has forced Black Americans to live in the constant shadow of white terrorism. Patton argues that this leads to a mindset that is reflected in that the parents try to protect their children by giving rough upbringings to make sure their children won´t end up dead or hurt by white supremacy. two running themes in the memoir are best expressed in a scene where Stacey and her foster mother visit a hair salon.

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While the women there all critique white paretns for being too “soft” on their children, and explaining how beating their children will ultimately protect them, a single black woman offers a counter opinion. She expresses that this rationalization dates back to the days of slavery, where slaves beat their own children in hopes it would spare them from the punishments from the slave owners. The woman explains that her own parents did not use corporal punishment on her, which shows that this kind of upbringing is possible. The salons other women silence and dismiss her, but the young Stacey feels hope after hearing her words. For the first time Stacey witnesses that someone is actually speaking up for children.

In that scene, Patton illustrates what the whole book is about: how history has shaped and still plagues us today, how children are marginalized and how, without knowing it, speaking up on injustice might spark someone to reconsider their views, to inspire someone or give comfort to someone. The scene greatly shows that speaking up is worth it, even if it seems like the opposite.

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The most disturbing parts of the memoir are however the scenes where Stacey is sexually abused. The mother had an unhealthy obsession with the small child´s genitals, having rituals where she “inspected” and touched the girls private parts. This trauma is further shown when the young Stacey tries to insert a tampon for the first time and has horrible flashbacks to the mothers unwanted touching. Later when Stacey, after hearing a testimony from another young girl who has been molested, states that no one could really understand what it felt like, “when someone treats your own private parts as if they are not your own, but someone else´s playthings”; this line is one of the most poignant, heartbreaking ways of writing about the damage done from sexual abuse that I have ever read.

Ms. Patton states in all honesty that it took her years to realize that she had been sexually abused and in her memoir she is shown denying the abuse more than once. This form of sexual abuse is one that is not often discussed or talked about; that of when the molester of a child is female. And in addition, when the violating touching doesn´t seem to come from pedophilic desires, but from the non-sexual desire to completely control, humiliate and/or hurt the child. Sexual abuse of children takes many shapes and forms, and this form where the motivation is other than desire is one that should be more discussed and talked about. Some parents, in their tyranny, go so far to control and frightened their children that they demand control over everything and therefore they commit illicit touching.

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As a final note, a fair warning that the book dives into slavery and the history is heavily disturbing. However the importance of speaking of these crimes cannot be underestimated; racism against Black Americans is so deeply rooted that even today, violence against Black Americas perpetrated by White Americans is at horrific proportions’, which unlawful killings by policemen and mass incarnation being a huge part of everyday racism. To discuss race in America, one must be honest with the bloody history. The past must be visited to move forward.

Ms. Patton depicts her college years as a place of learning but also a place of sorrow. There she for the first time clearly encountered everyday racism. The white girls Stacey shared her dorms with belittled and verbally humiliated blacks, her literary and historical canon was entirely white, and her teachers were not always varying of any racist comments the white students made. Stacey went into a depression. The turning point was when she one day opened up to one kind teacher in which she was able to find a kindred spirit who willingly listened to her point of view.

As a reader, I was moved by how just one teacher could offer so much comfort by just listening and believing the struggles Stacey was going through. Even if the memoir didn´t state this, it seems that if anything, sometimes when people of color speak out and talk about their experiences with racism the right thing to do is to listen and believe them. Your place is not to tell them they are overreacting or misunderstanding, your place is to show support. Something so simple, yet so rarely seen.

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As a last small note, the book also shares Stacey´s skeptical views on religion and on god. In the memoir she identifies as non-believing. It´s always great to come across books with skeptics and other non-believers; if any of you readers can recommend me any other memoirs with skeptic/non-believing narrators please tell me.

A fantastic memoir, with lots of provocative and insightful views into many important, complex issues. “That mean old yesterday” is a sharp critic on all forms of violence against children, as well as a explosion of the poison and destruction that white supremacy and racism has had on black lives, destroying the myth of there being no constitutional racism anymore. Check it out, it´s more than worth it.

Stacey Patton also has a website about alternative parenting ways free from violence. It´s called “Spare the kids”, go check it here.

Hello readers, I´m in New York right now! And just finished one major course at the university, with another course coming to an end (meaning lots and lots of time consumed by studying for the exam). So since I have quite little time, I would like to just briefly recommend some films, Tv series and Graphic novels. During this month I can say that a post on the Adult swim television series “Rick and Morty” will be posted soon enough, and a discussion about a “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic” episode is due this month as well. So stay tuned, and check out some of the stuff mentioned below.

The film “Martha Marcy May Marlene” is an excellent character study as well as a psychological thriller. It tells the story of a young girl who struggles with reuniting with her sister after escaping a cult. It´s directed by Sean Durkin and stars Elizabeth Olson, who does an excellent job depicting the complexities of being brainwashed, as well as how painful it can be in the battle of freeing oneself from the oppressions of authoritarian control. John Hawkes (known mostly by his roles in “Deadwood” and “Winter´s Bone”) is shockingly creepy as the cults charismatic leader. “Martha Marcy May Marlene” is also a riveting depiction of systematic sexual abuse and oppression of women. The cult has extremely old fashioned views on gender, and therefore rape is used as a form of getting the newly recruited women to submit. Martha, the films protagonist, not only undergoes such abuse herself but is also shown drugging another girl during such rituals. It´s disturbing, but unfortunately feels like an honest account of how different forms of groups and societies control women. The film easily passes the Bechdel test, and has a heart-breaking depiction of Martha´s relationship to her sister. Martha´s sister tries to understand and support her, but it´s a difficult situation. Few films have such an honest depiction of family: showing events of the interpersonal which even the most loving family members are not able to control nor come to grips with. It´s an unsettling, moving and tragic watch, and it´s a guarantee that once you´ve seen the film you´ll never forget it.

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“The Snows of Kilimanjaro” is a 2011 French film that has nearly nothing to do with Ernest Hemingway. Despite the name being a little misleading, this film is a thought-provoking, political piece that is neither simplistic nor preachy. Directed by Robert Guédiguian, the film spins the tale of an elderly couple who are life-long Marxists and who, once they find themselves the victims of a robbery, are forced to question not only their ideologies but also themselves. The film unravels the robber’s story, the thief’s mother, the aforementioned couple and the couple’s children – with all of the characters attempting to come to terms with their feelings, thoughts, and views on the situation. The director cleverly gives each character reasonable arguments. The thief points out that despite the couples avowed Marxism, they still exist in the sphere of the privileged due to their class and that what they may consider fair is not always fair for someone else. The robber’s mother (who has abandoned all of her three children, forcing the thief to become the sole provider for his two underage brothers) points out that it was her boyfriends (the robber and his brothers have two different fathers) who pressured her into having children and then promptly abandoned her after the children were born. The film also attempts to convey how little acts of kindness can at times solve huge problems. A smart film well worth watching!

Original french poster

Original french poster

“Daddy´s Girl” by Debbie Drechler is a very nauseating, but powerful graphic memoir. When Ms. Drechler was a child, she was reputably molested by her father. This would later reflect in her relationships in college, where she undergoes a rape and isolation from her peers. The comic is short, but honest in its brutality and melancholy. Dreschler shows the many layers and forms of abuse, and how they intertwine with each other. It is filled with gut wrenching scenes such as when Debbie wonders if she is a horrible person, since god allows her father to molest her and if her mother is so distant to her due to her father’s abuse. Even more unsettlingly, the comics end is left open, making the reading experience even more a disturbing endeavor. It´s fairly harsh, but definitely worth the read.

Scene from "Daddy´s girl"

Scene from “Daddy´s girl”

This recommendation is no doubt cliché, and therefore I´ll keep this extra short. I was first not sure whether I should or shouldn’t watch “Breaking Bad”, but finally caved in and have loved every minute of watching the first four seasons (fifth season still unseen). It follows a chemistry teacher named Walter White, who in order to pay for his cancer treatments takes up with his former student Jesse to cook Crystal Meth. The writing is tight, the acting superb and the comedic moments (bloody) hilarious. One of the best acting performances was done by Giancarlo Esposito, who plays the drug kingpin and Walters temporary boss Gustavo “Gus” Fring. Gus´ calm and collected demeanor is eerie yet fascinating, and as he switches between playing nice to ruthlessly violence one is reminded of such works as “American Psycho”. Gus has also an interesting back-story and motivations, which the show did an excellent job building up. “Breaking Bad” has also done one of the funniest bottle episodes, where Walt obsesses over killing a fly. Great series!

Walter and Jesse

Walter and Jesse

That’s about it for now. Happy Watching and reading!

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).

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.

“Family Guy” is a pretty unique animated show that awakes many different emotions in me– some very good, some very bad. The show is a true, surrealistic rollercoaster. I enjoyed the shows first couple of seasons, but honestly have hated the last couple of seasons, due to repetitive nasty hits at overweight women and badly written characters. I digress though.

The series centers on the Family Griffith, who is contain of Peter, the usually dimwitted, politically incorrect, child-like, and spiteful main star, his phenomenally beautiful wife Lois, and their three children. The oldest is the outcast, brutally bullied teenage daughter Meg, the early teen Chris who like his father is a bit slow, and the evil genius infant Stewie. The family also has, of course, a pet: the talking, wise human-like dog Brian, who this post will be about.

Brian, despite being the pet of the family, functioned as the voice of reason for the earlier years of the show. He was portrayed as a liberal, reasonable and unhappily in love with Lois as well as a bit of a drinker, though intermittently. Brian was shown on several occasions as being critical of religion, but it wasn’t until the seventh season, in the episode “Not all dogs go to heaven”, when the series finally “outed” Brian as an atheist. In the Episode, Brian, due to Meg’s sudden conversion to Christianity and attempt push to bring Brian into the “flock” of her church (and their form of Christianity), gently laughs and states: “You’re barking up the wrong tree, Meg. I’m an atheist”. When watching this episode, I was at first blush overjoyed at first at this radical act (seeing how being non-religious is still taboo on TV), but then began to reconsider what this act would mean and my first hesitations seem born out after the show’s recent episodes featuring Brian as the main protagonist which show character flaws wildly out of synch even for this genre. I cannot but wonder: is Brian really a positive portrayal of atheism? Or does his character just re-enforce negative stereotypes or images of us non-believers?

***Spoilers may be below!***

Let’s first look at how the writers of “Family Guy” talk about the experience of being an atheist in the States. “Not all dogs go to heaven” was a brilliant episode in this case, showing all the prejudice Brian meets after Meg gossips to the whole town about his atheism. Brian is not allowed to go to from such divergent venues as liquor stores to libraries, and is ridiculed on TV for being “worse than Hitler”. Admittedly, some of the discrimination may seem exaggerated; however there is something unsettlingly true in the depiction as well. To some religious folks, not believing in god is the worst possible sin, making us even worse than serial killers or mass murderers (especially if the criminals happen to believe in god). This is a pretty extreme belief and actively held by some, and which is portrayed comically in “Family Guy” when the intensely religious News-People announce Brian to be by far worse than Hitler.

Brian also gets brutally (yet only verbally) attacked by Lois and Peter after his confession. Lois states: “We believe in god in this family!” which showed how sometimes even people close to non-believers can be unsympathetic and dismissive to a theoretical structure struggled to be achieved. Brian gives even in to this pressure to “believe” temporarily, pretending to have “found god”, since he can’t take the peer pressure. But after witnessing Meg burning books about science (since she feels they are contrary to the “statements of God”) Brian gives a harsh talk to Meg, crushing her belief. The speech is devastating to Meg, since Brian points out some painful things to Meg about her life and how that is really what has spawned her beliefs. To this Brian then gives a more hopeful, comforting speech. The whole episode, in my opinion, is a perfect way of telling not only what it can sometimes feel like to be an atheist, as one can in a cartoon, but also is good in showing that Brian is a caring person, crushing the stereotype of the heartless cold atheist.

Meg trying to convert Brian

Brian was portrayed in a positive light during most of the output of the show. He had his flaws, but always came through with reason, compassion, and self-reflection underlying his thoughts and actions. It was in Season Eight where Brian started to become decidedly more odd and began a run of doing questionable things with little intellectual nuance or moral underpinnings. Take as an example of this the Episode “Brian writes a bestseller”, from Season Nine. In this episode Brian is depressed over his published novel doing so poorly, stating to Stewie that only trash literature and phony self-help books make it big. To prove his point he writes one himself and publishes it. It becomes a bestseller, making Brian famous and rich, sweaping him away to the hinterlands of fame, recognition and media adulation, and making him along the way into an arrogant, megalomaniac and mean spirited person. He comes to treat those around him as mere props to his existence (including Stewie who has facilitated his empty rise) and who seem to be considered by him now mere objects to satisfy his random and arbitrary desires. In particular harsh scenes, Brian is shown yelling at Stewie and verbally abusing him for anything that annoys him. This, in a number of painful scenes brings Stewie to tears and self doubt over his supposed lack of abilities to gratify the chance cravings of Brian.

The episode’s climax comes when Brian is invited onto “Real Time with Bill Maher”, a real show hosted by one of Americas most famous non-believers. Maher trashes the book heavily, making Brian confess that he wrote the best seller in a day, and that he doesn’t really believe in anything written in the book. Maher then tells Brian that he is the lowest of the low, since if one is going to bullshit; they should have the “honesty to stand by their bullshit”. Brian, coming somewhat back to his normal self after the harsh critique returns home where he talks a little to Stewie saying that he knows the book was dumb and his behavior inappropriate in extreme.
However, even at this point of the narrative – where a reasonable lesson has been learn and self-reflection is re-imposed by the awareness of the emptiness of his fame – Brian openly admits he will not apologize to Stewie for mistreating him. Here Brian is made into a truly horrible person, who not only doesn’t apologize after treating someone so poorly, but also a person who is actually so arrogant he refuses to learn from mistakes.

Brian at this juncture of the show (and others which are embed in these later seasons, and which can be recounted, but will merely “add” to the direction being taken in this case episode presented here) is made into such a terrible person that it is quiet imperative to reconsidered whether it is good his character is one of the few out-ted atheist characters on TV or not. Since there are so few atheist protagonists around, it is important that at least some of the more famous ones would not strengthen the stereotype that we’re morally-vacuous, empty-elitists, and intellectually-devious self-gratifies which no genuine concern for others beyond the narrowest of evil self-interest who wish to contaminate and spoil. Brian, in this episode, in bodied the stereotype to a max.

Brian was also shown to perhaps not truly stand for any of the opinions he’s expressed in the show, since he abandoned them all in the episode “Excellence in Broadcasting”. Brian, in the episode, becomes a republican and so conservative, he actually tries to go and waterboard – torture – a Democrat (the” supposedly” more left-leaning, worker-supporting party in the United States). Lois pinpoints in the episode that Brian has a need to go against the stream, to always have the more “unpopular” opinion. If that is the case, and Brian really gets all his opinions that way, does that mean he is only an atheist since they are a minority? Not only does this make Brian seem childish, but makes everything he said in previous episodes unimportant. So it is impossible to take his atheism seriously.

There was also the misfortune of Brian actually trying to force Lois to kiss him (maybe even more) in “Play it again, Brian”, a episode from season six. This act of creepiness and slight (though significant) violence towards a woman was before he was outed as an atheist (in a later season), which in a way makes him a lost case as a “model” for an acceptable and representative non-believer from the start.

I want to like Brian’s character. Aside from Dr. House from “House” (who is a total stereotype of the mean, miserable atheist) and Dr. Temperance Brennan from “Bones”, Brian is one of the most mainstream portrayals of atheist in popular culture. Yet his character was made so completely unlikeable and unreliable in the later seasons of the show, it feels like a disfavor for non-religious people that Brian was ever made a openly atheist character.
Seth Macfarlane, the creator of “Family Guy” and voice talent of Brian, also made his other characters, Haylee Smith and Roger the alien from “American Dad!”, atheist. But even these characters don’t really do much for the atheist community. Haylee is bland and hardly does anything memorable, and Roger is a sociopath who seems able to be anything which can temporary satisfaction.

What is lacking from popular culture is an atheist character that is portrayed as likeable. Few Medias have done this.
Daria Morgendorffer, from the animated series “Daria”, was done well, and somewhat outed as an atheist in the last season. Also Mal from “Firefly” was a good atheist character: anti-hero who despite some flaws was a good person. However, these shows have been cancelled or are off the air now. I was hopeful Brian would be the next Daria or Mal, but no such luck. Seems like we atheists have to wait a little longer for a more positive depiction.