Ravelry Bans Trump Support

Remember that conversation we had about racism in the Crafts community? Well, there has been a lot of fall out from that beginning. I feel like at least part of all this began with the pink pussy hats in 2016, and the conversations surrounding the use of the hats to represent ALL women, because not all women have vaginas, and  pink pussy hats don’t actually represent WoC. That opened the door to the discussion of how WoC are sometimes excluded from events on Ravelry that are supposed to be representative of all women, like the knit breasts, for women who have had mastectomies, that are also pink.

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Mostly this began in January, on Instagram, and has finally culminated in Ravelry putting its foot down, and making a definitive statement. Trump is a White Nationalist/Supremacist, and support for him and his policies, is support for those issues, too.

In January, Karen Templar gushed about her upcoming trip to India using some unflattering and insensitive comparisons, that upset PoC in the crafting  community. She has since made the effort to learn from the experience by listening to the people she hurt, and apologizing for any harm she caused.

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*Words matter

I have hurt, angered and disappointed a lot of people this week with my insensitive post about my upcoming trip to India and my handling of the response, and I am deeply sorry about it. I’ve spent the week listening hard, learning (in part about how much more I have to learn), and thinking about all of the things I can do — particularly here on the blog — to be more inclusive and supportive of people of color. I can’t take any of this week back, but I will work hard to do better going forward.

For those who didn’t see anything offensive in my post, I feel it’s important to spell it out for everyone to see and think about, and hopefully learn from:

First, it reads like I’m a tourist looking for an exotic location for my next selfie, which is inherently horrible — India is not a set or a backdrop for white people. It reads that way because I didn’t take the time to talk about why I’m going, which is to meet textile artisans and learn more about their craft. I’m coming to India from a place of respect for the relevance of textiles in the country’s liberation from British rule.

Second, and more egregiously, when I said that to my anxiety-ridden teenage self the offer of travel to India felt like an offer of travel to Mars, I gave the impression that I equate the people of India with aliens — literally alienizing people who aren’t like me. It doesn’t matter that that’s not how I intended it. By being careless with my words, I perpetuated the harmful notion that Indians (and POC in general) are “other,” or even to be feared. People who are the target of racism every day were rightly offended by it, as were others. And I am so sorry.

Third, I compounded the Mars problem by bringing it up again (to say that my grown-up self might even consider space travel if I got the chance) by referencing an interview I had heard about the impending “colonization” of Mars. I brought up colonization in a piece about a country marred by colonialism and didn’t see it. Everyone who was shocked at that was right to be, and I’m shocked at myself.

That’s not comprehensive, but it’s the main thrust of it. It took women of color pointing this out for me to see it — starting with the annotation that @thecolormustard posted in her Story — which is not their responsibility, and I am thankful to them for taking the time. If you’re struggling to understand the response, please just sit with it and give it some serious thought, from their point of view.

I apologize profusely to everyone I hurt, and to everyone who has taken any kind of heat for calling me out on it. I was wrong, and the women who took the risk to speak out were right. I’ll be doing the work, sharing the resources*, and doing my part to raise the visibility and celebrate the actual beautiful diversity of this community.

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*Currently readingThe Origin of Others by Toni Morrison (recommended by @nappyknitter). If you haven’t read Morrison’s novels, get on that too.

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What happened with Karen opened up a number of discussions in the community about how BIPoC are treated, and what White people within the communities can do to make everyone feel more welcoming, with some members of the community showing their true faces about political topics that don’t directly concern them, and they remain willfully ignorant about. 

There are two ways people can walk in this world. Karen is an example of the first way. When told they are harming the people they are bumping into with their jagged edges, they  make at least some effort to smooth those edges, and be less harmful to those who come in contact with them. This takes a certain amount of listening, personal work, and a little discomfort. 
The second way, are those people who make no effort to smooth their rough edges, take offense at being asked not to harm people, and not only don’t care who they hurt, actually seem to be quite gleeful about it.

Ravelry decided, after some extreme events last week, which I will get into in a moment, to ban speaking about trump and his administration, as he and his policies support White Nationalism, and  doing so creates an unsafe space for BIPoC, and others.

 

 

“There are people who have been talking down to other people because they can’t afford anything better than craft yarn from Michael’s,” she said. “Knitting has always been political, whether you believe it or not.”

 

*https://www.theverge.com/interface/2019/6/25/18716342/ravelry-trump-ban-knitting-white-supremacy-facebook

 

*From Ravelry:

 

We are banning support of Donald Trump and his administration on Ravelry.

This includes support in the form of forum posts, projects, patterns, profiles, and all other content. Note that your project data will never be deleted. We will never delete your Ravelry project data for any reason and if a project needs to be removed from the site, we will make sure that you have access to your data. If you are permanently banned from Ravelry, you will still be able to access any patterns that you purchased. Also, we will make sure that you receive a copy of your data.

We cannot provide a space that is inclusive of all and also allow support for open white supremacy. Support of the Trump administration is undeniably support for white supremacy.

Policy notes:

  • You can still participate if you do in fact support the administration, you just can’t talk about it here.
  • We are not endorsing the Democrats nor banning Republicans.
  • We are definitely not banning conservative politics. Hate groups and intolerance are different from other types of political positions.
  • We are not banning people for past support.
  • Do not try to weaponize this policy by entrapping people who do support the Trump administration into voicing their support.
  • Similarly, antagonizing conservative members for their unstated positions is not acceptable.

You can help by flagging any of the following items if they constitute support for Trump or his administration:

  • Projects: Unacceptable projects will be provided to the member or made invisible to others.
  • Patterns: Unacceptable patterns will be returned to drafts.
  • Forum posts: right now, only posts written after Sunday, June 23rd at 8 AM Eastern
  • Profiles: Unacceptable avatars or profile text will be removed.

Much of this policy was first written by a roleplaying game site, not unlike Ravelry but for RPGs, named RPG.net. We thank them for their thoughtful work. For citations/references, see this post on RPG.net: https://forum.rpg.net/index.php?threads/new-ban-do-not-po…

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*Its very interesting that those who are opposed to the ban on trump and hate speech, are not talking about the event that triggered this reaction from Ravelry. 
See, What Had Happened Was:
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Now lets be clear, trump supporters are not banned from Ravelry. What they are  is banned from talking about and supporting the policies of him and his administration, thereby creating a  hostile, and  unsafe, emotional environment for those people who are directly affected by his racist policies.
To their credit, most of the members on Ravelry are perfectly fine with this, and support it. There are a handful who hate it, but  they don’t have big enough platforms to affect anything, and they can always leave and form their own crafts platforms, dedicated to victimizing people who don’t look like them. 
The people who are against this ban have never been on the receiving end of trump’s rhetoric, so its easy for them to take offense and claim they are being oppressed, in the absence of any actual experience with oppression. Ravelry has always been a comfortable space for them, where they can say whatever they please, without regard to how what they say, affects other community members.
Many of these people claim they are leaving Ravelry because they feel the ban is wrong, and claim that they are being banned themselves. They are not. Go to Ravelry and get the actual source of what was said.  (And NO! Its not censorship, since Ravelry is a privately owned company.) Such people just cannot discuss they’re repellent political views on the site. This is not any different from bans on other forums moderating hate speech and open White supremacy. The only difference here is that talking about trump and his policies are now  equated with hate speech. 
My question for them is this: Why do you think you cannot participate in this community without emotionally harming the other members? Especially after people have repeatedly told you that what you are doing and saying is harmful to them? What about their comfort? They just want to look for patterns and talk about yarn too, without being inundated with racist imagery, and hate speech. Why can’t this space be safe and apolitical for them?
What people like that are forgetting is that marginalized people do not have the luxury of escaping from politics just because we don’t feel like dealing. Its very easy to claim to be apolitical when the politics being espoused do not personally affect you. This is especially true in cis-, straight, White spaces, where the marginalized can be blindsided, at any moment, by a White person’s thoughtless comments, and  sometimes active malice. Working in a diner is not a political act, nor is grocery shopping, or working in a crafts store, but it quickly becomes political when a marginalized person is subjected to a screaming rant about how some random White person voted for trump, and people need to build the wall! Or when you stumble across Confederate flags, when all you wanted was a  pattern for a baby blanket. 
What’s interesting, and its something that should most definitely set to rest the idea of White women’s innocence regarding racism, is most of the people hating on this ban are women, and it was women who were heavily involved in the doxxing and harassment of the person who reported the hate speech patterns to Ravelry moderators. You can’t blame this on some nameless cabal of Maga hat wearing White male nerds.
Fortunately one of the good things to come out of all this is at least some White women are trying to be better people. They re having the discussions about themselves and thinking about the issue, and considering ways in which they can walk through this world without harming others.

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“We cannot provide a space that is inclusive of all and also allow support for open white supremacy,” the site said in a statement explaining the decision. “Support of the Trump administration is undeniably support for white supremacy.”

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Curatorial vs. Transformative Fandom

The basic definition of the two is fandom that is practiced in one of two ways by either collecting information about the source material, or transforming/changing the source material to best interact with it. Sometimes there is a degree of overlap, but the motivations for the overlap tend to differ. Male fans generally engage in curatorial fandom, where the degree of fandom is noted by how many details of the source material can be collected and/or memorized, from figurines, to dialogue, to plot details. There is sometimes quantification involved such as rankings and listings. See those YouTube videos and posts that list episodes in a series from best to worst, or movies in a franchise. Curatorial fandom does not require intimate engagement with the material. One example is the movie Endgame, where male fans got caught up on attempting to parse how the Time travel worked in the movie, while female fans on Tumblr wrote meta-analysis about the different character’s psychology and emotions.

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Transformative fandom, as primarily practiced by women, involves a deep interaction with the source material, along with the collection of details for transforming the source material into something else, usually something that resonates with that particular fan, such as cosplay, fan art, fan fiction, and meta- analysis.

This is not a hard and fast rule, as there can be some degree of overlap. There are plenty of men involved in cosplay, fan art, and meta-analysis, and there are plenty of women who memorize dialogue, and collect information about their favorite shows.

Transformative fandom seeks to change the source material to reflect its needs, or analyse the source material for why those needs aren’t being  met, and how it could. One of the tenets of Curatorial fandom is that it doesn’t question the source material, simply accepting it. Having not been the primary audience for much of the source material of many fandoms, Transformative fandom this is mostly, but not exclusively, engaged in by PoC, LGBTQ, and White women.

 

It has been speculated that one of the reasons white male fans have been reacting in fandom the way they have is that Curatorial fandom is in opposition to Transformative fandom, which seeks to change the canon source material, thereby making the collection of facts and figures obsolete or irrelevant. Such men have defined their fandomhood, sometimes their very identities, by the amount of knowledge they possess about their particular fandom, and in their minds, Transformative fandom seeks to arbitrarily, and unnecessarily, change it. So, beyond the idea that they are no longer the audience for the material (something which is not ever going to change) is the false idea that female fans are taking the material and making random changes to it in the form of fanfiction and fan art. Helping matters along is that Speculative and Fantastic fiction is becoming more diverse, with creators changing the canon sources themselves by changing characters to women (Thor), stating the sexual orientations of older characters (Iceman), or making other characters PoC (Candace Patton as Iris West.)

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https://fanlore.org/wiki/Curative_Fandom

Curative fandom is all about knowledge. It’s about making sure that everything is lined up and in order, knowing how it works, and finding out which one is the best. What is the Doctor Who canon? Who is the best Doctor? How do Weeping Angels work? Etc etc. Curative fandom is p. much the norm on reddit, especially r/gallifrey. Transformative fandom is about change. Let’s write fic! Let’s make art! Let’s make a fan vid! Let’s cosplay! Let’s somehow change the text.

 

Transformative fandom seeks to interact on an emotional level with the source material. It wants to question it, and work within it, which is why so much of it centers on characters and relationships between the  characters, while taking place in different environments. I know plenty of people consider Coffee Shop AUs to be cliche, but it is a way for female fans to self insert, while analyzing the characters, by changing the environment in which the story takes place. It is not about removing dramatic impetus from the source, but understanding who the characters are, how they interact, and giving themselves the happy endings that so much of the source material in Fantastic fiction disdains. Its also a way for marginalized people to imagine themselves in source material in which they are not represented. The Mary Sue, the Self  Insert, and Shipping, are all attempts by Transformative fandom to interact personally  with the source material.

If Curatorial fans ,who are well represented in the source material, imagine themselves as being one of the characters in it, then Transformative fans like to imagine interacting with the characters in it. Its not so much that they want to be Buffy, or Willow, but self inserting as a friend of Buffy, gives such fans a way to express their love and affection for any of the other characters she may interact with in the show, like Spike, Anya, or Giles. Or putting themselves in the situations the characters encounter. many of the tropes of fan fiction come from female fans imagining what they would do if they found themselves within the source material, like defeating the villain, having love affairs , or offering comfort when their favorite characters are in pain.

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https://www.vox.com/2016/6/2/11531406/why-were-terrified-fanfiction-teen-girls

My preferred explanation is the idea that the vast majority of what we watch is from the male perspective – authored, directed, and filmed by men, and mostly straight white men at that. Fan fiction gives women and other marginalised groups the chance to subvert that perspective, to fracture a story and recast it in her own way. … It often feels as if there isn’t much space for difference in the dominant cultural narratives; in fandom, by design, there’s space for all.

 

Another issue is the devaluation of women’s interests and hobbies. Because Transformative fandom is mostly engaged in by women, there is a tendency to disregard it, along with its problems. There is also a certain level of mockery and disgust, whereas the same level of disgust is not aimed at, for example, men’s sports fandoms, which can be far more violent. Narratives aimed at a female audience, or interests and hobbies of women and other marginalized people are often disregarded, the way movies aimed at Black audiences were often disregarded or considered of no importance by White audiences. Don’t believe me?  Name the top three favorite films in the Black community. From before 2000!

What is not often discussed, and this is where devaluation comes in, is that Transformative fandom also has its contingent of harassment and bigotry,   but because its women, its less obvious than the harassment engaged in by Curatorial fans,  dismissed as not being important, and mocked as fans just being  crazy. Bigotry in Transformative fandom changes source material that may actually be progressive, to reflect the mainstream status quo, by erasing women of color from canon relationships, or abusing Black male characters, by writing them  into slavefic. When WoC  question and/or  analyse the source for racism and misogynoir, they are often harassed, gaslighted, or shouted down by White female fans. When Gay fans question the fetishizing of mlm characters in fandom, they are often treated the same. There are plenty of white women fans harassing WoC actresses, who happen to be paired with White men in the source material, like the still ongoing harassment campaign against Candace Patton, from The Flash.This is not the type of bad fandom behavior that gets covered in mainstream media, which attributes such harassment only to White men, and as a result, the public tends to think that White women are innocent of it. They are not. They simply have different motivations.

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https://newrepublic.com/article/137489/women-color-price-fandom-can-high

The attacks on her character range from obvious bigotry referring to her as a monkey to more subtle remarks about how the two love interests don’t “look good together”. Look through Tumblr, Twitter, or even the recaps on popular sites and you’ll find an inordinate amount of hate toward Iris for things other white female characters get a pass for. 

There were plenty of White female fans denigrating Kelly Marie Tran, and her character, before she deleted her Instagram account. The only difference was their behavior wasn’t in the public eye, because they were not attacking the actress directly. They were attacking her fans instead, or engaging in transformative media, in the form of tweets, essays, and fanfiction that erased and/or vilified her character. This is typical in Transformative fandom, where White women deliberately fail to understand, or choose to ignore, intersectional feminism, in favor of uplifting white female characters, while diminishing WoC in both fandom and the narrative.

https://stitchmediamix.com/2018/09/19/what-fandom-racism-looks-like-only-33-words-in-a-trailer/

Hell, did y’all see how the Agent Carter fandom demanded that WOC support a show where we weren’t even vaguely represented – all in the name of feminism – and then blame us for the show doing poorly in its second season? (Or, Tamora Pierce wading in with a totally wrong and racist interjection about 1940s New York must have looked like and what Black people would’ve done in that time period.

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There has been a lot of discussion lately about Curatorial fandom behaving badly, while ignoring that Transformative fandom often behaves just as badly, but because the perpetrators are White women, who tend to be more subtle in their practice of it, whose interests and hobbies tend to be devalued,  and who have traditionally always been seen as innocent of bigoted and racist behavior, this gets  ignored by the mainstream.

Now, this isn’t to say that one form of fandom is better or worse than the other. They are both simply differing ways of being a fan. But that is not to say that Curatorial fandom doesn’t have issues. We’ve already talked about how bigotry and racism from Curatorial fans is covered in mainstream media, but one other issue is that sometimes curatorial fandom does not go beyond collecting information about the source material, and has a tendency to lack depth. Fans may not ask questions, or seek to think any deeper about it beyond simply knowing it in detail, or ranking it from best to worst. That can lead to a certain amount of shallowness , and we’ve already seen that it can lead to gatekeeping, where members of a particular fandom feel a need to test newer fans on their knowledge about it, before being permitted to enjoy that fandom. Since they practice fandom in a  Curatorial style, , a lack of knowledge, in their minds, means that someone isn’t a real fan.

Another side effect of Transformative fandom is that fans can get so caught up in their imaginary version of the source material (known as head canon) that they  bully and harass others who don’t believe as they do. They will attack other fans, thereby keeping the harassment in-house. This accounts for the many “shipping wars” that are bizarre and puzzling to outsiders, like what happened in the Supernatural fandom, when certain fans became convinced that their imaginary relationship, between Dean Winchester and the Angel Castiel, (called Destiel) was actually a canon relationship being kept from them by the creators. It got to the point where such fans were also  harassing the actors, their wives, and the writers, by making fanciful claims about the real life actors relationships with each other and their wives, and bullying those fans who refuted these beliefs.

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https://scadconnector.com/2018/04/10/fascination-and-frustration-an-analysis-of-fan-fiction/

Fan fiction is written by people who watch a show or a movie, or read a book, and look at what they are given and think, but what if this happened?

Although there are differences in how fandom is practiced, there is a great deal of overlap in type, and no way of performing fandom is better than another. Both styles of fandom have significant drawbacks, especially when practiced carelessly, by forgetting that other types of fans exist,  acting and thinking without regard to other members of the fandom, or even the creators.  These are just different ways of enjoying the narrative, and most people engage in at least a little bit of both kinds of fandom. But when people feel threatened by, for example, changes in the source material, or by other fans (sometimes other marginalized fans) who refute their ideas about the source material, the kind of behavior we see is usually based on this  divide.

https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/ready-player-one-marvel-and-the-cure-for-curative-fandom

All we have to do to open up curative fandom is incorporate a little more of Column B, shifting the curative focus from “catalog everything in the collection” to “what’s the most interesting thing in here?” By leaning harder into the curatorial roots of curative fandom, Marvel’s hit upon the solution to it.

Or, to put it another way—Ready Player One feels like the past. Black Panther feels like the future.

 

**This is just my attempt to understand why some fans behave so badly, and yet still refer  to themselves as fans, because one of the first things I did was question whether or not these people were real fans, and these essays somewhat answer my question. My definition of fandom wasn’t wrong, it just needed to be expanded to include different performances of it, and that a lot of the behavior we see coming out of fandom is due, at its foundation, to this difference in thinking. This is not to give these people an out for their bad behavior, or an excuse, but for me to understand the psychology behind why people do what they do in fandom, and pass along some of that understanding.

 

 

 

 

Sitcoms Have Always Been Political

 

This essay was inspired by a conversation on Tumblr, where an anonymous poster opined that sitcoms were too political these days, and that he wanted to watch them without politics.  I found this declaration to be not just deeply funny, but  disgracefully ignorant of the history of sitcoms. There are plenty of sitcoms that have existed, and air today, that have no political message to them, but many sitcoms have always had political components, and social messages and comedy have always been good bedfellows, from Saturday Night Live, to In Living Color, to Key & Peele.

There are those shows where not every episode deals with social issues, but plenty of sitcoms addressed specific issues during their run, and some of them were political, not because they discussed social issues, but because their very existence was a political act.

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The most famous political sitcom, that didn’t appear to be about politics, also had a somewhat disingenuous title.  All In The Family aired from 1971 to 1979. It starred Carrol O’ Connor, as Archie Bunker, a close-minded and racist bigot who liked to wax nostalgic about the good ol’ days, with his sweet tempered wife Edith, his more emotionally evolved daughter, Gloria, and her counterculture husband, Michael Stivic, who often butted heads with Archie’s ignorance.

While the show didn’t appear to be a political or social justice show, it managed to  disseminate a lot of social concepts through Michael and Gloria’s arguments with Archie. Archie gave voice to a lot of the status quo bigotry of the time, and Gloria and Michael’s job on the show was to refute his ignorant statements about gays, blacks, and women.  The show often put Archie in situations with gays, Blacks, and women, that would require him to question his long held beliefs, or realize the falsity of them. Over the course of the series eight year run, Archie slowly begins to change his views on a lot of issues. But this is not a show about redemption. The point was to show how people evolve in their thinking over time, and to provide counter arguments to a lot of the types of discussions that were actually happening in people’s homes at the time. All in the family gave birth to several spinoffs, including the openly feminist show, Maude, which starred Bea Arthur, of Golden Girls fame. Maude discussed every social issue of the time, from homosexuality, to women’s rights, as Maude spent the bulk of the show butting heads with her apathetic husband, and openly bigoted neighbor.

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SOAP aired for three years, from 1977 to 1981, and included in one of its many storylines, the  life of one Jodi Dallas, an openly gay man, played by Billy Crystal. The show was groundbreaking because this was one of the first times a gay character had been prominently featured in a sitcom, where the humor wasn’t centered around making fun of his sexuality. In fact, Jodi’s “gayness” was handled very sensitively. His character was treated with a certain amount of respect by the writers, and while some of the characters disrespected Jodi, the other marginalized character in the show, a butler named Benson, always treated Jodi with respect. The bullying of any of the other characters was always met with disapproval, and Jodi knew how to defend himself, thereby getting the best lines, and often, the last word.

The show Benson was a spinoff starring the butler of SOAP, played by Robert Guillaume. While not, specifically, a Black show, there was no doubt Guillaume was the star of the show, which declared its liberal status by showcasing Guillaume’s great comedic timing, with Bensons’ sarcastic remarks to his clueless employers.

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The Mary Tyler Moore Show came right on the tail end of the first feminist movement,  and the cusp of the second, and aired from 1970 to 1977. Mary Tyler Moore, fresh off her fame on the Dick Van Dyke show, starred as herself, while navigating life as a single working girl in Minneapolis. The show was groundbreaking in showing an unmarried, woman without children, who was focused on her career.  The show tackled such issues as pre-marital sex, homosexuality, women’s working conditions, sexual harassment, and low wages , and did so while being realistically down to earth, and very funny.

It produced two spinoffs, Rhoda, about Mary’s upstairs neighbor, and Lou Grant, Mary’s boss. It also paved the way for other feminist shows about women tackling life in the big city, like Golden Girls, Designing Women, Maude, Laverne and Shirley, and Murphy Brown, all shows that had political components, and tackled many of the same issues that had been discussed on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Few of the shows relied  on wacky situations for their humor, but on realistic situations, while putting wacky, and irreverent characters together to see how they’d interact. Sitcoms aimed  at and about only women became a staple of the genre, and the creators would take full advantage of that to discuss the pressing issues of the day.

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If The Mary Tyler Moore Show was about a young single girl in the city, Golden Girls looked at the opposite end of the spectrum, with four retired, single senior citizens sharing a house together in Miami. The show  lasted from 1985 to 1992, and tackled such topics as homosexuality, aging, and living and loving as a senior citizen. It won several awards including a number of  Emmys, Golden Globes, and People’s Choice awards. Not every show was about being old, but the show was political just by existing, since it was a rarity at the time to have female senior citizens as stars in their own  shows then.

The list of feminist shows was not limited to White women. There were plenty of shows that had feminist messages which starred women of color. Shows like Living Single, about a group of Black women living single in the city, which was the template for Friends, and the forerunner to Sex and the City, Moesha which starred Pop singer Brandy, A Different World, a spinoff of the Cosby Show, about the eldest daughter’s adventures at a well known HBCU, and even shows for teenage girls, like Disney’s That’s So Raven.  These are shows that would have been considered political without the feminist messages, as they were about Black women’s lived experiences as Black women.

No list of politics in sitcoms would be complete without mentioning  M.A.S.H., based on the 1970 movie of the same name, (about the Vietnam War), the series was set during the Korean War, and understood by both the audience, and its creators, that all of its ideology was about Vietnam, and war in general. The series aired from 1972 to 1983. One of the creators of the series, Alan Alda was an out liberal, and made that clear in his character, Hawkeye, who often disparaged the war, and occasionally spoke on issues of feminism, race, anti-semitism, and religion, and was not above being called out on his own prejudices, like sexism. The show was nominated for over 100 awards during its run, and is still, decades after its final episode, one of the most beloved sitcoms in American television.

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By their very nature, just about any show that has a cast of color will be a show about politics, or contain social messages. Not all of the episodes on the show are political, but sometimes, just showing people of color going about their daily lives, living, loving, laughing, and working, will show that the personal is sometimes the political. For people of color, and other marginalized identities, our very existence can become a social justice issue. Shows like The Cosby Show, Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire, and Living Single, were groundbreaking in the 80s and 90s because of their rarity. How rare? Julia, starring Diahanne Carroll, first aired in 1968, and was notable for having a Black actress, as the lead, in a non-stereotypical role. She played a nurse, who was a single Mom,  two years before The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and like a lot of other shows starring people of color, it was appropriated to be consumed by White audiences, since it was believed that White audiences didn’t want to watch shows with an all PoC cast, even though the popularity of The Jeffersons, a spinoff of The Archie Bunker Show, and The Cosby Show, during the 80s, made that belief to be false.

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In fact, almost all shows which starred PoC as the leads in the cast, tackled social justice issues, at one time or another, and managed to do so, while being fun and funny,  without becoming too heavy handed about it, although they did occasionally get a little preachy. In the 80s, The Jeffersons, which was a spinoff of All In The Family, the theme was  the upward mobility of the Black Middle Class, which was a turnabout on the theme of Black poverty in the shows Good Times and Sanford and Sons, in the 70s, which later evolved into  the working class themes of Whats Happening. All of these set the stage for the comfortable, Middle Class respectability of The Cosby Show. Surprisingly, a lot of these early show were written by a White man, Norman Lear.

The Cosby family didn’t sit around talking about the important issues of the day, but just showed their lives, as the family lived it. They were  fully immersed in Black culture, often discussing books, music, and movies, that were of interest to their Black audience,  thereby giving the White people who watched the show little glimpses into what the ordinary life of a Black family might be like, while dealing with universal issues like navigating the family/work dynamic, and sending the kids to college. In fact, the Cosby Show was a kind of corollary to Roeseanne, which addressed a lot of the same issues, but from the point of view of a working class White family, a viewpoint which is also a rarity in sitcoms.

There are also all the shows that may not seem as if they are political, but because they star people of color, they become political by association with some current issue, such as Brooklyn 99, which has tackled the issue of bisexuality by having one of its lead characters come out on the show, stars a gay Black cop and his White partner, and even addressed police profiling; One Day At A Time, about the life and loves of a Latina single mother, her lesbian daughter, and the daughter’s non-binary love interest; Fresh Of the Boat, which deals with issues in the Asian immigrant community; and Insecure, a callback to the original Julia, about the love life of an awkward Black woman living in the big city. There is Black*ish, Grown*ish, Speechless, Dear White People, She’s Gotta have It, based on Spike Lee’s movie of the same name, and Bob’s Burgers, all shows told from a different viewpoint than the usual.

For someone to complain that sitcoms never used to be political is evidence of a profound lack of knowledge about the history of the genre. Sitcoms have always addressed the politics of the times in which they were created. To be sure there are plenty of sitcoms that have nothing to do with politics, which are quite popular, and there’s nothing wrong with liking them. There’s a sitcom out there for everyone, from the deeply political Veep, to the blatantly silly Archer.

But some of us enjoy the politics, which is why so many of  these sitcoms are incredibly popular.

American Gods Season Two: Finale

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This season simply wasn’t as strong In its narrative as the first season, but the first season had the benefit of a single creator with a vision. This season there are two or more creators, so the fact that we had some kind of narrative cohesion is pretty good. It wasn’t a bad season though. I liked the character development, and the visuals are always strong, although, once again, this wasn’t as strong as the last season, which had the benefit of novelty. It also seemed like the writers didn’t know what to do with some character, like Bilquis and Anansi, but their presence was not undesired either..

I’m not going to talk about the plot as much as I’m going to discuss characters and their development. We lost two of the gods, or four, depending on how one sees it. The first god to die was the eldest Zoraya sister. Her brother explained that there is a resurrection ritual for her, but without any believers, the ritual wouldn’t work, so currently there are only two sisters left. i’m a big fan of Cloris Leachman, and I hope she makes her way back to the show. She as great as the eldest sister.

We also lost Old Media and the old version of Technical Boy (whose origin we also got to see). Media, which was first played by Gillian Anderson, was resurrected and is now played by Kahyun Kim. I have tried really hard to like New Media, but I don’t, and I think that’s a very interesting point. She exists as a form of Media that I’m mostly bored and exasperated by.. Her general  demeanor is annoying, and after I gave it some thought, I figured out why. She is every bit as annoying to me as actual new media. She prances around as a sexy anime chanteuse, squeaking, and breathless, in that way that I hate in actual  anime, so I think she’s meant to be annoying to people like me. I’m usually cringing when I see her on screen for any length of time, it also doesn’t help that she is hypersexualized and kind of useless, exactly like actual new media.

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Mr. World was starting to get a little bit frustrated because his gods (Argus, Technical Boy, and New Media) were not coming through in the pinch, and getting him the results he wants, which is to find, and kill, Shadow Moon, and capture Wednesday. However, in the season finale we see the final iteration of New Media, who has truly just come into her power, and it is scary as Hell.  I certainly fucking respect her now!

The old Technical Boy was destroyed this season, but he was resurrected by his original creator as a kind of God of Surveillance, taking the place of the Argus Array, and working once again, in tandem with New Media. The original  God of Surveillance was killed by Laura, and the new Technical Boy has much to do  with computer hacking, surveillance, and spying and also has a brand new, sleeker, look, and attitude. (Incidentally, the first God of Surveillance was an old god, named Argus, that had made a deal with Mr. World.)

Needless to say, almost none of the things that happened this season, took place in the book. There’s a broad correlation, but otherwise…Shadow gets kidnapped, gets free, meets Sam Black Crow, makes his way to Cairo, works at a funeral home, and then Mad Sweeney dies. Everything else in the season was an add on, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like the add ons. I especially liked the episode where we got to see Shadow Moon’s and  Mad Sweeney’s real backstories, which I’ll get to soon enough. One of the side effects of this is that the series contrasts badly with the book. Gaiman may just be adding stuff to this show that he’d always wanted to add to the original story. There are a lot of things in the series that should have been in the original story, like Bilquis, and Mad Sweeney, and Laura’s activities.

I do want to talk about more of the mythology presented this season, and a few of my favorite character interactions, something with which this season excelled. From the beginning we met a lot of new /old gods, and caught up with Shadow’s backstory, and a little bit more of Wednesday’s past.

 

We get to see Shadow’s backstory, which answers a few questions about why he is the way he is, but also opens up more questions about exactly who his mother was. Was she the spirit of America, and did she die of cancer because of 9-1-1? We’re getting closer and closer to Shadow finding out he is Shadow Odinson, and we also met Odin’s other son, Thor, and saw their falling out with each other. Thor eventually commits suicide, and it becomes apparent, through his statements to Shadow, that Odin was devastated by that and still misses him. He often refers to Shadow as “Son”, or “My Boy” and at one point said Shadow reminded him of his son. Now in the mythology Odin has a lot of children but another of his most famous children was Baldur,

He’s loved by all the gods, goddesses, and beings of a more physical nature. So handsome, gracious, and cheerful is he that he actually gives off light.[1]

https://norse-mythology.org/gods-and-creatures/the-aesir-gods-and-goddesses/baldur/

…and there are a few things about Shadow that echo Baldur’s story,

https://norse-mythology.org/tales/the-death-of-baldur/

…right down to Baldur’s prophetic dreams about his death, as mentioned in the Prose Edda, and that he is seen as a being of light by everyone who encounters him. It is his death that precedes Ragnarok, the war of the gods. Shadow Moon is also another name for an eclipse, and he radiates light, which is how Laura sees him. In the book, Laura refers to him as a beacon of light in a dark world. In the series, his mother mentions that he is a being of light, too. Its my theory that Shadow is what was once mentioned by Wednesday, although he did it in jest, as The King of America. In the book, two of the powers, that Shadow possessed, was knowledge, and the ability to see truth.

We’ve been watching Wednesday’s machinations all season, but we have  also been witnessing Shadow’s journey to self. We watched his journey to knowledge of the gods in season one, and in this second season, we are witnessing Shadow’s journey to realizing who and what he may be.

If he believes.

In season one, he was constantly chided to Believe, because if he didn’t, he would not survive what was to come, his imminent death at Wednesdays machinations. Next season, his task is to believe in himself. There is a reason that Shadow was allowed to join in the congregation of the gods, at the beginning of the season, because he is a potential god himself, and a relatively new one that has been raised in ignorance of that life.

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Yes, Shadow!

The end of the season also leaves a lot of questions. We got to see the full unleashing of New Media who is kinda terrifying. She starts a fake news siege against Shadow, so that Mr. World not only doesn’t have to look for Shadow, but so that in all likelihood Shadow will be killed when he is found, since New Media tells several lies about him being a heavily armed terrorist, who has killed several cops. Shadow manages to elude capture at the end of the episode,which opens another mystery. Did that event happen, and Shadow removed the police from the premises in the same way he created snow in the first season? Or was it something he saw before it happened and he just moved out of its way?

Shadow gets snagged by the miniature Yggdrasil tree growing in Mr. Ibis greenhouse and pulled into it s branches, where he begins to have visions. During the entire raiding scene he has flashbacks of Shadow as a young boy playing with police action figures, and overhearing snippets of  conversations between him,  Wednesday,  and others. At one point the child sweeps his arm across the action figures, knocking them all down, and removing them as obstacles. At the same time, the police outside the funeral home all vanish, and so does the tree, taking Shadow with it. We then see Wednesday in a diner, smiling about how his boy is going to be okay.

The ending is quite surreal with Shadow having visions of being back in the Bone Orchard at the beginning of the series, because it always comes back to that initial vision. Its hard to say if these were prophetic visions , or actual events, as the rest of the gods on the premises seem unperturbed, and Anansi seems actually happy. Once again, Anansi seems to be the one character who know more than anyone what’s going on, including who Shadow is, Wednesday’s motivations, and even the final outcome.

People don’t understand why Anansi keeps being so mean to Shadow, but part of being a Trickster god is pushing on people, so as to engage them  into committing  some kind of action. His bullying of Shadow is meant to goad Shadow into doing something he is supposed to do, instead of being so passive about his circumstances. Notice how he is constantly attacking shadow’s intelligence. This is meant to anger Shadow, and goad his ego into trying to prove that he is not stupid. It will prompt Shadow to ACT, because Angry get shit done, and it is one of the few vulnerabilities Shadow has, because in  the other areas of his life, he is very competent. I think he is cheering for Shadow to be the Wild Card in Odin’s plans for the war, because Trickster’s love that kind of thing.

My one regret with Anansi is that we still have not gotten the story from him of The Tiger’s Balls, which is one of the best short stories in the main book, but otherwise this character has been good, but not great, this season.

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The reason why Anansi gets all of the best speeches on the show is because its part of his mythology. Almost all of his stories are part of the oral tradition in Africa, and he is the god of storytelling. When we first meet him he is goading a ship’s hold full of captured slaves into angrily rebelling against their captors. Anansi does not like passivity, which is why all his speeches are so incendiary. He is a fire being that prefers action, and that’s what almost all his speechifying is geared toward, because, “Angry gets shit done!”. And in his speeches to Ibis and Bilquis he tries to get them angry enough, about the plight of African Americans, to join in Wednesday’s war, but is unsuccessful. Ibis and Bilquis continue to keep their distance from Wednesday’s plans, and what’s interesting is that Anansi seems okay with that.

… Anansi was often celebrated as a symbol of slave resistance and survival, because Anansi is able to turn the tables on his powerful oppressors by using his cunning and trickery, a model of behaviour utilised by slaves to gain the upper hand within the confines of the plantation power structure. Anansi is also believed to have played a multifunctional role in the slaves’ lives; as well as inspiring strategies of resistance, the tales enabled enslaved Africans to establish a sense of continuity with their African past and offered them the means to transform and assert their identity within the boundaries of captivity.

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Bilquis has been something of a mystery this season She too is in the process of upgrading and adapting to  the modern world, by seeking worship from human beings, in some other manner besides sex, and I think she hopes to rid herself of her reliance on Technical Boy’s aid in the recovery of her godhood. If she becomes her own woman, she no longer needs to abide by any agreement she  with him, and can then do as she pleases. She attends one of the funeral services, where she gets the congregation all hot and bothered,  even though she says nothing that’s overtly sexual. At this point, she is just testing her new role and how to receive worship of some kind.

Bilquis is also playing both ends against the middle, but we don’t know if she’s there for Mr. World, there for herself, there to prevent the war, or there to serve Odin, who she also seems to hate as much as she does Mr. World. She approaches Shadow and gives him an apple, (I think it came from Yggdrasil), which is a callback to the story of Adam and Eve, but really it just represents the idea of  temptation, and knowledge. She is essentially offering him the temptation of knowledge, but of what is unclear. She tells Shadow that their futures and destinies are entwined. We do know that at the end of the episode, Shadow is sitting on  the knowledge that he is Wednesday’ s son. How clear on that he is, is a matter of some debate.

Laura’s actions are also another mystery. Sweeney died in the last episode, in his final fight with Shadow, echoing the very first fight the two of them had in the first season, but that was when  Sweeney had his gold coin, which he lost to Shadow. In their last fight, Shadow loses Gungnir, (Odin’s war spear), which he had been tasked to protect by Wednesday, to Sweeney who, with his dying breath, transfers Gungnir to the golden hoard, where his phantom coins come from. Laura finds Sweeney’s body laid out in the funeral home and steals it. What her plans are, are unclear, but its speculated that she is taking him to Louisiana to be resurrected, so he can help her kill Wednesday. She asked Bilquis for aid, but she turned Laura down, and Laura still has that vial of blood that was given to her by Baron Samedi, who told her that it can be activated to resurrect her full humanity, with an act of love.

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This is a callback to a conversation, earlier in the season, that Laura has with Mama Ji, who she tried to strong-arm her into helping her. Mama Ji will have none of her sass, and gently reminds Laura that she is also the Lord of War, as well as the Divine Mother, and she  is unimpressed by Laura’s zombie strength. Laura also receives advice from Bilquis, when she goes to her to request her aid in killing Wednesday. Bilquis denies her, but does admit to hating Wednesday.

The most charming character in the series is Salim, because he represents the every-man in this scenario. I’m glad he’s still around, and that he is still committed to his relationship with the Djinn, and what’s more, the Djinn is just as committed to him, although he has been questioned by the other gods about having a relationship with a mortal. As we get closer to the idea that Shadow is himself a god, we need a regular person, through whose eyes we can see the other characters, the one normal human being who can express the audience’s feelings about what’s happening, and with whom the audience can identify, now that we are moving to a place where we cannot identify with Shadow, the way we did in the first season.

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This is groundbreaking because not only is our every-man of Middle Eastern descent, and a devout Muslim, he is also a  gay man. Salim is essentially taking the space that I argued about Shadow, in the first season, before he became totally entrenched in Wednesday’s plans, and his scenes are utterly hilarious. His reaction to what’s happening, especially after he gets named as an enemy of the state by New Media is priceless, actually questioning whether or not he committed the crimes he’s been accused of, and being blandly reassured by Mr. Ibis that he’s been in the house watching television the entire time. I’m happy to see that nothing happens to either of them and the two of them manage to walk away unscathed.

At the end of the episode, we get some idea of the next chapter in Shadow’s life. When his bus is stopped by the police, as they are searching for him, he escapes their notice because the name on his ID card has been changed.  In season three, he will get a chance to ruminate on everything that just happened to him as he spends a quiet  interlude in the small town of Lakeview, where he’ll encounter a creature called a Kobold(?), that is feeding on the town’s young women. In the book, this is part of a long period where Shadow is hiding out at the behest of Wednesday. In the show it has been orchestrated that he is hiding out from the authorities.

It will be some time before we see a third season of the show, possibly as long as a year. In that time, I expect to have re-read the book, and probably will have some new insights into the characters by then. Until next time:

TTFN

 

 

 

 

 

 

More mythology – Thor, Sweeney, Voodoo, Fairy, Kali

Queen of Sheba

Salim and the Jinn

Deepening the connection between Sweeney and Laura

The death of Sweeney/The Hoard

Shadow Moon’s ultimate purpose

Wednesday’s manipulation

 

Avengers Endgame: Thoughts

You know how I roll on this blog.

Damn right there are going to be spoilers.

I cannot talk about how much I loved this movie without spoilers. So, if you have not seen the movie, get thee the fuck outta here, go watch it, and only then, will you be welcome in this space. (If I’m cussing, it’s  a sign that I’m extremely happy!)

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I spoke about my history of comic book reading, in a previous post, about how the first Marvel books I remember reading, were Conan the Barbarian, and Red Sonja, which I probably should not have been reading, since I was about 9 or 10 years old, but I’d found a stash of these books in the basement of a house we’d just moved into, and since no book ever passed by me without going unread, there I was. I got away from Marvel comics when I was about 12, as I was reading Horror comics by that time. I started reading superhero comics, in earnest, when I was about 14, or 15, starting with The New Mutants, moving on to The X-Men, Spiderman, Doctor Strange, and finally, The Avengers.

Of all The Avengers characters, Doctor Strange is one of the few standalone character books I ever read, along with Thor, and Spiderman. They were the only superheroes I truly stanned, having read nearly all of their different iterations. I never read a single Captain America, Incredible Hulk (I knew him only from the TV series), Iron Man, Antman, Hawkeye, or  Black Widow stand alone book. I knew nothing about the Guardians of the Galaxy.

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That said, I’ve seen all the MCU movies, and of all the films, and I’ve  only seen a handful of them in the theater; The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Spiderman Homecoming, Captain America Civil War, and Black Panther. The rest I watched on TV, sometimes when I didn’t particularly feel like watching them, like Antman and Thor: The Dark World, and I’m going to continue to talk shit about Antman, despite the fact that I really enjoyed both movies. I  reserve the right to talk shit about movies and characters I love.

Of all the movies, the some of the most fun ones were the Iron Man films. Despite me trash talking Tony Stark at every opportunity, I actually like the character, a lot. The Captain America movies were a surprise favorite, as I had not one ounce of interest in that character beyond his being the leader of The Avengers, in the comic books. As the leader of The Avengers, I’d read Cap say those famous words countless times, and I knew Cap’s history because they talked about it in other comic  books, that were not about him. Black Widow made no impression on me in the comic books. I have never found Russian spies to be interesting  in even my best moods.

All this to explain how incredibly geeked out I was while watching this movie. I can’t wait to see this at home, when it comes out on DVD, so I can dance around the house in my bunny slippers. I loved, loved, loved, the end of this movie, and I’ve been trying really hard to avoid the whiners and complainers (and some of the more hysterical people) on Tumblr, while I read  the reviews. I will not allow any fan wankery to harsh my buzz!

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The Movie:

This is going to be a very long post. First of all, there aren’t any social justice issues to be made of this movie, despite people trying really hard to do so. Most of this movie is just pure fan service, and since I’m a fan of the comic books,, I’m perfectly okay with that. This movie throws the viewer right into the deep end. If you didn’t see any of the other MCU movies, or haven’t read any of the comic books, you probably won’t care about any of the things on the screen, and will probably just be bored, although I have come across people who did none of those things, yet still enjoyed the movie just for itself. If non-fans can still totally get into it, that is the mark of a well written film. For fans of the books and movies though, it hits all the right emotional notes, at all the right times. It has great action scenes, great callbacks to stuff that happened in the other twenty or so films, and the hundreds of comic books, and even a few tears were shed.

 

Now I’ve done some reading, and its my understanding that because of the all the time traveling in the movie, what the characters did was create alternate universes, and the one we end with is a brand new universe, in which a lot of things didn’t happen. Every time they removed one of the stones from some past event, they changed a time line, and created another universe. Steve remaining in the past with Peggy created a new timeline as well. At least that was how it was explained to me, but often  I care little about such plot details. Unlike a lot of people, I didnt get myself too worked up about it.

I did appreciate the way the movie handled the aftermath of Thanos’ Snap. Its been several years, and humanity is still in recovery mode and dealing with its grief. We get a micro look at this trauma through Hawkeye, when his family disappears. Now imagine Hawkeye’s scene happening everywhere, and remember most people wouldn’t know what had happened, or why, or how.  This is  like the TV show The Leftovers, which deal with the aftermath of The Rapture, and how the survivors deal with the disappearance of half of humanity, over its three seasons.

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This movie doesn’t  have time to go into too much detail,  as it’s three hours long already, but it does handle a lot of character, and personality issues effectively. About the first thirty minutes of the movie is just watching these characters deal with their loss. Humanity is pretty resilient, and you can see that most people are holding on by their fingernails. You got Natasha crying in the office, Steve looking more lost than usual, and Imma talk about Thor in a moment.

What was not taken into account by Thanos in his megalomania, is that there would be planets and cultures, (the Snap happened everywhere, but we only see Earth), that because of the way they were set up, they would not only be devastated by such an event, they would never recover from it. (I’m pretty certain that on at least some  planets, everyone is dead.) The Snap most likely killed more than half of humanity anyway, because there would be tens of millions of residual deaths in the aftermath. All of the sick, the very young, and the very old, the suicides, and  basically anybody who couldn’t fend for themselves, would probably die in the weeks after the Snap.

I was reminded of this by the book, The Stand by Stephen King, in which a pandemic wipes out most of humanity. There’s a chapter in the book that chronicles  the deaths of all those who didn’t die from the pandemic itself. The residual deaths, like accidents, other infections, and  illnesses and suicides. I was also reminded of reading stories about the aftermath of the Black Plague and how that so thoroughly changed the social and economic systems in Europe afterward. The Snap was infinitely worse.

Thanos is a megalomaniacal, psychotic, selfish,  dumbass, who really didn’t think any of this shit through, and caused psychological and emotional trauma on an untold massive scale, so huge it  can’t  be imagined. I do not think of Thanos as the greatest villain in the MCU, because I have no respect for a dumb villain. He’s the not even the greatest on the scale of power, and/or amount of damage he caused, because that title belongs to Galactus. This is a fanboys idea of a villain. I am always suspect of people who claim to want to do good for the world, but can only do so by killing as many people as possible. King Leopold, Hitler, Pol Pot, and Josef Stalin all held similar philosophies. Only in Thanos’  case, we’re supposed to be okay with what he did, because it was random, and not personal.

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There’s’ no depth to Thanos’ philosophies. There’s no nuance to his character, either,  despite the Russos trying to shoehorn in some pathos, to make him seem more sympathetic.  He’s just another big, dumb, brute, with the ability to kill more people than the men named above. Like most villains , he simply  wants to kill, and he invented some  reasons for doing just that. reason he invented so that he wouldn’t have to face the idea that he is, in fact,  a monster.

You wanna know how I know this?

Because Thanos didn’t Snap himself. He destroyed the Gauntlet after the Snap, but he didn’t destroy himself, and when The Avengers showed up to beat his ass. he wanted them to affirm his goodness, and be grateful to him.

I knew the movie was going to hit some emotional hot points during the scene where The Avengers track down Thanos, and try to get him to change things back, only to discover that he destroyed the Gauntlet. He starts to go into his usual villain monologuing, but Thor cuts that shit short by suddenly chopping off his head. I wasn’t expecting that, because I’ d, once again,  resigned myself to listening to, yet another, psychopath’s self -serving justification for evil.

Of all the characters, Thor was the most sympathetic, and the most  obviously affected by everything that happened. In the entirety of the MCU, with the exception of Hawkeye,  Thor  lost his entire family, most of the people he was supposed to protect, and his planet. He’s also suffering from a great deal of survivor’s guilt. You can tell he spent a lot of time dreaming of having the opportunity to kill Thanos, because the last time he had it, as he said, he didn’t go for the head. He didn’t prevent the Snap, and his last gesture is utterly futile.

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I like the way the movie handles Thor’s depression and PTSD. This is what  depressed people do. They stop caring about what they look like (and Thor was always rather vain about his looks, so his getting fat was  significant), or they drink a lot, or just stop moving forward, and become very passive. But once he is given the opportunity to go back into the past and change events, he jumps at it. Thor is depressed, but it is never shown to be a weakness. He is never bothered by his size. He owns it, and is still the Lord of Thunder, and he would thank  you to remember that he can still kick ass. I didn’t like the other characters making fun of him for being fat, though. The humor felt forced and out of place (except for his Mom, because that’s such an incredibly Mom thing to say, and she was very obviously worried about him).

The different pair-ups in the movie are fun and interesting.  The writers pair Thor with Rocket, the only other  Avenger, besides Hawkeye, who has lost his  family. I hated Thor: The Dark World because that’s the movie where Thor’s mother dies, so one of the  tearful moments I was talking about earlier, is  when he goes back to the past and sees her again. He also gets some tough love from Rocket about losing loved ones.

Natasha dies the same way Gamora did, only her death was voluntary. I’m not a huge Black Widow fan. I mean she’s okay, and she gets some good moments in the movie, (throughout the entire MCU actually), but I was largely unaffected by her death, because she was not a character that resonated with me, although I recognize she meant a lot to other people. That said, I still wish it had been Hawkeye who died, because I care less about him than I do Natasha, and she deserved a better send off. I understand why he was allowed to live, but I still wish he’d died in her place. I’m also not a fan of Hawkeye because in the wake of the Snap he decided it would be a good idea to travel the world killing Brown men, as the comic book character Ronin. His answer to his grief at so much death, is to go out and  cause even more death, and I had an issue with that.

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Tony goes out like a boss, tho’. I’m actually okay with Tony dying, I was long ready for it, and think that’s a fitting end to his character arc. I was one of the few people, who liked Tony, who was unbothered by his death. Yes, contrary to me always talking shit about Tony, I actually loved that character, and I’m gonna miss him. Thanks to Downey, he was a consistent asshole, and I kind of liked that Tony fucked up about as much as he saved, and had to constantly be put back in line by his friends and co-workers. Sometimes heroes have unlikable personalities. He didn’t resonate with me, but I really like Robert Downey, I loved the way he portrayed the character, and Tony’s passing marked the end of an era.

I loved Steve’s character arc too. I did see some grumbling from the more hysterical members of Tumblr, about how Steve choosing to live out his life with Peggy was a selfish gesture, but those people can shut the fuck up, because they very obviously do not care about Steve’s emotional well being. If anyone deserved to live out his selfish fantasy, it was Steve Rogers. I loved the end scene with him getting that dance from Peggy, and I hope they danced a lot, and had lots of fat babies.

Of all the characters, I would say that Nebula is definitely one of my favorites, because she has such a satisfying character arc. I love how her character came full circle from wanting to kill her sister, to protecting Gamora’s life by killing her alternate self.

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Also, I just like her personality, and her interactions with Tony. Of All the Guardians, she seems the one I’d most likely end up being friends with because she seems most like me in real life, which is literal minded, and very strong and  serious looking, but with a heart like a marshmallow. I love how Guardians of the Galaxy laid the groundwork for her being able to convince the Gamora of the past to help her defeat Thanos. Without that groundwork, without Gamora’s loss, she would never have been in that position, and I’m glad the Russos chose to honor what James Gunn did with her character.

I was also very touched by Rocket’s growth as a character too, for which Gunn is also responsible for laying the groundwork. Rocket is still an asshole, but he’s like Nebula and Tony, an asshole with a heart. Its interesting to watch him move to a point in his character where he offers solace to others  (Nebula) and, tough love styles of advice, (Thor).

My other favorite was Hulk. He managed somehow to fuse the two halves of his personality into a whole, and I liked that. He did come across as somebody’s corny dad, and I really enjoyed how happy he seemed to be with his life. The complete opposite of Thor, and Hawkeye. People seem to forget that Hulk was the one to bring everyone back with his own Snap, and spent the rest of the movie injured because of that, (because he was the only one left alive who could survive using  the Gauntlet).

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Favorite Moments:

I had loads of favorite moments.

  • The opening scene where Hawkeye loses his entire family. Its just very emotionally moving to watch it from the point of view of someone who has no fucking clue what just happened.
  • After five years, most cities are overgrown with vegetation. It reminded me of the documentary Life After People. Check it out if you haven’t seen it.
  • Tony and Nebula playing paper football. Nebula wins, but since she can’t smile, we can’t tell if she’s actually happy.
  • Rocket and Nebula bonding over their shared loss.
  • Steve Rogers kicking his own ass. In the five years since he worked for Shield he developed a lot more skills and we have finally answered the question, at least in the MCU, who would win in a fight between Steve and Mr. I Can Do This All Day.
  • Tony meets and makes peace with his father.
  • Bruce looking embarrassed about his behavior during the first Avengers movie, and trying to fake being angry.
  • The Hulk having to use the stairs because none of the others would let him get on the elevator. There  were a helluva lot of stairs, so I’d be angry about that too.
  • The final boss fight was every comic book splash page ever created. Its why so many of us loved these movies. We’ve been reading about these events and characters our whole lives, and to see this, larger than life, on a movie screen, well…words cannot express.
  • When the wizards showed up at the final battle, I think I openly cheered.
  • The Guardians of the Galaxy and The Ravagers all show up to kick Thanos’ ass. It took me a minute to place where all those spaceships came from. They didn’t all come from Wakanda.
  • The moment in the movie that made the whole audience cheer is when Captain America picked up Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, and the two of them trade weapons back and forth, throughout the fight, until Thor decides that Steve gets the little weapon.
  • The audience’s second favorite moment is when Steve utters the famous words: Avengers Assemble! which is not something he got to do in any of the other movies.
  • Sam Wilson’s quietly stated, “On your left.” into Steve’s ear! This just made me grin so hard, since I really love Captain America Winter Soldier.
  • The arrival of Black Panther/ the arrival of everybody really.
  • Tony hugging Peter, and Peter being perfectly okay with it and saying,  “This is kinda nice.”
  • Pepper Potts has her own Iron Man suit.
  • Carol Danvers and Scarlet Witch   get to put their shit down, and go toe to toe with Thanos.
  • That look on Tony’s face when Doctor Strange gestures at him. Tony knows what he has to do. He knows the gauntlet will kill him, but picks it up anyway.
  • We get an A Force moment of all the women Avengers, (although I’m gonna be seriously pissed if we never get an A Force movie, since they have been treating a lot of the women of the MCU like afterthoughts, including Black Widow). Let me go on the record as stating I want an A Force movie!
  • Basically, the entire battle scene was awesome!
  • Pepper telling Tony that he could rest, just brought all the feels.
  • The disintegration of Thanos and his army!
  • Sam Wilson gets the Captain America shield. Y’all know I’m a Sam Wilson stan so yeah, I totally geeked out at that moment.
  • Thor and Peter Quill arguing over who gets to be in charge of the Guardians.

So yeah, while I thoroughly enjoyed myself, if you’re not a fan of the MCU, or superhero movies in particular, your mileage may vary.

I know a lot of people wanted to see other things happen in the movie, but at three hours and with so many characters, some of them had little room to do anything more than stand still, for a second, and pose for the camera. The movie simply couldn’t cover everyone, and didn’t. But what it did do, for the characters and the emotions, was exactly what it should have done. The trailers promised a certain type of movie, and that’s exactly what  was given.

Favorite Character:

I have a lot of favorite characters, across the entirety of the MCU, but my top three are Spiderman, Drax (of all beings!), and oddly enough, Captain America.

I’ve always been a Spiderman fan, since I was a kid, watching the TV show during the 70s. I like Drax because he’s simply ridiculous. There’s just something about his character that just speaks to my inner silliness, and I always enjoy seeing him on screen. I was surprised Captain America made any part of the top ten because I had no interest in the comic book character, but Chris Evans just tore it up!, and there’s a part of me that just loves the noble warrior hero.

 

Favorite Movie:

Its really hard to pick a favorite, so I have once again, a top ten of favorites. I have no choice but to rank them, and the ranking could change based entirely on my mood. Of all the MCU films, the movie that remains consistently at  number one would be Spiderman Homecoming. I know everyone thinks I’d choose Black Panther, which is definitely in my top ten, but that’s somewhere around number five, because the number two movie on my list is Captain America Winter Soldier. and another surprise movie is Doctor Strange, coming in at third place. I was not at all prepared to like Doctor Strange. In fact, I was prepared to hate it, but I’ve found that I love the MCU magic users.

I’m very much looking forward to the next ten years. We’ve got more sequels coming up, and some new characters like The Eternals, who I know nothing about, so that will be brand new for me, and Shang Chi, because I love martial arts movies.

So until the next phase,

Make Mine Marvel!

 

 

Movies Normalize the Harming of Black Bodies

Questioning Authorial Intent

I think it’s time we started discussing a writer’s intention in creating marginalized characters. It doesn’t particularly matter to me whether its done consciously or unconsciously, but we need to speak about how writers treat their characters of color, LGBTQ characters, and female characters.

The TV and movie industries have always been controlled primarily by white male writers. They write  women characters  according to what they think women are actually like, or wish they were and we have to be willing to admit that there are more than a few writers out there who fantasize about how they would like to treat women, and realize their fantasies through the characters they create. It’s also an industry made up of a lot of straight men, who have always been prone to homophobia, and who have  written gay characters the way they see them, or wanted them to be seen. And yes, in some cases they fantasize about these characters being  punished for being who they are. (This is something that has been well documented about women, and  Gay characters in movies. See: “The Celluloid Closet”, and documentaries on female characters in slasher films.)

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We have all become aware  of the unnecessary rape scenes of female characters, and the Kill Your Gays Trope, where the writers punish and kill women  for being  sexually forward, and the gay characters who lead tragic lives, only to die horribly. The same dynamic  seems to be at work for Black characters too, and the reason why may be the unconscious, (or hell, sometimes very conscious), racial resentment of White writers, who feel forced to include these characters in their work.

I’m not advocating that no Black characters ever be punished or killed, but I am questioning the intentions of the writers who do this, and I wonder if, like the OP above, if it’s resentment at having to include characters of color. More and more often, White writers are being called on to be inclusive beyond white, straight, able bodied, men, and some of them might feel some type of way about that.

Hollywood and TV have a long history of depicting White men bullying, torturing, and gunning down “the other”.  Is it any wonder that it is primarily White men who are the main perpetrators of mass acts of violence against women, (The Ecole Polytechnique Massacre) , gay and transgender, (The Pulse Nightclub Shooting), Blacks, (Charleston Church Shooting), Jews (The Synagogue Shooting), Muslims, (Christchurch),  and others too numerous to mention. (This is not including regular acts of police brutality against people of color, and hate crimes against immigrants, and Jewish people.)

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What is new in Pop culture is an influx of Black characters being written by white writers, who think they’re being inclusive, but  who have not done their due diligence on racial issues, or Black culture. Sometimes, I’m seeing characters of color get bullied, tortured, punished, or killed in the narrative by White characters, some of whom are meant to be heroes, and I’m starting to believe that White characters  are stand ins for the writer’s own racial resentment. These characters get to do the kinds of things to Black characters that the writers, whether consciously or not, would like to do themselves, which is sometimes telling off, or hurting, or punishing “The Other”.

I have written before about how Black characters have been traditionally created in the white imagination, often associated with crime, murder, and sexual brutality, (That’s about how racial ideas in the real world get reflected in pop culture). I’m now talking about a different iteration of this theme, and I’m going to use the MCU  as an example, because this is where I first noticed it.

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The series The Defenders, is an amalgamation of the other Netflix series in the MCU,  Luke Cage, Daredevil, Iron Fist, and Jessica Jones, (all of which have since been canceled). In the one season of The Defenders, there are approximately two Black men, one of whom is a villain. There’s a scene where he is being tortured by Daredevil and Iron Fist, while the other team members stand around and debate this tactic. What you have is a team of superheroes torturing a Black man for information, and this is being shown as okay, even though real world specialists on this issue, have clearly stated that torture does not work as a tactic for getting information.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/we-rsquo-ve-known-for-400-years-that-torture-doesn-rsquo-t-work/

The prevalence of torture, committed by ostensibly good guys, in movies and TV shows, also accounts for the dramatic rise in  the public’s belief in torture as a real world tactic that  Americans should use in the fight against anyone who is considered “a bad guy”. Since Black men are stereotypically  associated with crime…well, you see where this is going.

 

And this isn’t limited to The Defenders, because Jessica Jones contains the scene of the unceremonious killing of the only  Black woman in the show, and Jessica’s disregard for the life of the only other Black character on the show has been duly  noted.  The Punisher, Iron Fist, and Daredevil are all known for showing their White protagonists beating up, torturing,  and killing whole squads of men of color. I mentioned, in a previous post, how Iron Fist had a nasty problem with beating up young Black men, without asking questions first. Even Spiderman tries to get in on the action by trying to intimidate a Black man he needs information from. (That he fails to intimidate him isn’t the point. The point is that he tried it, and that that was his first, go-to, move.) For the record, none of these supposedly heroic characters limit themselves to torturing only Black men. All men of color are fair game, as evidenced by the sheer number of Asian bodies Daredevil mows down, in any season.

Image result for captain America Winter Soldier gifs/sitwell

Many of the MCU movies have such moments. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, you have another man of color being tortured for information by Captain America,  Black Widow, and Falcon. In Captain America Civil War you have a scene where Rhodey, Tony’s Black sidekick is injured by Vision, but Tony punishes Falcon,  for an incident that he was not responsible for. In Iron Man 3, Tony threatens the man he thinks is the Mandarin, by brandishing a gun at him to get information. To be absolutely honest, heroic characters of any race often get in on the torture of villains in the MCU. In the movie Black Panther, a movie written by a Black man, there are scenes of T’Challa beating up a villain  for information.

Primarily, this is about the use of torture by any “superhero “, towards men of color. These characters are all still  written by white men, and all these supposedly “good people”  end up harming or torturing men of color. (To be absolutely fair “good guys’ torturing “bad guys” is a problem across most, if not all, superhero comic books, but in the movies, these bad guys have a tendency to be men of color.)

https://www.complex.com/pop-culture/2018/04/racist-moments-in-comic-book-history/

We know racism is real. That is not a matter for debate. We also know that people, in the fandoms surrounding these movies, regularly engage in racist thoughts and actions regarding characters of color, and show a great deal of resentment and hatred for them. What I am questioning here is the idea that, somehow, writers of  Fantasy  TV and movies are somehow exempt from racial resentment because …well, they’re creators, I guess.

And just because the hero committing the torture is Black, that does not make the situation exempt from this criticism, as these are Black characters as interpreted through the lens of  White writers. White writers create these characters, making them say and do whatever they want, including voice their own racial resentments, as what happened with Nick Spencer’s  version of Falcon as Captain America. Nick Spencer wrote a parody version of SJWs, and later Sam Wilson, who had been written as a voice of reason, apologized to Steve Rogers for ever having been like them. A Black man apologizes to a White man for ever having been a passionate activist!

https://www.dailydot.com/parsec/captain-america-sam-wilson-nick-spencer-controversy/

Over and over again, White audiences (which this sort entertainment is primarily written for) are subjected to the concept that its okay for good (ie. White) men to beat up on, and/or torture, Black men.  Vigilantism. Is it any wonder that there’s is so little  empathy for Black characters in movies and TV, (The Racial Empathy Gap), or that White people are quick to make excuses for White men’s violent aggression against Black men.

The most recent case of real life vigilantism was when Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman, and it was Trayvon who was painted as a villain who deserved to be shot by the innocent Zimmerman, who was just trying to protect his neighborhood. This is how such vigilantism plays out in the real world. How is what happened to Trayvon different from a scene in Iron Fist or Daredevil, which are shows about fine upstanding White men, who just want to protect their neighborhoods.

White America has always told such stories, which often resulted in the beatings and lynchings of Black Americans, when White men take it upon themselves to protect against Black criminality. Two of the overwhelming messages in Pop culture, (books, movies, and TV shows), for decades, is that vigilantism is a perfectly acceptable response to criminality, and that Black men are  the criminals, who deserve whatever violence is meted out to them by White men.

There is a connection between the normalization of brutality against marginalized bodies onscreen, and White male brutality agaonst “the other” in the real world. One of these is a reflection of the other, but which of these, remains the question. And what is served by showing audiences image after image of White heroes willing to do their worst to marginalized others?

In Defense of After Earth (2013)

Only straight, White men have the luxury of being lazy about watching a movie. The rest of us always seem to have to be on guard, just in case whatever White guy who wrote the movie, fucks up and traumatizes us with surprise images he didn’t give any thought to showing. Sometimes, when watching films, we have to constantly be wary of either being freshly traumatized by something on the screen,  or desperately clinging to whatever tiny nuggets are in the film, that we can apply to our lived experiences, in order for us to like it.

Not that White male reviewers are all particularly lazy, but there’s a very shallow sort of film critique that a lot of them engage in, that’s only about whether the movie is objectively good or bad, or the technical details. (And ranking movies seems to be really popular with such people, too.) There’s nothing inherently wrong with those kinds of reviews, but often people from marginalized groups require reviews that are a little more in-depth.

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White men don’t get a lot of  practice of thinking about movies through different lenses, the way marginalized people often have to do. Many of them only have one lens, because most movies are made with them in mind as the audience, so they don’t NEED to look further into a movie, in order to like or dislike it. I’m not particularly interested in  a shallow review, or in ranking things from best to worst. If the word “suck” is mentioned anywhere in their critique, I  automatically dismiss anything else they might have to say about the movie. I want more from a critique than “It sucked!”

Yes. This is yet another essay on how White male film geeks review movies which star people of color!

After Earth (2013)

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I have a real issue with how badly this movie was treated by everyone. The critics made it very clear that this was an awful film. It was not. And when this movie was released, Black people were not in the social position we’re in right now, where we could see how groundbreaking this was, (it was released just before BLM), and we were not in a position to provide pushback to the narrative that this was the worst film ever made.

No!

What it was, was a  film that was attacked with the agenda of demonizing  M. Night Shyamalan and Scientology. Will  and Jaden Smith were simply caught in the crossfire. This movie, while not a masterpiece, was vilified entirely out of proportion to its effect on the landscape. At any other time, especially any time after 2014, it would have been recognized as a middle-of-the-road, Summer blockbuster.

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After Earth can be seen through both a thematic and racial lens, as  an example of Afrofuturism. Seeing this movie through a racial lens means that I need to put on my Black filmgoers glasses, and view the movie through the historical depictions of Black people in film, and whether or not the film has any messages in it that are about racial stereotyping, or agency, for example. This movie contains these things, not because it contains overt messages about race, but because it stars Black characters, and  our mere presence in the source material is enough to make whatever we say and do a political issue.

 

In After Earth, which stars Will Smith and his son Jaden, a father and son reconcile their feelings about each other, as the son comes of age, while set against the backdrop of planetary survival. A thousand years after Earth has been abandoned, their ship crashes, and  an alien predator the ship was carrying, called the Ursa, is set loose. Will and Jaden Smith are both Black men. The movie has no White characters in it. There are spaceships, alien/human cityscapes, and futuristic weaponry. This is as much Afrofuturism as Black Panther, and there is definitely some sort of dialogue occuring between the two films, though they were released several years apart, because they both involve sons dealing with the emotional legacies of  powerful fathers.

https://drmillerjr.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/after-earth-is-afrofuturism/

Traditionally, Black people have been erased from futuristic narratives, and Afrofuturism is an attempt to center us, and our cultures, and priorities, in those narratives. Will Smith, in particular, has a long history of starring in Science fiction films like Men in Black, Enemy of the State, and I Am Legend, movies that tackle the subjects of alien immigration, dystopian state surveillance, and the apocalypse, all features of what is, traditionally, White futurism.

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After Earth has much to say about the relationships between fathers and sons, how sons want to live up (or down) their father’s legacies, and how father’s must reach out and connect with their children. Cypher Raige is a man who is cut off from his emotions because that is what has helped him to survive. In our world, it would be said that he suffers from a toxic form of masculinity, but Cypher’s ability to cut himself off from his feelings has made him one of Earth’s greatest soldiers against an alien race  that uses human fear to hunt and kill human beings. Cypher has gotten rid of fear, but in the process he’s also gotten rid of some of the  more positive emotions. He is a controlling, authoritative, and grim father figure, without much humor or warmth.

This lack of fear has made him a great Ranger, but it has made him an indifferent father to his son, Kitai, (a name which means “Hope” or “Prince of the Air”). Kitai wants not just to be like his father, follow in his footsteps, and become a great soldier, but to emotionally connect with his father. He wants desperately to know his father loves and supports him, especially after he fails his last exam to become a Ranger. He believes his father thinks he’s a failure because its what he himself believes. He is also suffering from the trauma of the death of his sister, who sacrificed her life to protect him from one of the Ursas, his guilt at being unable to save her, and his father for not being there when it happened. These are the motivations behind many of the decisions Kitai makes after he and his father crash on a long abandoned Earth, and Cypher is too injured to walk.

This set up puts the two of them in a position where they are required to rely on each other, not just physically, but emotionally. Kitai’s character arc involves learning that he is as capable a soldier as his father, and does not need to carry all these emotional burdens,  and Cypher’s character arc means having to open up to his son emotionally, and expressing how he really feels, and that that will be the only way his son can save both their lives. And all of this is an allegory about the emotional connections between Black men,  living in a White supremacist society, that is intrinsically dangerous to them, and requires that they be  hypermasculine, and emotionally cut off in order to survive it.

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Cypher Raige Everything on this planet has evolved to kill humans. Do you know where we are?

Kitai Raige No, sir.

Cypher Raige This is Earth.

Viewing a movie through a racial lens requires that I provide some historical context to my opinions. I could discuss how the American version of the performance of toxic masculinity is based on a White supremacist dominance hierarchy, that requires violent domination and oppression of non-Whites, and that to survive this oppression, Black men have have felt the need to “out man” their oppressors. To essentially be more dominant, and more manly, than the White men who established this hierarchy to keep them in their place, and that their emotional disconnect with each other is not only what is ultimately desired by this dynamic, but leads to worse oppression, because attempting to compete with White men, to be more manly, dehumanizes them, and doesn’t allow them to unite against a system created just for that purpose.

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https://oliviaacole.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/black-children-and-after-earth/

This movie had messages, moments, and dialogue,  that greatly resonated with me. The scene in which Cypher believes he has lost his son, in the same manner in which he lost his daughter, (both of them trying to win their emotionally distant, father’s approval),  was deep for me, as I suspect it was for many of  the Black men who watched it, and  who considered  their relationships with their own fathers, or their sons.

I watched After Earth several times, and it’s one of my favorite movies, which is why I was interested in why so many critics hated this movie,

 

(https://news.usc.edu/144379/usc-study-finds-film-critics-like-filmmakers-are-largely-white-and-male/)

and while there are a few legitimate criticisms that can be made about this movie, most of the criticism I saw wasn’t any different than the criticism I could lob at films with White stars. There is nothing wrong with the acting in this movie that is wrong in any of the other movies Will Smith has made, nor is there anything wrong with Will Smith making a movie with his son as the star, as he did in The Pursuit of Happyness, nor is this movie Scientology propaganda, any more than the other movies in which Smith was the star. (Will and Jada Smith have clearly, and emphatically, stated that they are not Scientologists, only sympathizers.)

I believe a lot of non-professional critics didn’t approach criticism of this movie in good faith, and I believe more than a few of them used the flaws in this movie as an excuse to express their racial resentment about the fact that there were no White men centered in this movie. There are also plenty of White people who felt some type of discomfort at not being centered, or even depicted, in the movie at all, and unwilling to attribute their discomfort to their narcissism, attributed their discomfort to the film being bad. The message of the movie, the relationship between young men and their fathers, is a universal one, (and I’m certain that many White men understood and enjoyed it, but then they’re not film critics), and it is well documented that  White audiences have always had trouble identifying with Black characters on screen.

https://www.salon.com/2016/10/05/luke-cage-and-the-racial-empathy-gap-why-do-they-talk-about-being-black-all-the-time/

https://www.indiewire.com/2014/01/why-white-people-dont-like-black-movies-162548/

https://mic.com/articles/74291/why-white-people-won-t-see-black-movies#.J55x1mpgF

 

Will Smith is an especially beloved actor, so many critics would not attack him directly, but they can get away with tossing insults at Shyamalan, and questioning his motivations for making the movie. One of the major criticisms I encountered were White critics who said the movie was a thinly veiled attempt to recruit viewers to Scientology. Why? Because Will Smith and Shyamalan are Scientologists. This is suspicious to me since none of these critics have ever given one thought to Smith being a follower of Scientology in any of his other Scifi movies.

And sometimes people will express racial resentment towards individual people that they don’t feel they can express against an entire group of people. So rather than saying “All ____ are ______.” , what they will do is vehemently call out the mistakes of individuals from those groups, in order to disguise their loathing for the entire group. The individual becomes a stand-in for racial sentiments they are reluctant, for whatever reasons, to express out loud. (And since they only ever attack individuals of that group, they never have to admit whatever phobia or -ism there is, to themselves.)

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For example, witness some of the more  interesting criticism that White male film critics have said about Captain Marvel being military propaganda, when the same could be said of nearly every other movie in the MCU, at which none of them lobbed this complaint. And one can witnesses the same dynamic play out in the Jussie Smollett case, where people tried to hide their homophobia by expressing deeply vehement criticism of him, and his circumstances.

This type of criticism is dishonest, and disingenuous, and serves to protect the critic from backlash if they state their actual reasons for not liking some film, which is really ,  “I didn’t like this movie because there were no White men in it for me to identify with.” (This is not a hard and fast rule, all the time,  because plenty of White people liked Get Out, Black Panther, and other Afro-centered movies, but it is far too common, and there are too many, who  think they’re not being racist because they liked two or three highly popular movies that starred Black actors. It’s  basically, the critical equivalent of, “I have Black friends!”

I’m not the only person to notice this type of bullshittery either:

https://heraldiccriticism.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/when-criticism-becomes-agenda-setting-in-defense-of-after-earth/

 …but when you’re trashing a film based on its star’s belief system, you’ve ceased to criticize. You’re now spearheading an agenda.

Fred Harris touched on some of my suspicions, here:

Did a perception that this is somehow a “Black film” have anything to do with its poor opening? I know that this is a question that Hollywood producers (black and white) must be asking as they prepare for a summer of Black films.

https://newsone.com/2530136/after-earth-movie-review-racism/

And if you are wondering why I haven’t brought up “The Pursuit of Happyness” just yet, which was given 4 out of 5 stars by IMDB, it’s because Jaden was cute and fuzzy back then — and it was his debut. But the moment it seems that the Smiths are actually on to something, meaning leaving a life-long legacy for their children, now all bets are off.

Now we will call Jaden’s acting with his blockbuster dad an exercise in “vanity,” now we are disgusted with the apparent nepotism that this type of pairing suggests.

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This movie was nominated for a Razzie, and was panned by almost every White male critic with a pen and an ax to grind. All of them questioned whether or not Will Smith had lost his Star power, and what that would mean for his future films. Even Bright, a film I intensely hated, wasn’t panned as badly as this movie.

Outside of my usual critical ranting, I also want to shine a light on why my opinions on a lot of movies can sometimes diverge from that of critics, what criteria I  use, what lenses  through which I can,and will, see a movie,  and how I approach watching and critiquing movies and TV shows, vs how White film critics might view movies I happen to love, and how these two ways of seeing a movie are sometimes not compatible.

This is a mindset I have had no choice but to develop though, because, as a Black woman,  I am generally not the audience  that a lot of these movies of are made for. I have had to look beyond surface issues, like whether or not it was better than some other film in a franchise, to find reasons to like movies that White people love, and sometimes I’m successful, but sometimes, I also get tired of making the effort to care, and skip the movie altogether, as I did with Ready Player One, and Back to the Future.

White men have never had to look deeper than the technical aspects of cinematography, plot, pacing, or whether or not the hero of the movie looked like them, and what that might mean if he did. For them, the movies they love don’t even need to have any meaning. When you hear them complaining about entertainment being political this is what mean. For such men, movies and TV really are not political, because they don’t need to have any deeper meaning to enjoy a movie. They can just be flatly judgmental about whether or not a movie is just “good” or “bad”, because traditionally, the movies, which are aimed at them as the audience, are supposedly universal, and  appealing  to everyone. Too many critics never go beyond the mindset of ,”I liked this movie, so naturally, everyone else must like it, and here’s why it’s so great.” I can  critique a movie from that angle but its shallow, and  “unsatisfying” for me.

It has always been my rule since I was a teenager, really, to only rely on myself to determine whether or not a movie is any good, but after examining this for some time,  I have come to the conclusion that I most definitely cannot rely on  the opinions of White men to determine if a movie is bad or good for me, or indeed, anyone, other than themselves.

I have always tried to be honest about why I did or didn’t like something. Even if I don’t know why  I feel the way I do, I’m willing to say that too, and state that, where I found nothing in the movie to intrigue me, the movie may be of interest to someone else. I will flat out state, I’m not interested in a movie because it lacks racial nuance, or because its not feminist enough, the way I did for Wonder Woman.

This is not a mindset I’ve seen, from some critics, that a movie simply might not be made for them. One of the key warning signs that you are with a bad critic, is their insistence that a movie is objectively bad or good, and that if you disagree with them, then something is wrong with you. I’ve seen far too many critics assert that, because they liked a movie, it was good, and that a movie was bad, because they didn’t like it, and then, on top of that, say that that they gave an objective review. I have hated plenty of movies that are, in fact, very good and cohesive films. But I’ve also loved plenty of movies that just aren’t great movies. Just like After Earth.

No! There’s nothing wrong with you. You are simply looking at the film through a different lens, and using different criteria than them. and you must be confident that YOU know what you like in a film.

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Side note: I do not believe in “guilty pleasures”. I am never ashamed of loving or liking  a movie, or television show. I have my reasons for why I like something, I have actually thought it through, and I’m secure enough in my tastes that I know what my reasons are, even if the only reason is that it makes me feel happy, or that it looks pretty! I may occasionally be ashamed that I didn’t catch something seriously wrong with a movie, in my zeal to praise it, but I  am generally not ashamed when I like something, or to admit that I do, nor will I feel guilty about it.

And you shouldn’t either.

As a corollary to that general rule, I refuse to shame people for their own tastes, even if I find those tastes “puzzling”… If you can explain to me in a coherent manner why you love something (even if your only explanation is it makes you happy, or its just pretty), I can get with that. Your feelings about a movie are entirely valid, and you will never hear me describe anything on this blog as a “guilty” pleasure, and I would prefer that you don’t either.

Own your feelings!

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https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/after-earth-2013

https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/in-defense-of-after-earth-the-m-night-shyamalan-movie-we-misunderstood

*Coming Soon: Why We Loved Suicide Squad and Venom, and Why They Didnt’

In Defense of The Village

 

 

For the me, there’s more than a movie just being good or bad, whatever that means, because,  as a Black woman, I am not the audience for a lot of movies that get made, so I have to find different ways of connecting to a movie. In doing so, I  sometimes  find gems where others don’t, or end up liking  movies others are set on hating (and yeah, sometimes a movie just stinks.) On this blog, I’m not necessarily here to tell you what to like. That’s a reviewers job, and I’m not actually a reviewer, although I do reviews. I consider my job to provide a fresh perspective on a movie, a way you may not have thought of before, so that the next time you come across it on TV or Netflix, you’ll remember ,and give the movie a try, maybe see it with fresh eyes.

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I’m going to talk about two films that were hated by its critics, M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, and (in the next post) Shyamalan’s After Earth. I see value in these films that other critics don’t because they are not looking at these films through the same lens that I’m using. (Caveat: Some of them don’t have the luxury. They are film reviewers and must go see movies I can happily reject. I can pick what I want to see, so I can remain positive about a lot of movies, in a way they may not be able to.

These movies resonated with me on an emotional level, and because of that, I am reluctant to say that they are “objectively” bad or good, which is a favorite word for armchair movie reviewers on Youtube. I’m not saying movies can’t be considered bad or good, but often that those words are sometimes wrongly used to describe movies that just did or didn’t emotionally resonate with the viewer, or did or didn’t do whatever the viewer wanted the movies to do. This doesn’t always mean the movie was bad. Sometimes it just means the viewer wasn’t the audience for that movie, or just didn’t get what they wanted out of it because of the critical lens through which they watched it. I have sometimes found that a movie isn’t actually  bad, but that the reviewer had very different criteria for liking it, or viewed it through a very different lens than I did.

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For that reason, I generally avoid hate- watching movies and shows. I want to like what I see, and if I dislike something, I try to have a concrete reason behind why I didn’t. But sometimes I don’t have a reason. Sometimes, I simply wasn’t in the mood to watch it at that time, and when I come back wearing a different emotional, or critical lenses, I may enjoy it, as was the case with  the movies Ravenous,  The Descent, and My Cousin Vinny.

Sometimes, I will develop an undying hatred of a movie, such that no amount of lens polishing will allow me to enjoy it, like the movie Prometheus. This doesn’t mean that Prometheus was a bad film. It just means it was exasperating for me to watch it, and someone else might get enjoyment out of it. If you like it that’s great. If you can clearly explain to me why you do, I’ll watch it again, with your lenses on, and try to see what you saw in it. On the other hand, and as I’ve said before, just because critics hate something doesn’t mean I’m not going to like it, such was the case with Suicide Squad, and just about any movie by Zack Snyder.

I have also seen  situations where public opinion on a movie changes over a length of time. Movies that were panned when released were, in time, lauded as being the best whatever of their genre, and I have found that I’m usually correct in having loved the film at that time. As a result, I’ve gotten pretty confident about my taste in movies, (and dismissive of critics ideas about movies I happened to enjoy), because I usually get proven right, at some later date. This happened with a number of eighties films, (The Thing, and  Bladerunner, for example), that were disliked at the time, only to be considered Classics of the genre, twenty and thirty years later. (No, I didn’t hate E. T. I was indifferent to it, at the time, and still mostly am.)

 

The Village

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I love stories and characters, and movies are just another way to tell stories. I  get into a movie through its characters. I have to like them. I’m also attracted to certain types of stories, but it’s not the minutiae of the story, like pacing and technical aspects, so much as what type of story, and if it’s an appealing story to me. I tend to love GRAND ROMANTIC stories. Not stories with romance in them , but stories with huge, grand, idealized philosophies, and if I see that in the story, chances are I will probably love the movie.

And this was the case with The Village. Yes, it does have a romance in it, but it also contained wider, broader themes about the human condition, that just appealed to me personally, (because ultimately, any movie experience is deeply personal). When this movie was released, it was panned by everyone, with some people jumping on that bandwagon because they hated the director, who started his career as a media darling, but public opinion  turned on him, after a series of failed films.

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When I’m watching a movie, I’m mostly concentrating on how the movie made me FEEL. When I’m reviewing a movie, I ask myself different questions that help me evaluate what the movie means to me, what did I like in the movie, what was it about the movie that resonated with me, and why did I feel that way. From the micro, to the macro.

What is the point of the story? What is the theme of the movie?

Things can get complicated, just at this one point. According to the trailers for The Village, most of the people walking into the film expected it to be a horror movie, and they focused on the idea of monsters because that’s what the trailer told them to focus on. But the movie was not about scary monsters, and a lot of the audience walked away disappointed. Rather than accepting what was given to them, they focused on what they were not given: monsters. I wanted monsters too, because that’s what I was told would be in the movie, but finding out there was no monster was a pleasant surprise for me.

The Village is not a horror movie, in the strictest sense of the word, and apparently,  I was one of the few people who were okay with that at the time. I didn’t leave the theater upset because  I didn’t get to see monsters. Would I have liked the monsters in the movie to be real? Sure. But The Village turned out to be deeper than I expected. It had a grand, overarching, theme that resonated with me. It’s a meditation on unrequited love, grief, and loss, and I was pleased that I got that instead. If one disregards the trailer, than the movie accomplishes exactly what it set out to accomplish.

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I  try to walk into a movie viewing experience with only loose expectations, like, “What type of story is it?” and “Will this be entertaining?” Based on what I think the movie may be about, I try to go in open to anything that may happen in it, without trying to place my agenda (what I want the story to do for me) onto the movie. But I do want to feel something, while I try to keep in the forefront of my mind, what is the creator trying to tell me, what do they want me to know, and what purpose might that serve.

What I  expect, on the most basic level, is to be emotionally moved by the characters, and entertained by the plot. I’m going to go wherever the movie wants to take me, and accept whatever scenery I’m given. I don’t worry about plot holes, or pacing, or musical cues, and stuff, (although, if I notice them and like them, that’s a huge plus, like with the movie Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse). Was the movie entertaining? Did I stay engaged the entire time? Was there a point to the story? Later, I can ask myself deeper questions like why was it entertaining for me, or what was it about the movie that made it fun for me, or scary, or funny.

What you should always ask yourself is: What did the story do for you?

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The story in a movie is like being on a driving tour. That tour has a theme,  sometimes several. The driver is the storyteller, and he/she directs the action, decides where we’re going to go, and what we’ll be seeing on the tour. The characters onscreen are the other passengers on the tour, or just some people on the scene.  I like the other passengers, and  I enjoy watching them do things I didn’t expect, and see things I wouldn’t have found on my own. Sometimes the other passengers are terrifying, but it’s okay because they can’t actually hurt me.

If I think it’s a Horror movie, (if the driver has told me I’m going to be scared on my trip), I expect the journey to scare me. If I wasn’t scared, then the driver lied to me, but if I was given more than  just a scare, I consider that a bonus. That was the case with The Village. I was told (although I was not told that by M. Night Shyamalan/The Driver, himself, but a third uninvolved party, the people who made the trailer and marketed the movie), that I would be scared, and I was a little bit, but at the same time, the journey was worthwhile because of the movie’s other elements. I got something deeper, and much more unexpected, than just a scare. As I said before, I like Horror movies to have something extra, whether its romance, or comedy, or intellectual depth.

If I have been lead to believe it’s an Action movie, then I expect to see thrills, and spills. If a movie delivers on its basic foundation, but adds something extra, I can and will overlook all manner of faults, like plot points, pacing,  bad characters,  timing, or even whether or not it delivered on what I expected.This was the case with Suicide Squad, a movie critics absolutely hated, but I (and a bunch of other people) really enjoyed. Why? Because I genuinely liked the characters, who did exciting and interesting things on screen. I enjoyed their interactions with each other, and I liked a lot of the action scenes, which were just plain fun. There are a lot of perfectly legitimate criticisms of this movie, but the reason I love it is because it was a really fun trip, and other people’s problems with the movie were not enough to keep me from enjoying it.

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What is the theme of the film? What is its message?

Understanding the message of a film often requires multiple viewings. There’s the initial impression, and based on whether or not I liked my initial impression, there will be multiple viewings, which will allow for greater insight. My mind is just really, really, good at recognizing patterns. That’s all it is, and anybody can develop that skill. I do it through lots of repetition.You cannot gain greater insight into a movie with only one viewing, because the insights  are often in the details you didn’t notice that first time. If there is something  I didn’t care for in my initial impression (like all the characters being unlikable), there are unlikely to be repeat viewings.

This also ties into how my mind works as a visual artist/illustrator.  When I first watch a movie, its from a kind of  overhead viewpoint. I get into the emotions of the movie, the characters, and the overall plot. Subsequent viewings allow me to focus on the finer details. Later, I will fit those tiny details into larger and larger patterns. It’s really like putting together a puzzle. You see the finished picture on the box,  and you like it. You sort the pieces and then  put them together to create that final picture, (sometimes that final picture may be part of an even larger picture, as well.)

The messages I got from The Village were about love, sacrifice, and grief. It’s  a story about LOVE, with parallel tracks chronicling different types of love, such as romantic,unrequited, sacrificial, and possessive.. There’s the romantic type of love between Lucius and Ivy, the tragic love between their parents, Walker and Alice, and the possessive love that Noah feels for Ivy.  Ivy and Walker are examples of sacrificial love, as they are both willing to sacrifice their peace to save Lucius’ life. Ivy endangers her life for Lucius, and Walker is willing to allow Ivy to leave (and possibly lose her) because he loves Alice, Lucius’ mother.

At the beginning of the movie, Ivy’s sister declares her love for Lucius, but is rebuffed because Lucius prefers Ivy. There is a contrast in how Ivy’s sister reacts to unrequited love, which is sacrifice and moving on vs. Noah’s reaction, which is possessive violence. And then there is the unspoken love between Ivy’s father, and Alice. This is unrealized love. The two are in love, and according to the rules of the society they created, can never  be together.

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There is familial love between Ivy and Walker, and  Lucius and Alice. This type of love is emphasized through the character’s reactions to loss and grief. There are also  all the missing family members that the other characters mention, the loss of family that spurred them to run away from the world, to form a “utopian” society where they believed grief could not touch them. The movie opens with a funeral, and the death of a child. Grief can still access their lives. The pain is still going to happen, for example, witness how many times we see  shots of empty chairs throughout the movie.

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An empty chair in a movie scene is often meant to represent a space where someone should be. In this movie, the empty chairs, usually situated on porches, (or at dinner tables), which are, traditionally the site of familial gatherings, are meant to represent  the absence of loved ones. The entire movie carries a mood of unspoken grief and melancholy, which is only alleviated by its hopeful ending. The Elders of the community fled to The Village because each one of them has experienced the tragic loss of a family member, and  the point of the movie is that they cannot run away from loss or pain. The scattered, empty chairs are a constant reminder of their loss.

Critics and audiences completely turned against Shyamalan and started denigrating all of his films for not being as good as his first film, The Sixth Sense. They went into his next movies expecting all of them to have  surprise twists, and they do have surprise twists, just not the kinds of twists that were expected. (To be absolutely fair, Shyamalan definitely made some questionable film choices, though.) In the case of The Village, audiences were expecting a Horror movie, but since the monsters turned out to be false, some people decided that the movie was no good, because the trailer fooled them into thinking the monsters should’ve been real.

Many of these people failed to realize that the surface levels of Shyamalan’s movies are often not the point of the film, anyway. What appears to be the primary plot is often simply a backdrop for the telling of a different story altogether. The point of this movie isn’t the monsters. The  basic plot is just a backdrop for the examination of love and grief, just as the point of the movie Signs, isn’t the alien invasion. The alien invasion is simply a backdrop against which is being told the story of Reverend Graham regaining his faith in God. The story of Unbreakable isn’t about superheroes, but  about the disbelief in the modern mythology of superheroes, and one man overcoming that disbelief to take a leap of faith, and believe in himself.

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Now, I also must discuss here, the disturbing racial angle of some people’s criticism. Shyamalan is one of the few men of color directing big budget Hollywood movies. True, they are not always successful movies,  but audiences and critics did not seem willing to give his movies any chances after The Sixth Sense. They kept wanting him to repeat that first film, and some of them seemed to look no deeper into the motivations behind his stories beyond “the twist”. The Twist seemed to be all they wanted from him, and when he stepped away from that, to make other types of films, they vilified him for it.

I bring this up because I see the same thing happening in real time to Jordan Peele, especially after his comments in which he voiced the idea, that being a filmmaker gave him a platform, by which he could showcase actors of color, as leads. Its as if having been successful twice, there are people waiting in the wings for him to make a mistake, any mistake, which they can use to vilify his character, and bring him down. When men and women of color are highly successful, there is a contingent of White people who wait for them to make even the most minor of miscues, so that they can attempt to humble them. I witnessed this with Barack Obama, Beyonce, and I’m seeing it now with Ocasio – Cortez, and Jordan Peele. And I believe this is what happened with Shyamalan.

White film directors are given numerous opportunities to make bad films, some of them, have entire careers that consist of little more than mediocre flops, and yet the filmmakers have never received the sheer levels of vitriol that was leveled at Shyamalan by film critics. Some of them still manage to have great careers, or be considered critical darlings. Yes, he still manages to have a career, (so somebody is going to see Shyamalan’s movies), but critics insist on tearing apart all of his films, on the most minor details, no matter their quality, while sometimes excusing  just as shoddy work from some White filmmakers. And as I said before, some people use the failures and mistakes of PoC as an excuse to openly express the racism they’ve been taught not to express against an entire group of people.

 

Breaking News

I am officially no longer reviewing or watching The Walking Dead.

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I’ve been standing up for this show through all eight seasons, through all the shows racial problems, and through all the death, but I simply can’t take this show anymore. Don’t get me wrong. The show is still compelling. It’s still addictive. But I gotta find something else to watch.

I’m a very emotional viewer. When I watch a show, I really get involved with the characters, and plots, and settings. Yes, I’m one of those people who yell at the screen. I look for attachments to certain characters, (I still love Michonne and Carol, btw), and checking in, to see what some character is doing, is a large part of what keeps me watching a show. But I think last week broke me. I think perhaps this was simply not the kind of show I should ever have been watching in the first place. I got presented with characters adventures, and I wondered about their futures, and I cared about them, and too many times, I’ve had those imagined futures cut short because a character got brutally killed.

I’ve never re-watched a single episode of this series.

NOT IN NINE SEASONS!

That says something.

When I don’t want to revisit a show I’ve been watching, for eight years, that means something . I’ve re-watched episodes of X-Files, Star Trek, Farscape, Firefly, and Supernatural numerous times. I love to go back and revisit favorite episodes, as if they were the first time I’ve seen them. They’re fun, and I like visiting with the characters, and remembering why I liked them the first time.

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I don’t do that with this show. There’s no point in remembering the fun times with a character knowing that their future is a brutal and pointless death.

I managed to get through so many deaths on this show. I realize that’s almost the point of the show, but when you’re going through personal shit, and political shit (as a Black woman both can take its toll on you) when you watch a TV show, that can sometimes be a respite from your anxiety producing life.

The Walking Dead ain’t it.

Last week the show killed off so many characters, it was just emotionally devastating, in a way that the singular deaths weren’t. And it really did feel like something that was done for the spectacle. The show keeps increasing the number of deaths per season, sometimes pointlessly. The characters, all of them, their deaths were utterly meaningless, their deaths fixed nothing. The people who did it, did it on a whim, for some nebulous purpose I barely understand, because I don’t exactly know what The Whisperers philosophy is.

But Negan is still alive though….

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This is a world that produces more than enough stress in my everyday life. I don’t need that type of stress from a TV show, too. I’ve found myself gravitating to more innocuous, lighthearted, less anxiety producing shows, comedy stand ups, and reality cooking documentaries. I’m just not emotionally equipped right now to be watching shows that are going to hammer my emotions every week. I gotta stop watching it just for my emotional health.

I knows some you been quit this show, and you had your reasons. I supported all of your reasons for that, because when a person quits a show, it’s personal to them.

I think, just like for a lot of other people, it’s  time for me to leave the show alone.

The Meanings of Us (2019)

Spoilers Spoilers Spoilers Spoilers

 

If you have not seen this movie, know that this review will contain plenty of spoilers.

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I went to see this and guess what? I got thinky thoughts!

 

The Personal

This movie was a very emotional experience for me. I really got into the characters and situations presented here, and I’m baffled that some people were baffled by this movie, but then I’ve had many years of practice trying to understand the plots of weird horror  movies. Most of the puzzlement I’ve read comes from people who don’t regularly watch horror movies. If you’re not a fan of horror movies, and don’t watch them all the time, its best to go in thinking of this film as if it were a dream. There’s a lot of what we call “Dream Logic”. and some of the imagery will fly right over the heads of people who have never thought about movies this way.

This movie has been really polarizing, with people loving it or hating it, and that’s understandable. Peele made the decision to add a lot of depth to Us. Its a movie that addresses many issues, and is meant to be heavily analyzed, but how you look at it says a lot about what you feel, and what your priorities are. Peele  also doesn’t tell you how to feel about the movie, or its characters, and some people hated that. The end of the movie was unsettling for a lot of people. My Mom didn’t care for the movie, saying it ended badly, but she is one of those people who likes her horror to be very clear and straightforward. She likes a clear case of who the heroes and villains are in a movie, and she disliked having rooted for the protagonist for the entire movie, only to have that turned on its head at the end.

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On the other hand, I’m okay with ambiguity. I’m uncomfortable with having rooted for what I thought was the hero of the movie, but I’m going to sit with that feeling,  process it, and figure out what I think about it. There were a lot of moments in the movie that had an unexpected affect on me. One of the most horrific moments in the movie is when the Tethered child died in flames, echoing Red’s statement that he had been born in flames. (But I have some serious  fire fear, so…). The movie felt unfinished, because usually at the end of horror movies, the evil has been vanquished, and the status quo, which had been disrupted by the monster, has been restored. This movie doesn’t really have a monster, or a villain or even a hero. Things do not go back to the way the movie began.

https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2019/03/lupita-nyongo-in-jordan-peeles-us-terrifying/585649/

Because of the ending, the movie felt melancholy and tragic, reminding me heavily of  Annihilation, a movie that produced much the same feeling.. But Us also had moments of real humor, where we (the audience) just laughed out loud. I’ve often asserted that laughter lies on one  side of a coin, with terror on the other. Peele himself has said he likes to take innocent, innocuous things, and imbue them with dread and horror, and he succeeded. I expect that I will never hear the song, “I Got Five On It”, or “Fuck the Police”, ever again, without thinking of this movie, and I’ll never look at rabbits the way I used to.

I described this movie as a cross between CHUD, a movie about Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers coming up from below, Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, as it deals with cloning, and identity, and Halloween, because of the red jumpsuits  and sharp pointy weapons, which remind me of Michael Myers. Well, lets just say, I have a different set of references to this movie.

 

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Here’s an interesting video from Latasha about the significance of some of the symbols, colors, and moments, in the movie. There are far too many to catch all of them after just one viewing.  She discusses the movie in great detail, though, especially the idea of trauma and mirroring: 

 

 

 

 

The Movie

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The movie opens in the 80s, with little  Adelaide watching an ad for the 1986 charity event, Hands Across America, which I’m old enough to remember. This is a key component of the film. In fact, everything you need to know is laid out at the beginning of the movie, just without any context, so you don’t put the whole puzzle together until somewhere in the middle of the film. Adelaide attends a carnival on the beach with her family. She wanders away from her bickering parents, into a mirrored funhouse, that has the proclamation : Find Yourself Inside, which she unexpectedly does, to her detriment. One of the most interesting clues is that Adelaide  whistles Itsy Bitsy Spider on key, but her double can’t. I think the Itsy Bitsy Spider is a reference to Adelaide’s double, who has climbed up from below, to capture her.

Adelaide gets kidnapped by her double, another key component of this movie, and the motivation behind every decision that gets made, and  she gets trapped in the underground hell  where her double used to live. Her double is actually a clone of her, but without a soul. Because she has no soul, Adelaide has no sense of rhythm, (or beat), which I find hilarious, because in American culture, Black people joke about people who cannot dance on the beat, or have no rhythm, and are said to lack “Soul“.

There’s an old  sketch I’m reminded of from the movie, Amazon Women on The Moon, which is also from a Black filmmaker, Robert Townsend. I know for an absolute certainty that Jordan Peele has seen this, and included just this tiny bit of this element into his depiction of the Tethered. Notice that neither Adelaide, nor her son Jason are capable of snapping their fingers to the beat of the song, snapping instead on the 1 and the 3, instead of the 2 and the 4.

 

The underworld Red comes from is  full of the clones of the people who live above ground, and who  are the failed result of a  government experiment to control the American people. It’s left for the audience to decide if all Americans were cloned, or just half, or just enough of them to be dangerous. The clones have no souls, hence they have no vision, imagination, ambitions, or  sense of self. They don’t even have language, and Adelaide, because she is human, and remembers the world above (the other clones have no knowledge of the above world), becomes their leader. Over the next thirty years, using her childhood memories of Hands Across America, and Michael Jackson, along with a great deal of rage,  she organizes The Tethered to invade the above world, and kill their counterparts. It’s a literal uprising.  Adelaide is so enraged at what was done to her, the Tethered have adopted some of that.

Adelaide, Red, (and their families), spend the rest of the movie playing a murderous game of cat and mouse, against the apocalyptic event of The Tethered coming from underground to kill their doubles, and stage their version of Hands Across America. I  specifically remember this event, including the theme song in the ads. I was a teenager at the time, and  distinctly remember scoffing at the idea that it would be at all helpful, or useful. And guess what? It wasn’t! The event was kind of a failure although it turned out to be the high point of the life of the person  who orchestrated the event.

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In the end, Adelaide, the character we’ve been rooting for the entire  movie, turns out to be the double from the underworld, while Red is that long ago human girl, who dreamed of getting out of the hell her life had become, through Adelaide’s actions. According to Red, life underground is pretty bleak. Because they have no sense of self, the Tethered are forced to mimic the actions of their doubles, and none of them have ever had cooked food, feeding exclusively on the rabbits that have overbred in that environment. (This explains why Adelaide is a vegetarian.)

In other words, the Tethered are uncivilized, barbaric mirrors of their above ground counterparts, (through no fault of their own.) They act like animals, running on all fours, howling and grunting.They don’t know enough to know what or where they are, until Red teaches them, which she is only able to do because she came from above ground. She  is their M.L.K. She is their Malcolm X. She had  a “vision”.

This movie looks absolutely gorgeous. Lupita Nyongo really carries this movie, and does it very well. Her speech, body language, and facial expressions, just her all around physicality, was astonishing to watch. People forget that she is playing both Red, and Adelaide, and she makes the two so distinctive that you often forget its the same actress. Winston DUke is his usual fine self in the acting department. I understand some people were disappointed in his role here, but I understood why he was shown the way he was shown, and he did do a couple of heroic things that people seem to have forgotten.

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There are already a lot of people out there tagging all the Easter Eggs, the various connections, and parallels in the movie. I’m only going to talk about those things a little bit. If you want more of that sort of thing, there are a billion Youtube videos for it, but I want to talk about the themes, and subtext occurring in the movie, because that’s what I find the most interesting. The movie has so much depth, so many things are addressed, and have real life parallels, that the movie can be viewed through almost any lens,  I want to talk about some of the top themes through which the movie can be understood:

Folklore

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There is the German construct of the Doppelganger, which is an apparition, or double, of a living person. There is a significant body of folklore that deal with people seeing their own double. Traditionally, seeing one’s double was often a portent of death, and that piece of folklore is what’s being applied in Us. It is said that everyone in the world has a twin somewhere, and in some cultures, it’s said  should you meet your double, you should kill it, because there can be only one of you.

Legend has it that if you come face to face with your doppelganger, it’s an omen or warning of death, for both you and your twin. Because of this, if you see a replica of yourself, run for your life. … Often, a person does not actually see their own doppelganger, but someone else does.

There is a lot of doubling and mirroring in the movie, from Adelaide’s and Red’s reflections, to the neighbors twin girls, who speak in unison, to the numbers 11:11, which is a “palindrome”, a word or set of numbers that reads the same in either direction. (There are several articles on  the significance of those numbers. 11:11 is a bible verse about God forsaking those whose sins have come back to destroy them.)

In Celtic folklore, the doppelganger was known as a Fetch, and its purpose was to alert people that someone’s death was imminent, but the concept of the alter ego, and the “double spirit” is part of the lore of  most cultures, and not always in a negative way, just as in the movie, some of the mirror images are benign.

 

Books and Movies

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It’s also an idea that has found its way into  many movies and literature, the most famous of which are Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Prince and the Pauper, The Man in the Iron Mask, Dave, Moon Over Parador, and the 1985 Ran. In The Prince and the Pauper type stories, the original ruler is often incapable or dead, and is then replaced by a twin of low birth, who sometimes triumphs in the originals place, which is basically the plot of Us.

Another popular trope is the Evil Twin, which has found its way into everything from Star Trek to Gilligan’s Island, where one of them is unaware of the existence of their double, and their differences in upbringing is what accounts for their different characters. In Us, we are meant to attribute Red’s murderous sensibilities, and difficulty speaking, to her upbringing among the Tethered, and there are distinct parallels between the Jekyll and Hyde narrative.

Adelaide is meant to reflect innocence, as evidenced by her white and neutrally colored wardrobe, at the beginning of the movie. As the movie  progresses,  as Adelaide keeps killing,  violently defending the life she usurped from the original, her clothes get redder and redder, to reflect her true nature. We watch as she becomes more and more her true self. But where Jekyll’s story ends in suicide, Adelaide’s ends in triumph.

One thing I’ve not seen discussed is  Lewis Carroll’s 1865  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as a theme. The symbol of the white rabbit (which is in the movie’s logo) is meaningful because it is one of the few types of animals that have ever been cloned, and is often experimented on. Also, in the original  tale, Alice follows a rabbit into a hole in the Earth, where she finds a hall with many locked doors. This is what happens in the movie when Adelaide, chasing her doppelganger underground, finds a hall of locked doors, and rabbits everywhere. The rictus grins of the Tethered remind me of the Cheshire Cat’s phantom grin from Alice’s adventures. These are grins  that do not indicate humor, but menace.

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There’s also the  parallel to the numerous mythological themes of people visiting the underworld to rescue (or destroy) something, called a Katabasis. In  a Katabasis myth, the protagonist travels through the underworld, on a mission of retrieval, and this is featured in everything from The Ring of the Nibelung, to The Aeneid, to The Odyssey,  persisting across many cultures, from Egypt, to Greece, and even  South America, which features the myth of the Hero Twins of the Popol Vuh, who go into the underworld and win a ballgame, to avenge the death of their father.

After Adelaide’s son, Jason,  is kidnapped by Red, she must go underground to rescue him, echoing the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, Jason’s  doppelganger is named Pluto,  the  Greek King of the Underworld. It  is also theorized by some that Jason is actually a Tethered. That Pluto switched places with him at least a year before the events of the film, so Adelaide is really rescuing her actual son.

 

 Socio-economic/Political

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https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/us-movies-hidden-meaning-black-identity-explained-1196687

Race

The movie can also be seen through the lens of socio-politics, and race.  Peele says the movie isn’t specifically about any racial issue, but the subtext is there, because  the story involves a Black family, and introduces the idea of “double consciousness”. Double consciousness is a term coined by the writer W.E.B. DuBois in his 1903 literary work, The Souls of Black Folk, a series of essays about the psychology of Black people. It is a state of mind specific to people of color, whose thinking is divided between who they think are, and what White people think they are.

Double consciousness describes the individual sensation of feeling as though your identity is divided into several parts, making it difficult or impossible to have one unified identity.

Understanding W.E.B. Du Bois’ Concept of Double Consciousness …

There’s who I think I am, which is settled, often uncomfortably, next to how I know I’m viewed by White people.

Adelaide is an example of this in that she knows who she is, and wants to be, vs the above ground world’s perception of her. She dresses to  not draw attention to herself, to seem just like everyone else and  blend in. Adelaide, like  many immigrants, or those from a different social class, tries to hide her impoverished background by  assimilating into her adopted culture. As she fights Red to keep the status to which she’d become accustomed, more of her true background  reveals itself.

Economics

 Adelaide has moved up in the world by violently condemning her counterpart to a life of hell. (There is the strong implication in the film that Red was raped/impregnated by Gabriel’s counterpart, Abraham.) There is also some amount of survivor’s guilt for Adelaide, as she did nothing to rescue any of the other Tethered, and lived a life of luxury, knowing that her comfortable life was built on someone else’s misery. This is a question that successful Black people, from humble circumstances, often wrestle with. How much responsibility do they have to the community they left behind on their way out of poverty? Are they truly their brother’s keeper? Red seemed to have no problem answering this question, as she organized the release of all the Tethered from below, but then her ambitions were fueled by rage at what had been done to her. What was Adelaide’s excuse for leaving the other Tethered behind?

 

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In fact, the Tethered are an allegory for those who most people consider  “beneath” us. The laborers and workers who are invisible to us,  but help our society run more smoothly, and who we often think of as less than, often not even bothering to learn their names. In the movie, the Tethered don’t have names, with the members of Red’s family being the only ones with names she gave them.

Those who live above ground (the privileged) can pass their sins on to some other group of people and thereby declare their innocence, and ignorance, to the misery which sustains their lifestyles,  to be justifiable. In America, White people often project their worst qualities onto other races of people. In declaring that some sin is a problem for some other group, they don’t actually have to look at their own behavior, acknowledge the pain they have caused, or fix the problem. Black and Indigenous people have often been the scapegoats of White pathology, as they stereotype us in terms of actions they  have committed themselves.

Red isn’t just angry because her life (her agency) was stolen from her. She  tells Adelaide that for every good thing Adelaide  experienced above ground, Red experienced some hardship, or misery, in equal measure down below. The Tethered represent the “laborers” of modern society, the people  who take care of the minutiae of our day to day lives, freeing us up to pay attention to those jobs we think are more important, because we went through more years of schooling, or get paid more money to do. We place our burdens on their backs, so we don’t have to carry them, and then refuse to think about how the comforts of our lives are built on their impoverishment.

 

https://www.popsugar.com/entertainment/Why-Do-Tethe red-Wear-Brown-Gloves-Us-45958045

This theme of mistreated laborers is reflected in the Tethered manner of dress, and I can see parallels to themes from the 1927 film, Metropolis, in which the workers of a technological society all live in ceaseless, dangerous, labor in the bowels of the city, while the rulers have lives of  luxury oblivious to what’s happening beneath them. One of the rulers son’s trades places with one of the workers in the underground, and with the help of a robot named Maria, causes a rebellion.

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Most Americans don’t think about the uniformed maids, janitors, maintenance, and sanitation workers,  until something stops working. If you have ever visited a large public venue, like a theme park or a zoo, you might or might not notice the uniformed housekeepers and  maintenance workers who slip in and out of disguised doors to keep the place clean,  and make our stay comfortable, and this is very much a statement on how Americans live everyday.

On a larger scale, most Americans don’t think of the many wars, that never reach our backyards,   and the underhanded behavior that this country has engaged in, to steal other country’s resources, to  make American lives comfortable. Our government has engaged in a great deal of global destruction, which we rarely we think about because we don’t have to worry about a drone strike hitting our Wedding party.  Even when we do worry about such things, we  have often been completely misinformed as to the true causes, and do little or nothing to resolve it. Just as the Tethered are Shadows of us, they exist in a Shadow America, where their lives are controlled by mysterious others who live above them.

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/us-was-movies-biggest-twist-hiding-plain-sight-1196584

But really, all the characters are Us,  as no matter how we behave, we can always justify our behavior by telling ourselves we are the hero of the story.  Us is a movie in which everyone is committing justified violence against the other. As righteously brutal as the Tethered are in their revolution, The Wilsons are every bit as  brutal as  the Tethered in the protection of their family and  privileged lifestyles. One can make the argument that the Tethered started it,  and that the Wilsons were just defending themselves, but that stance does not take into account the decades of misery the Tethered had to endure, so that people like the Wilsons could live free.

 

Psychological

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When you think about it, Adelaide’s development stopped at around age twelve, so she has all the rage, planning, and mindset, of a child. Children in their early development often focus on a sense of fairness, and equality,  something Red specifically states to Adelaide. That what happened to her was not fair.

Americans cherish their ideals of fairness. And American children can be especially strident—some might say loud—advocates for equality. Anyone who has ever painstakingly cut and distributed a child’s birthday cake knows how closely those little eyes watch for injustice. And when they see it, especially in their ever-so-slightly-smaller slice, they protest with the anguished cry: “No fair!”

https://www.bu.edu/research/articles/child-development-fairness/

In Jungian psychology there is the idea of the Shadow Self, that dark part of oneself that one tries to ignore or bury.  The Shadow is everything about yourself you try  hard to forget is there. The Tethered represent our worst selves. They are our dark side. Adelaide has worked very hard to forget where she came from, but it turns out that Adelaide is actually the Shadow of Red. It is not until after you’ve watched the movie that you realize that it was Adelaide who was trying to ignore her original sin of trapping Red in the underworld. Sooner or later she knew this would come back on her. The message seems to be that every sin you commit will eventually come to back to bite you in the ass.

https://www.thefourohfive.com/film/article/us-review-what-happens-when-our-shadows-run-free-and-what-the-hell-is-with-the-rabbits-155

The logo for the movie features an example of a Rorschach Test, a test in which a therapy patient interprets meaning from inkblot images. The meanings determined gives the therapist clues to your character or personal issues. This is a reference to the film itself, which is a kind of Rorschach test for the viewer. The movie has so many facets, so many themes,  which ones the audience focuses on tells  a lot more about the audience.

Here take the Us rorschach Test, and see what your responses tell you about you:

 

Movies to Watch After Seeing Us:

Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (1978)

Single White Female (1992)

Metropolis (1927)

CHUD (1984)

The Nightbreed (1990)

Donnie Darko   (2001)

 

Us is being written about and discussed as much as Get Out. This is what we all do now. Analyze movies, I guess!

https://www.elle.com/culture/movies-tv/a26988747/us-movie-review-horror-tropes/

https://www.polygon.com/2019/3/22/18274732/us-twist-ending-explained-spoilers

 

https://www.polygon.com/2019/3/27/18284361/us-movie-spoilers-tethered

 Umbrae (Shahidi Wright Joseph), is referred to as a “little monster” by her mother, Red (Lupita Nyong’o); though she shares her double’s talent for running, it’s the addition of a permanent, eerie grin that brings up shades of how young women in particular are always expected (and instructed) to smile. She’s manifesting the image that’s projected onto her in the same way that her father is.

 

**In Part Two of The Meanings of Us let’s talk about the invasion plot in movies, what it really means, what its a stand in for, and how its applied in this movie.

Star Trek Discovery Season Two – Midseason Update

This season has become a very interesting blend of the personal moments interlocking with the overarching plot, for a lot of the characters. We are re-introduced to Phillipa Gheorghiu , Doctor Culber, and Ash Tyler, as well.

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In the first season we dealt with Michael’s personal traumas and how those traumas impacted the decisions she made throughout the season. Her life isn’t perfect, now. There still needs to be resolution on some of the issues of her childhood, and choices she made last season, so the writers are getting started on working on some of her childhood issues with Spock and her parents, and how these relationships intersect with the Red Angels in the series main plot.

We’re also dealing with the traumas and issues related to other characters and the show has experienced its first real death in the form of Airiam, the cyborg-like being who was a member of the ship’s bridge crew. We get a little bit of backstory on her, who she was, what happened to her.

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The show has gotten a lot better at integrating all these plots into the greater plot of the show because last season some of the themes felt a little separated, to the point where some people were very confused about what the show was about, saying that it felt disjointed. Well, they’ve gotten better at it, because it’s impossible to talk about the other characters, and other themes, without relating them to events which happen in the main plot involving the Red Angels.

 

The Discovery is still on the trail of the Red Angels who keep sending them to different places in the galaxy, usually to resolve some issue that needs Starfleet’s immediate attention. Spock has had visions of the Angels since he was a small child. When we first met Spock he was a cute little six or seven year old, and his first meeting with Michael was not promising, as he closed his bedroom door in the face of the new sister his parents introduced him to. Later, through flashbacks, we find that he and Michael closely bonded, but after several murder attempts from Vulcan radicals Michael decided to run away from home to protect her family, and she emotionally hurt Spock to get him to leave her alone, an event which altered Spock’s perception of her and his own humanity.

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In the first season we dealt with Michael’s  emotional fall out of the Klingons having killed her immediate family, but this season we are dealing with the fallout of Michael having been attacked several times by Vulcan radicals, who were trying to rid Vulcan of humans, and destroy the diplomatic bonds between the two planets. This was mentioned somewhat in the first season in Sarek, and Michael’s flashbacks to her childhood while we dealt with the emotional repercussions of Sarek’s life choices regarding her and Spock, and the reparation of their estranged relationship. it turns out though that Michael’s actions are completely meaningless, as Spock explains to her that she is not the focus of the Vulcan terrorist’s  anger. Its Spock, because he’s half human, and they are opposed to miscegenation.

This season we are watching Michael try to fix the relationship between her and Spock, and hopefully the two will be reconciled. Meanwhile, Spock is of major importance to Starfleet,  (and a clandestine organization in Starfleet called Section 31), as he is the only being who has any knowledge of the Red Angels. Spock is on the run, after escaping from an asylum, after being accused of killing several doctors. When Michael finds him, he is mentally incapacitated by his visions, and it is up to her to decipher them, (and with the help of the Talosians) figure out how they are connected to current events. The Talosians are a race of strong telepaths, who are directly tied to Pike’s past and future, and are referenced in the original Star Trek episode, The Cage. I am really loving how the writers have fleshed out his character, because he has almost none in the original series. I really like him now, so when I went back and watched The Cage, it hit me especially hard.

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I have a theory about the Red Angel that may have some impact on Spock’s relationship with Michael, and why they appeared to Spock, and only Spock, in the first place. It turns out that the Red Angels (at least one of them) is a woman, wearing a special suit from the future. A couple of episodes ago, the Discovery encounters a  dying creature that the Red Angels led them to, whose explosive death creates some time repercussions for the crew, and Captain Pike, with many other  characters receiving visions and information of the past and future, including Airiam, a cybernetic being who regularly uploads her memories to the ship’s core computer.

I think the Red Angel that Spock has known for most of his life, and nearly drove him insane, is probably some future version of Michael. The Red Angels always appear at the moment of some future catastrophe that the Discovery is supposed to prevent, which sounds exactly like the kind of thing Michael would do – trying to help the galaxy by heading off catastrophes, before they can happen, or save people during and after them. (At this point in the show, I have been proven both right and wrong about who the Red Angel is.)

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As of this review, Michael and Spock have had some severely uneasy conversations regarding Michael’s selfish tendencies to shoulder responsibility for things that are not her fault, like her parents deaths, the terrorist attacks against her as a child, and the danger to Sarek’s family because of that,  or fix problems that are not hers to fix, like Spock’s emotional issues. Needless to say, Michael does not like hearing these things about herself, but I agree with Spock.

From the beginning of the show, we’ve watched Michael try to solve everyone else’s problems, and fix everyone, in favor of ignoring her own needs. This is most telling in an earlier episode where Tilly is going through some extreme emotional event, but so is Michael as she has just had a fight with her mother, and rather than focus on her own problem, Michael tries to fix Tilly’s problem. his is a constant that can get a little frustrating at times, becomes it skirts too closely to the Mammy trope, (where a Black female character focuses her attention on solving the problems of the White characters around her rather than focusing on her own issues.) I understand why they are showing Michael like this. They are presenting Michael’s focus on saving other people as a character flaw that Michael needs to work on, but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch.

Spock confronts Michael, saying she is a martyr, who is always trying to save everyone, like Spock, Sarek, and her parents, even though she is not responsible for the situations they  find themselves in. Michael has to acknowledge this when she is given the decision to kill Airiam, to stop her from uploading information that will bring sentience to an AI that wants to destroy the galaxy. Michael desperately resists killing her friend, and is saved from having to do so, by the security officer who opens an airlock to destroy her. But we can see in that scene of Michael desperately trying to save Airiam’s life, everything that Spock said about her, because not only was she disobeying a direct order from both Pike and Airiam, she was endangering her own life, and the lives of the entire ship’s crew.

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There is also the subplot of Dr. Culber being alive again, and Ash Tyler, now a member of Section 31, being back on the ship. If you remember from season one, Ash discovered he was a Klingon (Voq) who had been genetically altered to look human, with Ash Tyler’s human personality as an overlay. The human Ash is dead, and this is who is left behind, the Voq personality having been expunged from the body. When he was Voq he killed Dr. Culber. Through the assistance of his  lover, Stamets, and Tilly, and the spores (which is an entirely different subplot connected to Culber) he is alive and again and reconciling his after life experience with who he is and what happened to him. This is a situation that is not helped by having his killer on board. Culber does try to work out his grievance by kicking Ash’s ass, but that doesn’t work, and he is still very …discombobulated, I guess. As of the last episode, thanks to some counseling from several friends, (and Gheorgiu), he is beginning to grasp some idea of who he is,  and what he meant to Stamets, but the two of them are still not yet reconciled.

As of the writing of this review, Discovery has been issued a renewal and we will be getting a Season three! I expect there to be a bigger ratings bump after the debut of Jordan Peele’s new version of The Twilight Zone, especially after the success of his new movie, Us.

This review is a little bit late because I’ve had some life interfering in my leisure time, but hey! better late than never, huh? I will be back at the end of the season to give an overview of what happened and my thoughts about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Gods Season Two: House on the Rock

American Gods began its second season last week.

Let’s talk about it!

But first we need to have some behind the scenes discussion, just like in the show itself. Bryan Fuller is no longer the show runner for this season. He was let go after writing a couple of this season’s episodes.

American Gods is taking new steps forward today, though; Jesse Alexander, who worked with Fuller on Hannibal and Star Trek: Discovery, has been officially named as its new showrunner. Meanwhile, the six scripts Green and Fuller had already written for the show’s second season are allegedly set to be tossed out, with Alexander and Gaiman returning to square one as they fight to get the series back up and running for its anticipated January 2019 return.

  ——  https://www.avclub.com/the-bryan-fuller-american-gods-breakup-was-apparently-e-1822682450

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The new show runners are the author of the book, Neil Gaiman, and Jessie Alexander (who is also now out). I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’ve never watched a show run by Gaiman before, but I am familiar with Fuller’s output. Those of you who watched last season are going to notice some differences in how the story gets told, and I am not confident that Gaiman will keep that same in your face attitude that was such a great part of the first season. Its possible the show may end up being little more than a lovely spectacle, but I’m not going to give up on the series just because Fuller isn’t on it. I’m really curious about what’s going to happen this season, and the show has already been renewed for a third, so even though I have some doubts that it won’t be as good as Fuller’s version, there might be other compensations. I’m sticking with it.

That Fuller is an openly gay man had a lot of influence on what was depicted on screen, most especially in the episode Head Full of Snow, where we met Salim and the Djinn. Fuller was also responsible for the many subtle layers throughout the season, as he is a master of subtext. There have already been some dramatic changes, because Kristen Chenoweth and Gillian Anderson left the show on Fuller’s heels, and the writers have had to accommodate that. So  we do not pick up where we left off at the end of season one, and Ostara’s actions at the end of that season seems to have had little effect on the world.

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Aside from a brief background news piece, this action has no clear impact on the world, and Easter has apparently turned her back on Wednesday because he ran over some of her bunnies.

And to explain Anderson’s absence from the show:

Meanwhile, the New God Media, who Anderson played with an overabundance of confidence as she threatened and cajoled heroes and villains alike, was apparently so shaken by Wednesday’s display of power that she’s gone into hiding to reinvent herself. 

——-   https://www.theverge.com/2019/3/10/18258816/american-gods-review-season-2-ian-macshane-gillian-anderson-kristin-chenoweth-starz

The story opens with Mr World bruised and battered, being ferried to a secret location by Technical Boy. Media has disappeared, after her run in with Easter, and TB is  tasked with finding her by Mr. World. Mr. World is in this secret location to visit Argus, a secret surveillance site (and an old god of some kind, which is the reason Technical Boy is not allowed to meet him. Mr. World can spy  on the old gods, thanks to the presence of Bilquis, and her tracking device.

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In the meantime, all the gods we saw from the first season make their way to the House on the Rock, along with a couple of hangers on. Sweeney, Laura, Wednesday, and Shadow all travel in the same car and their proximity to each other is not easy. Sweeney hates everyone, and Shadow and Laura are not comfortable with each other.There’s a lot more of the book dialogue in the episode, as Nancy ,and Wednesday talk about the history of the House on the Rock. Neil Gaiman wanted more of the book to be on the screen and he has somewhat got his wish.

We are  introduced to Kali, also known as Mama Ji who is one of my favorite characters from the book, even though she doesn’t get a lot to do beyond some ass kicking, and her speech in this episode.  I hope we get to see more of her this season. As a human, she works in a local hotel, in the humble position of a housemaid. She argues that she doesn’t need a war because her position as an Indian deity is pretty strong, due to the influx of Indian immigrants to America. As am extremely powerful True God, in her own right, she argues that she is in no danger of being forgotten. Whiskey Jack and John Henry also get name checked.

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Bilquis was sent by Mr. World to spy on the meeting of the old gods, and according to Mr. World, make her complicit in his act of betrayal later in the movie, which we’ll get to in a moment. Bilquis was chosen for this because she owes Technical Boy a favor for creating the dating app that has given her new worshipers, and she is definitely feeling her own power, (as we saw last season when she tried to seduce TB), and she is reluctant to do anything for the new gods. They need a way to keep her in line, and one their side, otherwise she is too powerful to control. So ironically, Bilquis ends up in exactly the situation that was talked about in the first season when she was exiled from her homeland, her sexuality now under the control of a men, to be unleashed when they only with their permission.

At the House, the Djinn, who is working security, is confronted by Salim, who tells him that he is following his heart and wants to stay with him. The Djinn wants him to go away because its too dangerous for him to get involved in this war. The Djinn issues everyone coins to a mechanical oracle as a kind of reverse entry fee to the meeting. Bilquis prophecy has something to do with Shadow because when she receives hers, she glances sharply in his direction. Notice the very warm greeting between her and Mr. Nancy vs. the one between her and Wednesday which is decidedly cooler, as she chastises  him that she is older than him, and he neglected to invite her.

Sweeney, Salim, and Laura are not invited to the meeting, and must wait outside, but Shadow gets a ticket and his prophecy is interesting:

Every ending is a new beginning
Your lucky number is none
Your lucky color is dead
Motto: Like father, like son”

If you’ve read the book, then YOU know what that prophecy means but Shadow is mystified.

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The gods all meet up just before the meeting which involves riding the Carousel. Bilquis expresses some interest in who Shadow is. Everyone is always curious about Shadow and what he’s doing hanging out with Wednesday. Bilquis and Nancy admire Shadow’s physique although of course Nancy takes every opportunity to belittle him. Nancy’s son gets a shout out, too. If you haven’t read Anansi Boys, then check it out. Its not directly related to American Gods,  but is related thematically for its theme of  relationships between fathers and sons.

Laura, even though she’s not invited, demands a coin for a prophecy too ,and the Djinn tries to refuse her but is warned away from making Laura angry by Salim and Sweeney. Her prophecy is blank, because she’s already dead. She has no future. Wednesday meets with the eldest Zoraya, The Evening Star, who looks lovely and is played by the magnificent Cloris Leachman, and her brother Czernobog, who is his usual profane self.

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The old gods all meet to ride the Carousel and invite Shadow to ride as well. As I mentioned last season, there are a lot of things the gods do that is related to their worship, like smoking, and prophecy. The act of or the idea of spinning is a theme across several religions, with the most famous being Sufi Whirling, or Whirling Dervishes of Turkey. Whirling in circles is a form of active meditation used  to touch the divine. Even some of the fundamentalist Christian regions mention spinning in circles as a way to connect with God, or a sign that one has connected with God.

This is the purpose of the carousel, as Shadow is connected to the gods by the whirl of the machine, he wakes up in a mental state in which he can see the gods true forms.  The old gods are reluctant to join Wednesday in his war against the new gods, but Shadow gives a rallying speech ,which Wednesday believes will sway some of them.

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After the meeting the old gods meet at a local diner where Shadow get gaslighted by the gods, who pretend the carousel event didn’t occur, and will not answer his question about whether or not they are all gods. Technically, some of the them are just Personages, not gods. I would call them Powers, like Mad Sweeney, and the Djinn. Shadow also  tries to ignore Laura exists, but she is somewhat compensated by Bilquis’ attention to her.

I have no idea if Bilquis has the ability to turn her seduction powers on and off, or if they are simply innate to her, or if they work, or don’t work, on some people. Certainly many of the gods, both old and new, seem able to resists her charms, but ordinary humans cannot. It’s hard to tell if her powers are working on them. First she tries to guess if Laura is some sort of god, because she recognizes that Laura is different from an ordinary human, and seems attracted to her, until she finds out that Laura is married to Shadow, and then kisses her. Beyond looking bashful Laura doesn’t really respond.

 

Bilquis leaves but has signaled the location to Mr. World , who has sent an assassin to take out as many of the old gods as possible. The primary casualty is Zoraya, The Evening Star, who dies in Wednesday arms. Her brother goes on a long rant about what he pans to do to the killer, and its an interesting speech. You  will recognize the prophetic content of it if you’ve read the book.

I really do hope we get to see the Zoraya sister again. Cloris Leachman is a favorite of mine, and her character was hilarious, and played to perfection.

Shadow runs outside to beat up the assassin, but gets abducted by what appears to be a UFO. This is the introduction of another character I do not remember from the book, Mr. Town. He works for the new gods and wants to get to the bottom of who Shadow is, and why he is with Wednesday.

So in the second episode we get to find out a lot about Shadow along with some new questions as well.

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*I am very late with these reviews, but life has a way of delaying one’s well laid out plans and that’s what happened this week.  So for the next couple of weeks, it’s just going to be reviews of shows I’ve been watching, rather than my usual essays. Next week is the premiere of the last episodes of the last season of Into the Badlands, and I’ll be focusing on those, and I have  reviews of Doom Patrol, Upgrade vs. Venom, and  Siren, coming soon.

The Passage: Season One Finale

 

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So The Passage finally finished up it’s ten episode run with a two hour finale, and there is a lot to talk about. I was going to start with a recap of the season, but I’m going to do something a little different by discussing the key characters in the show. I know a lot of you may have more access to the books, than the show, which airs on American network TV, and may or may not be available on an app somewhere.

We’re going to start with the second episode of the finale because the first hour felt like more filler. The vampires do finally escape, but we knew that would happen, and its somewhat anticlimactic. All season long we’ve been seemingly sitting still, with everyone running back and forth inside the facility, without anyone actually leaving.  It’s all moot anyway because by the time of the final 15 minutes of the last episode, all of that is rendered pointless, and in the second season, we’ll get to the meat of the book, as all of this first season is basically set up for what we’ll be dealing with from the middle section of the book onwards.

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All season we have focused very heavily on the relationship between Amy Bellafonte and Agent  Brad Wolgast because that is the key relationship to who Amy is, and what she becomes. It is her relationship with Brad that sets her future in motion, determines how she reacts to that future, and even that she has a future.This is why we spent so much time with the two of them in the first three episodes. Our investment in their relationship is important to understanding Amy’s motivations. We have watched as Brad adopts her as his own daughter, after the loss of his biological child, and we have watched as the two of them bonded, loved ,and supported each other.

In the first episodes, we watch the two bond as they attempt to escape the government agents who want to use Amy for medical experimentation. They eventually get caught, and Amy is  infected with the vampire virus, and unwillingly forms a relationship with the lead vampire, Fanning, who attempts, repeatedly, to undermine her relationship with Brad, so that he can replace him. Amy resists all his attempts because she received a slightly different, (less virulent), strain of vampirism, and because Brad has supported her unconditionally, no matter how much she changed. She is able to withstand Fanning’s control in a way the other 11 vampires cannot. She is also able to walk about during the day, unlike Fanning and his kind. In other words, like Blade from the Marvel comics movie, she has all the strengths of the vampires, and none of their weaknesses.

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Of all the vampires, though, it is Babcock who is the most sympathetic, and the most charming. Fanning has a very compelling manner, in that he is able to talk people into doing things they are initially resistant to, but Babcock has the ability to be very likable, and open with everyone. This works especially well, since most of the time we see these characters from inside the mental landscapes they’ve created to communicate with the  human beings in their orbit, and with each other. Their actual physical bodies dont speak or even acknowledge human beings except as food.

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Amy and Brad spend most of the finale escaping from the facility, and  living in an abandoned cabin in the woods, while the US is quickly overtaken by the vampires, who also, finally, escape the facility, after having planned to do so since their creation. We seemed to spend an inordinate amount of this season waiting for the vampires to break free, and even I was going tired of just watching all the players run around in the facility for three to four episodes, but really, what we were doing was setting up Brad and Amy’s relationship, and the reason for the enmity between Fanning and Amy. Fanning refused to escape from the facility without Amy because he was waiting for her to turn into a full vampire, and give him her allegiance, which she refused to do. We get several moments of foreshadowing that Fanning is not infallible, when a woman he wanted for himself, rejects him to die in the arms of her husband, and when Amy rejects Babcock’s overtures of friendship. Fanning isn’t always in control, and Amy  has a strong will of her own.

Make no mistake, Amy is a full vampire, but unlike the other vampires, she refused to give into the dual choices that were given to her by Fanning. Whenever any of the other vampires turned, they had been given the option of dying, or becoming full vampires under Fanning’s control. Amy created a third option. She chose to live and become a vampire on her own terms, and it is Brad’s love and support that aided her in that choice.

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Amy vowed repeatedly to Brad, Fanning, and herself that she would not kill, or make other vampires, but Fanning uses her connection to Brad as her weakness, and in the tragic finale, he successfully forces her hand by infecting Brad. She only kills to protect Brad from being shot by  his two friends who happen to be present. Having killed to protect Brad, she  infects him with a different version of the vampirism virus, so that he will be more like her, and not the mindless minions created by the other vampires under Fanning, since he’s going to turn regardless. She leaves, after saying goodbye to him, to try to make it on her own, having been taught various survival skills, like archery, and hunting, by Brad during their interlude in the cabin.

During their time at the cabin, the cities are slowly being overrun by vampires that are all offshoots of the initial vampires created by the experiment. The initial vampires (which include Amy) are known as The Twelve. In the books, they are not all sympatico, or even all in league with each other. Some of them are allies, a couple are rivals, and a couple are loners, like Anthony. In the TV series, the end of the world is brought about when the other countries, witnessing what is happening in the US, decide to nuke all the cities where they have taken up residence.

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The reason the first season is narrated by Amy is because we’ve been watching a flashback from some 100 years in the future. Humanity is almost extinct, and the land is populated by mostly starving vampires, that can’t die. We see Amy, still a child 97 years later, her hair in long braids, bow and arrow in hand, shooting down the lesser vampires, as she searches the US for Brad, whom she feels is still alive. In the final scene she is seen approaching The Colony. In the second season we’ll hopefully be meeting those characters, who are all the human beings left after the nuclear (and vampire) apocalypse. The other books, The Twelve and City of Mirrors are also being jumbled in as well, since some of the first season comes from the second book.

I have to admit, I was mostly distracted by the question of who braided Amy’s hair, because she is wearing these long box braids. This is a something that probably wouldn’t have occurred to me to ask if I hadn’t earlier seen Brad braiding Amy’s hair in that Black momma ritual that had resonance for a lot of Black women watching the show. Nearly all of us have some memory of sitting at our mother’s feet, getting our hair braided, while discussing the day’s important issues. In Amy’s case, she confesses to Brad that she can see the future. She foresees Brad’s death, and the death of most of humanity.

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Another admission I have to make is that I did not find the middle section of the book, The Passage,  especially interesting, as most of it takes place inside The Colony, and involves a lot of personal politicking among characters I didn’t care about. The characters were not interesting, and nothing of real import occured in that section. I had to push really hard through that section of the book, because I kept being told it was worth it to get to the end, and that’s true, the last 100 or so pages were much better.

So, I’m hoping we get a second season, and it does look promising to get one. Unlike some people, who refused to engage with the show because it airs on network television, and were afraid of having it be canceled once they fell in love with it, I considered this show to be well worth getting burned. This show is everything that The Strain, a show I had high hopes for,  should have been.

An Old Man Filled With Regret: Men, Masculinity, and Atonement

Saito: Do you want to take a leap of faith? Or become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone!  

-Inception

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In the movie Inception, this is a mantra shared between two  of the primary characters, Saito and Cobb. At the beginning of the film Saito asks Cobb if he wants to take a leap of faith, or die an old man filled with regret, and that question is enough to move Cobb to accept his offer. He is asking for Cobb’s trust because the two of them need each other. This is paralleled at the end of the movie, when Cobb repeats these words back to Saito.

Dying old, alone, and filed with regrets is the nightmare scenario  of the Action and Western film genres, as ex- killers, full of the guilt and shame of what they’ve done, seek redemption through killing for a good cause. This can take the form of revenge for a life lost, or the saving of a life that has meaning to them. Some of  its most famous incarnations are William Munny from Clint Eastwood’s 1992  movie, The Unforgiven, Robert McCall from the 2018 Equalizer franchise, Walt Kowalski from the 2008  Gran Turino, the 2017 Logan, Liam Neeson’s Taken trilogy,  John Creasy, from the 2004 version of  Man On Fire, and the 1953 Shane, starring Alan Ladd.

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Movie history is full of old men,  filled with the regrets, waiting to die alone, until something, or someone, moves them enough to risk coming out of retirement, often to attempt atonement for their past misdeeds. These are men beset with trauma. They are damaged killers who have committed questionable behavior.. Because of that, they are emotionally disconnected from other people, and sometimes  from themselves, until fate provides one last opportunity for personal connection, that gets taken from them. Often the person they’re trying to save is a stand in for their more innocent self, which is why this is often a child. The child is a stand-in for their lost innocence ,so in saving that person, the killer can symbolically save their former self.

Taking a leap of faith to form that emotional connection is the key. Often the former killers have locked themselves away from personal connections, feeling that they do not deserve to have love, or trust, or any human attachment, because they are bad men, who have done horrible things. They believe they are separate from the rest of humanity, and that they are unworthy of being a part of it, until someone (often a child) makes them realize there may be hope for them after all, and that they are not irredeemable.The child’s love and trust is a sign that they are salvageable. That they are “good  “men.  An innocent’s hand is offered to them, and they can take that leap of faith, one of the bravest acts a person can perform, or they can continue to dwell in their emotional abyss, and die alone, and unloved.

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Sometimes it is the innocent’s belief that the main character is a good person who will save them, that is enough to spur them into action. This is the basic plot of the 1953 movie, Shane, which is heavily paralleled, and referenced, in the 2017 movie, Logan, although the outcomes of these movies are very different. In Shane, Joey is a little boy who is drawn to Shane and idolizes his lifestyle as a gunslinger. In Logan, Laura is Logan’s genetic daughter, who idolizes his life as a comic book hero.

At the end of some of these movies, the ex-killer must go into exile, because they feel they cannot live with “normal “people. Alan Ladd plays a gunslinger who wants to retire from killing, to  become a farmer, but is called back into battle, when the woman and child he comes to care for, are endangered by an unscrupulous land baron. The townsfolk know he is a killer, but they look up to him, and think of him as heroic, but at the end of the movie, Shane cannot live in the valley with the farmers. He leaves because he feels he does not deserve to live a life of peace among normal people. He is a killer and is not the type of man who can live with people who have never lived that lifestyle, because he is too corrupt. Sacrificing the life he hoped to have is his punishment for having taken up the violence he’d previously rejected.

In the movie Serenity, the Assassin sent by the Council to collect River Tam, says that he kills to make a better world, but he knows he will never be allowed to live in that better world, because such a world has no place in it for the corruption he represents, and this is Shane’s predicament.

More often, at the end of these stories, the killers must die, because that is the price for having  picked up the sword again, although they are often happy to die, because they killed (and died) for a good reason, rather than whatever reasons they  feel regretful for. Many of them were ruthless killers in the  past, killing people for money, sport, or war. Some of these characters share more than a passing resemblance to the men they are trying to kill, because these bad men represent their past selves, and in killing them, they destroy their own evil past,  and can die at peace, knowing they did at least one “good” thing before they died.

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In Logan, the Wolverine has “retired” from a life of killing. He isn’t The Wolverine any more, and no longer “saves” people, but he is forced back onto the killing  field, to protect the “daughter”, to whom he has become emotionally attached. He dies in Laura’s arms, having redeemed himself for, as he once said, “…being the best there is at what I do.” Throughout his long life Logan had been the personification of death, relentless, inevitable, and unstoppable, as we see in the scene in the hotel, when Logan kills an entire room of armed men to save Charles Xavier. Logan also encounters a  younger, stronger, and more ruthless version of himself, that was made from his DNA. Logan must  literally kill his evil, past self, only then can he die at peace.

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In Man on Fire, Denzel Washington plays John Creasy, a former government assassin, who is so haunted by his past deeds that he has become suicidal. He has killed a lot of people in service to his country, feeling shame,  guilt, remorse, believing himself a monster, but  his soul is saved when  he falls in love with a little girl he was hired to protect. When Lupita’s life is endangered, he comes out of retirement, and uses his former killing skills to take revenge on the people who took away his one chance at happiness. Lupita entered his life as a reward for giving up his old one, showing  him that it was okay for him to live and love again

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For Creasy, Lupita’s love is a sign that he is worth saving, and that he is a good man. Her unconditional love and trust redeems him. When she is taken from him, he has the option of letting it go, and walking away, but  without Lupita there can be no redemption, and if he is going to die, then he wishes to do so in a blaze of glory, punishing the men who took his life, both literally and figuratively. In the end, rescuing Lupita from her captors will be his atonement for a life of sin, but his death is the price  he must pay for killing again, no matter how deserving his victims, or righteous his cause.

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During the movie Creasy has several conversations with his friend Rayburn, and with one of Lupita’s teachers, on the nature of sin ,and atonement. He asks Rayburn if he thinks God will forgive them for the things they’ve done, and he tells Lupita’s teacher that he was the sheep that got lost, when she asks if he sees the hand of God in what he does, quoting  the scripture: ‘Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with goodness.’ In Creasy’s final killing spree, he  is righteousness personified. He has become the hand of God, a Christlike figure, (even to the point of having a stigmata like wound in his side), who once saw nothing good in his ability to ruthlessly  take lives.The man who, early in the film, wanted to take his own life, willingly sacrifices that life to save his chosen daughter.

In the movie The Unforgiven William Munny, a famous gunslinger, has retired to a country life, but he is goaded back onto the stage when a young man who idolizes him, puts his life in danger by trying to emulate him. In The Dark Tower, Roland Deschain, the famous Gunslinger of Eld, has given up hunting The Man in Black, until he is pulled from “retirement” by a young boy he befriends, whose life is endangered by the MIB. In the movie John Wick, however, the spur out of retirement is the death of his dog, (the last remembrance of his late wife), caused by a local mobster’s son who came to rob his house. The dog is his last link to his old peaceful life, and with it gone, there is no point to trying to live peacefully. Like John Creasy, he aims to go out in a blaze of glory to avenge his wife’s memory.

If these men are lucky, they get to ride off into the sunset, but that is no relief either, as they may yet die in their beds, as old men filled with regret, but more often than not, there is a price to be paid for picking up weapons and taking lives again. They must sacrifice their life for taking up a lifestyle they’d rejected, and this is seen by these men as better than dying alone, and unloved, regretting all the evil they’d done.

“Life is too short to wake up with regrets. So love the people who treat you right. Forget about those who don’t. Believe everything happens for a reason. If you get a chance, take it. If it changes your life, let it. Nobody said life would be easy, they just promised it would most likely be worth it.” 
― Harvey MacKay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Fandom Racism Looks Like: Misogynoir – Black Women in the Way — Stitch’s Media Mix

Don’t forget to check out last month’s post and the introduction! I may later eat my words because I haven’t seen more than season 1 of ToS or any of the movies but I hate that Uhura in the reboot is just a love sick puppy that follows Spock around. Like she doesn’t even resemble […]

via What Fandom Racism Looks Like: Misogynoir – Black Women in the Way — Stitch’s Media Mix

 

As I mentioned before, (and keep mentioning, because, above everything else), I want the reader to keep in the forefront of their minds, that fandom is not practiced in a vacuum. A lot of fandom tropes, and misbehavior comes directly from real life, and the fans own personal experiences, and knowledge, of race, gender, and sexuality, often imparted to them by a media that is by, for, and about White ,straight men, even if its on a subconscious level.

Fandom has been taught, by decades of media consumption, that Black women CANNOT be love interests. The media has not only taught White women, but has also taught Black women, that we are unloved, unlovable, and not capable of love, which is the foundation behind a lot of arguments that we are “strong, so we don’t need a man”. The foundation of this argument is the Mammy stereotype, who is often defemenized, or sometimes even masculinized, (as a sign of her strength), and who cares so much for her White patron, that she has no concerns for her own life.

https://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/mammies/

The caricature portrayed an obese, coarse, maternal figure. She had great love for her white “family,” but often treated her own family with disdain. Although she had children, sometimes many, she was completely desexualized. She “belonged” to the white family, though it was rarely stated. Unlike Sambo, she was a faithful worker. She had no black friends; the white family was her entire world.

This stereotype is especially recognizable in arguments about how Uhura is too strong to need a man. Instead, she is meant to be background support of a mlm relationship, that has absolutely no chance, whatsoever, of becoming canon. It is interesting to me that in their erasure and denigration of Black characters, that so many fans (especially the ones who consider themselves feminists), tend to fall back on Black stereotypes they’ve consumed from media. To me, it shows the insidiousness of racism. That media that goes unexamined is media that has filled one’s mind with beliefs one may not actually “believe”.

It took me many years to root out some of the more damaging beliefs, about being a Black woman, from my own consumption of Pop culture, and this happened despite my mother’s vigilance in making sure that I consumed messages in other forms of media (Black media, for example), that did not reinforce stereotypes, so I know how sneaky this sort of  racist messaging can be.

As I always say, please visit Snitch’s Media blog, where she discusses the how and what of fandom, on the intersection of  race and Queer issues. That’s her area of expertise and I always go to her blog when I need to know what kind of fu**ery  the fandom has been engaging, and I like to riff on her posts, rather than subjecting her to one of my long winded comments on her blog.

My agenda isn’t so much what the fans are doing, so much as why fandom does it, and to tie her posts to wider media and Pop cultural narratives. There’s a reason why the fandom does what it does, and much of it can be laid at the feet of examined White supremacy that so many of us, (because I’m a fan too), have consumed.

Later, we’ll discuss how the consumption of racist narratives in Pop culture affects the self-esteem of Black girls and women, and how, due to the resurgence of source material created by, for, and about Black women, that’s slowly starting to change.