Accents in Movies: Depicting Class

In the 1991 Jonathan Demme film, Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter, in one of the film’s most cringeworthy scenes,  properly deduces that Clarice Starling is “poor white trash”. Working from his own collection of  stereotypes, the observation of her good bag, cheap shoes, and Appalachian mountains accent, he correctly guesses that she’s not more than one generation out of the coal mines. Clarice’s accent, as much as her womanhood, marks her as “other”.

Everything about her, from the opening running scene, in which she is ogled by a pair of classmates, to the elevator scene where the height differential between herself and her classmates makes her stand out, to the soft Southern accent, with which she replies to her supervisor, it is shown that Clarice does not belong there. Although later, Clarice uses her accent to gain the trust and compliance of a roomful of rural professionals, who are suspicious of her presence, as a woman in an all male environment, and as a member of the Federal government. She uses her accent to show that she is actually one of them, from the culture in which the idea of the Wise (or Conjure) Woman is important, and respected.

When you watch that scene again, take note of the strength of the accent, and her use of words. She says to the men, “We’ll take care of her. Just go on now. We’ll take care of her.” And they unquestioningly obey her request, much as they would, if their mothers, or grandmothers had said it. She has successfully conveyed to the men, that she is one of them, a member of their social class, who knows how these things are done.

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Clarice is a pretender to social class, which is a nice parallel to the film’s antagonist, Jame Gumb, who pretends at being a transgender woman. The only person who is not fooled by Clarice’s  pretense at urban sophistication, is  Lecter, who has a distinct, upper class, European accent, reminiscent of the Lithuanian nobility, from which he came. To  less discerning characters, like Chilton, or the room full of cops that she orders around, Clarice can pass as a member of the middle class. The moment she speaks, people assume she isn’t, but to someone like Lecter, her lack of breeding is clearly evident. Both her, and Gumb’s, (his is Southern Californian), accents mark them as outside the mainstream. Except for the three primary characters, Lecter, Gumb, and Starling, all of the other characters in the film, including Clarice’s Black roommate, played by Kasi Lemmons, all have the  Standard American accent.

The American Standard is the king of American accents, it is the default, so common it goes unnoticed, and the most well favored. It’s also called the Central Midwestern accent, used in places like Northeastern Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan to the far north, Iowa, New York, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, and is the accent most often heard from news anchors, public announcers, and even AI programs like Siri, and Alexa. There are other accents in those regions, that coexist along side it, but the American Standard is the one which is preferred.

 

https://www.stagemilk.com/american-accent-guide/

It is also somewhat of a constructed concept. What I mean by that is that nobody grew up in Standard America. The sound we’re talking about is what is called a prestige dialect. Most countries (and most languages) have a prestige dialect which is exactly what it sounds like: the speech sounds most commonly identified with status within a given society. Linguistically it’s not simply status but also clarity, intelligence, socioeconomic influence and general power. 

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Unlike Clarice, I have this privilege. I call this Accent Privilege, in the sense that my regular speaking voice doesn’t have an accent that is noticeably different from that of the mainstream, Midwestern accent. This happened by sheer luck. I just happened to be born into one of the regions where this is the most prevalent accent. People often judge others on how they speak, and if you have no noticeable accent,  that judgment is favorable most of the time. My accent marks me to others as being intelligent, educated, and/or middle class. My words are treated with either trust or suspicion, based on who I’m talking to. White people consider me “safe”, and are reassured by my ability to be clear and articulate, but I was often asked by my Black classmates, why I spoke like a white person, as the Midwestern accent is heavily associated with Whiteness. I did not grow up as a member of the middle class. Like Clarice Starling, I’m pretending to a social class I was not born into, but which people assumed I did, and my accent helped to sell it, because, like her, I’m barely one generation away from the cotton fields.

But I do also engage in what is known as “Code Switching”, where people from other cultures, or just different regions of the country, speak differently, in different spaces, often “switching” back and forth, between their normal speaking voice, and American Standard.  Why? Because many people are often uncomfortable with, and disrespectful, and suspicious of other languages, and vernacular English, like AAVE (African American Vernacular English). When I’m in my home, I speak the way my family speaks, and since the majority of them are from rural Mississippi, we speak AAVE, but I don’t speak at work that way. For one thing, my job involves answering phones, and a certain mode of professional speaking is required for that type of job. It would be considered “unprofessional”, and in the minds of some people, low class, for me to answer the business phone, as if I were at home. I don’t talk to my supervisors, the way I talk to my mother, for example, (and neither do most people, regardless of whether or not they have accents.

Now, when I’m talking about accents, for the purposes of this post, I mean the entirety of a person’s manner of speaking, including word usage, because only certain types of accents are associated with the use of certain types of words, for example, the use of the word, “y’all”.

 The mainstream Midwestern accent is the default accent used in almost all of American television, and movies. Having a Midwestern accent means a person gets treated as trustworthy, their words are given more weight,  given the benefit of the doubt,  assumed to be educated,  to have a good job,  and to be non-violent. In America, sounding like an American, means having  “no accent”, but that wasn’t always the case.

In the early part of the 20th century, the Mid-Atlantic accent was what was used, until it fell out of favor, in the fifties, for a more “natural” sounding speech pattern.

 

Of course this is an accent, too, in the same way that “White” is a race, but this “lack” of accent (just like whiteness) is so ubiquitous, that most people don’t  notice it.

The way someone pronounces their words, is used in movies and shows, not just to reinforce stereotypes, but as a  form of shorthand, to show a person’s character, and social class. Filmmakers use accents to show audiences that a character is good,  evil,  smart, gullible, suspicious, or trustworthy.  Turn on any American TV show, watch any movie, and chances are, those with Midwestern accents will be the majority of the characters, and probably  will be  the protagonists, heroes, or in positions of authority. They will also almost always be White.

You will not find  a lot of characters in mainstream media with deep Southern accents, Western twangs,  Texas Drawls, Valley Girl speech, Arabic, Southeast Indian, or Caribbean  accents, unless they are also shown as poor, incompetent, corrupt, or played for comic relief. In other words, characters never just have accents. There is always a reason for the accent, and some  point about that person is being made.

For example, the accent, in mainstream media, is used to indicate if someone is considered an American citizen. For the past twenty plus years, the Simpsons,  has had the running gag of an immigrant named Apu, a stereotypical character from India, who has  a strong accent,  is the father of a small multitude of babies, and runs a convenience store. This character is meant to be funny because of how he speaks, not necessarily because of anything he does, as his very existence in Springfield, (the setting of The Simpsons), is meant to be comedic. His accent also paints him as a perpetual foreigner. Asian Americans are especially susceptible to this stereotype, as no matter how many generations they’ve lived in America, they are often still assumed to be from somewhere else. And if they have an accent then doubly so.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perpetual_foreigner

The perpetual foreigner stereotype is a racialized form of nativist xenophobia in which naturalized and even native-born citizens (including families which have lived in the country for generations) are perceived as foreign because they belong to minority groups.

I spoke, in an earlier post, about the use of accents in the movies of the Coen Brothers, where everyone’s speech patterns and accents are used as indicators of people’s socio-economic status, the status they aspire to be, or simply framed as comedic.  In The Ladykillers, Tom Hanks broad Southern  accent is associated with television conmen, corrupt religious authority, and the Antebellum era of Georgia.  His accent gives the audience ideas about the  type of man he is. The audience doesn’t know he is a grifter and conman by his deeds. We know this by the long association, that has been made in mainstream media, between his accent, and untrustworthiness. All we  need is to hear is his caricature of a Southern accent, to understand that he is unreliable, and also that  the movie is meant to be a comedy.

 

In Raising Arizona, Hi, a criminal recidivist,  his two  best  friends, both prison escapees, and a murderous biker, all talk in what I call “downspeak”, where they talk as if they were  college educated, but with the Southern twang that is meant to indicate their social class, and criminal status. This is what I meant by the association of word use and accent. The humor comes from the incongruity of Hi, and his companions, using words not normally associated with their accents. Not only that, but Hi’s word use can also be seen as aspirational. He talks the way he wishes to be seen by others, which is smart, educated, middle-class, and therefore a reliable narrator, but we  laugh at the way Hi speaks, because his accent marks him as a member of the trailer park class, no matter what words he uses.

Accents are especially interesting  when it comes to Black characters. Blackness, throughout most of film history, has been  almost always associated with buffoonery, poverty, criminality, and a lack of education.  So  it is interesting that even though the largest population of Black people in the US, live in the South, Black people in Popular media, rarely have Southern, Californian, or even Texan accents, and those times when they have  a Southern accent, it represents childlike helplessness, that they have wisdom above their station, or in the case of Black women, that they are deeply religious.

In the 1986 movie, Crossroads, starring Ralph Macchio, and Joe Seneca, we can contrast Willie Brown’s poor, Mississippi Delta accent, with Eugene Martone’s middle-class, New York accent, something which Willie never lets Eugene forget throughout the film. They’re both musicians who specialize in playing the guitar, but one of them was born into poverty and plays the Blues, a style of music that is dismissed as “primitive” by Eugene’s music teachers, and the other was born in one of world’s most cosmopolitan cities, and plays Western European Classical music, which is sneered at by Willie, as not being “real music, that comes from the heart”. In this movie, it is Eugene who is out of place, as his accent is commented on by the other characters in the film, and marks him as being from a different socio-economic class.

The Northern Blaccent, where a person speaks AAVE, but speaks it with a Midwestern accent, is often representative of  the “thug”, or gang banger stereotype, and appears to be a universal Black accent,  not closely associated  with any particular region of the US, which means that no matter where the movie or show is set, the accents of Black characters in Popular media, tend to remain consistently Midwestern. Once again, this is not a hard and fast rule, as exceptions can be found, but it is a pattern, and the idea that Blackness alone, is so associated with criminality, violence, and unreliability, to such a degree, that none of those qualities need be further indicated by a strong accent, is disturbing.

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When a Black character speaks SAE (Standard American English) onscreen, without an accent, then it connotes all the same qualities that it does in the real world, respectability, and safety. A decade after the demise of the Mid-Atlantic accent, used by White actors, Black characters were still using it. The use of AAVE in movies and shows, did not reach full use by Black characters until the mid seventies, after which it became associated with Black youth culture, and the Blacksploitation movies of that era. The use of AAVE, in mainstream media, came about as a result of the resurgence in Black Pride, when young Black people dismissed respectability politics, in favor of more natural manners of speaking.

Actors like Sidney Poitier, and other actors during, and after, the Civil rights Era, had a distinct, clipped, educated,  Mid-Atlantic accent, which was meant to show that he was a fine, upstanding Black man, to be respected. The purpose of this manner of speaking was meant to counteract the “Coon” manner of speaking that had been heard in most mainstream films, featuring Black characters. His tone, and speech, are meant to convey authority. This was a man who could be liked and trusted, and  this was illustrated in the 1967 movie, In the Heat of the Night, in which a Black Philadelphia cop, Virgil Tibbs, is sent to a small town in Mississippi,  and works with the town sheriff to solve a murder.

Poitier’s voice is deep, firm, and commanding, because sometimes, the tone and timbre of a person’s voice are important, as well. In this scene, notice the difference in his voice, compared to that of the white sheriff, whose voice is of a higher register, and a more casual tone. The Sheriff’s accent is a soft Southern drawl, his tone holds just a touch of ambiguity, because while he is assured of his own authority, he is uncertain of Tibbs, but like the plot of every cop film of the 80s,  the two men begin  to respect each other, as they are forced to work together.

 

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In Hollywood films, the accent that receives the most negative depictions, outside of the Northern Blaccent, is the  Southern Twang. White people with Southern twangs from places  like Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and the Appalachians, are often depicted in films as toothless, criminal, incestuous,  “rednecks”, “trailer trash”, and “hillbillies”. They are often shown as uneducated, overly religious, violent, poor, and gullible members of the lower classes, (they often populate Horror movies set in rural America, like The Texas Chainsaw massacre, and Deliverance, which is something I’ll be speaking about in a later post.) We are meant to laugh at them, disdain them, be afraid of them, or disgusted by them. The audience is almost never meant to think of such individuals as their equals. Contrast this attitude with that of earlier in the twentieth century, before television, when such people were often held up as admirable examples of Americans, who were the “salt of the Earth”. They weren’t respected, but at least were not blatantly denigrated in most media depictions of them. They were shown as ignorant, but level headed, uneducated, but sensible. Over time, with the advent of television, which was aimed at a middle class audience, the depiction of white poverty became almost entirely negative.

Also on The Simpsons, there is another recurring character named Cletus, The Slack Jawed Yokel, and his theme song and  vignettes are every stereotype of rural poverty, which pretty much sums up how this character is meant to be seen, but because this is a white character, no one thinks of it as being especially mean-spirited, despite the fact that the people writing the show, don’t share the socio-economic background of the character. We are meant to laugh at him, and his antics, not sympathize with him. (TBH, many of The Simpson’s recurring characters are  collections of various tropes.)

We can more clearly see this stereotyping at work, in the 1993 movie, Kalifornia, between  two couples who share almost nothing in common, beyond having white skin. The don’t share income levels, background, or education. Early and his girlfriend, Adele, both speak with a Twang which, outside of their dress and demeanor, indicates their low social and economic status, compared to Brian and Carrie, who speak with the “accentless” accents of the Midwest. Brian and Carrie are both urbane, educated, middle class, and look down on, and mock Adele and Early as “poor white trash”. When the two couples meet,  Carrie expresses reservations about Early and Adele, and finds them funny. Throughout the movie, she regularly expresses disgust, and embarrassment, for the couple’s mannerisms, speech, and lack of boundaries.

Early is a murderer, with a long criminal background, and  on parole, while he and Adele inhabit a trailer, they cannot afford. Adele, while sweet, and good-natured, is also  dimwitted,  gullible, and easily manipulated by Early, who is physically abusive towards her. Adele is  more open with her sexuality. She isn’t slut-shamed in the film, but her manner and dress is distinctly different from the cool, modestly dressed, and sexually aloof Carrie, who Early covets as being beyond his ability to acquire. Carrie’s hair, makeup, and clothing, all indicate that she is a member of the middle class, while Adele’s childlike hairstyles, and lack of makeup, indicate her lack of sophistication. This is actually pretty typical of Hollywood versions of White people with strong Southern accents, but there are at least two exceptions to this, as well.

 

The Texas Drawl, for example, which is commonly given to hyper-masculine, and  heroic White men, like John Wayne, and the Southern Belle, a white woman of at least middle class status, who is  depicted as either  a simpering, or  fiery, damsel in distress, like Scarlett O’Hara.

In genre movies that take place in Fantasy and Science Fiction settings, the Midwestern accent is still dominant, even if there is no reason why a story set in Medieval England, or Outer Space is filled with Midwestern American speaking people, outside of being the actors hired for those roles. Most of the lead characters in Game of Thrones have either staunch Midwestern, or upper class British accents, when there is no reason for such a class station to be alluded to at all, in such a setting. If the characters in a world based on Medieval European history, can have modern British and Midwestern accents, and not be argued as historically inaccurate, than why not any of the many twangs, drawls, Indigenous, Asian, or even Eastern European accents? Why are posh British accents always used to denote the upper classes and nobility even in fantasy settings?

In the Lord of the Rings movie franchise, Viggo Mortensen is a multilingual actor, of Danish heritage, who speaks with a pronounced American accent in the movie. Of all the accents he could have chosen to use, why use that one? The Hobbits all use a variety of English, and Midwestern accents, that are meant to sound casual, but are still “low class” English, or Midwestern standard (and sometimes both in the same character). Although the movies are shot in New Zealand, none of the primary actors have Kiwi accents, which for the Hobbits would be just as valid as the English and Midwestern accents they’re using.

All of the members of the nobility, for example, including the fantasy creatures, regardless of the region of Middle-Earth, or the culture they’re from, like the elves, and dwarves, have English accents. Now I do understand that many of these accents are the natural voices of the actors hired for the roles, but what is never taken into account by audiences is that, that too, is a choice the creators made. The creators of the movies took the time to have the actors speak invented languages, and they could have easily taken the time to make up accents, but chose not to, which probably means, just like the audience, they didn’t hear it either. They could have taken the time to use different accents, for different cultures, or regions of Middle Earth, but didn’t.

Contrast that decision with the accents used in the movie Black Panther. Yes, the accents are all over the place, but according to some of the countries referenced by dress and custom in the movie, the actors accents are not the real accents of any particular region, or tribe, and as a result, many Africans found the accents funny. The Wakandans do speak something like the real language called Xhosa. The bottom line is someone thought about how the characters should sound, and made a deliberate choice that all the members of the fictional nation of Wakanda, would have a certain accent, while it seems no particular thought was given to the accents of the characters from Lord of the Rings. The actors just all used their natural voices there.

When The TV series The Witcher was announced, there was a great deal of argument about adding people of color to the cast, saying that they didn’t belong in a story based in  Polish folklore, because that would not be “Historically Accurate”. This is an argument I’m getting especially tired of hearing,for stories set in Fantasy settings, that involve elves, dragons, and magic, especially since none of those same  people complained about any of the characters lack of Medieval Polish accents, or the lack of any of the languages of Poland. It’s not accurate for any of the characters to have either American or British accents, but no one complained about them. No one complained, because they are not meant to notice that the  “accentless” accent, of Midwestern America, is actually a very specific, and just as contrived,  accent, aimed at a specific audience the films.

Would we take any of these films as seriously as we do, if all the characters spoke like Cletus, from The Simpsons?

In Star Wars, most of the characters (even robots) have either British or Midwestern accents, as well, and there is no particular reason why no one has a Blaccent, or speaks like they’re from Georgia, Pakistan, or Indonesia, although in Science Fiction, this is changing, as in some of the films, most notably in Rogue One, the actors of color all kept their original accents, from places like Mexico (Diego Luna), and China (Donnie Yen).  At least part of the reason we don’t often hear other types of accents in genre films is those types of actors are rarely chosen for those roles,  the disrespect and mockery of accents outside of the Midwestern standard, and  the fact that British accents are the only accents that generally don’t receive mockery in American culture, (although men with such accents are sometimes coded as villainous gays.)

Asian accents on television and in movies are often subject to ridicule and satire. Starting with Mr. Yunioshi, in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, to Long Duk Dong, in Sixteen Candles, Hollywood has a long, and sordid, history of mocking Asian accents, often using White actors. Asian characters may be stereotyped as  smart, or  “model minorities” in comparison to Black characters, but they are still shown as being less American, through depictions of broken English, ignorance of American culture, and mock languages, like the sing-song noises directed at Asian Americans, even if they were born in America.

Any non-American accents will receive mockery though, no matter what the the race or culture. I’ve caught myself mocking the Australian accent of Steve Irwin, Michael Caine’s Cockney accent, or laughing at fake Irish and Scottish accents. All accents that are considered by mainstream media to be comedic, or just of the “lower classes”.

All this means is that all accents are unworthy, and that the only one that should be respected (or just never noticed at all) is the accentless accent of the Midwest. And let’s be absolutely honest, not even all Midwestern accents are considered equal. The Northern Midwest has its own distinct sound, and is often used in movies as a form of comedy relief.

Here, Amy Walker talks about some of the more common American regional accents.

 

Essentially, the Midwestern accent  is as  ubiquitous, and invisible as whiteness. It is an accent without an accent, it is everywhere, and because its so pervasive, no one can hear it.

Hi Everyone!

I am currently, like a lot of people, in a lockdown city, here in the US, due to the C- 19 pandemic, and I’m not working. Unfortunately, now is also the wrong fucking time to have either the flu, or allergies, both of which are currently kicking my ass, but I am otherwise okay. I live in a predominantly Black neighborhood and although we rarely panic about anything, yes, people are buying lots of toilet paper.

My Mom and I went shopping this weekend, and while there was a very mild air of excitement, kinda like what’s felt before a National holiday, most people were quite calm, and polite. I saw only one woman wearing a face mask, and one guy with rubber gloves. The handful of white People I saw had amassed lots of toilet paper, while the Black customers seemed like they were just buying food for their unexpectedly early, out of school children. Schools will be closed here to the end of the school year, but the kids are still going to be fed, because otherwise the school lunches, that were bought in advance would go to waste, so that’s good. Voting has been postponed til Summer, movie theaters are closed, and I have no idea when I’ll be back to work, although thankfully, I’m one of those people with fully paid leave.

I’m thinking of donating to people without paid leave, so if anyone knows any organizations that will do that, then please hit me up on Tumblr with the details.

I have no intention of talking about the pandemic on this blog, mostly because reliable information can be found everywhere else, and I really don’t have strong feelings about what’s happening. It is what it is, I’m gonna roll with whatever happens, and my white noise about it isn’t going to be helpful. I’m going to continue to post what’s in my queue, talk about movies and shows, and try to be entertaining, with an occasional deep thought.

Newest Post on Medium.com

My latest post on Medium.com is up and running. Its a little different from what I usually post here, as its something a bit more personal. The post was prompted by a writer on Medium by the name of Elle Beau, and her question was what did the world teach you about how to be a woman. Her question was prompted by an article titled How to Be a Lady, calling  out conflicting narratives of how the world wants women to behave.

Head on over to :

What the World Taught Me About Womanhood

I Ain’t Never Gonna Be A Lady

If you have a Medium membership, just click on my name, and it should be the first article that pops up. Head on over, read it, and be sure to give it a few claps, if you like it! You can give applause by clicking on the tiny hands at the bottom of the post. You can also follow specific themes and writers, so that their latest articles will always show up on your dash ,and you can save articles to read later. (It is possible to join Medium for free. You can read all you want but the number of articles available offline is limited. A paid membership costs about 5.0 a month, for a lot of extra perks, including the ability to write your own posts.)
While you’re there,  check out some of my other original posts, and let me know what you think!

Recognizing Anti-Semitism

*Warning for symbols and Imagery of Anti-Semitism*

So You Want to Fight Against Antisemitism

This post is for everyone. 

So, you know that antisemitism is a major problem in today’s world. You know it is a system of oppression unlike any other. And you know you have to do something. But what? 

 

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Anti-Semitism Symbol

Learn what Antisemitism is. 

  • You can’t really fight antisemitism if you don’t understand it
  • This, of course, applies to every system of power in our society, but it especially applies to antisemitism for a few reasons:
    • Antisemitism is probably one of the oldest forms of institutionalized hatred in our society (along with, like, misogyny). It is so old that its tropes are written into the foundation of our world. More than any other system of oppression, you are just as likely to accidentally say something antisemitic as you are to reference a common aphorism
    • Antisemitism is a weird form of oppression that doesn’t function like other systems of oppression. In most systems of oppression, the oppressed are portrayed as weak, deserving their lower station, and lesser than the oppressors. Jewish people are portrayed as powerful and dangerous because of that power – and so, in a sense, Jewish people are portrayed as the oppressors of everyone else, and thus antisemitism is “justified” because the Jewish people have it coming, are privileged, etc. This is poppycock, but it’s built into the framework of antisemitism and thus our society. And it’s hard to remember if it’s not in your face every. damn. day.
    • Antisemitism doesn’t really fall under any oppression umbrella well – it’s not really about gender and sexuality, you could say it’s about race/ethnicity but that doesn’t work completely either, and you could say it’s about religion but that doesn’t work either. It’s a whole other complicated beast, coming from a time before we tried to neatly partition our world into these boxes
    • Western Society got really fucking guilty after the Holocaust and, in an effort to assuage that guilt rather than… I don’t know, improve? Apparently actually trying to be better is too hard for this mofos… most of Western Society, especially the United States began to spread this Mythos that:
      • A) Judaism and Xtianity (Christianity) share an Intimate and Tightly Knit history; that Xtianity has always respected its parent religion, and that the two can be united as “Judeo-Xtian” to the exclusion of all else;
      • B) that antisemitism was destroyed in WWII when the camps were liberated, and everything for Jewish People is Fine now;
      • C) antisemitism wasn’t really a problem in “good” western countries before then anyway (see: more anglo-saxon-y/western-europe-y than Germany) and so the united states never had to improve to begin with, we were always completely against the nazis, go team!
      • This all means that it is so ingrained in the mindset of Americans that there Isn’t a Problem Anymore and that feeds back into the whole “Jews are actually privileged!” mythos I mentioned earlier
    • And then, on top of it, people have this weird kick in the Information Era of deciding that words should mean what their etymology suggests? Like, the whole “bisexual people are ONLY attracted to two genders” thing when bisexual people have said “two or more” for decades but that doesn’t matter; or “dinosaurs are lizards because saur means lizard” when that’s utter nonsense, etc. And so people think “semite = speaker of a semitic language group = people of middle eastern descent = antisemitism is prejudice against all middle eastern groups, not just jews” when, no, the word has an actual history, it was just a term designed to make jew-hatred seem “reasonable” instead of calling it, literally, jew-hatred, which is what it had been called before. it only has to do with jews.
    • Also just… people… don’t understand Jewish history. At all. Which is weird, because they keep saying we have an “intimate shared past” with the whole judeo-xtian crap
  • So you can’t just treat Antisemitism like you do Racism, Sexism, Homophobia, etc. You can’t. It’s a whole other Thing, because of the attitude people have towards the oppressed group
    • Disclaimer: this does not mean it’s “worse” than any other system of oppression. I don’t play the fucking oppression olympics. We all have equally important problems and we all have to help each other, end of discussion.
    • That being said, the unique mindset of antisemitism does present unique challenges that have to be uniquely overcome (just like every system of oppression has their own unique challenges.)
  • So, what is antisemitism? 
    • Antisemitism is a form of oppression in almost every modern society that targets Jewish people for being Jewish
    • Being Jewish has been defined in a lot of different ways over the years, but it is primarily an ethnoreligion 
      • This means that Judaism is the religious & cultural system for the Jewish People
      • And the Jewish People are defined by their common ancestry from a small family of sheep-hearders from the ancient middle east
      • So, being Jewish = someone who belongs to that group of people, either through being born into it or getting adopted into it (for the purposes of… everything, conversion to Judaism is literally just voluntary adult adoption.)
      • And, usually, Jewish people follow the religious traditions of Judaism, but this is not an absolute rule
      • In the past, the prejudice against Jewish people was based on them believing in Judaism. In the “modern” era (since the 1800s), it began to transition to be about their heritage – so even if a Jewish person converted to Xtianity, they were subjected to this new form of the hatred 
      • Still, in the modern day, it can literally be about either, both, or somehow none, because people are the worst 
    • This weird definition of what it means to be Jewish is why it’s hard to put antisemitism into a neat box, oppression-category-wise
    • Like, it takes some stuff from racist power structures, but also those structures designed to keep xtianity in power, etc.
      • Disclaimer: I am from the United States. As such, I can only speak about my experiences in a majority-Xtian country. While antisemitism is present in countries where the majority religion is something other than Xtianity, it is not my place to discuss it here. That is something that you have to research on your own. 
      • Also, just, so many of our antisemitic tropes evolved in Christendom or whatever you want to call it, and much antisemitism found in non-xtian countries is just… the fault of xtian countries to begin with, so. yeah. Oof.
    • Antisemitism is, thus, built on a wide variety of tropes, prejudices, and assumptions about the Jewish people that stem all the way back to the split of Xtianity and Judaism 2000 years ago
      • I can’t list every single antisemitic stereotype because A) there’s too many of them and B) that would be depressing as hell and I don’t feel like being more depressed than I have to be
      • But here are some common ones (we = Jewish people):
        • We killed Jesus
        • Blood Libel (we are bloodthirsty in general, use the blood/flesh of Xtian children fro our food, etc.)
        • We Have Horns/Are Manifestations of the Devil
        • We are here to “test” xtians
        • We are Greedy
        • We are Rich
        • We secretly control the government/the media/the economy/the world/…anything
        • And that we have a secret club where we discuss controlling things
        • We aren’t trustworthy/we break our oaths/ we’ll stab you in the back
        • We are lizard people who, again, control the government
        • We tax and suck the money from everyone who isn’t Jewish
        • We are evil, greedy capitalists
        • We are scary, violent communists
        • We smell and are unclean
        • We hate all goyim (non-Jewish people)
        • We destroy Xtian objects
        • We cause wars, revolutions, and catastrophes
        • We caused the slave trade
        • We are lying about the holocaust/any other antisemitic event
        • We use our oppression and past to “get things” (influence in the government, in the media, Israel as a country, etc.)
        • Usury stuff
        • We are disloyal to our home countries
        • We are immoral
        • We are homeless/wandering/etc.
      • yeah ok I’m done with listing shit
      • If you see some contradictory ones in there yes, yes you do, isn’t it fun
      • But, you can see how this feeds back to the unique nature of antisemitism: almost all of these tropes are about painting Jewish people as the source of all suffering or problems for non-Jews and, thus, worth hating and rising up against. Jewish people are portrayed as powerful and, non-Jews, as the people without power who must defeat them. 
      • So you can see how denying the problem of antisemitism is actually FEEDING INTO ANTISEMITISM what a world we live in 
  • How did antisemitism get started? 
    • No one likes an “other” or an “outgroup”
    • And Jews are the Ultimate Outgroup
    • I’m serious
    • Judaism was a Different Sort of Religion in the ancient world. Rather than being paganistic, it was monotheistic (at least, after a point, it was monotheistic; let’s not debate the history of the view of Gd in jewish thought today) and, as such, the gods of other cultures couldn’t just be adopted into Jewish thought
    • This was a common method of cultural exchange and how many empires imposed their power
    • So, Jewish people, by refusing to take on other gds (by and large), marked themselves out as other
    • Also, it didn’t help that our people originated in the Levant, which is literally the bridge between Eurasia and Africa and the crossroads of the Mediterranean world
    • Everyone wants control of the bridge 
    • So, we kept being conquered and then exiled or oppressed in our homeland, because we wouldn’t do the Normal Thing of taking on other gds and we were on land that people really needed for Warring reasons (and trade reasons)
    • Even before Xtianity was a thing, we were an Other
    • And then Xtianity happened
      • Xtianity, at its roots, is built on the Fundamental Idea that Jesus of Nazareth was the Mosiach
      • The Messiah, or Mosiach, is a prophecy in Jewish thought of a man, descended through his father from King Solomon, would come and initate a time of complete peace on earth, when all Jewish people would be returned to the Levant and actually control our country again
      • Jewish people rejected Jesus as the messiah almost immediately in most groups except for Jesus’ disciples
        • Jesus wasn’t descended from Solomon through his dad (if you agree his dad is gd, then he really isn’t; if his dad is Joseph, then Joseph is from a different son of David, not Solomon, etc.)
        • Jesus didn’t do jack diddly squat to start an era of peace and liberate the Jewish people from the Romans
        • also, Jewish people are really strict about the Gd is One thing and even thinking that Gd could have an equally Gd Son is ridiculous in Jewish thought and also not part of the messianic tradition 
        • Oof
        • Moving on
      • But, for Xtianity to be “valid” in the eyes of the early church, Jesus had to be the messiah
      • And if Jews weren’t accepting Jesus as the messiah, xtians had one of two choices: either they were wrong, or jews were wrong
      • Honestly, i can’t even blame early xtians for going with the second one, it’s just basic self-preservation
      • And as xtians gained more power in roman society, they began to oppress Jewish people more and more, because they were literally visible reminder that Xtianity might not be Right, which threatened the entire system of power xtianity was building for itself along the scaffold provided by the roman empire
    • So, from the time of the end of the roman empire through the 1800s, almost all anti-Jewish thought was based around religious tropes and the idea that Jewish people, by rejecting the Messiah, were now agents of the devil
      • Very little of it was ethnicity based
      • Similar things did happen in the Islamic world to a lesser extent – Muslims see Muhammad as the Final Prophet and the successor to the Jewish prophetic tradition, Jewish people see prophets as not being a thing since a little after the babylonian exile, so by rejecting Muhammad jews kind of delegitimize Islam, etc.
      • But it wasn’t as devastating for the foundation of Islam as rejecting Jesus was for Xtianity, so this sort of anti-Jewish prejudice in the Islamic world at the time wasn’t neaaaarly as bad – Jewish people had a lot more rights, on average, in the Islamic world than in the Xtian world during the middle ages
    • This all laid the foundation for antisemitism to “evolve” (devolve) during the 1800s
      • People trying to rationalize hatred against various groups needed a reason to hate Jewish people that wasn’t about religion because, something something Enlightenment Means We Reject Supernatural Explanations Aka Religion something something
      • I dunno about you guys but illogical hatred seems Unenlightened to me but whatever
      • And, so, the hatred of the Jews already present and built into Xtian society was turned into hatred of them because of their ethnicity/family ties/race
        • this was around the same time women were considered lesser because it was just their biological condition that they were lesser, not because of eve or whatever
        • also the same time racism against black people started to get a lot of pseudo-science crap to “back it up”
        • it was a fun time. a fun, fun, super fun time of people wanting to continue to be crappy and trying to bullshit reasons to do so.
      • This lead to the atrocities of the progroms and the holocaust to evolve out of enlightenment thinking
    • But, do not get it twistedAntisemitism is, at its core, because Jewish people refuse to assimilate into the main culture/religion of their larger society that they live in; and people just do not like the other. Everything else that has been used to justify and/or explain antisemitism in an attempt to have it “make sense” is just that: justification. Pulling shit out of their asses. Trying to make their hatred seem OK. 
  • Every trope of antisemitism has its own sordid history and I’m not going to continue to get into it
  • It’s up to you to educate yourself about all of them so you can “spot them in the wild”
    • ie, if your cousin Renee says “lizard people control new york city!’ just go up to her and slap her across the face because you know Lizard People = Jews now
    • And if your mutual tumblr user IMissThePorn89 says “gal gadot killed children!” you can be like “this is blood libel she was a fitness instructor” because now you know what blood libel is
  • Educate yourself slowly, carefully, and check your own assumptions and prejudices every step along the way. 

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Anti-Semitic Flyer

Evaluate your own Risk. 

  • Before you start actively fighting antisemitism on the ground, ask yourself a couple of important questions:
    • Am I Jewish?
    • Am I Planning to Become Jewish?
    • Do I belong to any other Oppressed Class, especially those that could put me at risk with certain groups such as the alt-right and nazis?
    • Do I have friends and family members who could be at risk from my activism?
  • Fighting against antisemitism is dangerous 
    • Nazis don’t really care about your humanity my friend 
    • You can get hurt. You can get punched, doxxed, SWAT’ed, attacked, or even killed, depending on how dire the situation is
    • Neverput yourself in more danger than is needed based on a situation
    • Use your head: if picking a fight won’t endanger anyone other than you and could get a nazi to shut the fuck up, then pick the fight. If picking the fight will just put jewish people (or other oppressed people) in the crosshairs, don’t pick the fight
  • Only you know your own level of risk
    • You know if you can afford to put yourself on the front lines against alt-righters, etc.
    • There are a lot of ways to fight antisemitism that don’t involve making bonehead moves
    • But, still, someone has to do the bonehead stuff. Punching nazis works. Just see Richard Spencer. Or, you know, Nazi Germany
  • And, plus, you know what you’re best at
    • Are you best at confrontation? Punch away!
    • Are you best at talking? Try to explain to the ignorant how antisemitism works
    • Are you somewhere in between? Handle lower-scale conflicts s
  • Are you a lover and not a fighter? 
    • There are a lot of more peaceful ways to fight antisemitism that doesn’t involve arguing and physical fights
    • Provide an ear for listening and a shoulder for crying for victims and survivors to seek support
    • Break the law to weaken their power in a variety of ways
    • Speak out in public, and preserve knowledge and truth in the face of “fake news”
    • Every little bit of resistance can help against encroaching antisemitic fascist power

https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/anti-semitic-stereotypes-of-the-jewish-body/

Recognize the signs. 

  • There are dog-whistles for antisemitism as there are with any system of oppression
  • Recognizing these key phrases and ideas can help to identify someone with antisemitic opinions (or just straight-up an antisemite) before a situation escalates
  • These dog-whistles tie into common antisemitic tropes
  • Words such as:
    • Globalist
    • Cabal
    • Triple Parentheses
    • Worldwide
    • Zionist [note: this word is often used to refer to any jewish person as a way to legitimize hatred against them. please, please, please don’t get into Israel-related stuff on this post. Talk about derailment and feeding back into my main point]
    • Jew/Jewess used as a noun
    • Someone’s Jewishness being pointed out when not actually relevant
    • Coastal Elite / Elite
    • Hollywood Liberals / Liberals
    • Mentioning individuals such as Soros and other powerful Jewish individuals when, again, they don’t actually matter for the situation
    • Conspiracy Theories
    • Lizard people
  • Tropes such as:
    • Hooked noses
    • Wringing hands
    • Piles of money
    • Six-pointed stars
  • These and other symbols are used to indicate “I know that the Jews are the problem, do you?” and, upon assessing that in the individual they’re interacting with, can increase blatant antisemtism or not
  • This is what a dog-whistle does: it helps to identify members of your hate group and then group up together to create real damage
    • And then, these dog-whistles are ways to gently trick people into being bigots with you
    • It’s like a fast track to overt hatred
  • So, if you recognize a dog whistle, call it the fuck out, even if that person is just ignorant
    • Because it’s a short distance from ignorant to antisemitic
    • You can very easily go from thinking globalists are the problem, to realize globalist = jew, to thinking jewish people are the problem
    • So you call it out. every time. 

Utilize your privilege. 

  • Gentiles have a unique positions. They’re not affected by antisemitism, but they can fight against it if they put their mind to it
  • Jewish people, no matter their other privileges, do not escape antisemitism
    • Of course, white-passing Jewish people can help to fight against race/colorism related situations and prejudices more than non-white-passing Jews, etc.
    • And those kinds of prejudice often tie into antisemitism
    • But really this section is mostly about what gentiles can do
  • It is always more dangerous for a Jewish person to fight against an antisemite than it is for a gentile
    • So, in terms of fighting on the front lines, the best way for a gentile to help Jewish people is to put themselves in positions of danger over a Jewish individual doing so
    • Like, if there’s a choice between a group of Jews acting as security at an event that is at risk and a group of gentiles, the gentiles should step up
    • If a Jewish person is arguing against an antisemite, a gentile should
      • Uplift that Jew’s voice
      • Repeat what they say
      • Support them
      • Fight against the antisemite themselves
    • Don’t drag Jewish people into fights they’re not in
      • If you see a nazi or other antisemite on the internet or in the meatspace, fight against them yourself 
      • Don’t drag a Jewish person into a fight
      • This is why you have to educate yourself. So that Jewish people don’t have to put themselves in danger (or emotional distress) needlessly
  • If you want to be a true ally for Jewish people, you need to use your privilege to do things that would be more unsafe for Jewish people to do. End of story.

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Educate as much as possible. 

  • You’re always learning, obviously, but you need to help others learn too
  • Education is exhausting, especially when talking about something that personally, negatively affects you
  • Leaving the burden of education on Jewish people alone is problematic, even though we’re the experts on our own oppression
    • So like, Jewish people should educate because we’re the experts
    • And gentiles should educate because they’re not personally affected (to the same extent)
    • But Jewish people shouldn’t educate beyond what they’re emotionally/physically able to do (exhaustion/spoon-wise)
    • And gentiles shouldn’t educate beyond what they’re able to in terms fo knowledge
    • It’s a balancing act and we all have to contribute
  • Education is the main barrier against hatred 
    • The more people are educated about oppression, history, and society, the less likely they are to be bigoted
    • That doesn’t mean it’s impossible – I know some really fucking well educated bigots – but education is by far the biggest tool we have (the second biggest tool is fighting)
    • Spend your time making posts explaining antisemitism, helping others learn, and discussing how antisemitism works with leaders of social justice groups (or just members thereof)
    • Antisemitism is a unique oppression. It requires unique attention and education. And you can help fight against it by bringing that education to others

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Get your hands dirty. 

  • I touched on this in the privilege section, but you gotta get out there and do things 
  • Even if it’s internet-based things, you have to act
  • Sitting and not saying anything is not doing anything
  • You don’t have to argue. You don’t have to physically fight. But you do have to do something
  • And, honestly, there are other ways to really get at the root of antisemitism
    • Because antisemitism is literally built into the DNA of western society, it is everywhere 
    • This means it is a part of our government, our institutions, our history, even if it might not be as blatantly obvious as, say, racism and transphobia
  • You can utilize graffiti and other forms of subversive art to spread anti-antisemitism messages
  • You can prep portions of your home in case Jewish people need to hide there
    • I cannot stress this enough
    • It is literally a game among Jewish children
    • “Will you hide me?”
    • It’s how we measure trust
  • Prepare yourself to lie to figures of authority – especially police – if things get really dire
    • Again, the police are less likely to attack a gentile than a Jew in these scenarios
    • You can use your privilege to lie to help a Jewish person stay safe
  • Antisemitism is dirty, and it doesn’t play by the rules. Neither should you

Step outside of your comfort zone. 

  • None of these things are easy, so all of this might be out of your comfort zone
  • But to grow as a person and as an ally/fighter, you have to do things you’re not completely comfortable with
  • This is why it’s hard 
  • You’ve got to push yourself to make meaningful change
  • It’s hard to step into it – especially if you’re a baby Jew (ie, conversion student or convert) and are new to all of this – but the more you step into it, the more you’ll be able to do
  • Remember, not fighting against antisemitism is comfortable. It’s supposed to be, because society wants you to be antisemitic
    • Any fighting against this (or other forms of bigotry) is, by definition, uncomfortable, because society says you should be comfortable with the hatred
    • But you’re not. That’s why you want to fight. So what’s a little more discomfort? 

Practice radical self-care. 

  • ALL OF THIS IS REALLY HARD
  • ESPECIALLY IF YOU’RE JEWISH OR AN ALMOST-JEW
  • TAKE. CARE. OF. YOURSELF.
  • I can’t stress this enough
    • You are no good to the resistance if you’re hurting yourself fighting in it 
    • Take breaks
    • Step back from arguments
    • Learn to say no
  • This isn’t all on you.
  • If you take care of yourself, then you can get back to the fight
  • Learn to find your own limits and your own boundaries
  • And, learn to ask for help
    • So that, if you have to step back form an active situation, someone else can step in
    • You have to know your own limits
  • Of course, you also have to know your own comforts and ways of care
    • For me, it’s playing dumb video games and cuddling birds
    • For you, it might be going on hikes and taking bubble baths
    • It varies and you should learn what helps you regain your energy and get back out there
  • It is not a negative reflection of you if you cannot fight 
    • Either at all or in specific ways
    • Anxiety, depression, etc. all make actively fighting against bigotry very hard 
    • Same with other mental and physical disabilities and conditions
    • Because then you have other societal systems of oppression weighing you down (as well as your own body in most cases)
    • And of course there are other factors (money, education, race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, etc.)
    • Do what you can, but don’t destroy yourself in the process. No one wants you to sacrifice yourself. 

You are not alone. 

  • We’re all fighting this together
  • Lean on other people for support and for help
  • Never take on a problem alone
  • If you’re Jewish, never put yourself into a dangerous situation alone
  • Heck that applies if you’re not too
  • We’re all. in. this. together. And we are stronger together than we are apart
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help, advice, and ideas to move forward

Don’t just listen to me. 

  • I’m a tired potato crying under a pile of moving boxes
  • Everyone has different ideas and different emphases in how they fight against this horrible, horrible things
  • You want to fight against antisemitism? Listen to a wide variety of Jewish voices, not just me
  • Diversity is what we’re fighting for. Seek it out in your own education

Past PostsJewish Conversion / Rosh Chodesh / Rosh Hashanah / Days of Awe / Religious Fasting / Yom Kippur / Sukkot / Sh’mini Atzeret & Simchat Torah / Chanukah / Tu B’Shevat / Branches of Judaism / Second Temple Judaism

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Hannibal Season Three: Dolce

I know its been a while since I posted a Hannibal review. I promise I’m not neglecting what I’d said I’d do with this show, which was do in depth reviews of all three seasons, which are currently available to stream on Amazon Prime. Here’s my review of Dolce, which is episode six of season three.

In the sixth episode of this season, we see the long awaited reunion between Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham, and naturally, by the end of the episode, the two of them try to kill each other, because that’s just  how  they are.

Jack Crawford and Will Graham meet at Pazzi’s gruesome murder scene for the first time since last season. It turns out that this was always the plan between the two of them. We had been led to believe that Will had simply run off to be with Hannibal, but it turns out, that Will went to Europe to find him, while Jack could follow later, and by a different route, so that the two of them would not appear to be in tandem. At their meeting, Will asks Jack why he didn’t kill Hannibal, and Jack says he was saving him for Will.

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Throughout this entire series, Will has been a hound caught between two masters. Earlier in season one, Hannibal referred to Will as Jack Crawford’s  hound, and this is an apt description, because Will has the instincts of one, Lecter and Jack sent him out to do their bidding, and often fought over their possession of him. At one point Jack just comes right out and asks if Will is his man, or is he Hannibal’s, and Will had to think about that for a minute, as he neatly sidestepped that question.

When viewed from one angle, Will’s actions make no sense, but if you take into account that Jack Crawford and Hannibal represent opposing sides of who he is, and what he wants: stability, justice, and order, or mayhem, lawlessness, and the freedom to do what he will, then it is understandable why Will is torn. If Lecter is coded as a satanic figure, then Jack is God, or at least Will’s better angel, (in fact, Jack says as much to Lecter, in a later episode), and naturally, Lecter exists in opposition to all that Jack represents. Does Will want to serve, or be served? Hannibal’s power, and ability to flout authority, is intoxicating to a part of Will’s personality, and he seems to constantly be at war, not just with Hannibal, but that part of himself.

Hannibal is severely injured after his fight with Jack Crawford, and limps his way back to his quarters, where Bedelia has already crafted an excuse for her dalliance with him in Rome. She tells him she is preparing for his eventual capture, and wonders if he is drawing his enemies to him. If he, in fact, wants to be caught. One of the biggest movie tropes about serial killers is that they secretly want to be caught, because if they don’t, how can they have their egos fed by becoming famous? How can they be known if no one knows who they are?

 

In the movie Seven, the killer turns himself in to the police at the end of the movie, for this exact reason. How are people to know his grand plan and admire it, if he doesn’t get caught. There is a real life basis for this common movie trope. For example,  mass killers often leave manifestos for why they kill, because they want to be known and admired, and on occasion a serial killer has tried to insinuate themselves  into their own investigation, by contacting the detectives involved, as in the Son of Sam investigation. But largely, the idea that serial killers want to be caught, is a myth.

Gillian Anderson is excellent this episode as Bedelia. Her performance is just one of the highlights. Up to now, she has appeared to be Hannibal’s prisoner, she is with him because of the constant underlying threat that he will kill her. In a sense she is keeping her enemy close to her, because its better for her to know exactly where he is than to be free, and not know where he is, or what he’s doing, which is an issue that will come into play later in the season, between Will and Hannibal.

But Bedelia is going to need to explain to the authorities why she stayed with him, She comes up with the excuse that she was out of her mind, with the same drug cocktail Hannibal used to subdue Miriam Lass, (in season 2), so she genuinely believed herself to be Lydia Fell, the wife of the man Hannibal is impersonating, Norman Fell. Hannibal admires her cleverness, and the two of them agree to support each other’s stories.

When Hannibal leaves, Bedelia shoots up her special cocktail, and is found first by Chiyo. Bedelia seems to be one of those people who develops a semi-adversarial relationship, with everyone she meets, and Chiyoh is no exception. Probably because Bedelia is one of those characters that seemingly every TV show must have, that person who speaks uncomfortable truths to the other characters.

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Then Will and Jack encounter Bedelia, in Hannibal’s apartments, and she already has her answers ready. Jack and Will are not buying any of her story, but I can’t tell if the police inspector does. There’s definitely some kind of “frission”, or attraction, going on between the two of them. One of the more amusing scenes is watching Bedelia’s interaction with  Jack and Will. Gillian Anderson, always brings her A game to every project, she looks like she’s having a helluva lot of fun, and that entire scene is hilarious to watch, as Bedelia drunkenly slurs her way through the initial interview, and its one of the few scenes of genuine humor, in the series.

Hannibal doesn’t leave Rome. Instead he makes his way to the Uffizzi Gallery, to view Boticelli’s Primavera, which I talked about in my review of the second episode of the season, titled Primavera. For some reason he is obsessed with this panting. He had a arranged one of his murders to resemble the painting, many years ago, before he left Italy. Here we see him drawing another representation of the painting but replacing the faces of the angel, Zephpyrus, and the nymph Chloris, with the faces of Will Graham, and Bedelia, his two closest “associates”.

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Will’s unexpected presence is a source of unmitigated happiness to Hannibal, and he almost loses his chill, telling Will, in a somewhat poetic manner, how much he missed him, and how overjoyed he is to see him again, (for Hannibal, this is practically gushing), even though he had the chance to see him when the two of them were running around in the catacombs, in an earlier episode, but admittedly that was before Will, supposedly,  forgave him. The two of them leave the Gallery together, and Will, feeling some type of way again, pulls out a knife and tries to stab Hannibal. I’m unsure if he was trying to incapacitate him, to capture him, or if the stabbing was revenge for Hannibal stabbing him last season, or just general assholery on Will’s part. Chiyo, sitting on a nearby roof, shoots Will through the shoulder. Since she only kills under the most dire of circumstances, as she did in Lithuania, she would not have killed Will, but she would not allow him to harm Hannibal, either.

Hannibal is, naturally, completely unperturbed by Will trying to kill him, because what’s a little homicide among friends?. He takes Will back to some rented rooms, and minsters to his woulds, before deciding (and I don’t know if this is revenge for Will trying to kill him, or general asssholery on his part), to eat Will’s brain. Notice how he takes the opportunity ,while dressing Will’s wounds, to give him a warm hug, since Will is in far too much pain to fight back, or try to stab him again.

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Now, let’s be clear here, Hannibal does love Will, but he still wants to eat him.  He wants to be with Will, but Will is still dangerous to him. One of the many philosophies behind human cannibalism (outside of desperation) is the idea that eating someone is a way of keeping that person close, so that they can never leave. This was the motivation behind the serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer. Either that, or he believes he will gain Will’s power and energy through consumption. Normally Hannibal’s reasons for eating others is because he has nothing but contempt for them, so treats them like food.

In the meantime, the police have allowed Jack Crawford to leave, urging him to go back to America, which, of course, Jack doesn’t do. How he manages to find Will and Hannibal is carefully not mentioned, but in a funny moment he encounters Chiyo in the elevator of Hannibal’s building. She either knows who he is, or senses he is a cop, or is just generally cagey, but she manages to avoid his, too close,  attention, although they each sneak suspicious glances at the other.

This entire time we keep switching back and forth between Italy and America where Mason, Alana, and Margot, have been plotting to capture Hannibal, so that Mason can cook and eat him. Alana’s and Margot’s relationship is revealed in this episode, along with Mason’s plans to have a Verger baby with his sister, to be carried by Alana.

We’ll talk more about that particular trio in the next post.

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Jack makes his way to Hannibal’s rented apartments, (I’m unclear how he found them, but he was following Will, at the time). Jack gets there, not just in time to watch Hannibal begin his meal of Will Graham, but to be ambushed by Hannibal,  taken prisoner, and made to watch the ordeal, which he vehemently protests, to no avail. Will’s face gets attacked a to this season, for some reason. I think somewhere in there is a statement about the actors prettiness. He is  more attractive than previous actors who played Will Graham, who looked a little more  like Will’s  working class roots.

Hannibal’s feast is interrupted by the Florentine police, who found the apartment by following Jack, in the hope that Jack (and Will) would lead them to Hannibal, having been suspicious of Jack’s motivations, for visiting their city, right from the beginning. They are still in the employ of Mason Verger actually, and they kidnap Will and Hannibal, and send them to the Verger’s Muskrat Farm, for the reward money. They attempt to kill Jack, but Chiyoh, hiding out on a nearby rooftop, assassinates them. Jack is freed by Chiyoh, after arguing that he just wants to go home, and in exchange for telling her where Will and Lecter were taken.Can I just add that Chiyoh is a total bad ass who is not to be trifled with, and that she really should have just had her own show?

Will and Lecter are taken to Muskrat Farm, and trussed like prized birds, while Mason gloats over his victory.

One of the things we haven’t talked about much in the series is the subject of Classism. Particularly the class differences between Will and Hannibal, and Hannibal and everyone else. Its especially important considering Hannibal’s philosophy about  the people he kills, and his attitude towards Will. One of Hannibal’s guiding philosophies is to “Eat the Rude.” so we get lots of instances where Hannibal kills and consumes people he believes were disrespectful to him. And not just to him, he kills and eats one of Abigail Hobbes friends, after seeing her be rude to her own mother.

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I am a firm believer that at least part of Hannibal’s motivations for killing and consuming his victims is because of class prejudice. Hannibal’s family was once Lithuanian nobility, and while it may not be a major factor, I certainly think it  informs his feeling of entitlement to respect. he doesn’t feel he needs to earn respect. He thinks he should be given respect by dint of having been born, and all beings should recognize his inherent superiority. When looked at from this standpoint, it is unsurprising that Hannibal would kill (and even eat) those he considered less than, because that is entirely in keeping, with the proletariat philosophy, that the wealthy are parasites, who prey on society.

Next episode however, the tables have been turned, as Hannibal is the one about to be eaten. Mason Verger has Hannibal exactly where he wants him, to exact his revenge for what Hannibal did to him, over a year ago. Unfortunately he has captured Will as well, and we’ll find out just how far Hannibal is willing to go to save them both from an ironic fate.

 

The Irishman (Netflix)

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*****Here Be Spoilers****

 

Let’s  get something out of the way first.

Yes, I’m aware of what Scorsese has said about the current crop of superhero movies, and yes, I was offended, until he clarified his statements in a recent Vanity Fair article. I’m glad he did, because I was prepared to stay mad at one of my all-time, favorite directors. Well, I’m not as angry, but he is not wrong. He’s not right though, mostly because I don’t think its fair to compare the two types of movies. They serve very different purposes for their audiences in that one type of film consists of exciting power fantasies (like the first half of the movie Goodfellas), and righting wrongs, and Scorsese’s films seem to be about the consequences of that amount of unchecked power,  and what it actually gets you. Superhero movies make no claims of depth.  They are not dramas, although movies like The Dark Knight, The Winter Soldier, and Logan come very close.

The Irishman had a brief theatrical run, of about a week or two, before it settled on Netflix, which is where I viewed it, with a great deal of anticipation. There’s a lot of backstory about why the movie is airing on Netflix, but I’m not covering that here. Like a lot of people, I went into this expecting something similar to Goodfellas, and Casino, since Scorsese seems to have some sort of lock on the depiction of  White men in the mafia life. The movie is definitely about gangsters, and appears to be having some kind of dialogue with the other two films. It would be interesting to watch all three of these movies back to back, to see what they are saying to, and about, each other.

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I loved this movie, and I wasn’t expecting that. Everyone involved is at the top of their game. I didn’t think Scorsese had a lot more to say about the mafia life, that he hadn’t already said, but he does.

Like the other two films in this trilogy, it’s a meditation on crime and regret. I think a lot of people have had a  very wrong takeaway from Scorsese’s movies. Although he seems both fascinated with , and terrified of, this lifestyle, he definitely does not approve. These are the kinds of people he knew growing up, and he seemed to have kept, in the forefront of his mind, that they were not good people, no matter what their claims of nobility, or  how fascinating their lives were.

These films are not a glorification of their lifestyle.  Henry Hill, in the last third of Goodfellas, just flat out states this. Scorsese has never sugarcoated who and what these people are. The violence in these films is always  sudden, and brutal.  Hill spoke on the topic in Goodfellas, but here its just shown. Scorsese always  has  his characters realize, by the end, the horror of the decisions they’ve made. Every participant ends up  dead, or regretful, and there is a an onscreen commentary, on the fate of each one of the character’s introduced, in the film. The bottom line is, if you choose the mobster life, because you have romanticized notions about it, it will end badly.

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I knew a young Italian man, in college, who told me that his father met some people in the life, but he also told me that one of the key things is never to invite them into your life. Don’t ask them for favors, don’t hang out with them in their places, don’t befriend them. They’re like vampires. You have to let them in.

A classic example, is the restaurant owner from Goodfellas, who allows Tommy, and his friends, to frequent his restaurant. Just like Henry did as a child, he thinks its exciting to be associated with these men. He admires the life, and believes he is friends with them, until the time comes for Tommy to pay the massive bill he’s run up on his tab. These guys are just taking advantage of him, but he is still too enamored of their life to see that. In an effort to get Tommy to pay his bill, the restaurant owner goes to Paulie, (Tommy’s boss), and makes Paulie a partner, in exchange for taking care of Tommy’s bill. Paulie takes advantage of him too, until he  goes out of business, as they steal  him blind, eventually the restaurant gets burned down for the insurance. The owner romanticized their lifestyle. He failed to see them as the unprincipled thieves they were. He invited them in, and he lost everything. The same thing goes for the character of Spider, a mirror of the young Henry, who romanticizes their lifestyle, and gets killed by Tommy, for standing up for himself, with not a single tear shed by any of the witnesses.

The Irishman  follows another low grade member of a mafia crew, a hitman named Frank Sheeran, (Robert DeNiro), as he befriends various mobsters, and paints houses (carries out mob hits). Most of the movie is about his friendship with Jimmy Hoffa, (Al Pacino), and his confession that he killed him, after being assigned to do so by his then bosses, one of which is also a close friend, Russell Bufalino, played by Joe Pesci. The movie is based on a book by Charles Brandt titled “I Heard You Paint Houses?”, which is the line in the movie said by Pacino, when he and Frank first meet over the phone. So once again, you have someone who invites these people into his life. Hoffa knows who, and what, these people are, but he romanticizes the life, and has an outsized sense of his worth to them.

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Right away, the mood and setting are very different than the other two movies, (Goodfellas and Casino), which open with exciting scenes of violence, (and interestingly, with men in cars). This movie is reflective and melancholy. The opening scene is a quiet shot of Frank, in a senior citizen’s home, reminiscing about his past, to his lawyers. The movie is a flashback, but unlike Henry Hill”s story, Frank has no misty-eyed remembrances for the things he’s done. He joined the mob because he was a soldier who needed to do something with his life, after he came back from the war. He didn’t join because he loved the life, or glorified its denizens, and this is probably why he survived, although that’s no consolation, either. He is an old man filled with regret, and we come to have some amount of sympathy for him, although Scorsese never lets us think, for a moment, that he is a good guy. Nor does he show Frank as vicious or evil, for its own sake, although the things he does, are indeed,  vicious, and evil. Scorsese presents him as just a guy, who made the best choices he could, in the circumstances presented to him.

Deniro definitely deserves some form of recognition for his role here, but the two major highlights of the movie, for me, was Al Pacino’s Jimmy Hoffa, and Joe Pesci’s much quieter turn, as Russell Bufalino. You want to be reminded of his role as Tommy in Goodfellas, but this character is wholly unlike him. Bufalino is smarter, and more calculating, with a cool menace that the hotheaded, showboating, Tommy lacked. He and Frank become friends, and get to be quite close, but Frank, (and hence the audience), never forgets the power dynamic between them. Russell is his boss, and should Frank prove to be a threat, or an inconvenience, Russell could have him killed, and it would be just business.

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This was the most interesting part of the movie for me. Y’all know me. I love to watch different types of  characters interact. It’s interesting because movie audiences don’t often get to watch the  process of two grown men, who have been steeped in pride and machismo, their entire lives, put themselves in the vulnerable position of trusting a stranger, while navigating the power and violence of their positions,  to  become friends. You can see them feeling the other out, trying to reach a place of comfort. I found myself totally caught up in the moment. The faint distrust, and the questions they ask of each other, without actually asking them: What do you want from me? Are you a stand up guy? Will you give me straight answers? Can you be trusted?

Frank’s relationship with Hoffa is covered just as deeply. The most  fascinating part, is comparing how trust is shown between Frank and Hoffa, and Frank and Russell. Scorsese doesn’t fall into the trap of having the characters make grand declarations of how much they love and trust each other. There are scenes with Frank and Russell hanging out with each other’s families, or having dinner together. Some scenes with Frank and Hoffa are just them talking in Hoffa’s bedroom, before he goes to sleep. At one point, Hoffa nods off while talking to Frank, he trusts Frank so completely, and Frank just quietly sits there for a while, watching him sleep, and glancing out the window, and that scene is unexpectedly moving. It’s hard to know what Frank is thinking during that scene. The specter of violence hangs over everything he does, and that scene is even more tragic, when you know what happens between them later.

There are not a lot of women in this movie, and none of the men have any moral standing. The moral center of this film is Frank’s daughter, Peggy, (Anna Paquin) who sees her father beat a man on her behalf, when she is a child, and this impacts her relationship with him, for the rest of their lives. She gets probably three lines in the entire movie, but Scorsese sets her up, by giving us long closeups of her face, and her disapproval, and fear, of her father, (and by association, Russell), is apparent. We don’t need a loud, dramatic shouting match between them, to know that she has seen what kind of man he is, and  will never love him. Frank tries to reconcile with her before his death, but she will have none of him.

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Frank doesn’t just regret the things he did when he was younger, but all the familial relationships he let fall by the wayside, while prioritizing his relationships with the men he worked for, all of whom are now dead. He has to pay for his own funeral, buying his own tombstone. There’s no one alive, who would come to his funeral, anyway. The movie ends with Frank, alone in his room. He is the last one left of that old life, and he has nothing to show for it. Once again, Scorsese presents the mobster lifestyle as empty and meaningless. If you don’t die horribly, at the hands of someone you trusted, then you die alone, with no one to care.

There’s a lot of the movie I didn’t talk about, like the cinematography, and music, which are pretty standard for a Scorsese film, with some upbeat sixties songs, the most prominent song being, In the Still of the Night, by The Five Satins, which bookends the movie. There are two opening scenes, one with Frank beginning his story in the nursing home, and the other, the beginning of the story, which features him and Russell, taking a road trip, with their wives. The movie starts out really cute, with the wives fussing with their husbands in the car. Everyone is very comfortable with each other, at first, but as the trip continues, the tension begins to mount, as we overhear increasingly nervous phone calls between Russell, Frank, and Hoffa, finally culminating, in the last third of the movie, in Russell’s order to Frank.

The cinematography is superb ,as usual, but there are a few uncanny valley moments in the film as Deniro, Pesci, and Pacino had to be de-aged in a few of the scenes. The de-aged faces aren’t as emotive as their actual faces, so I kept getting jarred out of the story, by wondering every now and then, how the actors got de-aged for their roles, but this doesn’t happen a lot, and is easily ignored. If you’re not a fan of Scorsese’s mobster films, this still may be worth a look for you, because its very different in tone, but I do have to warn you,  that just like in the other movies, the violence is flat, graphic, and unforgiving. When it comes to acts of violence, Scorsese does not fuck around, or wince. People get beaten and shot, and there’s a harrowing scene where Frank shoots up a restaurant full of people. I have become a lot more squeamish, as I’ve gotten older, and these scenes were hard for even me to watch.

Despite its three hour run time, the movie didn’t make me feel restless at all. I sat through the entire three hours, and never missed them, or a moment of dialogue. The movie simply pulled me right in. It was moving, with moments of sheer horror, and is a testament to Scorsese’s skill as a director, as nothing is explicitly stated by any of the characters, yet its message is loud, and clear. I don’t know if this movie will be nominated for an Oscar. It, and everyone involved, should.

The Irishman is the best movie I’ve seen this year.

Native American (And Alaskan Native) Heritage Month

This month is National American Indian Heritage Month in the US.

I know next to nothing about the various Indigenous cultures, beyond the basic stuff, like names,  places, some of the tragic history, what I’ve read in books by people like Sherman Alexie, or watched  fictional movies like Windtalkers, and documentaries like Reel Injun, so I’m going to be learning  a bunch of stuff right alongside you guys, okay.

The first thing I looked up was the word Powwow, because I didn’t really understand what that meant, which  lead me to videos on Youtube. Uhm, guys! this stuff is deeply hypnotic so watch out. I must have spent at least a couple of hours falling down the rabbit hole of watching all these dancers. (From what I gathered, its something like the Olympics for the various Indigenous Peoples, only held every year, in multiple places, and with a lot more dancing.)

 

What is Powwow?

First of all, what exactly is a Powwow, what is it’s purpose, and  why do Native Americans do it? Do Indigenous people do this all over the world? Why is this a thing?

Students from the Kathryn M. Buder Center for American Indian Studies at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis and community members discuss the elements of an American Indian Pow Wow, its etiquette and its importance. Pow Wows are an annual spring event at Washington University in St. Louis.

https://www.powwows.com/what-is-a-pow-wow/

 

Why is Powwow?

The reasons why Native Americans have Powwows, plus a little backstory.

 

Visit: http://www.stjo.org for more information

https://www.britannica.com/topic/powwow

Today powwows take place over a period of one to four days and often draw dancers, singers, artists, and traders from hundreds of miles away. Spectators (including non-Indians) are welcome to attend, as participants seek to share the positive aspects of their culture with outsiders. Modern powwows can be grouped into two broad divisions: “competition” (or “contest”) events and those referred to as “traditional.” 

 

How to Powwow:

Some Powwows are open to the public, while others are private, only open to members of the tribe and  family. Here are some basic do’s and don’ts for Non-Natives attending a Powwow.

 

https://www.powwows.com/pow-wow-etiquette/

Pow Wows are one of the best ways to experience Native American culture in person.  

Keep in mind that while they are open to the public, Pow Wows are culturally significant events. 

Be respectful!

 

 Dancing

There are a lot of different types of dancing at a Powwow,  many of them based on locations, and tribes. Dancing isn’t just random moves, most of it has meaning, along with the manner of dress for each style, although there is such a thing as Freestyle dancing, the manner of dress (Regalia) is still deeply personal to the participant. Here’s what to look for when watching:

 

Dance Styles and Regalia:

Rooted in tradition and ceremony, dancing is an important part of Native American culture. Hundreds of dances exist, performed by tribes across the United States. Here are a few of the most popular and well known.

Men’s Traditional

 

Men’s Grass Dance

This is the dance seen in regalia:

 

Because the regalia can sometimes be distracting for some of us, (hello!), here is a grass dancer without his regalia. There are very distinct moves and footwork involved. There are rules , so its not just random movement, which is what it can look like to someone who has never watched this before, or who is easily distracted by  bright colors.

 

Men’s Fancy Dance

 

Women’s Jingle Dress

Here’s the Women’s Jingle Dress Dance, and in the second video, done without regalia:

 

Women’s Traditional

Notice the manner of dress, and style of dance, for Traditional Women’s is much more reserved, more conservative, than for the Fancy Shawl Dance.

 

Women’s Fancy Shawl

 

 

This is one of my personal favorites, Hoop Dancing. I greatly admire this syle, because I couldn’t get anywhere near a hoop, without potentially embarrassing me, and all my ancestors,  by tripping and falling:

 

There is even a Tiny Tots version :

 

Regalia

Many of the designs and colors seen in regalia are personal to the dancer. They make their own outfits, according to their tribe’s traditional manner of dress. They also inherit some pieces, and buy a few pieces here and there, so that every form of regalia is distinct. No two are alike.

General Topic

 

 

Northern Paiute Women’s

 

Women’s Fancy Shawl – Getting Dressed

 

 

This is the United Tribes Powwow of 2019, the Grand Entrance of all the tribes participating in the event:

 

This is a Fusion of Hip Hop and Powwow dancing.  I was surprised to find that Hip Hop is such a huge deal huge on the reservations:

 

Here’s an Intertribal Powwow of some of the Canadian/Alaskan Tribes:

 

For any of my Native readers, (Hi!), any mistakes in this post are strictly my own, and if you have a correction of any kind, (or want me to add something) let me know in the comments over the next two weeks, or leave me a message on my Tumblr page.

Next time: Native Music

Horror Movie Themes: Women Directors And Monster Women

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Women who direct horror movies are few and far between. They are simply not telling stories in significant numbers in the genre for critics to say there’s an overwhelming theme being tackled, but there are enough of them that a pattern is beginning to emerge.

 

Ostensibly, the stories women tell cover the same subjects as male directors,  but there are sometimes subtle differences, and most of that has to do with women’s perspective on the same topics. There is plenty of vengeance, serial killers, and  ultra violence, but where movies with male directors often focus on the spectacle of violence  against women, without questioning it, female directors often make women the total focus of the plot, as both victims and perpetrators. There are also  fewer otherworldly monsters in female directed movies. Often, in such films, the monsters are very  human, and sometimes those monsters are, in fact, the women.

There are exceptionally few horror movies directed by women of color, and the bare handful of movies that were, like Beloved, fall into the category of personal hauntings, that tackle issues that resonate with other women of color. The majority of women horror filmmakers, are White women, and they tend to focus on issues that are of importance to them, and one starts to notice a pattern in the themes of the movies they make.

If White men work out their personal anxieties through the types of horror they create, then so do White women. It is not that women of color cannot relate to these themes, it’s just that for them, such themes may not be a priority, and tend to carry less resonance for them.

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In movies like Carrie by Kimberly Pierce, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, by Ana Lily Amirpour,  and Jennifer’s Body by Karyn Kusama, the theme is not just the Monstrous Feminine, but femaleness itself as monster. There is no coding of femininity as  horrific in these movies. It is a  woman who is a horrible monster, who feeds on men, or  destroys the human body, with a thought, and she is like this, because she is female, as that is an integral part of the horror in the film.

Carrie and Jennifer’s Body  also tackle issues that are of specific relevance to women, like puberty, menstruation,  friendship, and sexual trauma. In female directed films, there is less emphasis on the disruption and restoration of order, or the status quo. Often, their films don’t actually have any resolution, or the emphasis is on the disruption, and restoration, of relationships, or cathartic punishments, instead.

Themes about monstrosity, in such movies, often revolve around body horror, and consumption, as dieting, and the non/consumption of food, and women’s relationships to food, make up the bulk of the personal anxieties in the privileged classes of women who sometimes make these films. In Julia Decournau’s Raw (2016),  a vegetarian girl develops a craving for meat after she undergoes a hazing ritual involving the eating of raw animals. In the 1999 Ravenous,  by the late Antonia Bird, Guy Pierce develops a taste for raw meat after he is nearly killed during the Mexican – American War, and in Jennifer’s Body, a young woman has to save her high school friend, after she realizes her friend has become a flesh eating demon. (There is a lot to unpack, in the movie Jennifer’s Body, which we will discuss later.) Many middle-class, White, Western women have a love/hate , and a fear/disgust, relationship with food, dieting, and  consumption, and we see that play out in these films, as eating, (usually blood and meat), becomes the primary focus of the horror.

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Female directed movies often tend to be more intimate, focusing on the horror of relationships, or the topic of motherhood. What mothers are willing to do for, or sometimes to, their families is the subject of the 2014 movie, The Babadook, where a mother fears she may kill her son, when she is haunted,  and then possessed, after reading about the titular character.

In the anthology XX, many of the stories revolve around the horrific circumstances that can occur when a mother loves her family. Motherhood, already a source of real world anxiety, is a frequent topic in films made by women. In The Box, the themes are also loss, helplessness, and non/consumption, as a woman loses her entire family, when they starve themselves, after her son views the contents of a mysterious box. It is a secret that kills them, and which they refuse to share with her, so that when they are gone, she spends the rest of her life riding the subway, hoping to encounter the man with the box again. The story, Her only Living Son, directly tackles sacrificial motherhood, as a woman sacrifices her life to save her son from his Satanic destiny.

Sex is a huge component of female directed horror movies, but unlike films directed by men, that mostly just feature the spectacle of  women having sex,  or being raped, the focus from women directors is on the danger, and vulnerability of intimacy, and often based on a young woman’s fear of sexual activity, and fear of the loss of innocence, that may be the result. In the film, A Girl Walks Home Alone, a nameless female, Iraqi  vampire hunts men. This movie is groundbreaking, not just because of its setting, and plot, but character. The sexual forwardness of Iraqi women isn’t often featured in film, let alone as a night-stalking blood drinker. The director, Amirpour, is not White, but the themes of consumption, and blood as a euphemism for sex, still find a way into the story.

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Blood plays a huge part in a lot of the stories told by women, from Carrie, to Raw, to Jennifer’s Body, with the theme being  linked to  femininity, fertility, and/or sex. The movie, Carrie, begins and ends with blood. Based on the novel by Stephen King, it chronicles a young woman’s perilous navigation through high school. At the beginning of the story, the onset of her menses signals her introduction to adulthood, and heightens her telekinetic abilities. The story ends with the killing of her entire graduating class, after a bucket of pig’s blood is dumped over her during the school prom, an act which was informed by the opening events of the story, when she has her first period in front of her bullying classmates.

Blood and flesh are especially popular topics of these films, in that many of them contain cannibalism and/or vampirism. In the movie Raw, relationships, and adulthood rites take center stage, as a young woman, who has a contentious relationship with her sister, gets turned into a cannibal after an initial hazing at her sister’s college, that turns out to be an initiation, not just into a sorority, but also adulthood. In Blood and Donuts (1995), a vampire who has just awakened from a long sleep, is introduced to the modern world, via the night shift worker at a local bakery. Over the course of the evening, the young lady figures out who and what he is, and the two of them engage in a push and pull attraction, as he decides whether or not he should prey on her.

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In the 1987 movie, Near dark, a young man is inducted into a nightmare lifestyle, where he has to kill to live, when he meets a pretty blonde girl, at a bar one night. Vampires, since they, like blood, are often a euphemism for sex and adulthood, are the focus of women’s stories, such as Fran Rubel Kazui’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Buffy went on to answer deeper questions about girlhood and monsters, in the TV series, which lasted from 1997 to 2003. In fact, these themes are so prevalent, that they often seem to be having a dialogue with each other, or with movies of the same genre, made by men.

There is a lot of narrative overlap, for example, between Near Dark, Ravenous, and the movie, Afflicted, which cover not just the same themes, but sometimes the same talking points, of the male protagonist’s empathy making them unfit to live the kind of lifestyle that requires killing others. There is also a great deal of narrative overlap in the movies Carrie, Raw, and Ginger Snaps, more films in which menstruation, and flesh eating, are the signals that a young woman has reached full adulthood.

Now let’s talk about Jennifer’s Body.

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Jennifer’s body is a great encapsulation of some of the themes and topics that women address through horror. The themes of friendship, female ally-ship and support, revenge, sexuality,  and patriarchy are part of this narrative.

Jennifer’s Body was released in 2009, written by Diablo Cody, and directed by Karen Kusama. Jennifer Check, as played by Megan Fox, is the high school hot girl. She is the sassy, beautiful, popular, cheerleader, that all the  high school boys lust after. Amanda Seyfried plays Amanda “Needy” Lesnicki,  her quiet, bookish,  best friend, since elementary school. Jennifer gets possessed by a demon, after she is sacrificed to Satan by a local rock band, in exchange for fame.

Already there are themes of the sexuality of women being exploited for male gain. The band, called Low Shoulder, thinks she is a virgin, and their sacrifice was successful, but since she was not actually a virgin, she became possessed instead. After she has killed two young men, Amanda figures out that she is a succubus that is impervious to harm after feeding on her victims. Jennifer attacks Amanda’s boyfriend, who then attacks and eventually kills her. However, bitten by Jennifer, Amanda has now developed some of the Demon Jennifer’s abilities. At the end of the movie, she hunts down  the band Low Shoulder, and kills them.

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Throughout the movie, we are  privy to some of the more interesting conversations that women have when men are not present, and this is something that will only happen in a movie that is written and controlled by women. Not only will there often be more than one woman in a movie, but their relationships and conversations often have more depth. The film is informed by two women in front of the camera as well as the two women behind it. It is the relationship between Amanda and Jennifer that is integral to the plot of the film. If we don’t buy their friendship, we cannot become emotionally invested in their plight, most especially in Amanda’s dilemma at having to kill her best friend.

https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2018/08/206237/jennifers-body-review-defense-female-revenge-movie

Amanda isn’t just killing Jennifer to save the lives of the young men she might feed on, but to save Jennifer. too. I talked in an earlier post about how Horror is basically the disruption of the status quo by the unknown, often the paranormal, and yes, Jennifer as a demon is a disruption of the status quo,  but the status quo, does not necessarily mean “good”. The status quo is Jennifer’s humanity being disregarded  by  men who were willing to  sacrifice her life for their own gain. That Jennifer, and then Amanda, become demons is a necessary disruption, especially as part of the revenge narratives that are also prominent in women’s horror. Not only are revenge narratives common for women directors, they are often very cathartic for the creators and audiences.

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https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/nov/03/carrie-stephen-king-brian-de-palma-horror-films-feminism

Kimberly Pierce’s Carrie, from 2011, is another movie that appears to be having a dialogue with Jennifer’s Body, as it covers many of the same themes, of women’s relationships, both supportive and toxic, and the revenge narrative. Although the story was originally written by Stephen King, and the original movie was directed Brian De Palma, I talked at length about how the mood and emphasis of the film is changed, as Pierce  focuses more on the women’s tangled relationships with each other, rather than on spectacle.

So for female horror directors, there seems to be less emphasis on spectacle (although that’s definitively present becasue these are horror movies), and more focus on symbolism, and the relationships between the characters. For me, this supports my supposition that the type of moves that get made are a reflection of the types of people who make them. If this is true of the Japanese, or British, then its equally true for the White men who run Hollywood, and are the primary creators in the horror genre. So, yes, I think that the types of films being made by White women (as these directors are primarily White) are a reflection of the things that are important to them.

There have not been enough Black and Asian-American filmmakers, in the horror genre, for certain patterns to emerge, but I’m going to give it a try in a follow-up post.

They’re Not Funny, They’re Just Bullies

I just published my first monied story on Medium. com. I can’t link to it from here but its under the name Lakitha Tolbert,, under the above title.

Even if you’re not a member of Medium, you can access at least three to four free stories a month. There are also different tiers of membership from free, to 5.00 per month.

An excerpt:

Yes, there are transgender comedians, and because they are members of that group, they are free to make jokes about their community, just as any member of a community can make jokes about it. But if it was wrong for White people (the ones who invented the racism and stereotypes that were responsible for so much Black death) to make jokes that demean the Black community, then it is equally wrong for straight, cis-gender men to stand on a stage, and make jokes about the kinds of people who get murdered by people who look like them.

This isn’t about being offended, thin skinned, or a snowflake. This is about actively harming a group of people who have told you, over and over, that your words are harming them, as those words are reinforcing, and contributing to, an environment of hatred of them.

So, slide on over to Medium.com and check it out. It costs nothing to do so, and please applaud the story!

 

Why Tony Stark Had To Die

What I’ve actually  noticed about the MCU version of Tony Stark, is that a lot of the people who stan hard for this character, are people without a fundamental understanding of what he is, why he is, and why, after everything that happened in the MCU, Tony was never meant to be the one who got to ride off into the sunset, while holding his sweetheart’s hand.

In other words, Tony had to die.

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Often, when a character who has done something bad or evil sees the error of their ways and does a Heel–Face Turnin the course of fighting to undo the damage, their redemption comes at the cost of their own life.

——– https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RedemptionEqualsDeath

Tony needed to pay for the misdeeds of his past, (something he’s been trying to do since the first film), and according to the conventions of  Western literature, such characters can only atone for their sins by dying, and when they do die, their motivation must be pure.Tony is a redemptive figure, who tried sacrificing his life to atone for his sins multiple times, but only experiences a true atonement, at the end of his arc, as it should be.

Darth Vader from Star Wars, Yondu from Guardians of the Galaxy, Diablo from Suicide Squad, Venom, the father from A Quiet Place, Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, and Steve Rogers, are all examples of pure self sacrifice. It is the kind of sacrifice that comes from a place of pure love, of one’s son, of one’s friends, of the world in general, or one’s children, with no thought to how your death might benefit  you.

Although giving one’s life out of love for another is rare, it is not as uncommon as might be thought. Perhaps we only hear about it occasionally because the circumstances in which it might manifest itself are, fortunately, not so common. This self-sacrificing love was referred to by the Buddha when he said that a loving friend would “give what is hard to give” [1] or be prepared “to sacrifice his life for his friend”. [2] The Jatakas say something similar concerning one’s family: “Whatever your circumstances, do the necessary to alleviate the suffering of your father, your mother or your sister, even to your last breath.” [3] One is reminded of what Jesus said some five centuries later: “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend.” [4] 

—-  https://www.bhantedhammika.net/like-milk-and-water-mixed/self-sacrificing-love

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Redemption arcs make their way into Western Literature,  through the  Christian belief system, (although other religions also feature this belief), with the ultimate sacrifice  in the Bible’s New Testament, referring  to the  deliverance of Christians from sin (salvation), through the death of Christ. In this instance, Tony, who is established as a Christ figure, (a very common trope in Western films), sacrifices his life for the salvation of the human race from Thanos, (who is set up as a Satanic figure, in the Avengers narrative, but Thanos is a whole other story.).)

In the movie, Constantine, which is also heavily based on Christian narratives, the main character knows he’s going  to Hell for the sins he committed in life. He’s seen Hell, and knows its demons are waiting to have a reckoning with him. He is terrified of it, but knows it is  soon, when he finds out he has lung cancer. At the end of the film, he saves the soul of a young woman named Isabel, who committed suicide, and consequently, went to Hell. He commits suicide too, knowing that the Devil will come to collect him personally, which he does. Lucifer grants Constantine a wish out of gratitude for thwarting another demon’s plans, (quid pro quo). Instead of wishing for a longer life, or not to go to Hell, Constantine wishes for Isabel to be released to Heaven. Lucifer agrees, but realizes just too late, that he cannot take Constantine to Hell now, because he committed a genuinely  pure act of self sacrifice.

Tony has tried a few times to sacrifice his life, but his motives were never pure, and his act of sacrifice was interrupted each time.

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I’m honestly baffled that people didn’t see his death coming, but then, I have never seen Tony through rose tinted glasses. I actually like Tony, and appreciated that most of his  character arc was him being an unremitting shit, but  at least trying to atone for his sins, and failing as much as he succeeded, but I will not lie about the type of man he was.

Tony Stark was an asshole.

And what’s more, Tony knew he was an asshole, too, which is why I posit that the many sacrifices of his life he tried to make, came from a selfish foundation. Even after his death, the MCU is still dealing with the aftermath of the decisions he made, and the people he hurt, when he was alive. Most of the villains that Tony fought throughout his own trilogy, in The Avengers, and Spiderman, came about through  his callous disregard for how his decisions affected the lives of the average man. I spoke before, about how Tony’s shortsightedness limited his morality.

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2016/07/19/on-the-right-captain-america-and-iron-man/

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Stark was an arms dealer, and war profiteer. He made money from war, and up until  that came back to bite him on the ass by nearly killing him, he spent no time thinking about the amount of death  his weapons, (the guns, the missiles, the ammunition), caused in the world. Tony  always had a close relationship with death.  He and death were old friends, and he was one of Death’s greatest enablers, through The Stark Corporation.

It is not until his own weapons are used against him that Tony experiences “SATORI“, a moment of sudden enlightenment. He broke up with Death, and had been dodging Death’s retaliation ever since. Sooner, or later, it would have caught up to him. He  takes steps to rectify the damage he caused, by stopping his company’s arms dealing, but that is not enough. He creates the Iron man suit, so he can stop those he once armed, but that opens a whole new can of worms, because now other weapons dealers, following Tony’s  example, want their own version of the Iron Man suit. He’s simply created a new weapon for people to fight over.

At every step, Tony creates some new world horror, in his attempt to atone for the harm he caused earlier in his career, when he didn’t care. Ironically, one of the better things that came out of his creation of Iron Man, was the creation of the Avenger’s Initiative, which Nick Fury was inspired to create. (Nick Fury went on to commit his own sins in his attempt to protect the world.)

In the second Iron Man film, the events that occur may stem from decisions his father made before he was born, but Tony’s decision to go public with his identity in the first movie, has repercussions in this, and  the third movie. In the third movie, we learned that Tony’s earlier, callous, disregard for other people’s feelings is what helped create The Mandarin, and his decision to directly challenge The Mandarin in a public forum, nearly cost his and Pepper’s life.

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Throughout the movies, Tony, people often confront Tony. People like to pull out his sins, and slap him in the face with them, and that often works to change his behavior, so this is how I know Tony feels some type of way about the kind of life and living he made for himself. When he thinks he’s going to die in Iron Man 2, Tony goes on a drunken spree, and has to be saved by his friends. In Civil War, he’s confronted by the mother of one of the victims of the Ultron Incident which spurs him to sign The Accords, and the entire plot is based off the events in Sokovia, in Age of Ultron, which would never have happened, if Tony had not made the decision to try to protect the world via robot. Even Steve gets in on the act, in the first Avengers film , calling Tony out as a useless coward. Tony tries to prove he isn’t, by attempting to sacrifice his life at the end of that movie.

 

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Tony often put himself in situations where death was inevitable. He is afraid to die, but he can’t seem to stop himself from challenging the thing he most fears. (Challenging the things he fears is one of the things he has in common with Steve Rogers, although Tony does it for different reasons.) He is saved several times, by Rhodey, by Pepper, by his team, in The Avengers, and Captain Marvel in Endgame. I suspect that Tony doesn’t think much of his life, of how he has used it, and he probably thinks his death would have more meaning,  yet he doesn’t really  want to die. When Doctor Strange gives him the signal, there is no doubt in his mind what he is meant to do, and he doesn’t hesitate.

Tony once served death, chased after death, challenged death, and flirted with death. Yet, so terrified was he of dying, that he was willing to commit rather extreme acts of self harm to stave it off (the ARC reactor in his chest, for example).  The other times, when Tony tried to sacrifice his life, his motivation was not pure. He was doing it because he thought he deserved to die, and that is a selfish reason. It is only fitting that at the denouement of Endgame, Tony finally, gracefully, and willingly accepts death, and is not doing so to punish himself, or for his own salvation, or the accolades he think he will get when he’s gone. He does it to save the lives of his friends, and loved ones, standing just a few feet away. Removing the immediate threat is his primary goal ,and his death is just the price he must pay for that. His motivation this time is love, and unlike all the other times when he nearly died, his motive is pure.

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Tony is the only White male character, I’ve ever  liked, who was so incredibly flawed, and in some instances, actively shitty. In any other circumstances, Tony would have been considered a sympathetic villain, but here, in the MCU, he is cast as a damaged, but heroic, character. I don’t like Tony because he is a hero. I like him because he knows how flawed he is, and desperately wants and tries to be one. (I also love Robert Downey’s performance, which closely echoes Tony’s character arc, if you know anything about his personal life.)

I am not comfortable with the lionization of Tony Stark, by his fans since  his death, however. They build up his character in ways he was not, which does a disservice to the character, his story arc, and Downey’s performance. All along, Downey knew exactly the type of character he was portraying.

I feel it is disrespectful to the character, to make him out to be something he was not, because that ignores his character arc, and diminishes the meaning of his death.This is not the story of a “good” man, who did even more good when he died. This is the story of a horribly flawed man looking for salvation from his sins. I’m probably one of the few fans who doesn’t mourn Tony’s death. In an earlier post, about Endgame,, I said I was alright with Tony dying, and this is  why. In Avengers Endgame, he actually achieved the redemption he was always seeking, and did so without hesitation.

Tony died very well, because he deserved to.

The Truman Show (1998): Questioning Reality

During the late 90’s there was a spate of existentialist movies, that asked questions about the nature of reality, the self,  and questioned our sense of who we were. Movies like Dark City, The 13th Floor, Pleasantville, The Matrix, Existenz, and yes, The Truman Show, all questioned if the world we lived in was truly real, if we were real, and if nothing is real, does anything we experience matter.

The Truman Show didn’t just question reality. It asked questions about freedom, and self determination, as well. Truman is a man who has been imprisoned in a pleasant middle class, artificial, bubble his entire life, with a pretty blond wife, a non-descript job, one close friend, and a tragic past that’s specifically designed to hold him in place, and keep him from moving forward. His life is comfortable and certain. It is difficult not to see parallels to our own lives in Truman and his circumstances.

Truman has a daily routine. He does the same thing every day, with the same catchphrases, ordering the same food, the same magazines at the newsstand, driving the same route to and from work. Truman is mostly happy with his life, but its not an exciting life, so he fantasizes a lot.

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One of the first images we get of Truman is his childlike fantasy of being an astronaut. Truman longs to do something different, go somewhere else, be someone else, but he is trapped in place, as so many of us are, by our jobs, our circumstances, monetary concerns, our families, and other obligations, that we consider more important than our freedom to do as we please. Like Truman many of us fantasize about being  someone else, someplace else, and for most of us, fantastical visions of riding dragons, or pretending to be a favorite cartoon character, are enough.

Many of us live in comfortable bubbles, occasionally  chafing at our restrictions, and any attempts to break free of those restrictions can get you branded with labels like mentally ill,  mid-life crisis, or hysteria. Your desire to  break free, can often make other people deeply uncomfortable, and can prompt them to deploy tactics that will get you back into your bubble, to be quiet, and complacent, once again.

Truman is a man who has been held in captivity, since he was born, by an avant-garde filmmaker, named  Christof, who adopted him, kept him imprisoned in a fake world, with actors and actresses as friends and family, and put his entire life on live television. Everything in Truman’s life is manufactured, his job isn’t real, his marriage was carefully orchestrated, his best friend is an actor, his father was conveniently killed when he was a child, and he has been socialized with a number of phobias (aqua-phobia) that make it near impossible for him to leave the fake set.  In other words, his world is carefully designed to keep him in place, keep him from questioning it, and keep him from growing, changing , or progressing.

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Many of us live the kinds of lives we are reluctant to leave, it can be difficult for us to grow and move forward because we’ve become used to how our life is. It can be difficult to try new things, or make big changes in our lives, even changes we need to have, because we fear the unknown future. If you’re someone who has a great fear of the unknown, then moving into a future you cannot see, would be very difficult. This is how Truman engages with the world in the first half of his life, until a monkey-wrench called “first love” throws everything he knows into question. He falls in love with a young woman named Sylvia, who wasn’t chosen for him, and she is, rather traumatically, removed from his world. Truman developed such a special longing for her, that she came to represent the one thing in his life he didn’t have, uncertainty, and the unknown.

He begins to question the world he lives in. In other words, he starts to wake up, especially after  he experiences a series of strange events. like seeing his supposedly dead father, chunks of sky falling on his car, a photo of his wife with her fingers crossed behind her back (which indicates that she was lying). Truman attempts to express his nascent suspicions to his wife, mother, and best friend, who only try  to gaslight him, with temporary success. Over time, Truman begins to test his theory, and finally reaches the conclusion that the world he lives in, and the people he knows, is not real.

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Truman only begins to ask the right questions, after he sees the patterns around him, and starts putting those patterns in the correct order. When he sees his dead father on the street, the man is immediately whisked away by a group of strangers. Later that week, there is a radio mix up, where he hears one of the camera men narrating what he is doing. He notices a pattern in the people who cross in front of his house. He notices  patterns and reaches proper conclusions. He begins to see the artificiality.

For example, he suspects that he is being watched, that the people in his world are fake, and  don’t know what to do when he does  unexpected things. So he disrupts his routine in small ways, like walking into a different building, or deciding to accompany his wife (a nurse) to a surgery that was made up in an attempt to explain something he saw earlier that day. By behaving unpredictably, he has introduced uncertainty, and the unknown to the set, which disrupts everyone else’s routine, as well.

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Ironically, many of us suspect that the world we live in is a facade, as we seek to explain the uncertainty of our life, rather than the certainties. This theory was especially popular during the last years of the 20th century, which accounts for the popularity of  films, in which the protagonists question the randomness of their lived experiences. In the Matrix, Neo tells Trinity about a number of events that happened to him when he was unaware he was in the matrix, and asks her what that means. Trinity’s answer is that the matrix cannot tell you who you are. She is in essence telling him that when he lived in the matrix, that he was not his true self.

Since the events that occurred to Neo can be said to have been contrived by computer programs, his reactions to those events were inauthentic, and not evidence of his true self.  Another argument that can be made, however, is that such contrived events are not any different than random events contrived by a god, and if we can accept that our authentic self is in evidence when under the aegis of a mythological figure, than why can we not accept the authenticity of self while under the control of an AI?

One of the reasons that Truman gives for desperately trying to escape Christof’s prison, is that he wants a real life, an authentic life. Christof tries to talk him into staying in his artificial world by telling him that life is no more authentic, in the “real” world, than it is in his fake one. he tells Truman that there is no truth, thereby  illustrating a fundamental misunderstanding of Truman’s motives. Truman is not searching for truth. He is searching for “the real”, which is not the same thing.

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But, as we all must do, if we hope to move forward, to progress in our lives, Truman takes a leap of faith, into the unknown. At some point, if we hope to meet our real selves, we must all walk through a mysterious door, into an uncertain future. Truman has no idea what is on the other side of the door he’s about to walk through, but like Red, from the Shawshank Redemption, he hopes to see Sylvia, and take her hand. He hopes to find himself. He hopes to be happy. He hopes to find love.

He hopes.

And so must we all.

 

Jet Li Unleashed (2005): Surviving Abuse

 

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One of the more unusual martial arts films I’ve  seen, is one which stars Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption), and Jet Li. Yeah, I said it. Morgan Freeman starred in a martial arts film. Okay he didn’t do any martial arts, which I definitely would have watched. He was a piano tuner, but that’s okay, because Jet Li engaged in enough rock’em, sock’em for everyone in the movie. This is an unusual movie, not just because of its dissimilar cast, but because it is as much of a drama, as it is an action movie.

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The movie’s first title was Danny the Dog, when it was released overseas in 2004. When it was released in the US, in 2005, it was renamed Unleashed, and received moderate reviews, probably because most people didn’t get to see it, and the ones who did see it didn’t quite know what to make of it. Its not a bad film, but it is a tonally odd movie, that somehow manages to work, and that is entirely due to the acting, and what mindset you bring to it.

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Morgan Freeman, as Sam, is his usual excellent self, and so is Bob Hoskins as an abusive gangster named Bart. Jet Li is Danny the Dog, and  does surprisingly well, as an emotionally stunted and abused young man, They are joined by Kerry Condon, as Danny’s bubbly love interest, Victoria. I actually enjoyed this movie, but then I walked in not really knowing what to expect, even though I had heard of the movie with its previous title.

Bart has been raising Danny, the son of a young woman he exploited and killed, as a beast who wears a metal collar, which, when it’s removed, is Danny’s cue to kill whoever  Bart has pointed his finger, first as one of Bart’s enforcers, and then in  underground fight clubs. Bart styles himself as a kindly uncle, who is just taking care of the helpless Danny, but he is horrifically abusive, treating Danny like an animal, putting him on a leash, making him eat out of dog dishes, and live in a  cage in the basement. He is a cartoonish example of abusive parenting, and clothes himself in virtue, by calling it love.

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One day Danny accidentally stumbles across Sam, fixing a piano in an antique shop, and the blind Sam, is kind and friendly to him, something Danny has never experienced. He becomes fascinated by the piano, and later, asks for one from Bart, but a rival gangster takes Bart out of the equation, via car crash. Danny is injured in the attack, but manages to find his way back to the antique shop where Sam works. Sam takes Danny in, and patches him up.

So thirty minutes into the movie, it turns into a found family story, that’s rather endearing, carried mostly on the strength of the acting. Danny is from a highly abusive, even life threatening, relationship with the man who raised him, while Victoria and Sam have an open, loving, and healthy relationship, with more than enough room to welcome Danny. A significant portion of the film is taken up with montages, and scenes, of Danny discovering the joys of ice cream, kissing, and both familial and romantic love, learning to cook with Sam, and  play the piano with Vic, and just be happy. He starts to regain memories of his mother and begins investigating his origins.

Victoria is also an adopted child, but she had the good luck to be raised by Sam instead of  someone like Bart. Victoria’s biological father died when she was small, and her mother married Sam. After her mother died, Sam became her father, and moved them both to France, so that she could go to music school. Sam’s love for his child, is as it should be, sacrificial, and supportive. They are a  family that prays before each meal, and fully embody the Christian principles of charity and kindness, and become a model for Danny for how a healthy family behaves.

Sam and Victoria are the stellar opposite  of  Bart, and the various flunkies who surround, and obey him, who all witness Danny being treated abusively, and say and do nothing. Bart is a man with many pretensions. He is a user who pretends  at kindness, a gangster with pretensions to class and upbringing, and a bully, who pretends to be a father figure. Thanks to Bart, Danny is emotionally underdeveloped, withdrawn, anxious, and extremely focused on any given task.

The first time Danny wakes up in Sam’s and Victoria’s home, he is frightened and nervous, and hides under the bed. At dinner, he doesn’t know to use a spoon for his soup, and he is still wearing his metal collar. But Sam and Victoria adapt to him as he adapts to them, and are as loving and supportive to him, as they are to each other. They suspect that he comes from a violent situation, and are sensitive about how they treat him, by not asking questions they think would cause traumatic memories ,and they teach him how to live a normal life, as Danny has never been taught to do anything but kill and is completely inured to violence.

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At one point, a fight breaks out in a local store that Sam and Danny frequent, which Danny entirely ignores, saying he was unconcerned because the fight didn’t involve him. This is how well trained Danny is with his collar on. Later, when Victoria reaches to take the collar off, saying its the last vestige of his old life he needs to get rid of, he is terrified that when she does so,  he will attack her, because the only times it was ever removed, he would kill. You can see his adrenaline spike just thinking about it, but he allows her to remove it, and when nothing happens you can see the relief on his face. He trusts himself now, in a way that would not have been possible, earlier in their relationship. As it turns out, he is not the natural born killer Bart trained him to be.

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https://www.loyola.edu/department/counseling-center/students/concerns/abuse

When children are exposed to abuse, they learn to protect themselves through denial, withdrawal, approval-seeking, turning off their feelings, acting out, and self-blame. Using these coping mechanisms during childhood has long-term consequences, which can include lack of trust, a fear of change and resultant difficulty in adjusting, difficulty knowing or showing one’s own feelings, being easily stressed and acting on that by abusing substances, food, and one’s own body, and feelings of low self-esteem and self-worth.

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Sam and Victoria model for Danny how a loving relationship between a stepparent and child is supposed to work.When Sam and Victoria have a disagreement, they argue, come to a truce, and then make up. They disagreed, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still love each other. Contrast that with Danny’s relationship to his evil stepfather  Bart, who gives the orders, and, according to Bart, “the dog obeys!” There can be no disagreement with Bart. When Danny insists that he wants a piano, Bart is angry, manipulative, and cajoling. He screams and/or lies, to Danny, to get what HE wants.

Later, Danny refuses to fight, deciding he doesn’t want to kill people anymore, and Bart becomes increasingly angry and more violent, but is unable to force Danny to do what he wants him to do. Danny sees this powerlessness, and finally connects his mother’s death (which he witnessed as a child) to Bart. He rebels completely and leaves him. This move may or may not be especially cathartic to abuse survivors, but its was certainly good to watch Danny reject Bart. After experiencing so much happiness with Sam and Victoria, he can’t possibly make himself go back to that life.

Bart follows him to his home, with Sam and Victoria, and attempts to kill them, because threatening Danny’s new family is the only leverage he has to make him obey. Danny nearly kills Bart, but is stopped by Sam and Victoria who tell him that he cannot begin his commitment to peace by killing Bart. Bart’s life isn’t saved because Sam and Victoria care about him. Its saved because they love Danny and believe, as he does,  that he should stop killing.

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https://everydayfeminism.com/2016/03/survivors-child-abuse-remind/

#3. You Are Still Loved, Even When It’s Uncomfortable to Accept Love from Others

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At the end of the movie, Victoria tells Danny  his life was saved by music, and this may be true, but really Danny saves himself, by the choices he makes. Like a lot of abuse survivors, he is presented with the option of staying, as the abuser tries to sweet talk him into coming back, and how everything will better, and the abuser will be a nicer person, who really loves them. Classic abuser speak, basically.

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Danny realizes he actually has choices. He chooses to stop killing and commits to it,  he chooses to leave Bart, and sets the terms of it, and finally chooses not to kill Bart, not because he cares about Bart’s  life, but because he cares about his own. But one of the biggest choices Danny makes is the choice to accept  love and support, which is healing for him. With Sam and Victoria, Danny starts to do things he never contemplated when he was with Bart. He makes plans for his future, sets goals, and claims what he desires.

This is not a completely accurate depiction of surviving child abuse, because this is, after all, an action film, but it makes some interesting points about  it. I’m pretty sure  most of the people who walked into the theater to see this, had no idea this would turn into a movie about surviving domestic abuse, but I found it uplifting and fun to watch. True, not all martial arts movies have this level of  depth, but like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, they sometimes have messages, and deal with  serious issues.

 

 

  • Next up on martial arts movies: Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and  Colonialism

 

 

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.”

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.