A Media Entry – Punched in the Feels

So I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks because my life isn’t conforming to the schedule I need to do that. For reasons. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t care much for watching dramas because I feel life has enough drama that I don’t need to get invested in fictional drama to punch me in the feels. I understand the purpose of fictional drama is emotional catharsis; the audience gets emotionally invested in the story and whether or not there’s a happy ending, the audience gets to release all that emotion. I understand the theory but do not usually indulge in the practice, again, because life puts me in plenty of situations where my emotions are already wrapped up.

But I do occasionally make exceptions, and here are two. Option 1 is the darker option that doesn’t have a happy ending, although there is a conclusion. Option 2 is the lighter option with a happy ending and shorter.

Jessica Jones – this show is, in its way, more brutal than Daredevil ever was, and I had a hard enough time getting through that. Jessica is the survivor of a non-consensual, abusive in every way relationship and is trying to get her life back together and working as a private investigator. The only reason she escaped the relationship is because she believed her tormentor, Zebediah Kilgrave (a.k.a. the Purple Man [because in the comics his skin is actually purple; the show chose not to go this route, although if I were a villain and my actual last name was ‘Kilgrave’ that’s what I would go with]), was dead. Sadly, Jessica Jones is a comic book superhero, and death is seldom the end of supervillains.

The show is very stylized in film noir, down to Jessica narrating. I’d almost expect her to use the terms “broads” and “dames.” There’s no nudity, and no f-bombs, but those are pretty much the only limits of the format. The color scheme is dark but while Kilgrave is never called the Purple Man as far as I recall, the show makes use of the color purple as a way to show his influence. Jessica’s PTSD flashbacks, for example, are awash in violet. Jessica has superstrength, some extra durability, and can fly (kind of), but she’s no match for Kilgrave. His power is mind control, and it’s so strong he can (and does) tell people to jump off buildings and they fight every effort to keep them from fulfilling that command. He is a man who is used to literally never hearing the word “no.” When Jessica escapes him, he becomes obsessed with her. Unlike Kingpin, there is very little effort to humanize Kilgrave. In addition to his mind control power, he’s also exceptionally good at mundane manipulation, so the minute there’s any sympathy for him, it’s generally revealed to be a lie so he can get his way. And yet the look on his face when he sees Jessica again is one of genuine delight. He’s a creepy [expletive]. And like I said, the show doesn’t pull punches. He’ll either get Jessica back, or destroy her, and he has zero regard for anyone else’s life.

I know Netflix is set up for binging, but I don’t recommend more than two episodes at a time because of the way the show punches you in the feels. There is no sugar-coating what Jessica (and Kilgrave’s other victims) were put through. But the series is overall very good, but very, very dark.

Inside Out – Ah, Pixar, the little movie studio with big ambitions and some very daring work, especially for an animation studio. Pixar has put out actual kids’ movies, and I found those are generally not as good as the more ambitious movies. As the studio has gotten older, it has gotten better at punching the audience in the feels. The Incredibles is my favorite superhero movie and one of my favorite movies because the characters act like real people who have different emotions and points of view and flaws; both Bob and Helen had valid points about their marriage and both of them messed up as well. I saw Up in a movie theater and unabashedly bawled like a baby at the silent montage of Carl and Ellie’s life together, and that was a movie that featured talking dogs.

So here’s Inside Out, the charming story of an eleven-year old girl’s complete mental and emotional breakdown following a move from her small town life in Minnesota to big city life in San Francisco. Yeah, sounds cheerful, doesn’t it? The main characters are Riley’s personified emotions – Joy (who was created first), Sadness (who followed a mere 33 seconds later), Fear, Anger, and Disgust. Joy has always been the dominant emotion to the point all the emotions are shocked when a new core memory turns up to be a sad one. Joy thinks that isn’t right and ends up getting herself and Sadness pulled out of headquarters, leaving Riley without Joy or Sadness and with Fear, Anger, and Disgust at the helm. All this goes about as well as you might think.

Joy and Sadness go on a strange buddy field trip, and along the way learn valuable lessons about growing up and the need for emotional complexity. Unlike Up, I shed tears throughout this movie. Not quite bawling, but definitely in need of more tissues than I thought. This is Pixar just hitting those feels over and over again, although the ending is ultimately uplifting.

For those in the U.S., I hope your holiday is full of too much food and great deals (if you’re into that sort of thing) with a maximum of goodwill and a minimum of familial drama. For those not celebrating Turkey Day, I hope you have a nice weekend. And I’m going to hope like hell for an ultimately uplifting ending.

A TV/Movie Entry – Truly, Truly Outrageous

I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey. Let’s go back in time to the 1980s. It was a time of neon and pop music, of big hair and big egos, of memorable if lamentable fashion choices, when MTV still actually had something to do with music, and kids came home from school to watch cartoons all afternoon. I’ve already commented upon many such shows, and now here’s another. In the harmful tradition of gendered marketing, this is about a show to sell dolls that was aimed squarely at little girls who worshiped Madonna (the singer) and dressed like Cyndi Lauper – Jem.

I watched this show because it was on between two shows I actually wanted to see, and what was I going to do for half an hour, go outside and play? Right… Anyway, the show is about a glam-pop girl band and their crazy misadventures. At least for a show aimed at girls, the show-runner was actually a woman, and there was an overall positive theme of “girl power” since the protagonists and antagonists alike were mostly women. That said, any similarities between this and “Nevermore and the Ravens” is purely superficial. Jem is everything about the ’80s in a concentrated, animated form and that one-sentence plot summary does not do justice to the sheer ’80s-ness.

Plot Synopsis:
Jerrica Benton’s father recently died and left her with ownership of half a music company and complete ownership of halfway house for orphan girls. Unfortunately, the other co-owner is Scumbag McScummy (okay, his name is Eric, but really, my name fits better) who’s trying to get full ownership any way he can and is somehow keeping money from Jerrica which she needs for the halfway house. At a loss of what to do, it turns out her father left her something else – a “holographic” artificial intelligence named Synergy, housed at an old drive through. Synergy can project holograms using a pair of earrings (because computers are magic, especially in the ’80s). Also left were instruments, costumes, and a car, so what can Jerrica possibly do but start a girl glam-pop band (called “the Holograms” of course) with her sister Kimber and buddies Aja and Shawna (and later Raya)? However, for reasons that I don’t recall are ever explained, Jerrica disguises herself as Jem to be the lead singer while as Jerrica she manages the band. This odd decision also causes great distress to Jerrica’s boyfriend and Holograms’ road manager Rio, who is trying to stay loyal to Jerrica while Jem keeps flirting with him. Jerrica seems torn between telling him who she really is and just continuing to jerk him needlessly between her and Jem.

I can tell you feel this is only hardly outrageous, especially for the ’80s. You are right, and that’s because there’s more ridiculousness to come. Scumbag signs a girl punk-pop girl band called the Misfits (Pizazz, Roxie, and Stormer) to be the Next Big Thing. Jerrica is introduced to them when they ride into Scumbag’s office in full make-up and on guitar-shaped motorcycles. Yes, seriously, riding guitar-shaped motorcycles. This upsets Jerrica and she declares they are too trashy to be represented by her music company. This ticks off the Misfits and Scumbag comes up with a great idea to settle all the disagreements – a battle of the bands between the Misfits and the Holograms. The manager of the winning band gets full ownership of the company.

“Piffle,” I hear you say. “This is the ’80s. How could there not be a battle of the bands with such a silly set-up?” I grant you that. But a random movie producer who overhears this conversation offers the winning band a movie deal, because that’s a thing that totally happens, and as a bonus also offers them their own mansion. I wasn’t aware movie producers doubled as real estate agents, but then again, I’m not in show business. So now the stage, such as it is, is set for this rivalry, which spans three seasons. Every single episode ended on a dramatic cliffhanger and every single episode had at least one mini-music video from the Holograms or the Misfits (many times both). And damn was the intro catchy; this show knew how to make a first impression. There was no ambiguity in the theme. Jem was her name, and she was truly, truly outrageous.

Not For Me:
My issue with the show was not the ’80s-ness of it, or the premise, but that even as I child I knew if Jerrica had just called the police there would have been no show. In the first episode 1) the Misfits commit felony theft (stealing the Holograms’ instruments), 2) defenestration (throwing said instruments out of their van), 3) destruction of property (throwing said instruments out of their van), 4) reckless endangerment (throwing said instruments out of their van on a road), and 5) attempted murder (throwing said instruments out of their van on a road at the following Holograms), 6) Scumbag is an accessory to burglary (he hires a thug to rob the halfway house), and 7) Scumbag is an accessory to arson when the thug accidentally burns the house down. That sounds more like a pilot episode of “Law and Order: Hollywood Beat” or something.

The Promise to Others:
For all that, the show was fairly successful as far as the standards of ’80s cartoons go. And that, of course, was enough for some greedy and uncreative movie executive to start eying the rights to a live-action movie. Let us return to the present. The time was right. There were four successful “Transformers” movies, two “G.I.Joe” movies, and yet another “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” reboot. Why not play on the nostalgic purse-strings of little girls? With a proper budget and directing, this could have been a hugely fun, totally ’80s nostalgia/fantasy fest of radical big-hair awesomeness. Hollywood just had to embrace the guitar-shaped motorcycles.

The Sad, Sad Reality:
The result has been, indeed, truly, truly outrageous, but not for any good reasons. The making, marketing, and general handling of this movie has been the laziest, most misguided, short-sighted cash grab I have ever seen. If I were a fan of the show, this would have indeed put a hole in my soul. The production time was mere eye-blinks, the budget minuscule, the marketing practically non-existent, and the “creative” team not only gave zero [expletives] about this movie, they managed to give anti-[expletives] when they pro-actively called up the TV show’s show-runner and told her to go [expletive] herself because it would be an icy day in Hell before they consulted her about the movie.

All the ’80s-ness was stripped out of the movie leaving nothing but a “gritty” re-hash of the same “getting the band together” movie that’s been made a thousand times already combined with the grimdark origin story that no one really gives a damn about. Synergy was turned into a magic robot that was far less interesting and powerful than the supercomputer A.I. of the TV show, the Misfits were missing (except as a sequel teaser because someone really thought that was going to happen), no neon, no original songs, no point. Not surprisingly to anyone except the people who made the movie, it absolutely bombed at the box office. It bombed so hard the studio started to pull it back from wide release after only two weeks, which is pretty much unprecedented.

Concluding Thoughts:
Did this show really cry out for a big-budget, live-action adaptation? No more so than Transformers or G.I. Joe. Did it fail worse that those movies in living up to anyone’s expectations? Well, yes, and no. Yes because the names are the same, and some story elements bear something of a resemblance to the TV show, but it’s just another shoddy adaptation with so much corporate mangling to make it “hip” and “relevant” to the modern audience it can barely be called an adaptation. And no, because it wasn’t even given a proper chance to succeed, not with the tiny budget, short production schedule, and utter lack of anything resembling care on the part of the “creative” team. Now I await the truly outrageous part, which is when a studio executive will trot out that tired excuse – “This is why we don’t make female-led movies; they don’t make any money!”


A Media Entry – The Trouble With Prequels: Doc Brown Benchmark

I have a lot to say about the tendency of Hollywood to produce prequels, especially in lieu of actually greenlighting an original idea (this also holds for remakes, reboots, and reinterpretations). But while I’ve gone on (and on and on) about why prequels generally turn out to be a terrible idea, I haven’t put forth any constructive criticism on how to determine if a prequel might actually be an idea worth exploring. Luckily, I’ve thought of a litmus test, a benchmark, if you will.

In my first post on prequels, I theorized the fundamental question a prequel should answer is – How did Character X become Y? Y could refer to an emotional state, or a change of personality, or so on and so forth. A successful prequel would answer this question and have enough references to the original to link the series but not so much as to overwhelm the prequel or undermine the original.

So now I propose an even more fundamental question – why should the audience care that Character X becomes Y? The answer is that Character X’s back story must somehow be fundamentally compelling. And many prequels fail right there. As I’ve said, in general, characters in prequels must be slightly less interesting than in the original so they have room to grow. That means the character must be pretty darn compelling in the first place to warrant any kind of prequel. I think many prequels, especially ones about popular villains, fail because their implied back stories are just not at all interesting to begin with.

At this point you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with Doc Brown, beloved deranged mad scientist from the surprisingly good ’80s time travel trilogy “Back to the Future.” I am in no way advocating for a prequel. Please, please don’t misunderstand that. I’m just using Doc Brown as my benchmark because his implied back story is actually super-interesting.

No, I didn’t get hit on the head with something heavy (recently anyway). In 1955, Doc Brown is an eccentric and failed inventor when Marty shows up on his doorstep and basically confirms he will make the greatest scientific breakthrough in the history of humankind, but that it will take him 30 years to figure out how to do it. In 1985, he’s somehow lost the huge Brown estate (Cracked.com posits he burned it down for the insurance money to continue his experiments) and lives in a dinky apartment with no friends but a dog and an eighteen-year old boy. But also by 1985, Doc Brown has traveled to an unstable, war-torn Middle Eastern country, successfully located and infiltrated a terrorist cell that was well-organized/connected enough to have access to nuclear materials, faked them out to escape, and returned to the U.S. carrying contraband nuclear materials! I mean, damn, what kind of person does that? That’s Daniel Craig-as-James Bond level espionage right there, and the great plutonium theft (at the height of the Cold War, mind you) is pulled off by an addle-brained middle-aged failed inventor!

And this barely touched-upon back story is a few scenes in a trilogy of comedies. So my litmus test for a prequel is this – is how Character X became Y as interesting as Doc Brown’s implied back story?

Many, many times, the answer is – NO. Not even close.

Maleficent she’s an evil fairy and there is nothing more interesting implied by that. And the answer to how she turned evil? Woman scorned, moving on. Clichéd and boring.

Dracula Untold – we already know this story. There was no reason to tell it again, and honestly Dracula as a tortured soul is not interesting. By this time, that is clichéd and boring.

Pan – okay, given that J.M. Barrie based the character of Peter Pan on his dead brother, it seems more than slightly disrespectful to try to create some back story about the character whole cloth. The movie flopped, and part of that is because I think the audience saw nothing interesting in exploring the question, “How did Peter become Peter Pan?” and “How did James Hook become the evil Captain Hook?” The answer was also nothing more than a sequel teaser because why make one movie when three is more profitable? There’s a whole of nonsense about flying ships and fairies and pirates which sounds way more interesting than it actually was.

Monsters University – I’m putting myself out here. I liked this movie, but there was no reason for it to be made. There was nothing about Mike or Sully that wasn’t satisfactorily set up in the original, and certainly nothing as interesting as plutonium theft to justify a prequel.

On the other hand, I will grant that the premise of the “Star Wars” prequels did meet the Doc Brown benchmark. How did a good man (as described by Obi-wan) like Anakin Skywalker, turn so evil? I’m not sure it’s a question that needs to be answered, but it is a compelling question nonetheless. Unfortunately, the creative team that decided to answer that question was wholly unqualified to do so.

The original premise of Gotham, that of a good cop like Jim Gordon watching his city degenerate into the type of place that would welcome vigilante justice dealt out by a clearly insane person dressed up as a nocturnal mammal, was actually interesting. Alas, even in the second season that series cannot figure out how to answer it.

Conclusion –
Hollywood should make movies that are interesting. The premise behind prequels is actually usually not interesting. And if it is, actually telling that story is beyond the skill of many movie teams. I’m not saying a prequel is always, always a bad idea, but I am saying if the premise doesn’t even meet the Doc Brown benchmark, don’t even start on a draft.

My Fiction – Abhorred Shears

This was originally written for the October 2013 issue of Pagan Edge, and the theme was, of course, endings and death. We’re a little bit past that now, but also into a season of gratitude, so maybe it’s not a bad time to take stock of one’s life.

Abhorred Shears:

“Hey, Mom, how are you feeling?” Barbara asked her mother. As usual, Dolores was in her sewing room, working on some project. Barbara looked at the 92 year-old woman with some pity. When her mother was young, she had worked on needlepoint and all sorts of tasks that required fine motor control and good eyesight. Now, both had left her and she mainly knitted; even that often proved difficult.
Dolores set down her knitting needles for a moment and rubbed her hands. “I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Well, Aunt Elizabeth just passed away. I thought you’d be pretty upset. She was the last, um, sibling you had.”
Dolores shrugged and resumed knitting. “She was 94 years old.”
Barbara watched her mother knit for a few minutes. “So you’re feeling alright?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Because, well, I just thought you’d be more upset. I’m worried you’re not grieving enough.”
“How much is enough?”
“Well, any grieving, I guess. But you didn’t even cry at Aunt Elizabeth’s funeral. So I’m worried you’re keeping all this grief and anger inside, and that worries me,” Barbara answered. “You can talk to me, Mom. You know that, right?”
Dolores peered at her daughter through thick glasses and watery eyes. “Did you ever finish that quilt?”
“What? No, I’m still working on it. I hope it will be ready by the time the grandbaby is born. Aren’t you excited to be a great-grandmother?”
“I’m glad I’m still around,” she answered dryly. “But I’m afraid I won’t be around long enough to make much of impression on the newest little one. He’ll only remember me from old photos. If photos are even still around when he gets older.”
“We don’t know the baby’s a boy, and don’t say things like that. You’ll be around for a long time, Mom,” Barbara said sympathetically.
“Barb, honey, that’s just not true.”
“Mom! You shouldn’t say things like that.”
Dolores sighed and set down her knitting needles again. “Barbara, what do you want to talk to me about?”
“What? No, I’m here for you. I mean, well, you don’t have a lot of friends your age anymore,” she said, trying to be gentle with her words.
“Yes, I’m aware of that. I watched my parents die. I watched your father, God rest his soul. And now I’ve watched all my brothers and sisters die, not to mention so many friends. I’m not upset by this anymore, Barbara.”
“See, that’s what worries me.”
Dolores shook her head. “I understand. I remember when I was your age. Bill and I both retired and finally the kids were out of the house. And then there were grandbabies to spoil, so for a few years, I didn’t quite realize where I was in life. And then we both realized that statistically speaking, we only had ten more years to live.”
“That’s a terrible thing to think,” Barbara exclaimed.
“Calm down, sweetie, and let me finish. It was a terrible thought, but that didn’t make it go away. It is terrible to realize how close you are to the end of your life. I know, there’s always the possibility of accidents or illnesses, but those seem like the odd event, not the normal.” Dolores sort of sighed. “So much of life, I’ve found, is not stopping for Death. But, as the poem goes, he will kindly stop for me. I do understand how hard this is for you, but please understand I really am used to this by now. I have my projects and my kids and grandkids. I’m keeping busy. You don’t worry about me.”
Barbara listened, both appalled and oddly reassured. Her mother was right; recent retirement and the birth of her first grandchild had gotten her to realize how many years of her life had already passed.
Dolores slowly stood up from her chair, creaking and cracking in various places. She walked over to her work bench and pulled out a pair of antique pair of silver shears. The shears, while in good shape, had clearly not been used in quite some time. She held them out to Barbara. “These were my mother’s, and she got them from her mother. Grandma used them, but Mom didn’t, and I haven’t.”
“Should I use them? Or not? I’m confused,” Barbara said, taking the shears.
Dolores sat back down in her chair. “I know we’ve had some differences about your religion, but I think I’ve made peace with that. And I know you’re Hellenic, right?”
“There’s Lachesis, the Dealer of Lots, followed by Clotho, the Weaver of Fate, and last is Atropos…”
“The Cutter of the Threads, and her abhorred shears,” Barbara said, remembering the description of the Fates from mythology. “She’s also the crone.”
“You’ve been the maiden, you’re still a mother, but she’s next and the shears don’t have to be ahborred. There’s always an end, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
Barbara felt tears sting her eyes and she closed her hand around the shears. “Thanks Mom.”
“You’re welcome, sweetie,” Dolores said, and resumed her knitting.

A Media Entry – All Hail the Pumpkin King!

Ideally, I’d be hyping up my new “Nevermore and the Ravens” novel and providing links and enthusiasm. But life didn’t cooperate with my self-imposed deadlines, so alas I have nothing to shill for you. But unlike last year I do have a costume party to go to, which is a nice change of pace. No, I’m not a superhero, but I really wanted to be.

But anyway, social interaction aside, here are a few more of my favorite Halloween-themed pieces of media. Remember, I’m squeamish, so these are in a more light-hearted vein than horror movies.

Ghostbusters – there are so many great one-liners in this movie you can almost forget Peter Venkman is a borderline sexual predator and that the EPA guy was probably exactly right. Ah, the ’80s, when petty bureaucrats were indeed the greatest of villains. The special effects hold up decently well, all things considered, but really it’s the writing and characters that make this movie work. Also, as a kid I completely missed the symbolism of the “Gatekeeper” and the “Keymaster.” As far as a reboot goes, I thought the original was fine, but I don’t see why there can’t be a reboot (it’s been tried through cartoons before).

The Addams Family – based on a TV show based on a series of cartoons by Charles Addams featured an insanely rich, rather macabre and off-kilter family. The TV show was rather daring for the time, actually, especially since the Addams were all about non-conformity. And the romance between Gomez and Morticia is one of the most genuine portrayals of a couple in love I have ever seen depicted in media. Now, I’ve heard Charles Addams wasn’t too thrilled with the TV show because a lot of the depravity was played down (hey, it was still in black and white; what do you want). But the movie put all that depravity right back in and kept true to the characters. Much of the humor was, appropriately, deadpan. The sequel, Addams Family Values, isn’t quite as good but highly watchable if you want to make a marathon of it.

Young Frankenstein – originally this was Gene Wilder’s idea, and Mel Brooks was the only person to see the genius in the premise. They were so dedicated to authenticity that they dug up the props used in the original Frankenstein movie and fought to make sure this movie was also in black-and-white. I can’t recommend this one enough.

The Addams Family – what? The TV show was enjoyable, and while not depraved there was still a good deal of deadpan humor. And through it all, it’s so clear the family deeply cares about each other.

The Munsters – is it something of an Addams Family knock-off? Yes, but it’s not too bad. This show was also the first to feature a married couple in the same bed together. I guess that’s okay when the couple in question is a vampire and a Frankenstein monster.

The Twilight Zone – the best ones are the originals that only ran 30 minutes. The show wasn’t really meant to be stretched into a full hour, and it shows.

The Outer Limits – they control the vertical, they control the horizontal. The general idea is similar to the
Twilight Zone, and again the original series is the best one.

The Muppet Show, guest starring Alice Cooper – this was is definitely a Halloween-themed episode and for obvious reasons. Wow was Alice young, and still managed to look fairly strung out. He really played up the show with good humor.

Keep in mind I have exactly zero taste in music – “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by the Charlie Daniels Band (if you like a little twang in your festivities), “Black Magic Woman” by Santana, “Ghost Riders in the Sky” by Johnny Cash (for a bit more twang), “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult, and “This is Halloween” from The Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack.

Jane Eyre: An Autobiography – there is some crazy, messed up stuff going on the Rochester place.

Frankenstein, or, the Modern Prometheus – the book is really more about the arrogance of humanity than the soulless monster, but the soulless monster is a vital counterpoint to the titular doctor.

Nevermore and the Ravens” – just because I haven’t finished my fourth novel in the series doesn’t mean I can’t shill for Necromancy for the Greater Good, Paranormal is Relative, and Saturday Night Séance. The more you read of this blog, the more you’ll figure out where I’ve drawn my inspiration from. The thirteen short stories are an easy read. Some are silly, some are spooky, and some are between.

Plants vs Zombies (1 or 2) – I love bad puns, and I love taking out zombies. Go little peashooter, go.

Munchkin Zombies and/or Apocalypse and/or Cthlulu and/Bites– Fight the zombies or be the zombies. Or, since this is Munchkin, why not do both? Dress in black and read from the book. Enjoy the bad puns and try not to end the world! Unless, of course, you’re a Cultist, and then go ahead and end the world!

Marvel Legendary – I have all the hero sets, so I put together a “Defenders” scenario starring Dr. Strange, the Hulk, Silver Surfer, Namor (who are the standard comic bunch), and Magik to round out the group (if there is a fifth, this can vary greatly). Obviously the Hulk and Namor work well together (since both are might and instinct), but Namor and Magik also work very well together (Namor also has a card to gain Sidekicks). The Surfer is useful in the later game to turn recruiting into attacking. Other heroes to trade in and out – Moon Knight, Blade, Ghost Rider, and Deadpool.

And remember, no matter how you celebrate tonight, if you live in the USA, you get to set your clock back and sleep an extra hour tomorrow (hey, we really are doing a Time Warp). Happy All Hallows Eve!

A Media Entry – Sweetest Day: Disney Romance

Hallmark manufactured a holiday called “Sweetest Day” to be in October as kind of a second Valentine’s Day to cash in all that gushy and sweet romance money. I, of course, don’t care but it did give me some food for thought (although perhaps not an original one). I have many thoughts on romance as it is portrayed in media, and for many, many children, their first exposure to the concept of “true love” is through Disney movies in general and the classic fairytale interpretations specifically. What movies/couples am I talking about?

1) Snow White and the Seven Dwarves – Snow White and Prince Charming
2) Cinderella – Cinderella and Prince Charming II
3) Sleeping Beauty – Aurora/Briar Rose and Philip
4) The Little Mermaid – Ariel and Eric
5) Beauty and the Beast – Belle and the Beast
6) Aladdin – Jasmine and Aladdin
7) The Princess and the Frog – Tiana and Naveen
8) Tangled – Rapunzel and Flynn
9) Frozen – Anna and Hans/Anna and Sven

This is a horrible introduction to romance or romantic relationships in general. There is exactly one animated Disney romance that doesn’t make me cringe, and it’s not on my list because the story isn’t a fairytale.

1) Mulan – Mulan is a girl who pretends to be a boy and goes to war in her father’s place so he won’t die. She totes crushes on the Li Shang, regiment captain (and who wouldn’t), and when she single-handedly saves the Empire (twice), she goes home to apologize for running away and her father forgives her. Then Shang, after a metaphorical slap upside the head, shows up to maybe start dating this totally awesome woman if she lets him. This is also not based on a Western fairytale, so perhaps that’s why the romance is not the focus of the story.

(Also, to be pedantic, I know Aladdin isn’t a Western fairytale either, but the romance is pretty typical of these movies)

And that is it. All other romances are kind of awful on pretty much every level. Most of the fairytale romances are very similar, which means since the template is bad, there aren’t a lot of ways to produce a good story.

Template – young, isolated princess meets an older handsome man, they spend approximately one day to one week together, obstacles are overcome (sometimes together, sometimes not), and they agree to get married.

Where to begin, where to begin?

1) Young – all the princesses tend to be teenagers. While lately Disney has made some strides to age up their main characters, the oldest Disney princess to date is Elsa, who was 21. Anna was 18, Tiana was 17/18, and the others were between 14 and 16. Even if the actual age wasn’t given, the princesses are presented as young. They come across as teenagers who are trying to figure out what their role in life will be, or are actively rebelling against that role. The only princess who comes across to me as mature is Tiana, and part of that is probably for the reason below.

2) Isolated – the princesses also tend to be isolated. Some (Snow White, Rapunzel, Jasmine, Cinderella, Anna) are literally confined, and others metaphorically (Aurora lives with only the stupid fairies, Ariel is confined to the sea, Belle is a social outcast). In the cases of some princesses, they have never even met a boy their age to interact with before the love interest shows up. The exception is Tiana, who works two jobs in her quest to achieve her dream, and she is also the most mature of the princesses.

3) Older love interest – Again, I don’t mean strictly age. I mean experience. All the eventual princes have a lot more world experience than the princesses.
– Granted, we don’t know that much about Snow White’s Prince Charming, but he’s free to ride around by himself.
– Cinderella’s Prince Charming was apparently out and about so much his father had to practically force him to settle down.
– Princes Philip, Eric, and Naveen were off having adventures when they met their princesses.
– Aladdin and Flynn were surviving as thieves.
– Prince Hans was scheming, and Sven was working for a living.
– The only exception is the Beast, who was perhaps more isolated than Belle.

4) No dating – I know, I know, the constraints of a movie make showing the passage of time and thus the development of a relationship difficult to depict. And I know Disney is trying to improve on this. But even so, Disney romances are astoundingly short.
– Both Snow White and Prince Charming and Aurora and Philip fell in love after meeting precisely once (that they remember) and singing a song together.
– Cinderella and Prince Charming II danced the night away.
– Ariel fell in love with Eric based on looks only, and he decided he loved her after three days of her mute comic hijinks.
– Aladdin and Jasmine have two dates and decide to get married.
– Tiana and Naveen have about a day together before they decided to get married (although to be fair they are frogs).
Belle and Beast spend more time together, which is good. Later flicks do try to remedy the “one date” issue. Anna was ready to marry Hans after one day (to be fair this was lampshaded as a bad idea in the movie), but ended up with Sven after only a few days. I’ll grant you that they weren’t immediately married, and that while Rapunzel and Flynn seemed to be in love after one day, they didn’t get married immediately, which was refreshing actually, but also little more than a throw-away line at the end.

5) Obstacles – ah, the course of true love never did run smooth. High stress situations actually aren’t conducive to long-term relationships, especially those with such a short dating time anyway. And in the case of Snow White and Aurora, they didn’t even overcome the obstacles; they just slept through the problem.

I’m also going to argue that the obstacles presented don’t represent the obstacles likely to show up later in the relationship.
– Snow White should have some PTSD considering her stepmother tried to have her murdered (twice). Prince Charming saw nothing weird about kissing a dead girl in a glass box and then marrying her when she was magically revived.  Just putting that out there without comment…
– Cinderella comes from a verbally and emotionally abusive household. Prince Charming II wasn’t very interested in getting married to begin with so it’s likely he’ll just go back to whatever he wants to do once he’s beget an heir.
Aurora is an idiot. Then again, so is Philip and everyone else shown in those inbred families, so maybe that’s not a problem for them.
– Ariel is an idiot. Also, she knows absolutely nothing about the world she’s just agreed to be part of, and comes from a rather dysfunctional family. Eric decides to marry a mute, younger girl, after only three days and a battle with an oversized witch-monster.
– It could be argued Belle is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, and the Beast clearly has unresolved anger issues that probably weren’t improved by his ten-year curse/imprisonment.
– Tiana and Naveen, except for the whole frog thing, actually will probably be fine. He needs to grow up a bit, but Tiana’s got a good head on her shoulders. But creepily, Tiana’s best friend Charlotte essentially resigns herself to waiting six years to marry Naveen’s twelve-year-old brother.

Conclusion – but the overall lesson is that if a girl is pretty, and has a nice singing voice (and Sleeping Beauty states this explicitly!), a worthy suitor will present himself to her and true love is not far behind. Also, any obstacle can be overcome, including severe mental disorders, huge gaps in life experience, and past abuse. So much for romance.

Happy Sweetest Day or whatever!

A TV Entry – Ascended Extra


I obviously did not manage to post this weekend. I was unavoidably detained. I failed to settle new lands successfully, I successfully helmed the most near-sighted group of sailors ever, I looted South American temples better than my colleagues, I dabbled in wordplay, and I raced some pigs. I did see both monsters and aliens, which reminded me why I could never, ever cosplay. I might want to, but I’d want it to be awesome, and after seeing a costume that involved a jack-o-lantern head in which the creator had actually strung up pumpkin seeds inside to make the head look as real as possible, I realized my quest for perfection would only end in tears. And possibly me running down the street without pants doing my best impression of Sonny the Cuckoo. Incidentally, an actual question asked by me over the weekend – “Why was Sugar Bear the God of War?”

Anyway, my thoughts for the midweek that are less random than usual.

Very few pieces of media feature only one character. There’s a main character and a supporting cast, or an assemble cast and supporting characters. Normally the main character is supposed to be the most interesting one that the audience is supposed to be the most invested in. But sometimes the main character is just not that interesting, or the hints and allegations provided about the supporting cast indicate maybe the story is focused on the wrong character. When one of these extras moves to main character status, TvTropes calls this “ascended extra.” Sometimes that extra totally deserves to be ascended.

I’m limiting this to animated Western TV shows for now, and may consider cinematic extras who deserved some more screen time a bit later. In no particular order, I present five for your consideration:

1) Shego – I’ve gone over my love for Shego before. Despite being a villain sidekick, she had the best lines and coolest powers. I think the show writers started to realize her potential because some of the later episodes did go into her back story a bit but the transition from hero to villain was never fully explored, and I detested the “happy ending” the writers gave her at the end of the show.

2) CheetaraThundercats was one of those shows that never lived up to its promise. The animation wasn’t actually that bad, but it wasn’t up to the intro either. The main character was Lion-o, and he was the prince of the Thundercats. The twist for him was that he was actually a child when the planet exploded, and through a malfunction in the stasis system, he emerged as an adult although he still had the mind of a child. This was supposed to be interesting. I didn’t agree. Cheetara, as one might deduce from the simple naming convention, was a cheetah-woman and her power was to run super-fast. That isn’t that interesting. But she was also psychic. That is interesting, and it was something that was starting to show up in a bit in later seasons, but I really wanted to see more of her character development than Lion-o (or, deity help us, Snarf).

3) TeelaHe-man was designed to sell toys and tell children a ham-handed moral at the end. Teela was the Captain of the Guard and too often damsel in distress. But it turns out she is the adopted daughter of Man-at-Arms and secretly the daughter of the Sorceress. This implies a lot of interesting story to explore. Does Teela have any magic powers? Will she one day be the new Sorceress? Who is her father? How did the Sorceress come to trust Man-at-Arms? Sorry, Adam, you may have the power, but you’re just not that interesting.

4) Casey Jones – Don’t get me wrong, I loved the four turtles. They were great main characters. But then there was Casey Jones, a hockey-mask wearing, hockey-stick wielding vigilante. Who was he underneath the mask? What motivated him to take up crime-fighting? Did he lose someone close to him (as is so common)? How come he was able to take the existence of four-foot tall talking turtles (and other insanity) in such stride? Was he just insane himself?

5) King BumiAvatar: The Last Airbender was a brilliant animated series, and one of the side characters was King Bumi, a 112 year old earth bender. He was a) insane and b) insanely powerful. He was featured in a couple of episodes, and most notably the one titled “The Old Masters.” While I liked all the characters in that show, I would have liked to see a bit more on the adventures of crazy King Bumi.

And that’s all I’ve got for now. Happy “Back to the Future Day!”
“The future exists only in imagination; and that is why, no matter how hard you try to imagine it, you will not be able to predict the future with total certainty.”


The Raging Fanboy

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