Frivolous Friday: Meta-Merch

Frivolous Fridays are the Orbit bloggers’ excuse to post about fun things we care about that may not have serious implications for atheism or social justice. Any day is a good day to write about whatever the heck we’re interested in (hey, we put “culture” in our tagline for a reason), but we sometimes have a hard time giving ourselves permission to do that. This is our way of encouraging each other to take a break from serious topics and have some fun. Enjoy!

One of my favorite super-nerdy pop-culture phenonema is meta-merch: T-shirts, coffee mugs, and other swag that advertise, not the show or the characters in the show, but products or shows or games that are featured in the show.

Examples: Ingrid has a Crying Breakfast Friends T-shirt from Steven Universe:

crying breakfast friends shirt

And I might get a Cookie Cat shirt at some point:

Cookie Cat shirt
Continue reading “Frivolous Friday: Meta-Merch”

Frivolous Friday: Meta-Merch
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Frivolous Friday: The Molecular Mixology Scene from Parks and Recreation

Frivolous Fridays are the Orbit bloggers’ excuse to post about fun things we care about that may not have serious implications for atheism or social justice. Any day is a good day to write about whatever the heck we’re interested in (hey, we put “culture” in our tagline for a reason), but we sometimes have a hard time giving ourselves permission to do that. This is our way of encouraging each other to take a break from serious topics and have some fun. Enjoy!

Parks and Recreation Molecular Mixology bar from Two Parties

One of the things I like best about Parks and Recreation is that the humor is exaggerated enough to be absurd, while being close enough to reality to be identifiable. I can laugh at the foibles I recognize in myself and other people, without it being so awkwardly recognizable that it makes me squirm. It’s more like, “Lord, what fools we mortals be!”

The Molecular Mixology scene from the Two Parties episode is a prime example. I have never, in fact, been to this bar, it’s ridiculous — and yet I have totally been to this bar.

I also love the fact that the bachelor party starts off with a rousing game of “Settlers of Catan.”

Frivolous Friday: The Molecular Mixology Scene from Parks and Recreation

Frivolous Friday: The Dungeons & Dragons Sex Scene from “Community”

community-annie-dungeons-and-dragons-hector-the-well-endowed

Frivolous Fridays are the Orbit bloggers’ excuse to post about fun things we care about that may not have serious implications for atheism or social justice. Any day is a good day to write about whatever the heck we’re interested in (hey, we put “culture” in our tagline for a reason), but we sometimes have a hard time giving ourselves permission to do that. This is our way of encouraging each other to take a break from serious topics and have some fun. Enjoy!

This may be the hottest, kinkiest, funniest sex scene I’ve seen on prime-time broadcast TV.

I’ve been re-watching Community, a smart, well-written, mostly good-natured comedy show that plays like TV Tropes in sitcom form, with episodes riffing on Westerns, Star Wars, Ken Burns documentaries, M*A*S*H, The Breakfast Club, and more, more, more. The other day I watched the “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” episode (S2 E14) — and this scene jumped out at me, for reasons that will become obvious when you watch it. (Brief setup: The group is playing Dungeons & Dragons, Abed is the Dungeonmaster who at the moment is playing the role of an elf maiden, Annie is playing Hector the Well-Endowed.) I love the gender-switching in the role-play; I love Troy taking notes; I love, love, LOVE the moment when Annie holds up two fingers, then three, then four, then folds her thumb under. It’s amazing what TV writers manage to get away with, using just a little inventiveness.

(Content note: There’s a bit of not-great consent at the beginning, in a fantasy play-acting context.)

BTW, if anyone knows how to lip-read, I’d love to know what the characters are saying.

Frivolous Friday: The Dungeons & Dragons Sex Scene from “Community”

Steven Universe Episode 9: Tiger Millionaire

Steven Universe Steven and Amethyst as Tiger Millionaire and Purple Puma

Ingrid and I are re-watching the entire Steven Universe series — yet again — and I thought I’d blog some of my observations. Please note: I’m not writing these as a series summary or recap. I’m just writing down some of my observations and reactions, about individual episodes and the show as a whole. These posts will probably make more sense if you’ve already seen the show, but I hope they inspire the rest of you to check it out, as it really is one of the richest and most emotionally intense things I’ve seen on TV. This post contains spoilers about Steven Universe: the show as a whole, and/or about Episode 9: Tiger Millionaire

“Pumas are cool!”

OMLOG, so much going on with this episode! At least three major themes: learning to accept other’s imperfections, learning that different social arenas have different rules, and gender fluidity.

I believe this is the first time we’ve seen Amethyst alter her gender presentation.* Most of the time she presents as female, and that seems to be the form that comes most naturally to her — but in most of “Tiger Millionaire,” Amethyst shapeshifts into the form of a male wrestler, the Purple Puma.** What I find interesting is that nobody thinks this is interesting. Everyone takes it in their stride, and it’s not the point of the episode. Steven is fascinated by the fact that Amethyst can shapeshift, and he’s super-impressed that she (he? not sure what the right pronoun is here) has a second life as an underground wrestler — but the fact that the wrestler form is male isn’t blinked at, by Steven or anyone else. Gender fluidity comes up more than once in Steven Universe, and I find it really interesting that in “Tiger Millionaire,” the episode where it’s first explored at any length, it’s central to the storyline, and at the same time is widely accepted and is no big deal.

The more overt theme, IMO, is learning that different social arenas have different rules. Steven is fascinated to learn that there’s a world — the wrestling world — where playing at being mean is acceptable and people voluntarily step into the ring to pound on each other. He’s ordinarily such a sweet, generous, affectionate kid, and most of his life with the gems is spent learning to be a good person and a good gem. So unsurprisingly, when he’s given a chance to play-act at being a mean-spirited, conniving jerk, he jumps at it.

But he takes it too far. Continue reading “Steven Universe Episode 9: Tiger Millionaire”

Steven Universe Episode 9: Tiger Millionaire

Rants at Fictional Characters: Jameson Henthrop and the Bullying Flash Mob in Empire

Empire Jamal Jameson Lucious

Occasionally I rant in my head at fictional characters, as a sort of stand-in for rants against real people who’ve done similar real-world bullshit — in part because I get to be more of an unforgiving hardass to fictional characters than I am to real people. I’ve decided to start blogging them. Content note: biphobia. Also spoilers for Empire, Season 2, Episodes 10-12.

Dear Jameson, and the bullying flash mob that came after Jamal:

What the fuck do you think the B in LGBT means?

I will tell you what the B in LGBT means. It means “bisexual.” And I am so goddamn sick of LGBT leaders and activists who use the phrase LGBT — but then treat people as like traitors or fence-sitters if they even occasionally have sex or relationships with people of a different gender.

There’s a reason we started using the term LGBT. It’s because our movement was focusing almost exclusively on gay men (gay white men at that, but that’s a different rant), and was ignoring and even dissing lesbians, bisexuals, and trans people. We started using the term LGBT as a signal of inclusion — and as a reminder to be inclusive. I am so goddamn sick of leaders and activists who think they can shit on bisexuals and trans people, as long as they use the term LGBT. I am so goddamn sick of leaders and activists who use the phrase LGBT, when what they really mean is G, or maybe LG on a good day. I am so goddamn sick of queers who forget what the term LGBT even means,

Yes, I know — Jamal isn’t bisexual. He says he isn’t, and he gets to self-identify. And if I had his sexual history, with two opposite-sex sexual experiences in my entire life, I probably wouldn’t identify as bisexual, either. That’s not the point. Continue reading “Rants at Fictional Characters: Jameson Henthrop and the Bullying Flash Mob in Empire

Rants at Fictional Characters: Jameson Henthrop and the Bullying Flash Mob in Empire

Sad, Traumatized Atheists in Pop Culture: Rhonda Lyon in Empire

Rhonda and Andre Lyon in Empire

Content note: violence, miscarriage caused by violence, anti-atheist bigotry. Also spoilers for Empire, Season 2 Episode 11, “Death Will Have His Day,” and to some degree for the show as a whole.

There are a lot of shitty pop-culture tropes about atheists in pop culture. Atheist characters are often amoral, cynical, bitter, unhappy, or any combination of the above — and they’re often atheists because a traumatic event made them lose their faith.* Gregory House, Mal Reynolds. Possibly Lucious Lyon himself, although it’s hard to know whether he’s really a nonbeliever or just said that to mess with his Christian son. Now add to the list: Rhonda Lyon in Empire.

Quick plot summary: In the most recent episode of Empire (Season 2 Episode 11, “Death Will Have His Day”), Rhonda Lyon, who’s pregnant, has been pushed down a flight of stairs. Bleeding on the floor, she reaches for her cel phone to call for help, sees that it’s smashed, and prays: “Oh God. Please. Save the baby. I don’t care what happens to me. I can die a thousand times, just please, save my baby.” When she’s recovering in the hospital with serious injuries and having suffered a miscarriage, she tells this story to her husband, Andre, and says that when moonlight came through the window, she thought God answered her prayer. But when Andre replies, “God saved you,” she says, sobbing: “No. No. Andre, no. God doesn’t exist. If he did, then the baby would still be here. He didn’t do anything to anyone. There really is no God, Andre.”

Sigh.

Why, oh why, did it have to be this? Again? “I had this terrible trauma, so now I’m an atheist. I prayed that the baby would live, I even offered my own life for that prayer to be answered, but it wasn’t, therefore God doesn’t exist.” Really? Do we really have to play out this tired stereotype of atheism as a post-traumatic symptom, part of a sad and cynical worldview, or sulking because we didn’t get our way and God didn’t give us what we asked for? Continue reading “Sad, Traumatized Atheists in Pop Culture: Rhonda Lyon in Empire

Sad, Traumatized Atheists in Pop Culture: Rhonda Lyon in Empire

Steven Universe Episode 8: Serious Steven

Steven Universe Episode 8 Serious Steven

Ingrid and I are re-watching the entire Steven Universe series — yet again — and I thought I’d blog some of my observations. Please note: I’m not writing these as a series summary or recap. I’m just writing down some of my observations and reactions, about individual episodes and the show as a whole. These posts will probably make more sense if you’ve already seen the show, but I hope they inspire the rest of you to check it out, as it really is one of the richest and most emotionally intense things I’ve seen on TV. This post contains spoilers about Steven Universe: the show as a whole, and/or about Episode 8: Serious Steven.

“This is just like the teacups!”

I’ve never been a parent, but I’ve been a kid. And I think one of the hardest things about being a parent has got to be deciding when kids are old enough for what kind of danger.

As a parent, it’s your job to keep your kids safe. But you can’t protect kids from every danger forever. Someday they’re going to have to do things like cross the street without holding your hand, use the stove, walk to school alone, drive, find their way around a strange city. If your three-year-old is behind the wheel of a car, you’re not doing your job: if your sixteen-year-old can’t cross the street alone, you’re not doing your job, either.

These decisions aren’t just going to be different for different ages. They’re going to be different for different kids. And they’re going to be different in different cultures and situations. If you’re growing up on a farm, you’ll have to learn to face different dangers earlier than if you grow up in a city, and vice versa. If you’re being brought up in a family of acrobats, if you’re the child of hard-core wilderness explorers, if you’re growing up in a war zone… you get the drift. And of course, these decisions are going to be different if the kid you’re bringing up is a magical half-human living in an uneasy temporary peace in a war between humans and aliens. Continue reading “Steven Universe Episode 8: Serious Steven”

Steven Universe Episode 8: Serious Steven

Steven Universe Episode 7: Bubble Buddies

steven universe bubble buddies

Ingrid and I are re-watching the entire Steven Universe series — yet again — and since we’ve been spending so much talking about it with each other, I thought I’d blog some of my observations. Please note: I’m not writing these Steven Universe posts as a series summary or recap. I’m just writing down some of my observations and reactions (not necessarily coherently), about the show as a whole and individual episodes. These posts will probably make more sense to people who are already watching/ have already watched the show, but I hope they inspire the rest of you to check out the show, as it really is one of the richest and most emotionally intense things I’ve seen on TV. Note: This post may contain spoilers about Steven Universe: the show as a whole, and/or about Episode 7: Bubble Buddies.

It would be so easy for Connie to just get rescued all the time. After all, she’s the human with no super powers; Steven is the magical half-gem with super powers. It would be so easy to make their friendship all about Steven rescuing Connie.

But Steven Universe doesn’t go there. From this very first episode of their friendship, Steven and Connie help each other, take turns saving each other, work together, play together, and act like a team of equals.

There’s a theme that runs throughout the show — the theme of what it means to be strong, and of having different kinds of strengths. That is so much what this episode is about. When Steven and Connie get trapped inside Steven’s magical bubble, they bring different strengths and weaknesses to the situation. Steven has magical powers, and when it comes to magical creatures, he has good instincts and insights. Connie is a better analytical thinker and problem solver, she has more knowledge and experience of the human world, and she’s better at thinking ahead. They’re a team. They’re different, they each have their own strengths — and because of it, they make each other stronger.

I also love, love, LOVE that Steven’s first approach to Connie — a fumbled attempt at stereotypical masculine showing-off, casually/not casually bragging about his bike as if it were a sports car — utterly fails to get her attention. What winds up working is a more direct and vulnerable approach. Okay, and yes, saving her from falling rocks with a magic bubble. I do think it’s interesting that Steven’s magic weapon isn’t a weapon at all — it’s a shield, it’s defensive and protective — and that his first bubble comes in service of protecting Connie.

And I’m struck by the theme of the bubble itself, and the two of them being stuck inside it. It can be tempting to try to live in a bubble, and when you’re fond of someone, it can be especially tempting to wrap yourselves and the relationship in your own little world. But even in a bubble, you can’t be completely protected from the world — and being in a bubble creates its own problems. (It’s interesting that Steven doesn’t seem to be aware of why being stuck in a bubble at the bottom of the ocean would be a problem: it’s Connie who realizes they could suffocate or starve. Suffocation or starvation — yup, those are the metaphorical dangers of a metaphorical bubble, as well as the literal dangers of a real one.)

A few side notes: The at-least-somewhat-romantic nature of the friendship between Steven and Connie is clear from this very first episode. Pearl doesn’t get this at first (I’m not sure she ever gets it), and she sees it as a childish friendship: “Let’s set up a playdate.” But Amethyst and Garnet immediately get that this is something else. And I’d be derelict if I didn’t point out the continuity error: in this episode, Connie says her family moves from town to town because of her dad’s work, but later on her mother is revealed to be a doctor at a local hospital, which isn’t very consistent with that.

Ingrid notes: This episode showcases some of Steven’s flaws, which is somewhat unusual in the show. He can be relentlessly upbeat, and overly-eager to please and make friends, in ways that put him out of touch with reality — and in “Bubble Buddies,” this gets both him and Connie into trouble. Ingrid is also curious about whether Steven’s bubble is the same thing as when the Gems bubble gem shards, and if so, why none of the other Gems use bubbles the way he does.

Steven Universe Episode 7: Bubble Buddies

Problems With Consent In a Show I Love Dearly: Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation banner

Content note: consent violations, passing mentions of sexual assault, Parks and Recreation spoilers

I love the show. I want no mistake about that. Parks and Recreation is one of my favorite TV shows of all time. It’s smart and funny, entertaining and original, with that slightly-exaggerated realism that lets it touch on truth about human experience while giving it room to be ridiculous. It has lots of amazing female characters. Its core relationships include a friendship between two women and a friendship between a man and a woman, neither of them sexual or romantic. It’s better than average on diversity (although I’d be interested to see some writing about the show by people of color). It aces the Bechdel test with gold stars and extra credits. And it’s an all-too-rare example of a comedy show where most of the main characters treat each other decently most of the time. It’s proof positive that affectionate and supportive human relationships have plenty of fodder for both conflict and comedy. It’s hilarious and comforting at the same time, and that’s very, very rare. I’ve watched it all the way through about five times now, and I’m getting ready to do another round. (If you’re going to start, I suggest you begin with Season 3; if you want to test the waters with just one or two episodes, I’d recommend S4 E6, “End of the World,” or S5 E10, “Two Parties.”)

Please bear all that in mind.

Parks and Recreation kind of sucks when it comes to consent.

Chris Traeger
A few examples. Chris asks Ann out multiple times, even though she keeps saying no — and Ann says to Leslie, “He is nothing if not persistent.” No, no, no, no, no. This idea that persistence is flattering and that refusing to take No for an answer promotes jolly good fun or is an admirable romantic trait — this isn’t just annoying. It’s dangerous. It’s a pop culture trope that needs to be taken out into the street and shot. (S3 E1, “Go Big or Go Home”)

tom haverford
Tom pesters Ann to date him a second time, even though she says No vehemently and several times. She finally gives in and says Yes, saying, “Dude, you wore me down.” Immediately after, in a one-on-one with the camera, Tom says, “The four sweetest words in the English language — ‘You wore me down.'” See above. No, no, no, no, no. Again, this isn’t just annoying. It’s dangerous. It’s an attitude that can make the world an uninhabitable misery for women just trying to live our lives, and it’s an attitude that can lead to sexual assault. (S4 E15: “Dave Returns”)

Tom flat-out deceives Nadia and wastes hours of her time so he can hit on her — in his government office, in his capacity as a government official, providing a service she had paid for as a taxpayer. And when he finally comes clean (or rather, when April comes clean for him), Nadia actually considers the question of whether this was romantic or totally scary — and concludes that it was romantic. She also dismisses his deceptions, chalking them up to “weird panicky dude behavior.” (S6 E4, “Gin It Up”)

Leslie Knope
Leslie refuses to accept Ben’s unwillingness to stay friends after their break-up — and interferes with his love life with other women. This is classic creepy, stalkerish ex-lover behavior. The fact that it’s done by a woman doesn’t make it okay. Yes, she eventually realizes that this isn’t okay and she needs to back off. But her behavior isn’t presented as stalkerish. It’s presented as overzealous, but understandable and cute and funny. Ann even tells Leslie that her tendency to steamroll over what other people want is a sign of her passion, and that while she needs to dial it back, it’s not a sign that she’s a bad person. (S4 E6-8, “End of the World,” “The Treaty,” “Smallest Park.”)

There’s also a trope, repeated so many times in the show I can’t even count them or document them, where people hug someone who’s explicitly said they don’t want to be hugged — and this gets presented as a sign of overflowing affection. It’s presented as a sign that when you love someone, sometimes you just have to hug them, even if they don’t want to be hugged, have said they don’t want to be hugged, and are visibly uncomfortable with being hugged.

And I have to add this to the list, even though it puts a knife through my heart — the entire early romance of Leslie and Ben.

I love Leslie and Ben. I love their romance and their friendship, their political relationship and their marriage. I love how in their marriage vows, they say, “I love you and I like you.” (Okay, tearing up a bit now.) But when Chris disciplines Leslie and Ben for their workplace romance, he’s not wrong. There are good reasons for having a policy that prohibits sexual relationships between bosses and their subordinates. And it’s not just because of the reasons Chris gives, that these relationships can lead to fraud, corruption, and misuse of public funds. It’s because these relationships can constitute abuse of power, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. It works out well with Leslie and Ben, but that’s not a good enough reason to suspend these rules or discard them. That just means they got lucky. (S4 E9, “The Trial of Leslie Knope”)

All of these characters are depicted as delightful. Tom is something of an annoying would-be player, but he’s never seen as predatory, and everyone is shown to be warm, affectionate, caring, likeable, and generally awesome. And none of this behavior is presented as troubling flaws in otherwise good people. It’s presented as just normal — annoying at worst, charming at best.

I love Parks and Recreation. Among the many, many things I love about the show, I love how (usually) feminist it is. But I’m not going to limit my pop-culture political critiques to blatantly sexist stuff I can’t stand. Lousy consent in pop culture helps normalize lousy consent. And when that happens in an otherwise-feminist show, it normalizes it in a whole different way. If feminist icon Leslie Knope winks at troubling consent and even perpetrates it herself, it makes it seem even more okay, even more like the ordinary quirks of healthy dating and romance.

We can critique the politics of pop culture and still enjoy it. I’m not going to give my favorite show a pass just because it’s a feminist favorite — or just because it’s my favorite show.

Problems With Consent In a Show I Love Dearly: Parks and Recreation

Steven Universe Theme Song Parody, Cat Edition

So I’ve written a song parody of the Steven Universe theme song, based on our cats. Because of course I have.

We
Are the tabby cats
We’ll lie around all day
And if you make the bed
We’ll both get in the way

That’s why the mamas of this world
Believe in
Comet, Talisker, and purrrrrr
And SLEEPING!

Comet and Talisker snuggling asleep on bed 1000

(For those who aren’t Steven Universe fans, here’s the theme song, and the extended opening with the extended theme song.)

If you enjoyed this cat-themed song parody, you may also enjoy:

Saturday Night’s Alright For Biting
Love Me, Love Me, Love Me — I’m A Kittycat!
Everyone Knows It’s Comet!
The Comet Song: Theme from “Cat Over the Fridge Up High,” by ReasJack

Steven Universe Theme Song Parody, Cat Edition