Steven Universe Episode 1: Gem Glow

steven universe episode 1 gem glow

Ingrid and I are watching the entire Steven Universe series for the third time, and since we’ve been spending so much talking about it the first two times, I thought I’d blog some of my observations about it. 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), both to the show as a whole and to the 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 1: Gem Glow.

I once read an essay about Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I promise this isn’t a tangent, it really is relevant) that talked about how, in stories about interactions between ordinary people and space aliens or supernatural beings, there are more or less two arcs the stories typically take. The story is either about (a) humans exploring the alien/ supernatural world, or about (b) aliens/ supernatural beings exploring (or invading) the human world. The essay argued that the (b) storyline is almost always the same — shock, disbelief, being forced to accept the reality, often with the aliens/ supernatural beings trying to conceal their non-humanness at first — and as a result, it’s almost always boring. It argued that one of Buffy’s strong points is the main civilian characters go through this (b) arc very, very quickly: for Xander, for instance, it happens in one word, after he overhears a conversation between Buffy and Giles and says to himself, “Vampires?” So while in the most literal sense the show is a (b) arc, it’s about adventure and exploration as much as it’s about shock and defense.

Here’s why I bring this up. One of my favorite things about Steven Universe is the fact that, for the townspeople of Beach City, the (b) storyline is already in the past. The ordinary people have already accepted the existence of the Gems. It’s not clear how long ago this happened, whether it was just a few years ago (maybe shortly after Steven was born?) or whether, in this universe, people have always known about the Gems. But Lars at the donut shop makes a passing reference to Steven’s “magic belly button” in the first minute and a half of the first episode. It’s clear right away that this show is not about the Gems trying to keep their alien-ness from the townspeople. Everyone already knows, and while it’s a bit weird and sometimes scary, it’s not surprising, and really not that big a deal anymore. This makes much more room for more complicated, nuanced, interesting interactions between the townspeople and the gems, and a more complicated, nuanced, interesting exploration of ordinary people’s experiences of the unusual, and unusual people’s experiences of the unusual ordinary.

Some other notes:

Steven’s obsession with Cookie Cats really captures how children’s priorities are so different from adults’. The Gems are battling dangerous, gross centipeetle things, and he cares about that — but he’s so easily distracted by the freezer full of Cookie Cat ice cream treats.

I like how the advice from all three Gems about Steven using his power is all contradictory — and yet, it’s all useful and accurate.

I like how Steven is learning that inspiration and skill can’t necessarily be channeled by re-creating the circumstances of the last time he got inspired. Heck, I’m still learning that.

I love how the Cookie Cat back-story parallels the Gems’ backstory.

I love how Lion Lickers become a thing later (Lion!), even though Steven is angry about them now.

It’s fascinating watching the early episodes again, and seeing how young Steven is. It makes me realize that, among the many ways this show is honest and accurate about childhood (and especially about children’s shifting understanding of adults), it’s accurate about Steven become more mature as the show progresses.

Ingrid commentary: Ingrid is not okay with the fact that Steven doesn’t go to school. Yes, of course he needs to learn about how to be a Gem — but doesn’t he also need to learn human stuff?

She’s also noticing that in this first episode, Pearl has the strongest personality. Garnet and Amethyst take time for their characters to develop.

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPG
Coming Out Atheist
Bending
why are you atheists so angry
Greta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

Steven Universe Episode 1: Gem Glow

Sexual Ethics in “Steven Universe”

Spoiler alert: This post contains mild Steven Universe spoilers. I’m mostly avoiding more specific spoilers, although I’m fine with spoilers in the comments.

garnet amethyst fusion

So Ingrid and I have been binge-watching/ obsessing over the animated TV show “Steven Universe.” And I noticed something the other day that I wanted to share.

I was thinking about “fusion” (a process by which the Gems, magical superheroes, fuse together into a larger, more powerful being). Let’s assume that fusion is some kind of metaphor for sex. It’s not much of a leap (although I don’t think sex is the only thing fusion is supposed to be referencing).

So in the “Steven Universe” universe, what are the ethics about fusion?

Fusing with more than one person is fine. Fusing with more than one person at a time is fine. Sometimes people get jealous — or envious, I guess might be more accurate — if other people are fusing and they wanted to be in on it. But there’s never any suggestion that there’s anything wrong with having more than one person that you fuse with.

It isn’t, however, right to be dishonest about fusion: to fuse under false pretenses, or in any way to deceive someone into fusing.

It isn’t right to fuse with no concern for the consequences.

And it’s seriously, profoundly not right to force fusion on anyone.

Thoughts?

Sexual Ethics in “Steven Universe”

Greta’s Secular Students Week Blogathon! Episode 7: Parks & Recreation, and the Myth that Happy Love is Boring

SSA Week logo

I’m doing a mini-blogathon today for Secular Students Week!

This week is Secular Students Week, when people around the Internet are celebrating the fantastic work the Secular Student Alliance is doing to empower students. Their goal is to get 500 donations now through June 17th: if they do, they’ll receive a $20,000 challenge grant! Help them keep up their amazing work by giving this week. A gift of $5, $10, or $20 will go a long way towards helping them reach this goal and empower secular students: please give today!

In today’s mini-blogathon, I’ll post a new blog post once an hour, from now (a little after 9:00 am Pacific time) until 5:00 pm Pacific time. In addition, for every donation that’s made today via my blogathon, I’ll post a new cat photo!

This hour’s post: Parks & Recreation, and the Myth that Happy Love is Boring. (Note: This post contains spoilers about Parks & Recreation.)

There are a lot of things I love about the show Parks & Recreation. Leslie Knope is an awesome character, a fierce icon of passion and compassion and determination and success, who is also very human and flawed and identifiable-with. The characters and stories are just exaggerated enough to be absurd and funny (and to let the audience not worry too much about whether they’re believable), while not being so absurd that they don’t resonate. I could gas on at great length.

But there’s one particular thing I like about Parks & Recreation: It explodes the myth that in narrative art, happy love is boring.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the standard arc of televised sexual tension and romantic love, exemplified by Moonlighting and Cheers: The couple CANNOT GET TOGETHER. The romantic and sexual interest is all loaded into the question: Will they get together? Will they find love? If the couple actually gets together and stays together, all that bickering and bantering, all those comic misunderstandings and missed signals, the whole dance of almost getting together and then not quite getting there, goes into the toilet. (Of course, after a few years the dance itself gets tedious and predictable, leaving the writers with pretty much nowhere to go. And if they do finally let the couple get together, the story often does tank — because they loaded all the interest into “Will they or won’t they?”, and they forgot to make the people themselves interesting.) Typically, the only time you get to have happy love on television is if it’s a family story, and the couple is already together and married at the start of the story. (In romantic comedy movies, you see this trope play out by having the arc of the movie be about falling in love and all the comic missed signals, with them finally getting together in the happy ending.)

Parks & Recreation shows this to be complete and utter bullshit, a catastrophic failure of imagination. The show goes on for several seasons after the central couple, Leslie and Ben, get together. And it makes it clear that there’s plenty of drama and conflict and tension and hilarity in a happy relationship. We get to see them meeting, getting to know each other, falling in love — and we get to see then stay in love. We get to see their relationship unfold. And it’s interesting. It’s funny. It’s dramatic. It’s entertaining.

Yes, falling in love is interesting and funny. Being in love is also interesting and funny. Happy ongoing relationships have conflicts and dramas and misunderstandings — between the people in love themselves, and just with their lives and with the rest of the world. Good for Parks & Rec for showing how it’s done.

Once again — please support the Secular Student Alliance! Help them get their challenge grant of $20,000 by reaching their goal of 500 donations now through June 17th. Even small donations help. Please support them today!

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPG
Coming Out Atheist
Bending
why are you atheists so angry
Greta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

Greta’s Secular Students Week Blogathon! Episode 7: Parks & Recreation, and the Myth that Happy Love is Boring

The “Mad Men” Finale, and Why Peggy and Stan Are Not Going to Have a Storybook Ending

mad-men-finale-peggy-stan 1

I’ve been reading reviews and analyses of the “Mad Men” series finale, “Person to Person.” And there is an important thing about the Peggy-and-Stan romance that ABSOLUTELY NOBODY IS GETTING RIGHT.

Yes, I am right and they are wrong. This is not opinion, this is OBJECTIVE FACT, and I will stand by it until my dying breath, or until someone in the comments persuades me that I’m wrong.

Okay. Everyone keeps talking about how the Peggy-and-Stan romance in the finale is a happy ending, all tied up neatly in a bow. The only debate I’ve seen is over whether this plot resolution is narratively acceptable and well-written, or whether it’s drippy and contrived fan service. Emily Nussbaum at The New Yorker described it as “satisfying but also borderline cornball” and said it “felt like the final scene of every romantic comedy that has ever been filmed”; Rob Sheffield at Rolling Stone called it “sodden shtick” and said “Poor Stan and Peggy — they deserved a moment that didn’t feel like a cynical series-finale gimmick”; Tim Goodman at The Hollywood Reporter described it as “Peggy’s touching and comic realization that Stan loves her and she also loves him”; Matt Zoller Seitz at Vulture called it “one of the most shameless and satisfying examples of fan service I can recall.”

NO. NO NO NO NO NO NO NO. NO!!!!!

Why is nobody questioning this relationship?

I have serious doubts about whether Peggy is really in love with Stan. And I have serious doubts about whether their relationship is a good idea, even if she is in love with him. In fact, during their entire phone conversation when they declare their love, I wasn’t thinking, “Awwwww, how sweet, they finally got together, they’re obviously right for each other, lovey lovey love love.” I was thinking, “Ummmmmmm… hang on. This smells like trouble.”

Here are some things that jumped out at me about that phone call. (Transcript of phone call at the end of this post.) Think about how hesitant Peggy is at first. How she says, “I think I’m in love with you” — emphasis on “I think” — before she finally says, “I love you.” How she then says, “I really do”: not I really am in love with you, but I really do think I’m in love with you, like she’s talking herself into it. Think about how she describes her feelings for Stan — saying, “you make everything okay. You always do.” That definitely sounds like friendship-love, but it’s not so obviously romantic love. Could be — but it’s hardly a slam-dunk.

And in particular, think about how she says to Stan, “I must be [in love]. Because you’re always right.”

I think I’m in love. Really. I must be in love. Because you’re in love with me, and you’re always right.

It seems to me that Peggy is making the exact same mistake with Stan that she made with Abe. She’s letting his romantic love for her bowl her over — and she’s letting his love for her convince her that she feels the same.

And now, think, carefully, about the things Stan says right before he declares his love. He says “I get the person I want to talk to” only when they talk on the phone. He says he misses her when they’re not together — but “every time I’m face to face with you, I want to strangle you.” He says, “When I’m standing in front of you, I bring out something terrible.” It’s not clear whether he means that he brings out something terrible in her, or in himself — but either way, ew.

Will somebody please explain how any of that is romantic? Will somebody please explain how that’s anything other than desperately sad and bug-fuck creepy? Continue reading “The “Mad Men” Finale, and Why Peggy and Stan Are Not Going to Have a Storybook Ending”

The “Mad Men” Finale, and Why Peggy and Stan Are Not Going to Have a Storybook Ending

A Less Simplistic View of Evil: The Jasmine Storyline in “Angel,” And Why People Do Awful Awful Things

Content note: This post contains significant Buffy the Vampire Slayer content. However, I think it’ll be of interest to non-Buffy fans. If I’m wrong, and you read it anyway… well, that’s five minutes of your life that you’re never getting back. Also, it contains spoilers about a TV series that ended over ten years ago. Sorry.

Why do evildoers do evil?

For obvious reasons — the Charlie Hebdo shooting, the NAACP bombing, Ferguson, and just all the awful shit that’s been happening in recent days/ weeks/ months/ years — I’ve been thinking a lot about evil. I’ve also been re-watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” lately, along with its spinoff show, “Angel.” (I promise this isn’t a non-sequitur. Stay with me.)

jasmine 1
Right now, I’m in the Jasmine storyline in “Angel” — the storyline about the magical being with god-like powers who wants to turn the Earth into a blissful paradise with no conflict, hatred, war, or poverty, and whose very presence instantly makes people (a) blissfully happy, (b) loving and accepting of each other, and (c) intensely devoted, worshipful, and obedient of Jasmine’s own god-like self. I’ve written before about how this storyline is a metaphor for religion and theocracy. But I was thinking again about why I like this story arc so much, and I realized:

It’s a realistic and insightful exploration of why evildoers do evil. Continue reading “A Less Simplistic View of Evil: The Jasmine Storyline in “Angel,” And Why People Do Awful Awful Things”

A Less Simplistic View of Evil: The Jasmine Storyline in “Angel,” And Why People Do Awful Awful Things

Cool Peripheral Character Arcs In “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”?

SPOILERS FOR “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”

lily/anne and buffy
So I was thinking about the “Anne” episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (the one where Buffy is hiding out in L.A. under an assumed name and winds up battling the labor exploitation demon — I’m vastly entertained by the fact that she wages this battle with a hammer and sickle). I was posting on this on Facebook and Twitter, and some of us got to talking about Chanterelle/ Lily/ Anne, and what a great character arc she had for someone who is very much a peripheral character on the show: she goes from being the gothy vampire wannabe, to the lost and aimless homeless teen, to the strong woman running the shelter for homeless teens.

And I started thinking: One of the things that I think makes “Buffy” such a rich show is that it isn’t just the main characters who get good, strong, interesting character arcs. Secondary characters, even peripheral characters, clearly have rich inner lives, and you get to see them mature over the arc of the show. Jonathan leaps immediately to mind, as does Harmony. The Buffyverse seems like it’s populated by actual people, any of whom could have a show written about them.

So since I’m going to be at the Carolinas Secular Conference in Charlotte this weekend, and won’t be on the blog much until I get back, I thought I’d start a thread about this: Who are some secondary or peripheral characters in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” that you think have particularly interesting character arcs? (I think I’m defining “secondary or peripheral” as “the actor never got a named credit in the opening credit sequence.”)

There are no wrong answers. Your time starts — now!

Cool Peripheral Character Arcs In “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”?

So You Think You Can Dance Nudity Parity Watch, Season 11 — The Final Roundup!

sytycd logo
As regular readers know, I’ve been watching Season 11 of So You Think You Can Dance, the mixed-style dance competition show, and have been documenting whether the women are generally expected to show more skin than the men.

The season is over, the winner has been announced — and I’ve added up the total routines over the season, to see how many of them had women more naked than men, how many had men more naked than women, and how many had rough nudity parity between the male and female dancers.

In this final roundup, I have only included routines that included both women and men: i.e., I have not included same-sex routines or solos. I have also not included guest performances. I have only included male-female routines of the competitors, in routines that were part of the competition.

The totals:

GROUP ROUTINES
Women more naked than men 8
Men more naked than women 0
Nudity parity 2

COUPLE ROUTINES
Woman more naked than man 56
Man more naked than woman 1
Nudity parity 11

(For those who are curious, I break this down by different dance styles a little later in the post. For the routine-by-routine documentation, read the individual posts in this series.)

So the answer, in short is yes. Assuming that this season is representative of the show in general, then the female dancers on So You Think You Can Dance are, in fact, generally expected to show more skin than the men.

A lot more.

In group routines, greater female nudity outnumbered nudity parity by four to one. In couple routines, greater female nudity outnumbered nudity parity by five to one. And there was literally one — count ’em, one — routine this season in which the man showed more skin than the woman.

When I started this project, I suspected that the show didn’t have nudity parity. I did this documentation project to see if my perception from past seasons were accurate, or if it was just confirmation bias. But while I expected that I’d find a nudity imbalance, I didn’t expect it to be quite this glaring.

Four to one in the group routines. Five to one in the couple routines. And that’s the imbalance between “more female nudity” and “nudity parity” — not the imbalance between “more female nudity” and “more male nudity.” Of the 78 relevant routines in this season, there was literally one in which there was more male nudity. I will say that again, in case you missed it — ONE.

sytycd-armen-way-and-marlene-ostergaard
I wrote about why this matters in my original post in this series, and I’m going to say it again here. Continue reading “So You Think You Can Dance Nudity Parity Watch, Season 11 — The Final Roundup!”

So You Think You Can Dance Nudity Parity Watch, Season 11 — The Final Roundup!

So You Think You Can Dance Nudity Parity Watch, Season 11, Episode 14

sytycd logo
As regular readers know, I’m watching the current season of So You Think You Can Dance, the mixed-style dance competition show, and am documenting whether the women are generally expected to show more skin than the men. (I give a more detailed explanation of this project, and why I’m doing it, in my first post in the series.)

Before I get into the breakdown of the relative nudity or lack thereof in this episode, I want to give the producers of “So You Think You Can Dance” kudos for the opening number. This was the most same-sex-oriented routine I’ve ever seen them do, and it was obviously about same-sex marriage: the men were mostly dancing together, the women were mostly dancing together, they were doing so in very romantically and couple-y ways, they were wearing white, and the music was that wedding cliche, “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Nigel even more or less acknowledged it as such, in one of his pieces of self-congratulatory blather about how mind-bogglingly amazing his show is.

so-you-think-you-can-dance-s11e7 opening group number

It’s a drop in the bucket compared to what it should be. It’s actually pretty pathetic that “So You Think You Can Dance” has been going on for eleven seasons, and this is the first time (as far as I know) that the U.S. edition has had any same-sex routine about love or sex. (Same-sex routines in the past have always been about friendship, competition, anything but love and sex.) Still, it was a Good Thing, and I’m going to praise them for it and encourage them to do it more.

So. Here are the nudity parity results for Episode 14, the Final Four performance finale. Continue reading “So You Think You Can Dance Nudity Parity Watch, Season 11, Episode 14”

So You Think You Can Dance Nudity Parity Watch, Season 11, Episode 14

So You Think You Can Dance Nudity Parity Watch, Season 11, Episodes 12 and 13

sytycd logo
As regular readers know, I’m watching the current season of So You Think You Can Dance, the mixed-style dance competition show, and am documenting whether the women are generally expected to show more skin than the men. (I give a more detailed explanation of this project, and why I’m doing it, in my first post in the series.)

I’ve been letting the perfect be the enemy of the good: I haven’t posted the “So You Think You Can Dance” nudity parity documentation for the last couple of episodes, since I keep thinking, “Oh, I just have to find video links and the photos to illustrate it,” and I’ve been swamped lately and that task just seems daunting. So I’m just going to get the documentation up, sans video links and photos, and sans clever commentary. Continue reading “So You Think You Can Dance Nudity Parity Watch, Season 11, Episodes 12 and 13”

So You Think You Can Dance Nudity Parity Watch, Season 11, Episodes 12 and 13