“You can’t judge the past by the standards of the present! It’s not fair. We’ve advanced so much since then. People back then didn’t know better!”
I see the point. But also — no.
Of course we can judge the past by the standards of the present. That’s how we move forward.
We look back, at history or old movies or whatever — and we say, “Wow. That was messed-up. Let’s not do that again.” We read history about slavery and colonization; we watch old movies depicting queers as pitiful and disgusting; we hear old songs that romanticize sexual assault; we see old cowboy shows where Native Americans are shown as savage enemies. We cringe. We cringe so hard it makes our faces turn inside out.
And we say, “That was some fucked-up garbage.” We learn. We pay attention to patterns. We learn how to see bad patterns, in ourselves and our society. We learn how to prevent, how to interrupt, how to intervene, how to resist.
MAJOR spoiler alerts for Good Omens, Seasons 1 and 2. Most of the ideas here were developed in conversation with Ingrid, and many of them are hers to begin with, including the core analysis.
The problem isn’t that it ends on a cliffhanger. Although it’s true that I don’t like that. Not when the next installment is probably years away and hasn’t even been nailed down yet. I think that’s bad writing, cynical and insecure, a breaking of the social contract between creator and audience. If you want people to watch your next installment, make your world and your characters compelling. Sure, leave some doors open, but provide enough closure to make your story feel like a story. As shitty as he is as a human being, Joss Whedon was really good at that with Buffy the Vampire Slayer: every season could have been the last, and it would have been satisfying. And Good Omens Season 1 did this beautifully. It was a lovely, perfect ending, leaving its audience basking in narrative afterglow — and leaving us in eager anticipation of the next round. Season 2 did the opposite of that, and it sucked.
But the cliffhanger thing isn’t a deal-breaker for me. I make exceptions. I cut slack. And even when I hate it, it doesn’t leave me shaking and seething.
And the problem isn’t that Crowley and Aziraphale don’t end up together. I’m okay with that. I adore them as a couple, and I like that this season brought their obvious coupledom out of the closet. But there are other queer love stories in the season that end more or less happily — Gabriel and Beelzebub (Beelzebub is non-binary), Maggie and Nina. I’d be fine if Crowley and Aziraphale’s story had some other creative, unexpected resolution. I don’t need the season to end with them walking off into the sunset. That’s not the problem.
(Mild spoilers for The Lego Batman Movie, which btw is freaking brilliant)
Yes, I’m starting to get tired of movie franchises. It’s getting a little old. The sheer bulk of canon in the Marvel Cinematic Universe offers little room for new storytelling: for a while they were weaving a web, spinning new strands in the gaps, but that web is becoming a dense, impenetrable clump, with almost no space for even the best imagination to work. And I’m not sure how another reboot/recast of Batman will add much to the world. I think my friend Chip said it best: “In the future, everyone will play Batman for fifteen minutes.” Do we really need that?
I’ve been watching the Bernie Madoff documentary on Netflix, Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street. (I suppose I could twit the creators for the unimaginative title, but I’m the one who named my blog Greta Christina’s Blog, so.) And there’s something that keeps jumping out at me, maybe because it’s such a strong visual image in a story full of paper and numbers: the 17th floor.
Madoff had a sleek, fancy office on the 19th floor of a sleek, fancy office building. But he had another office in the same building — the 17th floor. That’s where the machinery of the Ponzi scheme was happening: falsifying documents, cooking the books, flat-out forgery. Very few people saw the 17th floor. But the ones who did all commented on how strikingly different it looked. It wasn’t sleek and modern and classy. It was run-down, badly organized, with old computers and crappy furniture and boxes piled all over the place.
But this was the real office. This is where the real work was done.* The classy offices on the 19th floor created the illusion of brilliant financial minds managing the complex world of finance that we puny peasants can’t even comprehend. The actual work happened on the 17th floor — the work of fraud and deception and theft.
(Content note: Mild spoilers for Leverage and some of the later Discworld books.)
I was talking with Benny Vimes the other day about the Discworld books. I’d written that my favorite character in the Terry Pratchett Discworld books is Moist von Lipwig: he asked why, and I realized that the reason is also a big part of why I’ve been so infatuated with the TV show Leverage:
I like stories about scoundrels with a purpose.
Scoundrels in fiction can be so much fun. If you’re ever had fantasies about outwitting people, or breaking the rules and getting away with it, stories about thieves and grifters and charlatans can be massively entertaining. They’re especially fun if the characters are really good at it: it’s another version of competence porn.
But when you start really thinking about scoundrels, and the effect they have on people, the stories stop being so fun. When you rob someone, con them, defraud them, it can screw up their lives pretty badly. The Discworld books about Moist von Lipwig explore this explicitly: especially the first one, Going Postal, where Moist begins to fall in love with Adora Belle, a.k.a. Spike, and realizes she’s one of the people whose life he ruined.
You don’t have to be friends with everyone. It’s okay to not like people. It’s okay to not want to hang out with people. In particular, it’s okay to not want to hang out with people who treat other people horribly.
I’m a big fan of the TV show Community. It’s a smart, funny show with a fairly diverse cast. It emphasizes friendships much more than sexual or romantic relationships (nothing against sexual or romantic relationships, but they do tend to dominate TV and movies). And it has a huge amount of self-conscious fun with pop culture tropes. Every episode plays with common tropes, structures, and iconic examples of television: messing with them, fusing them, giving them homage, taking them apart. There’s a claymation Christmas special, a bottle episode, a clips show with clips from non-existent shows, a Western episode that morphs into a Star Wars episode, shows in the styles of Ken Burns and Law & Order and M*A*S*H. I once said to Ingrid that I wanted a TV show based on the TV Tropes website, and she said, “You mean Community?” (If you’re going to check out an episodes or two to see if you like it, I recommend the paintball ones: “Modern Warfare,” “A Fistful of Paintballs,” and “For a Few Paintballs More.”)
Me, in piece about consent on AlterNet: “If you know someone well and have kissed them a lot, you can probably read their body language pretty well…” “They’d been dating for a while at that point, and she’d made her interest in him clear, so it’s not unreasonable to think he was able to read her body language.”
Commenters: “What’s wrong with reading body language?” “Making verbal communication the only acceptable or exclusive way of consent is BS.” “+1 for notorized consent forms.” “My wife says it spoils the mood if I ask for things.”
Pop culture often promotes some lousy ideas about consent. Persistence and not taking no for an answer are portrayed as romantic; rape and sexual assault are excused because the victim “wanted it“; lying and manipulating people into bed, and having sex with people too drunk to consent, are offered as light, prime-time humor; rape victims stay friends and lovers with their rapists, with rape being trivialized and even denied.
But pop culture does have its moments. Whether it’s because the creators were thinking consciously about consent or simply had good values, here are five times pop culture got consent right. (Spoilers for Steven Universe, Thelma and Louise, Frozen, The Philadelphia Story, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.)
Ingrid and I are re-watching Steven Universe, and I’m blogging 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 seen the show, but I hope they inspire the rest of you to check it out, as it’s 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 14: Lars and the Cool Kids.
“Gettin’ me a P. Gettin’ me a za. Gettin’ me a P-P-P-P-pizza!”
Lots of Steven Universe episodes are about kids’ relationships with adults. This one is unusual, in that it’s mostly about young people’s relationships with each other.
I have this vivid memory from middle school. I was sitting near a group of cool kids and one girl who was cool-kid adjacent: she wasn’t in the inner circle, but she hung out with them sometimes and clearly wanted them to accept her. The adjacent girl said she liked Olivia Newton-John; one of the cool kids said something like “Ew, I hate her so much, with that high squeaky voice” — and the adjacent girl got flustered and quickly said, “Oh, yeah, I hate her too.” I remember it to this day. It was so sad, and so transparent. If I noticed it, surely the girls she was talking to must have noticed it as well. Like, were they not going to remember what she said literally fifteen seconds ago? Were they not going to remember how the topic of Olivia Newton-John came up?
I have more sympathy for her now than I did at the time. At the time, I was kind of contemptuous: I have a bit more insight now into human frailty in general and my own in particular, and can recognize all the times I’ve done the same thing or similar. I can’t remember openly reversing myself like that (although I probably have), but I’ve certainly expressed opinions and then kept my mouth shut when others around me scoffed. Being a social human being is hard. It’s especially hard for kids and teenagers, when you’re just starting to form a social identity and social life separate from your family. It’s easy to say “Just be yourself” — but what if your natural self is awkward, self-conscious, and bad at talking with people you don’t know well? Continue reading “Steven Universe Episode 14: Lars and the Cool Kids”→
“Well, sure, he raped her. But it’s not a big deal. Rape, shmape. All friendships and relationships have their ups and downs. They can still be friends, or get married. Heck, maybe the rape could be the start of a beautiful love story.”
Does this sound like an absurdist attempt at ghoulish humor? It’s not. This trope is all over pop culture, and has been for decades. In some stories, rapes happen while characters are friends, lovers, or married, and the relationship goes on as if little or nothing happened. In others, rapes are the beginning of a happy relationship.
Here are 10 characters in pop culture who voluntarily stayed friends, lovers, colleagues, or spouses with the people who raped or tried to rape them.