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Analysis

Beauty Battles Believability in Costume Design for Margaery Tyrell, Part 2

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We continue our analysis of costuming on Game of Thrones, picking up on the heels of the last analytical piece, A Song of Pins and Needles – Beauty Battles Believability in Game of Thrones Costume Design for Margaery Tyrell Part 1. As we move forward looking at Margaery Tyrell’s (hereinafter “Marg’s”) outfits, keep these important definitions in mind:

Watsonian – The in-universe explanation, view, or analysis of an aspect of media

Doylist – The real-life explanation, view, or analysis of an aspect of media

These terms will be used throughout this analysis. A more detailed explanation of them can be found in Part 1.

In the last piece, we looked at Marg’s early costume issues, including her infamous funnel dress and her variety of sexy dresses. Now we turn to her two final iconic looks: Marg’s wedding dress for her marriage to Joffrey, and her new set of pilgrim dresses introduced in season 6.

And while it won’t be discussed in great detail here, shout-out to whoever designed the gold dress that Marg wears in this scene with Tommen. It is not only beautiful but also a logical progression into a more regal style for Marg based on her original style. It’s a dress I’d love to own, which might betray its anachronistic touch – but I’m willing to ignore that in this case so I can have at least one ray of sunshine in this cloudy landscape of strange fashion choices and illogical accessories.

So let’s jump on in to another round of A Song of Pins and Needles!

Marg Went to Kleinfeld!

She got her shoes from Maggie the Fox.

Marg’s wedding dress from the Purple Wedding – the second wedding dress we ever see on screen, after Sansa’s (Talisa doesn’t have a special dress, she’s too busy being Empowered™) – presents a plethora of problems for an audience with any genuine concern for consistency or world-building. To break it down, let’s start first with a look at the dress itself as a garment.

I always found Marg’s wedding dress quite beautiful. I like the detail of the waterfall roses in the back, and I appreciate the work it took to not only make those roses (there must be hundreds) but also to embroider the back and bodice of the gown. I also like the detail of the leather thorns. I can see the connection between the physical thorns on the garment and Marg’s similarities to her grandmother, the Queen of Thorns. The design is a subtle hint that Marg is not as sweet as she appears, which is at least interesting.

I can also appreciate that this was likely a very difficult dress to construct. You can see the smoothness of the bodice and shoulder-area, which definitely required expert sewing skillz.

The chains crossing the gap in the cut-out is a nice touch, too.

There are a few minor floofs – the back closure doesn’t exactly lie flat, and the length of the front of the skirt is questionable. Overall, the dress itself is an acceptable garment, and whether a viewer likes it void of any Game of Thrones (“GoT”) context is just a matter of opinion.

My opinion? I want this dress! I’d wear this to my own wedding in a heartbeat, albeit with different shoes and no cage hidden in my hair. But the fact that I, a modern-day woman in her twenties, want to wear this dress, and that it would be perfectly acceptable for me to wear it to my own wedding, reveals the innate problem with this design: it is anachronistic.

The gown has a modern silhouette, basically an A-line skirt with a short train, with a bodice that clings to the body. Now, this is a simple design, and we can’t claim the A-line skirt belongs to the modern world by any means. Indeed, there are a number of A-line dresses within the GoT universe that are not anachronistic in any way. The issue here comes from a modern fashion trend.

The dress has a modern look largely because of the cut-outs at the waist and large exposed back. Skin exposure like this was not common in the medieval era and, entirely avoiding the issue of comparing a fantasy world to real-life history, this style is absent elsewhere in Westeros. The closest thing we see is Marg’s own selection of sexy dresses. But the previous wedding dress we saw did not resemble Marg’s at all, nor do later wedding dresses that appear in the show. However, cut-outs and exposed backs are hugely popular in modern wedding dresses. Wedding designers use exposed backs to create drama. Marg’s dress looks much more modern, and therefore appears out-of-place in the GoT setting.

The anachronistic feel permeates both the Watsonian and Doylist analyses of this costume. The in-verse understanding and explanation of this dress starts on a shaky foundation because of that anachronism, while the Doylist may provide yet another example of the show’s general disregard for the source material. At this point, having reviewed multiple female costumes thus far in this series, we should be able to begin to piece together patterns (no pun intended) when it comes to design in the story. With Marg, it appears the pattern is that perceived beauty will always trump believability. We can discern this from the absent or tortured explanation of Marg’s dresses provided by the designers, along with the conflicting world-building that makes her outfit choices unlikely or impossible.

Watsonian: Marg is Not Like Other Girls

Watsonian analysis focuses on the in-verse explanation of why something exists. So, the audience must imagine the process it took to commission, design, and create a wedding dress for the future queen at her big fat royal wedding. First, consider the purpose of having such a large wedding and the role of a young queen.

Royalty of medieval times functioned a lot like politicians today. They had some power to enact laws and control the kingdom, but a large part of a royal’s job is to be a symbol of the monarchy that inspires and influences her people. Two modern-day examples are Michelle Obama and Kate Middleton. As First Lady, almost all of Michelle Obama’s power came from influencing the public through good works and appearances done in the public eye. She set an example for everyone to look up to, solidifying her family’s position as the First Family with political clout. Kate Middleton is in a similar position, albeit a more permanent one, and also does good works in the public eye to represent the kindness and strength of the monarchy. Politics is largely about appearance because a politician sets an example for her people.

The kicker is that we actually see this played out in the show, so at some point in time the writers were aware of it. Early on in Marg’s plot, just after she arrives in King’s Landing, she personally visits an orphanage to talk (read: spread propaganda) to the children about their fathers’ bravery on the Blackwater. She knows the small folk will see her there, and that act of kindness will influence them along with making them adore her. Marg even gets the smallfolk to like Joffrey for a time, as shown when the two appear on the steps outside Baelor’s Sept together and the crowd cheers. Season three Marg seemed to understand her role as an example to the people and a representation of the new monarchy.

So where does the wedding dress from Kleinfeld come in? Here’s the basic problem with the dress (disregarding the anachronism): it’s too plain. We are talking about the most extravagant wedding of the century here! They had seventy-seven courses planned for the feast! Thousands of people attended, and all the smallfolk of King’s Landing cared about and paid attention to this ceremony. Think about how batshit people went over Kate Middleton’s wedding dress, or even Princess Diana’s dress back in the day – and those dresses were fashionably on-point (for their era) and made of expensive fabrics, like silk. Marg is rolling around in a linen-silk blend cut in an unknown, not-popular style. This dress should have been extravagant.

Even Sansa’s wedding dress was more queenly than Marg’s. Take a look at the hand-beaded embroidery happening here, and the beautiful brocade fabric!

Fangirl over dat brocade doh.

The only Watsonian explanation is that Marg completely dispensed with her known purpose at the wedding – to look like the new queen for the audience – and decided to YOLO in a dress I guess she liked? I don’t think it’s possible for Marg, having acted how she did and having been present for Sansa’s marriage, to have thought this dress was appropriately queenly. And if this was meant to be another “experiment” or a statement piece, it was executed at a HIGHLY inappropriate time (a royal wedding?!) and it clearly didn’t make an impact, as we never see any dresses like it again.

Finally, while the Watsonian explanation is lacking (I really can’t think of any other reason that makes any sense), I do like to imagine that someone in-verse put thorns on this dress in a symbolic way. It could have been the city’s most meta seamstress, maybe the same that made the Bjork dress. But my personal headcannon is that Marg herself added the thorns, giggling as she picked them out from the bead section at A.C. Moore, saying to Megga, “Now I’ll really be a thorn in Cersei’s side!”

Doylist: Just Look at the Flowers

Based on the Watsonian analysis, I think it’s a somewhat fruitless effort to compare the show’s wedding dress with the description from the books. It’s clear to me that Michelle Clapton’s driving motivation in designing this garment was just for it to be a beautiful wedding dress. The only tie it has to the GoT universe at all is the presence of roses as the symbol of House Tyrell, and otherwise the style does not make any sense in the context. But for consistency sake, let’s look at the book description.

“The bride was lovely in ivory silk and Myrish lace, her skirts decorated with floral patterns picked out in seed pearls. As Renly’s widow, she might have worn the Baratheon colors, gold and black, yet she came to them a Tyrell, in a maiden’s cloak made of a hundred cloth-of-gold roses sewn to green velvet.” – A Storm of Swords

Book!Margaery clearly chose her wedding dress with care, making sure to appear in the colors of her house with not a hint of her former marriage. This is a major part of Margaery’s ability to marry Joffrey, and remains part of her public persona in the books when she marries Tommen – that she is a maiden according to Westerosi standards, and therefore able to marry royalty. This certainly could not have been the goal of show!Marg’s dress choice, since it is significantly more revealing than other dresses we have seen on screen.

In addition, the book version is clearly more exquisite. The fabrics themselves are of higher quality, specifically silk, a very rich fabric, and “Myrish lace”, which is made expensive by the fantasy universe since the lace comes from across the Narrow Sea. The image of the entire skirt being designed in seed pearls is spectacular – seed pearls are very small, and would require thousands to be sewn on individually to create a skirt-covering pattern. The hundreds of cloth-of-gold roses, too, would have to be individually hand-made and sewn onto a draping velvet cloak. Damn I wish there was a visual adaptation of this novel!

The decision to alter this design baffles me. If this were any other show, I might be able to explain away some of the issues. For instance, a floral design “picked out in seed pearls” may not show up well on screen, since seed pearls are like small beads. But then instead we got tiny chains and tiny thorns all gathered around the middle of the bodice, which also did not show up well on screen! And there are countless examples of hand-beading that must have taken hours that is barely visible. And then of course there’s the six hundred masks issue. If this were any other show, I might say that making hundreds of roses by hand to put on a costume would be too much labor, but then we literally get exactly that in a way that is less dramatic and less beautiful (and less symbolic, since gold is a Tyrell color and mottled grey is not).

There is no logical reason to change this design, which seems to be a running pattern for a lot of these costumes. Clapton basically made a sexier, more dramatic version of Marg’s earlier series of sexy dresses, lightened the color a bit and called it a wedding dress. We know this for a fact because she told us. When asked about her inspiration for the dress, Clapton said:

“Really just a play on her sigil and following the style that she has developed since her arrival at King’s Landing. It had to be very different from Cersei’s style and taste.” – Michele Clapton

We know the costume design wasn’t deeply thought-out here, based on Clapton’s own words. And at a certain point, that’s fine – sometimes a pretty dress is just a pretty dress. The impetus to make Marg’s style markedly different from Cersei’s probably comes from D&D, who set Marg up as the scheming sexual manipulator who must always be working to undermine poor put-upon Cersei.

It appears the design of this wedding dress is just another key-jingling moment for the show, getting the audience excited by making them look at the flowers on that gosh darn pretty dress! At the end of the day, there isn’t a complex Doylist explanation, and the whole thing comes up to a kawaii shrug.

It should be noted that I did got back and re-watch the crowd scenes of the Purple Wedding, and there are in fact extras wearing some of Marg’s series of sexy dresses with large cut-outs and exposed backs. This just begs the question yet again – what’s the temperature in King’s Landing??

The City’s Most Meta Metalworker

“The idea of the briar rose is continued into the crown where it wraps around the Baratheon antlers [Joffrey’s sigil]. This was to show her creeping influence, which is not lost on Cersei.” – Michele Clapton

Both Joffrey’s and Marg’s crowns display this motif of rose vines intertwining with stag antlers. As Clapton explains above, the point is to show the “creeping influence” of the Tyrells over the Baratheons/Lannisters. When I first discovered this, I thought it was an interesting detail.

But then I thought: who made this??

Looking at the in-verse explanation, I must know what goldsmith made these two crowns. Did the goldsmith design the crowns himself? Did he sit there thinking, “Yes, I’ll express my concerns about the encroaching influence of the Tyrell family on our glorious monarchy by crafting briar roses creeping between the stag antlers, so everyone knows the king is truly under the control of these upjumped servants”? I assume by now Marg must be followed by a tail of meta designers who all attended the School of Taking-Things-From-the-Source-Material-Way-Too-Literally. Oh, and also one Bjork fan.

There’s also the option that the Tyrells designed these crowns themselves. I can imagine the Queen of Thorns sketching out a design and showing it to Marg, while Marg shows off the badass thorn beads she picked up from A.C. Moore earlier. Maybe the Tyrell ladies just have so much fun tormenting and scheming against poor Cersei they just couldn’t help but make the crowns symbolic of their attempt to take over the monarchy. Crowns worn at a wedding where they planned to assassinate the king. Yeah. Sounds right.

We know Marg couldn’t have designed the crowns alone. She’s just not that good a sketch artist.

This is a fine example of a cool-sounding Doylist explanation, but a completely absent Watsonian one. The neat thing about symbolism and metaphor in literature is that it happens in a way that is natural in the story and isn’t terribly contrived. For example, in A Game of Thrones the book, the direwolf found dead with the stag’s antler in its throat is symbolic, foreshadowing with its symbolism the fall of House Stark at the hands of the Baratheons. But it also makes sense – stags and direwolves would fight in nature. It would be weird and contrived if, say, the characters had come across a large dead squid in the middle of the woods near Winterfell, its tentacles wrapped around a dead direwolf. The symbolism would be about the same, but the quality of the story and its believability is lost.

The crown idea was neat, but without a Watsonian reasoning, it is useless. Again we see a cool idea poorly executed, ending up in nothing useful.

Though I would love to meet the meta designers. Maybe they went to the art school near Talisa’s nursing college.

The Schools of Anachronism and Meta Design must be in Volantis.

A Pilgrimage to Nowhere

Going into season six, GoT lost Michele Clapton (seven save us!) and gained a new lead designer, April Ferry. By this point the show’s writing and plot was completely off the rails, and it shows in the last few costumes designed for Marg. I’ll be referring to the last two outfits as the “Pilgrim dresses,” since they look like a fantasy version of what Pilgrims wore. Their creation undoubtedly stemmed from D&D’s disregard for and misunderstanding of the source material, so let’s recap a bit on that first.

The Faith of the Seven is NOT Christianity

Regardless of how D&D characterize it, the Faith of the Seven is not, in fact, a fantasy-version of Christianity. The Seven does not contemplate original sin. It does not hate gays. And it does not, importantly, abhor all sex. Instead, the Faith of the Seven as worshiped in Westeros is a projection of their toxically patriarchal society, and simultaneously reinforces that patriarchy through the seven “aspects” of the gods.

In brief, a toxic patriarchy is when certain roles are allowed for people based on their sex and social class, and that proscription is so strong that it limits people’s freedom and dictates their lives. Patriarchy brain, as discussed on the Unabashed Book Snobbery podcast in great detail, is when people living in such a society internalize those limitations in one way or another. The seven gods worshiped in Westeros are both a projection of patriarchy brain and a mode to reinforce the toxic patriarchy. We have:

The Warrior – Male, strong, meant to protect

The Maiden – Female, graceful, beautiful, virginal

The Smith – Male, strong, makes weapons and tools for men, the “hard worker”

The Mother – Female, loving, caring, meant to bear children, NOT virginal and embraced for not being virginal (sex is required for motherhood in Westeros)

The Father – Male, meant to protect, head of the household

The Crone – Female, old, useful for her wisdom and her ability to guide you

The Stranger – gender unknown, representation of death

Through these seven figures, this religion delegates everyone in Westeros to a specific archetype. Acceptable roles for women include maidenhood, motherhood, and old age; acceptable roles for men include knighthood, fatherhood, or as a skilled laborer; and both genders ultimately bow to death. The societal organization of people into simplified categories is a reflection and tool of a toxic patriarchy.

Note that, in this system, it is the characteristics of the aspect that applies to a person that matters when determining their social acceptability. A man can, for example, be a gay knight. Indeed, the seven most revered knights in the kingdom are specifically required to be chaste, limiting their ability to be fathers. Knighthood is premised on chivalry, not sexuality. An old woman can speak her mind more freely than a young woman, since she is used for her wisdom, not her virginity or reproductive capabilities. A married woman is encouraged to have sex with her husband to fulfill her role as a mother, while an unmarried maiden is pressured to remain abstinent. There isn’t a single set of rules applied to everyone across the board – the Faith of the Seven allows for different standards depending on the role a person fills in society.

Based on what we’re given from the show, it’s clear that D&D do not understand the Seven. We are shown a religion that abhors homosexuality, degrades women’s bodies, is against drinking alcohol, and, through the multitude of High Septon speeches, seems to have a concept of original sin. The show!faith also denigrates wealth and the material things that come with wealth, even though it exists in a feudal society built on stable class distinctions. Basically, show!faith is trying to be Christianity – or more accurately, a version of Christianity crafted without actually knowing much about it. D&D just picked the “Christian” issues that are hot-button in the modern world: gays and wealth, and a little bit of sex.

This fundamental misunderstanding of Westeros’s main religion seeps into the costume design for Marg in season six. I think it can go without saying that these dresses are ugly, only coming out as Marg’s second-worst outfits because of the Bjork dress (at least the pilgrim outfits aren’t cones). Some of the fabric is nice, but none of it is brocade, so I’m not about to fangirl over here.

Let’s take it one step at a time and consider the Watsonian explanation for Marg’s pilgrim dresses.

Watsonian: The Best Septa Cosplay in the Seven Kingdoms

Marg comes to wear the first of the two mournful pilgrim dresses after she is released on holy bail from the Great Sept of Baelor, awaiting her trial for perjury. You read that sentence right – her trial for perjury. For the reigning queen to get out of jail pre-trial on her perjury charge, she must start dressing like a pilgrim and be followed around everywhere by a septa. The logic here seems to be that, to show she is pious and virtuous, she dresses in a less revealing way (in comparison to her series of sexy dresses). This might make sense if her charge had anything to do with her virtue or virginity, or if her sexual life was called into question at all, since that is high treason. But that is not the case – Marg is only charged with lying about her brother’s homosexuality, a charge that has nothing to do with her own sexuality. The new costume choice having a sexual origin doesn’t seem to hold water.

Additionally, the other character awaiting trial – a trial that is about adultery and fornication – is Cersei Lannister. Cersei is still given free reign to roam around the Red Keep in her regular old wrap dresses, no high-necklines to be seen. Indeed, the only other character wearing anything similar to Marg is the septa following her, loving known here at The Fandomentals as Septa Spoonella. Perhaps Marg’s goal is to appear pious by dressing like a septa. This is actually a compelling honeypot, especially given the High Sparrow’s multiple long monologues about how wealth is bad and shoes are awful.

I had fun once. It was awful.

But this reasoning falls apart under scrutiny. If Marg wanted to dress like a septa to be pious, why not go full-out and get a septa costume? Marg is still wearing a dress made of nicer material than a septa. She’s still wearing her golden crown. She still has her hair perfectly done, probably by all of her serving ladies. She also still lives in the most important castle in the Seven Kingdoms. Even the pilgrim dress she wears to her trial, when she is in the Great Sept of Baelor, is way fancier than what a poor smallfolk could afford.

Still rockin’ those Tyrell colors – blue and grey!

If the point is that simpleness is pious and wealth is sinful, Marg isn’t actually doing that good a job of putting on those pious airs. Maybe this is why the narrative decides to literally blow everyone up – because of their continuing sinful behavior!

Really, there is no good Watsonian explanation for Marg’s transformation into slightly fancy potato sacks. There is no precedent for it – the other queen awaiting trial isn’t wearing this shit. There’s no demand for it – Marg isn’t awaiting trial on anything sexy. Finally, there’s no need for it – the faith of the seven demands piety and purity, but not virginity for a queen who is proscribed in the role of a mother. Indeed, the High Sparrow himself tells Marg she needs to start gettin’ sexy with Tommen to make an heir!

With no stable explanation from the Watsonian perspective – even considering it from the warped view of the faith as Christianity that D&D employ – we should move on to the Doylist lens.

Doylist: D&D are So Brave™

I think the Doylist reasoning behind these costume designs is pretty clear: D&D think the faith of the seven is Christianity, and the costume designers went with that. The costume department was told “Marg needs to be more religious” and the reaction was to cover her body. There are two main problems here: the first is that this was the reaction at all; the second was that this reaction was employed in this fantasy setting.

First, the fact that the new design team, April & Co., or maybe D&D as well, decided the only way for Marg to show her newfound piety was to forcibly cover her is a problematic view of modern religious women. Piety and piousness are not innately connected to a woman’s sexuality, especially considering the hundreds of religions that exist and have existed in human history. The emphasis on sexuality is Abrahamic and western, and different for many other religions (*cough* including the Faith of the Seven *cough*). Additionally, plenty of religions include forms of covering for both men and women that are free and part of the faith. The fact of the matter is that religions, and forms of worship within those religions, are highly diverse. And the representation of that diversity in media reflects the intentions and opinions of the creators.

That this was the design route the show took reveals a western, negative outlook on religious covering, since Marg was forced into these outfits by the High Sparrow. The only other women dressed the same are the septas, who tortured multiple people and hold Marg hostage, and Cersei’s final outfit which she dons as she blows up the sept:

Cersei went to Hot Topic.

This has some unfortunate implications on the creator’s understanding and vision of religion, since the only similar designs adorn bad people. And we know this can’t be just a result of the confines of the universe – as discussed above, there is no Watsonian basis for this costume choice. This is another piece of the larger pattern that D&D, bleeding also into the costume department, have an agenda against portraying religion in a positive light.

The second issue, largely addressed above, is that the designers would bother trying to pass off these glorified potato sacks as costumes in this setting. Nothing about them makes any sense, and the deviation from the source material makes the show’s story worse, not better. The show dug itself into a massive grave by aging Tommen up so they could make exactly two sex jokes, even bringing down the costume department with it. This is a prime example of how the entire production is dependent on the tone set by D&D, and how the patterns of sexism, racism, homophobia, and others in their writing does permeate the whole show.

Conclusion: A Rose by Any Other Name..is probably dead from the sept explosion.

Coming to the end of our two-part analysis of Marg’s dresses from season two to season six, I think we can pick out some clear patterns. The overall pattern is that believability will always give way to perceived beauty. Marg’s “experiment” dress was high-fashion and couture in Clapton’s eyes; her series of sexy dresses were pretty and flowy, though out of place; her wedding dress was beautifully anachronistic; even her pilgrim dresses were made of nice fabrics and adorned with a golden crown, though she was trying to not be so darn rich!

Marg’s costumes also add to known patterns regarding storytelling devices. First, her costumes solidify her as the scheming, sexual manipulator of all men. Second, subtle details in her wedding dress and in the royal crowns place her purposefully opposite Cersei, adding to the “scheming” Marg does. Third, her pilgrim dresses compliment the woeful misunderstanding D&D have of the Faith of the Seven.

At the beginning of this two-part analysis, I emphasized that a good costume strikes the right balance between in-verse believability and real life expectations while also functioning in its role. Overall, I do believe Marg’s costumes functioned in their various roles as much as can be expected. My problems lie not with how the costumes function, but rather with the situations the costumes must function in. It’s not the designer’s problem that Marg is scripted as a sexual manipulator and that the costume design must follow that path. The intersection of writing and design makes it difficult to judge a costume as a stand-alone piece.

Through the art of costuming, the show emphasizes some of its greatest flaws: its internal inconsistency, its general illogic, and its plethora of meta-designers expressing their concerns about the monarchy through clever goldsmithing. This is simply not the world George R.R. Martin envisioned, and the costuming, while sometimes very impressive, is just not helping matters.

Let’s all take a moment and reflect on the one lovely costume in season six, which graced our screens for a few minutes.

Now THAT is Myrish lace!

Moving on from our looks at Dany and Marg, we will move on next time to a close critical analysis of “Sansa Stark”.


Images courtesy of HBO

Caroline is a lawyer by day, geeky media fan and critic by night, afternoon, and lunch hour. Caroline enjoys long walks on quiet beaches so she can mentally over-analyze fictional characters and settings, and candlelit dinners that don't cause a glare on her TV screen.

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Analysis

Are We Ready to Admit that Thor: Ragnarok was a Hot Mess?

Kylie

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I didn’t watch Thor: Ragnarok in theaters. Actually, I hadn’t seen anything post-Ultron and was fine being free of the MCU for a few years. Then Black Panther came along and I found it so compelling that it washed away any Marvel fatigue I had been feeling. When the opportunity arose to watch the third Thor movie on an airplane, I hit the play button with genuine excitement.

Going into this, I had heard almost all positive things. I knew there were some similarities to Black Panther in the central themes, I knew Jeremiah gave it a glowing review, and I knew it was supposed to be exceedingly funny.

I was also no stranger to the Thor standalones. I felt his introductory movie was a bit silly, but did what it could with a superhero that well…lends himself to silliness. It’s a Norse god in a contemporary setting, after all. The result was a slightly boisterous fish-out-of-water tale with compact development and a pretty solid foundation on which we could understand his character. Thor 2: Dark World was absolutely odious as an artform, but I loved it anyway, much for the same reason Attack of the Clones is my favorite prequel. It was ironic enjoyment, but if you can’t be enthused by Natalie Portman running around in squeaky rainboots with her Science Machine™, then I can’t help you. Plus, it was Thorested Development.

Was I expecting some gaps in my knowledge given me sleeping on Civil Wars? Yes. Granted, those same gaps existed for Black Panther, and shockingly I was still able to fully understand his father’s death, as well as what Agent Ross meant to T’Challa and what their relationship was like. But I promise, I turned on Thor 3 with all the right intentions, and what I consider to be fairly measured expectations.

I turned it off wondering if I had a fundamental misunderstanding about the concept of a movie.

Two Plots, No Payoff

If I had watched Thor: Ragnarok on VHS in the 90s, I probably would have begun to wonder if someone taped over the entire middle portion with a completely different Thor film. Because it’s not just that there were two major plot threads, it’s that there were two different tones. Hell, there were almost two different genres when you get down to it.

The first is what I have to assume is the “main plot,” since it’s what the movie sets up in the first acts, and closes in the third. This is the story about Asgard’s legacy and reckoning against the threat of Hela, the Goddess of Death.

Thor is told by some demon guy that his dad isn’t at home anymore, so he goes back to Asgard find Loki pretending to be Odin. Then a random wizard tells them both that their dad is in Norway (yes, I know it’s Doctor Strange, but I’m talking about this movie on its own merits). They go there, but Odin is all sad and about to die, which means that his true heir—his firstborn daughter Hela—will escape from the prison he set up for her. You see, she’s the Goddess of Death and had been the leader of Asgard’s armies for Odin when he apparently conquered the Nine Realms, but she became too ambitious for his taste. What, a tenth was a bridge too far for Daddy Imperialist?

Whatever, he dies.

Thor and Loki go to confront the now-released Hela, she breaks Thor’s hammer, they get chased off, she takes over Asgard with the intention of more conquering, most people think she sucks so she raises dead zombies and a giant wolf to fight for her instead, and then Thor and some random friends come back to fight her again. He realizes he can only save his people, but he can’t save Asgard itself from Hela since she’s too powerful. He evacuates everyone, mainly with Heimdall and Loki’s help. Hela stabs Thor’s eye out and Thor levels up his lightning powers, but it’s still not enough to do anything about her, so he summons that demon guy from the beginning to have him destroy Hela…and all of Asgard. But it’s fine; he’s the King because Asgard is a people and not a place. Odin even pops in a vision at some point to tell him that.

This is a fine story. There’s things in it that could be explored, especially Thor reconciling with Odin’s savage, imperialistic legacy. It’s a bit hamstrung by Odin himself pooping out of the narrative entirely after dropping the plot bomb into Thor’s lap (seriously, am I alone in thinking this is one of the least effective death scenes in movie history? Certainly in MCU history?), and it’s a bit formulaic in the sense that the “bad guy” is more the concept of implacable evil.

I personally struggle with the messaging and execution of it. It’s not that coming to terms with the fallibility of your Kingly father and his decisions made while ruling your country is a weak narrative choice. That, you know, was the entirety of Black Panther, and what made it significant was the way in which T’Challa defined his duty on the throne in a way that made sense for himself and the changed context of the world. It was a meaningful shedding of idealization while coming into his own as a ruler.

This movie should have been that for Thor, but his realization about “Asgard is a people” was just sort of beamed into his head by Odin. Literally, Hela was choking him out, and he flashes to a vision of Odin telling him what to think of Asgard as well as his own powers. 

Then, what does that say if it’s Odin’s words Thor’s living by? That he does still respect this guy and want to follow in his footsteps, despite learning that he was a literal conqueror? That even asshole imperialists can have some good points? (Why does this keep happening?) Or was that Odin coming to the realization when he came to Thor, and he had reached this epiphany off-screen in the afterlife? It was like, “Oh hey I didn’t need to do all that conquering, because my duty was to my people and not the glory of this place.” 

It didn’t even seem like Thor came to the conclusion that destroying physical Asgard was a necessary thing given the place’s legacy and bloody history—just given the situation and how there was some lady with a dead army they couldn’t beat. It was a decision made in the heat of battle when the day was lost, but now he’s got his eyepatch and his people and a spaceship, so he’s ready to fill Odin’s shoes. You know…the shoes that we learned shouldn’t have been worn in the first place. Because imperialism. 

Also the requisite, “crazy over-ambitious woman couldn’t listen to her father when to chill with all the killing” complaint. Cate Blanchett saves it a little, but it’s there.

So yes, for all the weighty subjects floated in this plotline, none of them were actually given significant narrative weight, or exploration, or anything really. I suppose Hela’s claim to the throne and history with Asgard made her more of a meaningful threat; she was a monster of Asgard’s making, not to yet again call back to the film that pulled off all these concepts with actual dexterity and significance. But even with that, she was just evil. She didn’t have any nuanced points, or any compelling reason for anyone to follow her. Just that Odin had once been cool with her, but that stopped.

There was also nothing remotely familial or personal about her dynamic with Thor or Loki since she didn’t actually know them or seem to care about their general existence, and her abilities were never well-conveyed to even give the fight might grounding. We may as well have had Mjolnir shooting through multiple portals again.

That’s not to say these things couldn’t have been done or executed well. This was a long movie and whole lot of time to flesh out Hela’s relationship to our protagonist, or Thor’s relationship to his conception of governance and his home, or the Asgardian commoner point of view, or even to seed the demon guy that eventually brought the cataclysm just a wee bit better than the opening joke did.

No, it was far better we spent it with Thor rolling his eyes and debating the semantics of “crown”

It’s just that instead, the movie spent the bulk of its time seemingly uninterested in the main plot. Because there was ~junk planet antics~ to be had.

And yup, there’s plotline #2: Thor is in yet another wacky weekend adventure that he has to get out of! Which I don’t hate as a concept. I will happily pop some corn kernels and plop down with either of the Thor standalones, because they’re somewhat doofy fun. Just don’t stick me in the middle of this thing after setting up something rather serious and weighty. (And maybe don’t set up that serious, weighty thing by having a wizard warp two main characters to Norway.)

As a brief, brief summary, after Hela throws Thor and Loki out of Asgard, he finds himself alone on a junk planet called Sakaar. He’s captured by some lush played by Tessa Thompson who just so happens to be a former Valkyrie, a member of an Asgardian all-female elite warrior group that had fought Hela before her imprisonment. She sells him to Jeff Goldblum, who rules (?) Sakaar. So Thor is enslaved, literally has a controlling device thing in his neck, and is forced to fight in a gladiator ring. The ultimate Sakaar champion he goes up against is…the Hulk, who has somewhat-permanently hulked out. They fight and Jeff Goldblum cheats to let the Hulk win, which isn’t really worth talking about, though it takes up about ten minutes of screentime so it must be important to someone. Oh, and Loki’s there and Jeff Goldblum’s friend because it’s working to his favor at the moment.

After the fight, Thor quasi-escapes to the ship the Hulk arrived on, there’s some recording of Natasha on it that de-Hulks Bruce Banner. At some point Loki forces Valkyrie to see a vision of her past trauma (her fellow soldiers dying to Hela) so she decides she wants to help Thor get back to Asgard, and then everyone escapes Sakaar by inciting a slave uprising and stealing one of Jeff Goldblum’s ships.

I have spent longer than I care to admit trying to figure out how this possibly relates to the rest of the movie. And I should note, Sakaar takes up well over half the runtime, so it’s not like it can be dismissed as this ancillary plot cul de sac necessity to get Thor and Bruce to run into one another. Like, this had to have meant something, right? Was Jeff Goldblum meant to be contrasted with Odin? Was this system of injustice that Thor witnessed supposed to be the reason why he summoned the destruction of Asgard in the end, and the writers simply never felt the need to explicate this in any way?

I can’t get there. Even the very minor twist of “Loki almost betrayed Thor at the end of the Sakaar sequence, but then comes back and saves Asgard” did not need to be rooted in this setting, nor was it even particularly necessary to the overall story or relationship of the brothers. Thor caught onto Loki at the beginning of the movie when he called him out as fake!Odin—we can see he already learned from Dark World. Loki is the God of Mischief, but that doesn’t mean his usage should be God of False Narrative Conflict In A Desperate Attempt To Inject Last Minute Tension. Because that’s a mouth full.

Maybe it’s my own problem that I was waiting to get back to the plot of the movie during every Sakaar scene instead of realizing this is the plot now. It’s just that normally when movies have a lengthy and pointless side-mission, especially one that cannibalizes this percentage of the runtime, they’re not viewed particularly favorably.

But hey, at least Thor wasn’t learning about systemic injustice and the strength of compassion on a casino planet that tied immaculately into the thematic thrust; that would have ruined everything.

Character Arrested Development

I couldn’t help myself with The Last Jedi fandom dialogue shade. But I do think that’s actually somewhat relevant here. Because I don’t really care that ~not enough happened~ overall or that Finn and Rose had a “pointless” (it was really more fruitless, and that was the point) side-mission. What I cared about was that what happened on our screen worked together towards a meaning, and that characters grew as a result of them. The Last Jedi may not have thought through implications perfectly, or executed things in as refreshing or satisfying a way as possible, but it’s exceedingly hard to argue anything was ancillary given how every single damned character had pretty tight and clear growth.

Thor: Ragnarok had barely anything.

If I could be really generous with Thor himself, he accepted the leadership of Asgard in a way he rejected it from the first movie. But also, his dad’s dead, so necessity makes for strange kings, you know? There’s also nothing that occurs within this movie that particularly leads to him wanting to take on that mantle. At best, it’s that he learns his power isn’t derived from his hammer, but controlled through it, though he learns that through Divine Daddy Almost-Death Vision. So he kind of starts off thinking he’s this awesome lightning god, and ends the movie thinking the same thing, but for slightly different reasons and with means that might look different in a fight.

I mean, I guess leveling up is technically character growth…

There’s also Thor abandoning Asgard, but nothing to indicate it has anything to do with him being upset about Odin’s imperialist rule. If that was meant to be the framing, there’s just nothing that occurs onscreen to back it up. Loki complains that Hela is growing stronger every minute she’s in Asgard and Thor repeats Divine Daddy Vision point #2 as justification. Hell, when Hela and Thor meet for their final fight, Thor quotes Odin while sitting on his throne.

It should be noted that Divine Daddy Vision was the final push Thor needs to overcome the antagonist.

Odin (still in Norway, or King’s Cross Station, or something): Asgard is not a place. Never was. This could be Asgard. Asgard is where our people stand. Even now, right now, those people need your help.

Thor: I’m not as strong as you.

Odin: No… You’re stronger.

Does Thor seem like someone who’s having trouble reconciling his father’s legacy, or is it someone who’s still taking advice from the guy, but oh yeah that murdery spree he went on a while ago was unfortunate? And again, what Thor says about Asgard’s destruction has diddly squat to do with its legacy:

“Surtur destroys Asgard, he destroys Hela, so that our people may live. But we need to let him finish the job…”

I had to look up what the prophecy specifically was, since it was told to us by Surtur (the demon) in a very jokey early sequence that Thor didn’t even bother taking seriously, so why were we supposed to have? It’s just that Surtur will lay waste to Thor’s home. No motivation or anything.

My point is, Thor doesn’t really come to any realization about himself, or Asgard, or even Odin. He learns things, he likes Odin’s pithy governance lesson, but he doesn’t contextualize anything for himself or really grow because of it. He just figures out battle odds and gets a haircut. That’s his arc.

There’s the vague character growth that Thor doesn’t let Loki trick him again, again, again, so I can give him that. I don’t believe this is the context it needed to happen in, or that Thor’s way of exposing Loki at the start would have been too little to that thread, but okay. That continued.

Meanwhile, Loki has absolutely become the Game of Thrones Littlefinger of this universe. He instills chaos in his own plans for chaos’s sake (that is his thing), and how convenient that it lines up to plot demands. Thor kind of calls out this character stagnation to him, ironically ignoring his own:

“Oh, dear brother, you’re becoming predictable. I trust you, you betray me. Round and round in circles we go. See, Loki, life is about… It’s about growth. It’s about change. But you seem to just wanna stay the same. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you’ll always be the God of Mischief, but you could be more.”

So I guess it’s a sign of growth that Loki does go back and try to save Asgard with Thor. Even in the very end, Thor mentions how he believes Loki’s presence to be a trick, but Loki is actually there, physically. Maybe he’s…“not so bad.”

Hero shot!

It’s just, this guy’s scripting has been all over the place, and there’s no particular reason to believe his decision is the sign of any lasting change. He teamed up with the prisoners to get out of Sakaar in what’s most easily read as self-preservation, and even when he returned to Asgard, he was calling himself the “savior” and trying to milk his contribution. Maybe, just maybe Loki grew in this movie for the sole reason that he got sad when Thor called him the “God of Mischief.” Because that’s all that would have spurred this. Not the stakes of the situation, not Loki’s own guilt over Odin’s death, and not even Loki wishing he could rectify his poor public image on Asgard. Just, his brother is very disappointed in him.

Yeah, that could be an arc. Though I can’t call it one that’s particularly well-done.

The one that is executed best is probably Valkyrie’s. She’s hiding from her past, clearly both traumatized and guilty over how the fight with Hela turned out. It’s strongly implied someone took a mortal wound for her (no clue how she got away herself), and she’s now got this despicable job where she’s miserable and drinking herself into a stupor. Thor himself showing up clearly affects her and makes her squirm, but it’s not until Loki forces her to relive that trauma that she has a full change of heart.

“Look, I’ve spent years in a haze, trying to forget my past. Sakaar seemed like the best place to drink and forget, and to die one day.

…But I don’t wanna forget. I can’t turn away anymore, so if I’m gonna die, well, it may as well be driving my sword through the heart of that murderous hag.”

This tracks just fine. Loki’s memory home video powers are convenient, but definitely within the framework, and it makes sense that thinking back to that could instill some sense of duty, or passion in her, especially given that Thor is literally trying to get back to Asgard to save it.

The only issue with this is that it’s completely disconnected from the thematic thrust. This was actually pointed out to me as an anonymous message on social media (I may have been ranting), but doesn’t her arc do the opposite of what this movie purports to do with Asgard and its legacy? She’s been a slaver for years, which isn’t even given the space to be hand-waved—it’s just not addressed. Then she gets all back in touch with being a Valkyrie, and re-donning that great Asgardian armor, and having a resurgence of love for her home where she can talk about how much she hates the prophecy about its destruction and everything.

This is fine in its own right, but didn’t we just find out Asgard has been an imperialist superpower? It’s good that someone with clear PTSD is trying to sort through her trauma and reclaim a sense of identity that she’s tried to dismiss for years, but it simply doesn’t fit with what we learned about Odin, which is what calls forth this entire conflict. If it were some more abstract external threat to Asgard, then sure a kind of “I’ll fight until it’s rubble” attitude would have some impact. But Asgard was built on a whole lot of blood and Odin was an active revisionist who covered up artwork depicting that. It’s an odd choice for her, let’s just leave it at that.

I’m trying to think if anyone else grew through the course of this movie. Heimdall stays as prescient and morally upright as ever. Bruce Banner gets de-Hulked, which is important to the MCU I’m sure, but it’s via a recording of someone not in this film, based on a relationship not in this film, so it’s kind of hard to argue there’s an arc here. It’s more that we learn how the Hulk is comfortable spending his free time. And truthfully without having seen Civil War, I can’t tell you whether his sacrificing of Banner to free the Hulk at the end was character growth, or just situational necessity again.

I guess Skurge has a character arc. He goes from being self-preservationist to finally hitting a breaking point with Hela and sacrificing himself for Asgard. Frankly he’s a delight any time he’s on the screen, so even though it’s admittedly thin and formulaic, I’ll give that all the points.

Really, what my main issue comes down to is that it’s blindingly obvious what character these stakes should have instilled growth in, and that’s Odin. Except he’s dead, so he never has to reconcile with anything. Hela has no relationship to Thor or Loki (she doesn’t even know about them), but she does to Odin, and frankly as the dude that imprisoned her, he’s kind of the one that should be going face-to-face in some capacity. What makes a family drama compelling is the fact that the family has a history together, after all.

Now, in Black Panther it was T’Chaka’s crappy decision that sort of “created” Killmonger, a decision that T’Challa hates and feels is wrong at his core, and cannot rest until it is righted. So it was the protagonist’s father’s actions that created the situation with a family member he didn’t know at all. It worked in that movie, so why not here?

Well, probably because Thor didn’t really react to learning that Odin had conquered the other realms. So it just made an already emptyish dynamic between Hela and Thor feel even weaker, since the one thin thread that connected them—Odin and their feelings about him—were only half-explored. Hela felt rejected by Odin and pissed off about that, while Thor felt…not as powerful as him? Happy to quote him?

Maybe I’d have fewer issues if Odin hadn’t just been like, “I’m in Norway now, so that means I’m dying. Bye and have fun with your sister you never knew about!” It’s just that his death was so unceremonious, that the mess of his damn making felt out of the blue and sort of incidental. Then, we cut back and forth from the Goddess of Death taking over Asgard to Thor trying to ignore how big the Hulk’s penis is. Seriously.

And that brings us to our final problem.

That’s not how jokes work

Humor is subjective. Napoleon Dynamite is so hideously unfunny to me that it used to make me angry.

I will say right now that I don’t know if it was the plane flight, I don’t know if it was my mood, or I don’t know if it’s the underlying type of comedy here, but I did not once crack a smile at Jeff Goldblum in this movie. I’ve liked him as a comedian before, and I’m sure I will again. I did not like him here.

I also did not enjoy Valkyrie’s played-for-laughs alcoholism. That trope is pretty grating to me at this point, and even though they kind of painted it as tragic, they also…didn’t. She was quirky and fun because she could down a bottle before Thor finished talking, and when Thor actually suggested drinking heavily might be bad for her, we were supposed to laugh at her telling him she wasn’t going to stop. It’s nothing against Tessa Thompson’s performance, who frankly stole every scene she was in. But that’s just how I reacted to the character.

I did massively like Taika Waititi as Korg, Karl Urban’s Skurge was wonderful (especially opposite to Kate Blanchett chewing the scenery), and there were times that Thor and the Hulk’s back and forths were amusing. So it’s not like I found nothing funny here. But to be sure, a lot of the comedic thrust didn’t land for me, and if it had, maybe I’d have a very different reaction to this film.

That said, the humor of this movie is really the best praise I hear about it. I’m just not entirely sure why that’s a good thing. I’m all for a boisterous, fun Thor romp, but if that’s what this was supposed to be, then why the hell even introduce Odin’s imperialism in it? Why have Thor’s best friends murdered here?

Levity can be powerful in dramas. There were jokes in Black Panther, not to beat this already dead horse, but it didn’t make for a full tonal clash. When M’Baku said his people are vegetarian, it was a great way to cut the tension of the moment and further characterize him. However, we never cut back and forth from Killmonger murdering Andy Serkis to T’Challa doing something ~wacky~. The more jovial scenes, like Shuri’s lab, were before the plot really picked up, and the humor that took place during serious scenes (the car chase, for instance) was sparing.

The stakes of Thor: Ragnarok are literally the destruction of the world. And also the destruction of Asgard’s connection to the other realms. The central conflict is born out of an imperfect, revisionist colonist ruler who is the protagonist’s dad. How are we supposed to be treating this with any kind of seriousness when the own narrative can’t even manage to give as much focus on Asgardians fleeing to their Helm’s Deep as it does to Thor’s haircut?

All the humor (or attempted humor in my case) managed to do was heavily undercut the dramatic tension. Even if I had been in stitches during Sakaar, it wouldn’t have helped me get more engaged with the central conflict. It just might have made my flight go faster. And if the central conflict was not as interesting to the writers as the jokes, then fine, maybe this isn’t the movie for that. But for god’s sake, don’t float that giant imperialism matzo ball if you’re not going to be able to actually do anything with it. Was it just there for color? Odin’s not perfect, ya know…now here’s the Hulk!

Stuff Happens, Don’t Question It!

It’s no secret if you’ve read any of my previous articles that I’m not the best at enjoying fun, colorful action sequences for the sake of fun, colorful action sequences. That is, unless I know it is pure silliness, like with Thor: Dark World. It’s ironic enjoyment, sure, but that doesn’t make it any less real. If I had gone in with that attitude for Thor: Ragnarok, I think I would have liked the ride.

But frankly, that’s not the attitude anyone seems to be holding about this movie. Maybe it was the counterweight to Civil War that the MCU needed, maybe if I had watched it before Black Panther I’d have a more favorable view…maybe it’s that elevated an experience in theaters. For me, I can only see two half-completed scripts stitched together, resulting in a whole that’s weaker than the sum of its parts. It’s fine to celebrate it as a joyous romp for those that felt joy and romped, but I can’t call it a good movie. A good viewing experience maybe, but not a good narrative.

In other words, it’s a Thor movie. Wow. I guess maybe my expectations had been too high.


Images courtesy of Marvel

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Analysis

Fandom Meme Disease, and What Should We Do With It?

Angelina

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A fandom meme disease is this thing that happens when creators absorb fandom-born memes and integrate them into their work.

(And so, first things first: sorry that for the duration of this article I’ll use “meme” as if this were a legit term.  It is controversial to say the least, but it is shorter to say “meme” than “any idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture”.)

I’m not implying that the creators who do this are somehow bad, or that fandom is somehow bad. Moreover, I don’t believe that fandom-creator interaction is bad. What is bad, then? Let me explain how I see it.

Fandom Meme Creation

Any given fandom is, in my opinion, born when some people contact any given media and start using it as a source of inspiration. Not just a purely artistic inspiration; people may be inspired to write meta-analysis, or to engage in discussions, or to wage a flame war against opponents. All this is normal human reaction on something inspirational. Even flame wars are somewhat natural (still wicked, though; human nature can be wicked, too).

And while acting on their inspiration, people deconstruct the original source and use its metaphorical bricks to build their own work, be it a meta, a fic or an art. The result may be perfectly in line with the original, but usually it is not. It resembles the original, that’s true—but as it went through processing in one’s creative imagination it came out a bit different. Thus, fandom meme is born.

There are millions of those floating on the Internet’s vast expanses. Some of them are soon forgotten even by those who first gave life to them. Some are more resilient than others, so they spread and multiply their kind. Those memes become known as fanon. Other fandom memes stay in this gray area between a headcanon and “this weird idea I share with some friends”. Still, all those are memes.

But I digress.

 How The Internet Changed Things

Nowadays the creators have a unique opportunity to exchange views with the fandom. Not that it was not possible before; the letters existed, the fanmail was a really important thing, and the conventions started long before the advent of Internet, but still the scale was different.
What’s more important, the speed was different.
Back then the creator had to wait for quite a time to get a sufficient amount of feedback from, well, fandom. Now a minute past the release there is a ton of articles, metas, fanart, fanfiction—etc. There is fanart and fanfiction about characters who are announced only/had a brief screen moment in trailers or even teasers. There are metas about them, too!

And all this is actually great. But any great thing has a flip side.

In this case, it is this little fact that on average, an interested person is much more exposed to fandom memes than to canon memes. Because the original version is a meme, too—but a meme that is spread and multiplied on much lower rate than fandom memes are. And the thing with memes is, more exposure usually means more absorption.

The sad truth is, creators are interested persons, too.

When Creators Absorb Fandom Memes

Basically what happens is, being constantly exposed to very bustling fandom life, the creators not only have an influence on it, but are influenced by it. This influence may be different.

While there are certainly those who treat fandom memes as a discussion point only, they are not the only ones. Some creators consciously decide to follow a fanon as a means of pandering to their fandom. Other creators use their work to basically say “your fanon is wrong, don’t follow it”. And then there are some creators who genuinely absorb the meme and spread it in good faith. The latter thing is especially typical for multi-author franchises.

Thus it happens that when a next installment is out, it suffers from fandom meme disease.

What Is Not a Fandom Meme Disease?

  • FlanderizationIt shares one notable similarity with fandom meme disease—namely the fact that a character or event becomes increasingly simplified and defined by their/its most obvious trait, and it happens as the franchise or series progresses. But the difference is that the fandom has no part in this creative decision, just some lazy writing. FMD is not a sign of deterioration—it can happen with something that is otherwise pretty good and very much alive and thriving—while Flanderization is usually a red flag signalling that this media is dying.
  • Retcon. It is, again, very similar to FMD in effect (something or someone is no more the one it once was) and timing (also occurs with some new installment), but the key difference is, retcon acknowledges that something has in fact changed, it just asks us to pretend it hasn’t. FMD doesn’t acknowledge any change and acts as if things were always this way.
  • Any other case of real or perceived OOC. It can be a case of fandom meme disease only if the sudden shift in the original is consistent with the fanon or directly opposes it, but contradicts the earlier version.

Notable Victims

fandom meme disease

Not pictired: a badass warrior who overthrew a whole patriarchal system to learn how to fight

Yeah. I really hate what the otherwise pretty good Legend of Korra did with Katara. A decent half of her personality suddenly disappeared in the thin air, leaving us with the fanon Mommy Healer Katara whose only life goal is to care for her child-husband Aang and bear children for him. Sure, that was a widespread enough idea (and pretty sexist, too), but did the creators forget that they themselves wrote her as very proactive and never content with staying away from action?

Not pictured: a traumatised child-soldier, deeply anxious about her underperformance in all things “feminine”, haunted by things she had to do yet always caring and empathetic towards others

I had a tough time picking a poster person for the very…peculiar way in which Game of Thrones treats George R. R. Martin’s characters. The problem is, only some of them suffer from FMD; others are rewritten to fit into D&D’s own narrative.

The thing with Arya (and Sansa; and Sandor) is that sometimes it is not hard to point directly towards those fan discussions that were a basis for the creative decisions turning the original character into something very, very different.

If I could pick an event to illustrate the FMD…Game of Thrones would never disappoint! Do you remember that Robert’s Rebellion was built on lies? That’s the most blatant case of FMD I’ve ever met. It is ripped from fanfiction and wishful-thinking style metas and even the idea that Robert’s Rebellion is all about Rhaegar and Lyanna is pure fandom meme!

fandom meme disease

Not pictured: a tormented soul, devoid of all emotion due to being consumed by Dark Side, a sorry creature that is ever a puppet of his masters

See, this one is tricky. FMD mostly tortured Vader back in the old EU, but I think Kieron Gillen’s comics are not free from its fair share of Over Powerful Unstoppable Cool Awesome Guy Vader We All Adore. He has his good moments when he actually catches the other part of being a Sith, but mostly it is right here. This Vader is really cool, he is fun to watch, he is wisecracking, he is never truly challenged and never has to doubt himself. He beat the ancient dark Jedi without breaking a sweat, for good’s sake. That’s really too much.

The ultimate Manly Man of the franchise—though of course Rogue One gave us an even more blatant example of purest fanon possible on big screen.

And There Are More

I didn’t want to use Hermione Granger from Cursed Child because it may cause misunderstanding, but what about the movies? What about Princess Leia and her sorry fate throughout the old EU? What about loads of characters I don’t know, but you certainly do?

And what about sexism that is suspiciously ever present in any case of fandom meme disease?

Girls and women are pigeonholed by their tomboyish/feminine attitude, with tomboys stripped off all feminine traits, while girly girls devoid of all courage, right to be angry and right to be rational, as those things are associated with masculinity.

All the while “cool” male characters are carefully stripped off any sign of human nature, emotion or just simply weakness. Tell me it happens by pure chance.

So… What Can We Do?

We can talk about it. Raise awareness. Point out the bad tendency of sexist fanons to creep on big screen and on book and comic book pages.

If this exists, it can be beaten, after all.


Images courtesy of HBO, Viacom, Disney

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Gaming

Keeping Kosher In Monster Hunter World

David

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Monster Hunter World is the best selling game in its series, with over 7.5 million units shipped. There are many reasons for this: The game is more accessible for new players, it’s not just on a handheld console anymore, there was actually some marketing push for this game…the list goes on.

However, I personally think one of the reasons the game is so popular is its food eating cutscenes. Before you go on a hunt, you can eat a meal at a canteen that gives you buffs. You’re also treated to an adorable and very tasty looking cutscene of the Palicoes (a cat like race that helps you hunt monsters) making your meal. The details are so lavish and the end product looks so good I couldn’t help thinking about it off and on for weeks. And one question that kept recurring was, “Would any of this food be Kosher?”

Kosher foods, for those of you who may not know, are foods that conform to the Jewish kashrut (dietary law). The word treif describes any food that does not abide by this law. Determining what foods are Kosher or not can get complicated since different groups of animals have different rules. At its most basic though, there are three groups of animals: land, flying, and fish (invertebrates as a rule are treif). Conveniently enough, most monsters in Monster Hunter World could fit under the same categories. We’ll go through each category and examine a few monsters from the game to decide if any (or all) of them can be Kosher.

Before we begin though, I’d like to give major props to one of our editors, Gretchen. Before I wrote this article, I knew next to nothing about what makes a food Kosher or not. Gretchen not only educated me, but did a lot of the heavy lifting, and for that I am grateful.

By Land

The first monster up for discussion is called Uragaan. Uragaan lives mostly in volcanic regions and is identifiable its large chin, its shiny, lustrous golden hide, and the spikes along its back. It consumes mostly bedrock and those large spikes on its back are actually crystals. It produces a sticky, tar like substance on its stomach, which it uses to attach explosive rocks to itself as a means of defense. If someone were to knock down or kill Uragaan, they’d be able to mine the vast mineral wealth on it’s back…but they wouldn’t be able to eat it, as Uragaan isn’t Kosher.

Not Kosher

In order for a land animal to be Kosher, it has to meet three basic requirements. First, it can not be a carnivore or a scavenger. It can not eat meat. Second, it must have a split hoof. Horses aren’t Kosher, but animals like cattle and sheep are. Finally, the animal must chew its cud. Pigs have split hooves, but they don’t chew their cud and thus are not Kosher. Uragaan meets the first rule, but fails with the second and third. As such, Uragaan can never be Kosher.

The next monster up is Kirin. Kirin resembles a unicorn or (more accurately) a Chinese Qilin. It has a single large horn growing out of its head, with a white mane and tail that seem to stand on end from static electricity. It’s body appears to have fur, but those actually are scales. Kirin also seems to crackle with electricity as it walks. Looking at the picture we can see clearly that it has a split hoof. The game doesn’t tell us what it eats or if it chews its cud, but if we extrapolate what it looks like and compare to say, an antelope or a deer (both of which are Kosher) we can safely assume that Kirin is Kosher as well, right? Wrong.

Also Not Kosher

Kirin fails to be Kosher not by the quality of the animal, but by the quality of its behavior. You see, Kirin belongs to a group of monsters called Elder Dragons and these monsters, in addition to being tougher the ordinary monsters, are immune to traps and tranqs unlike other monsters. This presents a problem, as in order for meat be Kosher, the butchering must happen in one swift action using a sharp knife. Shooting the creature with an automatic repeating crossbow is not the way to do it. Kirin, unfortunately, is not Kosher for this reason.

We come now to the last land based monster in this article: The Kelbi. Kelbi, unlike the monsters mentioned thus far, are not aggressive. They are small, and the males are usually green in color while the females and juveniles are blue. Males also have large, prominent horns while female horns are smaller. In-game, Kelbi horns are medicinal, and players make potions out of them. I’m also happy to report that Kelbi might be our first (possibly) Kosher monster.

Kosher! (maybe)

Like Kirin, Kelbi has a split hoof. We also know that Kelbi are herbivores, but it is unknown whether or not Kelbi chew their cud. Extrapolating and comparing them to real world deer and goats though, we can have more confidence that Kelbi are, in fact, Kosher.

By Air

Now we will discuss birds. According to Jewish tradition, animals that fly and are not insects are birds. Thus animals such as bats are ‘birds’ in regards to Kosher rules. The rules for birds themselves are fairly simple. They can’t be predatory or scavengers. This rule immediately rules out the next monster on the list: Rathalos.

Not Kosher

Rathalos is known as the “King of the Sky” and is the male counterpart to Rathian, another flying monster.  Rathalos are bipedal wyverns, primarily red in color, with sharp, poisonous claws that they use to hunt with. In addition to that, they have a flame sac that they use to produce flaming projectiles from, and their long thick tail has a club at the end of it. But as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, no birds of prey can be Kosher.

The next monster on the list is one of the oddest in the game. Pukei-Pukei resembles at first glance a giant chameleon with frog like eyes, wings, and green scales covering its body everywhere except around its wings and neck, where it has feathers. The Pukei-Pukei is an herbivore and it will eat poisonous plants so it can produce a poison to defend itself. Despite all of these peculiar traits, Pukei-Pukei appears to be Kosher.

Kosher! (Surprisingly!)

I was surprised to hear Gretchen tell me this, as I thought there would be no way a monster as weird as Pukei-Pukei could be considered Kosher. But as she laid the case out it began to make more sense. Despite some reptilian traits, Pukei-Pukei has more avian traits, and that classifies it as a creature of the air under the kashrut. As a creature of the air, it has to meat a few specifications. It does not scavenge like a vulture, nor does it hunt like a bird of prey. Thus, Pukei-Pukei meets the requirements.

And By Sea

There aren’t very many sea monsters in Monster Hunter World sadly. Only one of them really seems like it would count. And this one is Jyuratodus. Jyuratodus resembles nothing more than a bipedal coelacanth fish. It has two dorsal fins, two pectoral fins, two pelvic fins, and a long, thick tail that it can use to defend itself. It also covers itself in mud and other ooze, to act as another layer of defense and to possibly keep its gills and scales damp. Fortunately for us, practically the only water based monster in this game is also Kosher.

Kosher, and think of all the sushi.

For a sea animal to be considered Kosher, it must have fins and scales that can be removed. This generally means that the stereotypical fish is allowed, but not animals such as eel, lobster, squid or crab. Jyuratodus, despite its size and aggression does have fins and scales and would be Kosher.

The Hunt Goes On…

So what are we left with from this list? Two monsters that could be considered Kosher, three that are not, and one that might be, if it chews cud. And this is only a small sample of the monsters in the game. Not only that, but Capcom has plans to release more monsters as free DLC over the upcoming months. When the PC version of the game is out, I might revisit this article and expand on it. Until then though, happy hunting and bon appétit!


Images Courtesy of Capcom

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