It’s time to get serious here. Supergirl season 2 has lent itself to a lot of discussion, from those squeeing with delight at the all things Sanvers, to those who…may be less enthused at the not exactly flawless portrayal of Mon-El. However, one topic has been criminally overlooked in fandom conversations. The most important topic, at that.
What the fiddlesticks is up with the DEO?
The DEO is, of course, The Department of Extranormal Operations, a subdivision of the US Department of Defense. And with its portrayal in Supergirl, it sort of feels as though it makes no sense. But don’t worry; Kylie and Griffin have a foolproof ten-step plan (only eight of which will be skipped) for discerning if this is truly the case.
Let’s start with the basics. The name itself is rather woolly. What exactly does “extranormal” mean? What is their legal definition when it comes classifying “extranormal”? Does that include the paranormal? And, if so, are there officially sanctioned Ghostbusters? Does this mean that Ghostbuster merchandise is government propaganda that helps fund our defense department? We think the implication here speaks for itself. Well played, Director Bones.
From what we can tell, the general population is fully aware, and accepting, of the fact that aliens exist. Well, accepting enough to debate their status as citizens. So then, why is the department that works on their cases secret? In fact, wouldn’t this be for the protection of said aliens to understand that there are dedicated government agencies, or is this just the secret group behind a public one, which is kept secret because… They have to do shady things that violate alien rights?
That seems rather unconstitutional, so maybe it’s just because the government doesn’t want the public to know the wasteful shit they spend their money on for the DEO.
For instance, they paid money to put lead into their paint at the DEO headquarters. Which yes, isn’t out of the realm of possibility for our government as of late, but you’d think the health hazard alone would turn them off of the idea. We promise, Superman would still fuck them up if things got really bad, even with their well-hidden stash of kryptonite.
More wasteful still, they are willing to pay for property in the heart of the city, which happens to comprise the entirety of a massive of a high-rise that also happens to be one of the most recognizable buildings in the National City skyline.
We don’t know a ton about real estate prices in this fictitious city on Earth-38, but we have a feeling it would have been just a touch cheaper if they had gone with the ol’ bunker-in-the-desert thing. Also because no one would get into it by accident.
Which reminds us, what the hell do the people of National City think is in this building? Does the DEO have to spend money to hire actors (who would have to be agents with security clearance) to play disinterested administrative professionals in a fake corporate office, or is it more like a very fancy hotel that is always booked? If it’s the latter, how do they feel about letting people use the lobby bathroom? During coffee breaks, are agents required to put on suits and dresses and mill around the foyer? Our personal recommendation would be holograms, of course, despite the fact that power outages would render them useless.
Oh, speaking of power outages, the DEO goes on lockdown like…a lot. And even if it wasn’t a regular lockdown, there’s always emergency drills of some kind because they have to do that, just like any other government agency. So do they just eject the poor people who wandered into the lobby having to pee using a blast of pressurized air? Granted, we can think of other ways to throw them onto the streets, but imagine how much better this would be (on the environment too) if they hadn’t insisted on renting space on the busiest damn block of the entire city.
Is it cloaked? Did the DEO drop money on a downtown high-rise that needed a constantly running cloaking device, with the hopes that helicopters might only sometimes hit it? No, even that’s too stupid (not to mention environmentally irresponsible) to be a true possibility. Much better that they have fake hotel workers.
Don’t even get us started on Kara entering and exiting through the windows. Though we suppose if they went with the fake hotel scheme, the public might just assume that she lives there. We’re glad they have their contractors in mind.
BUT WAIT. Contractors! It’s all coming together now! The DEO clearly contracts construction workers so that the building will appear closed down. They’d of course have to be real crews, or else competing construction companies would be trying to figure out who the fake team was, and why they don’t appear anywhere else in the city and… It’s a whole thing. Just trust us. Now, what these construction workers are actually fixing is beyond us, but maybe there’s a constant gas leak. Or they’re always being bug bombed for termites. Or perhaps the DEO agents use their coffee breaks to destroy entire sections of the facade for fun. And stress relief. We know Alex would dig it.
But this, dear readers, brings us to one of the most confusing and glamorous aspects of the DEO—payroll. Real talk: is Kara a contractor or internal employee? We lean towards the former, because we don’t recall “Agent Supergirl” ever being uttered (and good thing too; it sounds really stupid). She also didn’t even know an HR department existed, which suggests an incredibly haphazard onboarding process for her, if there ever was one at all. From what we remember, she just kinda showed up one day, and J’onn never told her to leave. Good thing too, those employee handbooks must be thick as redwoods and quite the dull read.
The only thing that gives us pause here is that J’onn made Kara and Mon-El fill out an HR form to disclose this relationship. Mon-El is most likely the same status as Kara vis a vie internal vs. external worker, but it does seem over and beyond to require relationship disclosure for contractors. Especially since Alex didn’t even mention this potential conflict-of-interest when she cheerily insisted that Kara date the boy. Maybe this was J’onn going rogue, thinking that the paperwork would seem like too serious of a commitment and by asking them to sign it, Mon-El would choose to go the way of Poochie. We applaud J’onn for trying.
There is something we can’t applaud J’onn for, however, and that’s letting random people just walk their asses into the headquarters. It’s not even like this is a rare occurrence. Maggie may as well have security clearance at this point, because she’s magically able to waltz in at all hours at the night for no reason other than to see her girlfriend (well, only the mind-reader knew this for the bulk of the season) and get a slightly earlier start on their date. It’s possible that J’onn just takes the head on security clearance given his abilities, except…he’s not there all the time. And even when he is, he can sometimes forget to do the mind-reading thing for plot purposes, so it’s not very useful.
While we’re on J’onn, that reminds us: the Director of the DEO directly participates or intervenes in many of their operations. Like, he’s the one punching people. It’s great that he’s the Martian Manhunter, but maybe that means someone else should be in charge since he’s always in the field and cannot do administrative work. Or, you know, direct the operations. If only they had a living skeleton who sweats cyanide and has a lovely collection of neckties.
But frankly, do they even need a director? They only have maybe 3 or 4 agents active at a given time, unless the plot demands otherwise. Heck, they didn’t even have a dedicated IT guy until Winn got the job this year. Which sadly just bring us back to the GIANT BUILDING! Who is using it, if no one is in it? Or are they just sub-tenants with the following floors: top, ground-level, basement, and sub-basement. Those poor businessmen who work in the middle and have no way of getting in their building (or out). Is this up to code? We have our doubts.
No no, back to the agents. From what we can tell, there is a constant fluctuation in team size from 4 agents to…over a hundred. You know, for those operations where the vans come and stuff. What happens to the van crews during the normal day-to-day, when they’re almost never needed? Do they have other day jobs? Does everybody have an incredibly high number of vacation days they can take? Are they temps and called as-needed (and if so, how does no one know about them)? Are they there, but merely hiding behind the cameras during most episodes? OH! Maybe they live in the vacant parts of the building, which means that the DEO definitely owns and operates a luxury hotel with actual service.
Well then, nevermind us. We were going to go on about how Maggie magically knew of the DEO despite it being a top secret held secret, or how their HR department is sorely lacking in recourse for its employees stealing equipment and going on rogue missions, but it’s clear these are mere quibbles. The DEO makes perfect sense, and its agents are true American heroes.
Especially the ones who cook the meals for the room service of the hotel that they clearly live in and staff.
Images courtesy of The CW , Toys R’ Us, and DC Comics
How to Tell if You’re Reading Erotica
I like sex as much as the next non-ace spectrum gal. I enjoy reading about it in my fiction, too, especially if it’s between two characters that I really, really want to bone each other. But I have a problem. See, I’m also very picky about my smut. Whether it’s word choice, tone, specificity (or lack thereof), there are a lot of things that can take me out of it when I’m reading scenes of an erotic nature. I don’t generally read a lot of erotica/erotic romance precisely for this reason; unless it’s recced to me from a reliable source who knows what I enjoy, I can’t muster up the energy to go sorting through thousands of options to find something I want. (Incidentally, it’s also why I don’t read a lot of fanfic.)
In fact, I’m so unfamiliar with the genre that I apparently don’t even know when I’m reading it. The other day, I picked up a book someone had recommended, and it wasn’t until about a quarter of the way through that I paused to ask myself, “Wait, is this erotica?” (The answer is yes, it was.) So, if, like me, you look for very specific things in sex scenes—to the point where you can’t always tell if you’re reading erotica because it doesn’t appeal to your specific sensibilities—I’ve created a handy (and a bit cheeky) guide.
As you can imagine, this is going to be NSFW.
If Your Protagonist Thinks about Sex a Lot
You might be reading erotica. To be fair, like much in life and art that has to do with sex, there’s a spectrum. Some books contain little to no reference to sex in a character’s internal monologue. Others do. Because sex is a normal part of the human experience for those interested in it, a protagonist thinking about sex shouldn’t surprise us, and a character thinking about sex doesn’t make a book erotica. Katniss thinks about sex in the Hunger Games series and that is a far cry from erotica (kind of the opposite, actually, if you hold to the Katniss is ace headcanon).
However, if the protagonist’s internal monologue contains frequent and consistent references to sex, that’s another story (heh). Put another way, if removing thoughts of sex would depopulate a good chunk of the protagonist’s thought life or weaken their characterization, it’s erotica. Similarly…
If Sex and Sexual Fantasies are a Primary Feature of How the Protagonist Relates to Another Character
You might be reading erotica. This can be the hardest one to pin down sometimes because characters relate to each other in many ways, one of which may be sexually charged. The relationship between Jaime and Cersei of A Song of Ice and Fire includes erotic elements. Jaime thinks about having sex with—or other men having sex with—Cersei quite a lot, but their plotline isn’t fundamentally or even primarily, erotic. Even having explicit sex scenes between two characters doesn’t automatically make the book erotica. These days, explicit sex scenes and erotic undertones exist even in other genres (which is where my next criteria comes in, so I’ll have to delay fulfilling that desire for now).
At the same time, if sexual acts or fantasies dominate how the protagonist relates to one of the secondary characters, there’s a good bet the book is erotica. Sex drives their interactions. When the protagonist thinks about the other character, sex almost always comes up. Thinking about that person makes the protagonist aroused, and such reactions happen repeatedly and consistently and drives their actions. Basically, if every time they think about that person, they think of fucking them, it’s probably erotica. Though again, a lot depends on plot and prominence, but for that, you’ll have to wait just a bit longer.
I should also mention erotic romance here, a hybrid genre of erotica and romance. As the name implies, erotic romance enfolds explicit sex scenes/fantasies into a larger romantic arc with a happy ending. I mention this separately because the larger romance and happy ending come from the romance genre and not all erotica has these elements. Erotic romance is still erotica, though, just a specific kind. For erotic romance, think of erotica as the foreplay to a story that ends in a satisfying romantic climax.
If There are at Least Four Explicit Sex Scenes
You might be reading erotica. As I said, just having a sex scene or two does not erotica make. Not even if those scenes are explicit. More and more novels written for adult audiences feature explicit sex, even in genres like fantasy or scifi. But sometimes, quantity does matter. Because the more something features in a book, the more likely it is to be central to the storytelling. I picked four because in your average novel of 250 pages, four explicit sex scenes would take up a lot of space (as much as 10% or more of the page time). However, I could go as low as three if one occurs within the first quarter of the book.
I admit, these are arbitrary numbers. A lot of it has to do with placement and vibe. Do the scenes feel like they’re the ‘point’ of the book? Do they seem intended primarily to arouse the reader? If you took them out would it change anything about characterization or plot? How close to the beginning of the book they begin to appear?
But also, yeah, quantity matters. Four times in a year is one thing, but four times in a night means something different. (Also, good for you. Sounds like you’re enjoying yourself.)
If the Protagonists Masturbates Within the First Ten Pages
You might be reading erotica. I feel like this one goes without saying, especially if paired with several explicit sex scenes. If your protagonist is getting off by their onesies that soon into the book, you can bet there’s more to follow. (Full confession, I include this because it happened in the book I mentioned at the outset and…yeah, this should have been my first clue.)
If Uncomfortable or Awkward Metaphors for Sexual Positions or Pleasure are Used
You might be reading erotica. This is one of those things about erotica that people mock a lot, and it’s worth noting that this is changing. The Ten Things I Hate About You “quivering member” style of writing erotica isn’t as prevalent as it used to be. Still, I run into it. I recently reviewed a book that used the metaphor of someone’s balls turning inside out with pleasure. I may not have testicles, but that just sounds painful. To be fair, this wasn’t labeled as erotica, it was just a weirdly written explicit sex scene. But it’s not alone. I’ve seen descriptions of moving a male identified character’s cock ‘like a joystick’ (why?!) or a female identified characters’ breasts ‘heaving like ocean waves’ (NO. OW. THAT’S NOT ENJOYABLE).
This is one of those criteria that’s best coupled with other elements, because as I just noted, uncomfortable metaphors for sexual pleasure or body positions occur outside of erotica. Especially, though not exclusively, with young, inexperienced writers or older writers used to the older style of writing erotica. I’ve also found it more likely to occur when the author is writing about a character who is not of their own gender (women writing m/m, men writing a female character, etc).
If You See the Word ‘Sex’ as a Euphemism for Vagina
You might be reading erotica. Unfortunately for my reading pleasure, lots of euphemisms for body parts that I find unappealing make their way into erotica. Nub in particular makes me drier than the Sahara, but other offenders include: pussy, core, slit, rod, sword (and sheath), nether lips, bud (for nipples or clitoris), budding (for breasts, looking at you George R. R. Martin, breasts do not bud), button. I’m sure there are more but these are the ones I can think of off the top of my head.
Now, as with the previous criteria this is changing, especially as society becomes more comfortable with describing cis female pleasure. Most of the previous euphemisms referred to cis female body parts, and there’s a reason for that. (Hint: the word begins with s- and ends in -exism.) Historically, talking about vaginas and their pleasure experiences was taboo. Hence the multiplicity of—and at least to me unpleasant sounding—euphemisms.
Thankfully, it’s getting better. But, like a bad lover, such terms still turn up when we least want them to, even in works by female authors. Even works by queer female authors writing f/f erotica. And not just inexperienced authors or ones more used to writing in a more circumlocutory style. I see it everywhere, even in non-erotica, so as with some of the other criteria, this shouldn’t be used on its own.
To be perfectly honest, I’m probably not the best person to ask about word choice in erotica. It’s the single biggest offender for me going from totally into it to utterly unmoved. I’m very picky about word choice, and your mileage will likely vary. To each their own kink and their words to talk about them. (Just please, please, I’m begging you: never use the word nub again. I don’t have a nub, thank you very much.
If You Can’t Keep Track of Body Parts
You might be reading erotica. Yes, yes, books that aren’t erotica have this problem too. However, unlike the previous two, I do think losing track of body parts and what people are doing occurs more frequently in erotic literature. Why? Because of the explicit nature of the content. As readers tastes moves away from euphemisms and vague phrasing, more clarity and specificity means more opportunities to lose track of what people are doing. And unlike real life, you can’t see anything. And if you’re anything like me, I get anxious when I can’t tell what people’s bodies are doing.
Why is her arm there, wasn’t she just touching her leg? Wait, what is her hair doing again? And why does it sound like there are five legs when there should only be four? Arms don’t move like that do they? And wouldn’t that configuration be awkward since he’s less muscular?
If you, too, get confused and overwhelmed by the specificity of body placement and keeping track of what’s moving where, you are not alone! I don’t have any solutions other than watching erotica or only reading recs from friends, but at least you don’t have to suffer by yourself. And now, with my guide, you can be prepared for what’s coming.
Images Courtesy of Orion Pictures, NBC, and 20th Century Fox
Inevitable Star Wars Movies to Come
Welp. Solo: A Star Wars Story sure exists now.
I’ve got no problem coming right out with it—I hated this movie. I think I can understand finding it to be mostly coherent and fine, or even somewhat fun. But in my case, I just saw the worst tendencies of the Star Wars fandom on the big screen to the extent where it bordered on self-parody. It’s that “let’s fill in every gap and take Han’s rogue-ish coolness at face value” that had me worried about when it was first announced. Then there was the absolutely cringe-worthy way the music would blast the Star Wars theme any time something we recognized from the original trilogy turned up coupled with amateurish, sledge-hammery dialogue. Oh and of course, it had a very literal straw feminist in it for laughs.
Most of all though, it just didn’t have a story to tell. The only discernible character arc was Han perfecting his sideways flying, and the very loose theme of “trust no one, not even this random criminal you met three seconds ago,” didn’t exactly come together or explain Han’s choice to double down on the smuggler life despite being won over by the plight of the “good guys.” (I promise these are exceedingly minor spoilers; we all know where Han ends up, right?)
In terms of a Star Wars film, the somewhat tepid critical reception and underwhelming box office performance suggests others were not quite so enchanted either. Though honestly? I wouldn’t read into it at all. It was the first Disney Star Wars film not to air in December, there were tons of stories about production SNAFUs that were off-putting already, and given the “creative differences” in production, that it was even a somewhat watchable movie was probably considered a success behind the scenes.
Instead, we’ve got the announcement that Disney is boldly continuing their trend of crafting Star Wars stories that cling to the original trilogy with no need to actually invent any story of its own. Next up? The Boba Fett lost years. What did happen in between him getting ice cream with Jango and then being a random bounty hunter who happened to catch Han. And why wouldn’t we want a story that delves into a character whose only actually appeal is being an unknown? I’m crossing my fingers for a buddy-cop with IG-88 (no…seriously), because anything even somewhat serious is going to follow in the uninspired, unnecessary footsteps of Solo.
Which…is almost definitely what we’re getting. It also shows us the way forward into what is undoubtedly in Disney’s pipeline for Star Wars.
Luke’s Elementary Adventures
Slated for December 2021, we finally get the Luke prequel we’ve been dying for! There’s all those plot holes that really need filling in, too. For instance, in A New Hope, Owen tells Luke that he can waste time with his friends later, while later Luke tells Obi-Wan there’s “nothing” for him on Tatooine without his aunt an uncle. So what about those friends of his? Well, get ready for a falling out that he keeps from Owen.
We also get to see him bull’s-eye-ing womp rats in his T-16. But don’t worry…there’s a very good explanation for why he does it! Also, why does Luke claim he “hates” the Empire? Frankly, I’m not sure how we’ve even been able to follow Episode IV without this addition to the canon.
Rogue Two: Bothan Boogaloo
Taking a break from an episodic movie every other year, Disney will instead offer the Rogue One sequel in 2022: Rogue Two, We Should Have Worn Our Seatbelts. We finally learn about the Bothan spies that died to bring the Rebels their information on the second Death Star. Like Rogue One, we get a rag-tag team of force-ish user, rogue-ish character, pilot, generic gunman, and smurfette. Of course, that last role gets filled by Mon Mothma, who becomes very textured when we learn that her parents didn’t approve of her joining the Rebellion.
Prepare yourself for a few CGI cameos with our favorite team of Rebels, and you might just get to see Darth Vader unleashed again!
Episode 3.5: The Rise of Vader
Speaking of which, the following year Disney will continue its success with a two hour movie featuring nothing but Darth Vader swinging his lightsaber around. It takes place in between the prequels and A New Hope, and is more or less the episode of Rebels where Vader is in charge of an oppressive campaign. Naturally, this occurs on Alderaan, and will be hailed as a “stunning war theater.” There’s not exactly a plot or character arc, because no one cares about plot or characters in war movies, we’re told. Vader unleashes force moves we never even thought possible!
Lobot, The Musical
By 2024, Disney is ready to take some serious risks in structure. This one is with a musical, where Donald Glover reprises his role as Lando. While his performance is solid once again, it’s Lobot that takes center stage in this drama. We learn exactly how he came to Cloud City, what his official job description is, and how he earned Lando’s trust.
We also learn in an off-hand comment by the director a week in advance of its airing that he’s gay. It really adds quite a bit of texture to the film.
The Mon Mothma Chronicles: Episodes IV, V, and VI
While Episode 3.5 is sure to have a decent box office performance, Disney finally made the decision to get back into proper numbered episodes by 2025. These numbers being, of course, the original trilogy. However, we finally get it told from Mon Mothma’s point of view.
Where was she during the attack on the first Death Star? Why, off on a mission of course. But don’t worry…she receives live radio updates so that you can relive classic moments like Porkins dying. During the evacuation from Hoth, Mon Mothma was put in charge of one of the transports. And naturally, she did all of this wearing the one outfit she owns.
There’s also plenty of fun winks and nods to Rogue One and Rogue Two, since that’s something we all recognize! Finally, the pieces are clicking together in this cinematic universe.
Solo Solo: A Star Wars Story
Ten years removed from Solo: A Star Wars Story, fans surely get hungry for all those unanswered details. Where does Chewie get his iconic crossbow? Does Han immediately begin smuggling for Jabba (and does he see a YOUNG LUKE in the process)? And let’s not forget the oversight of the white walls of the Falcon, which we know become their iconic yellow/brownish hue by Episode IV.
There’s also a cameo in it you can’t miss, since it sets up Disney’s big 2029 hit…
Kenobi: A Star Wars Story
Yes, mild spoilers, but in Solo Solo, Solo stumbles into Obi Wan on Tatooine. In fact, he even thinks up the name “Ben” for him! Kenobi takes place just after these events.
Now, going into this movie, a lot of fans were concerned of the potential plot hole of Obi Wan not remembering Han (Han being too self-absorbed to have remembered him tracks), but fortunately this movie is where we finally also get the plot hole filled in of why Obi Wan can’t remember R2-D2 and Threepio. It’s head trauma, but how he gets it is the interesting story.
We also get to see exactly why Obi Wan considers Anakin to be the best star pilot in the galaxy, since that was never explicated satisfactorily in the prequels. Since too much time has passed, we get a different young Luke than the one in Luke’s Elementary Adventures, but the new child actor does very well with the role.
By 2030 Star Wars finally takes a risk with a female director for the Qi’ra sequel, but I wouldn’t want to bore you. But you have to admit, it’s a solid lineup sure to titillate fans for years. And years. And YEARS.
Which one are you most excited for?
Images courtesy of LucasFilm and Disney
Investigating the Link Between Baldness and Toxic Masculinity
Men often go to great lengths to battle hair loss. We use special shampoos, take pills, comb our hair in a multitude of ridiculous fashions to cover bald spots, and eventually plunk down money on awful toupees. In the end, we’re pretty vain creatures. Men battle to maintain whatever patches of hair we can atop our heads. We often fight knowing we fight in vain and the baldness wins in the end.
Is it any wonder so many bald guys end up being such toxically masculine jerks? So much effort and all for nothing. It makes you wonder. Think back on all the bad guys you’ve seen in your favorite stories in your life. I bet you could list at least five that are bald. Could the bane of toxic masculinity really be explained so simply? We have to dig deeper. We have to find the truth. In pursuit of this crucial goal, let’s take a look at some famous bald men and analyze just how big an impact hair has on the jerks they become.
Walter White and Hank Schrader (Breaking Bad)
I know I’m not exactly blowing anyone’s minds by starting here. The hypocritical murderer who would rather sell drugs than seek help paying for his cancer treatment is toxically masculine? Who knew? Walter White is the poster boy for toxic masculinity. There’s a reason to start here, though. Walter White serves as a good example of how hair loss (and gain) affects toxic masculinity in a man.
When we first see him, Walt doesn’t exactly scream toxic masculinity. He’s a timid chemistry teacher married to a strong woman that runs their household, and he agonizes for multiple days over whether to commit his first murder or not. Afterwards, he gives up the drug game because he realizes he isn’t cut out for it. He’s not exactly Steven Universe though. After all, he makes the decision to sell drugs while he still has a full head of hair. Walt also hides his cancer diagnosis and turns down Gretchen and Elliot’s offer to pay for his treatment. Still, he’s a more middling example of someone insecure over his failures in traditional gender roles than a full-blown, toxically masculine man.
When does this change? When he shaves his head. That same day he’s blowing up office buildings and grunting like a caveman pumped fresh full of steroids.
The following 5+ seasons see Walt’s toxicity only increase. He constantly monologues about a man’s responsibility to provide for his family. He shows off his ill-gotten wealth to his newborn daughter so she’ll “see what he did for her.” Despite the fact they’re all but divorced, Walt still feels ownership over his house and wife, Skyler, to the point he breaks into the house and throws a hissy fit when his wife sleeps with another man. When the two of them reconcile and Skyler attempts to seek some agency in her husband’s illicit business, Walt resents her for it.
Funnily enough, when he grows some hair back at the end, the toxicity recedes a bit. He recognizes his mistakes, apologizes to his wife, and vomits emotional honesty on her. He doesn’t change quite enough, though. Maybe if his hair grew back sooner.
While Hank wasn’t nearly as bad a person as Walt, he still fell into familiar characteristics of toxic masculinity. You know how toxically masculine men will do just about anything to bury their feelings, even from their loved ones, rather than show weakness? Yeah, that’s Hank to a tee. He refuses to talk to anyone about his PTSD in the aftermath of two traumatic events early on. He also has that same “refuse all help” pride that Walt does. His wife, Marie, doesn’t tell him about Walt paying for Hank’s physical rehab because she knows Hank would refuse that help. Rather than admit he’s scared of a promotion, he forces personal and professional trouble to make himself less viable a candidate.
However, where Hank falls even more into toxic masculinity is his entire personality. Namely how fake it is. For those who have seen Breaking Bad, you know what I’m talking about. Numerous times we see Hank as a completely different person around people than he is by himself. Throw him in a crowd and suddenly he’s the loud, crude, boisterous guy telling stories about how cool a bloody body was and how hot that lady is. Then he goes in an elevator and has a panic attack.
It’s always obvious that he’s putting on a fake persona because he thinks it’s expected of him. Because that’s how a man “should” act.
I suppose you could say Hank is a typical cop character. You can look back in TV history and find angry, toxic cops everywhere. Look at Vic Mackey on The Shield, after all. Thing is, there are plenty of cops on Breaking Bad and none of them come across like Hank. His best pal Steve Gomez is always willing to talk through Hank’s feelings. Hank’s boss at the DEA tries to work through Hank’s issues as well and openly admits his feelings when he finds out a friend, Gus Fring, was a drug kingpin.
What makes them different? Hair, obviously. Both Gomie and Hank’s boss have full heads of hair and glorious mustaches. Hank’s so bald he barely grows stubble. Looks to me like that’s the source of his insecurity and fake persona around his fellow DEA agents. He even warms to Walt once Walt shaves his head. He always teased and looked down on full-head-of-hair Walt. Maybe it’s the baldness that makes Hank so insecure and uber-macho.
Looks like sound logic to me.
Kratos (God of War)
Again, this is a total no-brainer. If Walter White is the poster boy for bald, toxically masculine men, than Kratos is like the God the entire religion worships. He’s literally nothing but buried feelings, violence, and disrespect towards women. His original games are misogynistic male fantasies of the highest order. Fun ones, but still. Kratos prioritizes military conquest over his family, eventually murders them, and rather than own up to his sins, he decides to “repent” by murdering some more.
The man has absolutely zero ability to express his emotions besides anger. By the time God of War III rolls around and ends, Kratos has murdered most of the Greek gods and doomed the world to an apocalypse because of his inability to process his emotions or face his trauma. Lovely.
So what does he add to this discussion besides the most obvious example of how lack of hair represents toxic masculinity? Well, his newest entry shows how hair gain reduces toxic masculinity. Even if it’s face hair rather than head hair.
2018’s God of War is a change for the series in many ways, Kratos and his appearance included. His bro patch, standard for any 18-to-22-year old misogynistic frat boy, was replaced with a full-on Viking Dad Beard. His personality changed to about the same degree. Make no mistake; he’s still a gruff, macho, angry guy capable of significant violence. However, he is also a calmer, more thoughtful person. He makes decisions to avoid killing and even fighting at all, sometimes. He gradually opens up emotionally to his son as God of War moves along.
Kratos and his son end the game in a much healthier and more communicative place. Truths are laid bare and a closer bond results. Kratos feel comfortable grieving more openly in front of Atreus.
Now he certainly still has a long way to go. That doesn’t change that you add a big, fluffy beard and Kratos suddenly becomes that bit fluffier a person. It’s a good step forward for an angry man. I’m not sure if he can ever fully shed his toxic masculinity, though. Maybe if his beard grows down to his chest or stomach? Or is there a point where the beard grows too long and the affect reverses?
Maybe we’ll find out in a sequel.
Captain James Flint (Black Sails)
Now here lies an interesting case study.
Don’t confuse James Flint with James McGraw. McGraw certainly has his anger issues, but he’s also an adorably soft bisexual who will proudly remain loyal to his boyfriend and openly confess feelings of love at dinner to said boyfriend’s bigot father. When he reunites with Thomas Hamilton after years of repressed pain and hidden feelings, they shamelessly make out in the middle of a field for all to see.
The last thing you could ever say about James McGraw is that he represses less “masculine” tendencies to come across like a “real man.” His other persona, James Flint, well, he’s a different story.
The central story of Black Sails revolves around Flint’s violent, single-minded quest for revenge against England after the “death” of Thomas Hamilton. He becomes a completely different person in order to blend in with the violent pirates inhabiting Nassau. Violence and fear and anger rule his personality. Flint adopts the most toxic of masculine traits in order to rise through the pirate ranks and maintain control of his ship.
He shares his secrets with no one but the third member of his romantic life, Thomas’s totally consenting wife Miranda. Not even she can break past the wall of repressed anger and grief Flint puts up since embarking on his pirate journey. Eventually she does break through to a former piece of what used to be James McGraw. Then a trigger-happy moron shoots her in the head.
Up to this point, Flint still has a glorious man-bun. In fact, you could argue Miranda Hamilton represents this retaining of his hair, which represents the retaining of that small bit of James McGraw. Miranda’s death coincidentally occurs around the time Flint decides to go with a buzzcut instead, shedding the last vestiges of his former life. Such amazing symbolism. No wonder we love Black Sails so much.
Buzzcut Flint becomes an even greater toxic monster, as you’d expect with such sudden loss of hair. His grief process becomes one of indiscriminate murder of soldiers and innocents. Towns fall beneath his inability to process grief. He fully adopts the pirate persona he pretended at before.
Say what you want about Flint’s methods while he still had hair, but at least he had some higher, non-violent goal in mind behind said actions. Namely, an independent Nassau like Thomas dreamed of. Buzzcut Flint had no such greater purpose. He wanted painful revenge against anyone associated with the empire responsible for his losses. He even stops putting effort into his style, because why would any real man care so much about his appearance? Especially if you don’t have a glorious head of hair to style.
In the end, of course, Thomas Hamilton is alive and James McGraw leaves Flint behind to reunite with his lost love. It just goes to show how you can shave the positive masculinity off your head, but you can’t shave the positive masculinity off your heart.
Red Forman (That 70s Show)
Not all toxic masculinity involves being a bad person. Here’s the perfect example of that. Red Foreman is a good man. He loves his wife, he loves his family, and in the end he tries to do right by them. Most of the people in Red’s life are better off for knowing him.
He also happens to be completely and irredeemably toxically masculine.
Red refuses emotional expression at all costs. Numerous times he spouts off about how real men don’t cry or admit feelings towards anyone, not even his wife. He punishes any attempt to voice feelings. Alcohol and yelling are the only acceptable forms of grief. His only role in raising his son is to yell at him and show him how to do manly things. All the actual emotional support falls to his wife. However, he dotes on his daughter since she’s just a girl. That is, until she reasonably moves in with a guy. Then all he has for her is the slut shaming.
At least he’s not homophobic? Though he’s not exactly comfortable with it, either, and views gay couples like a joke in one episode.
He’s the only character who acts so stringently toxic from beginning to end. He also happens to be the only main character without hair. His son, Eric, basically tells us the truth of it in an episode, when he theorizes that the gene for happiness is stored in hair. Eric isn’t like that. His friends can be sometimes, but nothing close to Red. Bob Pinciotti has his toxic moments, but he’s also a fountain of emotional expression.
The only thing common difference Red has with all these other characters is hair. Or rather, Red’s lack of it in comparison. He doesn’t even have the choice of cutting it like Walter White or James Flint. In an era of afros and long, luscious hairdos, Red’s stuck with the chrome dome. Does this mean his toxic masculinity is a result of insecurity in the face of so many pretty hairstyles? Or is Eric right, and there’s some genetic component to the discussion.
The evidence certainly appears to be piling up, huh?
Aang (Avatar: The Last Airbender)
Woah, woah! Calm down! I’m not saying Aang is a toxically masculine person. Clearly he’s not. He was raised to avoid violence when possible, to the point that he can’t even bring himself to kill a horrific dictator responsible for murdering thousands in an effort to conquer the world. Aang is kind, silly, emotionally open, and has no problem dressing up for a fun night dancing in the Fire Nation. I would never, ever accuse Aang of toxically masculine behavior.
Well, except in one case. That case being his evolving relationship with Katara throughout the course of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
This dynamic is the one place where even such a positively masculine kid like Aang displays toxic traits. The sense of ownership, the feeling of romantic competition, the hiding and/or shutting down of emotion, the feeling of having to conform to traditionally masculine roles…all of this shows up in Aang when it comes to his romantic pursuit of Katara. He becomes overprotective of her despite Katara’s obvious mastery of waterbending. When she faces serious danger, he responds with feelings of vengeance and anger.
Sounds like elements of a toxically masculine gumbo to me.
You can even argue the effect of his baldness on his parenting skills. A trait of toxic masculinity is the idea of leaving parenting to the mother. Anyone familiar with The Legend of Korra (if you aren’t, WHY! Go watch now. I’ll wait) knows how Aang’s parenting affected Bumi and Kya. Or rather, Aang’s lack of parenting. He has two children who seemingly have no idea whether their father actually loved them or not.
Compare that to how they view their mother, Katara. None of those hard feelings exist. Seems to me like she was a much larger presence in their life.
Again, I would never, ever consider Aang a toxically masculine person. But even he couldn’t fully escape the toxicity that accompanies baldness.
Counterpoint One: Luke Cage (Luke Cage)
Of course, you can’t conduct an actual examination of any topic without discussing some counterpoints. First up is Luke Cage, a man with the chromest of domes and yet lacking the vast majority of the traits seen in toxically masculine men. Yes, he tends not to discuss his trauma. Yeah, he punches the hell out of people.
However, when we first meet Luke he’s a peaceful bartender. He tries not to fight unless forced to. Even after the revelation that Jessica Jones killed his wife, he walks away rather than respond with violence. Within his own show, he embraces vulnerability and tries to be a role model inspiring Harlem’s youths away from the violent paths of the toxically masculine influences in their lives. He wants to use his invulnerability to protect rather than destroy.
His lack of toxic masculinity shows not just in his mission or attitude towards violence, but in his personality. It’s easy to look at Luke, see the big, muscular, bulletproof black dude and assume he’s all kinds of awful stereotypes. He turns out to be anything but. Luke is a funny, vulnerable, honest man. He has nothing but respect for women and shows zero hesitation to acknowledge their strength, even if their strength arguably outranks his. He shows a healthy emotional vulnerability around those he trusts.
The man is a big, loveable teddy bear.
Luke Cage defies many of the stereotypes expected of his appearance and abilities. Chief among them is toxic masculinity. Maybe baldness doesn’t have to turn you into a toxic jerk.
Counterpoint Two: Jaime Lannister (the real, A Song of Ice and Fire version)
This is a bit of a trickier one. I can’t say Jaime has turned a corner totally away from toxic masculinity. He still feels a deep possessiveness over his sister. He’ll probably always display a certain level of toxic masculinity just because of Westerosi culture. Just because he lost his ability to fight doesn’t change how he reveres that ability over anything else.
Still, compared to who Jaime used to be? Current Jaime might as well be Luke Cage.
Pre-Brave Companions Jaime represented the toxic ideal of Westerosi culture. He was arguably the deadliest fighter in the Seven Kingdoms and fully defined his life by his fighting ability. Everyone revered said ability. He had three kids he didn’t give a shit about because that was the job of their mother. His possessiveness over Cersei was even greater, to the point Jaime constantly considered killing his king. Sex with her overrode everything besides his obsession with fighting. And emotion? What even are emotions besides anger and lust?
Then Jaime loses his hand, meets Brienne of Tarth, and comes out the other side a changed man. He also shaves his head. Presumably he does this to disguise himself, but maybe it served as a transformation of his masculinity as well? While so many of my other examples became more toxic after shaving their heads, Jaime does not. He begins placing emphasis and worth on intellectual skills. He also begins showing more emotional vulnerability, including opening up to Brienne about the pivotal moment in his life: when he murdered Aerys Targaryen to save King’s Landing.
Through Brienne, he even gains a greater respect for women outside of their sexual worth.
While his transformation is not complete, and may never fully shed all of his toxic masculinity, there’s no question Jaime Lannister changed. Does losing his hand deserve more credit, or losing his hair? It’s an interesting question. One we may never fully answer, just like we may never know for sure whether baldness is responsible for toxic masculinity.