Harry Potter has been, and always shall be, my favourite fandom. It was my first, and my screen name on the discussion board that saw my first interaction with fandom was Pottermaniac. I would fight with my friends because they liked Lord of the Rings more than Harry Potter, and that was unacceptable. I tried to get the people who haven’t read the series to be socially ostracised. Yeah, I was a shitty person as a tween.
Anyway, naturally as one gets older – I read the first books of the series when I was eleven – one sees the faults in one’s favourite media, and one sees the problems. And in this case, there are many to choose from.
Now follows a part where a white girl talks about racial issues. Sorry about that. Leaving it out seemed like it would be even more problematic, because one of the most cited problems of Harry Potter is the problem of cishet white West-centric privilege just permeating the series. As for blaming Rowling for it, well, there is a post doing rounds on tumblr that sums up my feelings on this pretty well. She created that world and the basic characters of the story in the nineties. Many things were very different back then, many things were less discussed, people were less aware of them, and it’s not fair to judge Rowling by today’s standards for something she wrote that long ago. We can look at her newer work to see how she’s doing now. Far from perfect, as it turns out – not a week ago, she posted some info about famous magical schools in the world on Pottermore, giving us the whooping one school in each continent except Oceania, which doesn’t have any, while Europe boasts three – but that is a separate issue. She doesn’t, as far as I’m concerned, really deserve censure for what she did back then.
However, there’s a difference between blaming the author and critiquing the books, so I think it’s perfectly fair to say that this is a problem. It’s not, thank Merlin, as if Rowling made Britain completely whitewashed. In fact, when you look at the demographic numbers of the UK, you’ll see that she sort of got that right. The problem, of course, is the role of these characters, in light of the importance of representation of real world groups. While from the Watsonian perspective, someone could argue that if eighty-seven per cent of British people identifies as white, it’s statistically likely that all the protagonists would be white as well, the thing is, Hogwarts doesn’t actually exist.
It’s not life, it’s a story, and narratively, there’s no reason for all of not just the main trio, but the “secondary trio” (Ginny, Neville and Luna), as well as all of the ten or so significant adults, to be white, when having them be people of colour would enhance the experience of reading and made identification easier for non-white readers.
The only PoC characters of note, if memory serves, are Cho Chang, Angelina Johnson, Parvati and Padma Patil, Kingsley Shacklebolt and Dean Thomas. Out of these, Kingsley and Angelina are probably the most interesting. We don’t see much of Kingsley, but he is cool and capable and personally he has always been my favourite Order member. Plus he becomes the Minister at the end. But he is still a very minor character. Angelina is in the story more and she is fantastic, a great Quidditch player and a team Captain, a laid-back, fun girl to be around, good at her captain duties at the same time. I’m sorry she didn’t play more of a part in the story.
With Cho we can sympathise because of her tragic romantic history and because of Marietta, but identify with her? She’s a good Quidditch player, so there is that, but so are Angelina and Ginny and those, I think, are easier to relate to. Cho had a potential to be a relateable character for people suffering from depression, but for me at least, it falls a little flat, because of all the stereotypically girly and ‘boys will never understand girls’ aspects Rowling decided to give her, which, for me, detract from her humanity. Not that I think people who like frilly tearooms and get jealous aren’t human, but in this case it seems more like a strawman to me. Cho’s character, to my mind, is sidelined in favour of the type she is meant to represent.
And the rest of the characters…well. Perhaps I am wrong, but I find it a little difficult to imagine that anyone would particularly want to identify with them. They are not very fleshed out, barely feel real, and don’t have any actual good qualities one could latch onto (well, that’s not fair. We know Dean is artistically talented). Maybe the best thing about them is that, at least in some cases, they’re vague enough that one can project anything one likes onto them.
It’s of course even worse with LGBTQIA characters, since there is no one directly identifying as gay (let alone any of the other letters of the acronym) in the books, and the one character who Rowling straight-out said was gay ended up basically ruining the world by the one relationship of his that we know of. Narratively, not the least problematic choice.
So all this is a problem, yes, and if Rowling wrote another book series now, I’d certainly hope she did better with it.
But then there are all the things that were problematic in the nineties already. For one, the House divisions at Hogwarts, and the way she works with them.
The books give a very clear impression that she herself prefers Gryffindor to all the other houses, which is fine, of course. We all have a preference for one of the other, I guess. But the way she chose to depict that is another thing.
For one, the Gryffindors are overwhelmingly painted as the good guys, and not just by the Gryffindor characters – which would make sense – but by the story itself. In perhaps the most obvious display of this, Dumbledore tells Snape that “I sometimes think we Sort too soon” (DH, The Prince’s Tale) after commenting that Snape was brave, as if the only brave people were in Gryffindor. Gryffindor is also painted as the most ‘light’ house, which is very strange to me, because bravery as such does not necessarily have to be connected to the Light side, it depends on what are you brave in service of. For example, it always seemed to me that Bellatrix Lestrange had many very Gryffindor qualities. There’s nothing particularly cunning or subtle about her, but unquestionably she is very brave. Repulsive, yes, but she has courage. But Rowling’s personal bias makes Gryffindor the good house, with almost all of the prominent characters affiliated with it (the exceptions are Luna, Snape and Tonks – the remaining ten or so are all Gryffindors), and the marked exception to the goodness being Peter Pettigrew – and a very strange exception at that, too, since it’s patently clear Peter’s downfall was his fear, so how he ever got sorted in Gryffindor is a true mystery. There were many other ways a Gryffindor could have fallen that wouldn’t have negated their trademark characteristic, on the contrary, would have made use of it. You could turn into a merciless killer on the battlefield as a Gryffindor, for example – and we get a glimpse of that in Harry’s anger and his torture of Bellatrix, but we never actually see a Gryffindor go fully down that way. Instead, the fates of different characters make it seem like bravery is the only good quality truly worth of having. If you don’t have it, you will fall, or at the very least be useless; if you do, then yes, there are other dangers to overcome, but you’re on the right track.
And of course, Rowling’s treatment of other houses reflects her marked preference for Gryffindor. I’d argue that her second favourite was Hufflepuff, but she seems to regard it with a sort of fond condescension. There are two most prominent Puffs in the story: Cedric and Tonks (in whose case, however, it’s never stated outright in the text). Cedric, of course, is a paragon of perfection – good looks, great Quidditch player, skilled wizard. That is his job in the story. To be the unimitable competition for Harry when it regards Cho, and to make his death that more tragic. He is admirable, but he is also very much a plot device. Or perhaps it is just me, but I have trouble seeing him as a real person.
Tonks is better in this way, and in spite of her clumsiness, she is said to be a badass Auror and we even see her in action a few times. Not much, but we don’t see that much of any Order member fighting, honestly. Plus in her we have what I think is a better depiction of depression – we see her she suffer from it in the Half-Blood Prince, while still soldiering on in her job. So I’m happy with that representation, and my only objection is that her house affiliation was never mentioned in the text – and that she is the only one.
The Puffs we see in Harry’s year…they’re treated with barely hidden scorn, mostly, and serve as a sort of comic relief or simply as background characters. Plus there is Zacharias Smith, who is an unpleasant jerk. Once again, an odd sort of weakness for a Hufflepuff. I imagine a ‘fallen Puff’ as a SJW gone overboard, something we I think all have experience with, perhaps something we’ve all been, on occasion. People who get so enraged by racism and misrepresentation and misogyny and homophobia and similar vices that they resort to bullying the perpetrators, even though they’re often perhaps just unaware and uninformed and really meant no harm. I can see a Puff doing that (a Gryffindor too, for that matter). Or being blindly loyal to their friends and ignoring their faults. Or I can see them simply becoming a workaholic. Smith is a bit of a mystery, but well, Hufflepuff is also, by Helga’s original designation, a place for those every other house rejects. So maybe he ended up there on those grounds.
Oh and there’s Teddy Lupin, of course, but he can hardly be called a real character in the books, and his House affiliation is post-canon as well. In summary, there are very few Puffs depicted, and even fewer of any actual interest or depth, or seen displaying the qualities Hufflepuff is supposed to be known for. Even Tonks seems like more of a Gryffindor.
But to be honest, I’m even more angry about the depiction of Ravenclaw. It’s probably my personal bias (full disclosure: I identify as Slytherclaw), and the Puffs could certainly convincingly argue that at least Ravenclaw gets one proper supporting character. It’s true. Luna Lovegood is a fully fleshed out, wonderful young lady who should be treasured.
However, I have strong issues with her being the only properly depicted Ravenclaw.
She is an embodiment of some of Ravenclaw qualities, like the association with air, free thinking and so on. But I highly doubt she is a typical speciemen of a Claw (after all, her being bullied by her house implies otherwise). She holds a lot of silly and nonsensical beliefs, making her brand of smart a very special one. Just imagine her being given the job of doing the research about Horcruxes instead of Hermione. The idea sounds very absurd, and yet research is the sort of thing the usual Ravenclaw should excel at. Some more mainstream examples are badly needed as a counterweight.
And when we look at the other Ravenclaws, the prospect is very meagre. Probably the second most prominent character from that house is Cho Chang, and during her entire relationship with Harry, we see barely a hint of why she was sorted into that house. And it would have been so easy, too.
Give me Cho that tries to talk to Harry about books on their date, only to find out that he never read a book that wasn’t for school or about Quidditch. Give me Cho that tries to discuss classes, only to discover that Harry doesn’t care or only wants to complain about too much homework. Give me Cho wanting to talk about the electives, only to learn Harry picked the two classes Ron did to be with his friend and thus ended up in Divination.
Don’t give me Cho that just clumsily tries to make Harry jealous, because I just don’t see any traces of her having a particularly ready mind, wit or learning in that. The same goes for Padma, and for every other Ravenclaw present in the story – and what others are there, really? No one of import, and certainly no one showcasing any Ravenclaw qualities except Hermione, who is not in Ravenclaw.
And then, of course, there is the complete disaster of Slytherin.
The entire idea of how this House is treated is absurd, down to the Hogwarts origins story, which purports that Salazar held anti-Muggle-Born views seven hundred years before there was such a thing as properly separate Muggle and wizarding cultures, and that the other three founders were for some reason cool with starting a school with a racist jerk – and also a psychopath who puts a monster in a school with a vague murder-plan that doesn’t even work. Right from its founding, Slytherin is not shown as a house that values ambition and cunning, but as the racist, murder-happy house. There’s nothing particularly cunning or ambitious about antagonizing your three co-workers to the degree that they kick you out of your project and then putting a revenge monster in your old job site out of spite. Plus, the idea seems to be that while to be in Slytherin, you need certain qualities just like with other houses, you also can’t be Muggle-born to get there. There is no way any sane school administrator would find that acceptable. Godric, Helga and Rowena would have told Salazar to go to the devil.
And the depiction doesn’t get any better when we come to Harry’s time. The only supposedly good Slytherin character we get is Severus Snape, and even in his case it’s bought by a Death Eater past, and by bullying children, not to mention his problematic attachment to Lily. I don’t want to dwell on him too much, since he deserves a separate article – he was mentioned briefly in the last Fanwankers episode, and I might write an article about him in the future, unless someone else does it first. Suffice it to say, he’s not exactly a role model.
Then there’s Draco, not evil enough to do murder in cold blood, but a nasty piece of work nevertheless (what does it say about the picture of Slytherin Rowling painted that for someone to be considered as good, it’s enough for him to be not fully comfortable with murder?). Pansy the Bitch and her giggling gang that doesn’t ever deserve personalities of their own. Blaise I-Hate-Blood-Traitors Zabini. Crabbe and Goyle, who have zero Slytherin qualities and yet still ended up in that house, probably because they’re racist and murder-happy enough. All of these people’s parents, who are Death Eaters and it is quietly assumed were Slytherins – I mean, other houses don’t have a prevalence of Death Eater names. The implication is that someone who is cunning and ambitious will, more likely than not, also be happy to join a mass murderer.
One character that salvages the House’s reputation a little is Slughorn, of course. He’s honestly my favourite Slytherin, because I think he is the only one who truly shows the house’s qualities. He’s amazing, but there’s only one of him, and he’s very clearly a grey character. Regulus Black should also probably be mentioned in this context – I could go on for hours about him, he’s seriously the most under-appreciated person in canon – but he’s not actually in the story, and he has to be Death Eater first, too, before he can be good. Once again, backing out when witnessing the full scale of Voldemort’s brutality seems to be the requirement for “good” Slytherins, with the exception of Slughorn.
And there’s the treatment of Slytherins by other houses and by the teachers, too. These cases are pretty notorious in fandom, but just to refresh your memory: Dumbledore letting them think they were going to win the House Cup till the last minute at the end of Philosopher’s Stone, only to snatch it away from them. Everyone always cheering for Gryffindor because they want Slytherin to lose. McGonnagal simply ordering every Slytherin to leave in Deathly Hallows, not giving them a chance to fight, because everyone knows those jerks would just join the mass murderer. I could go on. Slytherin, in short, is universally hated, and assumed to be a House full of future Death Eaters, and the story cheerfully confirms this opinion, apparently without finding anything wrong about it.
But there is. So much.
When you look at the Hogwarts crest, it is symbols of the Houses united by the large H. It should be about that, it should be about unity in diversity. We each have our own talents and qualities, and the combination of them is what makes the school great. It’s what the Sorting Hat talks about, but it’s not just those evil Death Eaters hampering it, it’s the author, the story itself.
And look, dividing people into groups based on some similarity does have its pros and its cons. It makes forming bonds easier, but you lose the chance to be inspired by difference. You can make the best of a given talent, of the similarity in question, but you are in serious risk of also getting the worst of the flip side of the same thing. So any sane school that worked with this sort of division would try to gain the most of the benefits while minimizing the drawbacks, especially if they’ve had a thousand years to work out the kinks.
There’s a post floating around tumblr about each House being taught in a different way. That’s one option, and we see no hints of that. You could also have different disciplinary approaches. You’d need activities specifically designed to have the houses meet and mingle, to have some of that inspiration and to counterbalance division. You’d have House heads especially watching out for the weaknesses of each of the Houses and trying to prevent their students falling into that trap.
Instead we get animosity and bigotry and division that none of the teachers does anything about, which ends up sending the message that diversity is bad, that diversity is a problem, because look at the conflict it breeds. With some groups, you can just ignore them because thy are merely lesser, not bad, but with some, well, you have to eliminate them, because they are downright evil, right? Certain contemporary parallels come to mind.
I’ll tell you what I’d have liked to see. Different Houses contributing differently to the war, according to their strengths. I get that Harry was a Gryffindor, so his closest friends were always likely to be ones as well, but what about the rest? What about the Order members? I want to see the Claws doing some important war-related research, I want to see the Puffs take care of safe houses and healing and other background work that is not so shiny or heroic as what the Gryffindors do but just as necessary. Snape was spying, so I guess that’s one thing for the Slytherins to do and it was included, but I also want to see them in the political arena, fighting the Ministry or Lucius Malfoy there. I want to see Order members arguing about the methods because some prefer the Slytherin ones, some the Gryffindor ones and so on, but working it out, and finding strength in their differing views. I don’t want to basically have to have everyone turn into a Gryffindor to be useful for the war effort, the only difference of opinion being how much to tell Harry.
So yes, the message of diversity got a little bundled here, to “one type of human is better than most others, and one type is worse.” Something I think we can agree is not exactly desirable.
It is also still not the last diversity-related problem to be encountered.
Rowling makes racism one of her themes, against the Muggle-Born and Muggles and non-human beings. But the thing is, not even the supposedly good characters are free from it. And Rowling sometimes addresses this, and sometimes she doesn’t.
Let’s look at Muggles, for example. While anyone badmouthing the Muggle-Born is clearly shown as a bad person, the ever-present condescending attitude to Muggles is never really challenged. Right at the beginning, we have Hagrid’s condescending comments and Mrs. Weasley’s throwaway remark that King’s Cross is full of Muggles, which rather set the tone.
So then we get Arthur oh-so-cutely not being able to remember what are the different Muggle inventions called. The man’s profession has to do with Muggles, and it’s also supposed to be his chief hobby. Try to image that you were an expert in a field, were getting paid for working in it, and couldn’t even remember the essential terms. Or the way the Minister for Magic arranges a meeting with the PM, which is very far from being respectful and equal. They slip him Kingsley as a bodyguard without telling him first, too. What is being done to the camp owner in Goblet of Fire is way beyond mere disrespect and is absolutely monstrous. I’m not talking about what the Death Eaters do to him, mind you, but about the constant wipes of his memory. I could go on. This casual disregard of the weaker and defenceless (against magic) is realistic in many ways, of course, but to never have it called out by anyone? That makes it problematic.
And there are other cases apart from Muggles. With ghosts, we have everyone just ignoring Sir Nicolas’ wish to be called Sir Nicolas, and instead going with Nearly-Headless Nick, a nickname he clearly finds irritating, and we have Myrtle’s death being treated with what can hardly be called gravitas. Goblins frankly have overtones of a racist caricature, and Bill, who spent his entire adult life working for them and owes his career success to them, has doubts about there being a possibility of goblin-human friendship and, while warning Harry, just casually mentions that apparently the goblin idea of what ownership and sale means has been always ignored by witches and wizards. Centaurs are only shown to be in the right when they abandon their own principles or neutrality and non-interference and join the fight against Voldemort, or do the right thing according to the wizarding moral standards. House-Elves, of course, get the roughest end of the deal, but at least mistreatment of them is always called out, as far as I recall. But there are certainly traces of condescension, and Dobby’s noble self-sacrifice is a very troubling narrative (imagine a person of colour there instead of him to see it more clearly). The Merepeople playing the ‘angry natives’ in Triwizard Tournament is far from ideal as well, even though it was staged. The whole notion that there are intelligent creatures ‘incapable of overcoming their own violent nature’ (Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them) is very problematic. I could go on. Part of this criticism is probably unfair to levy on Rowling, since as with the issues mentioned at the beginning of this article, many of these troubling narratives were not so well recognized and talked about twenty years ago, but some of them should have been transparent even then, and at any rate, like I said before, even if we give the author a break, the problem with the story remains.
So once again, let me tell you what I’d have liked to see. Arthur who is an actual expert and helps the Grangers feel comfortable in Diagon Alley, making useful Muggle-wizarding parallels for them to help them understand the things Hermione, as a twelve year old, didn’t know about. Arthur outraged at what the Ministry does tot he camp owner and filing a complaint, even after everything that happened at Triwizard Tournament, because some things are simply wrong. Bill who tells Harry that he can’t do this thing, that he can’t just use Griphook to what he needs to be done while completely ignoring the goblin’s requests, not because it’s dangerous for Harry but because it’s wrong, and because Griphook is his friend. And Griphook actually acting like Bill’s friend, even if he was unpleasant to everyone else. Harry being shocked when seeing Myrtle, realizing that it’s a student who died at Hogwarts, how tragic is that? And how tragic is it and she is constantly unhappy even after her death? Dobby getting to live and starting a school for House-Elves. And so on.
I understand how all these things might seem like much less of a problem than the lack of representation for people of colour or LGBTQIA. Ghosts and Muggles and Slytherins are not real groups we need to be worried about, after all. But the thing is, that’s one of the strongest things speculative fiction can do. It can explore some issues in our society via allegory, thus allowing us to see them more clearly. It’s not even particularly hidden in case of Muggles and Death Eaters, the second world war parallels are there very clearly. Recently when Drumpf’s spokesperson asked where are all the “pure-breeds”, JKR retweeted it with a commentary saying “Death Eaters walk among us.” So the way the designated heroes of a story act towards oppressed groups and minorities and simply those who are different does actually serve as a model for how we should act towards them, even if they are different particular groups. When the heroes act racist and condescending and are never called out for it, it’s a problem, and it makes the story problematic.
Images courtesy of Warner Bros. Films
The Expanse Season Two Still Fares Well As An Adaptation
The Expanse has had the seventh book in the series released this month, while its third season (meant to adapt the second half of the second book) is scheduled to come out some time next year. In other words, both the authors of the source material and of the adaptation are keeping busy, making it a very current show. So allow me to continue in my attempt to assess how it fared as an adaptation.
The second season works with the second half of Leviathan Wakes, the first book in the series, and the first half of Caliban’s War, the second installment. It continued its similarity to Game of Thrones as an adaptation by diverging from the source material significantly more than in the first year it was on air. The good news, however, is that the changes are not so dramatically for the worse as is usual, and in some cases are even for the better.
Warning: the following contains spoilers for both the show and the books.
Some problems remain from season one. Chiefly, two of them. One is the scope of the world as it is depicted on the show. The other are the universally dark and gritty visuals. Ganymede is supposed to have corridors carved in ice. Wouldn’t it have been awesome to see that? But now, just more indistinguishable black and grey.
The most significant difference between the books and the show in season two is, without a doubt, all the added drama. It’s everywhere. Every little thing that is routine in the books becomes exceedingly tense on the show. Starting with the Somnambulist, which is not taken by force – or near enough to force – in book!verse, but is simply a ship at OPA’s disposal that Holden is given by Fred. Continuing through Bobbie’s escape from her rooms in the UN compound; she simply walks away in the book and that’s it. And ending with the escape from Gynemedes, which, int he books, is not so much of an escape as simply, you know, leaving. I could keep listing other instances, but this serves as a good example of the sort of tension added for television.
Related to this is also the complete secrecy that surrounds everything on the show. The books work much better with the reality of modern technology where things are streamed immediately. Billions of people watch Eros crash into Venus live, for example, and the data available from what happens there is available to everyone. Or there is the whole thing with the zombie terminator attacking on Ganymede. On the show, it’s a huge secret Chrisjen has to exert extreme energy to ferret out. In the books, everyone knows and there is footage of the attack available. One of my favourite little moments is when Holden tries to hide his identity behind a scruffy beard as he comes to Ganymede, and you end his chapter feeling that he succeeded. Only to open Chrisjen’s chapter and find out that he really, really did not.
Secrecy adds drama, so it is understandable why the show decided to go this way. The need to keep viewers hooked is evident, too. And ending the season in a middle of a book, they needed a suitably dramatic bang to end with. So while all of these things make me roll my eyes, I do not truly blame the show for them. I feel the missed character beats much more keenly.
Captain James Holden
Holden is one character whose arc from the first half of Caliban’s War was adapted truly well. There was the inevitable added drama, as everywhere, but his essential story arc remained.
With regards to the end of Leviathan Wakes, however, the issues from season one continue, and Holden is treated as more of a boy scout by the show than he is by the book. One fantastic moment (though one that could hardly be adapted) was seeing inside Holden’s head when the Head Human Experimenter tried to convince him to join forces before Miller shot him. The reader can see, with intimate certainty, that Holden is this close to giving in when Miller pulls the trigger. We know for certain that it was done at just the right time. Yet Holden condemns Miller for it without the slightest trace of self-awareness, confident he would have resisted. It’s no doubt intentional, and it’s perfection. It should have been replaced by a similar scene suitable for the visual medium that would have conveyed the same. It wasn’t, and Holden’s character suffered for it.
On the other hand, I very much appreciate the change made to Holden’s dynamics with Naomi. In the books, when they start their romantic relationship, it turns out that not only has Naomi been in love with him for ages, so had pretty much every female on the Canterburry, because he is obviously God’s gift to womankind. It’s something to be thankful for that we don’t have to deal with that on our screens, even though I admit that the way book!Naomi handles Holden after that is exquisite.
I’m also very much in favour of the open communication that happens between them before they have sex in the books, as opposed to the “thick erotic tension” kind of deal the show went with. It would be easier to teach people about affirmative consent if there were actual examples of it in the media. There was a scene like that in the book, and guess what? It didn’t get adapted. Let’s all pretend at astonishment.
Dr. Praxidike Meng
I must admit that I was surprised when I saw he was one of the point of view characters. I neither knew nor expected it, and that in itself sums up the biggest problem with his show adaptation. He was very much pushed into the background. I understand why, I suppose – it might have been felt that there were too many new characters – but he lost a lot of his appeal when his role was cut. He is there to represent a valuable civilian point of view among all the trained soldiers and expert politicians. And his expertise adds a crucial dimension to the catastrophe of Gynamede.
Though if someone had to be cut short, I’m glad it was Dr. Meng. I understand they could hardly reduce Hodlen’s role, as much as I’d appreciate it, and both of the ladies are more interesting than Dr. Meng.
Still, I remember lamenting the sharp division between the first and second half of season 2 and pointing out that had Dr. Meng been included in some of the earlier episodes, it would have helped to make the transition more seamless. Now that I know he is one of the point of view characters, I feel this even more strongly.
Assistant Undersecretary Chrisjen Avasarala
I cannot quite decide whether Chrisjen is an adaptational success or failure. Because she is perfection on the show…but she is also quite different from the books. If I should compare book!Chrisjen to someone, it would probably be Miranda from Devil Wears Prada, or characters of that sort. She is not likable in any straightforward way, but at the same time, she has a charm to her that is oddly irresistible as much as you want to punch her in the fact at the same time.
Show!Chrisjen, on the other hand, is much softer on the surface, not showing her hard lines so obviously. Even when she swears, she does it with a kind of disarming smile that takes the edge off it. Book!Chrisjen is nothing but edges.
I don’t want to complain, because show!Chrisjen is one of the best things that ever happened to me, and there is nothing intrinsically better or worse about either of their characterisations. But I cannot help but wonder how far gender stereotyping played a part in making Chrisjen less obviously hard. And it becomes especially problematic when paired with her stupidity in season 2, which takes the form of that oh-so-very-feminine failing of trusting too much in her friends, or ex-friends.
I wrote out my thoughts about that elsewhere in detail.To summarise, it was a subplot that prioritized a male character over a female one, and made Chrisjen look naive. But it was also an excellently done one. So while it troubles me, I cannot with a clear conscience say I wish it didn’t happen. I just hope it won’t again.
Additionally, one change I definitely appreciated was Chrisjen not being Errinwright’s subordinate on the show. It changed the dynamic significantly, and very much for the better. It also made this whole added subplot in season two possible.
Gunnery Sergeant Roberta Draper
Bobbie has a similar problem as Chrisjen: she, too, is made to look markedly more stupid on the show. Only as Chrisjen is effectively a genius, she ends up being just a little incompetent. Bobbie sometimes ends up looking downright stupid.
To be fair, her character is exceedingly hard to adapt. She has that in common with Dr. Meng. While Jim and Chrisjen constantly talk to people around them and even the things that are part of their inner monologue are easy to change to a personal conversation with someone close, Bobbie doesn’t have that option. She doesn’t have anyone close to her left. For a long time, the only person she talks to at all is the chaplain, whom she just dismisses in many different ways when he tries to ‘help’. There is no way to naturally have her talk about what she thinks and feels, because being alone is an important part of her character arc. But not everything can be shown with images.
But that is not the biggest problem with her character. No, that is reserved for the mysterious decision to make Bobbie into a fanatical war-monger at the beginning. I have been complaining about lack of proper representation for Mars in the first season, and so was very happy to see Bobby in nr. 2. And it’s not like seeing her slowly change her approach when confronted with new facts was worthless. But it also made her into a very flat and irritating character for the first two thirds of the season.
It’s not like book!Bobbie goes through no character development after she sees Earth with her own eyes. It’s not like she’s not patriotic or proud to be a marine. But she can be all this and still retain some nuance, and some brain cells. The showrunners seem to have forgotten that. Bobbie on the show frequently comes off as a brat, something her book self never does.
There are other characters worth a mention, naturally. Fred Johnson is probably the most significant. His role was changed significantly as well, and much more tension withing the OPA was included. It adds to the problematic depiction of OPA as uncultured and wild space terrorists, but on the other hand it’s masterfully done. One can understand the sources of tension and where the different branches and wings are coming from. Much like with Errinwright, here again one is willing to forgive the problematic nature of the added material for a large part, because it forms such excellent additions.
In the end, the only thing I truly blame the second season for is the assassination of Bobbie’s character. While changes to Chrisjen upset me, they were compensated for by the excellent quality of Errinwright’s subplot. Yes, it is telling that the two female protagonists were undercut by the adaptation, making them look less smart than they are in the source material. But Chrisjen still comes out of it pretty impressive. The changes to Bobbie, on the other hand, are much more destructive, and they held no compensation, no hidden bonus. She is simply depicted as unlikable, to such an extent that even when we finally get legitimate reasons for sympathy, it’s long in coming.
Season 3 should fix that, and fast. Hopefully, Bobbie is here to stay. She shouldn’t have to carry the weird season 2 baggage with her throughout the show.
Images courtesy of SyFy
The Legend Of Korra Is A Perfect Deconstruction Of Superman
Superman is arguably the single most recognized fictional character in human history. He’s right up there with Batman and Mickey Mouse. His ‘S’ is, at times, even more widely known. “Truth, Justice and the American Way”. “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” We know that these phrases are attributed to Superman, even if we don’t know the specific origin or, in most cases, how in the world we even learned them in the first place.
For 80 years, Superman has served as a beacon of hope and change for anyone and everyone. His origin, that of the immigrant whose home and culture were lost the day of his birth (an identity he can never fully regain), is a tragic yet resonant one that has, and will continue to, stand the test of time. Even if it has been re-appropriated into that of a pseudo-messianic myth, the immovable Jewish foundation of Superman’s internal struggle between assimilation (Clark Kent) and refusing to do so (Kal-El) isn’t something anyone has any intention of erasing.
Superman is the bedrock on which all modern heroes are based. Every divergence and every variation, no matter how big or how small, starts with Superman. He is the source, so, naturally, that means he’s the most prone to deconstruction and revisionism.
There have been so many attempts to deconstruct Superman as a concept, as well as his character, that it’s become almost a cliche to even consider it. Nearly every run at it ends in failure, most often due to a fundamental misunderstanding of what Superman even is. What he means, why he is who he is, etc. Off the top of my head, I can name two stories that actually succeed in deconstruction, as they have something worth saying: Superman: American Alien and Superman: Red Son. Wait, no, three examples.
The Legend of Korra. And it does it in a way that is embarrassingly similar to what Zack Snyder’s vision of Superman failed to be.
Xenophobia, A Modern Take
The narrative of Superman is one that is eternally relevant. Immigration as part of the American Dream, let alone an aspect of the nation’s entire identity (“Give us your poor, your wounded, your huddled masses…), has always been a hot button issue. In the new millennium, however, with the onset of the age of instant communication and social media, as well as the events of 9/11, it has ballooned into a political issue based almost entirely on fear. Fear of the “other”, to put it simply. And who is more “other” than Superman himself? He looks like us, and talks like us, but if you’re you and Superman just showed up one day in the real world…you’d have no idea where he came from and what his intentions are.
The only thing you, and everyone else, would know is that he’s different, and possesses abilities that effectively make him a living God. And that is terrifying. Even if the first thing he does is save a plane from falling out of the sky, he’s still going to be looked at with suspicion and fear. At any moment, he could decide to burn the world to the ground. And that’s exactly how Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice treats Superman.
Something to fear, because he isn’t like us. Because he’s too powerful. Because nobody asked for his help, no matter how altruistic his intentions may appear to be on the surface.
It’s a fantastic opening premise for a deconstruction of Superman, as it makes it necessary for him to prove he’s on our side. To do so much good in a world that resents him out of instinctual fear drilled into their heads by the era that they’re eventually forced to give him the benefit of the doubt. That, as far as the public is concerned, it isn’t any more complicated than a man who is just trying to do the right thing. Except that never happened in those movies.
We never saw Superman be Superman. We saw him save people, yes. We saw him do the thankless job. We saw the world resent him. But we never saw him inspire. We never saw him do anything to make us want to trust him at all. To challenge our preconceived notions of who Superman is.
Until General Zod and company arrived, he only operated in secret, using his powers when it was convenient for him. And even when he was forced to face Zod, he brought untold destruction and and collateral damage to his adopted world…completely invalidating the point of the post 9/11 narrative in the first place. How can the world trust a man who destroys the very city he is trying to protect? They don’t need or want Superman, especially since the only reason Zod attacked at all was because he had been “hiding” on Earth.
When Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice rolled around, Superman is stuck in an inconsistent guilt spiral from the destruction of Metropolis. Except he doesn’t actually do anything to address that, and the movie doesn’t really either. The first thing Superman does is intervene in a fictional African nation to take down a warlord for the sole purpose of saving Lois Lane. Which, if the film wanted take the very-often-overlooked implications of Superman being an American icon, thus leading to him acting as a sort of unintentional symbol for American interventionism, would have been extremely interesting. Except it doesn’t do that either. Superman is there because he wants to save Lois, and that’s it.
Batman acts as a sort of audience surrogate for the fear that Superman inflicted on the world during his battle with Zod, which might have worked had that gone anywhere aside from Batman trying to kill Superman. He never tries to talk to him or understand him; not even after the infamous Martha scene. If he’s supposed to represent our combined terror of what Superman could be capable of, we should probably be able to agree with his rationale (or even understand it) for not stabbing the man who he saw as a monster two seconds ago in the face.
And then Superman dies, only to return in Justice League to a world that, for reasons that aren’t in evidence and also directly contradict everything that came before it, loves and adores him. A world that was on the verge of eating itself because of his death, despite no one wanting or needing him in every other instance.
None of it is earned. None of it really makes any sense, and the whole production, over multiple films, is only half of what is necessary to convey the narrative Zack Snyder clearly tried to tell.
Avatar Korra, Sequence Breaker
As Kylie so eloquently laid out last week, The Legend of Korra is one hell of a transgressive narrative due mostly in part to its titular protagonist. Korra is brash, overeager, and immeasurably powerful. Her series arc is one of self discovery and self acceptance in a world that actively rejects her existence every chance it gets. She wants to be, essentially, Superman, in a world that has no need nor desire for one. The similarities don’t stop there.
She holds ultimate, untold power and uses it with reckless abandon at the start of the series. In her first few hours in Republic City, she undertakes vigilante justice and violently destroys several storefronts. Because that’s the kind of person she is.
People don’t trust her the moment she announces herself, they wonder why they need her, even though previous incarnations of her have almost always been treated like spiritual leaders and authorities. No matter how many times she saves the world, people still hate her. They are suspicious and cynical of the stranger, since she is inherently an outsider due to her birthright and connection to a world (the Spirit World) few can even comprehend or understand.
This set-up is supposed to make us question and consider what being the Avatar actually means when the assumed role is no longer relevant or necessary. What can Korra reasonably do when the geopolitical climate isn’t as simple as “stop evil”? When every action she takes is looked at with intense scrutiny from a far more connected public. That is to say, the show asked us to consider Korra in relation to her previous incarnations to explicate the disparity just as Snyder’s Superman did by contrasting him the with the multitude of other versions of Superman across every form of media imaginable.
Zack Snyder’s Superman begins his journey in much the same place Korra did. He has powers he doesn’t know how to control, and hides them until the world is ready, just as the White Lotus hid Korra. Of course, this is where the deconstruction of Superman falls apart: it doesn’t actually go anywhere. He starts where Korra starts, and doesn’t progress at all. He does the thankless job, sure, but he doesn’t learn from any of his choices or mistakes. He intervenes without thinking about it, and chooses to brood instead of facing his issues and trauma.
At the end of Man of Steel, Clark faces off against General Zod and causes devastating damage to Metropolis. Zod has the same abilities as Superman, as they are both Kryptonian, meaning that he’s basically supposed to serve as an evil mirror. This is far from dissimilar to the finale of Book 2, where Korra fights Unalaq after he becomes the Dark Avatar and starts destroying Republic City. She even kills him in the end, as there was no other way to save the world.
Even Superman’s death at the end of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — as well as his subsequent resurrection in Justice League — is paralleled and unintentionally blown out of the water. Korra did something very similar with the end of Book 3, sacrificing herself at the hands of the Red Lotus to save the Airbenders. Though she is not killed, she vanishes from the public eye as she heals…just as the world enters a state of actually, truly needing her intervention with the chaos spreading throughout the Earth Kingdom like wildfire.
Superman and Korra are both on isolating journeys of self discovery. Korra’s takes place before and during the final season where she learns to cope with her PTSD, and how to better approach her role even though it is so undefined and volatile. She can be the kind of person she wants to be without constantly fighting for relevance, and even if the world resists her she can pick and choose her battles.
Korra learns how to be happy as Korra, rather than her title and all of the baggage she had stripped from her in the finale of Book 2. Previous Avatar cycles (much like previous incarnations of Superman) operated in a traditional way, but that’s not how the world works anymore and that’s okay! She can still find happiness and purpose in whatever she chooses to do, even if it’s not what her childhood self believed it would become due to the White Lotus jamming that into her head. Not unlike Jor-El did to Superman in Man of Steel.
Superman’s journey takes a confusing amount of years throughout Man of Steel, given that he wanders the world as a bum with a depression beard. The entire sequence doesn’t seem to serve a purpose, since he discovers who he is from the Fortress of Solitude. He doesn’t learn anything about himself as an outsider living in a foreign land, nor does he have a wound that requires isolation and introspection to heal or understand. This is the kind of thing that would have made more sense to happen after killing Zod.
But since it doesn’t, we’re left with an angry, brooding Superman with no redeeming qualities or justification to treat him as Superman. He’s just a superhuman guy in a cape who does things that are kinda nice sometimes.
Korra, meanwhile, justifies her own existence and acts as the hero people grew to mostly tolerate, and occasionally love. She gave them every reason to trust her, and a good amount of people do by the end of the series. Unlike Snyder’s Superman, it was something she earned by deconstructing her own legacy.
Images courtesy of DC Comics and Nickelodeon
Why You Need To Be More Excited About Bisexual Rosa Diaz
Television has been a mixed bag for bisexuals. Even as gay and lesbian representation become more and more common (though not as fast as it should), characters within other parts of the acronym are few and far between. For bisexuals, who often suffer from confusion not just without but within the LGBT community, proper, outright representation means quite a lot. Not hints, not little flirts after a female character breaks up with her boyfriend. And especially not characters that just hook up with the same gender as fanservice. We want characters who can say “I’m bisexual.” We’ve been lucky to have characters like Sarah Lance or Daryl Whitefeather in recent years, but as a whole, television seems reluctant to acknowledge bisexuality.
But we finally have another name for that criminally short list: Detective Rosa Diaz of Fox’s Brooklyn 99. And not only is she bisexual, but she’s also a bisexual Latina woman played by a bisexual Latina woman. Let me say that one more time to help it sink in. We have, on a major network, a Latina woman coming out as bisexual who is played by a Latina bisexual woman.
— Brooklyn Nine-Nine (@Brooklyn99FOX) December 6, 2017
Brooklyn 99 has been a success since day one thanks to its character, heart, and style of comedy that refuses to punch down. It has also become well known for its handling of social issues, best represented by the character of Captain Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher); a black, gay man whose sexuality is merely a part of his character, not his entire identity. The handling of Holt, who stands out in a sea of shallow stereotypes and tokenism, has led the show’s fans to hope another character to come out as a member of the LGBT community. When it turned out that it was Detective Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) would be coming out as bi in the show’s ninety-ninth episode, appropriately titled “99,” the people rejoiced.
— G. N. Ellis (@gnelliswriter) December 6, 2017
The episode itself did a good job of keeping her coming out low key. She only comes out to her friend, Detective Boyle, and only after he’d spent the episode bugging her about her new paramour. Interestingly, the show played with ideas of heteronormativity as Boyle pesters her about who “he” is, about her “boyfriend.” Rosa’s frustration seems not to be with Boyle’s prodding into her well guarded personal life (though that is part of it), but instead with his assumption that she was only dating a man. This episode restrains the result of this coming out to Boyle and Rosa bonding, letting the coming out stand alone. It is in this week’s follow up episode, “Game Night,” where the show’s dedication to Rosa and her coming out becomes more obvious.
— Rachel (@BendItLikeTobin) December 6, 2017
The conflict in this episode, for Rosa, is in coming out to her parents and co-workers. Rather than let it just be played off as something she can sweat like so many other things, it instead very realistically captures the fears an LGBT+ child, particularly an adult one, might face when coming out.
Rosa’s first act is to come out to her co-workers during a meeting. She uses the term “bisexual,” and allows “one minute and zero questions” of seconds. We learn that she, like many other lovers of the same sex, discovered her sexuality while taking in media, in Rosa’s case Saved By The Bell. The show makes a conscious decision here not to make it some “phase” or something she’s just now discovering. Rosa Diaz has been bi since she was in 7th grade. She has been bi for all five seasons of the show.
I can’t even begin to express how nervous I was about tonight’s episode. I was so excited to share Rosa’s coming out to her parents, but felt really terrified I wouldn’t do it justice. maybe that’s because there is so little bi visibility in television. #Brooklyn99
— Stephanie Beatriz (@iamstephbeatz) December 13, 2017
Coming out to her parents has an entirely different set of emotions. Rosa fears that her coming out will change something with them, that somehow they won’t love her or they won’t want to be around her (Of course, in Rosa’s usual fashion, their bonding time consists of silent dinners). With Jake’s help (who gives an impassioned and curiously personal coming out speech to Rosa to help prepare her for her parents), she makes an attempt over dinner. Here, Rosa’s fear rapidly turns to anger when she learns that her parents were worried she was going to come out at dinner and were relieved that she was, thanks to a misunderstanding with Jake, just a mistress. The show pulls no punches here, capturing not just how angry she is at her parents’ ignorance but also heartbreak at being burned due to her vulnerability. In true sitcom fashion, this conflict wraps up cleanly by the end of the half hour. But the power and authenticity of it remain.
— Stephanie Beatriz (@iamstephbeatz) December 12, 2017
Stephanie Beatriz, herself a bisexual woman, has not been quiet in her desire for Rosa to reflect her own sexuality and has been effusive in her support of the storyline. She’s worked hard to make sure that the story reflects the bisexual experience, and has personally validated many fans in their own journeys. She does all this while still portraying Rosa as the stone-cold bad ass she’s always been. The emotions we see in Rosa as she comes out are real, they are powerful, and they are beautiful. But they are all 100% still Rosa’s.
And I’m super proud of eps 100 and 101, the ones you saw tonight. #bechdeltest passed and bi and proud. This is in incredible show to be a part of. Thank you to the cast and crew of the Nine-Nine. #Brooklyn99
— Stephanie Beatriz (@iamstephbeatz) December 13, 2017
As a final and personal note, this is a huge moment for me as a bisexual man being able to see the representation of some of my experiences on the screen. But I can only capture a small part of why this matters. I can’t even fathom how much this matters to bisexual women, let alone our POC brothers and sisters who are even less represented. Rosa Diaz’s coming out is their story as much as it is anyone’s, and I hope that I was able to capture a small measure of the joy this news has caused.