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Analysis

Strong In The Real Way Meets Stronger Together

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We all have favorite shows here on The Fandomentals, some we love to love and some we love to hate. It’s no real secret that two of my love to love shows are Supergirl and Steven Universe. Supergirl actually won our Best of 2016 poll, while Kylie (rightly) dubbed Steven Universe the smartest show on television. When you think about it, they have a lot in common thematically. On a narrative level they both have a commitment to diverse storytelling and exploring trauma and darkness while maintaining a hopeful tone. The protagonists themselves share a lot of similar traits, too; in fact, they’re practically the same damn character.

That’s right, it’s time for another installment of ‘separated at draft’, the series where we explore how two (or more) different characters have strikingly similar personalities, arcs, and themes. Don’t be fooled by their puppy dog superheroes exteriors. They may be rays of sunshine and friends with everyone, but they’re significantly more complex that. As heroes, they bust more tropes than they fulfill, which explains why their shows are such beacons of hope in our predominantly Grimdark TV landscape.

Not (Fully) Human

Totes a normal human thing to do, right?

Kara hails from Krypton; Steven is basically a gem/human fusion. That’s all there is to this, right? They’re not fully human entities. But it’s deeper than genetics; their unique physiology signifies a struggle within themselves. They’re one of a kind (or one of a handful of surviving Kryptonians in Kara’s case) alien or half alien beings living amongst humans trying to honor both aspects of their heritage.

Make no mistake, Kara is an alien. It’s a fact easily lost given that her cousin Superman was raised on Earth. The show itself pays homage to Kara being more ‘mentally’ an alien when Superman himself falls prey to Myriad but not Kara. Having been raised in human culture, Clark Kent has basically fully enculturated to being ‘human’. Kara, on the other hand, arrived on earth as a young teen. She may be able to successfully navigate human society, but she is still ‘alien’.

At the same time, she’s lived all of her adult and most of her teenage life in human society. She believes being ‘human’, or at least having a ‘normal’ life as a human, is important. And not just because it was drilled into her as a child from her adoptive parents.

“All I know is being Kara is just as important as being Supergirl.” — Clark Kent, to Kara (2.01)
“Last year was all about figuring out how to be Supergirl, and now? Now it’s time I figure out how to be Kara.” —Kara, to James Olsen (2.01)

‘Being Kara’ meant embracing that while an alien, life outside of being a superhero mattered. She did not want to reduce herself to only a superhero. Because being a superhero, in some sense, reinforces her alien nature, as her powers stem from how her alien physiology interacts with the Earth’s climate. To be no more than ‘Supergirl’, then, is to be defined by her status as an alien. Yes, she’s helping people as Supergirl, but it’s a life that consistently reinforces that she does not ‘belong’ on Earth. It distances her from human life by defining her identity solely in terms of what makes her different from humanity. And Kara is and wants more than that.

Growing up, finding a regular job may have started out as a chance for her to live a ‘normal’ life separate from being a superhero like her cousin. But for Kara, her job at CatCo as Cat’s assistant and then as a reporter came to represent more than just a chance to ‘be normal’. Even after she donned red boots and emblazoned the house of El sigil on her supersuit, she refused to leave her ‘day job’ and work full time as a superhero. Her job was a part of who she was, a way to help people that didn’t require a cape.

“When I write, I don’t need a yellow sun, it’s just me. Supergirl is what I can do; Kara is who I am. I really loved that job.” — Kara
Working for CatCo grants Kara a chance to be ‘human’, that is, a chance to help and relate to people as more than just a superhero with freeze breath and super strength. Part of what I love most about both of the Supers (when at their best) is their steadfast refusal to life apart from humanity. Rather than set themselves up as gods, they live and work in the ‘rank and file’. It’s much more of a conscious choice for Kara than for Kal, since she wasn’t raised from infancy on a farm as a human until her powers set her apart. And that’s what makes her even more special. Because she values being a human hero as much as being a superhero (just watch 1.07, “Human for a Day”).
“Isn’t it also human to face our weaknesses and rise above them? Act like a superhero, even if you aren’t one? … And, no, we can’t do what Supergirl does, but we choose who we want to be. We must choose to do what we can.” — Cat Grant (1.07, “Human for a Day”)

Steven, likewise, must balance the human and the alien. It’s not a primary focus of the show as much as it is with Supergirl, but the threads are still there, especially early on. Like, Kara, Steven was raised both in human and alien societies, though he’s had greater contact with both aspects of his gem/human self. Greg raised him for most of his early life, presumably as any ‘normal’ human. Or as normal as one can get with Greg as your father.

Just a normal boy eating his ice cream.

Like, Kara, Steven’s first season arc focused primarily on learning, developing, and training with his alien superpowers. In fact, he’s had far more of a struggle connecting to his alien half than his human half given how slowly his powers manifested. He’s more like Clark Kent that way. He understands what it means to be human, but less so what it means to be an alien.

Still, Steven doesn’t quite fully fit in human society either. He’s probably never been to school (see 4.03, “Buddy’s Book”). His contact with the Crystal Gems from a young age meant that his perception of ‘normal’ human life was always going to be colored by their existence in his. Like Kara, he would have been fully aware he was different. It’s hard to hide that gem in his belly button, even if he can physically ‘pass’ for human elsewise.

And as much as Greg would have likely tried to give Steven as normal a life as possible, the fact that Steven’s mother was a Crystal Gem added a layer of insecurity to Greg’s already normal anxiety about being a father. From what we’ve seen in flashbacks (4.10, “Three Gems and a Baby”), both Greg and the rest of the Crystal Gems approached Steven with a tentativeness and Otherness that would have marked Steven’s self-perception from a young age.

“I’m going to become half of you…You’re going to be a human being.” — Rose (1.35 “Lion 3: Straight to Video”)

He was a human being. As well as “not Rose” (4.10) as well as Rose being “half of him”. That’s a lot of mixed signals.

Then you have episodes like “Rocknaldo” (4.18) that challenge Steven’s perception of being a Crystal Gem. Ronaldo believes he knows more than Steven what being an alien is like because he is an outsider in human society. He knows what it means to ‘not fit in’ (he doesn’t, at least not the way Steven does, but that’s beside the point). The interaction forces Steven to think about the difference between what he does and who he is.

“The Crystal Gems are about love and acceptance! But you’ve been acting really mean to me, and I don’t love that. I don’t accept that. I wish I hadn’t snapped at you, it’s just… I really thought you joined because you were interested in the Crystal Gems. But the second it wasn’t about you, you stopped caring. This isn’t the Bloodstone club about making Bloodstone feel good. This is my whole life! Do you care about that or not?!” — Steven

On the one hand, Steven acknowledges that the Crystal Gems represent more than being a literal superpowered alien. Just like Kara, Steven believes people can be heroes without the need for alien or metahuman powers. Otherwise, characters like Connie would not be ‘allowed’ to work with the Crystal Gems.

At the same time, Steven gives voice to the fact that being a Crystal Gem represents a part of his identity that it never can for Ronaldo. Steven is half alien; Ronaldo isn’t. As with Kara, Steven can’t escape his non-human identity. And, like Kara, he’s chosen to use that alien identity as a way to aid humanity rather than stand apart from it. Before Greg dropped into their lives, the Crystal Gems lived a secluded existence, living in a cave helping human beings from the shadows but not entering their society. Steven, like Kara, plunges head first into the lives of Beach City’s residents, refusing to isolate the beach house from the town or stay holed up on his own. As an heir of both cultures himself, Steven seeks to bring unity and harmony to his gem and human facets (pun intended).

Kara may not be a hybrid like Steven, but they’re both making conscious efforts to unite and balance their alien and human ‘selves’. To honor their dual citizenship, as it were. Like bringing the gems and humans together, Kara seeks to create a society where aliens and humans can live alongside each other without prejudice or fear. It may not have been the focus of this season of Supergirl as much as I expected, but Kara’s interest in the alien amnesty act and concern for protecting and integrating alien refugees into National city showcases this. In short, the desire for internal balance between their alien and human lives spills over into how they interact with their communities.

A Mother’s Legacy

Speaking of balance, their mothers’ mixed legacy looms large in their character arcs. Steven coming to grips with the messy truth about Rose has occupied much of his character growth over the course of seasons 3 and 4. When we first ‘met’ Rose’s legacy, she was a near mythic figure in the minds of the Crystal Gems and Greg. Tragedy and grief loomed large, and cast a rose colored tint to her life and work.

She was a rebel who led a revolt against the Evil Homeworld to protect human life and give it space to flourish. She was a collector of outcasts and misfits. Anyone could find a place and space to be themselves by her side. To Pearl she was an object of adoration, to Garnet, a leader to idolize. To Amethyst, she was the one who accepted her and to Greg, a woman to love and start a family with. She literally gave up her life to create Steven. A figure of romance, strength, and passionate, principled idealism, Rose was a hero whose shoes young Steven felt obligated to fill.

“For my whole life, I’ve been hearing stories about you. About how amazing you were. That you were so kind and loving. And every time I’d see the painting hanging of you in the temple, I’d be inspired. And reminded of how much I had to live up to.” — Steven, to projected image of Rose (4.17, “Storm in the Room”)

But while that mythic story had kernals of truth, that did not reflect the full picture of Rose. Although nurturing and compassionate, other war stories paint her as a ruthlessly efficient warrior and leader of the rebellion. We can’t forget that Rose is a Quartz gem, which we’ve been consistently shown are soldier types. While she may have been designed primarily as defensive, hence the shield for her gem weapon, she doesn’t lack for offensive ability. The extensiveness of her arsenal and training regimen prove she did not take fighting lightly. She may have been a reluctant fighter (we don’t know that fully either way), but she was skilled. One could even call her cocky, given the glimpse we got of her fighting in “The Answer” (2.22).

She also shattered Pink Diamond. We do not know the circumstances surrounding this act as of yet, but it’s a huge blow to the spotless image Steven received regarding his mother’s sense of righteousness and compassion. That isn’t to say someone can’t both be compassionate and value human life as well as be willing to take a life. In fact, that’s precisely the tension Steven (and the audience) must grapple with and accept.

“I finally know the truth. I know what you are! You’re a liar! I thought you’d never want to hurt anyone! You hurt everyone! How could you just leave Garnet, and Amethyst and Pearl, and-and Dad?! They don’t know what to do without you! Maybe they didn’t matter to you as much as hiding the mess you made! And that’s why I’m here, isn’t it?! Did you just make me so you wouldn’t have to deal with your mistakes?! Is that what I’m all here for?” — Steven, to projected image of Rose (4.17, “Storm in the Room”)

Bit by bit the heroic icon of his mother’s identity and legacy has been strained. Not quite to the breaking point. This is no nihilistic, wanton destruction of the hero archetype. Rather, Steven’s struggle to synthesize the moral complexity of his mother’s life and choices more closely mirrors a human child’s process of accepting their parents as more than the sum of their positive traits.

It also puts his journey toward self identity in a new light. He must shed the notion of ‘living up to his mother’s legacy’ and instead pursue living up to his own choices and ideals. He cannot ‘be Rose’, either for himself or anyone else. Yes, he has to wrestle with what she left behind, but as himself, as Steven.

Kara has had to face the truth about her father to a lesser degree (see 2.08, “Medusa”), but, like Steven, her mother’s mixed legacy has taken up a significant part of her hero journey. Supergirl S1 revolved around it via Kara’s conflict with Astra and Non.

As a child, Alura likely represented the best of Kryptonian society to Kara. A prominent judge and powerful woman in her own right, Kara looked up to her mother as a paragon of ‘truth, justice, and the Kryptonian way’. On the surface, her aunt Astra symbolized the opposite of that: a criminal, warlord, and eco-terrorist condemned to prison in Fort Rozz. A simple ‘good twin/bad twin’ dichotomy right? Order/chaos. Crime/punishment. Conformity/rebellion.

“According to the A.I. of my mother, Astra’s idea of helping people on Krypton was blowing up government buildings.” — Kara, to Alex (1.08 “Hostile Takeover”)
“Did you care about the people you and your fanatic husband killed?…My mother was the best woman who ever lived.” — Kara, to Astra (1.08, “Hostile Takeover”)
“Your mother would be proud you’ve chosen to follow in her footsteps…Your mother dealt out true justice against the scum of our galaxy. She was a great woman.” — Master Jailer, to Kara (1.14, “Truth, Justice, and the American Way”)

Only it’s not that simple, as Kara comes to recognize. Astra’s attempts to recruit Kara to her cause include shedding light on the truth behind her imprisonment and Alura’s involvement. Kara learns that not only did her mother hide the truth about Krypton’s immanent destruction from Kara, she used Kara to draw Astra out of hiding and get her arrested. Rather than work with her twin sister to save Krypton, Alura imprisoned her.

It’s not quite as simple as Alura prioritizing justice and punishing those who worked outside the law over saving the planet, though. Alura acknowledged the correctness of Astra’s cause; Krypton needed saving. Only, Alura disagreed with Astra’s extreme methods. She could not ignore the death of a guard at Non’s hands while under Astra’s orders. Alura typifies a kind of absolute justice, but not one without reason. Likewise Astra embodies a controlled form of resistance to authority and one with worth ends, if flawed means. They’re two sides of the same coin really: the moral complexity of noble goals taken to extreme. It’s a sympathetic situation from all perspectives, as with Rose, Bismuth, and Pink Diamond.

Like Steven, Kara responds to the truth about he mother’s morally ambiguous choices initially with rage and fear. As someone who has long thought of herself as one of the last children of Krypton and the heir to her mother’s legacy of justice and truth, recognizing moral ambiguity in that legacy leads to confusion and anger.

“You let everyone that I love die! You left me! You left me alone! You sent me away! How could you do that?” — Kara, to Alura’s A.I. (1.08 “Hostile Takeover”)
“She lied to me.” — Kara, to Alex re her mother (1.08 “Hostile Takeover”)

Like Steven, Kara recognizes that her mother’s choices hurt a lot of people, herself included. Like Steven, facing the complexity in her mother’s choices begins with an oversimplification—‘you lied’, ‘you don’t care’, ‘you abandoned me/us’—laced with personal pain. Learning your parents can hurt you inadvertently isn’t easy in the most straightforward of circumstances. And both Kara and Steven have to face not only what their mothers’ actions mean for them personally, but also for the legacy they’ve left. Rose and Alura affect not just how Steven and Kara view themselves, but also how the perceive their place in the world as heirs to those actions. It’s not just ‘you hurt me’, it’s also ‘who am I if you are a part of me’?

Note that both Kara and Steven were put into a similar situation as their mothers and have to face making the same, or at least similar, choice. Steven chose to same as his mother, that imprisoning Bismuth was better than shattering her or letting her roam free. Kara also chose to imprison her aunt with the help of the DEO, just as Alura had. When Astra escapes, Kara attempts to talk her aunt down, choosing redemption over force, just like Steven. With Astra’s death, however, we’ll never know if Kara would have been forced to more permanently imprison as Alura chose to do.

Note also that they’re grappling with their mothers, not their fathers, the latter of which is more common in superhero shows. Also, both shows take care not to demonize the mothers. They aren’t evil. They’re nuanced and complex mothers with sympathetic, if not always morally straightforward, perspectives. This makes Kara’s and Steven’s struggle acute, compelling, and deeply human even if neither of them fully are.

Furthermore, the question of ‘who am I if you are a part of me’ shapes how both Kara and Steven move forward in their growth. In a way, we’re still in the midst of seeing that growth. I’m not one to speculate on a normal basis, but no matter what, I think both Kara and Steven will become more nuanced, more empathetic, and more gracious people after the dust has settled. Given their commitment to second chances, I have a hard time believing that their respective existential crises about their mothers will lead anywhere but to greater emotional depth.

Strong In The Real Way

Compassion and a desire to heal and help others forms the fundamental core of Steven Universe and Kara Danvers. They’re hopeful, enthusiastic, and optimistic about life and others. They know what it is to suffer grief and loss, and wish to prevent that suffering as much as they can. They’re emotional problem solvers and natural mediators. While it can veer perilously close to meddling, like Steven with Lars or Kara with Cat and her son, they mean it kindly. They’re hardly controlling or interfering; they simply want to help other people and don’t always know the appropriate boundaries around what that should look like. They’re both aliens after all, remember?

For Kara, empathy stems from intimate experience with trauma. She lost her family, culture, planet, and history in one fell swoop. Clark does not seem to have played a significant part of her upbringing, so she grew up isolated from the one person who shared her ancestry. Yet even if he had been more involved, he wouldn’t remember Krypton. His culture is academic to him; it’s personal to her. She’s a living relic in that way, the only one who remembers her culture for what it was. That’s one heck of a burden on top of her grief.

A literal alien and survivor of planetary destruction, Kara’s first instinct as a child was still to help others in need. Jeremiah and Eliza Danvers taught her to suppress her physical powers, but that did not dull her urge to show compassion or help. As mentioned earlier, she views her job at CatCo as a way to help people, a way to influence people to choose their better angels. Her own struggles and pain fuel her desire to be a hero in any way she can.

The same applies to Steven. Though his experiences involve less direct personal trauma, he still grew up in the shadow of his mother’s death. He feels responsible for her death and guilty that she’s not around to lead the Crystal Gems, even if he also knows it was her choice. He may not be the last of his kind, but he’s the only one of his kind, and that isolates him from both humans and gems. Steven doesn’t quite fit in anywhere, just like Kara. And he sees a lot of his family and friends in pain, yet never allows that pain to warp him or turn him inward. Even when he’s floating in space with little hope for rescue (3.25 “Bubbled”), his first instinct leads him to reach out to Ruby.

They’re both like that. Though it might veer toward the naive, their belief that everyone deserves a second chance is an integral part of who they are. They’re talk first, punch things if I have to heroes. When given an opportunity to talk down an antagonist rather than fight one, they’ll take it. And if no such chance exists already, they’ll make one. Whether it’s Jasper and the Cluster or pretty much any antagonist on Supergirl, our heroes believe everyone deserves a second chance.

Such opportunities create unlikely friendships or partnerships, such as when Kara and Livewire together take down the dude who imprisoned her (2.10, “We Can Be Heroes”). Or, Steven’s friendship with Onion, or Lars, or Centipeetle.

I have so many feelings about Centipeetle.

More than anything, their belief in people’s better angels inspires others to be better and to heal. Kara inspires the best in Cat Grant, Maxwell Lord, Mon-El, and even General Lane. She stood by Lena and defended her when no one else would, inspiring the Luthor to make a clean break from her family and be her own hero more than once (2.08 “Medusa”, 2.12 “Luthors”, and 2.15 “Exodus”).

Her desire to see the best in others fosters an environment where others do the same. Winn stands by and believes in Lyra in the face of pretty damning evidence that she’s a serial con man and thief who doesn’t care about him. Alex urges J’onn to open up and forgive M’gann, which then inspires M’gann to return home and offer the same healing and compassion to her people. No matter their history, Kara believes in second chances, and those around her do the same because she symbolizes that change.

Steven creates space for Peridot’s redemption arc as well as her and Lapis’ healing arcs. Without him, Centipeetle would not have made the progress she did, and I firmly believe that one of Steven’s main trajectories will be the discovery of how to bring healing to corrupted gems like Centipeetle and Jasper. Rather than fight the cluster, he talked to it. Seeing the gem shards’ pain, he encouraged them to find healing and love in each other rather than lash out. He’s resolved feuds between the Gems and the Pizzas, the Pizzas and the Frymans, and will hopefully play a significant part in resolving the conflict between Homeworld and Earth. He also helped Greg and Pearl to process their grief and move on in a healthy way.

In short, they’re not just superpowered heroes, they’re healers. Compassion, empathy, and belief in others are their primary ‘weapons’ if you will. Only when those fail do they resort to punching things or whipping around a giant yoyo. True strength, for them, requires a willingness to be vulnerable to harm themselves. Talking down an antagonist leaves them open to attack, but they’d rather take a blow themselves than fail to offer up the chance to heal. Violence is a last, defensive resort rather than a primary objective or ‘power up’ tool. Empathy is empowerment, not revenge.

Flawed in A Relatable Way

Let’s be real, we’ve all wished we could do this.

Despite what my gushing may lead you to believe, neither Kara nor Steven are perfect. They make mistakes in how they pursue helping others and using their powers. Kara can be overzealous in her pursuit of justice, like her mother, especially when her family is in danger. Her belief in the best of others can lead to an overly negative response when their flaws inevitably surface. High expectations can bring out the best in others, but also be a source of conflict if the person fails to meet her standards. Her abandonment issues have created conflict with her loved ones, this season especially, but hopefully we’ll see resolution by the end of the season. She also struggles with anger and will lash out if she doesn’t take time to work through it.

Steven’s genuine love for everyone can blind him to potential conflict among other personalities, like when he blithely offers to let Navy stay with Peridot and Lapis (4.20, “Room for Ruby”). Believing the best of others doesn’t mean everyone will get along, and just because someone is trying doesn’t mean the injured party is ready to accept their apologies. Steven’s desire for harmony can become conflict avoidance or inadvertently put too much pressure on others to ‘heal faster’. He doesn’t always recognize that not every wound heals right away. His desire to see others grow can become controlling if he thinks he knows what’s best for them (2.17, “Sadie’s Song”).

Yet for all that they are alien or half alien beings, Steven and Kara are deeply human characters. Many of their weaknesses stem from good intentions or even positive character traits, like Kara’s desire for justice or Steven’s desire for harmony. They’re not exaggerated flaws or Dark Secrets™. Then again, most human beings don’t have a single glaring Character Flaw™ that never changes. Rather, they have a collection of faults and foibles typically rooted in a good (or at least understandable) place, only taken to one extreme or the other. Kara and Steven are the same, which makes them intimately relatable despite their powers.

Need I Say More?

These specific aspects to their characters and arcs just scratch the surface of how deeply similar Kara and Steven are. I could talk about how they’re both surrounded by powerful, strong, and diverse women who help, encourage and challenge them. Or how they’re best friends with diverse people and draw them all in to work together. Or about how they both defy the lone wolf stereotype and specifically set out to work as part a team, Kara even going so far as to work for the government rather than apart from it as her cousin does.

Though both ‘adopted’ in some way, both had relatively stable home lives that became a source of safety and encouragement for them in the outside world. Such stability seems to have mitigated, at least partly, the effects of being alienated and different from the rest of society. For coming from such complicated backgrounds, they’re both fairly well adjusted. Due in large part to the unconditional love and acceptance they received from their immediate family. Still, found family plays a large part of each of their stories. Their family network extends beyond blood ties to emotional ones. The theme of true family being the ones that loves and accepts you while also challenging you to be your best self plays heavily in their arcs and the arcs of the secondary characters around them.

Both challenge the tropes associated with superheroes by being unabashedly positive, feminist, and anti-toxic masculinity. Steven’s very existence smashes multiple tropes like the Smurfette principle and boys don’t cry. Steven prefers many feminine coded things without shame, and everyone loves him for it in canon. If you want to see what the opposite of toxic masculinity looks like, I give you Steven Universe.

And if you want more surface comparisons, they both have/had a ‘love interest’ who is a person of color (James, Connie). They both have at least one canonically queer relative (Alex, Garnet, Pearl, Rose). Oh, and they both have a great cast of supporting characters that are as real and nuanced as they are. Given that Steven has Lion, just give Kara her cat Streaky and we’re set.

They Give Us Hope

Kara and Steven approach the world with an optimism and enthusiasm that defies the Dark and Gritty pall that so often colors superhero shows. They look in the face of Grimdark ‘Realism’ and laugh. Nihilistic shows push the message that the world is irrevocably fucked up and cannot be changed. Kara and Steven look at a broken, hurting society and see how it can be better if we’re all willing to be stronger together.

I firmly believe that the personalities of the protagonists set the tone for the show. It is no surprise then, that Supergirl and Steven Universe are hopeful shows that can touch on deep things without being Dark™, because the heroes value empathy, second chances, hope, and being strong in the real way. Therefore, the shows can handle delicate issues like trauma, healing, grief, mental illness, queer identity, reconciliation, and genocide with the sensitivity and respect they deserve. Rather than devolve into rape revenge fantasies or moral bankruptcy, these shows choose hope and healing. Redemption arcs mean something because we get to see all the work involved. Every step is earned.

Small wonder, too, that they’re both proudly feminist shows. Both heroes subvert the stereotypical lone wolf angst ridden and/or self righteously lonely hero whose pain is as much a burden as it is a foundation. They both value balance, communication, family (found and otherwise), and teamwork. They’re shows so ensemble focused that sometimes secondary or even tertiary characters have just as powerful an arc as the hero (M’gann/J’onn and Lapis/Peridot). Both shows value diversity in storytelling and characters. Though Supergirl not as consistent with that this season, it had its bright spots with Lyra, M’gann, and Maggie.

They’re shows where stoic space parents (J’onn and Garnet) can have some of the most moving emotional scenes, and the nerds (Winn and Peridot) are consistently the funniest damn characters. They’re also some of the most visually colorful shows around, which I do not think is a coincidence given their hopeful tone.

In other words both the heroes themselves and the shows they lead break and subvert tropes. Stereotypical arcs or tropes stand out more because the background is different. Bold black lines show up more dramatically against a more subtly, delicately shaded portrait. A villain like Rhea feels too one dimensional for Supergirl. The lack of follow up with Bismuth grates more when we have character arcs like Peridot’s to compare hers to. Put differently, sand in your shoe at the beach is less annoying than a piece of cat litter in your sock at an art museum (not that I have any experience with that or anything…).

I think that’s because Kara and Steven themselves flaunt convention. As the heroes, they bend their universe’s realities to their feminist ways, or ought to do so, without it seeming strange or bad. In fact, the opposite is true. They create such radical spaces for themselves, their world, and other characters that our reality is shown for what it is: flawed, intolerant, but capable of change. And I think that’s exactly how Kara and Steven would want us to see the world, because everyone deserves a chance to choose their better angels and heal.


Images Courtesy of The CW and Cartoon Network

Bi, she/her. Gretchen is a Managing Editor for the Fandomentals. An unabashed nerdy fangirl and aspiring sci/fi and fantasy author, she has opinions about things like media, representation, and ethics in storytelling.

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Analysis

Crazy Ex Girlfriend is Masterfully Deconstructing its Core

Kylie

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Here at The Fandomentals, it’s not hard to tell when we begin to fall in love with a show. You may recall the windfall of Black Sails articles surrounding its series finale, our rather overzealous coverage of Supergirl a year ago, or the way Steven Universe creeps into every podcast we record. We dig in and frenetically try to explain exactly the reasons why you should be so enthused as well.

Then there’s shows like Crazy Ex Girlfriend, where I find myself unable to say anything at all, since it’s more or less perfect.

I know what I’m setting myself up for when I say this, because I’ve felt the let-down quite keenly many times before. That’s part of why I’ve been so hesitant to write anything at all. The other part is that I truly feel my explanations won’t do anything justice; watch it yourself and you’ll see what I mean.

Is Rebecca Bunch’s character the answer to my prayers for jewish women in media? Absolutely. Do we all need Paula Proctors in our life? You bet we do. Is this finally the bridge between musical theater, sitcoms, and dramatic TV? Without a doubt. Hell, it’s a show whose entire premise involves calling attention to the tropes and storytelling conventions we bemoan, and then digging in and flipping them on their heads. All of this I could easily write dissertation-length papers on, while feeling that none of it is adequately explaining what is so great here.

So it’s only now that Crazy Ex Girlfriend is tackling one of the most important issues in our society, and doing it with a remarkably skillful hand, that I’m forcing myself to write out my thoughts. Because honestly? It’s a shondeh if I don’t at least try to spread the love at this point.

As a warning, there will be spoilers for major plot beats through the most recent episode, 3×06 “Josh is Irrelevant.” Which sure, may be a weird way to convince people into watching something, but as I’ve articulated a few times…knowing what’s coming and what a show explores actually makes me more prone to dig into it. If you disagree, let me just leave you with this before you bow out: the “crazy” in the title of the show is exactly why I didn’t watch it for a couple of years. And boy was that a mistake, because it is so intentional, and exactly what’s being explored now in one of the most nuanced and validating ways possible.

Yup, showrunners Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna are tackling mental health navigation and stigmatization. In the most recent episode, Rebecca Bunch receives a formal diagnosis (and even sings a song about getting one), and it’s made clear that all two and a half seasons were leading to this moment—not because of the diagnosis as an end in itself, but as a means to equip our character with the tools and understanding that empower her to push for a healthier state of mind. It is a show about a mentally ill woman lacking in traditional heroic qualities (dare I say antihero?). Yet instead of reveling in her moral greyness and watching her “oh my god” dissent, we are encouraged to actively empathize with her, and root for her to find balance. Because at its core, this show takes on a more positive view of humanity. We’re all just…trying to do okay with what we have, even if our weaknesses and anxieties can manifest in ways that hurt ourselves and those around us.

If that sounds interesting to you, watch the show. But for real now, explicit spoilers from here on out.

Rebecca Bunch was always meant to be a challenging character to the viewer. She makes an impulsive decision in the pilot episode to move to West Covina and pursue an old flame. Convinced this will make her instantly a happier person, she gleefully dumps her medicine down her garbage disposal (we’re unsure specifically what she took, though we do know anti-anxieties were in the mix) while whistling a merry tune. It’s clear this isn’t the healthiest thing you can do and she’s romanticizing the situation (and hilariously, the location as well).

This shot taken 2 seconds before the budget cuts claim the marching band’s instruments

At the same time, it’s also made clear that Rebecca truly was in an unhappy state in New York City, and her methods of coping through heavy medication and excessive work only fed into that. By midway through the first season, Rebecca tries to seek out a therapist to get new drugs, only to be told that she might actually need to explore her issues.

Rebecca: Those are the meds I was on in New York.

Dr. Akopian: Oh, my God. How did your body react to all this medication? You must not have been able to feel a thing.

Rebecca: Exactly. Numb as they come. So scribble scribble on your pizzle pad.

Dr. Akopian: Rebecca, your doctor in New York is a quack. He gave you a Band-Aid, not a cure. My method would be to do some digging and figure out what’s really going on inside your mind. And then we can discuss the appropriate medications.

Rebecca: So that’s great, but I need to be better by Monday.

The driving story continues to be about Rebecca’s quest for her fairy tale romance—a narrative that lives in her mind but not reality. Each romcom trope is broken down, from “unlikely suitor she actually falls for” (he turns out to be a fucking mess and leaves to be able to deal with his own issues in a healthy manner), to “the perfect prince who was always meant to be” (they both approach the relationship merely wanting to be in a relationship, without actually having a stable grasp on what they both need/want in life), to even the “screw men, we’ll just have a fun girl group and that’s enough” (Josh has a new girlfriend they need to stalk!).

However, it is always in the forefront that Rebecca is actively spinning the happenings in her life to fit whatever story she wants, all while resisting the core of what’s at her unhappiness.

Paula: Just let both of them go.

Rebecca: I don’t know who I am without them. I know that’s pathetic. I know it’s pathetic, but it’s true. Who am I supposed to be now?

Paula: Honey, be yourself.

Rebecca: What?! Who? No! Ew. Ugh! Who wants to be that?!

This becomes the most obvious when she enters into a relationship with Josh, but is not magically happier about everything. Rebecca very nearly has a breakthrough with Dr. Akopian to this point, only to be interrupted by Josh’s wedding proposal. Then from there, we get a tale as old as time: Rebecca stops feeling magical feelings about Josh, freaks out and kisses her boss in an elevator, freaks out from that and pushes their wedding date up to two weeks from that day, and then after not sleeping and going in full bridezilla mode, gets left at the altar because Josh begins to feel that he doesn’t truly know Rebecca. We also learn that Rebecca had previously wanted to marry another man in her past (Robert, a former professor of hers), but upon being broken up with by him, burned down his apartment and then was committed to a psychiatric institution for a time.

This is where Season 3 picks up, and in truth, I was very nervous about the Robert reveal. “Oh, so she really is ‘crazy’? That’s the point?” No. the point is that Rebecca is a troubled character who hasn’t received the help she’s needed. She has characteristics we all can relate to, from her self-deprecating thoughts to her struggle to feel ‘normal,’ even if we wouldn’t have necessarily made the same choices she did.

Season 3 shows her in crisis mode. Instead of confronting her insecurities, she lashes out at her friends, and even returns home to stay with her mother for a bit, despite their history with Naomi’s selfish and often inappropriate or harmful behavior. However, when her mom sneaks her anti-anxieties (out of fear of Rebecca wanting to commit suicide), Rebecca feels as though she has no one she can count on anymore, especially since she thinks she alienated everyone else. At the end of 3×05, Rebecca tries to commit suicide on a plane by taking a bottle full of anti-anxiety meds one a time, before telling the flight attendant that she needs help.

Other media has tried to depict suicide before, but it is so often done in a way that’s meant to shock, or even (distressingly) in a way that almost romanticizes the behavior. Hell, Life is Strange actually makes a student’s suicide a playable level, where if you’re just observant enough, you can stop it (for points!). Crazy Ex Girlfriend walked the impossible line of depicting the suicide attempt in a realistic manner—it was easy to track Rebecca’s feeling of hopelessness and isolation—without any sort of glamorization. She was in a rough, unhealthy state, and the audience was encouraged to root for that to change.

Better yet, Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna made themselves available on Twitter immediately afterwards. That, in addition to a suicide helpline message which appeared on the screen following the episode, demonstrated that they were being as thoughtful as possible when approaching such a potentially triggering subject. It was difficult to watch, no question. But shying away from these topics doesn’t give equip us with the tools to handle them. We’ve praised Jessica Jones for starkly examining rape and rape apology; Crazy Ex Girlfriend is a show that should receive similar acclaim, particularly given how usual portrayals of suicide and mental health tend towards victim blaming.

Even that aspect was highlighted in the newest episode; Rebecca continually apologizes for the “hassle” she’s caused, and how bad she feels that everyone’s normal routine has been interrupted since like…her friends want to make sure she’s okay. It’s just so true-to-life. Too often our media has something *happen* to a character, and then it disappears an episode later. Rebecca’s deeply-felt self-loathing and general unworthiness isn’t gone just because her stomach was pumped, however. And that kind of consistency is important. Life doesn’t make narrative sense, so even though there’s a clear story that’s being told, it’s told in way that feels refreshingly familiar. Because it mirrors life.

Add to this the diagnosis. Rachel Bloom has talked openly about her own mental health numerous times. She also said this last week:

It’s clear this was written from a place of understanding, and with an attempt to be as validating and healing as possible. Rebecca sings a boisterous song about getting a diagnosis that will be her golden ticket to happiness (she’ll finally fit in somewhere), which amazingly captures the awareness of stigmatization alongside the often unreasonable weight people attached to their diagnoses. I just say this as a woman with OCD and general anxiety disorder, and I don’t want to speak for everyone ‘neurodivergent’, for lack of a better umbrella term. But in my opinion, the episode’s greatest strength was the way in which both of Rebecca’s doctors talked about her diagnosis. It’s not an identity, nor is it a fix; it’s a tool of understanding behavior, and one that can help guide treatment in a way that makes the most sense for her.

At the same time, Rebecca possesses the traits which define Borderline Personality Disorder. This was something I’ve said (mostly to Julia) for a long time, and something I’ve been scared for the show to tackle. I have intimate experience with this disorder, and without sugarcoating anything, some hurt as well. I have never seen proper depiction of it before this show, and I never in a million years thought it would actually be labeled, then fully described in a way that’s so accessible to an uninformed audience.

“A person with BPD is essentially a person that has difficulty regulating their emotions. Someone that lacks the protective emotional skin to feel comfortable in the world.”

It’s clear that Rebecca’s world is one that’s scary to be in. She never feels she fits, she has a terror of abandonment, and her impulsive actions that she does in order to control situations or feel accepted (be it breaking into Josh’s house to delete an embarrassing text, rushing to a wedding because she had a moment of doubt, or even sleeping with her ex’s dad because he was the only person being nice to her) have outcomes that usually result in more unhappiness. To be able to know that she’s not alone in this struggle is validating.

Also her friends work overtime to be there for her, even if in slightly flawed ways

Though of course, and again realistically, the show doesn’t make the BPD simple or straightforward. Rebecca immediately Googles BPD and hates what she reads: that treatment can be lifelong, that there’s no “cure”, and even that 10% of people with BPD do kill themselves. She pushes against this diagnosis, even telling Dr. Akopian that she was bullied by the other doctor into agreeing with him on it, until Akopian whips out the DSM and goes through the checklist to see if Rebecca matches the criteria. Every point applies, and the show brilliantly provides flashbacks as these are read off. Rebecca sinks into despair, calling herself “certifiably crazy,”

Like…yeah. This is it. This is what happens. I was watching, half wanting to cry because of how easy it is to feel for Rebecca in that moment, and half wanting to laugh because finally what I’ve seen and experienced (second-handedly)—what I’ve even questioned and doubted—is on my screen for the first time, ever. We talk a lot about why fiction and representation matters, yet it’s almost unthinkable that the diagnostic process has been rarely been shown on our screens. Certainly not in this much detail.

The episode does end on a hopeful note, with Rebecca saying that she doesn’t want to ever feel like she did on the plane again. She goes to a group therapy, and gets a book to read afterwards. It’s not the end, nor was it ever meant to be. But it’s the means of getting her to a healthy place, and in that process, we see a lot of our own realities, from the hilarious to the uncomfortable.

That’s the story that matters, and that’s the story that was always being told. We’re just finally at the place where the characters see it too.


Images courtesy of the CW

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Analysis

A Bride’s Story is the Women’s Story You Were Waiting For

Annedey

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A Bride’s Story is a manga by Kaoru Mori (also responsible for Emma). Started in 2008, the series is still running and counts 9 volumes. It takes place in 19th century central Asia and follows several characters in their daily lives. The story is mainly focused on women of the region, but there is also the point of view Henry Smith, an English researcher. Anything else notable? Oh, I just remembered: it is really good.

Talking about a really good manga series could be enough on its own. But you know what’s even better? It is focused on women and their lives. Different women, with different lives, their work, their achievements, their pains. And it is written in a total love of all women. A good manga series, written by a woman about women? What else could we be asking for?

The Story of A Bride’s Story:

I am starting to not like this choice of title very much. But anyway, the manga opens on Amir and Karluk’s wedding. Amir is twenty whereas her husband is twelve (don’t worry there is no weird sexual content between the two). It is not the only thing that separates them. Karluk comes from a mainly sedentary village. Amir’s tribe still has a pretty nomadic way of life. Both spouses are pretty different so the first chapters of the manga follow their adaptation to each other (and to her in-laws in the case of Amir). The presence of Smith also allows the point of view of an outsider into the family.

The story then expands to other members of the family, friends, and neighbors, as well as people Smith will meet during his travels. Yet the story isn’t all over the place. We follow their lives and emotional development. And when Kaoru Mori focuses on one character she takes the time to tell their story. Even if she has to leave aside other characters for some time. But this is not a problem, as it is crystal clear she loves all her characters and will do them justice in time.

Good guy Kaoru Mori by herself.

A Bride’s Story is going to focus on every aspect of the characters’ lives. There is high drama(military attack of one family on another) but also daily life (learning how to sew, finding your vocation).

In short A Bride’s Story is a really good read. But it is not the only thing that draws you in the narrative.

Art so gorgeous it sucks you in the story:

Another strings to Kaoru Mori’s bow which help you being completely absorbed in her world is that…

…her art…

…is…

…gorgeous.

Which, considering the time we spend speaking about craftsmanship, is important. Having a visual representation worthy of the script is only doing it justice. If you don’t want to travel to central Asia to discover their handicraft after reading A Bride’s Story you are a liar, and that’s all there is to it. The characters and the details are insanely comprehensive. But we are also given amazing and dynamic action scenes.

This incredible art and interesting story combine to give us a narrative uplifting women at every turn.

An Hymn to women’s lives:

A Bride’s Story focuses, as its name clearly spells out, on brides. Sometimes young brides, sometimes bride-to-be, sometimes widows, but always women facing married life. And no it is not reductive. During the 19th century, marriage was (and still is in some cultures) one of the main events of a woman’s life. It was a literal change of family, of environment, and the real beginning of her adult life. So focusing around this event is not reductive. Quite the contrary. It reminds us that, as long as she is a good person, every woman’s life is worth telling.

Kaoru Mori spends a lot of time on women’s daily activity. Sewing of course (if the manga doesn’t give you a mighty need to start sewing you are a liar), but also cooking, taking care of the herd etc. Everything is worth the author’s attention, and ours. Do you know why? Because it is important work done with care. And this ask for our interest and respect.

Another thing which is incredibly well done in A Bride’s Story is the relationship between this women. They are supportive of each other. There is a mother-in-law ready to sacrifice herself to save her daughter-in-law. When Amir learns that she should go back to her family to marry another man because all the brides they have sent are dead (killed by their husband) she is not only crying because she is terrified. She is crying because she knew both of this girls and is devastated by their death. And the person reassuring her and saying that she is « not going anywhere » is her husband’s grandmother.

There are as many positive women relationship in there as there is stars in the sky. And not always just filial relationship. But also mentorship, friendship and emh…

I am sorry but there is no heterosexual explanation to this and yes Kaoru Mori acknowledges it in the author’s notes.

And the icing on the cake is that every single one of these women is different from the others.

No wrong way of being a woman:

Truly it is refreshing to read about women helping each other. It is even better when they are allowed to be different. Because let’s be real, often in fiction women are created to oppose each other. The “good” kind of woman opposing the “wrong” kind of women. Just look at The White Queen and The White Princess, in which motherhood is glorified and “good” women are rewarded with it whereas “bad” women, women having a “man’s” ambition, became sterile and loveless.

Well, in A Bride’s Story we have traditionally feminine women who are soft gentle and love sewing. We have unconventional women who like to hunt and ride but are still good at feminine tasks (but let’s be real Amir is an amazement in universe too) and others which are not. We also have what other media often depicts as “failing” women, but are just unsure of who they are.

Let’s be real we all want to be Amir but we are Pariya who, conveniently, wants to be Amir.

In short, Kaoru Mori is standing on her mountain screaming “They are all my daughters and I love them all!”. And trust me ,it feels good to be, as a reader, welcomed into this story.

Conclusion:

To the surprise of no one, I heartily recommend reading A Bride’s Story. As a first manga, if it is your first, it might be putting the bar a bit high for future dives into the medium. But there are worse problems to have. Just to add to all I’ve said above, we also have good and interesting siblings relationships (my passion), making this manga almost without fault. It is worth a try. It really is.


All images courtesy of Yen Press.

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Analysis

Wolfenstein: The New Colossus Excels Because It Knows Its History

Griffin

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wolfenstein 2 featured

Wolfenstein: The New Colossus is a phenomenal game. It has an inordinate amount to say about racism, anti semitism, the cycle of abuse, ableism, eugenics, homophobia, fat shaming, PTSD, war, violence, and just about everything else under the sun. And developer MachineGames does all of that with this wonderfully strange combination of hyper-meticulous tact, high production values, and auteur confidence. Of course, none of that would have been possible if the setting surrounding the narrative didn’t work, and holy shit does it ever.

The newest iterations of the Wolfenstein franchise take place in an alternate 1960—leading into ‘61 for the second game—where the Nazis won the war. 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order was a game framed around the “how” of the world. How did the Nazis win? How do they keep their conquered states in check? How have things changed in this reality? How do we stop them from gaining more power? How do we fight back against a near global, yet also interplanetary, regime?

Throughout the game, you come across newspaper clippings and records (The Beatles sort of still exist) that fill the gaps between 1946 and 1960. The result is a fully realized world that isn’t just a horrifying coat of paint over reality; it’s how things would have happened…with a few super-science-y liberties thrown in because why wouldn’t the Nazis a moon base or fire breathing robot dogs? And, of course, the greatest twist of all: the Nazis’ inexplicable sci-fi advancement, the whole reason they won the war, was built on the backs of stolen technology from a secret society of Jewish science wizards. There’s even a sequence where the protagonist, William Joseph “B.J.” Blazkowicz, breaks into a high security compound and finds ancient schematics written in Hebrew, which he knows how to read.

We also knew, in broad strokes, what had happened to the other parts of the world. America had surrendered completely after Manhattan was obliterated by an atomic bomb, mirroring the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Nazis had yet to conquer the vast majority of Africa, as organized resistance was proving far more effective than they were willing to recognize. London was kept in line by a skyscraper-sized robot called the London Monitor, which you get to blow up.

Wolfenstein: The New Order took place almost entirely in western Europe (with a brief sojourn to the moon, of course) and exploring how the one region of the world that was, at one time, actually conquered by the Nazis, ended up being just familiar enough to what it was back then to what it became in their alternate history. It’s this foundation, this deep uprooting and deconstruction of history, that allows its sequel, The New Colossus, to head straight into the United States. We were shown what was comfortably familiar to us, so it was time to show what was uncomfortably familiar.

An America subjugated and ruled by the Nazis.

Enemy Of The State Of Affairs

Wolfenstein: The New Colossus is a game about “why”. Why do we fight against oppression when society around us punishes those who do? Why do we push back against systemic hatred, even when it has no bearing on us? Why does a man like William Joseph “B.J.” Blazkowicz, the perfect aesthetic poster boy for Aryan supremacy, reject those who would treat him like a king?

Why has America submitted to Nazi rule? The short answer is: giant airship. The long answer? Well, that one’s not so complicated.

Relatively early in the game, you meet up with a New York City resistance cell lead by a black woman named Grace, a survivor of the Manhattan bombing. In fact, all but one of her members are black with the exception of her partner Super Spesh. Their character designs explicitly invoke imagery of the Black Panthers and the overall Black Power movement.

The first game had you run around helping the Kreisau Circle, the Berlin-based Nazi resistance group that eventually cut the head off the Nazi war machine and stopping them from developing new weapons. This cell was lead by Caroline Decker, a paraplegic veteran. But, in the opening of this game, Caroline is executed by the main antagonist, Frau Engel, leaving a gaping hole in leadership that Grace fits perfectly. Who better to represent a 1960s violent uprising of the oppressed than a black woman in America?

She even goes so far as to move into Caroline’s old cabin in their captured Super U-Boat. From the start of the narrative, Wolfenstein is showing us that America is very different from a conquered Europe. For one, the English language is being banned, hearkening back to that old adage of “If the Nazis won, we’d all be speaking German”.

The largest among the differences though is that, just as Grace says above, America never stopped fighting the Nazis. The military did, yes, and the vast majority of the white population, including a South-governed KKK, but the fact that there is a dedicated anti-gravity airship, the Ausmerzer, whose sole role is to travel the country and crush resistance factions for the past decade tells us in no uncertain terms that the hold the Nazis have over America isn’t as ironclad as they believe it to be.

Even if they are able to put on one hell of a show.

We find newspaper clippings within the game describing resistance cells crushed by the Ausmerzer, and there’s even a moment during a trip to Roswell where you’re recognized (you’re the Reich’s most wanted, after all) by a local resident who, in a terrified act of defiance, whispers that he believes in what you’re doing when just seconds prior he was selling newspaper propaganda with glee.

The cap to this, however, is the final scene of the final mission of the game where you ambush Frau Engel’s live appearance on a talk show. You sneak through the bleachers and into the rafters, noting that every single person in the audience is a cardboard cutout. The show may be being broadcasted to every living room in the world, but it stands to reason that if people aren’t going to the live show…they’re not buying into the lies.

America is being crushed under the heel of the Nazis, yes, but it has yet to be crushed. Good people are still out there in the world, but they’ve forgotten how to resist. Those who were already filled with hate jumped on board, the minority, while everyone else is either putting their head in the sand or just trying to survive.

On the other side of the table, though, is how white America perceives the Nazis. I’ve already mentioned that the KKK controls the south, but it goes a whole lot deeper than that. Slavery has been legalized once more, and auctions are the talk of the town. We find out that, in true Nazi form, they rounded up the country’s degenerates—Jews, queer folk and people of color—and either purged them or sent them off to die in New Orleans…which is now a massive ghetto, Escape from New York style.

And if you “named names”, you were rewarded with what those same people left behind. Land rights, mansions, savings; everything they owned was either seized by the state or given as a gift to those who betrayed their friends and neighbors. This is not something we discover on a broad scale; it’s personal to B.J.

He visits his childhood home after nuking Area 52 (it wasn’t aliens, just ancient Jewish Techno Wizard secrets) and finds his abusive father, Rip, waiting for him, having heard he was in the area and assumed he’d come around. Rip, as we learned from flashbacks, was physically and emotionally abusive to both his son and his wife Zofia, a Jewish Polish immigrant. That, and he was a hardcore White Supremacist, having only married Zofia because he believed her father would be a business asset. He bemoans that no one knows what it is like to suffer as he does, thinking that everyone is trying to steal everything from the White Man.

In short, he represents everything that B.J. has spent his entire adult life fighting against.

When asked what happened to his mother, Rip admits that he sold her out to the Nazis and they took her away. The confrontation ends with B.J. killing his father after he presses a shotgun to his son’s forehead, but through their entire conversation he’d been on the phone with the Nazis. He’d sold out his son, too.

That’s the state of the world in Wolfenstein, and in The New Colossus you blow it the fuck up.

Terror-Billy Goes America All Over Everybody’s Ass

While the game’s marketing may have been pointing towards a parallel with the American Revolution as for how the country ousts the Nazis, I posit that the historical context is far more evocative of our 1960s.

Grace’s existence and design are already evidence of this, but it’s the rest of the resistance that makes this all the more clear. The second big group you recruit, aptly enough from the New Orleans ghetto itself, is lead by a man named Horton. He organizes a group of communists, socialists and anarchists who you’d think wouldn’t fit in with Grace and her people. These are the people that dodged the draft, even if they did push the concept of equal rights earlier than most. Horton even flat out cites their attempted push for a civil rights movement in an argument with B.J.

Of course, there’s a key difference between refusing to fight on foreign soil in a war that benefits the military industrial complex and what’s happening to them now. Horton’s group draws upon sentiment from both the end of the Great War and the counterculture movements of the 1960s.

Again, many of them were draft dodging pacifists, but that goes right out the window when it comes to Nazis. It’s one thing to refuse to fight a foreign enemy on foreign lands when victory would have only spread what you’re rebelling against. It’s quite another to sit by and accept fascism in the very country that allowed, though not always encouraged, you to believe what you saw in your heart as just.

It’s at the end of the game, however, in the ending cinematic, that this entire idea solidifies. That this historical context isn’t an accident, and the frankly unbelievable amount of homework MachineGames must have done paid off in spades. Mere moments after B.J. kills Frau Engel on live television, Grace and Horton speak directly into the cameras and ignite a violent revolution. The Kreisau Circle may be organized like a guerilla military operation, but the American people aren’t. They don’t need to be.

It’s an angry, raw, improvised and imperfect call to arms, but that’s what makes it perfect. Violent uprisings don’t start with eloquence or deep debating over the justification to fight against those who oppress you. They start with whatever you’ve got on hand. The Civil Rights movement, the Stonewall Riots and the general counterculture protests that dominated the 60s are clear influences on Wolfenstein’s depiction of “retaking America”. Seriously, if it didn’t sink in already, they blast a heavy metal cover of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” over the end credits coupled with imagery of violent rioting and uprisings across the nation.

Wolfenstein does not attempt to hold a mirror to our world today, even if it does so inadvertently. It tries to make us look back, so that we remember how to keep moving forward. It’s message is clear because it knows what it’s talking about, no matter how over-the-top the presentation:

Equality is not a debate; it’s a right. Those without it won’t stop until they have it, because for them it’s literally “Fight, or Die”.  So the best thing you can do, if you’ve already got it, is to pick them up with you. And if you don’t? If you keep trying to push others down? It’s gonna get bloody, just like it always does, and chances are it won’t be them who’s dying.


Images courtesy of MachineGames

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