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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

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

Kylie

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

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

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

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

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

Two Plots, No Payoff

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

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

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

Whatever, he dies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Character Arrested Development

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

Thor: Ragnarok had barely anything.

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

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

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

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

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

Thor: I’m not as strong as you.

Odin: No… You’re stronger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hero shot!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that brings us to our final problem.

That’s not how jokes work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stuff Happens, Don’t Question It!

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

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

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


Images courtesy of Marvel

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Analysis

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

Angelina

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

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

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

Fandom Meme Creation

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

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

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

But I digress.

 How The Internet Changed Things

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

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

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

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

When Creators Absorb Fandom Memes

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

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

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

What Is Not a Fandom Meme Disease?

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

Notable Victims

fandom meme disease

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

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

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

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

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

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

fandom meme disease

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

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

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

And There Are More

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

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

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

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

So… What Can We Do?

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

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


Images courtesy of HBO, Viacom, Disney

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Gaming

Keeping Kosher In Monster Hunter World

David

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

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

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

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

By Land

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

Not Kosher

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

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

Also Not Kosher

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

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

Kosher! (maybe)

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

By Air

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

Not Kosher

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

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

Kosher! (Surprisingly!)

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

And By Sea

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

Kosher, and think of all the sushi.

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

The Hunt Goes On…

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


Images Courtesy of Capcom

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