Autumn Equinox Reading Roundup

(I know Coraline takes place in the early spring but it may as well take place in the fall because it is the ONLY Halloween movie)

I’m willing to admit that this was a weird summer. I must, anyway, because my reading list is here and it’s… here.

Kill the Boyband by Goldy Moldavsky

kill the boy band

I have a lot of thoughts about this one. First of all, excellent premise and title.

Things like this, when they emerge every rare and wonderful so often, remind me of Jane Austen’s early work, called the Juvenalia, in which women behave badly. So rarely are women allowed to behave badly in media, at least, rarely are women allowed to behave badly in ways that aren’t designed by and intended for consumption by straight men.

I am a HUGE advocate of things like this. It’s why I eventually gave The Female of the Species a chance, and also why I loved it. Gone Girl is amazing, I’ll hear no argument against it.

This is YA Gone Girl. Instead of depicting a crumbling, toxic marriage, it’s about young women responding in toxic ways to their frustrations with the men at the center of their lives (in this case it’s a boy band). Toxic fandom is described realistically. Familiarly. Kind of frighteningly so. Also the girls in this book are all awful people.

They have mitigating circumstances (well… maybe one of them does). Still.

But as much as I want to be 100% positive, there are certain things I really didn’t like about this book. Let’s do a spoilery list.

  • Fat shaming? I put a question mark because there’s… um… absolutely no reason for it as it shows up in this book. Apple, one of the girls, the most emotional, the most devoted one, is also fat, and it’s treated really poorly. The protagonist at one point thinks that maybe Apple is self-loathing because of her weight and that’s why she’s so fervently in love with the least popular boy in the band, because he’s more attainable and less likely to reject her and also that’s all she thinks she’s worth. But there’s no actual evidence of Apple’s supposed self-loathing, so, if we’re supposed to take the protagonist at her word, that’s stupid. What’s also stupid is that Apple is always eating for comedic effect and also always climbing all over the one boy they kidnap (sexual assault, she commits sexual assault… and I’m not really sure the book is aware of that) and it’s funny because not only is she… uh… sexually assaulting the guy, she’s also fat, so, you know. Every time this came up I rolled my eyes. There’s just no reason. There’s never a reason, really, but this may have been the most egregious example of fat shaming I’ve read, and I’m a huge JK Rowling fan, so. Yikes.
  • … sexual assault. Apple gropes/licks/does other obnoxious things to Rupert P, tied up and helpless. As I’ve already said, partly it’s supposed to be funny because she’s fat, and also it’s supposed to be funny because he’s secretly gay. But… neither of those things actually makes the sexual assault funny. Now, one of the other girls was gray area raped by one of the other boys (this is a mid-late book reveal), and that’s treated fairly seriously, though I don’t think we’re ever supposed to sympathize with her fully, even after the reveal. This isn’t because of the gray area (she took all her clothes off in his dressing room and was otherwise clearly game for it… but she’s a teenager and he’s a grown man, and he took pictures of her and otherwise humiliated her afterwards, so, rape with a side of awful), but instead because she’s taking her revenge waaaay too far. I was really happy with that, but seeing as this book treats that rape thoughtfully, presenting the victim as a victim but also as the actor in her own story in a way that would make the rape-enthusiasts in the Game of Thrones writing room tremble in awe and shame (doesn’t take much, though. To be clear, what I’m saying is, the Game of Thrones writers are horrible), the “funny” sexual assault that Rupert P endures is just. Why?
  • The gay thing. So Rupert P ends up murdered. We’re unsure of which girl did it. They all have motive and are all also horrible people. First thing’s first: he’s one of two gay characters present. The other is his secret boyfriend, whose lover is now murdered. That’s a trope fulfilled, isn’t it. Also, the murderer is his fake girlfriend. At this point I actually can’t remember whether she knew he was gay and was being helpful or if she really didn’t know, but I lean toward the former. Anyway, her motivation for murdering him is that he’s also a horrible person, very inconsiderate of her and her needs. I felt for her right up until it’s revealed that she murdered the gay man she’s been pretending to date to revenge herself of his inconsiderateness. Also, Rupert P is the most hated band member, hated by at least one of the other Ruperts, enduring occasional blackmail and frequent upfront homophobia from him. My thoughts as this story unfolded are basically summarized by this question: Why choose this band member to have as a punching bag and end up murdered?

These are all conversations, and in general I try to remember that everything is problematic. A story where girls get to be gleefully, horrifyingly awful without any meaningful redemption is welcome and necessary…

… but that stuff is… well. It’s certainly there.

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily XR Pan

the astonishing color of after

Sad. Cute. Very sad, very cute, in that order forever and ever.

I wish I had something more to say but here’s maybe all that’s necessary: if you like YA, magical realism, and are prepared for musings on depression and suicide, you will really like this book.

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

dread nation

Why aren’t more dystopian novels like this? Why aren’t more historical fiction/fantasy novels like this?

(I know the answer and it is that most things that get published are by white people)

The setting is Alternate Universe America, where zombies attacked and though slavery is sort of over, it’s not really, because white people have set up this establishment where black and first nations children are taken to a special school where they learn to be zombie fighters. Specifically the ones the book focuses on are girls taken to learn to be body guards for young white girls and women.

If you like zombies and would enjoy a refreshing dystopian book where racism is actually depicted and discussed intelligently, this is it. I also really liked Katherine. Katherine was good.

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

throne of the crescent moon.jpg

finally read this, by one of my favourite twitterers. I was pleased to see characters featured in his short stories collection, which I read last year, were the mains here. Adoulla Makhslood and Raseed bas Raseed are extremely entertaining, and sometimes endearing, with their banter and very different opinion set on the way of the world. And there’s also Zamia, who can turn into a lioness.

Sometimes the violence/references to horrors in the past are stomach turning, at least for me, but not A Song of Ice and Fire levels of horror and our female voices are not in constant fear of rape. So there’s that.

This is definitely for a fantasy reader’s TBR pile.

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

elizabeth is missing

This was INCREDIBLE. A mystery novel where the sleuth has dementia and is mixing up her memories of her present-day friend, Elizabeth, who has gone missing (but no one will take her seriously), and her memories of her sister Sukey, who went missing when they were both young.

It’s so frustrating. It had me on edge. It made me look up this song on Youtube (but I did not leave a comment saying that’s how I got there). And the ending.

Yeah, I’d recommend this one too.

Twice in a Lifetime by Jodie Griffin

twice in a lifetime

This is a nice, mostly fluffy romance about two women in their fifties. Two things: two women, and also, women in their fifties. Apparently it’s a rare thing in and medium, and as I’ve never encountered one of these before, I guess it’s true.

I liked it a lot, but because I was apparently in a mood all summer, all of the fluffiness got to me a little. Which is stupid because, a) That’s what this book is for, so why am I complaining, and b) It wasgood.

My one note is a note I’ve made before (I remember a similar complaint for When Dimple met Rishi): people doing very sexual things in front of their siblings/parents/children isn’t cute. At least, I don’t think it’s cute. I actually think it’s kind of a lot inconsiderate. In this book, whenever it happens (and it happens at least twice), it’s done so that whoever can remark about how happy his or her mother is now, which is great, but they don’t need explicit evidence of the sex their parents are having to know they’re happy together.

Orrrrrrr is that just me? IDK. There are other moments where the kids say things about her newfound happiness with her girlfriend that are about companionship and don’t involve explicit evidence of sex, though, so, I stand by this complaint. But my complaint about the fluffiness is because I was a dark brooding soul this summer and this is the only exception.

Depression and other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim

depression and other magic tricks

I have the unfortunate habit of forgetting large amounts of poetry after I’ve read a collection. But I do remember enjoying this. It was humane and honest and sometimes sad, and I think basically exactly what I wanted when I grabbed it off the shelf.

Read poetry! Start here.

The Witch’s Boy by Kelly Barnhill

the witch's boy

I really like Kelly Barnhill. This book is grim, even compared to The Girl who Drank the Moon, though.

Grim and charming, I think, are the two words for a Kelly Barnhill novel. I’m definitely going to read everything else she’s ever written, because the combination works.

I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya

i'm afraid of men

On the subject of grim…

You really do need to read this. I kind of thought I’d read it and I’d nod along and though it would broaden my perspective a little, mostly it would be things I’ve already thought a lot about (and am currently thinking a lot about, because, current state of the world, and all), but one of the arguments she makes in here caught me by surprise.

She talks about how we need to stop talking about the “good man” because it directly contributes to normalizing abusive behaviours as typical of the “normal man.”

I hadn’t considered that, and she makes her case, and I’m actually not going to do that anymore. But even if she hadn’t made this specific point, this was still essential reading, particularly now, particularly for everyone.

Misery by Stephen King

misery

Woooooooooooooof.

I have a lot of things I’d like to say about this novel, and I think maybe I’ll write a billion-word essay about it one day soon, but for now:

  • of the Stephen Kings I’ve read, this is one of the best
  • like all other Kings I’ve read, the problems I have with it are the same: a little bit of the kind of weird, casual racism that you get in something like The Green Mile which is trying to talk about racism but isn’t really, and is actually contributing to a couple of stupid tropes (I do like The Green Mile, though); fat shaming (there is so much fat shaming in King books. I overlook it in It a little because at least Ben is treated as a fully human character in a way Annie never is, but, still); and a weird demonizing thing he does about maternal affection and control, which is sometimes intelligent and sometimes seems just a bit misogynistic
  • the main character is a biiiiiiiiig woman-hater. Hates that his most successful books are about a woman, that women are his readers and biggest fans. Looks down on them.
  • he’s at the mercy of a woman who will belittle the work he’s proud of, destroy it, even, force him to make something for her, torture him, kill him, eventually. And that… is extremely interesting.

You Were Made for This by Michelle Sacks

you were made for this

I finished this in the early hours of today (the day I’m writing this, anyway). It broke me.

I just.

I picked it at the store yesterday because it had pretty cherries on the cover AND I AM ONLY NOW REALIZING THAT THEY ARE IN WHAT IS CLEARLY A BROKEN DISH WHAT HAVE I DONE

This is Gone Girl without the thrill – because Gone Girl is thrilling, allowing its enthusiastic readers/viewers to see their most selfish, violent fantasies depicted right in front of them in a way that women generally don’t get, because generally, the most selfish, violent women are either Annie Noakes-types or Elle Driver-types that men like Stephen King draw up. A heterosexual man’s idea of a villainous woman. Some of them, like Annie Noakes, are actually kind of interesting. But when we get to see a woman’s idea of a villainous woman, and when we get just a bit of a secret vicarious thrill, that is a rare treat.

But this isn’t thrilling. It’s still entertaining as hell. It’s awful. Awful things happen. And my favourite part is that the male character, Sam, horrible, misogynistic, awful man Sam, is horrible and he thinks that he has all the women around him fooled but he doesn’t. They know who he is, and the two protagonist women are, actually, worse than he is, and that is literally my only solace now that I’m done reading it.

I recommend this one if you have the stomach for it.


WELL.

Now that it’s fall, maybe I’ll read something cheery. Galbraith has a new one and it’s huge and right next to me, so, I’m looking forward to that.

Happy autumn!

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You Should Watch American Vandal (and you should definitely watch Season 2)

I *just* finished season 2 of American Vandal and I’m here to say: you should too, if you for some reason haven’t already.

“Why do I like this so much?” I was wondering to myself throughout the whole experience. The final episode really made it clear: this show is emotionally intelligent in a way a lot of TV just isn’t.

There’s also the fact that I find a lot of “true crime” documentaries tasteless and sometimes outright harmful, that I used to watch them anyway and feel skeezy afterwards, that with only a rare couple of exceptions I really wish I’d never watched them and won’t watch new ones unless they’re thoroughly vetted by someone else, I guess. And American Vandal has the same tropes, music choices, aesthetic, and manages to show them all up, which is a lot of fun.

But really, it’s the emotional intelligence. Lately, I’ve been watching a few old episodes of The Office where our favourite characters are actually kind of awful. It’s not always, of course. Jim and Pam are usually kind people and easy to like. But I do keep coming back to the Amy Adams character from seasons 1 and 2 in particular. I can’t remember her name, because, I don’t think the show really wanted me to. I do think the part where Jim is excessively mean when he dumps her is supposed to show that he’s not perfect, but ultimately that episode oozes with syyyyympathiiiiize with poor, friend-zoned Jiiiiiiim and it, uh, works. I do feel bad for him. But knowing it all turns out fine in the end really contributes to watching how Amy Adams’ character is belittled in small ways, how Pam seems to be nice to her but is actually not nice at all, how she smirks privately because she likes Legally Blonde even though Jim has just told Pam it isn’t worthy of being on anyone’s top whatever list, and feeling kind of gross about it.

Happily, American Vandal will show something kind of gross and eventually, or, almost immediately, call it what it is. In season 1, one of the “filmmakers” gets “put on blast” amazingly. It was an amazing moment on its own, made just a little better because I wasn’t expecting it. TV usually allows protagonists to get away with callousness and unthinking dismissals of other peoples’ humanity, but here, not so much. There are always consequences when people do that, even if it’s the “filmmakers” themselves. I don’t want to go into specifics because I think you should just watch the show, but, it’s good stuff.

Season 2 is bigger and smarter even than season 1, and the final episode is a 40-minute long gut punch of a reveal, culminating in a little monologue about social media and Gen Z that is, by far, BY FAR, the smartest thing any TV show or even news media has ever said about either of those subjects and the undeniable link between them.

You should watch it.

Animals. Animation. Pixar. Disney. Nemo. Lion King.

It’s time to talk about different representation of animals in animated movies, and this is mostly because of this article about Andrew Stanton, Pixar filmmaker, on how Finding Nemo is kind of a response to The Lion King.

Stanton says, “‘I liked working with the limitations of the rules of nature, as opposed to breaking the rules and saying everything’s in it for the ‘circle of life.'”

Unsurprisingly, I think 20-something Stanton, and whatever-age-he-is-now Stanton, are both wrong about The Lion King. And also about Finding Nemo. And also about the “rules of nature.”

Quickly, then, on TLK’s opening scene: yes, “Circle of Life” shows a bunch of prey animals bowing to a newborn predator who will be their king. A few scenes later:

Mufasa: Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance. As king, you need to understand that balance, and respect all the creatures, from the crawling ant to the leaping antelope.

Simba: But dad, don’t we eat the antelope?

Mufasa: Yes, Simba, but let me explain. When we die, our bodies become the grass and the antelope eat the grass. And so, we are all connected in the great circle of life.

And sure, the in-universe explanation for how this lion monarchy ecosystem works hinges on lions and all of their prey being philosophically aware of the bigger picture beyond each individual life and death. I guess it’s easy to think that seems a little hokey, particularly if you’re wrapped up in the rampant individualism of our modern times, but The Lion King is actually about human society and its thesis is that a true leader’s core identity is his responsibility for everyone else. Even those he eats. Soooo.

But if you like, we can ignore that The Lion King is completely about humans – or – humans as we should be – and talk about rules of nature and how they do and don’t apply. Why not?

First: Cooperation and Empathy in Animals According to an Actual Researcher

I have a lot of jumbled thoughts about this but here’s an actual expert doing a convenient and entertaining Ted Talk:

And now on to what I, the all-knowing knower of these things,* think.

*No.

The Rules of Nature IMO in Two Parts

IMG_6702

Part 1: Humpback Whales and the Empathy Explanation

Have you heard that thing about how humpback whales, if they see orcas attacking prey, will get all agitated and try to intervene? Well, I have, and I decided that humpback whales and myself are kindred spirits. I like orcas, but orcas are not very nice. They’re not the most humane of hunters, and they kill baby gray whales only to eat their tongues. Jerks.

But as to the humpback’s orca hunt disruption behaviour, biologists and behaviourists are baffled. Is it empathy for the prey that compel humpback whales to try to help orca prey? Some say yes, others say that humpbacks see orcas as a threat because occasionally orcas will kill a humpback. So, the theory goes, if a humpback thwarts an orca hunt, there’s a slight possibility that other humpbacks will be saved.

What.

I know that we need to wait for animal linguistics to be a thing so that we can figure out how to talk to whales before we can know for sure why they do any of what they do, but, come on. The simplest explanation is usually the correct one. Humpbacks are distressed by orcas hunting because anyone decent would be, if they’re allowing themselves to empathize with the prey. They intervene because they are compelled to help out of empathy. Deal with it.

My point here is that, I, a very singular human being, believe that our cultural interpretation of the natural world is incredibly narrow and often wrong-headed. Some of us, educated some of us, look at something like this humpback thing and feel the need to explain it using evolutionary theory. “What’s good for my species specifically is good for me. Gotta get my genes out there.”

Sometimes animals just do things. I know. I am one. So are you. And I don’t know what you did today, but I spent it watching people watch TV shows that I’ve seen to see their overdramatic reactions, and if I was doing that because somewhere deep within me my instincts were telling me that’s what I need to do to get pregnant, well, I think I need to see one of those therapists that specializes in evolutionary Darwinism as the root of all decisions people make (in other words: a very bad therapist) because something has gone horribly wrong.

We’re not always trying to propagate the species, or us, specifically. Even Darwin would be sick of how every little thing has to be explained with Darwinism these days. Relax.

This need that researchers have to fight tooth and nail against admitting that animals might be able to empathize is mind boggling to me, especially considering that their alternative interpretations basically require us all to take, on faith, that animals all have this incredibly complex Machiavellian understanding of their own place in the ecosystem. If you’re arguing that because we can’t prove the whales are acting out of empathy, we must instead state that whales are acting out of self-interest, I’m sorry, but, you need to prove to me that animals are ruthless chess players.

If it really is self-interest that compels humpbacks to disrupt orca hunts, that means we all just have to accept, without any actual research, that humpbacks are thinking through a bunch of different steps of what would be a whole complicated cognitive process. We’d have to accept that humpback whales recognize orcas as orcas, a potential threat to them personally, or perhaps they even recognize them as a threat to their entire family group. Then they also must recognize that the prey animal is whatever species they are, ie, they’re not a humpback whale or an orca. I’m OK with this so far; I’m pretty sure they do this easily.

But then they’d have to understand that it’s healthy and good for the orca pod specifically to kill their prey so that they can eat. And they’d have to understand that it would be bad for the orca pod to miss this particular chance at a meal. And they’d have to be of the opinion that it would be worth it to spend their energy disrupting this one hunt they’ve encountered on the off-chance that, I don’t know, the pod will never get a chance to eat a meal again and they all starve, thus lessening, albeit in a minuscule way, the chance that orcas might kill those individual humpbacks. And so they place themselves in at least a little bit of danger to try to stop the hunt, because maybe these dangerous animals that they know might kill one of them one day won’t get to eat if they’re successful and then the orca pod will eventually starve and then they’ll have preemptively made the ocean a little safer for themselves and themselves only.

WHAT.

HOW DID YOU GET A SCIENCE DEGREE.

RETURN IT. MAYBE YOU CAN STILL GET A REFUND.

First of all, that is incredibly irrational reasoning, if that’s indeed what’s going on in their heads. But really, we can’t even prove that humpbacks can do any reasoning, but when it comes to explaining behaviour like this, where the simple explanation is empathy, instead it’s perfectly fine to just assert that humpbacks are, of course, capable of nonsensical overthinking irrational reasoning.

Anyway, we’re all super sure that animals are too stupid to cooperate or to be driven by things apart from a prototypical jungle version of the profit motive and therefore we say silly things about kids’ movies that feature animals who are allegories of humans. And I think we should maybe rethink that one.

terk

Part 2: Ishmael and the Devaluing of the Natural World

I read a book of modern philosophy once. The blurbs on the back of this book that are trying to sell you on the premise are all really, really out there, like, “This book changed my life entirely!” and “I can’t look at anything the same way ever again!”

Well, I read it too and I can attest: yes, this book is majorly perspective-changing, though I didn’t really agree with everything it argued. Also, it’s more than a little demoralizing. But ultimately, it’s trying to show how the way we tend to perceive our own culture as against the natural world is a huge part of why we’re having so much trouble stopping ourselves from destroying the planet.

It’s about a guy who signs up to take lessons on saving the world. The teacher is a telepathic gorilla named Ishmael. So, yeah, you should probably read this book. But the concept from the book that matters for this discussion about TLK and FN’s depiction of nature specifically is that humans take for granted that human civilization, removed from the wild, is “superior,” and a lot of that is down to how we perceive (and depict) the natural world: as savage, dangerous, brutal. Once, I heard some sort of animal making distressing noises in my backyard, and I figured it was fine, but I wanted to be sure. When you google this stuff I can tell you, a lot of people who know nothing have “helpfully” posted responses to posts describing different shrieks and calls that go something like this, “It was something getting eaten alive.” K no, Brad. You’d be more useful silent. (Ultimately I found out it was a fox. The sound is called a “vixen scream” and it sounds like a woman being murdered, but it’s probably just a mating call.) People do this because they just take for granted that life in the wild is miserable, brutal, and short.

And yeah. Sometimes, that is true. But be honest, whenever you’ve gone out into the wilderness, or even just a little patch of green in some urban or suburban area, the animals you see are mostly just living their lives. You can probably find evidence of predation if you look – spider webs are stationary, so those will do it, but mostly animals are just interacting with their environments, watching you watch them, eating or gathering food, and stuff. You may see fledglings being fed by mom and dad, or flying lessons, if you’re lucky. Sometimes, animals just chill on some perch and make a lot of noise, and sometimes squirrels actually throw acorns at your head, which is nice.

The majority of what goes on in the wild is just life. It’s hard to fathom this, but animals are actually totally fine. Most wild animals, even and especially when they’re in distress, really hate being approached by humans. Sometimes they’ll allow a human to help them without freaking out too much, and sometimes they may actually seem to ask for help, but a lot of them really would rather struggle on their own (I’m not advocating leaving a wild animal in distress alone. Just be sure it’s actually in distress and call the right service). Wild animals, if offered the choice of being zooed or petted rather than having to find all of their own meals and watch out for predators, might surprise you with their answer. I mean. Some of them might take us up on an offer of an “easy” life in captivity, but I’m pretty sure a lot of them are just fine as they are.

This would be a lot clearer if nature documentaries weren’t made almost exclusively by and for people with massive animal death boners, but, alas, we don’t live in a world that kind.

I love animals but until nature documentaries feature more stuff like the following and less of the overdramatic death and suffering scenes, I’m not watching them.

This moose does a little angry dance when he can’t reach the ball anymore and it is the best thing.

Or is the best thing baby moose in a sprinkler set to sentimental music?

Or is it a crow snowboarding on a roof?

Or maybe foxes on a trampoline?

No, it’s actually this:

I love this because they both have exactly the same reaction to almost bumping into each other (although the bear’s reflexes are much better). Who says humans and animals are that different?

It really is important to try to retrain our brains into not thinking of the natural world as bad and brutal and dangerous, because in doing so we make it easier to allow large scale habitat destruction to take place which, it turns out, is super bad for us because we need to breath. Also, there are in fact humans who live in the natural world. Some of them haven’t made contact yet, and hopefully won’t. It seems very strange to think about, but as it turns out there are actually humans out there among other species who need us to protect their homes. And by “need us to protect their homes” I mean, of course, they “need us to stop freaking destroying everything everywhere always because why are we doing that even.”

Pretty cool, right?

(Like. Not that their home is in danger of being wiped out, but that they’re still here at all.)

Ishmael is all about the differences between us and the people who live in this way. The term the book gives them is “Leavers,” because they don’t cause the kinds of destruction that we, the “Takers” do, with our agriculture practices. It argues that we need to live more like them in order to not destroy ourselves, and I think it makes its case really well.

I don’t know how possible it is for us to reduce our environmental impact, but the book definitely makes the case for changing our attitudes towards this way of life, whether it’s humans living it, or other animals, and it asks us to, at the very least, do what we can to not tread on them.

Unfortunately, when we depict the natural world as being inherently brutal and destructive, we end up with the conclusion that we are also inherently brutal and destructive. This causes us to devalue the natural world and all of its inhabitants (including ourselves), because in a brutal, competitive world, it’s only right that the most brutal and most competitive animal rises to the top and can then do whatever it wants with all the rest below it. This, incidentally, is not even a little bit what Darwin meant by “Only the strong survive.” It also causes us to devalue our many, many, many other inherent qualities, such as cooperation and empathy. You know. Those little soft skills that are actually the key to human survival and ingenuity. But who’s keeping track?

If we could just understand that cooperation and yes, sometimes, even empathy are inherent parts of the natural world AND inherent parts of human societies of all kinds, we could begin fostering those good qualities as our treasured qualities. We could begin using them to solve the gargantuan problems caused by the fact that all our prominent loud mouths have been declaring, 24/7 and for the past 500 years at least, that competition and brutality are the only true things in life and that this is the way it should be, “because nature.”

So in that spirit, I’m going to try to explain that The Lion King and Finding Nemo have pretty cool things to say about the natural world, and about predators and prey, and about a broader, natural community, despite what 20-something Andrew Stanton thought all those years ago.

Animated Ecosystems

Finding Nemo is up front about the kind of world its characters are living in. Why shouldn’t it be? It makes ample use of the natural world to heighten the stakes. We meet Marlin and his wife, and their gazillion eggs, right before a large predator fish shows up to eat them all. That neatly sets up everything we need to know. Marlin is overprotective; Nemo is all he has. Quick. Clean.

Our most formidable antagonists are humans, who aren’t even trying to eat anyone when they take Nemo. They’re just “helping.” And while humans are the worst, we do still have sharks, anglerfish, jellyfish, pelicans, seagulls, and, sigh, humans, again, to contend with as well.

If you map out the Finding Nemo story from one specific lens, what you can find is a couple of very small fish battling an enormous ocean of much larger prey until, finally, they return home safe to the anemone.

But that isn’t the full picture.

Finding Nemo depicts the ocean’s ecosystem as a community. The scariest of predators don’t talk, but some of the others do. Bruce and his vegan shark pals all talk. We get to know the pelicans. Seagulls may only say one word, but still. And then there’s the dentist, who has some of the best lines in the whole movie. Seagulls say their word for comedic effect (ps – gulls are smart, don’t believe everything you see in a Pixar movie), but the fact that Bruce, Nigel and co all frequently talk to fish they’d otherwise be eating allows them to empathize with their would-be prey.

Nigel saves Marlin and Dory from the seagulls because he’s met Nemo and has heard all about Marlin’s epic journey. Bruce and his friends are trying out a more compassionate lifestyle. While Chum may not be the most… dedicated vegan shark there is, he is quick to empathize with Marlin when he hears how Nemo was taken. He’s also quick to help try to restrain Bruce while Marlin and Dory try to escape.

The barracuda and the anglerfish don’t talk, which, yeah. That’s an important style choice. If they talked that would not work. Really only predators that don’t eat prey get to talk – but for a movie that does intimidating but talkative predators really well, try Happy Feet. The skuas are good, but the leopard seal is the best.

(Note that he only talks after Mumble gets away) (Still)

(He has a cute smile and gets very soundly insulted but he still manages to be terrifying)

(Happy Feet needs a post)

However, including predators who have long conversations with would-be prey and who empathize with their would-be prey and who go out of their way to help their would-be prey is, in my opinion, pretty forward thinking.

I know Stanton and the rest of the people who made Finding Nemo didn’t add in the discussions and empathizing and helping out each other across species barriers for realism purposes, but the way I see it, the movie basically represents what life in the natural world is really like, just with a lot of anthropomorphism added in.

Here’s the best example of the sense of community we can see in this ecosystem:

No, that doesn’t happen in the wild. That’s a humans-and-social-media thing. But wild animals are all existing in “the great circle of life” together, and while occasionally two individuals might come up against each other with an important clash of self-interest, ultimately, all species are working together to survive as various ecosystems, intricately connected to every living thing on the planet in the web of life.

A sated predator doesn’t generally kill for no reason. Many predators spend most of their time doing things that aren’t hunting or killing. Snakes, even – what do snakes do when they’re not hunting or digesting? I don’t know, but I do know that many snakes don’t need to eat all that often. Most of their time alive is spent not killing things. I’m not saying they spend the rest of their time participating in Disney movie plots, but there is more to a predator than predation.

Finding Nemo admits that, presenting its empathetic predators like new vegans or like sorry-not-sorry omnivores. That may not be natural realism but it is truer to the complexities of predator species than many narratives that have prey animals as protagonists depict, including supposedly true-to-life nature documentaries.

As you know, the ecosystem portrayed in The Lion King is definitely a community.

Predators as Protagonists

Keeping in mind some of the empathetic predators of Finding Nemo, I’d like to present exhibit a: The Lion King’s female love interest.

She shows up for the first time we’ve seen her since she was a cute little cub and she tries to murder Puumba.

She stops when Simba recognizes her and says her name, and suddenly all those teeth and claws are gone.

The real-life version of this and the Simba/Scar fight is here, and it’s a little bloody:

(Why we need slow motion replays, close up images of wounds, and lion mating I don’t know, but as far as violent wildlife videos go, this isn’t bad)

(The females, watching/participating in that second fight: men are traaaaaash)

Back in the fictional world, Timon is unimpressed.

#TimonisAndrewStanton

So Timon shouts about how it doesn’t make sense for everyone to suddenly be friends immediately after a vicious attack and also she wanted to eat Puumba, “and everybody’s… OK… with this?” and Simba’s response is, “Relax, Timon,” and then they move on.

See, Timon. You’re in a movie about predators. We aren’t shying away from the fact that they’re predators – I mean, we’re not going to show them kill anyone. We might show some savage fights, and we might show one of them trying to kill a main, beloved character, but as long as they keep their actual killing and eating off screen all is well.

I’m going to suggest that this is exactly the same tactic that Finding Nemo uses with its predator side characters (despite what Andrew Stanton thinks).

In the end, we have to acknowledge that Nala isn’t a bad guy for trying to eat Puumba. She’s a lion, she’s supposed to hunt. It’s just that certain would-be prey are off limits.

That isn’t entirely unrealistic. In the wild predators occasionally do something weird, like that one lioness that kept taking baby onyxes and keeping them. It’s a sad story, don’t look it up. We see predators empathizing with prey much more often in captivity, though.

Human intervention causes a lot of these strange situations where animals that would normally kill or be killed by one another actually become friends. Even though the human intervention is pretty much essential, it does seem like predators have the inherent ability to empathize with an animal they would normally see as prey. Otherwise, this wouldn’t ever work.

It’s not… impossible, then, for a baby lion to grow attached to a warthog and a meerkat. It’s just very unlikely that all three of them would make it out of that situation alive.

Ultimately, I think the real difference between Finding Nemo and The Lion King in how they work with the rules of nature is that Finding Nemo has small, vulnerable prey animals as its protagonists, and The Lion King has the largest, most invulnerable predators on the Savannah as its protagonists. It’s easier to incorporate a lot of short scenes in which small, vulnerable fish are chased and almost eaten and have your audience continue to sympathize with them than it is to incorporate a lot of short scenes in which your young couple terrorizes singing warthogs and fight brutally and have your audience continue to sympathize with them.

The Lion King pulls of a more impressive feat in this regard, as far as I’m concerned. Lions are a bad species, but it isn’t really their fault that they’re so violent and angry all the time, and I certainly don’t blame Nala for hunting. I don’t blame Simba for attacking Scar. I don’t blame the hyenas for killing Scar. Marlin, Nemo, and Dory do comparatively few violent and murdery things, which makes perfect sense. I just think allowing the more gruesome realities of a predator species to simply be nodded at and kept mostly offscreen doesn’t automatically make The Lion King completely disingenuous about what life is like in the wild.

Would you like one more example? In Simba’s Pride, which is, I know, the sequel, and not the actual movie, and also I hate it, Kiara’s coming of age ceremony is her being sent out to kill something.

Because the plot is something else, it’s easy enough to squeeze in a scene where Simba won’t let Kiara grow up and she gets all angsty about it that also involves predation.

I don’t like the sequel, but I do like that both female protagonists are allowed to hunt and attempt to kill things. It’s probably because the filmmakers were aware that lionesses are generally the hunters of the species, so they allowed the female characters to do things that female characters usually can’t do and remain sympathetic. Especially in kid’s movies.

There’s also the broadway version:

In which Sarabi and the rest of the lionesses actually kill something, on stage.

How’s that for “working with the limitations of nature,” huh?

IN CONCLUSION

We have learned many a thing today.

  1. The natural world isn’t all bad and needs to be protected (by us, from us)
  2. Animals aren’t chess playing Machiavellian strategists who have all also read On the Origins of Species by Means of Natural Selection
  3. Finding Nemo and The Lion King both work within the limitations of nature for dramatic gains, just, differently, because one movie has small prey fish as protagonists, and the other has lions
  4. Both movies depict the natural world as a broader community, which is realistic in a metaphorical sense because of biodiversity and the web of life
  5. Nala tried to kill Puumba in a fairly lengthy onscreen scene
  6. AND MOST IMPORTANTLY:

The Lion King is an animal allegory about people, specifically in the context of leadership, and how benevolent leaders have to respect everyone, even the most vulnerable among us.

(And Finding Nemo is an animal allegory about the struggles of parenthood, which is also important.)

Let’s think more carefully about the stuff we watch and the world we live in, K?

Blogging While Angry: Newspaper Transphobia

Long story short: a few years ago Kathleen Wynne, former Premier of Ontario, replaced an old and outdated sex ed curriculum with one that includes discussions of consent, cyberbullying, sexting, same sex attraction, and transgender peoples’ existence. Some people (we’ll call them “social conservatives;” get all PC about it) were, um, really mad.

Then we elected Doug Ford, partially, one has to assume, because of his promise to get rid of the scary, new, and relevant sex ed curriculum the big bad lesbian Premier put in place. Now his people have promised to replace it again with the old one, although they’ve walked it back a little bit. Now the story is they’re going to have a huge consultation about it first and then do who knows what.

(Why?)

(Just… leave it alone. It’s fine.)

And while I’m angry about all of that mess, most of my anger right now is (helpfully, healthily, usefully, wonderfully) directed at this random opinion piece published in The Globe and Mail by Debra Soh, PhD, who describes herself as “a former academic sex researcher,” and who is very sure that teaching children that gender is a social construct (it is), and isn’t a binary (it’s not) and is instead fluid (it is) is bad (it’s not).

“A curriculum that teaches gender fluidity is misleading and will impair a child’s ability to have an accurate understanding of the world,” she writes.

Look. A statement like that requires some evidence.

I’m going to go ahead and suggest that there isn’t any evidence, at all, ever, to suggest that children learning that gender isn’t a binary and is a construct has confused or otherwise impaired them.

To be fair I’m one of those people who knows that nonbinary people of all different types exist, and I know that at one point they were all children, and that some of them may even live in Ontario. How is learning that their gut feelings about how they embody various gendered spaces are valid going to impair their ability to have an accurate understanding of the world? She asked, facetiously, because she knows that a statement like this, so baldly typed and published in an international newspaper without scientific backing of any sort arguing that the science is actually against what she’s arguing against but without showing it at all, very clearly implies that this writer thinks that nonbinary people are deluded or whatever.

“The backlash is emblematic of a disdain for those who lean right politically, and a desire to rally against Mr. Ford for the sake of political divisiveness. This is evident in the number of media outlets and individuals on social media, angrily pointing the finger at social conservatives,” she writes.

I think my little cutesy crossed out section there is a prime example of what “social conservatives” refer to as “virtue signalling.” In other words, I’m trying to claim some sort of moral high ground because I think nonbinary people are valid and I believe them when they describe their own experiences, and of course in the process I show “disdain” for anyone who doesn’t. And the only reason I would ever do this is because I have a personal vendetta against Doug Ford, probably only because I hated Rob Ford for saying the words “gravy train” a lot.

It was pretty grating, you have to admit.

Ford was elected (probably) in part as a reactionary response to Wynne, her womanhood, her lesbianism, and her really good sex ed curriculum. It’s a little more complicated, of course. He was also likely elected as a reactionary response to upping the minimum wage by almost a toonie an hour, something a frightening amount of people were very, very, very against. Also because of the good chunk of people who would happily elect Trump up north, who call Justin Trudeau “Justine” and still make hair jokes, whose every move is reactionary.

And the rest of it is probably because people are disappointingly apathetic at the best of times and don’t pay attention/apply empathy to the big decisions they make.

My question is, why is it me, and the other people mad that they’d attack good education, who are being needlessly divisive, and not Ford and his people, gutting good education just to make bigots happy?

Anyway. Four years (at least) of Ford is a waking nightmare, so here’s something important:

I don’t think I’m better than anyone else. I’ve just read some stuff. I follow some people. I’ve watched a Youtube video here and there. If the thought of people who identify neither as male nor female, or as femme but not fully femme, or as masc-of-centre, or as male one day and female the next, or as demi-, or simply as nonbinary freaks you out, take a deep breath and read up on it. Do a Google search, use your critical thinking skills and your empathy and grow up. It’s not a big deal.

If you’d rather sit back and watch someone (a cisgender someone, if that helps any) explain some things, there’s a Bill Nye episode that includes a weird ice cream metaphor.

(Are there sex and gender scientists who argue that nonbinary people are deluded and that gender is 100% a biological thing? Sure. Debra Soh is apparently one of them. They’re what we call “bad scientists.” Not because their politics are bad, but because their science is quite clearly informed and shaped by their bad politics.)

(I know that there’s this fear that research that states that gender is just biological sex and that “biological sex” is an all-encompassing thing itself that no one can ever “defy” and that transgender people are mentally ill will be gagged by evil government forces bowing to the mighty will of the SJW. Instead of worrying about that, which is simply the plot of a so-far unwritten really boring right-wing dystopian novel, researchers should try to do better research, get tougher skin about legitimate criticism, and note that what transgender people themselves face from potentially hostile governments, or, if they’re lucky, just hostile fellow citizens, is much worse, and a much more realistic threat.)

Here, read it for yourself. Half of it is about how we need to be sex positive. Just remember, though, we can’t admit that femininity and masculinity aren’t biological realities that none of us can ever defy healthily. That would damage the children, upon whom femininity OR masculinity are thrust based solely on what genitals they were born with, rightfully so, hem hem.

My kindergarten self, age 4, yelled at by the boys for trying to play with dinosaurs and owning a Man-Bat while wearing purple dresses, rolls her eyes at this crap. She doesn’t even need to be nonbinary to know that gender is a construct.

I could end by saying that probably Soh would say that dinosaurs, Man-Bat, and purple dresses aren’t what she means by gender but first of all, we all know that these things don’t magically exist in a genderless vacuum when it comes to our very concerned society, and that when we say “gender is a social construct” this is EXACTLY what we mean, and second of all, I’d rather say this, and only this, forever amen: Man-Bat was my favourite right up until I left him in the driveway and my dad accidentally ran him over, leaving me bereft, but then I forgot about his existence until one day my mom was like “and then dad ran over Man-Bat” and I was like “what the HELL is a Man-Bat.” Life is unfair and tragic, Man-Bat, and children are fickle. I’m sorry.

I’m so sorry.

Fragile Masculinity in Incredibles 2

This right here.

(Also BAO was really cute)

MY JAWBREAKERS

This article contains Incredibles 2 spoilers.

Father’s day is meant to celebrate the males in your upbringing; to honor the special gift of fatherhood and the many life lessons and laughs it brings throughout. These Hallmark holidays are typically warm, sunny excuses to bond with family members and take an afternoon to unwind and smile outside the stresses of every day life.

Which is exactly why we chose to treat my dad to a showing of the sequel to our long-time family-favorite: Incredibles 2. What could be more wholesome? The original Incredibles was a hit for many reasons; the splendor and innocence of a Disney superhero family layered masterfully with adult humor and perspective– in other words, an instant classic. We were practically gnawing our nails in excitement to see the follow-up this Sunday afternoon.

I found Incredibles 2 to teach a valuable lesson in stamina to other animated films…

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Summer Solstice (Belated) Reading Roundup

(Parent Trap is the ultimate movie of summer, according to me. It’s got everything: Lindsay Lohan, Linsday Lohan doing a British accent, Lindsay Lohan doing an imitation of Lindsay Lohan doing a British accent, also it’s actually the best and I don’t think anyone could convince me otherwise)

(I think it’s in Spanish)

I’m late but whatever, let’s do this. Spoiler alert: I liked everything.

Spring Equinox

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Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

Well.

I’ve had my complaints about how pretty and poetic McLemore’s prose is when talking about her other two books – because I am boring and have bad taste, maybe. But I really liked this one.

Maybe I was more open to it because of the cover art and the title, but I do think the magical elements in this story are really intriguing, moreso than the magic in the other two.

I liked it.

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The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

I liked this too. People in this world have “teacup” animals as pets – like, people are walking around with teacup crocodiles and lions or whatever they want, and I’m worried that there will be more abuse of them in further installments in what is apparently this series. Other than that I’m looking forward to the sequel because it’s very interesting so far.

Not sure if sci-fi or if everyone is actually telling the truth and it’s fantasy or maybe it’s both! Either way, it’s really cool.

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Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys

This was really good. I didn’t expect to like it very much because it’s Lovecraft and I don’t have time for that. The only Lovecraft I’ve tangled with is that DEFINITELY NOT A PARODY BOOK Awoken by Sara Elinsen.

But I liked it.

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Pulchritude by Ana Mardoll

I liked this too. I was expecting it to be a little more (for lack of a better/existing word) gooshy, like the other Ana Mardoll one I’ve read, but it wasn’t.

It was pretty depressing though, and although the cover insert/blurb/whatever warns the reader not to expect what you’d usually get out of a fairy tale, and although I knew it was going to come to a not very nice end, I was still taken aback by it. But it’s what I wanted, so.

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Bad Girls Throughout History by Ann Shen

This was educational. Each woman has a brief little blurb about her, and I did read a few of them with an eyebrow (or two) raised. One specific example I can remember is while I was reading through the inevitable Tudor England portion and the book gushed about Elizabeth (rightfully) but didn’t feature Mary.

And.

OK.

Maybe I’m just Catholic (lapsed) (is there such a thing as a not-lapsed Catholic?), but Mary Tudor has gotten the shaft throughout history.

She’s super problematic but so was Elizabeth, who participated big time in colonialism, if you’d like one example. Mary should have gotten a nod.

Also Jane Grey deserved one too.

And although I got annoyed at that mainly because I’m a Tudor-era nerd, I couldn’t help but wonder what other details were being skipped, and who else maybe should have been included.

Ultimately I still think this is worthwhile, but it’s very Ladies in History 101, which, I think, it’s trying to be.

And I liked it.

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Islands of Decolonial Love by Leanne Simpson

I liked it, it was beautiful.

I had a favourite passage I tweeted:

And there you go.

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The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan

[Insert stock explanation of how much I love Courtney Milan’s romance novels here]

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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Yup.

(I do have some concerns about the Nina/Matthias thing but I want to read the sequel, watch the inevitable HBO series/movie/other broadcast series/whatever, force my sister to read it, AND THEN I’ll talk about it.)

All right summer, here we go!

PS: WT ACTUAL F, WORLD POLITICS? W. T. ACTUAL. F.

The animal welfare movement’s #metoo problem

This is unfortunate and unsurprising.

Nonprofit Chronicles

171101-ryan-metoo-tease_ann11kSexual harassment and gender bias in the animal welfare movement have been talked about for years, mostly but not entirely in private. Now the problems are bursting into public view, and not a moment too soon.

Last night, the Chronicle of Philanthropy published my story about the Humane Society of the U.S. It reports that Humane Society’s board of directors has hired a Washington, DC, law firm to investigate an allegation of workplace misconduct against its longtime chief executive, Wayne Pacelle. Among the topics, insiders say, is an alleged sexual relationship between Pacelle and a female employee.

The investigation at HSUS, which is the nation’s most important animal welfare group, comes as women in the animal protection movement are publicly calling out some of the movement’s most prominent leaders, accusing of them of offenses that range in gravity from using language that creates a frat-like “bro” culture to sexual assault.

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Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling

This show (based on the Robert Galbraith – pseudonym of JK Rowling – book series about Cormoran Strike, private detective extraordinaire) finally premiered in Canada, and now that I’ve watched all three parts (of the first novel), here is the laziest review of life for it:

  • the cast is very good: everyone looks, acts, and sounds as if they walked off the pages of the book
  • some changes in the order of events are weird. Unsurprisingly I prefer Rowling’s pacing/order of events, but her way probably works better in a novel than it would in a TV show
  • still, can’t help but feel like the slow, internal, meticulous novel version of this exact story works at least 70% better than the show version, which makes me sad
  • maybe that will change for Silkworm because that one is a RIDE
  • the most annoying change of events is Strike sleeping with Ciara – I think that happened after he talked in detail with Guy. Even if it happened before, the thing they did where they make it so that Guy points out how good Strike apparently is at sex according to a supermodel who has a lot to compare him with in front of Robin is, like, the heaviest heavy hand freaking ever, and unnecessary. Very, very unnecessary.
  • buuuut it was one thing, whatever.
  • more uncomfortable about this is that in this book/tv series, the [spoiler] two characters who are murdered are black women. It is sort of interesting that the murderer is shown to be racist but not in the cartoonish, unrealistic way that a guy who murders two black women would normally be portrayed. Instead, he’s a relatively normal white person, at pains to be like, “Well, it’s a black fellow in this footage – not that the fact that he’s black makes it suspicious by itself, I’m not – it’s just the time and location that makes it – you know what I mean.” Of course he also murdered his brother when they were both children so race isn’t his motivation, not at all, so it’s this weird thing where he is trying to capitalize off of societal racism in who he tries to point the finger at and in how he thinks he’ll get away with the second murder (I’m pretty sure he almost does, too), and he’s slightly, everyday racist himself, and he murders two black women – one purely out of self-interest, the other out of familial jealousy. The thing is, black women being murdered in real life isn’t really something that can be separated so easily from their being black women, and that aspect of the murders is noted but not the focus. And that can be an interesting thing, it can be a problematic thing, and it is likely both of those things at once. I actually have a lot of thoughts about Rowling’s two murderers in the first and second books. The third murderer is scary and all but he’s also pretty typical. The first two really threw me when they were revealed, made me uncomfortable, and I’m still having trouble sorting through how much of my discomfort is because I think she’s being a little problematic and how much is that she’s being unexpected and brutally honest in ways that make me squeamish. I think it’s a little bit problematic and mostly, she just got me. But unfortunately, the show version didn’t really add to my deliberations at all, apart from reminding me that I already have that going on somewhere in my subconscious.
  • I am excited to see Silkworm but also scared. That book was genuinely disturbing. Strike’s… discovery early on, and the reveal of who the murderer is and all of the fallout… yeah. If the show version has managed to pull it off I will be disquieted all over again, and if not I’ll be pretty disappointed.

lula landry

My biggest disappointment is that all of the little references JKR adds in there about women like Princess Diana, Marilyn Monroe, and Amy Winehouse, and the pressures of fame and objectification and tabloids and all of that garbage on young, talented, beautiful women which flesh out Lula’s story aren’t really present here. It feels like they should have been able to do that much easier in a show, particularly since they play clips of Lula’s Youtube videos. Those nods give the story relevance, depth, and create a real sense of empathy for the fictional victim whose voice is never actually heard in the book. We could have used them in the TV version of events.

Anyway, this has been your late-June reminder to read books.

These books are really nice reads. Financial realities, terrible boyfriends of amazing women who infuriatingly don’t realize that – not even that they deserve better, more that they don’t realize that they don’t deserve such trash in their lives omg Robin what are you doing, slow internal piecing together of the mystery, uncomfortable reveal of a murderer that up until this point has been at least a little bit sympathetic…

But in general, mysteries are great and we all deserve nice things in our lives so pick up a mystery at your earliest convenience.

And me. Hi, me. You’ve read these three books (for pleasure), one by Anthony Bidulka (for school), a bunch of the Lillian Jackson Braun Cat Who books (because you’re a cat person), and that’s IT, despite the fact that a good mystery is just about your favourite thing ever. So pick up a mystery at your earliest convenience.

Thanks.

Behind the Scenes of Fiddler

I remembered this morning that Fiddler on the Roof exists. Although it’s one of my favourite movie musicals, and a few years ago I got to see it on stage and obviously I loved it on stage too, it’s one of those movies I occasionally forget about and then remember and watch over and over for a couple of months.

I did a google image search and this photograph of Rosalind Harris, Michele Marsh, Neva Small, Elaine Edwards, and Candy Bonstein goofing off on set came up:

daughters

And it’s great.

And this reminded me of my other permanent Fiddler on the Roof opinions, such as: can we agree that Tzeitel, Hodel, Chava, Sphrintze, and Bielke are the best names ever?

I also think a Disney version of Fiddler would be cool, mainly because I’ve always linked up Tevye’s daughters with various Disney ladies in my mind. They’re stubborn and strong and the three oldest ones manage to tell a phenomenal story just by falling in love with increasingly “inappropriate” men.

And unlike some people I think Disney movies do a really good job of tackling unpleasant aspects of humanity – when they try, at least. If they did a straight adaptation of the stage show it would probably be fantastic but even if they updated it a little, I can imagine it being very good.

Also Tevye is one of the best characters ever and he should be animated.

You can’t tell me Disney wouldn’t kill this.

But it won’t happen – mainly I think because this story focuses on the older generation and Disney movies are, rightly, aimed at kids – the fact that I loved this as a kid probably wouldn’t sway too many Disney greenlighters.

It’s fine, though. The 1971 movie is perfect.

The Not-A-Princess Disney Ladies

Let’s talk about the ladies of 90s and early 00s Disney movies who aren’t princesses, simply because we don’t do it enough.

Esmeralda

esm17

When I was a kid, I wanted to be Esmeralda. I didn’t want the dancing or the persecution. I just wanted to have her sense of justice and the courage of her convictions.

She’s probably still my favourite Disney lady (honestly the competition is tough, but the fact that she was my childhood hero probably pushes her over the edge).

^^ This. All of it. This is who I wanted to be when I grew up.

Not the part about getting burnt at the stake. But if someone did ever try to do that, I hoped (and I guess I still hope) to be that defiant.

Esmeralda and the Jewel song “Hands” – that’s the definition of who I want to be.

Esmeralda is a bit more complicated than the fact that she’s my hero, though. For one thing, Jason Alexander (the voice of Hugo – everyone’s favourite gargoyle) was very excited about how “voluptuous” she was, compared to, >cringe< “Pokie.”* Which is just great.

But on that note, she’s one of Disney’s women of colour characters, and she is more sexualized than a lot of the white women characters and that’s… disappointing.

In the context of just the movie she’s in, though, her being sexualized is a good thing. She uses her sexuality to earn a living. Frollo tries to slutshame her and ends up falling directly into hell at the end of the movie so, point taken, Hunchback of Notre Dame.

She’s just doing her job, man. You can’t sentence her to death by burning just because it made you confused about… not even your religious convictions, really. Just your convictions about what a great, virtuous guy you are, despite all the genocide you’re doing.

If Esmeralda had been portrayed much more “innocently,” the point the movie makes about male entitlement wouldn’t have been as strong. Esmeralda is unmistakably a sexy, sexual woman, and you still don’t get to just do whatever you want with her. It’s important. A miracle, even, that this is a major part of a movie aimed at kids. When people say they want Disney to go back to making Hunchbacks of Notre Dames instead of the “garbage” they’re doing now I always roll my eyes but in this one respect, I agree. I’d like something edgier and ultimately more valuable from Disney occasionally.

Look at how she’s this woman that men can’t stop just flat out grabbing.

esm1esm11

… why does he think he should just sneak up behind her?

After this, of course, he earns her trust and respect and doesn’t pull this crap again.

The crown jewel is, of course:

Blegh.

Anyway. With Quasimodo, on the other hand – if they’re touching, she’s often the one who initiates it.

And these moments are always really sweet and thematic or whatever.

The moment that stands out where Quasi is the one rather forcefully initiating contact is, well:

I’m sure there are others, like when he’s helping her escape the cathedral or when he thinks she’s dead but the point still stands. There are clear differences in how these men act towards her, what is being coded as wrong and unacceptable, and what is demonstrated to be right.

esm20

I’m not one of the people who wishes Phoebus wasn’t in it and the romance had been between these two because one thing we are sorely lacking in this world is portrayals of male/female friendship. I think it’s perfect the way it is, though I do get the yearning for this romance too. But it’s OK. There are other women in Paris.

Anyway, especially in a movie that goes all in on male entitlement to women’s bodies and love, having a scene where Quasi gets all heartbroken and then moves on, remains her friend, doesn’t, ultimately, anyway, resent her boyfriend, saves her life from the guy killing her because he can’t have her… is cool.

The word “cool” covers it, right?

Meg

meg4

AKA, the best thing in Hercules.

Maybe most out of all other Disney ladies, at least the ones who aren’t villains, Meg is jaded, cynical, worldly.

“Well, you know how men are. They think ‘no’ means ‘yes’ and ‘get lost’ means ‘take me, I’m yours.'”

meg2meg3

Regarding these ^, first, she’s great, second, Hercules is the cutest, and third, her stinger, “Don’t worry, Shorty here can explain it to ya later” is fantastic and deserved.

Meg is soundly mistreated throughout this movie, and a good chunk of that mistreatment is, again, this is another woman various men can’t stop grabbing. But there are also moments where the good characters are overly hostile towards her as well.

Phil is the worst to her, and some of the time his mistrust and anger towards her are justified but mostly his attitude is pretty garbage. Then Hercules himself, when Hades tells him Meg’s his henchwoman, just – like – dude, let her talk. If you’d let her talk, she’d tell you the whole stupid story in which she’s only sort of to blame, and even then, not really.

She’s sad and indentured. Come on, now.

And I know, we need him to get really really sad and feel all betrayed because we require some dramatic tension, but it’s still a little tiring when she’s right next to him and he could have just asked her to explain it to him after the fact. And if he really is the nice, understanding guy that the entire Meg relationship is painting him to be, he probably wouldn’t have blown up right away.

Then there’s Hades himself. Since Hades is the villain, everything he does is wrong so I guess it’s fine how extremely grabby he is with her the whole time.

Hades is the worst.

He’s not worse than Frollo but he is pretty bad still.

While collecting images of him seizing her by the shoulders and being gross about “curves” I remembered that he even grabs her spirit and mimes her talking to Hercules, so here’s that:

hades and meg 10

That’s – yeah. That’s not cool. Hercules’s face is the truth there, as is the part where he megasonic-punches him into the pool of the dead for this.

It’s just so extremely disrespectful. Again, he’s the villain, but Meg gets snarked at way too much by the good guys too, which is lousy.

Meg, you deserved better. Which is something Hercules knows (throughout most of the movie, anyway).

I like her as she is, but the fact that she’s all but blameless for her situation (she sold her soul to Hades with the best of intentions, after all) is something I’ll note.

If Meg was working for Hades out of a general lack of consideration for people around her and had to realize the error of her ways, like Kuzco in Emporer’s New Groove, it would just be… better. First because it would make how angry Herc gets make more sense.

More importantly, though, and this is a recurring theme here at OwlMachine, we really want, nay, need, some unlikable, morally complicated women characters in Disney movies. Honestly, Maleficent in Maleficent is a START. We need them to pick up the ball they started rolling there and go way bigger.

Maybe not way bigger. But we wouldn’t say no to a female Kuzco.

Please?

Jane

jane sketching

I’m not a huge watcher of Tarzan so mostly I know that Jane is a very enthusiastic zoology/art nerd. Which is cool.

I do like this one moment where she’s the one who initiates the kiss at the end and he doesn’t know what that is so she gets all embarrassed.

CuuuuuuuuuuuUUUUUUte.

Like all of the ladies so far on this list, she’s here to fill the love interest role, and although I prefer the almost kind of edgy version they did with Meg – the cynical, downright jaded  version of the love interest – Jane is pretty great too. She’s warm, enthusiastic, and empathetic. Pretty much impossible not to like, is Jane.

Nani

nanii

I would die for Nani.

This girl has it all: tragically dead parents, a traumatized/eccentric/probably needs some therapy little sister that she is now the sole guardian for, a violent alien dog, no job and tourist season is over, a really hyper-vigilant social worker hounding her every step, a love interest she can’t actually deal with right now, and more aliens coming to destroy her house.

Poor Nani.

Her relationship with Lilo is a typical explosive but close sister relationship, strained these days mainly due to the dead-parent thing. And also because The State keeps threatening to take Lilo away, which is very unhelpful.

Thanks, Stitch.

There’s really nothing else to say about her, at least, not that I can think of now. How about a bullet list? That always helps when I just like something and wouldn’t change it one bit.

Nani for president:

  • because she’s good to the core
  • she’s doing a fantastic job considering her circumstances
  • she is holding it together like a champ and I’m not even exaggerating when I say: her presence in Lilo and Stitch is always legitimately inspirational and comforting
  • the part where she tells Stitch she knows he can talk, then he says, “OK, OK,” and she screams and hits him is GOLD
  • David could tell you the rest
  • I wish every Lilo could have a Nani looking out for them.

The End

And that’s it for this era of Disney movies. I’d like to talk about each of them in more detail some other time because these characters are great and should get talked about more.


*I know this because of this Lindsay Ellis essay which is always worth a watch

Cerebrus was never meant to be screencapped

Picture yourself trying to write about cool things, needing a still image or two from Disney’s quite frankly AMAZING(ly awful but still AMAZING) Hercules, heading over to disney screencaps dot com which is now animation screencaps dot com, and finding this.

This brief snippet of Cerebrus fighting himself over a steak is always a favourite of mine whenever I watch Hercules and it looks so fluid and cool animated but stilled it’s just the gift that keeps on giving.

Animation is cool.

So is Hercules, which does this a lot, really.

Infinity War Gripes

It’s been 24 hours since I’ve seen Infinity War and I’d just like to say that I didn’t… really… like it.

I sent a rant to my sister afterwards and I’m posting it here.

Spoilers follow.

The very simplistic morality here: sacrificing half the population for big ideas is bad, and, the more morally gray version is that sacrificing individual players to save the entire universe is also bad. But the one… doesn’t follow the other, sorry.

I’m sure there will be some major solution that involves using the stones rather than destroying them, like how Harry uses the hallows rather than just stealing them and whatnot, and the lesson will be that intent is important which is a good simplistic moral. but like, the amount of time both teams wasted not destroying the stones was stupid. Especially in Wanda/Captain America’s case, where Dr. Strange wasn’t there to be omnipotent. Like the point is that the superheroes are fighting this fascist who thinks killing half the people saves the rest but here are these elites who think killing their friend to save half the universe is a bummer. There’s no complexity there. The only good part was when Quill was going to kill Gamora but Thanos stopped him. That Wanda eventually tried but didn’t do it right away is stupid.

Quill getting mad and ruining Tony’s plan is perfectly fine, that’s human. Wanda being like “but my robot boyfriend” is human too, but she had time to deal with it and come to terms with it. And WAY WORSE was Dr. Strange, deciding at the last second to let Thanos do his thing by giving him the time stone in exchange for Tony’s life.

I’m assuming he knows that somehow this course of events will lead to righting everything but if that’s the case then:

  1. a) He hasn’t learned to be a team player, which is what his arc was supposed to be, since he starts out on their space adventure by saying, “I’m not saving you or the kid over the stone,” and now he’s saving Tony over the stone. But he isn’t really sparing Tony’s life and sacrificing the stone and half the universe. He’s just letting this play out so that everything gets undone. The theme of putting individuals above the more lofty goals is meaningless because he isn’t really doing that, he’s just doing lousy comic book time reverse stuff. If the point is that to ultimately save the universe they need Tony so for now they sacrifice the stone and the universe to save Tony so that he can later save the universe and, I guess, the stone, that’s… not the theme. Or I guess in some stupid convoluted Randian way it is, but, it’s really bad.
  2. b) If you’re going to be an avenger you put the rest of the universe above yourself. Which is what Thanos did for his stupid goals and he’s bad. Soooooo… The Avengers is just about a group of people who never have to make hard sacrifices because plot conveniences get them out of it and they generally don’t even consider those sacrifices for more than half a second because “that would be vaguely evil,” and they get to just do whatever they want with literally no guiding principles. That’s stupid.

There is no moral complexity here. No one is examining good versus evil or heroism as a thing to question and be careful with. It’s just sort of spectacle.

I only liked the Guardians’ parts and Thor. Thor’s lightning moment was good, I thought, though it could have been much stronger with better focus. Also now that Rocket is alone, and every one of his friends is dead, that random set up between him and Thor about how Thor has lost everyone but Rockt hasn’t now means that the two of them are BFFs and work through their feelings together and in doing so save all their friends, right? Because if that’s a subplot in the sequel then I’ll bother watching it.

But so. Is anyone going to stay dead? And if not, what’s the point? Where is the tension? Why did I watch all of this play out, where really only Starlord learned anything (and not really, he’s dealt with grief before), if it’s all going to get erased in the end? Why isn’t the next going further than just presenting Captain America’s lack of an arc and instead cutting him and the other boring ones out entirely and just being called God of Thunder and the Rabbit Save the Universe because honestly, you could make an excellent movie out of that, focusing in on things that are interesting, and just having everyone else be there as cameos.

Murder Princesses

A long, long, long time ago, I started writing a thing about how Andrew Stanton was annoyed that predator and prey species coexist in The Lion King and so he went on to infuse his movie, Finding Nemo, with such examples of natural realism as a pelican scooping up two fish and some sea water and flying them away from a flock of seagulls to rescue the son of one of the fish, who is acquainted with the pelican because the pelican frequently visits the fish tank where the fish son currently lives to watch a human dentist practice dentistry the way the rest of us watch the olympics or whatever.

And I keep getting distracted and writing paragraphs about humpback whales and fictional telepathic gorillas and human civilizations living in South American rainforests, and now,

84years

and I think it’s time for just a quick post about something I only fully began to appreciate recently.

Nala and Kiara are murder princesses.

Nala, best friend and love interest of The Lion King‘s protagonist, tries to kill and eat Puumba, one of the protagonist’s surrogate fathers.

It’s mostly played for comedic effect. The scene is tense and quite scary, but probably no one except the very young in the audience actually think SHE’S GONNA EAT [PUUMBA]. Also Timon tells Simba to GO FOR THE JUGULAR.

They can pull it off precisely because the entire audience sees a scary lionness preparing to pounce in the long grass and thinks, “Oh, it’s Nala,” so we know what we’re in for is one of those hijinks-infused sequences in which everyone misunderstands everything until finally each of the love interests realize who the other is.

It’s just that this hijinks-infused sequence is a very dramatic chase scene in which the female love interest and basically Disney princess is trying to kill and eat one of the comedy animals.

This is what happens when your movie is about lions.

In the very not good though still admittedly technically competent sequel, teenage angst ensues because KIARA JUST WANTS SOME FREAKING INDEPENDENCE, DAD.

INDEPENDENCE WHILE HUNTING. KILLING ANTELOPE THINGS.

I’m even willing to admit that Kiara’s murder princess scene is a little bolder than Nala’s, since, in The Lion King, we know Puumba, and we know that it’s Nala, and we’re assuming that everything will be set right as soon as Simba shows up.

In this sequence, Kiara is just hunting a random herd of animals who don’t have any lines or names. I’m not even sure what species they are. They’re probably purposefully not one of the more recognizable prey species of lions. Could anyone root for Kiara after watching her hunt a herd of zebra, for example?

Personally I don’t root for her at all, but that isn’t the point and I’m just jaded. The actual point is that theoretically, Kiara could be successful on her hunt because she isn’t hunting a main character or even a character with a small speaking role. She isn’t hunting anyone off-limits.

lknalaisterrifying4

But Nala’s the one with all the teeth and claws, and also she’s in the better movie. But it doesn’t matter. Disney’s lioness princesses/queens are violent predators and the movies are kind of shockingly honest about that.

Neat.

Anne Episode Recap: Wherever You Are Is My Home

A note on my complaint about Marilla being a tragic woman because she turned down some guy:

I said in the previous post that book-Marilla is “totally cool with her choices” regarding choosing not to marry Gilbert’s dad way back when, but as it turns out, she did regret it. But like, not melodramatic-Netflix-series regret, just kind of low key regret. As far as I’m concerned my point still stands. Her being over-the-top tragically devastated that she never married and such is just sad, and makes no sense when, again, the fact that she and her brother remain unmarried is exactly the reason for Anne’s arrival to Green Gables which is a happy thing and probably wouldn’t have happened if Marilla had married, and Anne Shirley is no one’s consolation prize. She’s the best. SO.

On to the finale of this first season:

Wow, it’s way too dramatic. Matthew gets suicidal. He actually tries to kill himself in this episode. I’m not 100% against this in theory, first because we could probably use some sensitive depictions of people dealing with depression and suicide ideation (this is not that, not at all, but I do think it was at least partially an attempt at it, and maybe it will mean something to someone, IDK) and second, because I do think adaptations can and should change fundamental things in order to be more relevant to the moment they’re being made in and to add new depth to the story, but this entire episode didn’t work for me and I have very little to say excepting this run-on sentence I’ve just written.

I do also want to ask who in maple-syrup-loving hell that guy is at the end. The shot holds on his face forever, and then Anne’s reaction to his existence goes on forever, and I’m completely lost.

At first I thought she knew him somehow, or maybe that he was about to declare that he was someone somwhat significant to the Cuthberts, or maybe to Gilbert, or, anything, really. But no.

So, what I’m left with – is Anne going to have a crush on him? He’s probably some character from one of the other books and I’m just out of the know. I could google it but instead, I’ll wait for season 2.

This series so far has had a lot of very high notes, but right now I mostly just feel like revisiting cozy, comforting Anne of Green Gables with only minor drama and no rape references and attempted suicide.

Anne Episode Recap: Remorse is the Poison of Life

All right, let’s get back on this vegan horse.

(I don’t know, OK, horses make me sad so whatever)

A Series of Unfortunate Events has been updated on Netflix with its so far amazing season 2, which I am halfway through, and I decided to prolong my enjoyment of that by finishing up Anne first so here goes, with the penultimate episode with a title that doesn’t make sense. “Regret” instead of “remorse” would work, but as it is it’s confusing. Only Diana’s mom is remorseful and it’s framed as a good thing so I’m a little lost.

Things that I remember about the series so far:

  • Anne isn’t allowed to be Diana’s friend anymore because they got drunk on what they thought was raspberry cordial but was actually sherry or something
  • Matthew has some sort of romantically tragic past, much to my annoyance
  • Gilbert’s dad is dying

Things that I didn’t remember about this series and was confused about as I watched:

  • The kids talk in a really difficult-to-ignore modern-type jargon – except Anne who is over-the-top, and Diana, who talks pretty much like she does in every other version (albeit she’s a little more savvy than normal)
  • Maybe it’s just the boys who talk like it’s the 21st century and not 190whatever, saying things like “I don’t get you” and such
  • None of Anne’s interactions with Gilbert make sense, except for the part when she cracked a slate over his head

Regarding that last one then: it’s kind of a shame. My theory, based on the fact that the running theme of ROMANCE = GOOD, LACK OF ROMANCE = HORRIBLE TRAGIC REGRET permeates this episode in particular, is that the writers/directors/creators were, strangely, feeling a little pressured to apologize for including the Anne/Gilbert romance at all.

And I have some evidence to that effect.

Exhibit A: Lesbians and Kindred Spirits

In this episode, Diana’s great aunt comes to stay because her “companion” has recently died. Anne misunderstands and thinks that means her companion was her BFFL but Great Aunt Josephine comes right out and says that she was basically married to the woman, so there’s that. Which is great!

It’s not so great that this reveal is done in a super allonormative (centering sexual/romantic relationships as the most important type of relationship at the expense of every other type of relationship) way but whatever. 190something lesbians are really, really important, and I’m much more annoyed with the handling of Marilla’s tragical romantical past than the “Aunt Josephine is a lesbian and therefore Anne should begin preparations to marry Gilbert at the age of 14” subplot.

But anyway, in setting us up for the very unshocking lesbian reveal that we were all supposed to understand long before Anne does, the older lesbian couple gets connected, multiple times, to the Anne/Diana friendship. When I studied Anne of Green Gables in university, my prof made a brief note that queer readings of Anne abound because of how intense their friendship is.

There are a lot of… declarations of love. Vows. Over dramatic promises and bonds. It’s good stuff.

I’m more than OK with reading Anne and Diana as being maybe sort of a lot romantic and/or sexual, and I’m also more than OK reading it as a very important platonic friendship. But in this episode, they seem to nod to the same-sex attraction interpretation of the relationship and then dive right into highlighting Anne/Gilbert.

This is especially bizarre because so far it has been extremely one-sided, with Anne feeling angry, ashamed, and frustrated in most of her interactions with Gilbert and only feeling a little bit of sympathy for him when she learns that his father is dying. We’re not really ready for the cutesy stuff to happen. She’s barely acknowledged that she doesn’t hate him.

I’d say they’re going, “See, Anne/Diana, we know, that would have been great, here’s an old lady lesbian grieving over her dead lover as compensation while we pursue Anne/Gilbert instead” if I were cynical, which I both am and am not. I want Anne to have her Gilbert romance. I don’t see why she couldn’t have more than one romance, frankly. I also don’t know why she has to have any romance at all. The book ends with an itty bitty nod in that direction, which we all knew was coming the whole time but which is still, compared to the show’s version, pretty muted. In my opinion, the more muted version makes a lot more sense considering the ages of these characters.

It’s also better done. The gradual shift from dislike to totally crushing on each other while competing in earnest the whole time is done very well, and it’s one of the bigger draws for a lot of the books’ fans over the years. I can’t help but feel that if the writers had been less concerned with trying to make Anne/Gilbert “progressive” by “justifying” its existence, which it does by showing that strong, confident, independent role-model Josephine was also into romance, the whole romance subplot would have been a lot better.

Exhibit B: Live your life with no regrets (and that means get married or do the 190whatever lesbian version of getting married)

Early in the episode Great Aunt Josephine tells Anne that she can get married at whatever age she wants, if she wants. And if she chooses a career she can order her own white dress and wear it whenever she wants. Anne declares she’s going to be her “own woman” and she’ll be the heroine of her own story.

K, good, great, I like it so far.

Then Anne tells her, “I’m just like you, no romance ever.”

And Aunt Josephine says, “That’s not like me at all, I lived a full life, was basically married to my woman, etc. Basically, just make sure you live without regrets.”

While Aunt Josephine cries about what she’s lost due simply to old age but doesn’t regret having because “grief is the price we pay for love,” Marilla is there for the contrast, showing us that the actual tragedy is to turn down romance and then get old and wish you hadn’t turned down romance.

Now if only Anne was aware that living without regrets can sometimes mean choosing to not have romance.

I’m honestly trying not to go on and on about this stuff, partly because I’m not aromantic and so this isn’t entirely my lane. But also because I like to try to balance my legitimate enjoyment of a thing while acknowledging how it might be flawed in ways that might exclude or erase certain types of people. I’d like to just say “Hey, decent but sort of confusing episode; I didn’t like how the Marilla ‘tragic romance’ thing was handled though, kinda allonormative/amatonormative, guys.” I don’t really trust that my urge to dissect it and explain exactly why it bothers me is a good urge and not an obsessive, slightly self-destructive, time-wasting, re-centering urge.

While I was reading The Night Circus I was actively fighting the urge to get annoyed about how important the romance was at the expense of every other type of relationship the characters could have gotten happiness, support, and meaning out of, but I ended up writing forever about it. I really would rather not have done that, but I can’t ignore it when I see it. Also although there is a lesbian romance mentioned in that book, just as there is one mentioned here, The Night Circus’s lesbian romance is super tragic, involving suicide, even, whereas here, it’s simply a portrayal of a woman who has grown old with her lover and is now alone because, well, death happens, which makes it slightly better.

It’s still weird that it’s the catalyst for Anne to learn that romance isn’t the devil, but, this portrayal still a little better, and I don’t know that complaining about the allonormativity is worthwhile when at least this show is just casually here on Netflix noting that queer people lived and loved even as far back as 190something. (I know queer people have existed forever, I just can’t convey sarcasm in this medium).

I’d love to instead gush about how (genuinely, honestly, giddily) happy I was to see references to ACTUAL GAY WOMEN on this show and just leave it at that, but Matthew and Marilla are sort of important icons of mine. There are a couple of unmarried older family members in Emily of New Moon as well, but I don’t remember their names. Anne of Green Gables is the bigger cultural product, and I’m very familiar with shy, terrified-of-women Matthew and severe, had-a-romance-with-Gilbert-Blythe’s-dad-but-decided-fuck-it Marilla.

Annnnnnnd instead of just calmly portraying Marilla’s slightly wistful, “Oh, yeah, he was my beau once, we were going to get married but things changed,” as, yes, slightly wistful, maybe even quite sad since he’s dead now but mostly OK with her life choices, they went full tragic.

So Matthew and Marilla’s mom was a mess because of their older brother’s tragic death, it’s implied they both turned down possibilities of romance because their mother was too much of a burden/tyrant/boring familial relation for them to do what they really wanted, which was romance obviously, yadda yadda.

I’m going to just go ahead and state for the record that portraying Marilla as this sad woman looking back on her unmarried, virginal life and going “AHHH WHY DIDN’T I JUST DO THE THING” is the wrong choice. Not because romance (… and sex) is bad, but because in the source material Marilla’s totally cool with her choices. Why change that?

Why change that indeed, when, if Marilla had been married with biological children, she’d probably never have adopted Anne and Anne would instead be living in horrible conditions, being abused and listening to husbands rape their wives every other night?

Like? Did they temporarily forget what story they’re telling?

Here’s the better version:

Marilla confides in Anne, who is currently worrying about how large (or small) a role romance should play in her life. “I had a romance once,” she says in her harsh but strangely vulnerable Marilla-esque way. “I liked him, he wore a stupid hat, he asked me to marry him, I had other things to do. Who knows what would have happened if I’d said yes. Maybe I’d have been happier. But having said no, I’ve been led to the point where I needed to adopt a precocious orphan and so far that’s turned out very well, so whatever, make the choices that are right for you.”

I say, if you must “justify” letting Anne have romance when she’s also very clearly a feminist in this version, do it without accidentally implying that romance is an essential part of womanhood, feminism, and life in general.

But also, you could just not bother trying to justify it. No one worth listening to thinks Anne liking a guy ruins her feminist cred, or, in fact, her queer cred. Come on.

Other Stuff

Gilbert’s dad dies, which I sort of mentioned. Gilbert gets in a fist fight. Also maybe he moves to Alberta, or maybe we’re just supposed to think he moved to Alberta.

The girls make a shepherd’s pie for Gilbert, and as they’re explaining the pie to him Diana says that Anne is a good cook and then Anne screams, “BUT I’D MAKE A HORRIBLE WIFE!” And then she runs away and everyone looks around at each other uncomfortably and it is quality television.

Also Matthew’s favourite ship sinks? There’s this part where the grocer tells him it sank and there was no insurance and the name of the ship seems to mean a lot to Matthew. I’m confused. Maybe we’re not supposed to know until the next episode what that’s about or maybe it’s something I forgot from a previous one but I hope it’s just that he likes to look at that ship and now he’s sad because he only has second-rate ships to look at.

I’m sure that’s what it is.

ONWARDS.

Spring Equinox Reading Roundup

(I think every Winnie the Pooh story takes place during spring. Unless it’s the ones during winter. Or if they go to Eeyore’s place, then it’smysteriously fall.)

Instead of doing this monthly like last year, I thought I’d be super pretentious and do them for every change of season. So today, on the day of 2018’s Spring Equinox, here are the books I’ve read so far.

the fate of the tearling

The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

The way this series ends is BOLD. I’ve never read anything like it. There are a couple of things about the ending that bother me (like if they changed history so drastically I don’t think the same people would all exist hundreds of years later), but I’ll gladly set them aside to have the book end the way it does (because it’s necessary to see everyone we already know living drastically different lives in order for it to have as real an impact as it does, even if it’s silly) because it is so different from and more honest and thoughtful than 100% of the high fantasy I’ve ever read.

Get started on this series if you like fantasy. Here’s three’s review of the first book in the trilogy if you need a push.

 

inexxing reflections

Indexing: Reflections by Seanan McGuire

I loved it. The sequel was much easier to get into than the first one, and Sloane gets a bunch of point-of-view chapters which is pretty much all I want out of the year. Sloane is a living embodiment of a Wicked Stepsister archetype constantly fighting the urge to murder everyone around her, in case you needed to be sold on this series.

 

let's talk about love

Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kahn

Asexual romance where the protagonist is adorable and confused and questioning, and her love interest is the best ever. The one little problem I have is with the conflict resolution with Alice’s BFF, because it ends with Alice apologizing and her friend… not. She says, “You need to tell me if something bothers you,” and that’s what serves as her reciprocating Alice’s apology and I’m not really a fan of that. I did like the version of this in Tash Hearts Tolstoy which I read last year. Tash has an in-your-face female BFF and they have a huge fight, and though Tash is certainly at fault for some of it, it’s not entirely on her to smooth things over in their friendship. But it’s a relatively small problem. More like this, thanks.

 

beneath the sugar sky

Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

I didn’t like it as much as the two previous books in the series, with Down Among the Sticks and Bones (which was book 2) still being my obvious favourite.

 

Print

Knit One Girl Two by Shira Glassman

Short, sweet, well-done. There was a cat occasionally.

 

the night circus2

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I wrote a whole long thing about this one.

 

the girl who drank the moon

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

It’s amazing. Know a kid? Get them this book. And read it yourself.

 

suicide sex club

Suicide Sex Club by C.M. Blackwood

I think this is the first straight smut I’ve ever read. It was a little much (and by “a little” I mean “a lot”) but it’s also surprisingly sweet much of the time, or, maybe not really that surprisingly sweet, because I’ve read a murder mystery/lesbian romance by Blackwood before and it was similarly cute. Though with a lot less sex.

I’d be cautious reading this one if you’re sensitive to self-harm and abusive/disassociation-style sex and rape. There’s also one brief mention of pedophilia. I’d also note that it doesn’t portray sex work in the greatest light – Tory is a sex worker and she’s lovely but the titular “Suicide Sex Club” is an exploitative sex trafficking type place. It also doesn’t portray BDSM in the greatest light, but no one who participates in BDSM acts are doing so conscientiously or not as a way to self-harm, so, by not suggesting that this is the way to do that stuff properly, it’s way less misrepresentative of BDSM than 50 Shades is.

 

your favorite superhero sucks

Your Favorite Superhero Sucks by Noah Berlatsky

Admittedly, the latest superhero mega blockbusters are getting to me. I loved Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther. Obviously I also loved Wonder Woman. Each of these movies has its flaws, or, in Black Panther’s case, maybe “slight limitations” might be a better term, but they’re still important and more interesting than most of what else Marvel and DC have been serving up lately.

Still, superheroes are kind of a weird thing, and considering how they’re dominating the pop culture scene right now, I think it’s really important to critique them at every available opportunity.

This book is a good place to start. I found a couple of the essays ridiculously funny, especially “Our Batman, Ourselves.” I didn’t agree with absolutely everything, but even where I have differing opinions I think Berlatsky makes a lot of really good points. And really important ones. Pop culture needs scrutiny.

 

even this page is white

even this page is white by Vivek Shraya

A collection of poems, mainly dealing with racism. Shraya confronts white privilege head on. She spotlights white peoples’ reluctance to confront our own privilege, racism, and racist assumptions in such a searing way that I really think every white person, especially every white person in Canada, should have to read it. I’m not saying it’s the cure to our own special Canadian-brand antipathy, because no, but finding ourselves listening to people saying things that make us uncomfortable more and more often is the only way forward, and this book does its part.

Aaaaaaaand now it’s spring.

The Night Circus and Amatonormativity

Whaaaat Are You Talking About

Amatonormativity: the prevailing belief that romantic relationships are universally desired by all people and that they are preferable to other, nonromantic relationships

Sucky for a lot of reasons, but mainly because there are aromantic people in the world. That’s people who don’t feel romantic attraction, or who feel romantic attraction rarely or only in certain contexts.

For a nice, concise, fairly topical, real-life example of amatonormativity in action: did you watch the ice dancing? Did you see Virtue and Moir? Did you see all the ravenous speculation about how even though they’ve always said that they’re not a couple, they must be dating, they must be having sex, how could they not, it’s not like acting is a major component of ice dancing or anything…

I roll my eyes, but I also understand, sort of. I get it, you got swept up in the dances. They’re very good. They make us all feel things. Great. But hey, if it really does turn out that they’ve been telling the truth this whole time and they’re just a man and a woman with a super close, supportive, platonic friendship that can remain a platonic friendship even during occasional three minute stints in which they stare at/touch each other like they really wanna so that they can up their artistic score, well, that’s good. Because When Harry Met Sally was wrong and men and women can and should be friends, close friends, even. Not everything needs to be a romance.

In Fiction

So, there’s this article talking about how Voldemort, with his infamous lack of interest or perhaps even lack of ability to love, is pretty much the aromantic character in Harry Potter and he’s also the guy who wants to murder a baby so that he can adequately chop up his own soul.

I don’t really agree with the thesis here, because I’ve always read Harry Potter as centering, first and foremost, friendship. Harry’s survival is thanks to his mother’s love for him, and after his parents are gone it is Ron and Hermione, neither of whom he is attracted to, who are most important to him. He has a special bond with Molly Weasley as well, who treats him like he’s her own son.

When Harry finally reveals himself to Voldemort in their final battle, it’s to stand in front of Molly when Voldemort turns to kill her. He’s saving Molly, not Ginny. After the battle, Harry sees Ginny but lets her be for the moment, choosing to seek Ron and Hermione out instead. Friendship and the love between a parent and child. That’s they key thing Voldemort doesn’t have time for – or, actually, that’s the stuff he devalues so completely that he thinks it’s a good idea to spend much of his time killing peoples’ friends, children, and parents – and why, according to Dumbledore, he is ultimately defeated.

People asked JK Rowling throughout the years whether Voldemort ever dated, and her answer was always, “Um, no. He totes wouldn’t even ever have been interested.” The thing is, people who do evil things in real life often do form romantic and sexual attachments and relationships, but in literature it always seems strange to have the evilest of the evil date someone. And that is probably absolutely entirely because of amatonormativity. If romantic relationships are the best thing ever, even, maybe, the only thing that really matters, why would evil people take part in them? Surely they would be too evil to understand how great they are, and, if evil people did get into a romantic relationship how could they remain evil?

So. Even though I think every time Dumbledore said, “Harry it’s cool, you’ll beat him because you can love and he can’t,” he wasn’t talking about romantic love, yes, Voldemort being so very clearly aromantic is kind of a buzzkill.

Buuuuut I love Harry Potter for its depiction of friendship. It’s top notch on the topic of friendship, and bless JKR for that. Harry PotterIt, and AvatarThe Last Airbender/Legend of Korra are stellar for friendship. Sure, there’s romance and sometime sex, sometimes even eleven-year-olds having sex, but it’s mostly about how great and important and life-saving and world-saving friendship is and I’m giving them all props for that.

(also I think Charles Weasleton and Sirius Black are aroace and awesome, but only Charlie’s ID was *sort of* confirmed, in an interview, post the Deathly Hallows release, so I guess they don’t count)

(but they’re totally aroace and awesome I don’t care)

the night circus 3

The Night Circus: Sales Pitch

Hi.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is one of the best fantasy/magical realism books I’ve read in a long time. It’s stylish, in it’s chic third person present tense, with the occasional chapter in second person present tense. When I read third person present in other books, and so far the only other books I’ve read in third person present are the Sidekick Squad books by C.B. Lee, it drives me up the wall. But not here.

It has beautiful, mystical, magical, romantic prose. When I read super stylish, super romantic prose, and mainly I’m thinking of anything by Anna-Marie McLemore, it drives me up the wall. But not here.

(C.B. Lee and Anna-Marie McLemore are still very good though, I’m just a little picky. I like Rowling prose, OK? Sweet and super simple. Leave me alone.)

The prose is… it’s… it’s just flawless. Reading this book is like eating a giant piece of this cake. Or this cake. Or – oh. Oh wow. OK so it’s like all of those, I can’t decide. Just all of them. It’s very decadent, and very good, is the point I’m trying to make.

I want to go to the Night Circus. I want to live there. It feels real, it feels beautiful and magical and just a little bit dangerous, and it’s been a very, very long time since I’ve fallen so hard for a fictional, magical world.

the night circus2

The Night Circus: Alas.

Here’s the thing, though.

The entire circus itself is created in order for the two protagonists, Marco and Celia, to have an arena in which to compete. The competition is deliberately vague: they basically just have to create magic things, different tents, different showcases, and they have to keep all of the people they’ve roped into the endeavour relatively safe and happy while they battle it out. Both are set on this journey by overpowerful completely cold-hearted ancient father figures when they are powerless children. They grow up, learn their different styles of magic from their different mentors, and then they start battling it out.

But, wouldn’t you know it, they’re both super hot young adults and they fall for each other. He falls first, she’s sort of resistant until she just can’t ignore how intensely he burns for her, you know, typical stuff. And because of this, the fairly vague competition turns into basically just them writing love letters to each other in the form of circus exhibitions and being completely impressed by each other’s magical prowess. Mostly he’s impressed. Typical stuff.

I’m not aromantic, and, more importantly, I’m usually a sucker for this sort of thing. I’m pretty sure, even not being aromantic myself, that you can be a huge fan of cutesy but still extremely intense romance stuff even if you don’t feel romantic attraction or if you only feel it sometimes. Anyway, what I wanted to get at is this: this is fine. It’s fine. It’s great. I’d normally love it. I did quite like it, I guess, as it is.

But, I’d read the “Voldemort as aromantic is super problematic” article first.

And.

So.

Here’s the thing.

There isn’t… really… like… any friendship in this.

There are two sets of twins, I’ll grant.

Here’s the thing about that: in the older twins’ case, they’re two fabulous ladies, two members of the really awesome group of people who found the Night Circus. One of the other members, some guy, is trying to determine which one of them he’s more in love with. Happily for all three of them, one of them dies. She goes to that some guy and asks why none of them have aged in the ten years since the circus began, and he sends her to Marco’s mentor, who compels her to accidentally walk in front of a train. And then the second twin and some guy start dating.

I make it sound sort of suspicious, like some guy wanted one of them to die to make his choice simple. I’m pretty sure he didn’t. But it’s just rather weird to me that, well, this is what happens to one set of twins. Like. Some guy is in love with both of them, trying to choose. And then. One of them dies. Like. What?

The younger twins are a boy and a girl. Widget, the boy, says and does normal, overly precocious literary child things that no real child would say or do. Poppet, the girl, says and does normal, overly precocious literary child things that no real child would say or do, and she also falls in love with some other boy who shows up to save the day at the end.

I’ll be honest: I’d be a little less annoyed if it had been Widget falling in love and Poppet just got to do her own thing in the end. But I’d still be slightly annoyed. There are a handful of scenes with the brother and sister being together, but their relationship isn’t as real as I’d like, and most of their scenes include Bailey, the boy Poppet falls in love with. And there isn’t a reason for her to fall in love with him. From Bailey’s perspective, she’s an exotic circus girl who is super nice to him, so of course he falls in love with her. I’m not saying he needs to be the most interesting manboy in the world for her to fall in love with him but there’s no exploration of how she feels about him at all. It’s just supposed to be a given, I guess, that she’d like him.

The only other relationship that has any sort of significance and that isn’t a romance is the one between the enigmatic contortionist Tsukiko and Isobel, the woman who is in love with Marco and who Marco is not in love with but he doesn’t tell her that until near the end (of course). But we only see glimpses.

And then the villains. Mr. A H- and Prospero the Enchanter, who both enjoy teaching children how to do magic so that they can compete with the rival’s student until one of them eventually dies. Prospero is Celia’s father. After she and Marco have sex, Prospero follows her around and calls her a whore a bunch of times, telling her she’s weak, she’s better than all of that, he’s extremely disappointed in her, he’s probably manipulating her girlish heart and of course doesn’t feel anything real for her, those feelings are for lesser people to indulge in, etc.

Tsukiko is a former winner and student of Mr. A H-‘s. Her opponent was another woman, and the competition between the two of them was also basically just a giant magical romance sexytimes fest. She says something along the lines of, “It’s been great being here, it’s the only thing that comes close to reminding me of the bliss I felt when I was magically intertwined with my long lost love, etc.”

Eventually Tsukiko’s magical girlfriend killed herself to end the game because she couldn’t bear to go on living if she’d have to live without Tsukiko. And Celia and Marco do the same thing sort of. It ends with Bailey saving them somehow. I’m still very confused about how that works, because to me, Bailey seems like a competely boring blank slate moderately enthusiastic fan of the circus, so why he’s ultimately the key to saving the circus and preserving Celia and Marco in eternal ghostly love is sort of beyond my capacity to understand. But boring rando saviours are not my topic today. And if they were, I’d much rather talk about the complete and utter bullshit that was Bard the Bowman being the guy to take down Smaug randomly near the end of The Hobbit. WTF forever, Tolkein, that sucked. But the Luke Evans version of events is fine.

MORE IMPORTANTLY is that even though reading this book was freaking delightful, by the end of it I was more than a little bit tired of how central and all-encompassing all of the sickening romance of it all was. I’d have liked there to have been just a little tweaking; just give Celia maybe one friend (one that doesn’t want to bone her because she does in fact have a friend and we never see her side of that friendship, which was platonic, we only see his, and he mostly wants to bone her) (sigh); give Marco a friend instead of a poor hopelessly devoted woman he continues to lead on despite being thoroughly uninterested in her; highlight Poppet and Widget and their sibling fights and mischief, things that would be more realistic than just having two precocious literary children being sagely and dull. There’s a super old glamorous lady who is (of course) entirely desexualized along for the ride too; give her something to do other than making knowing comments to Celia about how much Marco wants to bone her.

There is one conversation between Celia and the surviving fabulous lady twin in which surviving twin has figured it out and knows that Celia is somewhat responsible for her sister’s death, and she calls her out on it magnificently. That conversation was one of the highlights of the book and left me in awe. That’s the sort of thing that’s sorely missing from the rest of it: evidence of love that exists beyond and outside of romance and sex.

Regarding the Tsukiko revelation, also, at first, I thought, “Oh good, finally, a queer romance on top of all of these straight ones,” but then I thought, “Naaaah, we don’t see it at all, and one of them is tragically dead and the other one is tragically stuck living forever without the love of her life. Typical.”

I think it’s unfortunate that the book centers the romance in such a way as to basically overshadow even the possibility of other kinds of love being worthy of mention. I’m not trying to say that romance shouldn’t be the focus; rather, if the characters had been allowed to have other relationships that made them happy, other relationships that fulfilled them in other ways, the exploration of their romance would have been enhanced.

My evidence for this is the two and a half Courtney Milan books I’ve read. And Harry Potter. Courtney Milan writes straight-up romance, and there are always friendships and family relationships while the super sexy romance stuff is the main focus, and the other relationships always complement the romance nicely.

In Harry Potter, it’s much easier to feel the pain of loss when characters die even if they aren’t, like, Harry’s lovers. It’s easier because it has been established, thoroughly established, that friendships and family bonds matter and losing people you love, even if you don’t love them romantically, is excruciating.

Adding friendships and family relationships enhances everything. It makes everything deeper, and ultimately it makes it more real, because our lives are enriched by all of the people who matter the most to us, and many of those people aren’t romantic partners.

The book is good though.

The Most Dramatic Dog Rescue Ever

I recently remembered the absolute best, most dramatic dog rescue story from work ever, and here it is, in blog form.

I was minding my own business at work, working, and then glancing at our new dog that day, a small, elderly, Scottish terrier crossed with x, y, or z. She was quiet and seemed a little sad.

My coworker materialized behind me and said, “OH MY GOD, DID YOU HEAR THE STORY OF THAT DOG?”

I said, “… no?”

So she launched into it. A woman was jogging along, as you do, when she spotted a dog dangling like Mufasa from a balcony just above her.

She stopped and called us, because the dog was too far up for her to just grab. We were sending someone out to help the dog, but obviously she wasn’t going to be able to dangle there for fifteen minutes, so, thankfully, the good Samaritan stayed. And caught the dog, when she fell just minutes after the woman hung up the phone.

She couldn’t get into the apartment to return the dog and there was no one around to help, so she brought the dog to us for the owners to pick up.

The dog was blind and deaf. When the owners arrived to pick her up, they were horrified. They hadn’t realized that she had slipped quietly out the door onto the balcony. So then she was just stuck out there, with limited senses to figure out what was even going on, and she was small enough to slip through the rails, which she did, almost falling, and it probably would have been to her death.

So, hey, if you spot someone in distress, that’s your chance, I guess, to be a complete and utter superhero. I hope that lady is having an excellent day today.

A Mini Adventure in Raw Apple Pie

Due to the magic of the internet I started 2018 off right, by receiving an email in error from an Italian woman gifting me with three raw vegan recipes.

The second of those is a raw apple pie recipe and I was skeptical, but also intrigued, especially because I had a tip from the lady: “Yesterday I think I blended the apples too much. If you can shake them a little I think the “cream” might remain consistent.”

So I have no clue what she actually meant in her actual Italian version of this email by “shake them a little.” But. I tried.

I used a huge trifle dish or whatever the hell this horrible thing is. I bought it to make tiramisu in and I don’t know what it’s really for, but the point is that my pictures end up awful because the dish is always in the way.

But this is what it looked like:

20180123_164331

lookit that masterful decoration there

I did not blend the apples too much.

Here’s my translation of the recipe:

Il Tortino di Mele

Ingredients:

6 Apples
1 cup Raisins
1 1/2 cup Sunflower Seeds
12 Medjool Dates
3 tablespoons Coconut
1 or 2 tablespoons Cinnamon (adjust the quantity to taste)

Instructions:

Soak the dates for one hour. Soak the raisins for 15 minutes.

For the crust: blend the sunflower seeds in a food processor to reduce them to a powder. Place the sunflower seed powder in a small bowl. Next, use a food processor to blend the drained raisins in into a paste, and then mix with the sunflower seeds until a solid and homogeneous dough is obtained.

Spread the dough thus obtained in your monstrous trifle dish or something else suitable to hold the shape of a raw apple pie. The dough should have a thickness of about one centimeter and will serve for the base.

For the filling: use a food processor or a blender to blend the drained dates into a paste. Place blended dates in a medium bowl. Peel and cut the apples into reasonable slices, then place them in a food processor or a blender. Blend gently and not too much. Shake them a little. I guess. Add the apples to the dates and then add the cinnamon. Mix carefully so as to mix the ingredients and their flavours well. The whole thus obtained has to be poured over the previously prepared base and then leveled with a suitable spatula.

Add the coconut to cover everything. To finish decorating, arrange nicely sliced pieces of apple in a decorative fashion (see photo) (for what not to do).

Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

I bolded the parts that are AMAZING thank you Google Translate and also the Italian Language.

What I didn’t leave in are that “soak the dates” is my translation from “put the dates in the bath” and once again I have to mention that the direct translation from Italian of “food processor” is “robot of the kitchen.”

ROBOT. OF. THE. KITCHEN.

20180123_164627

I honestly don’t know if the apples were supposed to be blended more thoroughly than that, but the way I did it was pretty good. Surprisingly, with zero flour and zero vegan butter and zero cooking, this tasted like apple pie. It tasted like a simple apple pie that had gone in the fridge after cooking. I liked it.

Well, next up is the cheesecake.

This is not a Defense of JK Rowling

(but it is in favour of waiting and seeing, for me, anyway. You do what’s right for you.)

(imagine that the Jude Law Dumbledore leaning back with that slightly disappointed expression on his face is looking at that David Yates article and the entire way JKR handled Dumbledore’s sexuality reveal)

Re this.

If you’re inclined to be angry and disappointed because Yates said Dumbledore’s sexuality isn’t “explicitly” going to be in this upcoming HP extended universe movie, I understand. Maybe Yates spoke clumsily, maybe he means that Dumbledore’s complicated past with Grindelwald will be onscreen, just in a sneaky, hinty kind of way that maybe isn’t “explicit” but that doesn’t leave room for heteronormativity, but even so, it’s disappointing. Dumbledore is gay, he’s gay, he’s gay. There should be some way of placing that onscreen without jumping too far ahead into the Dumbledore/Grindelwald backstory or whatever.

Gay people don’t magically become heterosexual when they’re single or not infatuated/in love with someone. If Dumbledore is focused on other things and only sneaky/hinty focused on his past feelings for Grindelwald in this movie, there are other ways of throwing queer fans and viewers a bone and nodding to Dumbledore’s identity onscreen unambiguously because of course it’s well past time for that. It should have been in the books, explicitly.

But.

(OK first it was Yates who said everything. He’s the director. If “Dumbledore is gay make it clear” wasn’t written in the script he could certainly have added it in himself. He’s not getting a pile-on, I noticed. Nobody is “done forever” with David Yates. Just the successful lady writer. I’m not saying don’t call my favourites out for things because they’re women and my favourites, but do note that we seem to expect perfection from her and not really from him. Guys. Come on.)

(Second, everything everyone has said about “you need to be explicit otherwise no one will know they’re queer” is absolutely true but I kind of sort of a lot think in this case it… isn’t)

(Everyone knows Dumbledore is gay)

(Ask everyone you encounter tomorrow about Dumbledore; they all know he’s gay)

(In A Very Potter MusicalSequel, and Senior Year Dumbledore is explicitly gay. In the Epic Rap Battle between him and Gandalf, Dumbledore is explicitly gay. It’s like… a thing that everyone knows. Voldemort is bad, Dumbledore is good, and he’s gay)

(It wasn’t in any of the books or the movies explicitly and yet everyone knows he’s gay)

(Very few authors can pull that off. None of them should, really. It isn’t fair that it worked in this case. But it did. It doesn’t mean Dumbledore is great representation, because he isn’t. Because he can’t be, if the only confirmation of his identity is a footnote. But there is an overwhelming sense of “Well people just won’t know that the character is gay unless you state it explicitly,” and yes that’s true, in all cases but this one. This is the exception that proves the rule, and it’s the exception that proves that even if you can pull this off, you shouldn’t. His orientation should have been explicitly in the book. It wasn’t. It’s annoying. It’s heteronormative as hell and honestly it’s hurtful. But everyone knows Dumbledore is gay.)

(97% of the people who watch Grindelwald’s Crimes or whatever it’s called are going to be watching it knowing Dumbledore is gay even if there isn’t so much as a wistful glance in Grindelwald’s direction on Dumbledore’s part. Doesn’t let the filmmakers off the hook, but, we should be honest about that. Gives us a chance to say, hey, look, do the actual hard work of getting representation right rather than just having it be a footnote, because this isn’t good enough. Leaving it at “Dumbledore doesn’t count because it’s not explicitly in the text” will cause a lot of people who won’t do basic extrapolation (and you know they won’t… because you know you have to tell them in the book that the character is whatever marginalized identity explicitly for them to accept it, so of course they need this one thought all the way through for them as well) to look at this situation and think, “Um, everyone knows Dumbledore is gay so this is clearly wrong.” The problem isn’t that no one knows he’s gay. The problem is that JK Rowling, because of decades of heteronormativity, didn’t think it was necessary to make it explicitly clear in the book that Dumbledore was in love with Grindelwald even though that sort of detail actually does add to the themes and character development, but it’s made explicitly clear that Madame Pince has a crush on Filch, which is not important at all. Dumbledore counts and is super useful to the representation conversation because he counts precisely as an example of how you do it wrong: yes, he’s gay, personally I think it’s generally good for the world that he’s gay, but his being gay is apparently an unimportant bit of trivia and doesn’t need to be known explicitly for readers to understand him, and that is the problem.)

All right. So. People seem to be under the impression that there won’t even be a nod to the complexities of Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s romantic and/or sexual past in this movie, which is about, I think, the war between them. If that’s the case, yeah, that’s stupid. Personally, I think what Yates means is that Grindelwald and Dumbledore aren’t going to make out onscreen in this one. Because. Well. Grindelwald is a genocidal dick and Dumbledore isn’t. So.

Personally, I think it would be pretty much impossible for JKR and Yates to have made a movie about their war without nodding to the complex history of the two characters. I do on the other hand think it’s possible to say something worded badly in an interview about your upcoming movie that you can’t spoil because it isn’t out for another several months and you weren’t planning on detailing exactly how the complex relationship shows up onscreen because you want people to pay the money to see it. I’m not saying all the people complaining should shut up and wait and pay and go see, because it’s up to you what you spend your money on. I understand if you’d rather spend it on queer creators’ stuff. That’s great. That is obviously the better choice, especially considering that it’s pretty much a given that Dumbledore/Grindelwald is going to be problematic. It’s just that I’m struggling to understand how it’s even possible for there to be not even a nod to the context of the Dumbledore/Grindelwald past here, and I’ve landed on, “He just misspoke.”

Maybe I’m naive. Maybe they really did try to get away with depicting Dumbledore’s famous defeat of Grindelwald without any clear reference to their romantic history.

What I do know for sure is that if they ever actually get around to depicting that relationship, Dumbledore and Grindelwald is… not going to be a nice story.

But I’m still looking forward to it, I have to admit.

I’m looking forward to it because: it is going to be fascinating, fitting into a pattern of tragic romances that JK Rowling has already written into the main story as well as a couple of peripheral stories, all of which are heterosexual. It is going to be a bit of a mess, too, simply because this romance is going to be at the very least tragic and it’s probably going to be way worse than just “tragic,” and, well, why is the only gay relationship depicted in the Harry Potter universe going to be a tragic, toxic sludge? And once it is depicted, there will probably be specific aspects of this relationship that will fit into typical bad tropes and stereotypes about gay men and their relationships, unless JKR manages to pull off the frankly impossible and avoid all of those entirely. Ultimately, I think the whole thing will be useful to dissect and critique. Especially because, before I knew he was gay, I thought Dumbledore was ace. And I think, given what we know for sure about Dumbledore, he could still be somewhere on the ace-spec. THIS DOESN’T EXCUSE ANYTHING. I’m not trying to say that my head canon ace Dumbledore solves the problem of his gay identity not being explicit on the page because OF COURSE IT DOESN’T. I just mean that JK Rowling does interesting and maybe a little bit problematic and maybe still sort of intriguing things with her tragic romances, as far as ace and aro people are concerned, and this relationship is going to shed more light onto what and how I think about all of that.

(But yeah, I don’t like that Johnny Depp is in it. I don’t like that JK Rowling defended keeping him in the movie. I really don’t like that.)

And as much as I’m looking forward to the inevitable critiquing, I’m also extremely wary of how this is all going to turn out, with regards to Dumbledore himself. I love that he has flaws and weaknesses, yes. I’m worried that he’s going to turn into a tragedy, romantically speaking. He is a tragedy where his family is concerned, and that’s important and needs to stay. I don’t want him to be a romantic tragedy, though, and I kind of think that’s how this story ends.

I think that because I saw Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I saw the extremely creepy, unsettling relationship between Grindelwald and Credence. I saw how Grindelwald was manipulating Credence’s obvious feelings for him. He used the word “friend.” They both used the word “friend.” But. I saw what I saw.

I was looking for it, too, because I also read Deathly Hallows. Yates, in his movie version, skimmed almost entirely over the Grindelwald/Dumbledore’s past thing, but I still remember the book. Dumbledore got all white-supremecyish as a young ‘un. Partly he was inclined towards that because of what happened to his sister.

The other part of his anti-Muggle bigotry is that he was in love with Grindelwald. And Grindelwald, it was strongly hinted at, had manipulated Dumbledore.

My prediction for their relationship onscreen is that it’s going to be extremely toxic. We know it ends horrifically. The details of it that we have so far seem to suggest that it fits into a pattern of romantic tragedies that are already explicitly detailed in the books as romantic tragedies.

There are several of them. And they’re all heterosexual and explicitly and unmistakably romances in the actual text. So. Yeah. Here are the ones I remember off the top of my head:

Snape and Lily

Super toxic. Snape is definitely in love with Lily, his best friend, but he’s also convinced that becoming a Death Eater is the only way forward for him. He wants power, being so powerless himself. He chooses that over her. Because it’s a book, of course it’s literally him who gives Voldemort the information he needs to eventually kill Lily. Snape begs for her life, which is why she’s able to die and save Harry.

As far as we know, he wasn’t in love with anyone else, ever. He maybe never had a romantic and/or sexual partner, ever. I’ve seen a lot of people criticize that for being juvenile or unlikely but, no, it fucking isn’t. It happens, it’s a thing, for a lot of different reasons. And sometimes people rarely or never feel those feelings that compel someone to seek out those relationships to begin with.

(JK Rowling seems to know that without really knowing that there’s a word for it. See Charlie Weasley for the best example. This is a periphery story, just like Dumbledore’s sexuality is. I know people like to read opportunism into her post-publication declaration of Dumbledore’s being gay, but I’ve always seen Rowling as curating a huge amount of backstory information for all of her characters. I believe her when she says she always saw Dumbledore as gay. I assume she knew he was in love with Grindelwald before she name-dropped the dude on the Chocolate Frog card in Philosopher’s Stone. I don’t think she was trying to score “ally points.” I think she was just being clueless. Which is not an excuse, but there is a difference. But apparently these things, like Dumbledore being gay and Charlie being ace, are not explicitly stated in the text because she considers those details to be trivia, irrelevant to plot and theme. That’s a pretty large problem because, first, Dumbledore being in love with Grindelwald absolutely changes how we read that history. Dumbledore being romantically in love with Grindelwald explicitly absolutely would have enriched the thematic resonance and all of the character development we were getting there with him. And second, I think most of us these days understand that separately from theme and plot, a fictional character’s identity matters. And that JK Rowling seems to not understand that, or that she seems to not understand that there’s work that authors need to do to ensure that people don’t just read white, straight, cis, able-bodied, thin, allo, and so on and so forth into every single character because they’ve been trained to do that through decades of the huge white canon, is the actual problem here. Dumbledore could easily have said to Harry, “… oh and I was also in love with him.” It would have worked, it would have been explicit, it would have been easy, and ultimately it seems that JK Rowling didn’t think it was important to make sure the readers knew what she was implying, whereas in other, hetero, quick little romance stories it’s absolutely clear that it’s a romance.)

(Honestly, though, considering how many characters of hers I can read ace into, I maybe have a little niggling about a certain author and a certain ace-spectrum and I’m not even a little bit sorry)

(If she is an ace egg, that doesn’t excuse any of this, of course. And I know we’re complaining about needing more than just our head canons. Still. It’s not often that fictional characters fit so easily into being read like this and I can’t separate it from how I interpret all of the romance, tragic and not tragic, implied and explicit, in the story.) 

On the other hand, maybe the tragedy of Snape’s first and only love compelled him to live a life of self-loathing and self-loathing–induced celibacy. Which is kind of silly, or it’s kind of Arthurian Romantic, take your pick.

I’m picking a-spec Snape because it makes more sense and is less sad, but you do you.

The Grey Lady and the Bloody Baron

We get this one in a whirlwind reveal while Hogwarts collapses around Harry and company. The Grey Lady was beautiful, narcissistic, and a thief in life. The Bloody Baron was some guy who was in love with her in life. He confessed dramatically, she was like, “Ew,” and then he murdered her. And then, overcome with remorse, he killed himself.

What sticks out to me for this one is that Rowena Ravenclaw was the Grey Lady’s mom and the broken relationship between her and her daughter was the actual tragedy here, rather than the Bloody Baron being terrible, which is kind of nice.

Merope Gaunt and Tom Riddle

Merope is a victim of constant abuse. She brews a love potion in order to catch Tom Riddle’s attention. It works. It’s a love potion. It’s rape.

They get married, have a baby, she stops feeding him love potion, maybe, Dumbledore speculates, out of remorse, or maybe she was hopeful that he might really have fallen in love with her by then.

But no. It was rape.

Voldemort had been conceived, though. Tom Riddle leaves, Merope gives birth and lets herself die from heartbreak after naming the baby after his father.

Voldemort grows up not understanding “the power of love.” Deliberately, I think. I think somehow he understood that hopeless, delusional love for his father was ultimately a horrible experience for his mother, and that a love potion had taken away his father’s ability to choose, and that both of his parents chose not to love him because it was too much. I’m open to other interpretations, because Voldie was a bad dude even when he was a little kid, but Dumbledore gives him a bit of the benefit of the doubt while he is a student at Hogwarts and I think that means he was capable of turning out differently, but, upon learning the sad, twisted story of his family, he started making some wretched, soul-mutilaty choices to try to avoid the same fate as his parents.

I think JK Rowling is saying, with these three doomed love stories, that love is painful. It’s hard. It’s almost not worth it, except, in the end, it is. Because even if you mess up and then you have to live as a regret-ghost because you did a terrible thing, or as a regret-living person because you did a terrible thing, your only other option is to cut your soul into eight pieces and your greatest ambition in life becomes trying to murder a baby, so, love people however you do that, and try not to get them killed indirectly/directly murder them.

There are also lots of non romantic, non sexual, also doomed love stories that aren’t tragic in the same way as those romantic ones are:

Harry and Lily

It all comes back to this, again and again. Lily loved her son enough to die for him, of course she did. She saved him doing it. Eventually he emulates her and dies for everyone he loves as well, to save them. Lily’s last moments are horrifying and not your typical awesome, self-sacrificing hero standing between a monster and the innocent. She’s begging, crying, powerless without a wand. She endures it anyway, dies anyway, because she loves her son, and it’s what saves the wizarding world, eventually.

Sirius and James

I think Sirius is aroace. You want him to be gay? Go for it. But I think all of the telling “not interested in the hopeful girl in the exam” and “pasted posters of Muggle women and motorcycles to annoy bigoted parents, not out of interest towards the women” hints can be read either way. And either way, Sirius loves his friends. He thinks he’s doing the right thing, making Peter be the secret keeper. When it turns out he was wrong and his mistake gets Lily and James killed, Sirius pretty much gives up on his own life. A lot of factors beyond Sirius’s control come together to land him unfairly in Azkaban, but those factors that he can control he misuses out of rage and grief.

When he escapes, he does a lot of sulking and almost ruins his newfound relationship with his godson because he won’t grow up and be responsible. It’s very understandable. The murder of his best friend ruined his life. Still, it’s clear, made clear all the time, every time Sirius talks about James, that having James in his life makes it worth living for Sirius, who had been miserable right up until he met and was accepted by James on the train. Love is messy and Sirius doesn’t navigate it as gracefully as he could have, but ultimately it’s his core, making him different in all the ways that matter from his evil cousin as she kills him.

Harry and Hedwig

I’m not over this.

Harry and Dobby

I’m not over this either.

What Harry keeps learning, every time someone dies, is that love is awful. But worth it anyway. Knowing that you might very well lose the people you love doesn’t mean shutting yourself off from them and choosing not to love.

But do note that in the romances, Snape doesn’t love again, ever. The Bloody Baron certainly doesn’t. Merope couldn’t even love her son after Tom left. Tragedies, the lot of them.

So… what’s going to happen to Dumbledore, after Grindelwald?

Dumbledore and Grindelwald

I’m convinced we’re going to see this onscreen. And here’s how I think it will go.

They probably are going to have a whirlwind romance. It might be cute. For a bit. But they start feeding off of each other’s bigotry, and eventually it will become clear that Grindelwald is manipulating Dumbledore’s feelings for him in a way that is disturbing but not as disturbing as the Credence thing because at least here they’re the same age and neither of them are troubled, abused teenage boys.

Dumbledore cuts off their relationship when he realizes that he doesn’t actually want to be an “Enslave the Muggles” kind of guy. Or is that why he cuts it off?

Is it actually only when Arianna almost kills them all, and when one of them, accidentally, maybe, kills her, that Dumbledore ends it?

And then Dumbledore is idle. He won’t confront Grindelwald as he begins his atrocities, because he is terrified that Grindelwald will confirm that it was Dumbledore’s spell that killed his own sister. Probably also because of all of the complex romantic/sexual feelings, too.

When I was a kid and had no idea that asexuality was a thing, I still always picked up on and paid special attention to characters that didn’t have romances. Dumbledore was an old guy, unmarried. It seemed right to me, that he should be unmarried. At some point I thought to myself, “I just don’t think he feels that way about people, and that’s why he never got married.”

And then JK Rowling said he was gay.

I think Dumbledore can be a-spec too. Maybe the type of feelings he has for Grindelwald are rare or almost absent, and for him they strike only once. Because while it’s possible that post-Grindelwald Dumbledore did some dating and romance and stuff (which he could still have done even if he is actually some sort of ace and/or aro), I kind of sort of a lot think he absolutely didn’t. Maybe it’s because he usually doesn’t think of people in romantic and sexual ways, like I thought when I was a kid.

Or, maybe, and I think this is the winner here, it’s because it fits into the pattern those other tragic romances all fit into and he fell in love young with a guy who turned out to be manipulative on the one hand and genocidal on the other and they got into a fight that killed his sister, and as punishment for himself, he chose to never love again. Something like my interpretation of Voldemort, but much less extreme. He chose to never pursue romantic love again, because he didn’t consider himself worthy of it.

That’s what I’m expecting, anyway.

Based on all the Harry Potter I’ve consumed throughout the years, I think I’ve picked up on Rowling’s Harry Potter love and tragic love and tragic romantic love patterns. As much as I think she’s kind of writing her way around the a-specs, I think she really does love a tragic romance where it goes bad and the one partner decides never to do it again maybe because they’re broken now, and maybe it’s because they’re still trying to grapple with the after-effects, and maybe it’s because they only feel those things rarely and it just doesn’t happen again for them. All of that is there, possible, to read into these romances. When we finally get Dumbledore and Grindelwald it will probably be there too.

There’s a lot to say about this story, the way I’m expecting it to happen. There’s good stuff there, maybe, and there’s some problematic stuff as well. Maybe it will happen completely differently. Maybe Dumbledore did love other men afterwards and it was never discussed because it wasn’t relevant to the plot but, like, pepperup potion is though. And also firecrabs. And flobberworms. And Sir Cadogan. THERE IS A HINT AT A ROMANCE BETWEEN MADAME PINCE AND FILCH. SO.

Whatever happens, it’s kind of crucial that Dumbledore is stated to be gay, and that this statement comes separately from his complicated and very likely toxic relationship with Grindelwald. Because the Dumbledore/Grindelwald love story is a tragedy, and Dumbledore being gay is not a tragedy.

I’m looking forward to analyzing this love story, critiquing it, wondering about what went wrong and what could have been better and what, hopefully, works about the portrayal of this relationship. But Dumbledore’s identity should be its own thing, not only onscreen tied to a toxic romance. That I can say right now, without waiting to see any of the movies or waiting to see how the relationship itself is portrayed.

I hope Yates apologizes to Rowling about that interview, btw. Also I hope both of them do the thing, or that they have done it already, because it honestly isn’t that much to ask for. And I hope we all keep reading and recommending stories that are explicitly about queer people and those that are written by queer authors, because that is always a good thing. This tag contains all the ones I read last year. So far, this year, I’ve read Let’s Talk About Love which has a biromantic asexual protagonist, and I’m reading Beneath the Sugar Sky of the Wayward Children series which features an ensemble that includes a trans boy, an ace girl, and maybe the lesbian girl shows up again. I’m only halfway through but I’m hopeful because she’s my favourite.