The Learned Fangirl http://thelearnedfangirl.com The Learned Fangirl - a website about pop culture and the internet Fri, 19 May 2017 15:26:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.10 Fandom, Antifandom, and Feedback Loops: How Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series Screws the Rules of Internet Content Creation http://thelearnedfangirl.com/2017/05/fandom-antifandom-yugioh-abridged/ http://thelearnedfangirl.com/2017/05/fandom-antifandom-yugioh-abridged/#respond Thu, 18 May 2017 15:00:55 +0000 http://thelearnedfangirl.com/?p=10161 by Deborah Krieger

The conceit of Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series (Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged) is simple, but effective: Since 2006, YouTube user LittleKuriboh condenses one or more episodes of the original Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters series into videos of between four to fourteen minutes that parody the content of the original show.[1] Rewriting the dialogue to include jokes, pop culture references, and moments of fourth-wall breaking, LittleKuriboh substitutes his own voice as the audio of his videos, where he plays nearly all of the characters, using vocal mannerisms that roughly approximate the voices of the Duel Monsters English dub.[2]

In the decade since its inception, Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged has become an internet culture touchstone. Some of its YouTube videos reach millions of views, its Facebook page sits at nearly 1 million likes, and the series has developed an extensive fandom surrounding “fanon,” the canon within LittleKuriboh’s fan creation.

The fandom and antifandom aspects and practices surrounding Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged are the focus of this essay. Namely, there are several ways that LittleKuriboh and Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged mediate fan interaction, both within the canon of Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged episodes as well as behind the scenes. Additionally, LittleKuriboh has developed varying relationships with fans and antifans of his series, as well as imitators of his form. The fandom aspect of Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged is significant because while LittleKuriboh’s series not only parodies the plot elements of the source material, it also has created its own internal series canon as a text in its own right that is consistently referenced and remediated in subsequent episodes. Classic lines such as “screw the rules, I have money,” delivered by Seto Kaiba in the show’s first episode, have become memes in the show and in the larger internet culture. LittleKuriboh has scripted later dialogue for Kaiba that riffs off the original quote, such as “screw the money, I have rules” (Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Movie, 2008) and “screw the rules, I have green hair,” (“… In America,” 2006), a reference to the character’s green hair in an earlier version of the anime. “Screw the [x], I have [y],” is to this day a popular meme and commonly referenced trope.[3]

Background

Though no longer released on a weekly basis, Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged has reached 74 episodes spanning four seasons of the original five-season run of Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters, and shows no signs of stopping. LittleKuriboh has also released two abridged movies (based on Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie: Pyramid of Light from 2004[4] and Yu-Gi-Oh!: Bonds Beyond Time from 2010[5]) and countless supplementary videos, including “Let’s Play” videos starring Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged characters and Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged characters advocating for charity.

While the series is certainly well-known in the Yu-Gi-Oh! fandom, it is not universally loved by Yu-Gi-Oh! fans. The contentious relationships between and within the Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged and Duel Monsters fandoms have several incarnations: fans of Duel Monsters who resent the parodying and irreverent (and often offensive) content and interpretations of their beloved characters[6]; fans of both series (a category in which I include myself); fans of Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged who categorically hate the other fans of Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged for their perceived annoying behavior [7]; fans of Duel Monsters who dislike the fact that elements from Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged have become Duel Monsters accepted fanon and fandom practices, and so on.[8] With the use of memes originating from Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged becoming commonplace in online spaces, it has become increasingly difficult for antifans to avoid some sort of contact with Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged. Indeed, Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged has become so popular that voice actors of the original Yu-Gi-Oh dub have referenced various catch-phrases and lines from their abridged counterparts. For example, Wayne Grayson, the dub voice of Joey Wheeler quoted “Brooklyn rage,” at Youmacon 2008 [9], and took part in a panel with LittleKuriboh at Youmacon 2009, where both actors performed their versions of the character in conversation with one another.[10]

As the series’ popularity has grown, so has the form of the anime abridged series: nearly every well-known anime has been made into an abridged series. [11] Some are more prominent and successful than others, such as Naruto the Abridged Series [12] (created by YouTube users MasakoX and Vegeta3986) and Dragon Ball Z Abridged [13](created by Team Four Star, which includes YouTube users Lanipator, Takahata101, KaiserNeko, and MasakoX). At a certain point in time, it seemed as though every anime fan with a computer microphone, an ability to download footage, and time on their hands was making an abridged series, though none have reached the level of cultural saturation and establishment of LittleKuriboh’s original work.

Fanon and Thiefshipping

One of the more prominent ways the Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged canon has made itself at home within Duel Monsters fandom is with regards to the pairing of “Thiefshipping,”or the pairing of male villains Marik Ishtar and Yami Bakura.[14] While the original Duel Monsters English dub has little focus on romance, and skirts all potentially slash ships (or gay or lesbian relationships) as a rule, LittleKuriboh has largely created (or merely revitalized) the fanbase for this pairing, both within Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged episodes proper and in the context of side videos.[15]

For example, in the side series “Marik Plays Bloodlines,” begun in 2011, Marik plays “Vampire: The Masquerade” in the popular YouTube “Let’s Play” format.[16] Over the course of this series, Yami Bakura, who is also present, makes increasingly obvious sexual advances towards the oblivious Marik, providing endless shipping fodder for fans of this couple.[17] While Marik and Yami Bakura are not at all concerned with romance or sexuality in the original series, LittleKuriboh has reinvented Marik as naive, juvenile, and obsessed with his own sex appeal (an easy interpretation, given the character’s costume) and Yami Bakura as flamboyantly gay, with his attentions focused on Marik. Not only has Thiefshipping in the Duel Monsters canon become popular, with over 1,400 fanfics in the Fanfiction.net archive, but the fanon version of Thiefshipping [18], using the abridged characterizations created by LittleKuriboh, has also become a popular pairing in its own right.[19]

The pairing of “Puzzleshipping,” or Yami Yugi and Yugi Moto, has also been teased and expanded within the text of Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged.[20] For example, the 2015 episode “Puzzled Shipping,” [21] a clear reference to this ship name, features Yami Yugi and Yugi pulling a sword out of a block of ice, with the sounds of their efforts clearly meant to reference sexual activity. [22]

“It’s not as good as it used to be”

With many ongoing series across media there is often the perception that the work is decreasing in quality, and Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged is no exception.[23] Fan discussions reveal that some viewers of the show have found its humor obnoxious or less enjoyable than before. Indeed, a short comment thread on the “Headscratchers” TVTropes subpage for Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged contains the following comment:

“Am I the only one who thinks LK’s [LittleKuriboh’s] Marik schtick is getting rather old? I used to enjoy it, but pretty much every line out of his mouth now is either how he’s a poorly closeted homosexual, or how sexy he/his outfit looks.”[24]

In a comment thread on GameFaqs.com, a user asking for abridged series recommendations in 2013-2014 is told to watch Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged, “although lately it’s not as good as it used to be.”[25] A comment thread on Pojo.biz regarding episode 33 (“Harpoonshipping,” 2009) contains a litany of complaints, including “that was probably one of the worst abridged episodes I have ever seen,” “he made an episode around his own OLD joke. TAS used to be awesome because it made fun of the series. Now he’s… out of material and trying to make fun of himself and taking it too far,” and “it’s a pity that entertainment becomes crap over time, and this is like the 60th episode. How will he handle the remaining 180 is beyond me.”[26] A 2016 Reddit thread comparing various abridged series contains the following illuminating comment: “I don’t enjoy it because it encourages blinding nostalgia. […] Also, the jokes are really rather lame, and the only good jokes are now obnoxious memes for thirteen year olds,” [27] highlighting the divide between fans of the original and of the abridged series in stark contrast.

Fans as Obstacles, Fans as Friends

LittleKuriboh’s behavior with regards not only to fans and antifans, but also towards creators of subsequent abridged series, has gradually shifted over the course of Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged’s existence. Earlier Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged episodes and content tended to mock the fanbase, with thinly veiled shots taken at those who have flagged his videos on YouTube, leading them to be taken down. In episode 24 (“Egyptian Exhibition Expo 2007,” 2007), Seto Kaiba claims to be busy flagging YouTube videos “to compensate for the fact that [he has] an extremely small penis.” [28]

In episode 48 (“Penguin Ex Machina,” 2010), Téa Gardner weathers an attack by strange monsters referred to as “internet trolls;” she expresses apprehension and worries that “they’re going to flame me to death.” [29] LittleKuriboh also expresses his frustration with fans’ insatiable demand for new episodes in a side series of videos by choosing to have several of the monster creatures that appear needlessly scream “where’s the new episode?” in an annoying, endless fashion. [30]

Most significantly, LittleKuriboh created a side video in 2008 to address his perception of his imitators called “Dan Green Presents Abridging 101,” where he brandishes a Yami Yugi plush toy and sardonically lays out a codified set of steps for fans to make their own abridged series.[31] Using the hypothetical example of a Neon Genesis Evangelion abridged series, LittleKuriboh suggests that plagiarism, using computer programs to create different voices, and substituting musical cues for writing jokes will bring aspiring abridgers success, as well as “get[ting] lazy” and taking absurd amounts of time between making videos, which serves as both a moment of self-critique and a call-out to the fans for having unrealistic expectations.[32] Much of the sarcasm in this video has gone over the heads of fans, however: several of the comments on the YouTube video reference how the commenter found LittleKuriboh’s advice helpful in creating their own work.

In another side video, a 2009 song parody of Eminem’s “Without Me,” titled “Without Yugi,” LittleKuriboh raps about the inception and early years of Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged in the voice of Yugi, concluding a verse with the following:

And while he’s not the first one to fandub Yugi

He is the first one that’s not a newbie

To make the show seem kinda funny

Though it doesn’t make him any money

(HEY!) There’s a concept that’s broke!

Twenty million other users steal his jokes

But no matter how many imitate LK

It won’t change the fact that he’s here to stay [33]

In more recent years and in more recent content, however, LittleKuriboh takes a more playful and even welcoming attitude towards fellow abridgers and a more apathetic one towards his critics. LittleKuriboh has now done guest voices on Dragon Ball Z Abridged and become a permanent member of the collective that makes the show [34], invited fellow abridgers to do voices on Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged beginning with episode 47 (“Beyond the Fourth Wall,” 2010) [35], and also created Naruto: The Abridged Comedy Fandub Spoof Series Show [36], a parody of Naruto the Abridged Series, itself one of the older abridged series on YouTube. The Comedy Fandub Spoof Series Show, begun in 2009, now has nine episodes and an abridged movie based on the Naruto feature film, Naruto the Movie: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow (released in English in 2007). [37]

LittleKuriboh seems to have warmed to the idea that there is now, for better or for worse, a bona fide YouTube abridged series community, whose celebrities include LittleKuriboh and the members of Team Four Star. Rather than highlighting trolls or particularly strong fan reactions, LittleKuriboh’s meta-humor has of late become more self-deprecating, acknowledging fan complaints in a less combative way. A dialogue exchange in episode 67 (“Toon Pangs,” 2016) provides a good example:

Tristan: I can’t believe we’re in London! The Tower Bridge sure is pretty!

Téa: Tristan, you know full well that’s the Golden Gate Bridge.

Tristan: Don’t be ridiculous. Magneto killed that bridge in X-Men 3: The Last Stand.

Joey: Yeah, Téa. Too soon.

Yugi: Eh, that bridge is overrated. It takes too long to get anywhere. And it’s not even that funny.

Yami: As Pharaoh, I created the original bridge. It was terrible and barely worked. But it was the only one around, so everyone loved it. [38]

Additionally, a 2012 tweet from LittleKuriboh cannily addresses the endless fan refrain about the perceived decrease in quality of his series: “I want to make ‘Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged has sucked since…’ into a thing now.” [39]

LittleKuriboh has used the same concept of substituting dialogue about “bridges” for discussing the state of abridged series as a whole in his Naruto the Abridged Series parody. In episode five of this series (“MILKSHAKE NO JUTSU~!” 2010), the characters Naruto and “Joekage” (based on the Hokage from Naruto proper) discuss the creation and spread of the abridged series as a medium in the following exchange, using Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged, Naruto the Abridged Series, and Dragon Ball Z Abridged as lightly disguised examples:

Joekage: Personally I don’t see what’s so important about a bridge. I mean, come on. First one guy [LittleKuriboh] makes a bridge [Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged]. And everybody uses it, they’re like, “Ooh, look, a bridge. That’s new.” So, like, these other two guys [MasakoX and Vegeta3986] make another bridge [Naruto the Abridged Series]. And it’s kinda like the first one, but people use it anyway because the first guy is like “Oh, their bridge is pretty cool too, check it out.” And then these three other guys [Team Four Star] are like, “Oh, we’re going to make the best bridge ever [Dragon Ball Z Abridged], we’re going to combine our talents and be like, ‘Oh, look at our bridge, it’s totally amazing, ooh.’” and it’s like, it turns out really good, and it’s the best out of all the other bridges. Everybody subscribes to it.

Naruto: Subscribes to it?!

Joekage: I mean er… Everybody crosses it. Because it’s a bridge. Yeah. And before you know it everybody and their mother is making a bridge! So there’s a bridge. Everywhere… Nobody even knows why they’re making a bridge anymore. They just want people to cross it. They don’t care where they’re going. The first guy is like, “I’m going to go to conventions to promote my bridge!” It’s like, it’s just a bridge. It’s not a big deal. Get over it. [40]

In a conversation with LittleKuriboh conducted over Facebook in April 2016, I roughly confirmed that the “three other guys” mentioned in Joekage’s speech refers to Team FourStar; in his own words, LittleKuriboh replied to my question by saying “probably,” remarking that he made the video a long time ago. Additionally, in an interview I conducted with LittleKuriboh in 2013, he refers to Team FourStar as “good friends.”[41] Thus, in the years since he made the “Dan Green Presents Abridging 101” video, we can conclude that LittleKuriboh’s relationship to his admirers and fellow users of the abridged series medium has gotten much more positive.

Beyond Children’s Card Games

While LittleKuriboh has stayed out of using his series to address larger geopolitical or societal issues, a noteworthy exception was made on November 10th, 2016, in the wake of the presidential election. In a video simply titled “processing” [42], LittleKuriboh takes a snippet from a particularly tragic scene in the source material where Yugi loses his soul in a duel. In the original sequence, Yugi’s alter ego Yami has become despondent after Yugi’s soul is lost, and only manages to snap out of his misery when Joey grabs him forcefully and yells at him. LittleKuriboh maintains the spirit of the original text while substituting his own dialogue that on one level addresses the aftermath of the duel but is also clearly meant to be a rallying cry to his viewer base begging them not to lose hope in the wake of the election.

Yami: No matter how much you all hoped, no matter how much you believed, none of it was enough. I wasn’t enough. I have failed, and all hope is lost. We should all just give up. I should just—

Joey: (grabbing Yami by the collar and throwing him to the ground) Snap out of it, Yug! […] It’d be real easy to give up right now, to turn on each other and ourselves and just throw in the towel, but the truth is sometimes the person you want to win doesn’t win. And it makes you confused, angry, full of feelings that have been amplified ‘cos it feels like the loss to end all losses. But win or lose, this is not the end. We can’t give in to despair. We can’t look at this and say “well, it’s time to cry and hate and lash out and give up.” We have to be true to what we always fought for: love, unity, honor. None of those things have been destroyed, so we gotta hold to that. We have to take a breath, congratulate the other guy, and accept every loss and victory from now on with grace, no matter what fear might tell us. It’s too soon to know how things will play out, but we can’t just lose hope in ourselves or each other. So stand up. Stand beside me and everyone else who ever loved you, because we do. We love you, and we keep walking forward together.

In a bizarre and unexpected twist, the comments on the video are full of similarly worded sentiments, with fewer trolls present than expected. [43]

Conclusion

Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series has demonstrated over ten years a constantly changing relationship with not only the original source material and the fans and antifans of the project, but also with countless YouTube users and potential abridgers hungry for internet fame. LittleKuriboh’s creation has not only begun a genre in and of itself, but its ten-year existence allows for many opportunities to observe and remark upon the changes that have arisen between content creators and fans; these changes have since spilled over into more established forms of media such as feature films and broadcast television, and promise to continually restructure the paradigm of how consumers and creators engage with one another.


 

Deborah Krieger is an arts and culture writer who can’t believe she got to write about Yu-Gi-Oh! in multiple academic settings. She can be found at @DebOnTheArts on both Twitter and Instagram, and runs her own blog at i-on-the-arts.com.

 

 

[1] “Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series,” Abridged Series Wiki, http://abridgedseries.wikia.com/wiki/YuGiOh!_The_Abridged_Series

[2] Zephra C. Doerr, “Abridged series and fandom remix culture,” Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 9, 2012, http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/396/281

[3] “Screw This Index, I Have Tropes,” http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ScrewThisIndexIHaveTropes

[4] “Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie: Pyramid of Light,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/YuGiOh!_The_Movie:_Pyramid_of_Light

[5] “Yu-Gi-Oh!: Bonds Beyond Time,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/YuGiOh!:_Bonds_Beyond_Time.

[6] “Yu-Gi-Oh! Confessions,” Tumblr blog, http://ygoconfessions.tumblr.com/tagged/ygotas

[7] “Does Anyone Else Find Yugioh [sic] Abridged Annoying,” forum on Pojo.biz, http://www.pojo.biz/board/showthread.php?t=959766

[8] “Yu-Gi-Oh! Confessions,” Tumblr blog, http://yugiohconfessions2-blog.tumblr.com/post/8876762810/thiefshippingisoverratedandisonlypopular.

[9] Cyberlink420, “Wayne Grayson quotes Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged,” 2008: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0MHPYkmfh0

[10] falconzero621, “REAL Joey V.S. ABRIDGED Joey!” 2009: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVWmmvEQmU

[11] “The Abridged Series,” TvTropes, http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheAbridgedSeries

[12] “Naruto The Abridged Series,” Abridged Series Wiki, http://abridgedseries.wikia.com/wiki/Naruto_The_Abridged_Series

[13] “Team Four Star’s [sic] Dragon Ball Z Abridged,” Abridged Series Wiki, http://abridgedseries.wikia.com/wiki/Team_Four_Star%2527s_Dragon_Ball_Z_Abridged

[14] “Thiefshipping,” Urban Dictionary, http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Thiefshipping

[15] “Yu-Gi-Oh! Confessions,” Tumblr blog, http://yugiohconfessions2-blog.tumblr.com/post/8876762810/thiefshippingisoverratedandisonlypopular.

[16] “Marik Plays Bloodlines Part 1,” YGOTAS Wiki, http://ygotas.wikia.com/wiki/Marik_Plays_Bloodlines_Part_1

[17] LittleKuriboh, “Marik Plays Bloodlines—6,” 2015: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdjS5wzIh78&index=6&list=RDGlc0quxADLY

[18] Fanfiction.net archive, https://www.fanfiction.net/anime/YuGiOh/?&srt=1&r=10&c1=1122&c2=1078

[19] DeviantArt, http://www.deviantart.com/newest/?section=&global=1&q=thiefshipping&offset=0

[20] “Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series,” Fanlore.org, https://fanlore.org/wiki/YuGiOh:_The_Abridged_Series

[21] “Puzzled Shipping,” YGOTAS Wiki, http://ygotas.wikia.com/wiki/Puzzled_Shipping

[22] LittleKuriboh, “Puzzled Shipping,” Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged, 2015: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fhO_530qSRg

[23] “Do TV shows always get worse as they go on?” Forum on Ask MetaFilter, http://ask.metafilter.com/144307/DoTVshowsalwaysgetworseastheygoon

[24] “Headscratchers / Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series,” TvTropes, http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Headscratchers/YuGiOhTheAbridgedSeries

[25] “Dragon Ball-General: Does DBZA Ever Annoy You?” Forum on GameFAQS.com, http://www.gamefaqs.com/boards/2000113-dragonballgeneral/71588822?page=1

[26] “Does Anyone Else Find Yugioh [sic] Abridged Annoying,” forum on pojo.biz, http://www.pojo.biz/board/showthread.php?t=959766

[27] “YGOTAS is literally the best thing ever,” Reddit thread, 2016: https://www.reddit.com/r/yugioh/comments/3xww5z/ygotas_is_literally_the_best_thing_ever/

[28] LittleKuriboh, “Egyptian Exhibition Expo 2007,” Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged, 2007: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3a5hGydUYSo

[29] LittleKuriboh, “Penguin Ex Machina,” Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged, 2010: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OB8EYKXAys

[30] LittleKuriboh, “Cr@psule Monsters 2,” 2008: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WniSpyvjvzs

[31] “Dan Green Presents Abridging 101,” YGOTAS Wiki, http://ygotas.wikia.com/wiki/Dan_Green_Presents_Abridging_101

[32] LittleKuriboh, “Dan Green Presents Abridging 101,” 2008: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVsz9KBSQ8Q

[33] LittleKuriboh, “Without Yugi,” 2009: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnczksTB4us

[34] “LittleKuriboh,” Abridged Series Wiki, http://abridgedseries.wikia.com/wiki/LittleKuriboh

[35] LittleKuriboh, “Beyond the Fourth Wall,” Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged, 2010: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zt2h09TrN3A

[36] “Ninjabridge,” Abridged Series Wiki, http://abridgedseries.wikia.com/wiki/Ninjabridge

[37] “Naruto the Movie: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow,” Naruto Wiki, http://naruto.wikia.com/wiki/Naruto_the_Movie:_Ninja_Clash_in_the_Land_of_Snow

[38] LittleKuriboh, “Toon Pangs,” Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged, 2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wr13DYngSqE

[39] LittleKuriboh, Twitter post, December 16, 2012, 4:52 pm: https://twitter.com/yugiohtas/status/280475497517969408

[40] LittleKuriboh (alias Ninjabridge), “MILKSHAKE NO JUTSU~!” Naruto: The Abridged Comedy Fandub Spoof Series Show, 2010: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1D7gPF6w8w

[41] LittleKuriboh, “Interview: A Conversation with LittleKuriboh,” By Deborah Krieger, August 25, 2013. http://www.ionthearts.com/2013/08/interviewconversationwith.html

[42] LittleKuriboh, “processing,” 2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CkAiqeWejE

[43] Quora forum, “Why is YouTube so Right Wing?” https://www.quora.com/WhyisYouTubesoRightWing

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Doctor Who and Extended TARDIS Time: What Happens When There’s Too Much Exposure to The Doctor? Part 2 http://thelearnedfangirl.com/2017/05/doctor-who-and-extended-tardis-time-what-happens-when-theres-too-much-exposure-to-the-doctor-part-2/ http://thelearnedfangirl.com/2017/05/doctor-who-and-extended-tardis-time-what-happens-when-theres-too-much-exposure-to-the-doctor-part-2/#respond Fri, 12 May 2017 15:07:09 +0000 http://thelearnedfangirl.com/?p=10155 By Tai Gooden

Does prolonged exposure to The Doctor have a negative effect on a companion? Part one of this discussion explored the companions of the Russell T. Davies era. After the Tenth Doctor regenerated, the show also appointed a new showrunner. Steven Moffat took the reins and gave the Eleventh/Twelfth Doctor’s companion more importance than ever.

 

Amy (& Rory) and Eleven

The Eleventh Doctor started his incarnation with a burning TARDIS, which landed in the yard of his next companion Amelia “Amy” Pond. Out of all the modern companions, The Doctor and Amy’s relationship spans the longest amount of time in Earth years, but their TARDIS time together wasn’t continual. Amelia was seven years old and praying to Santa Claus for help with a mysterious crack in her wall. Her prayers for a policeman were answered when a newly regenerated and very alien incarnation of The Doctor showed up. The Doctor told her to wait a few minutes while he took the newly repaired TARDIS for a test run.

He inadvertently returns 12 years later and discovers that Amelia has grown up to become Amy Pond, a teenager who works as a kissogram. Amy was ostracized by most people in her community because of her belief in a magic “raggedy man” who travels in a blue box. As a child, she only spent a couple of hours with The Doctor, but he had a profound influence over her life. She wrote stories and made drawings about The Doctor, often sharing them with her childhood friend Rory Williams.  Amy felt abandoned by The Doctor (and her dead parents), so she built up an emotional wall around herself and didn’t allow anyone to get too close to her, including Rory, by adulthood her fiance.

After saving the world in 20 minutes, Amy has to wait another two years for him to return again but finally gets her overdue chance to travel in the TARDIS. The first couple of stories featuring Amy showed her being reckless and making impulsive decisions without thinking about the consequences. For example, “The Beast Below,” Amy is on her first adventure and proudly ignores all “Keep Out” signs as she digs into trouble. But, her intelligence shines as she helps Winston Churchill and Professor Bracewell save the world from being exposed to an army of Daleks by tapping into their emotions.

Amy’s backstory and unique relationship with The Doctor as the first companion to meet him as a child made her different from her young contemporaries who had heart eye emojis for the Time Lord. But, that didn’t mean she wasn’t attracted to The Doctor. After several adventures together, including a brush with the Weeping Angels, Amy tried to physically seduce The Doctor when he returned her home on the eve of her wedding to Rory. The Eleventh Doctor counters this by inviting Rory into the TARDIS.

Unlike Rose, Amy was not as possessive over her turf in the TARDIS and welcomed Rory without a grudge.

However, their adventures began to test Amy’s relationships with both The Doctor and Rory. In “Amy’s Choice,” the trio found themselves faced with different alternate realities – one where Amy and Rory established a normal married life and another with The Doctor. The baddie in the story, Dream Lord, secluded Amy and asked her to choose between Rory or an adventurous life with The Doctor. In the end, she killed herself in one of the realities because of her love for Rory. This episode was a pivotal breakthrough in terms of her personal development and the trajectory of her relationship with Rory. Amy discovered the power in her choices, the deepness of her love for Rory, and the value of her life both with and without The Doctor.

Amy’s love for Rory was the grounding force in her life that helped her not become too wrapped up in The Doctor’s world. Amy admired The Doctor, but she also got to see Rory’s valiant qualities develop and appreciated what he brought to the team. Their ability to travel together with The Doctor brought them closer together because of their shared experience. When Rory was beginning to be wiped away from existence in “Cold Blood,” the Doctor tried to have Amy hold onto memories of him but she lost concentration and didn’t remember him. The Doctor shouldered significant guilt over losing Rory and continued to take Amy on adventures.

As they became a duo again, Amy and The Doctor’s similarities made them an interesting team. They were eccentric and adventurous, which made for lots of laughs and chemistry. Both of them shouldered some of the weight from their pasts but they learned how to become more open with their emotions. Viewers began to see a less guarded Amy who expressed a myriad of emotions as she met the tragic Vincent Van Gogh and reunited with Rory in “The Pandorica Opens” after he waits for her for 2,000 years. Amy was stubborn, loyal, and fiercely determined to find a solution – both strong traits needed to survive with The Doctor. However, she always managed to find balance in her life and started the beginning of season six leading a normal life with Rory.  It was the first time in modern Who that a companion wasn’t “all in” and tried to balance two worlds. Amy seemed to have it all – love, happiness, and adventure.

Amy’s arc with The Doctor became complex than previous modern Who companions. Fans watched The Doctor leave a message for Amelia to search for Amy and release her from the Pandorica. Amy became a woman who was kidnapped by Madame Kovarian, a leader of the Silence movement, and gave birth to a child conceived in the TARDIS who was half-human/half-Time Lord. Amy’s daughter was brainwashed by Kovarian to kill The Doctor. In, “A Good Man Goes to War,” the child turned out to be River Song, the woman known as The Doctor’s wife and Amy’s childhood friend in a previous incarnation. The Doctor also broke Amy’s faith in him in “The God Complex” when they faced a foe who killed by feeding on a person’s faith. This was an emotional ride for her character because she had always had agency in her travels with The Doctor and now things were happening to her which were beyond her control. Amy went through a myriad of emotions during this time – shock from finding out the Doctor’s part-time lover was her daughter, anger over her child being ripped away from her, and sadness because she didn’t have the chance to raise her child. River and The Doctor tried to comfort Amy and explain that River’s previous incarnation, Melody aka “Mel,” was raised by Amy because she often guided her as they grew up together. Once again, there was guilt on The Doctor’s side because he was the primary reason behind Amy’s kidnapping and River’s life as a trained assassin.  However, Amy was not going to remain broken and exacted her revenge against Madame Kovarian for corrupting River, telling her that River got her cunning nature from her mother.

As their time goes on, Amy and Rory started to travel infrequently with the Doctor in favor of maintaining a normal life. However, they couldn’t manage to permanently break ties with The Doctor, who had become attached to the couple. After The Doctor helped them save the world from mysterious cubes in “The Power of Three,” Rory’s father encouraged them to continue their travels as long as The Doctor brought them back safe. Unfortunately, the married couple would never return to their normal lives, due to Rory being touched by a weeping angel, a predatory alien race which resembles statues, in the following episode. The Weeping Angels were known for creeping up on a victim in the literal blink of an eye and sending them back to the past to die as they consumed the person’s future energy. “The Angels of Manhattan” saw Amy and Rory once again making an executive decision without the Doctor. They committed to create a paradox and destroy the Angels. Their plan worked, but one last Angel took Rory back to the past in front of Amy, River, and The Doctor.  Amy had to make a choice and she allowed herself to be touched by the same angel so she could die with Rory in the past. Amy remained married to Rory and became a successful writer, thereby still having a great life. She had autonomy on how she ended her travels with The Doctor, even though she broke his heart.

Amy’s long tenure in The TARDIS proved that a companion could travel with The Doctor long term and experience inconceivable trials but the story could still end with a semi-happy ending for the traveler.

 

Clara and Eleven

Losing Amy and Rory emotionally rattled the Eleventh Doctor, prompting him to go into hiding until he met a mysterious woman named Clara Oswin Oswald from 19th century London. The Doctor was sulking in his TARDIS in the cloud until Clara brilliantly passed a one word test administered by his friend Madame Vastra to earn his help. He was woken up out of his emotional slumber by this woman from days past who is as dashing and driven as he was before losing his friends. The plot thickens when she died at the end and he discovered her name is the same as a woman he met (but never saw) in an earlier adventure with Amy. From that point forward, he was curious about why versions of this woman keep popping up across time and set out to find the modern version of Clara.

When the contemporary Clara Oswald first meets The Doctor in “The Bells of Saint John,” she wanted nothing to do with the bizarre Doctor. This version of Clara was also resourceful and helped The Doctor bring down the Great Intelligence’s plan to upload people’s souls through an alien Wi-fi network. She took on traveling with The Doctor out of pure wanderlust and curiosity and he was intrigued by the mysterious woman. Clara was a woman who seemed secure in her life, yet her background was much more of a mystery than her predecessors. Each adventure slowly chipped away at Clara’s true identity, revealing in their second adventure (“The Rings of Akhaten”) that The Doctor was at her mother’s funeral. When she questioned him about it, he said she reminded him of a friend who died and Clara became upset, calling him out for using her as a replacement. She leaves the TARDIS but they soon reconcile.

Like Martha, Clara did not need The Doctor to help her find purpose or to validate her importance.

The school teacher was relatively smart and a loner, but there was not a lot of development for Clara in her first season, so fans knew she would her story would take time. In “The Name of the Doctor,”she had different versions of herself helping all of the past Doctors (excluding the War Doctor), thereby making her the “Impossible Girl.” This (sort of) made her the longest running companion in the show and the only one who had experience with all of the Doctors. The big mystery was solved and Clara’s cleverness was appreciated, but her character progression in the TARDIS was still unclear. She was there and going on adventures, but she didn’t seem to be changing in any way.

Clara played an important role in the Eleventh Doctor’s final story “The Time of The Doctor.” After attempts to send Clara back to Earth to protect her as he fought thousands of alien enemies on Trenzalore, The Doctor was aging quickly and expected to die because he had no regenerations left. Clara spoke up and defended him to the Time Lords, begging them to help The Doctor by granting him another set of regenerations. It worked and The Doctor was able to stop the war using his regeneration energy. Interestingly, as The Doctor gives his final soliloquy before regeneration, it was a vision of Amy Pond he sees, but he wishes Clara well. He abruptly becomes the Twelfth Doctor, leaving Clara stunned and confused. This was the second time that a regeneration takes place in front of a companion and it once again had an interesting affect on the companion/Doctor relationship.

Clara and Twelve

The Twelfth Doctor’s first series with Clara was a difficult, yet necessary journey in terms of both character’s development. The Doctor had become a man starkly different from the gangly, eccentric one he was as Eleven. Twelve started his journey as an aesthetically older, darker man whom Clara found it hard to bond with because she wanted the old Doctor back. In their first story, he tended to insult and confuse Clara but she still believed in his ability to save her if she was in distress. At the end of the episode, she got a phone call from the Eleventh Doctor shortly before their last encounter, who encouraged her to stay with him.

As trouble brewed with a mysterious woman named Missy, Clara found herself increasingly frustrated with the Twelfth Doctor and his extreme lack of a moral compass. She became a much more opinionated, outspoken companion and frequently challenged The Doctor’s choices. At the same time, she begins to fall in love with a fellow teacher and ex-military man named Danny Pink. As she slowly built a relationship with The Doctor, she struggled to balance her romance with Danny. When The Doctor came to Coal Hill School as a caretaker, Danny found  himself caught up in the action and was shocked at how Clara fearlessly plunged into dangerous situations.

“I know men like him. I’ve served under them. They push you and make you stronger until you’re doing things you never thought you could. I saw you tonight. You did exactly what he told you, you weren’t even scared, and you should have been.” -Danny Pink

Danny warns her to let him know if The Doctor started to push her too far. However, Danny also said he would leave her if she didn’t tell him the truth because he wanted to “help” her. This made his offer as a supportive shoulder an issue because 1) Clara didn’t ask to be protected from her decisions and 2) giving her an ultimatum made Danny as problematic as The Doctor. After admitting her love for Danny, Clara’s relationship with The Doctor took a dramatic turn in ‘Kill the Moon” when he abandoned her and one of her students at a lunar colony, forcing her to make a decision about whether she should kill a creature emerging from the moon or allow it to live. Clara felt as though The Doctor had pushed her too far and took solace in Danny, telling the Doctor to never come back to her again. Danny asks her to leave The Doctor alone, but Clara is far too addicted to the thrills of time travel and ends up lying to both men so she can lead a double life. She was being pulled in two different directions and felt like she had to constantly lie and sneak to have what she wanted in life.

The Doctor’s imprint on Clara is perhaps the strongest yet as she took on many of his traits. She acted as The Doctor in “Flatline” when he became stuck in his TARDIS, using the sonic screwdriver and a companion named Risgy to solve the mystery. And, when she decided tell Danny more about her life in the TARDIS, he died in a car accident. She turns on The Doctor and starts throwing his TARDIS keys into lava in an attempt to make him change the past. “Dark Water” shows how The Doctor’s dark, manipulative side is reflected in Clara as she lured him to a volcano and put a sleep patch on his neck. He refused to go back and save Danny, citing a time paradox. The Doctor reversed the sleep patch on her and was hurt by her betrayal of him, but he continued to help her try to locate Danny in the afterlife. It was a selfish and cruel move by Clara, who showed no remorse for her actions against The Doctor.

At the conclusion of the series, Clara is furious over Missy orchestrating Danny’s death and attempts to murder her, but The Doctor insists on doing it himself to protect Clara. The Doctor assumes Danny has been saved and declares he is going to return to Gallifrey, but Danny is still deceased. Clara chooses to lie to The Doctor again and allows him to leave partially from her guilt about how she treated The Doctor over Danny. Constant lies to protect someone’s knowledge or spare feelings has been a trait of The Doctor and now Clara was using his own tricks against him. Series 8 gave fans the character development they requested and showed a darker, more conniving side of Clara Oswald. The Doctor and Clara reunited for a Christmas adventure, where Clara found herself under the spell of a dream crab. After defeating the dream crabs, Clara’s interest in traveling with The Doctor became renewed and they began a new chapter in their relationship.

Series 9 Clara showed Clara becoming dangerously immersed in her adventures with The Doctor. After a rocky period, the pair had found their rhythm and Clara held her own even better than before as she came face to face with Missy on her own. The Doctor starts leaving her to her own devices more often and she does well each time, easily leading groups and solving complex situations. But, her behavior became increasingly risky as she starts to take more chances alongside The Doctor, forgetting that she was still mortal while he had a new set of regenerations. Her faith in The Doctor also played a role in her impulsive behavior because she assumed he would always find a way to save her if she was in distress. She was starting to play a dangerous game that was noticeable to The Doctor, who kept telling her to exercise more care with her actions.  

Clara starts to challenge the Doctor less when it mattered the most. For example, his decision to bring a young woman named Ashildr/Me back to life who would be the cause of his separation from Clara. After battling Zygons, sleep dust, and a myriad of other creatures, Clara met her demise in “Face the Raven.” In an attempt to save Risgy, she took the deadly Chronolock and placed it on the back of her neck, assuming either she or The Doctor would find a way to rectify her impulsive action. The Doctor and Clara discovered it was orchestrated by Ashildr/Me and there was no way to save her. The Doctor wanted to take revenge on Ashildr, but Clara convinced him to not do it and allow her to face the consequences of her actions.

Clara’s death was the first one for a companion in the new series and was a reminder of what can happen when a companion has too much faith in The Doctor.

Clara was suffering from the traumatic loss of Danny, and she paid the price with her life. Her loss was shocking to many fans, but the blow was lessened when The Doctor forces the Time Lords use an extraction chamber to retrieve Clara from her time of death. He hoped to take her far away, but he had to remove Clara’s memories to help her survive. However, in one last act of Doctorish defiance, Clara altered the device so The Doctor lost his memory of their time together. In the end, Clara partnered with Ashildr in her own TARDIS and decided to take the long way around to Gallifrey – a fitting end for the most Doctorish companion of all.

 

Twelve and Bill (and beyond?)

Now, the Twelfth Doctor is on an adventure with a new companion, Bill Potts. Series 10 is only a few episodes in, but Bill has quickly become a fan favorite. She’s a Black queer woman who constantly questions The Doctor. They share a student/teacher relationship and Bill is well developed despite her short tenure so far. It is unclear if Bill is in it for the long run or if she will leave after one season like Martha Jones, but fans are interested to see how her arc will run. Like her predecessors, time may have a negative effect on her development as a woman, or she might find herself having it all in the end like Amy Pond. And, with Chris Chibnall taking the reins over the show in 2018, something unprecedented may happen with Bill. Either way, the companion journey with The Doctor is imperfect, impossible, frustrating, liberating, and fantastic.

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Extended TARDIS Time: What Happens To Companions When There’s Too Much Exposure to The Doctor? Part One http://thelearnedfangirl.com/2017/05/extended-tardis-time-what-happens-to-companions-when-theres-too-much-exposure-to-the-doctor-part-one/ http://thelearnedfangirl.com/2017/05/extended-tardis-time-what-happens-to-companions-when-theres-too-much-exposure-to-the-doctor-part-one/#comments Fri, 05 May 2017 15:37:47 +0000 http://thelearnedfangirl.com/?p=10144 by Tai Gooden

The British show Doctor Who centers on the titular character The Doctor, and his adventures through time and space in his 1950s police box / time machine, the TARDIS. Doctor Who captured the hearts of the British television audience as they watched The Doctor battle otherworldly foes and liberate lands across the universe. Now Doctor Who is a BBC juggernaut and worldwide phenomenon.

One of the key factors to Doctor Who’s success is The Doctor’s ability to regenerate his body when he is fatally wounded. This has allowed over a dozen actors to step into the Doctor’s shoes and put their own unique spin on each incarnation of the character. The different iterations of The Doctor are often referred to by the order of their appearance (First through Twelfth) and each version has developed his own iconic traits. Throughout the series, each Doctor has had a rotating cast of fellow travelers (commonly known as companions) to join him in his exploits.

The companion role was designed to be an audience surrogate so viewers have a person to identify with in the TARDIS. Each companion is as different as The Doctor with different personalities, strengths, and backgrounds. Differences aside, Doctor Who companions are able to live the average Whovian’s dream. They are journalists, mechanics, or food service workers dragging through an uneventful life and waiting for the day when something magical happens. Then, one day their lives are sent on a different trajectory via an encounter with an incredible, mysterious man known as The Doctor. They learn about the TARDIS – a bigger on the inside space with the ability to travel almost anywhere in space and time. And he senses something special in them and offers a chance to leave the daily grind for a life amongst the stars. Of course, they say yes and their lives are never the same again.

The life of a companion sounds enviable, but traveling with The Doctor has negative effects. The Doctor is captivating, but he is also dangerous. He is a virtually immortal Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey who has been involved in countless battles with death and destruction. He often holds millions of lives in his hands and has the ability to alter past events. He steps into situations and appoints himself as an authoritative figure and everyone follows because of his ruthless reputation in the universe.

Rapper Kanye West once said “No one man should have all that power” – a phrase which applies to The Doctor.

He can sometimes become calculating and impetuous as he makes decisions based on his moral code, which often differs from what most humans would do. At first, The Doctor brings out the best in his companions and they begin to challenge their preconceived notions about the universe. But, as they spend time together, some companions change in unanticipated ways. Unhealthy bonds begin to develop between the two and brings an interesting question to mind – does prolonged, consistent exposure to The Doctor have a negative effect on a companion?

When examining this question, there are a few obvious factors to consider. The companion’s personality type and circumstances versus The Doctor they are paired with makes a profound difference on how the character develops as a companion. And, a companion who witnesses his regeneration will experience a shift in the companion/Doctor dynamic.

Nine and Rose

The Russell T. Davies era (2005-2010) featured several women (and a few supporting men) who were fortunate enough to travel with The Doctor. Rose Tyler, the first companion in the modern series, met The Doctor as a 19-year-old working in a clothing shop. She was like most women her age – restless, impulsive, and desiring something more. The first story of the new series, “Rose,” introduced her before The Doctor and showed a day in her life. She woke up, went to work, ate lunch with her boyfriend Mickey, went back to work, and was preparing to go home when a chance encounter changed her life. Rose was chosen to take a nightly deposit downstairs at the end of her shift when she ran into The Doctor. She was somewhat terrified by by him but she jumped into action and helped him save the world from the Autons. Rose was unexpectedly faced with the choice of running away in the TARDIS or staying behind to take care of her boyfriend and mother. At first, she declined out of fear, but The Doctor persisted and her curiosity got the best of her as she sprinted into the TARDIS. Before she left, she told Mickey thanks for nothing and disappeared in the TARDIS. It was a mean spirited way to leave, however it’s easy to see how a person could be caught up in an emotional wave after meeting The Doctor. Rose had obvious affection for Mickey, but he seemed like a blithering, skittish idiot next to the dashing Doctor.

Rose and the Ninth Doctor spent one season of the show together, but the actual amount of her timeline with him is up for debate. Their first two adventures in the TARDIS seemed like only a matter of hours for the pair, but on Earth it was over a year before Rose returned in “Aliens of London.” Her mother Jackie Tyler, was upset and did not trust The Doctor after he took Rose away for a year, leading her to believe that Rose had died or been kidnapped. Mickey was accused of her murder and ostracized by the community, yet he didn’t tell anyone about Rose running off with The Doctor. Both Mickey and Jackie forgave Rose for her impulsive decision. Rose had some remorse for leaving them and thought about staying with her family. Mickey proved himself an asset to The Doctor in “World War Three” with his computer hacking skills and was offered a spot in the TARDIS, but he declined. At this point, Rose encouraged Mickey to come along, but The Doctor pretended he was a “liability” so Rose wouldn’t discover Mickey’s fear of time travel.

Rose’s relationship with Mickey and Jackie became strained due to conflicting feelings about her association with The Doctor. There is no sign of an official breakup between Rose and Mickey, so he continues to treat Rose like his girlfriend. Mickey is justifiably jealous of The Doctor, but he doesn’t want to feel like he is holding her back. Jackie is proud of Rose’s actions to save the world and is willing to learn more about The Doctor. But some of her suspicions about The Doctor having an unhealthy influence on Rose are not far fetched. In the same episode, Rose gets a phone call from The Doctor and tells him that her mom wants to do dinner with him. He abruptly refuses and tells Rose she has two choices – stay there or hop back into the TARDIS. His ultimatum further widened rift between Rose and her home life. She doesn’t hesitate and starts packing her clothes, prompting her mom to ask her to stay. Rose’s father Pete had passed away when she was a baby, so Jackie fears losing her daughter to dangerous time travel if something happened to The Doctor. Rose’s taste of traveling had her hooked, so she made the choice to leave again. The choice made sense for Rose – she didn’t believe she had a future on Earth and for the first time she felt like she mattered. She talked Nine out of murdering a Dalek, one of the Doctor’s archenemies, in cold blood and connected with women in service positions to help them through trouble.

Rose’s great qualities – her compassion, adventurous spirit, and practical thinking – became magnified in her travels and was a needed asset for the emotionally broken Ninth Doctor. Rose’s companionship brought him back from a dark place and forced him to come to terms with his feelings.  She often challenged The Doctor’s decisions and his war hardened exterior began to soften as she brought happiness back into his life.

However, Rose was often selfish in her interactions with her loved ones. After returning to Earth in “Boom Town,” Rose called Mickey to the TARDIS to bring her passport and they made plans to grab food and a hotel room. She spent her time with Mickey talking about her travels with The Doctor, which prompted Mickey to tell her that he was dating someone else.  Rose became upset with him for spontaneously dropping her for another woman, which was ironic considering she had done the same thing to him. He says things were happy between them before The Doctor and he made her feel like he meant nothing. Suddenly, trouble ensued and Rose ran off toward The Doctor without thinking of Mickey until long after the problem had been solved. She realized Mickey deserved better than her and sadly left with The Doctor. Rose’s epiphany showed a bit of maturity on her part, but her desire for those around her to stay frozen in place for her return was unrealistic.

Rose’s final episode with Nine, “The Parting of Ways” is a battle between the positive character development she gained with Nine and her continued loyalty to him at the expense of Mickey and Jackie. She was willing to risk her life to help The Doctor face a Dalek fleet, but he made the tough choice to activate the emergency program to return her to Earth in the TARDIS. A hologram of The Doctor explained that he will more than likely die and the TARDIS can never return to him again. Rose was heartbroken and frantically tried to make the TARDIS take her back. Mickey heard the sound of the TARDIS and despite their negative last encounter, came rushing to comfort Rose. Jackie and Mickey tried to reason with her and believed the Doctor made a wise choice because he cared about her life. Rose became upset and countered their thoughts with perhaps her most poignant quote in the series.

“It was a better life. And I don’t mean all the traveling and seeing aliens and spaceships and things..that don’t matter. The Doctor showed me a better way of living your life. (To Mickey:) You know he showed you too. You don’t just give up, you don’t just let things happen, you make a stand, you say no, you have the guts to do what’s right when everyone else runs away.” – Rose Tyler

Rose surmised a brilliant plan to break into the heart of the TARDIS in hopes that it would send her back to The Doctor. Mickey said she would die if she left and she told him it was a risk she was willing take because there was “nothing” for her on Earth. Mickey was hurt by her words, but he and Jackie helped her with the plan and she absorbed the energy from the time vortex, which allowed her to travel back to The Doctor. It was an incredibly selfless act for Mickey, who had to watch a woman he loved disappear and potentially not return to save the man she left him for. And, Jackie had to deal with the prospect of losing her only child in a war. Rose gained the power to disintegrate the entire Dalek army and save The Doctor and Captain Jack Harkness, a Time Agent from the 51st century who met Rose/Nine in an earlier episode. Jack had become a recurring traveler and was murdered by the Daleks until Rose brought him back to life and made him immortal. However, the time vortex was too much for her human mind, so The Doctor kissed her to transfer the energy into his own body. He soon regenerated into the Tenth Doctor and Rose’s journey with him started a new chapter.

Tenth and Rose

The Tenth Doctor and Rose became one of the most popular pairings on the show for several reasons. The Doctor had regenerated into a man who complemented Rose both aesthetically and personality wise. He was charismatic, dashing, and witty yet he still had an underbelly of fire and rage that showed he was the same Time Lord. Their star crossed lovers storyline captured the hearts of Whovians who enjoyed the newfound romantic element in the series. Her initial distrust of the new Doctor quickly grew into her becoming more enamored with his attractive incarnation as they set off among the stars. It was at this point where Rose’s personality began to change. “Tooth and Claw” took Ten and Rose back to 1879, where they run into Queen Victoria. She thought a fallen tree on her original travel route would lead to an assassination attempt, so she stayed at Torchwood Estate – the home of Sir Robert MacLeish. The Doctor used psychic paper to convince her that he was a doctor of medicine and he traveled alongside Rose to the estate. They discovered that Torchwood Estate was hijacked by monks who have brought a man infected with lycanthropy to pass the infection on through royal blood via the Queen. Ten and Rose were annoying throughout the episode, making rude remarks about the house guest’s heirloom from his father and trying to make jokes in front of a very scared (and suspicious) Queen Victoria.

They stayed at odds with Queen Victoria throughout the episode and she became very annoyed over their excitement about a deadly werewolf in the estate. After giving them royal titles for saving her life, she banned them from the British empire. The Queen told them they consorted with darkness and thought it was fun, but their travels would have consequences. Their actions and smug attitudes caused Queen Elizabeth to form Torchwood, an organization designed to eliminate alien threats which would play a role in their separation later in the season. Torchwood would later play a major role in the series as a covert organization above government jurisdiction that used alien technology against foes and often resorted to violence to solve problems. Interestingly, Captain Jack Harkness later became a key member of Torchwood.

To be fair, some of Rose’s not-so-great moments were justified by her circumstances. When The Doctor encounters past companion Sarah Jane Smith in “School Reunion,” Rose discovers she is not the first person to travel with The Doctor. This leads to a war of (ageist) words between Sarah Jane and Rose which Sarah Jane initiated when she said Rose wouldn’t know about dissecting an animal because she hadn’t made it to that level of school. She snipply asked Rose “how old are you anyway?” before Rose said animals are dissected in schools anymore and asked Sarah if she was from the Dark Ages. The pair got into a one-up match about their travels with The Doctor but Sarah Jane quickly ended the argument because she knew how intense a relationship can be with The Doctor. A part of their banter takes place in front of Mickey, who convinced Rose and The Doctor to investigate strange happenings at a local school. Rose confronted The Doctor about her fate with him and questioned how he could drop Sarah Jane if he cared about her. He tried to explain how hard it would be for him to watch a companion grow old and die while he continues to live, calling it the “curse of the Time Lord.” This episode was when The Doctor realized the extent of Rose’s unhealthy attachment to him but he was already more emotionally invested than he is willing to admit. “School Reunion” concluded with Rose having a change of heart about Sarah Jane and taking her advice to travel with The Doctor because it is worth an eventual broken heart. However, Rose still believed youth she would be “different” than the others and travel with The Doctor forever. She is also upset when Mickey asks to join them in the TARDIS, a move prompted by his “tin dog” conversation with Sarah Jane. Rose’s heart is put to the test in the following episode (“The Girl in the Fireplace”) when The Doctor develops a brief romance with Madame de Pompadour. He jumps through a mirror to save Reinette, leaving Rose and Mickey abandoned on a spaceship, despite not having a plan for how to get back to his companions. Rose stares in shock at a wall as Mickey looks on sadly, horrified that The Doctor chose Reinette, but he finds a way back to her and she forgives him.

Nine & Ten and Mickey (plus goodbye to Rose)

While Nine and Mickey had their moments of poking fun and bumping heads, Ten and Rose’s treatment of Mickey was terrible. Rose consistently sent Mickey mixed signals throughout her time with The Doctor, flirting with him and saying she missed him, but acting in ways which suggested otherwise. She called for him when she needed him and strung him along, knowing he didn’t have the courage to leave her for good. In “School Reunion,” Sarah Jane Smith tells Mickey that The Doctor and Rose treat him like a third wheel – or in her words “the tin dog.” The Doctor and Rose have depended on his skills before but they ridiculed him for expressing fear because he was not as well versed in alien affairs. When the Tenth Doctor assigned tasks, Mickey was always an afterthought and often relegated to being the watchdog. At the beginning of “The Rise of the Cybermen,” Mickey had been holding down a button on the TARDIS console for a half an hour while Ten and Rose reminisced over the good times. He realized they forgot about him and once again felt resentful of their relationship.

After the TARDIS fell out of the time vortex onto a parallel Earth, Rose wanted to chase after that world’s version of her deceased father, who was a successful businessman. Mickey discovered his parallel grandmother was alive as well and they both went separate ways to explore this new world against The Doctor’s wishes. As Ten stood in the middle, Mickey said the Doctor will always choose Rose because he was just a spare part. Rose, who was in earshot of this conversation, said nothing and left Mickey on his own. Rose began to tell The Doctor about Mickey’s origins and his grandmother’s death and admitted they take Mickey for granted. However, neither one of them comes to his defense in “The Age of Steel.”  Mickey meets Ricky – the parallel him who is a braver “freedom fighter” – and Ricky dies in an encounter with the Cybermen. Ricky’s best friend Jake insulted Mickey in front of a group, telling him that he was nothing. The Doctor simply said they should move on and Rose remained silent again. As the group surmised a plan, Ten inadvertently left Mickey out of the plan. Mickey insisted on taking a major role in disabling a transmitter and said days of being the “tin dog” are over and as he ran off with Jake. After successfully destroying an EarPod transmitter on a zeppelin, Mickey made a wise decision to stay in parallel Earth and travel with Jake to liberate other cities. Rose was sad about losing Mickey, but realized there is nothing left between them anymore.

Mickey’s short time with The Doctor and Sarah Jane’s influence led to him being the true winner in the TARDIS trio. Before he traveled in the TARDIS, Mickey had settled with his life and become comfortable. But The Doctor’s relationship with Rose forced him out of his comfort zone and gave him a chance to expand his horizons. He had just enough exposure to The Doctor to realize his true worth and tap into his full potential. Sarah Jane also gave him the boost he needed to get out of his own way and experience life in the TARDIS. And, getting to see Rose and Ten fawning over each other was the push he need to release his feelings for Rose and move forward with a brand new life on another Earth. Mickey Smith’s arc from being a bumbling boyfriend who called The Doctor a “thing” to a man liberating cities from Cybermen was an incredible development. Unfortunately, audiences didn’t get to see Mickey’s progression during his travels with Jake. When Mickey made a brief return in “Army of Ghosts/Doomsday” he was a smarter, more valiant hero who ran toward danger. He realized how The Doctor had helped him become better and helped to save the Earth from millions of Cybermen. He had gained everyone’s respect and had no intentions to pick up where he left off on regular Earth or in Rose’s life, even after she ended up stranded on parallel Earth.

In “Doomsday,” Jackie was horrified when Rose chose to return to regular Earth instead of seeking safety in parallel Earth. The Doctor warned Rose that she would never be able to see her mother again if she stayed with him as he closed the void between the worlds. Rose said she made her decision to stay with The Doctor a long time ago and willingly gave up her mom for The Doctor. Love was powerful, but Rose didn’t even take a minute to say goodbye to one of the most important people in her life. Rose was swept away during a plan to trap the Daleks in a void and caught by Pete, who saved her from being caught in the void. Mickey, Jake, and Jackie stood silently as Rose mourned The Doctor. Mickey and Jackie continued to support Rose as they made a life on parallel Earth. This marked the end of Rose’s consistent time with The Doctor, although she made a brief return later in the series. She eventually got closure with The Doctor, who left her with a war version of himself on parallel Earth. This was an awful decision by The Doctor for a few reasons. First, Rose had spent lots of time and effort to reunite with him. Second, the “metacrisis” Doctor wouldn’t have been any more dangerous on “regular” Earth than he was on parallel Earth. And, he didn’t give Rose a chance to make a decision about traveling with him again. He prompted the metacrisis Doctor to tell Rose he loved her and he sneakily disappeared in the TARDIS forever. His decision probably hurt Rose once again because she said she wanted to be with him. Mickey’s ending was much better; he got to spend time with his parallel grandmother before joining Rose and The Doctor for one last adventure. He played a hand in saving the day one more time before meeting Rose’s replacement companion, Martha Jones, marrying her, and starting a life as a freelance alien hunter.

Ten and Martha

Martha Jones’ time in the TARDIS picked up soon after the Tenth Doctor lost Rose. Unlike Rose, Martha was from an upper middle class background and secure with her life while she worked in residency at a local hospital. Martha was the first full-time Black companion in Doctor Who who was specifically written to be a Black woman.

While Mickey traveled with The Doctor, he was written through a colorblind lens, so his race was never addressed in the plot. However, Martha being a Black woman was discussed during her time as a companion.

Martha didn’t need to be “saved” but she welcomed a break from her regularly scheduled programming. She was immediately taken by Ten’s charismatic ways and followed him soon after they met. From her first episode (“Smith and Jones”), Martha’s problem solving abilities were put into the spotlight as she fielded several phone calls from disagreeing family members while on her way to work. Her curiosity, intelligence, and calm demeanor impressed The Doctor as her hospital was abruptly transported to the moon. The medical student gave The Doctor her last breath at the end of the episode because she believed in his ability to save the day. Despite his flirty nature, The Doctor was still reeling from Rose’s departure. His love hangover was trumped by his intense loneliness and he offered Martha a trip in the TARDIS. Her one time trip in the TARDIS led to a couple of years worth of adventures together as Martha faced several difficulties.

The Doctor treated Martha similar to Mickey (minus the intelligence insults) by putting her in Rose’s shadow. In their first TARDIS adventure, “The Shakespearean Code” he looked Martha in the eye and said that he KNEW Rose would have the answer for what they should do next. It was the first of several moments when The Doctor would bring up Rose or mention her in front of Martha and make her feel inferior. He turned a blind eye to her romantic feelings for him and used Martha to fill an emotional void left by Rose. He even took her to New Earth, the same place he went on his “first date” with Rose Tyler as his current incarnation.

After four adventures, The Doctor abruptly dropped her off in her living room with intentions on leaving her forever. He quickly returned and managed to win over her sister in “The Lazarus Experiment” as the trio worked together to bring down her shady boss, whose DNA altering machine has sinister effects. However, this doesn’t stop Martha’s mother from being highly suspicious of The Doctor and wanting her to stay away from him. As Martha jumped into action to help The Doctor against Lazarus, her mother said the monster would kill her if she went back to help. Martha told her that she didn’t care and she wouldn’t leave The Doctor. Martha’s mother was also approached in the same episode by a man who warned her about The Doctor being a dangerous person. This makes her feel concerned for Martha and causes contention between them throughout the episode. However, Martha’s defiance came from a more respectful place, whereas Rose had a more caustic approach toward her mother over The Doctor. Martha almost left The Doctor because she didn’t want to be a random passenger, but he convinced her to continue traveling with him. Martha was deeply infatuated with The Doctor at this point, so she was delighted to be thought of as “more than just a passenger.”

Her contributions to conflict were often thankless, but her belief in The Doctor and what he stood for from a universal perspective kept her around. She found herself in racist settings more than once and was even left to her own devices in “Human Nature/Family of Blood” when The Doctor had to disguise himself as a human. While he ended up as a professor at a boys school, Martha was a maid, which would have been customary for a Black woman at an all-White school in 1913. She endured mistreatment from The Doctor as John Smith, other staff, and the boys at the school but she continued to protect The Doctor and keep his essence safe in the fob watch. The Doctor repaid her by dreaming of Rose and falling in love with a woman at the school, thereby crushing Martha’s heart once again. By the end of this story, The Doctor started recognizing Martha’s value as a companion.

Unrequited love aside, Martha was a brilliant companion whose intelligence, self confidence, and bravery shined in every situation as she made careful decisions, often while being left to her own devices. She loved Ten but she never became so absorbed that she lost herself while traveling in the TARDIS. Martha gained a universal perspective of the world around her and acquired expertise which would help her take her career to unimaginable heights. She often used her skills as a medical student to help others and managed to bring down one of The Doctor’s nemesis, The Master, without timey wimey/ Time Lord magic on her side. She walked the Earth as a disciple for The Doctor, prompting the world to say his name and bring him back to form. But, in the process, Martha’s family had to endure being enslaved.

When all was right with the universe again, Martha’s work to save the world was erased from history. This tied into the erasure of Black women’s contributions to society, further diminishing Martha’s impact in the Whoniverse.

However, The Doctor thanked her for her work to save the world. He assumed they would continue their travels, but Martha had had enough of being the “replacement Rose.” She knew the sacrifices both she and her family had made because of their association with The Doctor and also realized that he would never value her in the same way as Rose. So, Martha made the decision to walk away, return to her residency, and take care of her family. Before she departed the TARDIS, she had parting words for The Doctor:

“I spent a lot of time with you thinking I was second best. But you know what? I am good.” – Martha Jones

She left a phone with The Doctor in case they need to reach each other and is seen breathing a sigh of relief as she walked out of the TARDIS. Martha’s time with The Doctor was shorter (both on screen and in estimated Earth years) than Rose and, similar to Mickey, she came out of her time in the TARDIS with a renewed perspective on the world around her. While some of her reason for leaving The Doctor was related to his unreturned affection, Martha never expressed wanting to travel with The Doctor forever. She was in it for the adventure, but had intentions on returning to her family and pursuing her education. She became Dr. Martha Jones, the badass UNIT employee (later Torchwood) with masterful skills in medicine and otherworldly encounters. The Doctor felt the pain of her loss, admitting to his next companion, Donna Noble, that Martha was brilliant and he “destroyed her.” Martha herself came back for a couple of stories during Donna’s run, but she had changed into a much more authoritative figure who had long gotten over her crush on The Doctor. She was now a Doctor and her focus was doing whatever it took to help save Earth.

Ten and Donna

Donna Noble’s first time in the TARDIS took place during a one off adventure (“The Runaway Bride“)before The Doctor met Martha. After the Tenth Doctor burned up a sun to say goodbye to Rose, Donna suddenly appeared in the impenetrable TARDIS wearing a wedding dress. The Doctor’s sadness turned to curiosity as he returned the scared woman back to Earth to figure out how the hell she got into his spaceship. Unlike her predecessors, Donna was a bit older woman who worked as a temp and was not attracted to The Doctor. She was oblivious to the previous alien happenings on Earth because she was caught up in her own world. Donna lived with her belittling mother and optimistic grandfather who encouraged her to find her spark again. Her encounter with The Doctor allowed her to discover several sides of his character  – fun, rage, loneliness, and unpredictability. After discovering Donna was a pawn in a scheme by the Racnoss, The Doctor’s fury took over and he nearly killed himself while punishing the alien race until Donna told him to stop. His feelings were hurt by Donna when she rejected his offer for a spot in the TARDIS. However, Donna promised to “do something” with her life and asked The Doctor to find someone so he would not be alone.

Two years passed and Donna was back into the same rut. She regretted her decision to not travel with The Doctor and began to investigate paranormal activities in hopes of meeting him again. Donna finally struck gold in “Partners In Crime” when they crossed paths at Adipose Industries to figure out why a popular fat pill was making cellulite literally walk away. At the end, Donna had her bags packed and was ready to go with The Doctor, but he warned her that he just wanted a platonic traveling partner. She hilariously tells him she’s not romantically attracted to him because he’s too skinny.

Donna’s character had already shown significant growth from her first appearance, where she was screeching at The Doctor and freaked out by all things alien. She hadn’t lost her edge and outspokenness, but her mind was more open to traveling. Her compassionate nature and ability to be an ally for those who were suffering was seen in “Fires of Pompeii” when she convinced The Doctor to save just one family. “Planet of the Ood” also showed a more sensitive side to Donna as she wept over the Ood being enslaved and abused by humans. She was shocked to see so much evil in the universe, yet she continued to travel with The Doctor because there was still beauty and wonder in her experience.

The Doctor and Donna teamed up with Dr. Martha Jones after she called him back to Earth to help fight the Sontarans. Martha had changed dramatically, sporting an all Black UNIT uniform, a weapon, and an engagement ring. Donna and Martha had a great repertoire and bonded over their experiences with The Doctor. However, Donna was concerned about how The Doctor’s effect on Martha and made a remark about her being a full-blown soldier. Martha offered Donna sage advice about what happens when a person gets too close to The Doctor:

“…you need to be careful, because you know The Doctor’s wonderful and he’s brilliant, but he’s like fire. Stand too close and people get burned.” -Martha Jones

As Donna continued to travel with The Doctor, she offered him what he needed – a friendship with someone who would challenge his decisions. Donna developed into a fearless, witty, and knowledgeable woman who helped liberate other species across time and space. Her praises were sung by the Ood, statues were erected in her image, and she had become much more confident in who she was as a woman. When all of The Doctor’s previous companions and associates came together for the series 4 two part finale (“The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End”) Donna saved them all by touching The Doctor’s severed hand, creating a meta crisis Doctor, and using his knowledge along with her humanity to save the universe. Sadly, it was too much for her brain and The Doctor wiped her memory to save her in one of the saddest scenes in modern Doctor Who.

Donna did not want to go back to the person she was before and wanted to continue on with The Doctor, but she ended up losing all memories of her adventures. Her fear of regression showed how she was aware of The Doctor’s positive influence on her personal growth.

Donna’s story brings up the always cautionary tale about how all is well with traveling in the TARDIS until it doesn’t end well.

Despite a glum ending to their time together, Donna is last seen remarried and gifted with a winning lottery ticket from The Doctor. While it may seem her time with The Doctor was in vain, Donna’s impact on him and others across the universe means she was an powerful companion. After losing Donna and letting his other companions resume their lives, the Tenth Doctor decided to be alone until he (reluctantly) regenerated alone.

Part Two!

The Russell T. Davies era seems to prove that a companion’s wisest decision may be deciding to walk away from The Doctor. But, can a companion stay for a while and still come out a winner? Can a TARDIS traveler balance life with The Doctor and a regular existence? Part 2 will explore those questions by examining Amy Pond and Clara Oswald.

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Hitting the Restart Button: Mass Effect Andromeda http://thelearnedfangirl.com/2017/05/hitting-the-restart-button-mass-effect-andromeda/ http://thelearnedfangirl.com/2017/05/hitting-the-restart-button-mass-effect-andromeda/#respond Thu, 04 May 2017 14:53:33 +0000 http://thelearnedfangirl.com/?p=10147 Back in March—the day it came out—I started playing Mass Effect Andromeda. But I am an academic and it is spring, so I’m still playing Andromeda because I don’t have time to do pretty much anything but grade and scrape together conference papers in the spring. That said… Andromeda has me doing a lot of thinking, not about exploration or space, specifically, but about what happens when all of the proverbial sh*t hits the fan all at once.

Because, let’s be honest, that’s kind of what American politics looks like right now.

Andromeda is interesting to me, particularly at the moment, because it hits the restart button on the civilization we came to know and love (a lot) in the previous Mass Effect trilogy. I suppose one might say that it’s a sign of developer laziness, using the Andromeda Initiative fiction (AI sent a whole pile of people in arks to the Andromeda galaxy 600 years before the start of the game, somewhen in the middle of either ME1 or ME2, but definitely before the events of ME3) to keep the same species (there are new ones, too, who live in Andromeda), the same technology (mostly), and the same general aesthetic. You could call it “lazy,” I suppose, or you could call it “realistically efficient” and “not a waste of really expensive design and art assets.” Besides, people LIKE them, so why get rid of them entirely?

But that’s not what I find compelling about Andromeda. What I find compelling is the fact that I’m playing it to escape to a fantasy where civilization has gone to proverbial and literal hell and we get a chance to start over, to rebuild civilization the way we want it to be built rather than relying on centuries of imperialistic assholery. Sure, imperialistic assholery is one of your options as you play as Pathfinder Ryder (male or female, your choice!), but you can also choose protectionism or expansionism or science!

For example, on Eos, you have an opportunity to ally the colonists (okay, you have to be rather imperialistic, but you can be benevolent imperialist if you try hard enough) with some outlaws who have found a water source on an otherwise mostly-desert planet. You can also exchange water access for natural gas, using the fuel to kickstart the economy on Eos. Or you can not do that, as one of your companions reminds you that it would pollute the air and start the global warming process, and Eos is already having all sorts of atmospheric problems without you and your fracking adding to it.

I love that Andromeda gives us the chance to go back, in essence, and not make the same mistakes again—or, at least, to try not to make those mistakes. It isn’t always possible. You can be hostile to the Angara, but you do have to try to get along with them to a limited extent. You can also try to be nice to the Kett, but that ends rather quickly when they immediately try to shoot you. You’re only human, after all (even if there is an AI embedded in your brain… thanks, Dad).

There are a lot of things about Andromeda which are enormously problematic. You have to be imperialist—there just isn’t a way around that if you want to play a character in a game about space colonialism. You can’t not settle on alien worlds. You also don’t really have the choice to settle on unsettled worlds—you can settle on worlds that are mostly ruined, and then fix them, but you have to share space with the Angara, the Kett, or both. Also, dinosaurs. (I feel like someone really wanted to throw in a call-back to Tomb Raider, so Havarl has dinosaur-alien-wildlife, but, alas, no T-Rex… exactly.)

There are also the cultural problems that Mass Effect games just continuously run into—they’ve managed to give us more or less gender parity among alien species this time (there are male and female NPC krogan, turians, humans, salarians, angara, and kett), but the Angara as a people are a bit disturbingly New World.

One of the benefits of the original ME trilogy was that humans were characterized as the new-comers to the galactic empire—and took it over, more or less, anyway, which presented a rather problematic white-savior (human-savior, really, but same difference in space opera) complex, but at least we were the newbies.

In Andromeda, the council races are the newbies, but they are somehow more technologically and intellectually advanced than the Angara and definitely less “savage” than the Kett (who do a lot of screaming before your AI figures out what their words mean and look very… bony in a creepy bone-mask sort of way). The Angara, much as I like Jaal (the Angaran companion on Ryder’s ship), are so very New World “Noble Savage.” It’s downright uncomfortable sometimes.

Ryder can fix their problems for them after a few days (weeks?) on their planets, Ryder can operate the ancient technology on their planets and they can’t, and Ryder is capable of saving them from not only the Kett, but themselves. They are designed as being very overtly emotional—this is, apparently, a cultural trait among Angara which is frequently discussed—which is a standard Noble Savage trope that was applied to the indigenous peoples of North, Central, and South America from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. (I don’t think this was intentional on the part of BioWare’s designers, but it is nevertheless true.)

It’s also—necessarily—expansionist in a way that calls back to the era of American Expansionism from the nineteenth century which led to the genocide (intentional and unintentional) of millions of indigenous peoples in the Americas and the extermination of native plant and animal species. This is, in fact, why I feel terrible about shooting any of the bugs or hostile creatures on any of the planets in Andromeda, because I just keep thinking “This could be an American Bison.” I feel terrible about doing my (Ryder’s) job, because I can’t shake the legacy of imperialism which necessarily accompanies the project of colonization, even in space.

So in many ways, there are huge problems with the pioneer fantasy being presented in Andromeda, and they sometimes get in the way of my enjoyment of the game because I can’t help but feel the significant weight of centuries of white guilt (which is in and of itself also problematic, but so is everything). I also know that this game wouldn’t be interesting if there weren’t alien cultures to encounter and if Ryder was a clueless wanderer instead of an expansionist badass, so I get it. But that’s because our narrative fantasies in the West are almost all imperialistic, which makes me uncomfortable, as well.

But our stories are what they are, and as much as I would like to see gaming stretch its narrative bounds, this game is not where that is going to happen, and that’s okay. It may seem like I disapprove of Andromeda, but I really don’t. I’m enjoying the game (the vast majority of the time) and I am really finding a lot of catharsis in being able to found a new human-Council civilization that isn’t completely based on genocide and violence, but, rather, curiosity and discovery.

Andromeda, so far, is giving me the chance to begin again, to jettison the baggage of the industrial revolution, of slavery and racial oppression, of American Exceptionalism and Western imperialism and radical religious belief (pick your favorite—since we can trace radical Islam all the way back as a reactionary development in response to the Crusades and Inquisition, which themselves were pretty radical militant Christianity… just sayin’). In Andromeda, we are able to start over with people who, although diverse in appearance and beliefs (if not in space-suit-size), all share the common desire to build a civilization that works, that brings together the best they each have to offer, and which is capable of harmony and progress.

Because, right now, when I unplug my headset, the world I find myself in is far more dystopic than the chaos of Andromeda where everything is likely to kill you in the next five minutes. At least there I know that the people I’m working for and with have good intentions. They aren’t beholden to any corporations, because there aren’t any yet. They aren’t trying to vie for power because there is so much of a vacuum that survival is far more important than politics… at least so far (because there are hints that, even in another galaxy, people are still people—aka, assholes). But in Andromeda, I have the ability to make a difference with the actions I take and the words I choose to a degree that I simply don’t here on earth in this petty country called the United States.

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There Is A Difference Between Middle Grade and Young Adult Lit, and It Does Matter http://thelearnedfangirl.com/2017/04/there-is-a-difference-between-middle-grade-and-young-adult-lit-and-it-does-matter/ http://thelearnedfangirl.com/2017/04/there-is-a-difference-between-middle-grade-and-young-adult-lit-and-it-does-matter/#comments Thu, 20 Apr 2017 16:17:43 +0000 http://thelearnedfangirl.com/?p=10131 By Sarah Hannah Gómez

If you are a Book Person, you’ve heard of young adult literature, more commonly referred to as YA. As the Hunger Games movies were hitting screens, everybody on the internet became obsessed with YA. Each and every ladies’ lifestyle site, newsmagazine and entertainment blog was publishing some version of a listicle about favorite YA heroines or best YA books to read when you’ve finished Harry Potter.

Young adult literature is for teenagers, and it honors their experience going through the torture that is adolescence. Special imprints at publishers and specific editors are dedicated to finding stories that will resonate with teenagers. Promotional budgets are earmarked for cool swag designed to make books, authors, and fandoms as big a deal as 1D. YA, a category (not genre) of literature that has been around for 30, 50, or 70 years depending on where you start counting, is an amazing gift to give the demographic that feels (rightfully, thanks to a combination of actual neurological symptoms and sociological beliefs) betrayed, confused, alone, on display, and ignored. It’s also a place where women run much of the show, girls are heroes, and young people save the world while the adults around them are largely impotent, sadistic, or just incompetent. Whether it’s science fiction, realistic fiction, or fantasy, YA books are acquired by YA editors, rather than adult fiction editors, because they celebrate and bask in the immediacy of being a teenager, of experiencing things for the first time. YA characters are gritty.

The problem with the YA bandwagon articles wasn’t that they wanted to celebrate how cool YA is. The problem with those listicles was that most of them, regardless of what superlative they were going for, were rounding up a bunch of books that share the label “I read this before I was old enough to vote,” not YA. Harriet the Spy? Smart, feisty, subtly queer, awesome kid. YA? No. Harriet is 11 years old, and the book is for kids. Madeline? Adorable. Also a book with a large trim size, very few words, and a great deal of pictures, making it….a picturebook!

The YA community, made up mostly of writers, agents, editors, critics, scholars, and librarians, was not feeling this. Find any one of those articles, and you will find fights in the comments between people who didn’t know what YA was until The Hunger Games and one of us. They say it’s an amorphous term, we tell them it’s not; they say it’s evolving, we remind them that we’ve been watching it for years, and they’ve been watching it for weeks. And everybody outside of the community just stares blankly when they hear the term “middle grade.”

What’s middle grade? You know it as “children’s books” or “children’s novels,” and it’s for those  between 8 and 12 years old. Middle grade is what the canon is made of: The Wind in the Willows, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Penderwicks…those are middle grade. There is a long, robust tradition of novels in this category, especially after the industrial revolution and even more so after the labor movement, as ever more children started going to school instead of to work. When you have kids with the freedom to be kids, you have kids with the time and the literacy to read books. If you walk into the children’s room of a public library today, or if you flip through the mental library of books you read as a kid, you probably notice some common motifs. Kids are powerful, smart, and cooperative. They work together, and they save the world.

Adolescence took a long time to be invented at all, and it took an even longer time to become a somewhat stable archetype. It’s only in recent human history that people a) live long enough for adolescence to be a different physical experience than adulthood; and b) live in a society that indulges an extended period of fooling around, experimenting, and generally doing nothing to benefit society. And it’s really only in the last few decades that medical advances have allowed us to understand that adolescent brains truly are distinct from children’s and adults’ brains, and they respond to stimuli in a different way.

The “first” YA books were published before there was a term for it, and each was published by an adult press, not a children’s imprint. Those titles are Maureen Daly’s Seventeenth Summer (1942), J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951), and S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders (1967). But if you really want to talk early YA, you look to the 80s and 90s. You name authors like Robert Cormier (The Chocolate War), Lois Duncan (I Know What You Did Last Summer), Nancy Garden (Annie on My Mind), and Angela Johnson (Toning the Sweep). These books and authors represent a time when shifts were taking place in children’s departments and editors were taking stock and making plans for what they were realizing was an untapped market. What’s going on in these books? Teens are battling things that are more inside than all around them, they’re experiencing it now (as opposed to many teenaged narrators in adult fiction, who more often than not have retrospective glance on the things they are experiencing) and in the end, they save themselves. They’re not simply slightly older Pevensie siblings, gone again to Narnia.

So why does it matter that the entire internet, minus the incredibly vibrant internet subculture dedicated to children’s and young adult literature that knows it better than anyone else, uses the term “YA” so indiscriminately?

I used to be a librarian, and there is no word I hated to hear more than “appropriate.” I do, however, believe that books should “resonate,” and the work of librarians, teachers, and other adults who get books into the hands of non-adults is undermined by casual internet journalism’s insistence that anything written for people too young to buy cigarettes is YA. There are tons of YA books out there that are great, that I would hand to every 17-year-old who walked in the door, but I would never give it to an 11-year-old. That’s not because the tween can’t “handle” it or lacks the reading level. It’s because good books with good editors and good marketing departments are aimed at the people they will most resonate with. An 11-year-old is not experiencing the same things, physiologically or socially, as a 17-year-old. They should not be reading the same books. They deserve to have books that are for each of them as individuals.

Middle grade literature has its giants and its celebrities, both in the form of today’s author-superstars and in the reverence we hold for editors long gone, like Ursula Nordstrom. Kids have skills and needs that are met by these books, from vocabulary level to themes to alignment with developmental stages. YA is not for them, and the authors of the amazing middle grade novels that hit shelves each year deserve to be celebrated for the people they choose to serve—children.

The same goes with teens, but with higher stakes. The best thing about YA is that it taps into a demographic that is never interested in doing anything an adult says they should do and, without trying to teach a lesson or change any minds, simply offers a story that says, “I see you.” Ever since adults jumped onto YA, book prices have gone up, which makes it difficult for actual teenagers to afford the books purportedly just for them. New imprints that boldly and loudly assert that they are For! Teen! Readers! strive to reclaim the YA space in the name of real adolescence, but it’s difficult to retain that control when adults (who are by all means welcome to read whatever they want) keep trying to take, twist and rename a cultural product that was not made for them. Content and themes have grown darker, grittier, and more true to the real lives that many teens live, which is wonderful. This fuels the fire of would-be book banners who seek to control what teenagers read before they escape adult clutches and enter the real world. In turn, conflating middle grade and YA mean that more YA is appearing in libraries where it has no place, and that gives way to even more book challenges, because “YA” becomes synonymous with “dark, horrible book about despair.” The people who work to craft stories that successfully do the very difficult job of accurately portraying teen life without inciting an eyeroll and without harming an actual teen along the way deserve praise for what they do.

It’s not about which category (not genre) is better; it’s about not wanting to be given a social studies award when you’re a biology teacher, and not wanting to be asked to sing karaoke when you’re tone-deaf and would rather be painting.


Sarah Hannah Gómez writes, teaches group fitness, sells biotech skincare products, and consults on library- and literature-related matters. She is pursuing a PhD in the history and critical theory of children’s/YA literature. Visit her at shgmclicious.com or on Twitter @shgmclicious

Photo: Young Adult collection in the Salem Public Library in Salem, MA

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Book Review: Made in Korea: Studies in Popular Culture http://thelearnedfangirl.com/2017/04/book-review-made-in-korea/ Wed, 19 Apr 2017 17:58:49 +0000 http://thelearnedfangirl.com/?p=10127 by Raizel Liebler

Made in Korea : studies in popular music (2017), edited by Hyunjoon Shin and Seung-Ah Lee is another excellent entry in the growing field of academic studies of Korean pop culture available in English. Thematically, this collection works hard to situate Korean popular music — ranging from folk music through jazz to trot to punk and rock to Korean hiphop through early kpop to present-day kpop — within both a historical and musical context. This context is highly deliberative, with the provocative introduction explaining how little Korean music is understood within larger cultural contexts, both from musicologists and international fans.

Throughout the majority of the essays regardless of specific genre — such as folk or punk — there is a focus on the importance of the push-pull of government intervention on both popularity and music production, from bans (prevention of certain musical forms), to censorship (prevention of certain terms and more), to government financial support of idol labels.

There are also little mentions throughout the book regarding elements in Korean pop culture that would not be apparent to international fans. For example, while discussing trot, the editors mention how to a Korean audience the melody, rhythm, and singing style of the Wonder Girls song Nobody sounds local, while simultaneously to an international audience, it sounds like a Motown girl group throwback sound. (61)

While all of the essays are interesting, two essays specifically reflect present kpop fan studies and production. As snapshots, the importance of these essays will grow in time, considering how little is written about kpop with such an important critical tone. Dong-Yeun Lee’s Who’s Afraid of Korean Idols? even discusses the emotional labor by idols — and how what is perceived to be “real” is carefully constructed: the “idols’ emotional labor–initially taken up for pleasure as well as a means of living a fantastic life– is piled upon real labor.” (177) The cynicism that is nevertheless realistic, considering the churn rate for idol groups, continues: “The idol’s destiny is like that of the fancy flowers that may fall off before others; no one knows when they may not be there anymore.” (178)

Finally, I appreciated what Sun Jung’s chapter, Emerging Social Distribution: The Case of K-pop Circulation in the Global Pop Market, will do for my own research! This chapter focuses how kpop spreads, especially to and among international fans. Jung states “fans and other active audiences develop an expertise for the content and a mastery of distribution technology during which economic and cultural values are generated through audience activities” (57). The spread of kpop is based on a “conceptual paradigm of an intrinsic mixture of two different models–the newly emerging alternative, grassroots-driven, bottom-up model, and the existing, corporate-led, top-down model–in which multilayered regional, global, industry, and audience desires intermingle in the building and acquisition of cultural capital.” (57)

Overall: Strongly recommended for its historical context and discussion of the political economy surrounding Korean popular music. Properly places the popular music of South Korea as both opposition to and benefiting from government and structural forces. Not a casual read!

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TLF at C2E2 http://thelearnedfangirl.com/2017/04/tlf-at-c2e2/ Tue, 18 Apr 2017 00:52:30 +0000 http://thelearnedfangirl.com/?p=10125 If you’re gonna be at C2E2 in Chicago this weekend, you can check out TLF co-founder Keidra Chaney at these two panels:

Professional Geek: How to Turn Your Passion into A CareerApril 21, 2017, 5:15 PM – 6:15 PM
A panel of professional geeks from various industries, including video games, music composers, producers, podcasters, and journalists offer the audience sage advice for how to break into your chosen industry, and tell some funny stories of how they got into the jobs they’re in now. Includes a discussion on the different ways that being a geek can help you become a better professional, and advice on everything from copyright law to networking and turning your favorite thing into your career.

Behind The Parable And The Power: A Celebration Of The Black Women Creators Of The ‘Verse
April 22, 2017, 4:15 PM – 5:15 PM
The ladies from A Black Nerd Girl’s Journey and More Than Warriors And Weather Witches are back! This year, we’re going to celebrate the black women behind the pages and productions of our favorite stories from the ‘Verse. We will laud the history of their influence, analyze how far we still need to go, and hopefully hear from the audience how their favorite black women creators have inspired them to pursue their own geeky paths.

Photo by Betsy Scott

 

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Two Asian-American Women Discuss the “Ghost in the Shell” movie http://thelearnedfangirl.com/2017/04/asian-american-women-ghost-in-the-shell-movie/ Thu, 13 Apr 2017 16:35:49 +0000 http://thelearnedfangirl.com/?p=10120 After years of controversy about casting Scarlett Johansson in the Dreamworks/Paramount live action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, the film opened this month to lackluster reviews and poor box office numbers due to moviegoers’ frustrations with the whitewashing of its main character (Major Motoko Kusanagi/Mira Killian). Dawn Xiana Moon and Michi Trota share their differing takes on the film from the perspective of two Asian-American women with a fondness for the 1995 anime.

Michi: I was a bright eyed college freshman when I saw the original Ghost in the Shell anime. We rented a beat-up VHS (subtitled, not dubbed) from Tower Records in Boston (RIP), and crowded into my teeny dorm room to watch the movie on my old 27” tube TV.

Even though I’m sure I missed a lot of the finer details and subtext, I still remember being struck by the deep philosophical questions about humanity, individual identity, and technology that GitS attempted to tackle. Not only was it hauntingly beautiful (and at times viscerally disturbing) to watch, the story wove a complex dialog about the boundaries between humanity and technology, and where individuality begins and ends.

While Motoko is the main character, the 1995 GitS isn’t so much about her individual journey as it is about what insights her journey reveals about the nature of humanity in a world where technology can either augment or replace not only the human body, but the human mind as well. The result is an unsettling and challenging spectacle that clearly resonated with audiences for over 20 years.

By flipping the story to focus on Mira’s (Motoko) individual journey to awareness, Paramount’s adaptation of GitS manages to strip away everything that made the original so appealing, exchanging it for yet another banal — but visually gorgeous — revenge story about a hero done wrong by an evil organization. Mira’s mysterious past turns out to be a fabrication, and the antagonist she’s hunting down turns out to be another victim of corporate malfeasance and unethical science, rather than an artificial mind that wishes for human mortality. In short order, Mira and her team have no choice but to go rogue in order to find the truth and get justice.

It’s a story that we’ve seen countless times before, one that’s particularly Western in its focus on the triumph of rugged individualism. Multiple shots of Johansson stoically staring into the distance and musing about how “different” and “lonely” she feels in a cybernetic body aren’t nearly enough to convey larger themes of technology’s effect on the humanity and the concept of individuality.

By making Mira unique in her ability to have a fully integrated human mind in a cybernetic body (this wasn’t the case in the 1995 anime, where there were others like her), as well as her retaining her individual identity rather than merging with Kuze (Motoko chose to merge with the Puppet Master), any questions about the nature of humanity and how our evolution may be affected by our relationship with technology is virtually absent in this version of GitS, much to the film’s detriment.

It’s adding insult to the injury that is Paramount’s whitewashing of Motoko by not only re-casting her as a white woman, Scarlett Johansson, in a particularly wooden performance, but by also literally making whitewashing the root of Mira’s story. Mira was originally a young Japanese dissident woman, named Motoko Kusanagi, in what was clearly Paramount’s attempt at a clever nod to the original but comes off as especially condescending, who was taken by a greedy white corporate mogul and white scientist so that her brain could be transplanted into a cybernetic body, a successful merging of technology and flesh that heralds the next evolution of humanity.

Naturally, that cybernetic body wears the face of a white woman. In effect, it’s pulling a Reverse Psylocke on Motoko/Mira, a narrative choice that’s breathtaking in its blatant ignorance of white supremacy and cultural context. This same whitewashed fate was presumably forced upon Kuze, the other major character, as well, whose current body wears a white face but whose mind originally belonged to a young man named Hideo.

This choice to have people of color living within white bodies poisons the entire film, because there’s no escaping the subtext that even in this futuristic world where miraculous things are possible, the culmination of human evolution apparently wears a white face with a mind that’s been wiped of her ethnic identity. If the aim of the story was to comment on how white supremacy abuses POC bodies and twists our minds to idealize and internalize whiteness out of a sense of entitlement to our entire selves, it missed. Horribly. Instead, GitS’s narrative is the concept of how “not seeing race” always defaults to “white” writ large.

It’s all a damn shame because aesthetically, GitS is beautifully rendered, full of glorious futuristic neon signs and holographic 3D ads amidst shining towers of metal and glass, with subtle callbacks to dystopian science fiction classics like Bladerunner. Seeing the film in IMAX 3D certainly enhanced those visuals and the 3D was seamlessly integrated. The action sequences are perfectly serviceable, and the visuals of Kuze’s broken and exposed cybernetic form, juxtaposed against Mira’s smooth and seamless body, manage to evoke that same feeling of discomfort and Otherness that permeated the original anime (the scene in which Kuze removes part of Mira’s cybernetic face is chillingly rendered). Batou (Pilou Asbæk) and Chief Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano) were absolutely delightful, Aramaki in particular – Johansson could learn a lot from Kitano about how microexpressions actually work.

But for all its visual splendor, whitewashing and Orientalism are irredeemably at the heart of GitS. While the setting is still supposed to be a futuristic Japanese city, and there are Asians and other POC seen on Mira’s team and in the city, there’s no ignoring that the majority of the principal players in this story are all white: Mira, Kuze, Dr. Ouelet, Cutter, even Batou. Stripped of the specific cultural context of Japanese society’s reinvention of itself post-WWII and its resulting unique relationship with technology, this incarnation of GitS’s narrative about corporate malfeasance and stolen identity is, pardon the pun, a mere ghost of the original.

The insistence that GitS needed to be funneled through an American lens with a bankable (read: white) star, despite the popularity of the original that made it a tantalizing property in the first place, leaves the unmistakable stench of “We like your stuff, just not you” that has permeated so many offerings from Hollywood for decades, not just in the last few months (although Doctor Strange, Great Wall, Iron Fist, and Death Note immediately come to mind).

It’s one more reminder that Asians & Asian Americans are Other, that we’re expendable, and once white supremacy has taken what it wants from us, our erasure on the altar of Orientalism is still an acceptable practice in American media. Let me be clear, because apparently there’s still a temptation to avoid acknowledging that whitewashing (not “controversy” or “claims” about whitewashing) is a problem in this movie: Ghost in the Shell failed because whitewashing IS bad writing. And all the gorgeous visuals and well-choreographed action sequences in the world aren’t worth overlooking that fact anymore — if they ever were worth it. Ultimately, the choice to whitewash Motoko and GitS’s narrative itself tanked what could have otherwise been an enjoyable, if pedestrian, B-level movie.

Michi’s Verdict: Give it a hard pass and just treat yourself to a rewatch of the 1995 anime instead. For bonus points, try Jennifer Phang’s brilliant Advantageous for a masterful examination of technology, individual identity, and family sacrifice.

 

Dawn: I was surprised: I didn’t hate Ghost in the Shell.

Granted, the bar was low.

As an audience member, I never want to hate the thing I’m watching – I’d rather spend my time supporting art that challenges, that inspires, that connects. As an Asian-American and critic, I was fully prepared to hate Ghost in the Shell. After two years of controversy and months of ever-more-ludicrous news about Scarlett Johansson’s character – her name is Major, no, it’s Mira, but don’t worry, Johansson would never “attempt to play a person of a different race” – and slogging through 13 episodes of Orientalism and awful writing in recently-released Iron Fist, I expected a disaster. To my surprise, I didn’t find one. What I found was a very Hollywood retelling of a very Japanese story, with all the mixed results that entails.

I was born in Singapore, where the population is 80% ethnically Chinese. We have ethnic minorities there too – the country has four national languages. When I started kindergarten, I was surrounded by media that looked like me – Chinese women were featured in ads, television shows, music, and film. When I moved to Michigan at the age of five, I was a foreigner – growing up, I remember how notable it was to see any variety of Asian, let alone Chinese-Americans in anything. These days it’s still rare: a study from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism noted that of the top 100 films in 2015, not a single one featured an Asian lead. Half the films didn’t even have an Asian character.

Given all of these things, Asian representation in Hollywood carries a very different weight in Asia than it does in the US. Asians in Asia – who, one must remember, aren’t a monolith – watch Hollywood films and expect them to be white because America is white (obviously, this impression isn’t entirely reflective of reality, but it’s one that the media we export supports). Asians in Asia aren’t looking to Hollywood to make sense of themselves or their stories – they have media that performs that function already, and if they’re part of the group that is the majority in their country, they’re used to being dominant. That’s why Ghost in the Shell creator Mamoru Oshii can make statements saying, “There is no basis for saying that an Asian actress must portray [the Major].”

Asian-Americans, on the other hand, aren’t reflected in Asian media or American media – we don’t exist. Our stories aren’t told. We’re desperate to be seen, to be treated as something more than invisible. Hollywood whitewashing hurts us because we never see ourselves reflected as fully-realized people. Which leads to us forgetting that we can be fully-realized people.

If Ghost in the Shell was created in a vacuum, the story of a cyborg wrestling with her humanity and uniqueness would have felt generic, but serviceable enough to gird stunning visual effects, cinematography, and art direction. Director Rupert Sanders and team clearly did their homework – so many shots here were lovingly crafted recreations of shots from the 1995 anime, and the film is beautiful.

Within the confines of the film, the fact that Major Mira Killian turns out to be a memory-suppressed Motoko Kusanagi, now a young, dissident runaway rather than the lifelong special ops police officer of the anime, is a twist that recalls Robocop, and one that highlights the fact that the Major’s robotic body is owned by an evil corporation intent on using her, regardless of consent. It’s not a particularly creative story, but it works.

However, art – even pop art – does not exist in a vacuum.

Context matters. And in context, the entire plot of Ghost in the Shell is a justification for casting a white actress in a Japanese role. It’s as though the story was a direct response to the criticism levied from both the fan and Asian-American communities: “We had to cast a white actress, but it’s OK because it’s important to the story and look, she’s actually Japanese underneath!”

Similarly, the attitude of the Hollywood version changes dramatically from the 1995 anime. Hollywood is concerned with fast pacing, quick cuts, and, like American society, individuality. The Major’s story here is that of a single woman wrestling with what it means to be the only one of her kind, and whether being a cyborg makes her human or not; Hanaka Robotics wants to protect her as an investment, as property, because she’s the first successful experiment in putting a human brain into a cybernetic body. She’s crafted to be a weapon.

The anime, on the other hand, like the society it comes from, is more interested in collective identity – the Major is one of many, and putting a “ghost” into a “shell” isn’t unusual. As a rule, Asian societies think more communally than Western ones – they’re more concerned about families and countries than they are about individuals. Thus the anime is more philosophical: “Overspecialize,” it says, “and you breed weakness.” Evolution is necessary, and many parts are needed to make a whole that thrives. The anime also asks what constitutes sentient life, what the implications are for society when technology makes renders bodies interchangeable. Can a machine have a soul?

Dawn’s Verdict: Viewed charitably, the live action adaptation was a typical Hollywood blockbuster set in a meticulously-crafted cyberpunk world. Viewed more harshly, the film borrows the trappings of the 1995 anime but loses its soul. It’s as though the filmmakers kept the shell, but switched the ghost.

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The Black Woman Getting Ready: A Routine Rarely Portrayed in Mainstream Media http://thelearnedfangirl.com/2017/04/the-black-woman-getting-ready-a-routine-so-rarely-portrayed-in-mainstream-media/ Fri, 07 Apr 2017 13:20:57 +0000 http://thelearnedfangirl.com/?p=10094 by Neyat Yohannes

Van (Zazie Beetz) lies half asleep in bed next to a fully-awake Earn (Donald Glover), whose headphones are blaring to such a degree that they’re supplying the score for the second scene of Atlanta’s series premiere. Van accepts, with some reluctance, that sleep is a thing of the past and listens to Earn describe the peculiar dream he’s just had. After a quippy back-and-forth that introduces us to Van’s no-nonsense attitude—a clear coping mechanism for the cards life has dealt her—we are reminded that despite what we hope for with his curious lede, Earn is merely a mortal man who hasn’t evolved past dreaming about canoodling with hot women. The two make-out before an “I love you” arrives a beat too late, prompting them to get out of bed and start their respective days.

atlantaWhat’s not mentioned above, or in any of the high-brow think pieces published with haste just minutes after this instant classic premiered, is that we meet Van with her bonnet on. If that’s not titillating enough for the black women in the audience, we also watch Zazie Beetz engage in a full-on kissing scene with that blue and orange scarf still secured to her head. And what’s more, during a mild argument with Earn, we watch Van undue her bantu knots as she starts her day. If you’ve ever had a black girl for a roommate, or a lover, or just happen to be one, there’s nothing foreign-sounding about the above observations. Bonnets and protective styling are part of the average black woman’s daily routine. But what’s radical is the fact that we get to see them realized on-screen. It isn’t done in a showy way or with awkward comedic timing. Instead, they are presented in the same mundane way a character might pour a glass of water or sit at a desk—just another everyday occurrence.

But it isn’t everyday we see the black woman getting ready. Not on TV or film, at least.  While women-driven shows like Broad City shamelessly reveal what female-identifying people do behind closed doors, it’s easy to forget about intersectional feminism in the midst of our excitement. The nighttime regimens and morning practices of black women are seldom shown on the big or small screen, so the inaugural episode of Atlanta is something particularly noteworthy. It’s one of the few and far between instances of a black woman going through the motions of her daily routine with an audience before her to glean new levels of awareness from her every move.

While the aforementioned scenes in Atlanta were perhaps too subtle for those outside the realm of the black experience to notice on more than a subconscious level, the scene from How To Get Away With Murder during which Viola Davis’ character, Annalise Keating removes her wig is considered a landmark event. It’s apparent that it continues to interest many inquiring minds because when you begin typing Viola Davis’ name into Google, the first result is her name followed by “removes wig.” In her debut book, You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain, Phoebe Robinson describes this momentous occasion as “THE SINGLE GREATEST MOMENT IN BLACK WOMEN TELEVISION HISTORY.” She makes this proclamation with purposeful caps lock and then justifies why lowercase letters just wouldn’t do. She says:

It’s not an overstatement when I write that watching a part of the black woman’s beauty routine reflected back at me made me praise dance the way I do when I’m in the Pillsbury crescent‑roll section of my grocery store. This scene was so real, so honest, so raw, so everything because this is what a lot of black women look like when not in public. To present that to America was huge. Not only did it show what beauty preparation is like for many black women, it let most, if not all, non-black people into a world that had previously been off‑limits to them. (excerpt from You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain , courtesy of New York Magazine).

And this world was introduced to them on a network—American Broadcasting Company (ABC)—that’s been around since the forties. To provide context, ABC came into fruition two full decades before the Jim Crow laws were no longer in effect. So it’s clear that covering the black person’s narrative wasn’t apart of their initial mission. Especially not a black woman’s narrative. Considering ABC didn’t cast its first black Bachelorette until 2017, the Annalise Keating wig removal scene serves as even more cause for celebration.

That said, it was also during the forties that Hattie McDaniel became the first African-American to win an Academy Award. She was named Best Supporting Actress in 1940 for her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind. While it was much to the chagrin of many black folks of the time—and of today—that McDaniel won the award for portraying a slave and perpetuating the Mammy archetype, it’s important to note that she did make strides for black actors in film. In her book African American Actresses: The Struggle for Visibility, 1900-1960, Charlene B. Regester gives McDaniel her props and acknowledges the fact that she lent a hand in black actors breaking out of sedentary roles in film. Regester writes:

Hattie McDaniel empowered herself in Gone with the Wind (hereafter GWTW) through her transformation of the subservient (subordinate, dehumanized, and devalued) into the dominant (defiant and directing). She managed this through her commanding presence, strong posture, exertion of power, and fearlessness in the role of Mammy, and in doing so McDaniel redefined and reconstructed public images of African American womanhood. The point is debatable, but through her performance McDaniel did move this character (and character type) out of the margin and into the film’s center. (Regester, 131).

Hattie McDaniel, though wildly successful in the film world, was a rather tragic figure. Regester doesn’t ignore this in her praise of McDaniel and even underlines the devastating aspects of the actress’ life, which include suicide attempts and depression. It’s also worth mentioning that regardless of her active representation of black women on-screen—granted, in servile roles—she was repudiated by her community and mainstream black media.

Fast-forward to the year 2000. The new millennium brought us the Y2K bug, frosted lip gloss, and low-rise jeans. But for black women with healthy appetites for television, the most meaningful gift was the premiere of Girlfriends: an American sitcom that followed the lives of four very different young black women living in Los Angeles. The series had an eight-year run and black viewers aggressively sought it out because it provided an accessible alternative to shows like Sex and the City, notorious for leaving black folks out of the narrative save for the fetishization of them (read: the season six arc where Miranda dates her black neighbor, Blair Underwood). That, and it was also just a damn good series that any audience could enjoy. Its IMDB page boasts an impressive list of accolades to prove it.

Girlfriends also sky-rocketed the career of the ever-exuberant, Tracee Ellis Ross. We had the honor of watching Ross get ready every week during the early aughts and we’re allowed the same access even today, as we try to keep up with Rainbow “Bow” Johnson’s chic hairstyles on the ABC hit show black-ish. Tracee Ellis Ross has always had a strong command of her hair. Even in the instances that don’t grant us permission to her morning or nightly routines, it is clear that her hair is never an afterthought. Aside from her stellar comedic timing and vivacious personality, her hair has always been her crowning glory. It doesn’t overshadow her and it isn’t her prized possession, but rather, it serves as a beacon of light for black women struggling to maintain their natural hair. It’s something to aspire to when the going gets tough with all of the expensive leave-in conditioner, time-consuming protective styles, and homemade hair masks.

In 2014, Ross spoke to Entertainment Weekly about the natural hair boom in network television and her relationship to it. She said:

I think it’s huge that I’m wearing my natural hair texture on ABC in primetime. As Dr. Rainbow Johnson on black-ish, I think my hair is part of the reality of this woman’s life. She has four children and is an anesthesiologist and a wife. She doesn’t have a lot of time to fuss with beauty, so her look is pretty simple. I’m very conscious of how I wear my hair on the show, and yet it’s the way I wear my hair as Tracee. You hire me, you hire my hair, and you hire my ass. It’s all coming with me.

Much like Hattie McDaniel brought black actors out of marginalized roles with little to no speaking parts, Tracee Ellis Ross has managed to bring natural-haired black women to the forefront. And with them, their routines.

However, it isn’t just natural-haired black women breaking barriers on-screen. Cue the BET series Being Mary Jane created by Mara Brock Akil, the same woman who helped bring Girlfriends to your television set. The show follows the public and private life of Mary Jane Paul (Gabrielle Union), who’s a successful television news anchor based in Atlanta. Mary Jane struggles to strike a balance between her demanding career, nagging family, and the near-impossible task of finding the perfect guy. Being Mary Jane is unique in that it spends an unprecedented amount of time showcasing Mary Jane’s routine. The majority of episodes begin with Mary Jane getting ready to start her day and end with her preparing for bed.

Each morning, we watch Mary Jane begin with her daily affirmations in the form of reading the quotes she’s pre-written on the post-it notes that litter her headboard, generously-sized picture window, and bathroom mirror. We watch her traipse around her immaculate home, take a luxurious shower, remove her bonnet, and apply her makeup as she readies herself t for another exhausting day of work at Satellite News Channel. And the same goes for her nighttime routine. The series puts Mary Jane on display as she wipes the day off, takes her IVF injection, ties her hair up, and slips into bed to answer emails.

In an especially memorable episode, Mary Jane is in crisis mode when her hair stylist cancels her appointment without notice—a frightening phone call that, more often than not, every black woman has been faced with. By the time Mary Jane learns her stylist has flaked, she has already removed her sew-in, revealing Gabrielle Union’s real hair. While she has a healthy, gorgeous head of hair, Mary Jane is petrified at the prospect of going to work the next day to do a live news segment sans weave. So in a last-ditch effort, she calls her niece over that very night to reinstall her old weave. While Mary Jane relaxes with a glass of wine as her niece, Niecey tends to her hair, she confides in her:

You know why I begged you to come over here? Because your perfect aunt was terrified of going to work without her weave. Terrified that no one would think I was beautiful. That people would think I was average and I’d be invisible. So maybe that pedestal you put me on is a little too high. I’m human (Season 2, Episode 7: Let’s Go Crazy).

This intimate look at a situation black women deal with all the time is refreshing to see on TV. The black women in the audience can relate to it and everyone else is given the opportunity to gain a better understanding of black haircare. Moreover, this is a chance for non-black viewers to start to comprehend the pain black women feel as they attempt to reconcile their beauty with what the rest of society considers ideal or beautiful.

In the last several years, the most accessible place for black women to catch glimpses of each other’s beauty rituals aside from being in the same room has been YouTube. We all know by now that YouTube served as a launching pad for an outstanding number of creators including black folks like Issa Rae (formerly of Awkward Black Girl fame and currently the creator and star of the HBO hit Insecure) and Donald Glover (who started out on Youtube doing derrickcomedy and is now the creator/star of the previously mentioned FX hit Atlanta) who’ve moved on to full-fledged careers in television. YouTube is also home to a slew of vloggers who’ve found a way to monetize their passion for the billion-dollar industry that is beauty.

Black women religiously flock to the pages of vloggers like ItsMyRayeRaye and Patricia Bright who’ve long since passed the millionth subscriber mark. They’re just two of the countless beauty enthusiasts out there who’ve made careers out of the beloved Get Ready With Me (GRWM) video. Whether it’s a tutorial on getting your edges laid or simply a woman trying out her new eye shadow palette in front of the camera, GRWM videos have fast become a practical and emotional tool. They provide insight on navigating an industry that often ignores melanin and kinky hair. They also just serve as an oasis that allows black women to see themselves reflected in something other than a mirror.

The GRWM video is certainly not exclusive to YouTube’s black community, but it is an invaluable asset to black viewers who rely on it to provide them with beauty information that isn’t readily available. These videos review products while keeping the black consumer’s best interest in mind; which is rather revolutionary because despite the black consumer’s buying power being worth well over one trillion dollars, the black buyer is arguably the most neglected. And these videos come in all shapes and sizes. Some GRWM vloggers are talkative and will regale you in a hilarious “what had happened was…” type of story while revealing the secrets of a good contour. Others are less chatty and offer a more soothing option with soft, serene music to achieve that easy-like-sunday-morning aesthetic. Some are more lifestyle driven and are perfect for the black woman who just wants to live vicariously through an “It” girl who actually looks like her. A black woman having the ability to open her laptop and watch another black woman have brunch or decorate her apartment is a simple joy, but it isn’t taken for granted because we all know these are infrequent happenings.

With new shows like Atlanta, Being Mary Jane, Insecure, Queen Sugar, and the like, it’s easy for the black woman to feel as though she’s been presented with an embarrassment of riches. For once, she doesn’t have to watch a show just because it boasts black cast members. She finally has a few options and most of them are available during the coveted primetime slots. But in the grand scheme of things, mainstream media still has a ways to go when it comes to the visibility of black women. For so long, black girls have clutched classic films like Waiting to Exhale or Poetic Justice close to their hearts and continue to re-watch them for just another glance at Janet Jackson’s iconic box braids or to fall under one more wistful spell as Angela Bassett sits in front of her vanity.

The archives of the black woman on-screen-and-doing-her-thing are no doubt gaining new files, but these moments are still limited and meant to be savored. Before a black girl wearing a bonnet on-screen is no longer a needle in a blonde haystack, it is perfectly within every black woman’s rights to press rewind and watch the hell out of these scenes. Afterall, they’re what keep her buoyant in a world that makes drowning easy. Until they’re no longer an exciting rare occurrence worth writing about, scenes of the black woman getting ready will always be of the utmost importance.


Neyat Yohannes works as a freelance writer and a regular contributor to Okayafrica, Hello Giggles, The Coalition Zine, and Blavity.

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Hold the #MartialArtsMayo: A Review of Iron Fist, Part 3 of 3 http://thelearnedfangirl.com/2017/04/hold-the-martialartsmayo-a-review-of-iron-fist-part-3-of-3/ Wed, 05 Apr 2017 19:08:12 +0000 http://thelearnedfangirl.com/?p=10108 At last, Dawn Xiana Moon and Michi Trota ​complete their​ 3-part​ review of Marvel’s Iron Fist on Netflix, covering episodes ​10-13​. ​Was the series worth it overall? Well, at least there were cake, cocktails, and quite a lot to dig their critical teeth into. ​Thank you for listening to this review mini-series, and don’t forget to check out the audio commentary Dawn and Michi recorded for the Iron Fist episode 13 finale​ below!
Bonus Track!

​Dawn and Michi recorded themselves watching the finale of Iron Fist, and you can listen along by syncing this audio track with the episode itself! While there’s plenty of snark to go around, it’s fairly clear that after 13 episodes our intrepid reviewers were on their last legs. For the record, Dawn’s TV apparently didn’t like Iron Fist either because less than two minutes in on the first run at recording, it flipped out and refused to turn back on for a good several minutes.

Transcription provided by Beth Voigt

DAWN: Dear internet! Welcome to part 3 of 3 of Hold the #MartialArtsMayo: A Review of Iron Fist. I’m Dawn Xiana Moon

MICHI: And I’m Michi Trota…

DAWN: And for those of you who haven’t been listening, a little bit of context: this is Dawn, I am the founder/producer/director of Raks Geek, which is a nerd-themed bellydance and fire performance company, and I am Asian-American. I am Chinese-American, born in Singapore and moved to Michigan when I was five years old.

MICHI: And I’m Michi Trota. I am the managing editor for Uncanny, a magazine of science fiction and fantasy. I am also president of the Chicago Nerd Social Club board of organizers. I am also Asian-American, I’m Filipina-American, born and raised outside of Chicago, and Iron Fist is a character I’ve been familiar with since I have been reading comics for over 20 years.

DAWN: We’re going to be covering episodes 10-13 in this review, which is the last chunk of Iron Fist. So, what did we think? Did they get any better?

MICHI: NO. [laughs] That’s really all I have to say, is no.

DAWN: I kind of wish we were doing this as a video review right now, because if you could see the look on Michi’s face…

MICHI: It’s that look that I can’t believe I’ve made a terrible, terrible life decision in watching this entire series. I think going into it, I honestly wanted to be surprised. I wanted it to build up to a point where the payoff made the initial investment worth it. I was really hoping for that to happen in episodes 10-13, I’m just sitting here being, “What happened?”

DAWN: So, for anybody who is coming into this thinking, “Oh, they’re two Asian-Americans who probably wanted an Asian-American Iron Fist, and so they’re prejudiced to the series to begin with,” I will admit we probably had some bias going into it, but the commitment to sitting through 13 episodes and watching an entire season of something… frankly, I would have loved for it to be good because it’s just so much of my time! It’s a huge investment to sit through and watch this! I literally wrote down in the middle of episode 11, “Have I ever hated a protagonist this much?” I really don’t think there’s a protagonist in anything I’ve hated so much. Danny has had zero character development, he is a complete douchebag to everybody who is around him, he mansplains all of the women, he whitesplains anybody who is Asian about martial arts, he really just has no redeeming qualities.

MICHI: I feel like episodes 10-13 are supposed to be showing us “Here’s what happens when Danny’s back is up against a wall.” Where all the things that he has taken for granted, the fact that Harold is supposed to be family to him, the Meachums are family to him… never mind that Ward had him committed to try to keep him away from the company, the only Meacham who has really ever been openly honest with Danny has been Joy, and he’s treated Joy very terribly. But this is supposed to be showing us what happens when all of those things that Danny wanted to come back for, that he’s been holding onto since childhood, are crumbling in front of him and he’s learned to trust Colleen, and it turns out that Colleen has been lying to him (which is a character development in and of itself that I have a lot of problems with). I did not feel bad for Danny through any of this. His decision making has been consistently terrible…

DAWN: To the point where characters are even calling him out on that as you’re watching. The other characters will say, “Do you have a plan? You’re making a bad choice.”

MICHI and DAWN: [talking over each other]: “I don’t care. I’m going in anyway.”

MICHI: Claire and Hogarth continue to be the characters who I love the most in this just because they are calling everything to the carpet. And yet, they can’t do anything to actually fix it because the narrative requires us to go along with what Danny is doing. Because Danny is the hero.

DAWN: Again, you’re seeing in episodes 10-13 this thing that we saw in the last chunk of episodes we were reviewing where the characters are doing something and then the Great Hand of the Writer comes in and makes the character do something that clearly they shouldn’t be doing. So it feels like, if you’re an audience member, it feels like it’s very inconsistent. But it’s not actually really the characters being inconsistent, per se, but it’s the writers coming in and saying, “We’ve set your character up to be this way, but now I need you to do this other thing for the plot and so now you’re going to do that.”

MICHI: All of the characters that we’ve been introduced to so far… and we still get another character who we’re introduced to. We finally get to meet Danny’s childhood friend Davos, who is very understandably pissed that Danny left his post. Not only did Danny leave the post, leaving K’un-Lun exposed, which is Davos’ home, he’s like, “You’re supposed to be protecting my home.”

DAWN: “You’re supposed to be my brother, even!” he says, “and you left us!” He literally says at one point, “Wow. You are the worst Iron Fist ever.” And I yelled at the TV “Yes! This is true!”

MICHI: We can’t say that Davos is wrong. And even though the story is clearly setting things up where Davos is going to be Danny’s future antagonist because he’s resentful, because he feels that he should have been the Iron Fist, that Danny was a terrible choice…

DAWN: But you can’t disagree with him!

MICHI: I can’t disagree that Danny was a terrible choice to be the Iron Fist. There’s one point where Danny says something about how, since he’s come back to New York, he’s come to realize that the power of Iron Fist isn’t, shouldn’t just be used for K’un-Lun, it should be used to defend everybody, to defend the principles that he grew up with in K’un-Lun.

DAWN: Which would be one thing if he had gone to the leadership of K’un-Lun and said, “I think the power of the Iron Fist is really important and it’s supposed to be a force for good in the world and so I’m leaving,” as opposed to just, one day you wake up and he’s not there any more, and the passage to K’un-Lun is open because nobody’s guarding it.

MICHI: Yup, and how long is it going to be before the Hand figures out that the pass is open and they’re going to go after K’un-Lun.

DAWN: Predictably, by the end of episode 13, you see that oh, they’ve figured this out!

MICHI: I have seen this arc actually done with Wonder Woman. This is part of Wonder Woman’s story, where she is taking her power out into the world of man because she feels that it is irresponsible not to take what she is able to do, not to take her power and go out and defend the wider world, not just her home. That is not an old story, it’s one that’s been told…

DAWN: Frankly, we kept seeing parallels to Iron Fist and Star Wars, where Luke Skywalker doesn’t finish his training, he leaves Yoda… Luke has a good motivation for leaving: his friends are actually in trouble. If he doesn’t show up and save them, it’s very possible at this point that they will die. Danny has no such motivation, he just wants to leave because he doesn’t feel like he’s comfortable any more, and he’s bored. There are so many scenes where they’re showing him…

MICHI: [frustrated] He’s just bored, oh my god.

DAWN: “Oh, the rest of my life is just going to be standing in this passageway, looking, and waiting for people to come and they’re not going to come and I’m just going to sit here being bored.” That’s not an excuse to abandon your post!

MICHI: Also, not a respectful treatment of this power that you said that you wanted and… I can’t even remember if it was in this block of episodes or the previous block, where he said that he ended up going after the power of Iron Fist because it would fill a void that he had. Not because he believed that he was the best person, not because, y’know, he’s all like “Oh, I can totally do this!” and not because he believes he’s the best person for the job because he clearly doesn’t care about the job.

DAWN: He did once phrase it as he wanted the most important job or the best job. So he just had to take it because it was the most important and best thing.

MICHI: Which is so entitled. And the fact that it’s, again, Danny Rand is a rich white man who has seen this thing that has a lot of responsibility and power attached to it – because this is a thing with Marvel, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Danny looks at the power and says, “I want this, this is going to make me feel better,” but he doesn’t care about the responsibility. The optics of that alone, because they weren’t handled with a lot of care and thought about what it means for Danny to take this and then run away with it because he’s now bored with the job, it’s terrible. It is not a character who you want to have as a hero!

DAWN: And then in episode 10, we’ve got a whole scene that ends up leaving you with the conclusion, “Billionaires are marginalized people now.”

MICHI: Whoooooa god, what scene was that? Refresh my memory?

DAWN: There was a conversation Danny was having, Danny was having a conversation with another character, and they were talking about how, y’know, Danny didn’t fit in these various ways, and basically the entire conclusion of the scene was that billionaires are somehow marginalized people who need extra love and attention and help.

MICHI: Which is really kind of funny considering that’s actually what Finn Jones said in an interview. I don’t know if you saw that? He said that part of the uphill battle that Iron Fist has as a character is because we are currently in a cultural situation where we are predisposed toward not being sympathetic to rich white guys.

DAWN: Because of Donald Trump.

MICHI: That’s not why we’re upset with this casting. That’s not why we’re upset with this character. But nice try.

DAWN: Also, it’s not like, if you are not a rich billionaire, you can’t have sympathy towards… I mean, I have a lot of sympathy for Joy, I actually at this point have a lot of sympathy for Ward and the abuse that he’s gone through, but it’s not because they are rich that I have sympathy for them, it’s because their characters have gone through some very hard things and they are people.

MICHI: I am glad that we got to see a little bit of of Davos, but I feel like they brought him in too late into the series. I feel like if they had had Davos there earlier, he actually would have been a really good foil for us to see Danny struggling with his obligation to K’un-Lun, and to have somebody there who grew up with him, who is just as skilled as he is, constantly going after him being like, “What did you do? Why did you leave?”

DAWN: And somebody who has such a strong sense of responsibility, which Danny does not have.

MICHI: Yes. I can’t tell quite clearly in the series if the writers mean for us to understand that Davos has a huge sense of responsibility to K’un-Lun or if he is also resentful of Danny because he is jealous.

DAWN: I think that both of those things exist in the character. It is a little weird that you set up, as a writer, Davos as a character in the very beginning as… I mean, he’s supposed to be Danny’s brother. He’s supposed to be somebody who is good, in theory, I mean we know that he is going to end up being an antagonist, but you’re supposed to sort of believe in the beginning that he’s good. But your very first introduction to Davos as a character is him killing a guy for no apparent reason in a really brutal way. That’s not generally the character introduction you want to have for somebody who’s set up to be a foil and calling Danny out for leaving his responsibilities.

MICHI: Yeah. And that is to give us the impression that Davos doesn’t care about anything or anybody who is not associated with K’un-Lun. Which, okay, that’s part of his character, but you don’t have to show it to us in a way that makes us immediately suspect of him.

DAWN: You immediately characterize him as a bad guy, which is not really the thing you want to do if you’re making him Danny’s good friend. You want a little bit of a progression there.

MICHI: It is, with this series, it makes sense to me that the series does this, though, because throughout this entire series, there have been moves where clearly the show is trying to be, “AHA! You did not see this thing coming! We are going to completely change your perception, or tell you that the perception you were given of this character is wrong.” With Davos, they’re showing us initially him being somebody who is dark and dangerous, but he turns out to be Danny’s best friend. With Colleen, it’s this whole, “She is a really honorable character, she is taking care of her students, she is reluctantly getting pulled into this thing with Danny because she also likes to fight… OH! By the way, she’s also been duped by the Hand, she’s a member of the Hand.”

DAWN: The problem is none of these things are really well motivated when you first see them, it’s just kind of a, “Oh, here’s a thing, here’s another thing,” you don’t really have the progression you need in order to buy that as a viewer. You can see what the writers are trying to do with this, they’re failing.

MICHI: As with Davos, I wish they’d brought Davos in earlier, I also wish they had indicated that there was more to Colleen than we originally thought. That she was more than a teacher. There is a reason why she’s so good at what she does. Because it felt like it came out of left field that oh, by the way, Colleen’s actually a member of the Hand. She doesn’t think that the hand is evil, but she’s a member of the Hand.

DAWN: And frankly it would have been a much more interesting story if truly the Hand had warring factions, one of which was good. They started to kind of hint along maybe this is a possibility that could happen, and then they made the Hand evil because the Hand needs to be evil. But it would have been actually a much more interesting universe to live in if the Hand was fighting within itself, if Colleen was working for a side that’s good. That would have been a less predictable story.

MICHI: Yeah, or at least working for a faction that, okay, we’re still mercenaries, but we don’t want to be mercenaries who are in businesses like selling drugs. Or, we don’t want to be mercenaries who are in the business of doing X, Y, and Z. If there were at least, it’s a philosophical divide, and the only divides seem to be that, “Bakuto didn’t like the way Gao was doing things, because of personality differences.”

DAWN: Or he talks about using carrots as well as sticks. But that’s…

MICHI: That’s still evil! [laughing] Bakuto is still evil.

DAWN: It’s so fundamentally manipulative. It would have been a little bit more interesting, actually, if Bakuto’s side had said, it’s not really about carrots, even, it’s that we want to be a force for good in the world, maybe we’re going about things in a way that you may not agree with but we actually believe in doing things that you as an audience member would say okay, you’re trying to be a force for good and fighting against Gao’s side which is clearly not a force for good. That would have been kind of an interesting internal conflict, but instead you have this weird, double-agent/not-double-agent and your characters are kind of going all over the place because the writers haven’t figured out how to make this feel like a cohesive story.

MICHI: I also feel like A, it was a wasted opportunity not to have scenes where Gao and Bakuto were facing off against each other. That was a huge missed opportunity. Here are the two power factions of the Hand, in the same place, and we don’t actually see them talk to each other. We hear Bakuto talk a lot about why he thinks Gao isn’t the right person to lead the Hand, we hear Gao talking about how we can’t trust Bakuto… there’s never a confrontation between the two of them and I really, really feel like there should have been. And the whole thing with Colleen being a member of the Hand because the Hand was her family, because the Hand took her in – I feel like they were trying to make a parallel with Colleen’s disillusionment with the Hand going along with Danny realizing that what he learned in K’un-Lun is not as easily black and white now that he’s in New York.

DAWN: There’s this whole idea that both of them have been brainwashed somehow. And the writers want you to think, okay, both of them have been brainwashed by their respective organizations, but they even refer to the Hand as feeling like a cult. They also say, “oh, this feels familiar to you, Danny, because you grew up in a similar environment, but we’ve already just said that basically you look like you’re in a cult now.” So, okay, both of you have grown up in a cult, and… if feels like they want to tell a story of both of them coming out of these kind of cult-like situations (to use their own words), and have found some other path to go on. Instead, what you get is characters who just seem kind of confused.

MICHI: And the fact that Danny and Colleen end up with each other is… it’s forced, because they don’t have anywhere else to go. And I don’t feel, again, like that was a thing that was earned. It just happens because the writers wanted symmetry. And I also feel like, again, because this is where having Davos come in earlier would have been more beneficial, because Davos and Colleen, being two opposite points Danny’s being pulled between, I think would have added a little more resonance. We only got that for what, two episodes? Maybe three?

DAWN: There are ideas here that another writer who is more capable could have fleshed out in a way that we would have believed, even with exactly the same general plot points.

MICHI: And even just the focus on the Meachums is something that just kept coming in and out… and, again, I wish that they had chosen either: We’re focusing on the Meachums as the Big Bad of the series and we’re just going to leave the Hand for another point, which really wouldn’t have worked, I think? But at least choose between the Hand and the Meachums right now, it didn’t feel like they were able to balance them out together. Because I wanted to actually see more of Joy realizing just how badly…

DAWN: But I think that actually could… there was enough time in 13 episodes that, if we had cut out some of the things that we didn’t need to spend so much time on, I think they had enough space to do that. You could have had your “A” story and your “B” story, but the thing is that they spent so much time on… Danny says, so many times, literally, “I am the Iron Fist! I’m Danny Rand!” Well, maybe if we cut out a few of those, we could put a little bit more of character development with the Meachums in.

MICHI: Yeah, and just… again, I feel so bad for Joy, so bad for Ward, everything that has happened to them… Joy gets shot! For freak’s sake! And here’s Ward finally trying to do the right thing, and he’s completely screwed up. And the fact that it’s costing him his sister, and he even says “He’s still my father, I need to be here to see his body taken care of.” Also, probably because he wants to make sure that he’s dead. But he clearly still had an emotional connection to his father. He has lost everything, and I feel like there was so much more resonance with Ward’s loss than with that moment when Colleen and Danny realize that K’un-Lun is gone. That’s supposed to be the big, emotional moment at the very end of the series?

DAWN: But it doesn’t feel like anything.

MICHI: It’s like, what did you think was going to happen?

DAWN: Along those lines, you could also probably play a drinking game in Iron Fist where you have the… any time a white man gets uncontrollably angry, which happens all the time, again, you’d probably be drunk. There’s a scene… Danny borrows, Rosario Dawson’s character, her car. He’s the billionaire, and he’s gonna impose on his friend. They take the car out, and Danny’s sitting in the car with Davos, and Davos is saying, “Why wouldn’t you let me drive, I’m the better driver?” And Danny says to him, “Well, you don’t have a license.” Davos responds, “Well, you don’t either!” and Danny’s response is: “Well, it’s different, I’m rich.” He literally says, “It’s different, I’m rich.”

MICHI: How did I somehow miss that line?

DAWN: He also points out that he’s been driving without a license the entire time.

MICHI: Ohhhhh, my god.

DAWN: He’s been driving lots of cars in this series!

MICHI: So here’s the thing with Davos and Danny that is still really bugging me. Because, in the comics, Davos is actually an Asian character. I’m okay with them adding Davos as just a man of color, because this is still a super-white show…

DAWN: But you’ve also set up the man of color to be the Big Bad, which is not great.

MICHI: And that’s the thing. Comparing this to Doctor Strange: the optics of Mordo becoming a villain because he was jealous of Stephen getting the mantle of the Sorcerer Supreme, that’s already problematic with Stephen being another rich white guy who swans in and takes a thing because… reasons, because he’s the hero. I feel like one of the few things that the Doctor Strange movie got right was Mordo and Stephen’s relationship. Where Mordo becomes a villain not because he is jealous of Stephen, but because he looks at what the Ancient One did in breaking the rules that he was taught to uphold his entire life, and what Stephen did even in the service of saving the world, he’s like “You broke the rules in such an enormous way, and there are going to be consequences,” so Mordo’s evolution of thinking comes to, “There are too many Sorcerers, I need to fix this.” So he is now going to be an antagonist.

DAWN: It feels like that’s what they were wanting to do with Davos.

MICHI: It feels like that, but they didn’t handle it with nearly as much subtlety. And Doctor Strange is not a high bar to clear for that. But with Davos, they did not back off as much as they needed to from Davos becoming an antagonist because he is jealous of Danny, because he feels he should have been the Iron Fist.

DAWN: And frankly, if they wanted to go along with him being jealous, okay, fine, make him jealous. In that case, you can use that as the driving force of the character, let’s explore that as a thread. We still didn’t have that development in a way that felt like it was really motivated, because if he was really all that jealous, he should have probably felt like he was jealous earlier, or… I don’t know, it just.. didn’t work for me.

MICHI: The jealousy angle, for me, I think really needed to be written out. Because it’s a mess already with Danny being the entitled white guy. And if you have his best friend, who is a man of color, being jealous of the white guy for taking the thing that he thinks should have been his? Really, everything we are seeing is that really, Danny was not a good choice to be the Iron Fist with everything that we’ve seen about how he behaves.

DAWN: Every character tells him he’s not a good choice to be the Iron Fist. Danny doesn’t even think he’s a good choice to be the Iron Fist except that was the coolest job that was available to him at that point.

MICHI: Overall, I feel like this series was… we keep repeating this, but it really was a giant missed opportunity. Because so much of the series ended up, from start to finish, was about Danny trying to find his place and about Danny trying to reconcile his identity as Danny Rand with the responsibility and power of being the Iron Fist. And none of that resonated with the way Danny was written. Even if… honestly, at this point with the way that the series was written, if he had been Asian-American, it still would have been bad. Because they have given us nothing about Danny that shows us he is struggling to reconcile these two parts of his personality. It’s just, “I saw this thing and I wanted it, but then I got bored and then I decided to use it to fix things and for my own personal gain by coming back home.” That’s it.

DAWN: And frankly, an entitled Asian-American man would not be any less grating to watch.

MICHI: But if they had cast an Asian-American, there are so many avenues opened up to them to explore those things with more richness and more depth. Where it goes beyond just being entitled and feeling like this is a thing that should be mine therefore I’m going to take it. It’s… if the best thing that comes out of this whole series is that Colleen and Misty Knight get spun off into Daughters of the Dragon instead of a second season of Iron Fist? That might be the best possible outcome. Because I can’t…

DAWN: I would watch a series with the two of them.

MICHI: I can’t even fathom having to sit through another… if Iron Fist Series 2 comes out…

DAWN: I’m not sure we could handle sitting through that, even to do another series of reviews. Frankly, it was just really, really hard to watch this series in terms of… it’s boring.

MICHI: We started off frustrated and angry, and it just got to the point…

DAWN: [laughing] By the end, we couldn’t even snark at it any more.

MICHI: It’s just so… tired!

DAWN: We thought, at the beginning, it would be really entertaining to do an audio commentary alongside the last episode of Iron Fist, and hopefully it is still entertaining for you when you watch it. But I… having sat through 13 episodes of this, I kinda wonder now if we should have just done that in the very beginning, when so many things were incredibly ludicrous and we were yelling at the TV more. Because by the end, you’re just kind of beaten down, and thinking to yourself, “When is it going to end?”

MICHI: This wasn’t a series that we enjoyed, I think it was a series that we endured.

DAWN: I don’t know if you have any final thoughts that you want to close out with.

MICHI: So, final thoughts for me: I really think that the actors tried. Even Finn Jones, frankly, I don’t think he… I think he tried…

DAWN: He wasn’t up to the task. Everybody else I think tried, and was up to the task as much as they could save the show from itself.

MICHI: Yeah, I think they really tried. I enjoyed Jessica Henwick’s performance; she really tried to sell Colleen. I hope that this brings her into more opportunities, not just in the Marvel universe. I think Colleen has the potential to be a really fantastic character. I’m also glad that we got to see more female friendships here, because Claire and Colleen were fantastic.

DAWN: I would also love to see some situations where Claire and Colleen got to talk about something other than Danny or saving Danny from himself.

MICHI: Absolutely. I actually really hope that we get to see some scenes with Jessica Jones and, again, with Misty Knight coming in, because that… The series was at least made tolerable for me by characters like Colleen, definitely by Claire. Claire was a freaking gem in this entire series. Rosario Dawson is earning that paycheck. She’s really damn good. Madame Gao, I cannot wait to see more of her and I hope she shows up in The Defenders, and Joy is a character who I would also like to see more of because she is clearly coming out of this forged in fire and she is pissed. She is pissed off because Danny, her dad, and Ward?

DAWN: Everybody’s betrayed her.

MICHI: They have all fucked her over. And if she becomes a supervillain? I’m actually okay with that.

DAWN: I think she might be a really interesting supervillain, actually. Because she’s clearly competent, she’s smart.

MICHI: And the final thought for me is, I hope this series shows what happens when you decide to stick to canon that already has problematic origins that don’t need to be retained in order to do a good story about that character. There is no reason, no reason at all, why Danny Rand had to remain a white man for the story of Danny Rand and Iron Fist to have any resonance. If they had gone with changing his ethnicity, preferably to an Asian-American, that would have opened up so many more avenues for this series to be more than it was. But because they were already hampered by this very determined viewpoint of “Danny needs to be this this character, he needs to be a rich white man because that is the story we want to tell,” okay, that’s the story you want to tell, and it was not a story that worked.

DAWN: Along those lines, we’ve said this before, but one of the things the creators of this show said in terms of thinking about casting an Asian-American but ultimately deciding not to cast an Asian-American in this role is that they really needed Danny to be a fish out of water in K’un-Lun. And now that we’ve watched the entire series, Michi and I can both tell you that we really didn’t see K’un-Lun at all. The closest we got to K’un-Lun was a room where Danny, as a child, is getting beaten by a monk, and…

MICHI: …a cave where we got faked out – I’m still bitter that we got faked out for actually seeing the dragon.

DAWN: [laughing] Michi got all excited, thinking we were going to see the dragon, and we did not see the dragon. So we get the cave, and a passageway. You didn’t really see K’un-Lun, you didn’t see Danny in any way being a fish out of water. You see him plenty of times being a fish out of water as a white billionaire in New York City, which is something you could have done perfectly well with an Asian-American. So, that was an objection the creators had to the casting that turned out not to even have been an issue because we didn’t go there.

MICHI: [deadpan] I’m shocked that ended up being the case. I’m wearing my shocked face, Dawn.

DAWN: So I’m going to end on a quote, which is a thing that Davos says to Danny, which is, “You’re not a warrior, you’re a failure.”

MICHI: HA!

DAWN: Basically sums up how I feel about the whole series.

MICHI: So thank you, everybody, for listening along through this entire process, part 1 through 3, thank you to The Learned Fangirl for giving this mini-podcast-review a home. I’m Michi Trota…

DAWN: I’m Dawn Xiana Moon…

MICHI: And hopefully we will see you for Daughters of the Dragon.

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