Sense8 and the Power of Representation in Television

Today, June 1 — the first day of Pride Month — Netflix announced its decision to cancel its original series, Sense8, after two seasons. The announcement has been met with outrage, multiple petitions (including one that has reached over 100,000 signatures), and open opposition over social media.

I thought it was a joke at first. The show, which received critical acclaim for its unadulterated display of diversity in race, culture, gender, and sexual orientation, had its ratings increase significantly between the first and second season (79% in Season 1 to 86% in Season 2 on RottenTomatoes, for example — both seasons considered a significant “fresh” tomato). The choice to end it abruptly leaves me reeling and begging the question: When will television outlets — primetime, digital, or otherwise — recognize the importance of diversity in the 21st century?

Continue reading “Sense8 and the Power of Representation in Television”

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What ’13 Reasons Why’ Got Wrong

You’ve likely heard the hype surrounding 13 Reasons Why, the new Netflix teen drama based on the novel of the same name that’s trending for its “gritty” and “real” depictions of assault, bullying, and suicide. Set at the fictional Liberty High School, we follow student Clay Jensen as he listens through thirteen cassette tapes that his dead friend Hannah Baker left behind. Thirteen reasons why she chose to end her own life. Thirteen people’s contributions to her death––including Clay’s own hand in the matter from Hannah’s perspective. There are graphic depictions of sexual assault and, in the final episode, of the suicide itself.

The show has been met with equal praise and disgust, and I can honestly say that overall, I’m in the middle. The acting was decent for a bunch of newcomer kids. The writing was solid (for a teen drama). The cinematography was surprisingly good, too. The biggest standout of the show to me, actually, was Kate Walsh as Hannah’s mother. Her subtle performance was the most “real” thing about the show to me––I loved every minute she was onscreen. I also related to Hannah. I related to a lot of the main characters for various reasons, and I felt for them. A good show does that effectively and effortlessly, and it uses those characters and their stories to effectively showcase the show’s main message.

13 Reasons Why almost achieved that. Until the very last episode. For me, everything the show attempted to stand for fell apart after that.

It’s not really a secret at this point that I need some daily help to get by in the form of medicine. Most people do. In fact as of last year, 1 in 6 Americans take antidepressants and other medicines for psychological disorders to get by. Life is stressful and wonderful and sad and fantastic, and if you need help being okay through all of it, that is not your fault. It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s a literal chemical imbalance in the brain. No strict talking-to or desire to “get over it” will change the science.

Clinical depression is not something to be ashamed of. It is something to try and work through as best you can, and it’s all you can do.

I had not read the book version of 13 Reasons Why before diving into this show, so I had no previous investment in the story. I was simply drawn in by the hype. But while I started the show relatively complacent, I finished it angry.

I’m not writing this to make you feel uncomfortable. I’m not even writing this as an overall review of 13 Reasons Why, which is much more on-brand for this blog.

I’m writing it because it is, as the show calls it, “my truth.”

And I refuse to let it align with the message 13 Reasons Why sends about suicide and its aftermath.

*There are major spoilers and disturbing/triggering topics discussed ahead. You’ve been warned.

Continue reading “What ’13 Reasons Why’ Got Wrong”

How ‘Hamilton’ is Getting Me Through This Week

France is following us to revolution; there is no more status quo.

But the sun comes up and the world still spins.

These lines open the second act of Hamilton, and I’ve tried especially to remember the second one in the last 48 hours.

It feels like life itself has stopped, but Earth is still in rotation. Today, November 10th, almost two days after Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, the sun came up. Since then, I’ve squished myself like a sardine on the T and had coffee and sneezed and worked and eaten ice cream.

It’s a day like any other. Except Donald Trump is soon to be my President. When I think about it, my heart sinks, and I turn to my friends and family and coworkers to get by. And to music.

I’ve listened to the soundtrack multiple times since learning the results of the election. And it’s ironic that I chose the founding fathers’ story in particular to motivate me to keep going. I say that because many of the founding fathers were undoubtedly racist and sexist. They were products of their time (though that is by no means an excuse); they had no concept of the world outside of their narrow perspectives. Washington held slaves. Jefferson wrote that “all men are created equal,” leaving out women, and, of course, all people who were not white. I can’t say how Alexander Hamilton would have reacted to a Trump presidency in his time (I like to think very negatively, and probably with a 50-page letter telling Trump why he’s wrong. Hamilton was an immigrant, after all).

In truth, I can’t fathom how any of the founding fathers would have responded. It was a different time. Disturbingly enough, I can’t help but fear some of Trump’s close-minded beliefs concerning women and people of color might have been relatively okay with them. And that makes me think that we’ve moved so far back in our ideals and values that we’re back where we started. Initially, I considered this a really bad thing, and in many ways, it is. Americans are tearing each other apart over this, and it’s terrifying.

But instead of being the start of a civil war, I like to think this election is the start of a revolution.

I’m not talking guns and horses here. Rather, I’m talking about this singular event spurring those who would otherwise stay silent to take a stand against hatred and bigotry.

The American Revolution was born from oppression, from the desperate need for change. And in a lot of ways, the election of Donald Trump is such a revolution. People wanted to turn the political system on its head.

The bitter voice in my head says that they got their wish. That change will happen, and it will be the kind that will hurt many of us.

But as Americans, we have the power to alter the direction of this revolution. We have the power to shape it however we want, as it’s happening. How do I know this?

Because of Hamilton.

Hamilton took a story about the Revolution and made it something revolutionary. Lin-Manuel Miranda, his creative team, and the astounding group of actors who grace the stage eight times a week changed the rules. The show cast almost exclusively non-white actors in portrayals of the very white people who shaped our country. It fused hip-hop with showtunes with pop, intertwining styles and musical histories that are rarely associated with each other. They made sure today’s America owned, understood, and related to yesterday‘s America. They bridged the gap between those founding folks we barely recognized in ourselves and who we are today: a diverse group of individuals from all walks of life just trying to make their best lives in this country.

The factual history doesn’t change. How America was founded doesn’t change. But through art, Hamilton reclaimed that history to make it feel ours again, make it feel unequivocally 21st-century American. It made history out of history.

So. Think about it. There are people who voted for Trump for change, even if they’re unsure of what kind. And then there are people who voted for Trump in the belief that he will take our country back centuries socially. Regardless of what Trump voters wanted out of all of this, the result is that this change is coming. And as a bisexual woman, it makes me fear for my future and the futures of many of my friends and family.

But I also think we have the power to make something good out of this. To bring this political revolution to life with the reminder that we are all American, that this one incompetent person and his sexist, homophobic VP do not define us.

Like Hamilton, we can revolutionize this revolution. And the difference is, it won’t take 240 years for us to change the white, privileged scenery of this story.

Because this history is happening now.

Perhaps this American tragedy, however upsetting and disturbing and often hateful it has appeared to be, is the catalyst for an American victory in equality and empathy.

How do you want the story of Election of 2016 and its aftermath to be remembered in history books?

Right now, there are people painting swastikas on windows and telling black students to go to the back of the bus. There will always be those people. But we can take their grayscale, uniform view of America and of the world and sprinkle it with color. We can counter the violence Trump has inspired in many Americans with our strong will to maintain diversity and strive for equality. We’re already speaking up. We’re not giving up.

Imagine what we can do with this energy to reclaim the history being paved for us as I write this. Imagine the inspiration we can gain from one another. Imagine the ways in which we can forge new political and social paths and establish connections that make us stronger than ever in the face of hatred and bigotry displayed by a small few.

This is more of a stream-of-consciousness musing than a call to action, but I hope it inspires you to perhaps listen to a Hamilton tune or two with a different mindset. Yes, the world is still spinning, and that means there is time for positive action.

America: Rise up. History has its eyes on you.

Make history, and make it colorful.

Falling in (Friend) Love and Why it’s Important

Hi, I’m Jenna, and I’m the single friend.

I imagine you expect a defensive, angry blog post about how I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me, how I feel as though I’ve been left behind somehow. And yes, some of that’s true some of the time. Countlessly I’ve been told, “there’s someone for everyone,” or “your time will come.” The pity gets annoying; the relentless optimism from those who have achieved the “ultimate relationship” gets tiring.

But instead of lamenting over what I don’t have, I think it’s important to focus on what I do have: relationships I’ve been able to effectively maintain throughout my life. And I’d encourage those in a similar position to mine to consider this outlook. Because, really–what is the “ultimate relationship”?

The answer, at least to me, is that there isn’t one. Love isn’t like a video game where there’s one route to maximum health points. It isn’t something you win. It’s something you do to varying degrees with various people, pets, even objects or activities. To that end, I posit that friendships can be just as important and fulfilling as romantic relationships. The media doesn’t want us to know that–wants us to sell ourselves to candy hearts and Nicholas Sparks movies–but I’ve found ever since I was very little that I have a tendency to fall into “friend-love,” or platonic love. And I know I’m not alone.

The back flap of Yumi Sakugawa’s “I Think I Am in Friend-Love With You” defines “friend-love” as “that super-awesome bond you share with someone who makes you happy every time you text each other, or meet up for an epic outing. […] You don’t want to swap saliva; you want to swap favorite books. But it’s just as intense and just as amazing.”

The term platonic love comes from Plato’s Symposium and the idea of achieving the ultimate sense of divinity and understanding of truth. It’s a concept that’s been with us for centuries but has been overshadowed by one monogamous (often heterosexual) path. Urbandictionary user Barkwoof posted this definition of “platonic love” which I think describes it best:

[…] a love or special kind of attraction that is beyond physical or carnal desire. Unlike unrequited love or being ‘friend zoned’, in a Platonic relationship both are usually aware and acknowledge the desires they have for one another but this does not manifest in typical romancing or courtship […] thus remain ambiguous. Platonic love may bloom into a full fledged relationship or fade to obscurity.

So essentially: friend-love can become a romantic and/or sexual relationship, but it doesn’t have to. It goes beyond the physical. Sometimes it’s between two people; sometimes you might feel this intensity for more than one friend. Think of Agent Mulder’s love for Agent Scully (which, if you’ve watched the series, transforms into something else altogether, but for the first six seasons is very much platonic), or a mother’s unconditional love for her child. The most fulfilling, wonderful, dynamic, mutually beneficial relationships in my life to date have all been platonic. All the stories and songs claim romantic love makes you feel wanted, allows you to be vulnerable, and requires commitment–but I’ve experienced these things just as intensely with close friends.

You might say, “But you can’t understand romantic love if you’ve never experienced it.”

I’ve felt a strong sense of deep platonic friendship for a few people over the course of my life, and it is as intense as the black-and-white films portray love to be. I do get that swell of joy when “my person” texts me at 2am just to say hello. I get that jolt of happiness pulling them into an embrace. I feel the heartbreak of saying goodbye. There have been a few people with whom I’ve developed extremely strong bonds, and if that bond breaks and I have to let it go, it’s a process for me as any romantic breakup would be.

So I’d say I have a pretty good idea.

For me, best friendships have always embodied everything a relationship should, and in my opinion, the sexual component isn’t necessary for complete happiness. So what if there isn’t one person to fulfill every single one of your needs? If there were someone like that for everyone, we’d have no need to interact with each other. We’d be entirely monogamous in every respect, our lives orbiting around one person only. To me, that doesn’t seem very fun. And it’s frustrating when I watch people with whom I used to be close fall into that mindset. Far too many of them drop everything and everyone else for the idea of the ultimate romantic relationship, the one thing that is supposed to make them complete. There’s the mentality that nothing else matters anymore, and maybe nothing else ever did.

I’m not saying romantic love isn’t important. As humans, we all require different things from each other at different points in our lives. I’m just saying it’s not the be-all, end-all of relationships. In fact, romance might hinder a relationship if it’s forced or unnatural for both parties. Here’s Lauren (coincidentally, one of my oldest friends with whom contact ebbs and flows but always starts again like we’ve never been apart) and her most recent experience with this:

[A girl and I] were best friends over Tumblr. We met last year and started to pursue a romantic relationship. We ended up having sex and quickly found that we just weren’t feeling it. We talked it out and realized that we just love each other as friends and our relationship is better than ever. We root each other on with our love lives and we can talk about literally anything because we literally know each other inside and out.

And what if sex and romance just aren’t your thing? Asexual and aromantic erasure are topics for a different blog post altogether. I know that especially in college I felt the pressure to “solidify” my relationships with some kind of romantic or sexual component (particularly with those of the opposite sex), finding that my peers were constantly searching for emotional fulfillment when it was right in front of them in the form of loyal friendship. Orion‘s relationship with their platonic mate illustrates a bond that is just as powerful:

My best friend and I are getting married when we graduate from college. We’re both ace and we’ve known since we were sixteen that we were platonic soulmates – our love isn’t romantic but it’s the greatest love either of us has ever known and that’s why we’re commemorating it with a marriage.

Again, platonic love isn’t a new phenomenon. But it’s often tossed to the wayside these days. And it’s hard for us who feel it so deeply to be tossed aside with it. Of course, a significant other requires much more doting, affection, and attention than in other relationships–so when those we love tend to wane in favor of zoning in on another type of relationship, it makes sense to us, and we grin and bear it. But significant doesn’t refer to just one type of relationship. For those who regularly experience and give platonic love, significant spans anything from a best friend to a mentor to a soul mate. And it does come with heartbreak. Over the years I’ve come to terms with drifting apart from people I thought were “my person.” People grow and change; it’s inevitable. But it just goes to show that the love songs apply to me, too.

Platonic love is so important. Love doesn’t have to be sexual. As individuals, it allows us to achieve a better understanding of ourselves and what we want in relationships of any caliber. You shouldn’t feel forced to define yourself by your relationships, but to celebrate and grow from their strength. If there is someone in your life (or multiple someones!) who understands you inside and out, who would make sacrifices for you–and you willingly for them–who complements you, who lifts you up: then it’s love. You have love in your life. And if you haven’t found it yet, that’s okay. You don’t have to look for it in the sheets or on a dating site, though you certainly can. Perhaps it’s already in front of you, waiting to be discovered.

And trust me. You aren’t “missing out” on anything. Your “time” is already here. So enjoy it.

This is not a justification or bitter acceptance of my singleness. This is a celebration of those of us who are ever falling in friend-love, those of us who have so much love to give that sometimes we’re kind of overwhelmed with it. I don’t know how long I’ll be “single” in the traditional sense, but in the end, I’ve always felt a commitment to those friends who’ve stuck around to tug at my heartstrings that I don’t think will ever truly fade.

I guess you could say I’m permanently taken (and you all know who you are).

Changing in the Phonebooth: Expressing the “Inner Nerd” in Real Life

Sometimes, I feel a lot like Clark Kent.

In the kitchen at work, a group of my male coworkers are discussing the upcoming DC franchise films, Batman vs. Superman and The Suicide Squad. The magnetic power of the Joker’s character to the actors who play him is discussed. Someone mentions Wonder Woman and that Marvel does a better job of including women than does DC. The tone of the conversation is animated, and I, in my Marvel Comics sweater (it’s casual Friday), am itching to be part of it. Just as I find an opportunity to interject, the talking fizzles out–opportunity missed.

There is much I could have contributed, especially from a woman’s perspective and as someone who’s a big Marvel fan. I felt like Clark Kent, watching everyone talk about Superman’s daring endeavors in front of him. I could have said something, sure. But past experiences have informed my present. I stayed quiet. I listened from afar.

Why?

I’m sure part of it is navigating social situations in a (relatively new) workplace. But most of it, I think, stems from a reason which explains my go-to silence, explains the fact that when I do interject in conversations like these I’m drowned out by louder voices:

Being a nerd is a man’s title.

Of course, there are decades of facts to contradict this. The first Star Trek fans that protested the original series’ cancellation were women; women were very involved in what is arguably one of the first “fandoms.” This Washington Post article from July illustrates with a helpful graphic that Comic Con attendees in recent years are split 50/50 between those who identify as male and those who identify as female.

But there is a long-established mentality that most can’t shake. It’s the idea that, fundamentally, women are not invited into any circle which has been established in history as a “man’s” territory. It dates back to the concepts of “public” and “private” spheres of the 19th century, pinpointing where men and women “belong.” It’s the mentality that roots the “fake nerd girl” meme, which is less prevalent now than it was, say, in the early 2000s, but still pops up on my newsfeed every now and then:

 

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 12.56.56 PM

There is the assumption that women (a) flock to “nerdy” things because men like them, and/or (b) don’t have valid “nerdy” opinions on video games, TV shows and movies (particularly sci-fi) because they are “claimed” by a significant male population. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to “let my inner nerd dance in the rain,” as the saying goes, growing up. But being a woman, it was a surefire way to isolate me from my female friends–especially in formative years of elementary school–and to confuse my male friends.

In high school, I had 2,000 tumblr followers and a popular character roleplay account (the character I roleplayed, I should mention, was male). I quite literally became someone else when I was online–I felt like Superman. My friends at school knew what shows I liked and that I blogged, but nobody, not even my family, knew the extent to which I dedicated myself to expressing my fandom love online.

Only when I got to college did I finally let my nerd flag wave publicly, and even then, there was a constant voice in the back of my mind telling me, Tone it down. My whole life, I’ve presented myself as much like a Clark Kent as possible–average, unassuming–before delving into the corners of the Internet at night to express my affinity for all things fandom. Even now, I have different accounts on social media for different purposes–and when those accounts overlap–when, say, a “real-life” friend follows my “fandom” account–it’s like I’ve been found out. I’ve been discovered. And whatever way I’ve been able to present myself, however freely, on those fandom accounts comes to a halt. I close the account and start again. It’s an endless process.

And I’ve come to realize, especially with a broadened perspective and an understanding of gender inequality and social injustice in mind, that while not everything comes down to gender disparity, there is a lot of it rooted in my problem.

Granted, regardless of gender, the word “nerd” has never had the best associations (which I take issue with in general). Stereotypes of male nerds have become quintessential aspects of media portrayals: maybe they live in their parents’ basements guided only by the light of next year’s comic convention. Maybe they’re a little pimply or can’t get laid. This stereotype has faded a bit in recent years, which is good, but for women, nerdiness continues to be something you fake, something you don’t know enough about, or something that makes you unapproachable or undesirable.

For women, everything is about image. Everything is about presentation. The male gaze means women are viewed with potential mating and attraction in mind at every turn. What happens should a woman enter a “man’s” territory, with as much knowledge as he has of a particular topic, if not more? She’s deemed a loser. Unwanted. A “future cat lady.” Yeah, nerds and fanboys might have Halloween costumes made of their stereotypical image. But haven’t you noticed lately how popular it is to let the Nerd Boy “get the girl”? Become successful? (Check out most of John Green’s books for examples of that phenomenon.)

Fangirls, in contrast–i.e. Becky on Supernatural–are portrayed as ridiculous, irrational, borderline-stalkers. Always negative traits. Always traits associated negatively with “being female.” Again, this isn’t to say that men do not experience this problem–it’s just so much more exacerbated when in 2016 women are still chastised for entering “no-woman’s land.”  I have to be afraid of coming on too strong in expressing all my knowledge about something I love, whereas if I were male, it’d be chalked up to charisma. Zeal. Enthusiasm.

This is what’s always drumming in the back of my mind. The back of my mind constantly buzzes with the assumption that if I express my affinity for this or that, I will come on too strong. I will be unwanted. When I go on dates, I try to appear as “normal” as possible–nope, no fanfiction written by this gal! And it shouldn’t be that way. I should be confident in my ability to express myself however I wish.

But I’m not.

Now, in my particular situation today, I’m sure my coworkers would not have minded if I interjected a few comments among theirs. They’re all very nice people on an individual level. And arguably, I stopped myself from speaking up. But that’s just it–I’ve been conditioned to do so. Too many times have I been talked over and chastised for my “nerdy” opinions. I’ve had too many condescending conversations in convention centers with men who presume I know nothing. The amount of times a man has given me an odd look for actually knowing my fan lore, in any fandom I’m in, is countless.

I’m tired of hiding behind my baby-blue suit and thick-rimmed glasses. I want come out of the phonebooth, but who knows if I’ll ever be ready to?

Is Television Getting Crappier? Or are We Just Too Cynical?

During my small bout of post-grad unemployment thus far, I’ve had a lot of time to watch television. I’ve blasted through five seasons of The X-Files and have begun laughing along to 3rd Rock from the Sun, both of which can be found streaming on Netflix. Not to mention I’ve been re-watching some of my go-to favorites, like Buffy and Star Trek.

I’ve always been a lover of television. Movies are great, too, but there’s nothing like the expansion of an epic story arc over the course of twenty-odd episodes, culminating in a probably even more epic two-part season finale. My taste in television is diverse–you can catch me watching anything as embarrassing as Glee, to as “vintage” as Bewitched, to as gripping as Six Feet Under. And yet when I look at the fall primetime TV lineup this year, I’m not that excited. In fact, I had to drag myself into watching the premiere of Doctor Who this past weekend, which used to be one of my all-time favorite shows. Why is it that, especially lately, I’m gravitating towards shows made in the ’60s thru ’90s rather than checking out what’s new on my screen?

Upon really thinking about it, I found the answer to that question isn’t as direct as I’d hoped it would be. In fact, it’s the product of a plethora of influences and attitudes, particularly created in media–for what are we, as human beings, but ever imprinted upon by our surroundings? And mainstream media–particularly the Internet–surrounds us all the time. So, I’ve concluded thus: We (“we” of course being my Tumblr- and Twitter-addled generation) are more apt to reach out to “older” television because of (a) technology/ease of access provided by streaming sites like Netflix, and (b) the cynical, particularly Millennial view of mainstream television that makes essentially everything airing right now problematic enough in some way to stop watching altogether.

Those were a lot of words, I know. But think about it. A few paragraphs up, I referred to Glee as “embarrassing.” When it first premiered in 2009, however, it was regarded as one of the great up-and-comings on FOX, receiving a viewership of nearly 10 million people in its first episode and throughout the first season. As illustrated by this chart, though, ratings dropped and dropped and dropped to a drastic 2 million by the end of the show’s run. It’s no coincidence to me that the rise of Tumblr “fandom” culture coincided with Glee’s downturn.

Cry about it, Quinn. Cry about those ratings.
Cry about it, Quinn. Cry about those ratings.

The majority of Gleeks, myself included, are millennials. Millennials who spend a lot of their free time online, particularly on Tumblr, Reddit, and Twitter. The Tumblr fan community, in case you weren’t familiar with it already, spends a great deal of energy analyzing and over-analyzing their favorite things. I, too, take part in this trend, writing paragraph upon paragraph analyzing the Star Trek reboot franchise’s treatment of women, or criticizing Doctor Who writer Steven Moffat’s “destruction” of the Doctor’s character with the rest of the angry Tumblr Whovians.

A pretty common opinion of the show these days. Source: http://cephuscorner.jadedragononline.com/conflicted-doctor-who/
A pretty common opinion of the show these days. Source: http://cephuscorner.jadedragononline.com/conflicted-doctor-who/

But where did my opinions of these things I used to love come from? I believe it’s a combination of groupthink and Millennial Cynicism. Honestly, if I’d just stayed off the Internet from 2009 to 2015, I’d probably still regard Glee as a pretty fun show. But every time I logged on Tumblr and searched through the Glee tags, I’d see fans tearing the show apart for its decrease in diversity, unwillingness to talk about real LGBTQ issues, and sloppy character arcs. All of these, I should clarify, are very real issues to have with Glee. But once one or two people got behind the idea, Millennials came together and quit on Glee altogether. Now, this isn’t to say that the ratings 100% directly correlate with the Internet’s gradual annoyance with the show–but I definitely think that’s part of it. If posting those five paragraphs about the flaws in Kurt and Blaine’s relationship got you 10,000 notes–it means 10,000 different people want to discuss it, and 10,000 different people will be questioning whether or not to tune into Glee next week.

It comes down to this: if Tumblr doesn’t deem it “progressive” enough, it’s not worth watching. There are components of this mentality that I agree with. I’m ecstatic, for example, at the success of Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe (which features essentially all female leads and open lesbian relationships), and ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder (which stars a woman of color, Viola Davis, as a protagonist with power, intelligence and grace). The ratings for these shows are consistently high–and that’s because Millennials really are, through social media, in control of what’s considered “good” television. But these shows are considered anomalies online. They’re creations to be looked up to, for other “lesser” programmes to aspire to. Everything else? Well. Everything else is garbage.

So we respond to our own disdain in a number of ways. For one, we put on an air of nostalgia. We say we long for when television was good. We go back to Special Agent Dana Scully, who set the precedent for strong women in procedural dramas on The X-Files. And we can excuse these shows for their bad behavior–like Darrin telling Samantha to stay home and cook dinner as are her wifely duties, or the football coach slapping Sally Solomon’s ass without warning or consent as the audience chortles–“because of the times.” We praise shows like Buffy (1996-2003) and Wonder Woman (1975 -1979) for, despite their flaws, creating a platform for discussion of diversity. And a lot of these shows, especially as of late, have been made readily accessible through Netflix instant streaming. We have vintage television at our fingertips, and we’re certainly using it. It’s fueling more discussion than ever–or, if it’s the same amount as before, it’s certainly more accessible through online social platforms. We watch and re-watch and sigh, “Ah, those were the good old days.”

And the fact that a lot of generally popular new shows, like Sherlock and Doctor Who seem to take steps back in feminist/LGBTQ/POC issues, leads millennials to vocally demand something better than what’s on now. For one, that’s really inspiring. Because of technology and access to TV shows through various (legal and illegal) mediums, it’s not necessarily the ratings that shape a success of a show anymore; rather, it’s how much it’s talked about through shares on Facebook or Twitter statuses. Having these discussions, really furthering knowledge of what it means to be progressive through entertainment and media is very, very important. We need more diversity in mainstream media. That is a fact I refuse to dispute, and anyone who would clearly isn’t living in this reality.

But in the same vein, the permeation of constantly negative thinking construes every decision every writer or director makes into something political. Good shows get positive attention–but are the “bad” shows really irrevocably “bad”? I read an argument on Tumblr the other day in which users discussed whether or not Sailor Moon‘s main protagonist choosing to end her life in the first arc is “anti-feminist,” when the show and manga have been regarded for decades as extremely empowering for women. Usagi’s suicide was very clearly meant not merely as a reaction to the death of her boyfriend, but as a means to save the world. Did…everyone forget about the part where she entirely avoids a fated repeat of a terrible apocalypse? Does the fact that the gay couple on Modern Family seems too “stereotypical” to some, negate the fact that they represent a powerful overthrow of the typical nuclear, heterosexual family on the average sitcom?

We take whatever’s airing, whatever’s “mainstream cool,” watch it, and before writing up our own opinions, scour the Internet for opinions to latch onto. I’ve been caught more than once by my friends with the question: “Is that what you believe, or is that what the Internet believes?” Groupthink among fandom culture has created a dichotomy wherein everyone questions creative entertainment, but no one is allowed to question that questioning.

No matter your viewpoint, the fact remains that our generation is shaping what “good” and “bad” television is. We’re redefining expectations and standards–and plus, with the internet and technology, you’ve got to make something really good to hold our attention. My fear is that, with sites like Tumblr, something “good” doesn’t stay that way for long. I think it’s important to think critically in all you do, even if it’s watching your favorite show. But when the show becomes ruined for you because of what you’re told you are supposed to believe about it–isn’t that negating the purpose of your being a “fan” at all?

Especially with the Internet, television has become more than just entertainment. It’s inspiration, fuel for discussion and empowerment. So, yes. Maybe Supernatural needs a lot of work in the “keeping female characters alive for more than two episodes” department. Maybe writers and producers could be taking bigger social strides forward in what’s played on our screens every night. But I don’t think anything should be looked at in such black-and-white terms as “this show is god-sent” or “that abhorrent show must be canceled.” To think critically is to look at all sides of a situation–to be willing to understand multiple points of view, multiple avenues of thinking. Perhaps if we looked at the positive side as well as the negative, we’d find a lot more to be happy about in modern television than we’d seen before.

On that note, I’m going to go check out the series premiere of Scream Queens (created, ironically enough, by Glee‘s Ryan Murphy). And in case you were wondering–I won’t have the Tumblr tag open as I watch.

You’re a wonder, Wonder Wo…MAN?

I’m cross-posting this from my personal Tumblr blog (with lots of edits including removal of angry exclamation points), because I feel as though it simply has to be said.

I love Chris Pine, mostly because I love him in Star Trek. And he was pretty damn amazing in Into the Woods, as well. So when I heard he’d be playing Major Steve Trevor opposite Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman in the new film set to come out in 2017, I was very excited. There’s no question Diana Prince’s boyfriend is kind of a hot mess, so seeing Chris Pine’s beautiful face onscreen being whisked off by Wonder Woman as she saves him from the bad guys is something I’m dying to see.

But here’s the thing. I’m kind of annoyed at how the media’s already looking at Chris Pine having a “bigger role” than just the damsel in distress in Wonder Woman. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but tons of articles announcing Chris playing the role say things like, “don’t assume this means his role as a love interest is minor!” I take issue with this.

Why in nearly all the articles, does it have to be made very clear that “OH, STEVE TREVOR WILL HAVE A PIECE OF THE ACTION TOO! DON’T YOU WORRY, FANBOYS! STEVE TREVOR KICKS BUTT TOO! THIS FILM IS INCLUSIVE! WE’RE SO INCLUSIVE”?

Wonder Woman was set in the 1940s, and was very progressive in writing a woman who kicked ass 24/7 and saved her boyfriend all the time. The argument against this is stated pretty well in a Vanity Fair online article, which says “it would be more progressive for the Wonder Woman movie to ditch that stereotype, to create Steve Trevor as a well-rounded, participatory character and prove to the other movies how easy it is to create a love interest who really matters.”

Very well-said. And it would make sense to allow Steve Trevor’s character to surpass the role of the damsel. However, men being perceived as flat love interests is not a stereotype. Women portrayed in those positions, is! Men in compromising situations where they could be seen as “weak” as women are not encouraged to be displayed by mainstream media. But women still aren’t created as well-rounded characters when the situation is reversed–or at the very least, aren’t developed very well. And if they are,  it’s a surprise to people. If, say, Superman’s Lois Lane or Natasha Romanoff of Marvel who has her own comic book series are given more depth and “bigger roles” than those assigned to them by the men who draw them up, it’s a surprise rather than a given.

Steve and Diana say,
Steve and Diana say, “Screw your gender stereotypes.”

I think this also does a disservice to Steve’s character, too–he’s a very capable guy and knows what he’s doing, in all Wonder Woman mediums. He’s just not as strong as his Amazon girlfriend. And that’s okay! He’s human. Portraying him as someone that needs help once in a while helps us relate to him as an audience.

I’m fine with the fact that Steve Trevor has a large role in the film. That’s great. But because he’s a man it’s a given that Chris Pine will have a bigger role alongside the heroine in a film of which she is the protagonist. Did we get such reassurance for any female “love interests” in the same film genre, where a man is the protagonist? I’m hoping that Steve is portrayed well and fairly in relation to the original comics, which set groundbreaking standards for women as presented in the comic-book medium.

Tap: An Under-Appreciated Art Form

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It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’m a tap dancer. Today, I purchased a pair of Capezio FlexMaster tap shoes (pictured above) after my poor introductory shoes finally broke down after ten years of wear-and-tear. I’ve never been a competitive dancer, but I have been dancing for over half my life; I dabbled in ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, and pointe, and tap was the dance form that truly resonated with me. Syncopated rhythms and intricate footwork were easier for me to latch onto than, say, the flexibility required in a jazz straddle. I got to college and participated in the tap dance team there for all four years of undergrad, co-directing the team my senior year. It’s a huge part of my life. I can’t imagine not doing it.

But I find that, especially recently, tap has kind of fallen to the wayside. The #NationalDanceDay hashtag on Instagram and Twitter (July 25th) depicted images mostly of ballet dancers jette leaping in the air, or contemporary dance routines emphasizing emotion and metaphor. And that’s wonderful. Dance is an amazing form of expression and I don’t regret exploring other dance forms in the least–I stuck with them for a decade at the same dance studio, after all!

But seriously. What about tap? This dancer blogged on Tumblr this past week lamenting that her studio cut their tap program. Companies in major cities like Boston and New York haven’t updated their websites in months. And speaking from experience, when you say you’re a tap dancer, people tend to assume you’re an import out of 1950s Broadway and expect you to finish your sentence with, “and golly, isn’t it just a hoot!”

The fact is, though, tap isn’t stuck in any time period. It moves with the times. Out of ballet came contemporary and lyrical dance forms to accommodate modernized, varied expansions on what ballet can achieve performatively. Tap, I argue, has always been that way. It’s a fusion of a plethora of cultures, dance types, and histories. People have stolen and modified and exchanged tap steps since the first shuffle-off-to-Buffalo was tapped out, and tappers haven’t stopped creating new combinations of rhythms yet.

So why is it so overlooked? Sure, people still do it, and do it well (Savion Glover tours the country with his company and performs sold-out shows). But it bugs me that when people think “dance,” they don’t think “tap.” I don’t have an answer as to why that is, but I have a few ideas. Some are nicer to think about than others. But I’m going to lay them all out here, regardless, and hopefully start a conversation.

Tap is a uniquely American art form. What makes it American is it has a wide and deep-rooted history in all different cultures. I’ve done a lot of research on tap over the years, both for academic and personal purposes. For my English class on the Harlem Renaissance in my last semester at Wheaton, I wrote a paper on dance as it related to African-American identity during the Harlem Renaissance. An excerpt of my paper explaining tap’s role in that construction of identity is as follows:

The dance form is known for its combination of many influences including European and Irish roots, as well as links back to minstrelsy in the nineteenth century. Tap rose high in popularity during the Harlem Renaissance, due in no small part to a number of innovative black dancers. Most important to this discussion of identity through dance, however, is that tap was considered a very well-respected dance form by whites—and its roots are full of African influences, too. African dance consists of “gliding, shuffling and dragging steps” which led to the tap steps known as “slides, drags, draws, and chugs” today (Knowles 23). […] we see how African tradition permeates the kinds of dance we see today—and how it functions to preserve cultural identity.

Irish, African, and black minstrel influences. What does that tell you? Tap is a dance type constructed by people who, at one point or another, were (or still are) considered minorities. One could argue that there is a race narrative–perhaps a racist narrative–in how the image of tap dance has been constructed over the last couple of centuries. Tap was not really considered a performative dance until white dancers in the 1800s used blackface and showcased their interpretations of African-American dancing. So, tap started out as a white appropriation of black dance–until black dancers like John Bubbles and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson reclaimed it as a sophisticated art form with powerful, elaborate moves and footwork. Opposite these dancers you had Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and other white dancers that added their own “clean” and “crisp” steps and styles to tap. Thus, tap became representative of a fusion of black and white American cultures rather than an attempt to appropriate either way. But tap is, and always will be, rooted in the African-American’s rise to create identity in the performance space. What does that say about it being cast aside? Is it not deemed a “legitimate” art form because its roots are so entangled in different places around the globe? Irish step-dancing has its influences on tap, as well, especially with all the hop-stepping and time stepping (there is a tap step called “the Irish”)–what makes it more legitimate, though, than tap? Are ballet, with roots in France and Russia, or jazz stemming out of the Roaring 1920s, more “acceptable” because we can clearly trace them back to a few sources? These are questions to consider.

You also don’t really hear about tap-induced injuries (unless you attempt a bell-kick and knock the heel of your tap into your ankle. Which I’ve done. Ow). Let’s be honest–risk of injury really adds to the prestige of any athletic pursuit. In a 2003 study done in the Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, research showed that “calculated injury rates among the tap dancers were substantially lower than those previously reported for other dance and athlete populations” (source). So. Because you’re dancing so low to the ground and don’t typically involve your arms and legs too much, tap is less risky. From an outside perspective it just looks like someone moving their feet really fast. While that’s an accurately simplified depiction of what tap is, it doesn’t do tap justice at all. There is a method to each rhythm produced with the taps on the foot, even when moves are improvised. Also, I’ve watched tap dancers leap off of very high blocks onstage–it’s all up to how crazy a choreographer wants to get!

Tap also isn’t very conventional in terms of dance as artistic expression. When we think “dance,” we think grace and ballet barre. Tappers, especially these days, tend to stamp-stomp around like they own a place–not exactly what you had in mind, is it? She’s beauty and she’s grace…she’ll tap you in the face… 

In reality, there’s a whole lot of grace involved in tap, too–did you know in order to produce crisp sounds, a tapper should essentially be up on the balls of their feet at all times, unless a move indicates otherwise? Bojangles coined the balls-of-the-feet style, and Fred Astaire and tons of dancers afterwards followed his lead. There has to be something in it, right? Of course there is: balance, technique, and a sense of rhythm. I’d call a person who has all those skills very graceful indeed.

There is so much history embedded in tap, and so much to learn from it. And just like any other dance form, it’s a valid form of creative expression. It’s even been effectively used in dance-movement therapy, according to a 2011 study. And however cliche it sounds, there’s something in it for everyone, regardless of skill level. I’d also argue tap is about community. Sure, talented and enthusiastic dancers compete with tap numbers all over the world, and there are competitions exclusively for tap. But more often than not, you see gatherings of tap dancers. Conventions. Places where people come together to just have fun and exchange ideas. I wouldn’t trade that opportunity for anything.

I hope people come to recognize just how powerful an art form tap is, as it was in the early twentieth century. There are so many more rhythms to be made, more footwork to be learned. Why slow down now? Let’s tap it out.