When deciding what to write about this week, I was torn between a comic and this movie… and then the universe sent me a sign: a gif of one of the Hex Girls, free of context or even any tags, on my Tumblr dash. I’m not one to turn down the universe, so here we are. This is one of the few Scooby-Doomoviesclose to my heart that I haven’t reviewed for this column yet, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an enjoyable watch.
Our society has a poor relationship with gender, which is bad for reality, but gets interesting in fiction. This dynamic is pushed to some possible conclusion in works such as The Handmaid’s Tale, Bitch Planet, or Stepford Wives. In these stories, the degrading treatment of women in the present day becomes far more explicit and sinister. We aren’t just looking at microaggressions and lower pay, but being forced into servitude or stripped of all agency. Stories like these are both good cautionary tales and thought experiments, and they can more easily highlight some of the harder-to-see marginalizations women face. But sometimes, an author wants to shock the audience by flipping the gendered treatment of the characters. In some stories, we get to see matriarchal societies and how they tend to operate, which is useful for examining our own biases. But whenever I see these, I wonder if this is how things would actually go.
A month or so ago, we saw some of the drafts for a Wonder Woman movie penned by Joss Whedon. To put it lightly, it caught some flak. Within the droves of criticism, some commenters pointed out that Diana would most likely not resort to insulting someone by telling them to “be man enough.” First off, she was previously unfamiliar with the concept of men in general. Second, as an Amazon her frame of what is strong would include only women. So if anything, she would say to “woman up,” but again, the gender thing wouldn’t come up the same way, because she doesn’t even know men existed. Third, would a society completely comprised of women still value strength as one of its key tenets and judge someone’s value on their bravery and toughness? For a warrior society, maybe, but not necessarily. Would their values be roughly the same as our more patriarchal society, just with a gender flip? I started thinking about it, and then I got to thinking about other times this theme caught my attention.
Things haven’t been easy in the RWBYverse, and with the way things are going they won’t be for a while. With the big bad getting her cards in place for her final hand, Season 5 is sure to be filled with even more pain and pressure for the cast. I’m not here for speculation today, though. I’m here… for comfort fic!
Season 3 left everyone, but especially the students of Beacon Academy, reeling and looking for whatever safety they could manage to find. And since the CRWBY arguably completely botched Yang’s recovery arc (and gave no signs of going into anyone else’s recovery), I’m no longer trusting them to take care of anyone else. These kids suffered through their school falling to evil forces and their friends getting hurt and even dying—there’s no way everyone is as well-adjusted as they seem! Especially not the remains of Team JNPR! Today’s fic explores the long, hard path JNPR started on during the timeskip between the third and fourth seasons; the path that led them from being lost to being closer than ever and prepared to set out once again as Hunters.
Sometimes it’s a bad idea to think too hard about the things you love. Last week, while we were looking for something to watch between the Tonys red carpet and the actual Tonys, my friend and I settled on a channel showing Toy Story.
Now don’t get me wrong, I adore the Toy Story franchise. However, it’s one of many beloved childhood stories where, if you poke too closely at the seams of the worldbuilding, it starts to unravel into questions that only get more disturbing.
After having a discussion with some people, one question has been plaguing my mind: is RWBY queerbaiting? Usually this would be a cut and dry answer—it’s typically not hard to point out media implying and using queer romantic tension to pull in the views, but not actually acting on it in canon. With the precedent set by the show already, it’s honestly difficult to tell as all couples appear to be equally teased by the creators. In my exploration, however, I believe the complications arise beyond the scope of the show. This is to say that the canon of RWBY may not be queerbaiting, but the meta from the creators definitely is.
“But Rin,” you may say. “How are these things different from each other?” To which I’ll hem and haw because the difference between them is somewhat negligible—each of them is obviously going to have an impact on the other which is why this is so messy in the first place. In the end, though, I think it has to do with what has been shown on the show as opposed to what the creators imply from outside sources. In the case of LGBTQ+ representation, these are two very different things. So in the end, the question of whether or not the show is queerbaiting may be missing the larger issues at hand. I think the more pertinent question is “where are any queer people?” But we’ll start from the jumping-off point of potential queerbaiting.
Futurama is one of my all-time favorite shows. I have watched these episodes so many times I think I broke Netflix’s suggestion algorithms. While there are many aspects to the showthat are brilliant and remarkably nuanced, one topic that they have addressed repeatedly, and one that their exploration has handled in widely disparate and often problematic ways, is gender and gender identity. While not a main theme of the show, various aspects of gender and sexuality are regularly explored and put under the lens of Futurama’s satirical distant future.
A genderbent recreation of the Barbarella poster with Fry and Leela. (Screenshot from Futurama)
In examining how this is generally handled, the good and bad alike, there are some specific episodes scattered throughout the show’s run that specifically deal with these issues and demand specific attention; mostly through changes to the gender identity of one of its most widely known characters: Bender B Rodriguez.
TW: Discussion of transphobic and homophobic themes.
It seems in recent years as though a dam has broken and the notion of what is “acceptable content” for a kids or YA show thankfully now has an ever-increasing flow of support. While themes of inclusivity and equality have been a staple of the genre since the early days of Children’s Television Workshop, recent examples like Steven Universe have dealt with gender identity and sexuality in ways that would likely have been vetoed by the networks even a decade ago. One show that, in many ways at least, was at the forefront of that charge is Adventure Time. While by no means perfect, it gives us numerous examples of gender equality and represents a fairly wide range of gender, sexual, and romantic identities that fall outside the heteronormative narratives that many of the genre’s examples, even the best ones, have traditionally retold ad nauseum.
Grab your friends, we’re going to very distant lands. (screengrab from Adventure Time)
While Adventure Time does this in numerous ways and through numerous characters, there is one example that is among the most direct and the most enduringly popular: Fionna and Cake. In looking not only at these characters specifically, but also more broadly at what they show us about the Ice King and toxic masculinity, we can see one of the best examples of these themes being presented in subtle and complex ways that are accessible to the target age group and, ultimately, further that tradition of inclusiveness.