Sexism is something all of us here at LGG&F are familiar with. Positive gender dynamics, or the relationships between people of different genders, is an important component of feminist storytelling. We all know that the messages we consume in our favorite media will normalize positive behaviors and ideas, or negative ones. That’s why it’s so important that everyone gets fair representation, and everyone gets treated like a human being, not an object. Unfortunately, that’s not usually the case, even in geekdom. More often than not, men are treated like people and women are treated like objects: by the plot, by other characters, and in real life. Recently I stumbled upon a particular trope that is especially good at articulating this double standard: “Men get old. Women get replaced.” Not only do some of the most popular geeky stories take this trope for granted, but incorporate it into the basic plot structure.
Spoilers for the Captain America movies, Doctor Who, and The Legend of Korra after the jump.
Doctor Who is one of those shows that has a complicated relationship with religion. New Who seems to be written by people who are either mostly ignorant of religion or hostile to it (or both). After all, the Doctor is the great modern champion of science and reason. He’s the enemy of ignorant assimilation, and what better manifestation of ignorant assimilation is there than organized (read: Christian) religion? It’s offensive to religious people, sure, but the science vs faith trope is too juicy for most sci-fi to pass up. So it’s no wonder that when DoctorWhodoes decide to play with religious ideas, things go haywire. For example, take the idea of a soul. Lots of religions and philosophies have different ideas about what a soul is, and yet instead of sticking to just one, Doctor Who just uses the vaguest idea of what it might mean, whenever it’s convenient.
Did you watch it? Have you seen the Doctor Who finale yet? No? I’ll wait.
Great. It’s been a few days and spoilers are all but impossible to avoid, but you really need to get caught up on Doctor Who. The finale was chock full of twists, surprises, and tears, but I think Steven Moffat has at long last figured out how to combine character death with time travel and leave me feeling satisfied without the depression. Let me tell you why.
Spoilers abound for the last few episodes of Doctor Who’s ninth season.
By the time this posts, I’ll have spent two full days at a workshop learning how to more effectively navigate people through the rather detailed stages of Christian Initiation in the Catholic Church. There are so many moving parts: say these things here, do these actions here, meet the bishop here, pour water and oil there… it’s enough to make a theologian’s head spin. Today’s Catholic Initiation can be pretty simple or pretty complicated. But it got me thinking about how much simpler initiation experiences seem in some of my favorite geeky stories. Often we’re treated to a single coming of age ceremony or experience that makes a character an adult or a full member of their community. But these ceremonies still serve an important role in our characters’ lives, and we can see parallels between them and the kinds of things religious people do to mark the stages of initiation into their community.
Of course, initiation ceremonies aren’t just limited to Christianity or even to religion. From Masonry to fraternities and sororities to clubs to professional organizations, rituals and oaths are how we mark that someone is “one of us”. Christianity is the religion with which I’m most familiar, so I’ll use it as a lens to view some examples of coming of age and initiatory experiences in geek culture. I’d certainly be interested to see a similar treatment from a different (particularly non-Western) religion’s perspective. So let’s dive in.
Some spoilers for Dune, Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Giver, and Doctor Who below.
Okay, I never stopped. But I get it. I was skeptical too. I fell in love with the show when the Ninth Doctor told Rose that he could feel the turn of the Earth. Puns and camp and coincidence are all excusable when the Tenth Doctor is basically Jesus and the recurring theme is the wonder of the world and the value of humanity. Eleven even told us, with a cold fury, “In 900 years of time and space, I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important before.” And then somewhere along the line, the show stopped being about that. Characters changed personalities depending on who was writing the episode, coincidence got us out of trouble instead of into it, and it was hard to care when the world was ending, again, but the Doctor just had to push the reset button, again, to save the day. In Series 7 it was clear to me that when it came to Clara’s personality, none of the writers were on the same page. In rewatches of Series 8, I felt like the show was almost contemptuous of its audience, as if it couldn’t care less if I gave a damn about it. Or maybe that was just the vibe I got from Capaldi’s Doctor.
But for Series 9, things are changing. I’m seeing some glimmers of the show I loved so much. So if you’ve stayed away, let me show you what you’ve missed, and why it’s a good time to give it another chance.
Lots of spoilers for Doctor Who, Series 9, through Episode 7 and hints for later on.
Say you’ve begun a new religion. Congratulations! Now you need followers. You could stand on a street corner and shout at people. You could serve the poor and provide for those in need, attracting people with your kindness and generosity. If you’re powerful, you could compel them by law to convert. But those aren’t very effective ways of getting your religion to spread far and wide and really stick. I know what you need: a religious text! Yes, a holy book is exactly what you need to reach people out of shouting range and to make sure people don’t garble your message in our great divine game of telephone.
Most actual, real-world religions have some kind of holy text, but it’d be a mistake to think that they all treat their text the same way, or that members of the same faith treat their same book the same way. Scholars call the way people interpret a text a “hermeneutic” (her-man-OO-tic). If you’re going to understand a religion that has a text, you’ve got to understand the different kinds of hermeneutics you might run into. To do that, I’m going to show you how similar hermeneutics pop up in our geeky fiction.
This post is quite obviously two days late; Mother’s Day has come and gone. I’m-a apologize for that, but it kind of goes to point I want to make: mothers and motherhood get remarkably short shrift in pop culture in general and geek culture in particular.
For the most part, moms just don’t exist. Where they do, they’re either saintly and loving, or creepy and weird. Archetypes without full characterization. Which is all to say, it’s time we do better.