When you grow up reading a lot of genre fiction, especially young adult and high fantasy, a major turning point in your emotional growth is realizing that “the dark lord”, as you have come to know this all-too-common character archetype, doesn’t really exist. In reality, evil as an ideal is never made manifest in a single adversary whose sole objective is to destroy and corrupt the goodness in the world. Sure, there are people who are “bad” from your own perspective, and bad qualities like selfishness, prejudice, and lack of empathy are generally culturally agreed upon, but even the worst people are generally heroes in their own minds, people who have not yet been shown the error of their ways. No one sets out to be Sauron or the White Witch or Voldemort, and no matter how much power and influence bad people achieve, I know of no instance where anyone has claimed that their ultimate goal was the advancement of the cause of evil.
Most frameworks of morality grasp this concept pretty well: that good and evil are not absolutes, and that humans inherently have the capacity for both positive and negative behaviors. The major exception seems to be in certain camps of modern Christianity, which assigns a motive and influence to Satan that is very much comparable to the fictional and largely metaphorical presence of Sauron and other prototypical “dark lords”. While in Tolkien’s case, Sauron was a metaphor for industrialization, and in the case of children’s books, morality is artificially externalized and simplified for the sake of young readers, the Christian reading of Satan is—as far as many active faith communities are concerned—neither metaphorical nor exaggerated. Satan is literally a dark wizard.
A couple of us here at Lady Geek Girl & Friends are fans of David Willis’s webcomic Dumbing of Age, a story about college freshmen trying to figure out life. We love it not just because of the great plots and characters, but because of the sensitive, realistic way it addresses real issues that people have to confront in real life, but that often don’t get much representation in mass media. Dom previously wrote about the phenomenon of racism within a mixed-race family in the comic. Today, my focus is going to be on the religious journey of Joyce, the comic’s main character.
I love Joyce to death. While the comic is full of characters I love, some of whom arguably are more interesting than Joyce (for instance, one character dresses up as a superhero and fights petty crime!), the more the comic goes along, the more I’ve come to appreciate her. She is kind, sweet, adorably naïve, unflappably cheerful, and fiercely loyal to the ones she loves. She also grew up in a sheltered, fundamentalist Christian household. Going from that to the huge, diverse, and largely liberal Indiana University was bound to cause some culture shock. But while this clash is sometimes funny, Willis has never portrayed her as a strawman (strawwoman?) parody of a Christian. It is one of the most sensitive, heartfelt stories of religious struggle that I’ve ever encountered in geek media. I feel as if I have a personal stake in the outcome of her journey because I’ve struggled with similar issues. Details—and spoilers—below.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and its potential to run amok has fascinated sci-fi enthusiasts since Isaac Asimov introduced The Three Laws Of Robotics. Ever since then, there have been various scenarios where an AI would start harming people because it saw them as a threat to whatever mission the AI and the people were carrying out (see 2001: Space Odyssey) or out of self-preservation (see The X-Files “Ghost in the Machine”). This trope culminated in The Matrix trilogy, which presented a world where machines had become the dominant species on earth and humans were reduced to a source of heat.
Person of Interest introduces a new narrative which is a sort of combination of all of the above. It starts off with an AI machine with omnipresent/omniscient abilities which was designed to detect acts of terror before they actually happen. But it detects all acts of violence, which then have to be separated into relevant (terrorism) and irrelevant (ordinary crime). While a mysterious government agency deals with the terror threats, Harold Finch (the creator of the Machine), along with John Reese, Joss Carter, Sameen Shaw, Lionel Fusco, and Root, take it upon themselves to try and prevent the ordinary crimes.
Star Trek is probably one of the first nerdy shows that I ever experienced. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t watching the Star Trek original series (TOS). I remember, specifically, asking my father why Spock wasn’t captain instead of Kirk. It was probably very obvious from my father’s perspective that I had a little bit of a crush on the dashing and mysterious Vulcan as a child. But mostly I remember when I was a little older, sitting at the dinner table with my mother, and she would tell me all she knew about Star Trek. Like me, my mother was fascinated with the Vulcans, and Spock in particular. She told me about little details she loved seeing in the TV shows and the movies, and she would tell me about the stories in the Trek novels she had read that expanded on Spock’s past and on Vulcan culture. My mom recently passed away this past October after a terrible battle with breast cancer. She was a big nerd like me and she is probably at least partly the reason I am taking the recent death of Leonard Nimoy so hard.
It seems silly, I guess, to truly grieve over the death of a man that I have never, and will never, know. But when I heard about Leonard Nimoy’s passing at work, I felt nearly overwhelmed with grief. His character had felt like a part of my family. Star Trek and Spock were some of the primary ways that I developed a relationship with my mother, and I recently started re-watching TOS in order to feel some connection with my mother again. So for me, his death is extremely personal.
My personal feelings aside, that is the not the only reason I want to honor Leonard Nimoy today. There are many celebrities out there that we, as geeks, love, but sadly we know the celebrities we love are not always the best people.Though I don’t know if Nimoy was perfect (none of us are, really)in many ways Leonard Nimoy was probably one of best examples of an intersectional feminist in our geek culture. It’s his great advocacy for all human rights that I want to honor today.
It isn’t a surprise that Hollywood is obsessed with stories centered around white guys and the same old myths and stories, over and over again. We have three superheroes played by white guys named Chris, and we’re going to be getting three Spider-Man reboots in a span of fifteen years. Even beyond the geek realm, we have biopics about famous white men of history, like Lincoln and the Founding Fathers. Though we did recently have an excellent biopic about Martin Luther King Jr. (Selma), Hollywood all too often focuses on white guys as if they comprise the whole of the human experience. And stories from outside America don’t seem to enter Hollywood’s collective consciousness, so maybe it’s best if we go outside Hollywood for more diversity. Enter the upcoming movie, Bilal.
Last year I wrote an article about nuns in geek culture. Nuns and religious sisters of all stripes have such great potential as iconic feminist characters, but writers spend more time casting them as evil sexy sirens in black and white costumes. But what about the nun’s male counterpart, the monk? Monks are men who take vows of virtue and live apart from society (usually in a community with other monks). They’re mainstays of both Western and Eastern religions. Monks challenge popular stereotypes of what real masculinity looks like. And yet monks face a problem similar to nuns: we can’t seem to break them out of a handful of inaccurate stereotypes.
Spoilers for Doctor Who and Avatar: The Last Airbender after the jump.
The Force and whether or not it’s balanced has always been a central part of the Star Wars mythos. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, the Force—sometimes referred to as the Way in ancient times—was a field of energy created by all living things. In the prequels, we discover that this energy field actually came about by microscopic organisms called midi-chlorians living in people’s bloodstreams. Someone who had a lot of midi-chlorians was called Force-sensitive, and they could interact with the Force to perform amazing feats—telekinesis, telepathy, precognition, and more.
Naturally, different religious factions came about, with different beliefs about the Force and how best to use it. One of the main tenets was that the Force needed to be balanced, and according to prophecy, that balance could only be brought about by a Chosen One. This Chosen One prophecy ended up being a central part to the prequel universe, and it was something about Star Wars that I was always interested in exploring more. Unfortunately, the prequels never explain to us what the prophecy is, the Chosen One’s role in it, or what balancing the Force even means.