Throwback Thursdays: Diversity in Cowboy Bebop‘s Vision of the Future

For many of us, Cowboy Bebop, as it notes in its opening credits, really did become “a new genre unto itself.” It was a formative anime experience and set a standard for animated television that in many ways continues to be that against which new shows are judged. It was hugely successful and for many people, in the West at least, served as an introduction into what anime was really capable of as a storytelling medium. It was also released during the late 90’s pop culture zeitgeist when the Internet was still relatively new and concepts like media inclusivity and cultural appropriation were just beginning to gain traction in the mainstream narrative.

Bebop - Spike and Faye (via imdb)

They’re gettin the band back together. (image via IMDB)

So how does Cowboy Bebop hold up when exposed to modern criticism? Mostly pretty well. There’s some problematic stuff, obviously, but the universe in which Bebop is set offered a lot of creative freedom and some of that was used to explore social constructs and culture. It presents a vision of the future that is incredibly diverse and where humanity is living on other worlds, but where people are still just people. While there are tropes and shortcomings, some of that vision was ahead of its time and still holds water today. Continue reading

Throwback Thursdays: Paranoia in Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco

First published in Italian in 1988, Foucault’s Pendulum is an eerily prescient novel by the philosopher and semiotician Umberto Eco, who passed away about a year ago. Despite its arcane exploration of ancient mystical societies, and academic protagonists, its analysis of conspiracies, conspiratorial thinking, and related phenomena feel uncannily familiar, as though he were anticipating the incomprehensible modern world of truthers, birthers, and Pizzagate.

The book focuses on a trio of underemployed scholars in modern Italy, who make ends meet by working at a small, vanity publisher focusing on esoterica and conspiracy theories. Mocking their authors (whom they refer to as “Diabolicals”), the protagonists amuse themselves by trying to weave every bit of nonsense together into a grand new theory of the history of the world.

Belbo, Causabon, and Diotallevi never quite let themselves believe their own tale, but remain dangerously entranced by the possibilities that they dream up. Their apparent knowledge brings them into increasing conflict with the Diabolicals themselves, who persistently believe that any denial of a conspiracy is only evidence of its potency.

The book is set in 1970s and 1980s Italy, a time of social upheaval known as the Years of Lead. The era saw significant terrorist activity from far-left groups such as the Red Brigades as well as far-right and neo-Nazi organizations like the National Vanguard. In a society torn apart not only by violence, but by fundamentally oppositional views of the world, Eco saw the potency of esoteric thinking: it not only offered truths that could not be doubted, but the promise that ultimately, someone, somewhere, was actually in charge. Even if it was all made up.

It is this aspect of the book which resonates so deeply in the 21st century, when the world again seems plunged into chaos, and truth itself recedes into the distance. The conspiracy theories that animate contemporary politics overlap with the many legends in Foucault’s Pendulum, but even more than such specifics, the temptation, power, and danger of these beliefs echo loudly.

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Throwback Thursdays: Minority Report

(via Wikipedia)

One of my favorite movies of all time is Minority Report, a 2002 movie by Steven Spielberg which was based on the Philip K. Dick story of the same name. I watched it for the first time at a young impressionable age and spent maybe a little too much time thinking about its morals and themes, but when I wanted to revisit it recently before the ill-fated Minority Report reboot aired, I found that I had lost my copy of the DVD. Fortunately for me, it finally turned up, and I settled in to realize that the messages of this movie, though somewhat flawed, are still relevant today.

Spoilers after the jump.

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Throwback Thursdays: The Great Muppet Caper

The Great Muppet Caper is probably one of my favorite Muppet movies. I mean, it’s hard for me to actually dislike any Muppet movie, but still, this is one of the better ones. This movie came out in 1981 and is a mystery musical comedy. Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo are reporters for a newspaper called the Daily Chronicle who are investigating a robbery committed against prominent London fashion designer Lady Holiday. This eventually leads them on a wild adventure to prove Miss Piggy innocent when she is accused of stealing Lady Holiday’s jewels. I discovered the movie was available on Amazon Prime and was excited to watch an old classic, but while it was as hilarious as I remembered, some things in the movie sadly didn’t age so well.

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Throwback Thursdays: Wicked

The first time I saw Wicked, it was 2005, and my high school musical’s cast, crew, and a passel of chaperones had come to New York to see the sights—including the still relatively new show. We sat in the very last row of the very last balcony, and I cried like a baby at the end. (I still do, even just listening to the soundtrack.)

Time passed, and a million fairy tale retellings, Ozian and otherwise, came and went, inundating movies, books, television, and comics. But no matter how these stories ebbed and flowed in popularity, Wicked has stayed strong and stayed open, belting out its loving but revisionist history of L. Frank Baum’s fairytale world eight times a week at the Gershwin Theatre in New York. However, I haven’t seen the show in years, and the last time I saw it was with the national tour, rather than the Broadway version. So when a good friend came to visit me in NYC a few weeks ago and asked if I wanted to go see the show, her treat, I was delighted to agree. I was surprised to find, however, that despite the show’s age, it seems more relevant now than ever.

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Throwback Thursdays: Tank Girl, the Hero We Deserve?

Advisory: Potentially NSFW content.

Geek culture has evolved. Over the last few decades, a push for greater inclusiveness and better representation has gained major ground as our generation’s penchant for nostalgia simultaneously breathes new life into dusty classics. One of the more excellent byproducts of all this dusty life-breathing has been the tendency to reexamine some of our favorite classic female characters and expose them to modern feminist criticism. In the midst of it all, however, I feel like one of the most unique ladies in comics has remained largely confined to “cult status”: Tank Girl.

This foul-mouthed, sexually liberated, substance-abusing, interspecies dating, ultra-violent, post-apocalyptic badass has been around since the late punk days and has given us some of the most incredible and incredibly fucked up stories I’ve ever read. She has been able to retain such a consistent emotional energy throughout decades of artists interpreting her that she nearly seems to have some level of real-world agency; at times she almost feels real. I, and many of her fans, see her as a sort of pop culture meta-demigod-thing: “Tank Girl, goddess of anarchofeminism and blowing shit up.”

Tank Girl - Do not mess with tank girl.png

You really don’t want to make her mad.

Tank Girl is, in many ways, the comic book equivalent of the punk and riot grrrl musical movements. Born a decade after the Sex Pistols but a few years before Bikini Kill, Tank Girl’s pages radiate a sense of anarchistic artistic resistance to the inequality born of extreme commercialism and the emotional damage caused by rigid and oppressive social norms. Tank Girl is regularly portrayed literally destroying systems of oppression, often going to ludicrous extremes to avenge minor injustices (such as the mafia buying up all the good beer to sell everyone crap at inflated prices) and occasionally committing major injustices in the process, highlighting and mocking the fragile nature of these systems along the way.

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Throwback Thursdays: Singin’ in the Rain

singin-in-the-rainA few years ago I went through an old movie phase where I watched a bunch of classic movies like Casablanca, Some Like It Hot, and so on. I enjoyed some more than others, but I did not expect to find a movie that would became one of my all-time favorites and one of my go-to choices for when I need a comfort movie to watch. And so today, I want to throw way back to 1952 and talk about Singin’ in the Rain, a hilarious musical whose portrayal of Hollywood and the movie business holds up even today.

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