Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Fringe Got it Right

image via annatovnews

I’ve recently been binge-watching Fringe for the first time. It’s a series about the “Fringe” division of the FBI, where Agent Olivia Dunham and her team investigate strange and paranormal events, visit parallel universes, and save the day by being smart and badass. I honestly can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get into a show that’s three parts X-Files and one part NCIS. I found myself most intrigued by a strange one-off episode during Season 2 that was actually filmed in Season 1, but aired out of order on a different night for boring, time constraints reasons. Fans aren’t even certain exactly where it fits in the show’s timeline. It’s called “Unearthed,” and was panned by a lot of critics.

But this rather bad episode succeeds at one thing: giving its audience portrayal of a real religion that isn’t wildly offensive or inaccurate. It does a great job giving us a small window into what Catholicism looks like today. Catholicism pops up all the time in science fiction, maybe because its trappings are easily identifiable for audiences. I’m happy to see a show get a lot of the details right, even though it’s tucked away in an episode no one really cares about. The most shocking thing to me is that the narrative doesn’t make these characters into perfectly good Catholics, either. They’re much more real than what I’m used to seeing.

Spoilers for “Unearthed” below!

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Sexualized Saturdays: “Fully Functional,” Lt. Commander Data and Asexual Representation

In contemplating possible articles related to ace week, I tried to think of classic geek characters who are asexual. That led me to wonder, “How would I even know? It’s not like we get 24/7 access to these fictional people’s’ lives.” But then, very quickly, I realized that we do know that a lot of our favorite characters are not ace/aro because so many of them have had on-screen relationships and sexual encounters that are presented as a product of the characters’ own sex drive (rather than as ace people who are accommodating their partner). But why? Is there something about our sexual lives that is so essential to our identities that it requires exposition in our fictional characters, or is this just an example of ace erasure? After some additional geeky contemplation, it occurred to me that there is one beloved character who is, in fact, perfectly suited to explore this exact question: Lt. Commander Data.

Data - Suaveness engaged

Suaveness subroutine engaged. (Screengrab from Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG))

In addition to the issues surrounding Data’s own sexuality, the character is one seeking to achieve “greater humanity” and is therefore extensively used to represent what exactly we think that actually means, sexuality included. While the question of whether or not Data represents an asexual character is one that is widely open to debate (including in this post), the question of why and how we ascribe sexual identities to fictional characters as a way to “humanize” them and what that says about asexual representation in our media is perhaps the more interesting question.

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Channel Zero: Candle Cove: Blow Me Down! It’s Not A Total Shipwreck

With the second season of Syfy’s creepypasta inspired show, Channel Zero, well into its run, I figured it was finally time to sit down and watch its first season. You know. For science. Last year I showed off the trailer and addressed some of my worries surrounding this leg of the series, but I’ll give a quick recap. First of all, for those perhaps a little less internet-niche-y, “creepypasta” refers to short, scary (or attempting to be scary) stories that get passed around the internet until they become ingrained in that niche’s mind—or in the case of less serious creepypastas, they enter more mainstream meme status, such as the lines “who was phone” or “man door hand hook car door”.

Channel Zero’s first season, Candle Cove, was based off a well-beloved creeepypasta of the same name which, through forum posts, shows a short interaction between people remembering a children’s show from their past that may not have actually existed. As far as creepypasta-based media goes, Channel Zero is nowhere near the worst thing I’ve ever seen. However, it was disappointing to discover that most of my fears from my earlier post were well-founded, and that even though the creators had a clear love for the creepypasta itself, Channel Zero seemed to forget what made the story scary in the first place.

Spoilers below.

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Voltron: Legendary Defender Season 4: Well, It Was …Star Warsy?

It’s no secret that I wasn’t particularly wowed by the third season of Voltron: Legendary Defender. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t still binge the fourth season — all… six… episodes of it — as soon as they dropped last Friday. I went into this season hoping for a lot more meaty character development after the setup and plot heavy last season, but did I get it?

The short answer is: no. Season 4 continued to barrel along at a breakneck pace without ever giving us any meaty character background-support that would help justify or strengthen the sweeping actions the characters took.

(via netflix)

Or, well, it mostly failed to. Spoilers after the jump.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Faith and The Flash

Most of the time, geeky media does a pretty poor job of utilizing religious ideas. So I was shocked when I watched the fourth season premiere of The Flash and found that amid the somewhat clunky storytelling, there was actually a pretty decent portrayal of faith. This episode can show us a bit about how Christians understand how faith works, even though religion-flavored faith had almost no role to play in the episode.

Spoilers for The Flash below!

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: A Religious Retrospective on Orphan Black

A few weeks ago we reviewed Orphan Black for the last time. Religion played an important role in Orphan Black‘s worldbuilding, but the writers never truly moved beyond offensive religious stereotypes. In a show about bioethics, identity, and power, religion should have played a major role in creating diverse characters and showcasing different perspectives. After all, the show’s ultimate thesis was about women having the freedom to pursue their own definition of happiness and fulfillment through self-determination. Different versions of Christian religion and philosophy make an appearance in the show, but they’re never a good thing. In fact, religion ends up being a minor antagonist throughout the show.  

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Sexualized Saturdays: Steven and The Doctor; Gender Identity and Role Models in Steven Universe

Since its premiere, Steven Universe has meant a lot of things to a lot of people. The representation of numerous gender identities, sexualities, ethnicities, and creeds has been a phenomenal example of how diversity can lead to better storytelling and has provided many fans of all types with new fictional role models. The recent remarks by former Doctor Who lead Peter Davison, however, have had me thinking about one group that some say is overlooked in discussions of how this diversity is having an impact: straight white men.

Now, before anyone says anything, the reason this group is “overlooked” is that they have occupied a widely disproportionate number of the roles that need to be diversified in the first place; they aren’t overlooked, they’re usually the group being looked at. This demographic is the exact opposite of an underrepresented minority, and the overwhelming number of complaints I see about their exclusion are, as sixth Doctor Colin Baker says in his reply, “absolute rubbish.”

“Straight white male” has been the default target demographic for a wide majority of western mass media in the last century, and that identity is one that is effortlessly validated by a seemingly unending parade of straight white male heroes (even just ones named Chris). There is, IMHO, absolutely no argument whatsoever to be made that straight white men are underrepresented in media, let alone solely within the subgenres of animated kids shows featuring aliens or British time travel franchises. But the result of this debate was that I got to thinking about the nature of what messages these shows send, and how the identity of the messenger can impact the way it is received.

SU WHO - In the real way

He can show you how to be strong. (screenshot from Steven Universe)

Which, of course, led me to Steven Universe. SU is a show with a straight male protagonist, but also one in which the bulk of the show’s main characters are women and many are (essentially) queer women of color. The show demonstrates both that a straight white male can deliver a highly inclusive message and that characters with a different identity can deliver messages that are particularly important for those same young boys in need of a role model—the same ones that Davison is worried about. By validating that a straight white man can in fact be a messenger for diverse audiences, SU simultaneously demonstrates why straight white men can and must begin to learn more of those messages from messengers of other identities.

(Note: while the racial component to the “default” hero identity is equally important, this article will obviously focus primarily on the gender and sexuality components.)

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