Sadly, I still haven’t gone to see the new live-action Beauty and the Beast yet, but since it seemed timely, I decided to go back and revisit the 1991 animated film first. Ever since it came out, Belle has been lauded as one of the more feminist Disney princesses, especially in comparison to other older Disney protagonists such as Cinderella or Ariel. Belle is book-smart, curious, and outgoing, and she defies societal conventions by being completely unapologetic about who she is. So of course we see her as feminist, and it’s through the use of magic that Disney attempts to capture a feminist message in her narrative. However, despite all of Belle’s potential feminist characteristics, Disney still creates a world in which the only possible option for Belle and the other princesses is to fall in love with and marry a man. The magic in these movies exist to subvert some patriarchal values, but in the end, they adhere to others by continuously rewarding its protagonists with unwanted love interests.
Earlier this week, I talked about the political implications of Umberto Eco’s 1988 novel, Foucault’s Pendulum, particularly with respect to the conspiracy-minded thinking that it dissects. But there’s also a significant spiritual dimension to the novel, as its focus on esoterica and the occult represent a real history of discontent with mainstream religion that stretches back nearly a thousand years.
The book generally side-eyes occultists, both past and present, and doubts their claims to supernatural powers. But it is very clear that such figures and groups really existed, and many of them authentically aspired to the powers they claim to have obtained, and their claims were very widely believed. New Age philosophies and other countercultures linked to the esotericism generally have a reputation for being peaceful and loving, but it’s one which has not been earned.
Eco by no means condemns the occult in general terms, but he does call attention to the potential for such beliefs to generate abuse and hatred. The large-scale rejection of Christianity by the alt-right in the United States, and the ongoing links between various neo-pagan subcultures and neo-Nazism, show the need for continued study.
I’ll be honest, I’m kind of tired of gay coming out arcs on TV by now. The angst, the panic, and the not knowing how their family and friends will react to the gay character aren’t really appealing to me anymore (I’ve had enough of that in my own life). I want to see LGBTQ+ characters living their lives, working, dating, asserting their identities, and standing up to bigotry. However, coming out remains an experience most of us, LGBTQ+ folks, share. And even though representation on mainstream media is disappointing more often than not, it seems that once in a while it’s still possible to be pleasantly surprised and moved to tears by a character figuring out their sexuality on a superhero show, of all places. I am talking, as you can tell by the title, about Alex Danvers—one of the main characters on Supergirl—and her character arc in the first half of the second season.
Spoilers for the Supergirl TV show below.
Here on this blog, we’ve unintentionally managed to cover just about every animation nominee for the 2017 Academy Awards in one way or another. Not that I particularly care about the Academy or their opinion, but after giving some page space to Kubo and the Two Strings, Zootopia, and Moana, it felt kind of strange to just ignore the other two films and my artsy ass can never resist delving into productions by lesser known studios. So I set out to tackle the first of these two films: My Life as a Zucchini (or Ma Vie de Courgette in the original French). Distributed by Gebeka Films and premiering at the 2016 film festival in Cannes, the quirky stop-motion film tackles a surprisingly dark subject, and does it well. However, as with most things, this doesn’t mean it was devoid of problems.
Spoilers below and trigger warning for mentions of child abuse.
There probably aren’t very many people who remember Fox’s ill-fated reboot/sequel of Minority Report, which was quietly canceled in 2016 after a supremely lackluster first season. The TV series had so much potential—it introduced a huge number of characters of color to a canon that was predominantly white and it discussed complicated issues like immigration, genetic engineering, and police profiling, though it never got deep enough into any of these issues to really be satisfactory. I can honestly say that I enjoyed watching it, despite its many writing missteps.
However, the main failure of the show was its handling of the PreCrime program and the precogs who were used against their will to run it. While the original Minority Report film ended the PreCrime program because John Anderton proved that people could choose not to commit a crime and thus change their own futures, the Minority Report TV show made this touchy issue into a procedural cop drama by assuming that all the futures the precogs saw would definitely come to pass. This uninspired utilization of the original film’s themes meant that the TV reboot was neither as creative nor as thought-provoking as its predecessor, and it unfortunately meant that the potentially meaty conflict between leads Lara Vega, a Metro P.D. cop who believed fervently that PreCrime was the best way forward for society, and Dash, a precog who wanted to help people but didn’t want to be put back in the milk bath, was quickly erased so that the procedural cop drama could move forward. We never got to see a connection between the themes and characters of the film and the themes and characters of the show. But fortunately, in fanfiction, other writers can tackle these problems for us.
March 22nd is the future birthday of Captain James T. Kirk, and while this post is a day late, I felt the need to honor the Star Trek: The Original Series captain. I have always asserted that James. T. Kirk is actually a feminist despite the caricature that people have made of him in both the new movies and the fandom. In the new Star Trek movies, Kirk is often portrayed as a scandalous womanizer. He sleeps with Uhura’s roommate, then leers at Uhura while he changes on her bed. He also never backs off when Uhura tells him that she isn’t interested in him. Then he watches Carol Marcus change clothes when she specifically tells him not to. This is not the Kirk of TOS! I’m convinced that those who think he is a womanizing sexist have either never watched the series or are possibly projecting their own beliefs onto the character, because Kirk is most assuredly very pro-women and there is a ton of evidence to prove it.
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.