Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Theodicy and The Sparrow

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Job’s Evil Dreams, via WikiCommons

If any of you have followed my posts in this Sunday column for a while, you’ve probably noticed that one of my favorite subjects to harp on is that by and large, science fiction does an absolutely atrocious job of authentically representing religion. Most of us have come to expect that if religion even shows up at all in a story, it’s likely an evil strawman of some kind of Christianity: really a parody of 1950s Roman Catholicism. If we’re lucky enough to deviate from that, we get a generic “Eastern Religion”. It’s even less common to read science fiction that takes faith-based issues and conflicts seriously. Take theodicy, for example. It’s a tricky topic but in short, it’s the theological discipline that attempts to grapple with the problem of evil. In many ways theodicy attempts to address some of the most serious objections to faith in a loving, powerful God. So when a priest recommended I read Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, I was happy to not only find an authentic representation of religious belief, but a deeply moving treatment of the problem of evil and divine providence in a faith-based context.

Spoilers for The Sparrow and triggers for rape, cannibalism, sexual slavery, body horror, and disturbing content below.

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BrainDead’s Space Bugs Are Dead, and So Is the Show

braindeadWell, BrainDead is finally dead… er, over. It hasn’t yet been officially canceled, but considering its ratings, it seems like it’s only a matter of time. The show that tried to combine politics and sci-fi ultimately failed at both politics and sci-fi, and as a reluctant fan of the show, the ending was disappointing to say the least.

Spoilers after the jump.

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Sexualized Saturdays: “The Answer”, Fairy Tales, and Heteronormativity

Many of you have seen the Steven Universe episode “The Answer”. Many of you had the same reaction I did which was an unequivocal “this is the sweetest thing ever!” Some of us were surprised (and impressed) that they’d been allowed to “get away” with it, even in a show like SU. But what was it about “The Answer” that was so groundbreaking? It was a seriously cute love story about two immediately likeable characters; a fairy tale romance that was as innocent as it was beautiful. It was also the first fairy tale most of us had ever encountered where the two star-crossed lovers were both female.

the-answer-show-imageIf ever there was an example of innocent (and insanely adorable) love in a cartoon, this was it. It’s a storybook romance about an aristocratic seer and an impulsive soldier falling in love and defying the established order to be together, becoming rebels fighting for the survival of Earth in the process. That is the kind of story that seems like it would be a natural fit for a Disney movie. It’s the kind of story kids are exposed to on a regular basis and it’s considered appropriate, healthy, and even necessary. But none of those stories have queer characters, especially not in the leads.

The fact that Ruby and Sapphire are depicted as women is what made this groundbreaking, even though it is the kind of story most kids grow up watching over and over. By featuring two female characters instead of a heterosexual couple, this episode pushed boundaries—boundaries that make no sense to begin with. I mean, this isn’t an Adult Swim show we’re talking about. We’re not seeing or hearing about anything that could be considered remotely explicit; there’s not even a kiss in the episode! It’s a cartoon that no parent would consider objecting to if it told a heteronormative story with the exact same plot and dialogue. The simple fact that the two leads happen to be women made it seem taboo; or at least “edgy”. It often feels like these stories can’t exist in children’s media.

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But, like all inclusive stories, the people being included gain while nobody else loses. Everyone who watched got to see a fairy tale romance about two of our favorite characters, and girls realizing that they love other girls got to see that their stories are just as beautiful and inspiring and normal as any other. It is precisely the lack of stories like this that give them the air of controversy and sometimes make them feel… different.

That is what Rebecca Sugar and SU’s other creators attempted to address with The Answer and in adapting it to book form, they have taken an incredible (and incredibly cool) new step in that direction.

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Fandom, Fujoshi, and Free!

As much as I enjoyed watching it, it’s honestly no surprise that Free! ended up being queerbait—this appears to be true with most modern sports anime, as the internet is only too glad to convince me. Honestly, in watching the Iwatobi swim team go through their struggles to be seen as legitimate, it’s all too easy to forget that Iwatobi High is actually a co-ed school. Free!’s main conflict comes from the miscommunication between two of the male leads; however, this leads into a staggering case of gender disparity among the cast; a problem many anime—especially sports anime—has. Sports anime tends to hyperfocus on a group of teammates and their rivals, bringing attention to every little piece of their past, every small piece of drama within the group, and every lingering gaze they may give each other. The few classmates of theirs who are girls are typically relegated to roles of “unnamed, unobtainable crush”, “childhood best friend”, or “team manager”. These characters are sometimes somewhat fleshed out, but typically only in a way that serves to emphasize how close the boys are. This leads to a majority of ships in these fandoms being M/M (since they get a majority of the characterization), and the ladies getting further swept under the rug, sometimes with great, undeserved hatred behind it.

Wading around in the otome game fandom, and just the anime fandom in general, there’s a very real sense of hate and misogyny lingering in the background of almost every series. Especially in the otome game fandom, where it’s typically one female character planted between a bunch of dudes, the heroine is almost always criticized for being too passive, too bitchy, too emotional, too stupid, or just too annoying. Legitimately the list could go on forever. More than that, though, there always seems to be a part of these fandoms that resents the heroine for existing in the first place—for getting in the way of their gay ships (which, really, why are you playing an otome game then?). Following this logic, for a show seemingly exclusively created for a female audience, it would seem only appropriate that the Free! fandom would show this same vitriol for the show’s most prominent female character, Kou Matsuoka. Yet this wasn’t the case. In fact, Kou was one of the most beloved characters on the show, but I wouldn’t say this was due specifically to her being a good character. Rather, I’d fathom it was because she was a self-insert character for a niche audience: the fujoshi.

As a note, I’m speaking only from the core anime; I haven’t read or watched any material outside that.

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Fanfiction Fridays: Coronation by Lirillith

Shipping has never really been my thing, but as most of the ships I do read are M/M, it wasn’t too hard to figure out that there was some internalized sexism influencing my reading choices. As such, I decided to think long and hard about what F/F pairings I might like to jump into. Considering that Final Fantasy VII was one of my very first fandoms, it came as no surprise to me that that was where I ended up starting.

aerith-gainsboroughTifa and Aerith are two beloved characters of mine. Both are love interests to Cloud in canon, but despite being romantic rivals, they remain good and close friends up until Aerith’s untimely death. What I have discovered is even better than their close friendship, though, is the idea that they could have hidden romantic feelings for each other.

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Mort(e): Proof That Sexism Is More Durable than Cockroaches

morte-coverI just finished reading the novel Mort(e) by Robert Repino. To call it speculative is by far an understatement. It’s about an apocalyptic future in which a psychic colony of giant ants gifts sentience (and human-equivalent size, and opposable thumbs) to domesticated animals, instigating a human-animal war. The Colony claims to be working with the animals against the human scourge, but it’s more likely that the ants’ Queen is on nobody’s side but her own. Our hero Mort(e) is a neutered, declawed housecat (formerly named Sebastian; post-Change animals tend to discard pet names as “slave names”). While everyone around him is taking sides in the war, Mort(e) just desperately wants to reunite with his pre-Change companion, a female dog named Sheba, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to do so, even if that means allying with the dwindling human resistance.

Yeah. It’s a lot.

Unfortunately, even with this complex and intricate premise, the novel still couldn’t do right by its women.

Spoilers below.

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Throwback Thursdays: Batman: The Animated Series, “Harley and Ivy”, and Feminism

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Occasionally in the 90s we’d get a cartoon that would dedicate at least one episode to feminism or at least some vague notion of female empowerment. Batman: The Animated Series is no exception, and the episode “Harley and Ivy” is definitely one of my all-time favorites—after all, it introduced me to my absolute favorite femslash pairing. The episode in general does some great things, but it’s also still pretty problematic. At the heart of these problems is how we get feminism promoted to us through two female villains, causing it to look more like straw feminism than actual feminism. Despite that, though, this episode addresses everything from sexism to abusive relationships, street harassment, and female friendships.

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