Sexualized Saturdays: “I’ll Make My Own Gender, With Blackjack… and Hookers!” – A Critical Look at Futurama’s Handling of Bender’s Gender Identity

Futurama is one of my all-time favorite shows. I have watched these episodes so many times I think I broke Netflix’s suggestion algorithms. While there are many aspects to the show that are brilliant and remarkably nuanced, one topic that they have addressed repeatedly, and one that their exploration has handled in widely disparate and often problematic ways, is gender and gender identity. While not a main theme of the show, various aspects of gender and sexuality are regularly explored and put under the lens of Futurama’s satirical distant future.

Futurama calendar pic

A genderbent recreation of the Barbarella poster with Fry and Leela. (Screenshot from Futurama.)

In examining how this is generally handled, the good and bad alike, there are some specific episodes scattered throughout the show’s run that specifically deal with these issues and demand specific attention; mostly through changes to the gender identity of one of its most widely known characters: Bender B Rodriguez.

TW: Discussion of transphobic and homophobic themes.

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The Island of Excess Love: Disgusting and Disappointing

the-island-of-excess-loveA while back I told you all about a little strange dystopian novel called Love in the Time of Global Warming, by Francesca Lia Block. I felt it was a breath of fresh air in the dystopian YA world, with its magical realism, perfectly set eerie mood, and a main cast made up of queer characters. I was surprised to find out that there was a sequel, since it didn’t seem like the sort of book that would be part of a series, but I was nevertheless very excited when I finally got my hands on The Island of Excess Love. Unfortunately, my mood soon turned sour as it became apparent that even though the sequel recaptures the mood of the first book, the narrative sends some very troubling rape-apologist and transphobic messages.

Spoilers for both books, as well as discussion of sex, rape, and transphobic ideas, below.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Jesus Christ Superstar 2012 Live Arena Tour Review

A scene from Jesus Christ Superstar by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice @ O2 Arena, London. (Opening 20-09-12) ©Tristram Kenton 09/12 (3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550  Mob 07973 617 355)email: tristram@tristramkenton.comThere are two things people know about me, even if they don’t know me very well. One, I love Jesus, and two, I love musicals. If you put those two things together you will usually make something I supremely enjoy. And while Jesus Christ Superstar is by no means perfect, theologically speaking, it is one of my favorite Jesus-themed musicals. However, I have sadly never seen the show live (other than high school versions), and many of the other movie versions of Jesus Christ Superstar were sadly lacking. Each version had certain strengths but each also failed at what I thought was the musical’s biggest strength: putting Christ in a modern setting. However, the 2012 Live Arena Tour of Jesus Christ Superstar does set the story in the modern day, and furthermore, does a great job at portraying Jesus as a social justice activist.

The 1973 version had a bunch of hippies drive out to the desert to reenact Christ’s story, which… why? I really think this would have been a lot better if they had just retold the story of Jesus, but set it during the seventies. But no, we got hippies in the desert acting out the story as if performing a play. And things got really uncomfortable when it seemed like they had actually killed Jesus. Since the show is staged as if a bunch of random people go out to perform the story of Christ, it came off particularly weird at the end when all the actors leave on the bus but the actor playing Jesus remains on the cross. In the context of the movie it looks like these people actually crucified the person playing Jesus and left him there, which is both creepy and weird. Then there was the 2000 Jesus Christ Superstar, which was all over the place, time period-wise. Jesus still looked like a seventies hippie, the apostles looked like they walked straight out of the eighties, Mary Magdalene dressed like Mimi from RENT, and the Pharisees and Roman soldiers looked like something out of a futuristic dystopia. It was a mess. Anything else good about that version was lost due to the extremely confusing mix of aesthetics.

You might think this is a silly thing to linger on, especially from a theological perspective. Why would showing Jesus in a modern day perspective be so important? Shouldn’t I be more concerned with how the musical portrays Jesus and the Biblical narrative of Christ? Well, yeah, and I am concerned about that, but Jesus Christ Superstar—just by virtue of how the music and lyrics are written—is in the unique position to show Christ in the modern day. And for a believer like me, that is extremely important. One of the main things I do at my job is try to help people understand how Christ’s radical message of love is still relevant today. For me and many others, Christ wasn’t just a nice guy, but a reformer with a radical message. People today try to claim that Christ’s message supports their beliefs, but more often than not, our pop culture, and even many practicing Christians, ignore Christ’s message of social justice. This 2012 Live Arena Tour of Jesus Christ Superstar does not ignore Christ’s social justice message. Rather, it sets Christ in a modern-day setting and shows him combating the powers that be of the time.

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Wonder Woman and Transphobia

If you have been spending any time on Tumblr recently, you have probably seen this page of a Wonder Woman comic that not only implies that the Amazons accept trans women, but that Wonder Woman herself is a trans woman. It’s beautiful and makes you happy to be alive just reading it, but, sadly, it’s not real (here is the real picture). As of right now, DC Comics only has one trans character, Alysia Yeoh, Barbara Gordon’s roommate in Batgirl. DC has never really been great when it comes to minority representation. For a while they did have more female-led comics than Marvel, but it was debatable whether those comics actually portrayed their female characters with respect. DC did, however, beat out Marvel when it came to trans representation, and though Alysia is not a trans superhero it is nice to finally see a well done and respectful portrayal of a trans character in a comic book. The inclusion of one character is not enough to really be authentic representation, though, and with transgender rights finally gaining more visibility, fans are now turning critical eyes on to Wonder Woman and the often transphobic portrayal of the Amazons.

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Fanfiction Fridays: The Queen’s Eyes by underoriginal

Frozen group pictureThis was not a fic I was originally going to recommend, because not only is it unfinished, I worry that it might be abandoned. But underoriginal’s The Queen’s Eyes is too good a story to pass up. Like all things, it does have its problems—personally, I think the story could expand on some of the mythology it’s introduced—but it also has a lot to offer, and I was pleasantly surprised by those things, since nothing in the story summary indicated that they would be there.

Desperate to find a way to redeem their brother, the princes of the Southern Isles send Hans back to Arrendale. Hans agrees to become a member of the elite and mysterious police force called the Queen’s Eyes. At first, he wonders why he is given so much power, but he slowly comes to realize the price. As Hans starts to wonder if he made the right choice, Anna struggles with her own powers awakening and the possibility that she may never be able to adventure again, Kristoff tries to find a way to marry a princess despite his low class even with Elsa’s blessing, and the Queen herself begins to crack under the pressure of the crown. Meanwhile, a terrible snowstorm ravaging the Southern Isles raises an even more dangerous problem; what if Elsa isn’t the only sorcerer out there?

Potential trigger warning for transphobia ahead.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Goddess: Transgender Issues in Wicca and Paganism

1zn4ljlBefore Gail Simone wrote Alysia Yeoh as the first trans character in mainstream DC Comics, Neil Gaiman briefly introduced another trans character in the Sandman story A Game of You. Trans woman Wanda Mann is arguably one of the first trans characters in comic books, and, while I utterly love her character, the way she is portrayed is definitely extremely problematic. However, this is not meant to be a post discussing Wanda’s overall portrayal as a trans character. Instead, what I want to focus on is the exchange between Wanda and the witch Thessaly, and how their interactions relate to the current issues that trans people face within the Wicca and Pagan communities.

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Magical Mondays: The Mundane and the Magical in Welcome to Night Vale

A small desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and the mundane is more awe-inspiring and wonderful than the magical horrors we see every day. Welcome to Night Vale.

mza_7086226647782067744.600x600-75Welcome back, viewers. It’s time for another Magical Mondays, and today I will be discussing how the magical surrealist nature of Welcome to Night Vale’s storytelling actually makes the mundane things that we experience every day seem more magical.

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