Friday, December 19, 2014

Strong Female Character Friday: Kate (A Knight's Tale)


I had this happy moment last week where I was flipping channels on the television, idly looking for something to watch, when on came A Knight's Tale. It was near the beginning, right after they'd met Chaucer for the first time, and so I hunkered down and watched all the rest of the film. I didn't have to. It's not like I don't own it on DVD or also know that it's available to stream on Netflix. But I wanted to. It's one of those movies that makes me happy every time I see it, and this was no different.

But as I was watching, I got to thinking about the characters, like I generally do, and I realized that I have been utterly remiss in mentioning my favorite thing about this movie on the blog so far. While I have covered the glory of Jocelyn and her status as a royal woman of color in the middle ages, as well as how interesting her insistence that William's love of jousting is no more noble than her love of dresses is, I haven't really ever talked about Kate. And I love Kate. Kate's my favorite part.

So for those of you who somehow managed to miss this utter gem, the story goes like this. Will (Heath Ledger) is a poor nobody working for a knight when the knight kicks it before they can all get paid. Instead of just hightailing it off on their own, Will convinces the other squires, Wat (Alan Tudyk) and Roland (Mark Addy) to dress him up in the knight's armor and let him finish the tournament. They get their money and figure that this is a good scam and they might as well keep it going for a while.

Along the tournament road they pick up Chaucer (Paul Bettany) to act as their herald, and run into a beautiful princess, Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon), with whom Will falls utterly in love. Oh, and they meet Kate (Laura Fraser), a female blacksmith with a chip on her shoulder and the ability to make armor better and lighter than anyone else in the world.

What I love about Kate is how much she, as a character, really is no different from all of the men. While Jocelyn and her lady's maid are rather removed from Will and his gang of weirdos, Kate is right in the thick of it. She gets hired on and travels with Will from tournament to tournament. She gets drunk in the pub with the boys, holds her own in a fight, and frequently teases them into incomprehension. She's just one of the lads, except she's not. She's so much more than that.

Kate's first introduced as a ferrier, a blacksmith who mostly just makes horseshoes, and we're told that her husband was the blacksmith, but since he died she kept up the forge because she needs the money. That explanation, though, is pretty insufficient, and it's not soon after we meet her that we start to see why. I mean, yes, Kate is the kind of woman who can be goaded into repairing armor on credit because the other men "don't think you can do it." But she's also the type of woman who can whip up a suit of armor just as strong and good as the other knight's but nearly a third of the weight in a single night.

I mean, we've been talking about ladies of STEM these past few weeks, and this is just another example of how interesting your story can be when you acknowledge the contributions that women make to science and engineering. Kate has found a new way to process steel so that it's much lighter but just as strong. She did. Her husband didn't teach it to her and she didn't steal it from some other blacksmith. She came up with it on her own.

And the movie shows us that Kate's right. It is the best armor. It's amazing. The stuff can stand up to just about anything. But more than that, they show that it's wonderful but also that Kate faces many challenges in getting the world to recognize her genius. And I really appreciate that.

Kate can make the best armor in the world, but what does that matter if no one will wear it? The only reason she can get Will to wear her stuff is because she essentially blackmails him, then she dares him to do it. She faces constant discrimination and sexism, and while she bears up under it, the movie doesn't shy away from telling us how hard it is. Kate has a hard life, but it's a life she's chosen, and she seems to be okay with that.

Even better, she's not just one dimensional in her amazing blacksmith abilities. Yes, she is essentially a savant, but she isn't just left with that as her defining characteristic. Kate's also a bit of a romantic. While we never do meet her late husband, even in flashback, it's clear she married for love and that she loves him still. When she talks about him she looks soft in the eyes, and we feel the weight of his passing.

Later in the film, when Will has decided to lose all of his jousting matches to prove his love for Jocelyn, the men think he's crazy, but Kate thinks it's a romantic. Turning to her, Roland asks, "Are you a woman or a blacksmith?"

And Kate replies, "Sometimes I'm both."

For me, in a big way, that sums up her character and why I like her so much. Because as a kid growing up, that's how I felt. Like the world demanded that I be either a girl or really interested in explosions. That I could be feminine or strong, but not both. But I am both. Femme is not fragile, and I don't have to like wearing pants in order to fight for feminism. They're not mutually exclusive ideas.

The importance here, for me, is that none of Kate's character was accidental. It's not like they just happened to decide that the crucial blacksmith character in the movie be a woman on a whim. It would have been so much easier to make her a man. Or, at the very least, to make her a woman with a major male love interest. Like, say, Wat, the only other conspicuously single character.

But the movie doesn't do that. Kate gets to be Kate. In love with her dead husband. Blissfully romantic. And yet still capable of wielding wicked hammers that can break bones and shape iron. She doesn't need a man to define her, but she's not the sort to declare her independence in spite of circumstance either. She's not one of those one dimensional "sexism is over" cardboard cutouts, she feels like a real live woman. She faces sexism and discrimination and hardship and loss, but she also goes out for a drink with the boys and invents brilliant new things and can burp longer than any of them.

Sometimes I'm both.

I'm not sure why being both is so threatening, but I have gathered from life experience that it is. That there's something really dangerous when women band together and say, "Yes, I am like other girls. What's wrong with other girls? What makes you say that because I like climbing trees and building go-karts and fighting with toy swords I'm not like other girls? What makes you say that other girls are bad?" That's a declaration of war, it seems, even if I'm not sure I can tell what it's a war against.

But it is, isn't it? There's a war on, and it seems to want us to declare that we're "not like other girls", as if being like other girls is something to be ashamed of. I am happy to announce that I am like other girls. I like superhero movies, like a lot of girls, and comics, like many girls, and pretty dresses, like some girls, and blowing things up, like more girls than probably admit it. I am just like other girls because the differences aren't enough to make me lose my gender. They just make it all more interesting.

Kate can be a blacksmith and can be the single most competent person in the entire movie - which she absolutely is, watch it again if you don't believe me - and she can also be the one who walks into a room where a bunch of men are desperately trying to learn to dance and have them whipped into shape in an afternoon. Just because she's a brilliant engineer doesn't mean she can't love to dance. Just because she thinks it's romantic doesn't mean she makes bad armor.

I love Jocelyn because she stands up for her interest in girly things and refuses to let them be devalued. But I love Kate because she can understand the importance of liking "girly" things and "manly" things and how liking both doesn't make her less a blacksmith or less a woman. It makes her more of both.

Plus, there's something to be said for a movie where even though the two main female characters really have nothing in common or much interest in each other, they never get catty or mean towards one another. Kate only has nice things to say about Jocelyn, for all that she really doesn't get her.

As a closing thought, I do have to say that this movie in general has absolutely wonderful things to say about gender and class. Roland and his love of embroidery and fine cooking is a great counterpoint to Kate, and Wat's raw emotionalism is such an interesting statement about masculinity - especially when we realize how easily and openly he cries.

But all of that is stuff for another day. For now, let's think on this: who profits most from making it seem like a bad thing to be "like other girls"? And how can we teach everyone to say, "Sometimes I'm both." Because damn right you are, and so am I.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

I Haven't Seen The Last Hobbit Movie Yet. Here's Why...


Today was supposed to be the day that I gave all of you my review of The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies. I was going to watch it yesterday afternoon while enjoying my uncharacteristic Wednesday off, and then review it for you today. But, in case you couldn't tell from the fact that all of this is in past tense, I did not do that. I couldn't. For a number of reasons.

I mean, I physically could have, probably. I was right next door to the movie theater. I even stood in front of the ticket counter for a few minutes before walking away. It probably would have been more logical for me to see it than not see it, but I just couldn't. Or I didn't want to. Or the idea of watching this movie was so unbearable to me that I had to leave. Either way I finished up my Christmas shopping and then went home and laid on the couch watching Rehab Addict until dinner.*

So instead of actually giving you a review of the movie today, I thought I'd explain why I have no desire to see it. This is not to say that I won't see it. I probably will at some point, and it might even be in the next couple of weeks. But this is why, even though I was right there and had nothing better to do, I could not bring myself to watch the final Hobbit movie yesterday afternoon.

It's the end of an era.

You probably don't all know this, because it's a fact that massively predates this blog, but I was grandfathered into the Lord of the Rings fandom. I really had very little choice in the matter, not that I'm complaining. My parents both love the books and read them to us when we were little. The first time I heard the whole trilogy I was two. Then again when I was six, and I read them for the first time on my own when I was eight. We had a painting of Goldberry hanging on the wall in our living room. We currently have a painted tree from a set for a play production of The Hobbit hanging in our dining room. Basically my whole family are giant Lord of the Rings nerds, and I grew up with all of the stories.

We even had that terrible animated version of The Hobbit - the one where the elves were green and had German accents for some reason - and I watched it over and over as a child. These books were full of magic and mystery and epic stories and admittedly very very few female characters, but still. They were perfect fuel for an obsessive little nerd like me, and from the ages of eight to about fourteen they were my life.

I was thirteen when the first movie (Fellowship of the Ring, that is) came out, and I went to see it in theaters seven times. This is impressive not just because that's a lot of times to see a three hour movie in theaters, but also because the nearest theater showing it was half an hour's drive away, and I was thirteen. I could not drive. Let that sink in for a minute and now I hope you understand why I like my parents so much.

Our whole family was obsessed. We bought the DVDs as soon as they came out, then waited again and bought the extended editions when they came out. We sat down as a family and watched literally every single commentary and special feature on both DVD sets. I used to be able to name which stunt-people played which orcs, and so on, because I cared so much.

And this isn't even getting into how I tried to learn Elvish (Quenya, specifically), how many of my Halloween costumes were remarkably themed, and how I wore a cloak to class for two years in college because I could. I still own a veritable library of appendices, bestiaries, language guides, maps, and other tangentially related Middle-Earth miscellany. I was given a first edition of The Silmarillion for my birthday one year, and I cherish it.

Okay, so all of that is to establish that I am a huge nerd and always have been. But it's also to explain that I have had my obsessive moment with the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings movies, and in a very real way, I have also burned myself the hell out on them.

Like I said, I saw The Fellowship of the Ring seven times in theaters, but I only saw The Two Towers twice. And Return of the King, while great, only got me into the theaters three times. One of those times I pretty much dozed through all of the Sam and Frodo scenes on Mount Doom. By the time I graduated high school, for all that I still loved the story and had participated in Hobbit Days** and marathons in theaters and even acted out scenes in drama class, I was kind of over it. I was tired of Lord of the Rings, and ready to move on to something else.

So I did. I spent college becoming more and more interested in pop culture in general, from Buffy to Doctor Who  and Heroes to Supernatural and finally I ended up going to grad school for screenwriting because I loved it all so much. And Lord of the Rings played a very big part in all of that, but it was a part that was over. It wasn't until my early twenties that I could actually enjoy watching the movies again at all, because I'd so thoroughly worn myself out.

And then I found out that they were going to make The Hobbit into not just one, not just two, but three more movies, and I'll be honest. The reaction I had was not glee or joy or squee, it was exhaustion.

It's not that they're bad movies exactly, because they aren't. It's that something in me has changed. Maybe. I'm not the same person I was when the first Lord of the Rings movies came out, but that's not a bad thing. It just mostly means that while I can appreciate these movies for what they are, they don't hold the same emotional, gut-wrenching tug for me as the first ones.

Also, and I know that some people might not want to hear this, I'm pretty sure they're just not as good.

That's the second reason why I couldn't bring myself to watch the movie yesterday. Because, based on the previous two movies in The Hobbit series, I have a sneaking suspicion that I might not like it very much. It's not my style. It's all glam and special effects and greenscreen and CGI and not so much with the dirty, gritty feeling of the previous movies. It feels like a fairy tale, and I've never been much for fairy tales.

I know this is unecessarily poetic language, but The Hobbit never made my soul sing with joy. It's a cute story, definitely, but it's not epic like Lord of the Rings is. It's not about the battle between good and evil and the movements of kings and armies and a righteous war, it's about a bunch of greedy people arguing over some gold. And it's a perfectly fine story, but it's not nine hours worth of story, no matter how you slice it. I'm definitely not the first person to say this, but the Hobbit movies feel bloated and laggy. There is too much movie and not enough story and I just don't enjoy watching them anymore.

Now, I fully admit that all of this is coming from a person who has not finished the trilogy. That's the literal point of this article. So maybe I'll go see the movie next week with my family and I will be amazed at how wonderful it is, how moving, and I will deeply regret all of the mean things I said here. That could happen. It probably won't, though.

And yet, for all of this, the last and final reason why I didn't watch the movie yesterday is because there's still a part of me that doesn't want it to end. I mean, it's a weird part of me, because the rest is all raring to go and wants to move on with my life, but there's that happy little thirteen year old in me that will be really sad when this is over. When I watch The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, that's going to be the end. There will be no more Lord of the Rings movies to see after that.

I'm just not ready for that to happen, for all that I have been ready for a very long time.


*I really love that show. She makes the houses look so pretty!
**Where you dress up like a hobbit and watch all three extended editions back to back while eating hobbit-like food constantly. It's pretty disgusting. And very fun.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Better Off Ted Tackles Single Fatherhood Surprisingly Well


Usually on Tuesdays I tackle media that is made for children, but today I thought we'd switch gears and talk about media about children and specifically a show that deals explicitly with parenthood. Because why not.

There are basically two narratives we get about single fathers in the media. Either they are horrible abusive, inconsiderate louts who cannot without the presence of another adult in the home keep control of their children, or they are sensitive, kind, overworked men who desperately need a woman to come in and care for them and the children.

Basically, it's weirdly hard to find examples in our media of single fathers who are neither awful nor needy. It's like we've all internalized the idea that a single father absolutely must have a love interest or else he's pretty much the worst. A man can't take care of kids on his own, no way, no how.

And this bothers me for I think obvious reasons. In reality there are a lot of single fathers who manage to be neither horrifically abusive nor insecure and daffy. Lots of men who really aren't looking for a partner to help them co-parent, because they've got this. There are plenty of men who are good dads, and pretty decent people too.

Which is why, upon rewatching a few episodes of Better Off Ted this weekend with my sister, I realized that Ted Crisp is an anomaly in the world of fiction. He's a single father whose primary defining feature is his competence and good nature. He's raising his eight year old daughter, Rose, by himself, but that doesn't make him a bad dad. 

And while there are a couple of love interests who pop into his life in the criminally short two seasons that this show was on, none of them are particularly serious and none of them are evaluated in terms of who would be the best mother for Rose. Rose is cool. She doesn't need another mom.

For the record, Better Off Ted isn't really about Ted as a father. It's actually a workplace comedy - a spectacularly weird and funny one that was cancelled far too soon - about a group of people working in research and development at the world's most alarming corporation. Veridian Dynamics, the company, is a sort of passive-aggressive multi-national conglomerate that has its hands in everything. Literally, because it probably has a lot of hands. It's into weird science like that.

The company is sort of a combination of Aperture Science from Portal and StrexCorp from Welcome to Night Vale, and the plots of the episode usually revolve around the company asking one of its employees to do something illegal/unethical or imposing a new insane policy or just trying to cryogenically freeze one of its employees to see if it's possible.

Ted (Jay Harrington) is our hero, a moderately good man who really loves his job as head of R&D. Far from being disaffected or a complainer about work, Ted is chipper, kind, and reasonably ethical. Reasonably. He supervises the work of Veridian's best scientists, Lem (Malcolm Barrett) and Phil (Jonathan Slavin), and coordinates with the head of product testing, Linda (Andrea Anders). Then he brings it all to his boss, the delightfully cutthroat and insane Veronica (Portia de Rossi). At night he closes up shop and goes home to make dinner with his adorable daughter, Rose (Isabella Acres). That's it, that's the show. 

Ted's parenting isn't the focus by any means, but his conversations with Rose frequently serve as a ballast to the insanity he gets at work, and Ted likes to use his daughter as a sounding board for ideas. Plus, Rose serves as a the moral center of the show, without falling into too many "sainted child" tropes. So that's all good.

As a whole, I have to say that Better Off Ted's management of single parenthood might just be my favorite next to Gilmore Girls. Because it doesn't say that everything is easy and Ted is the perfect dad, but neither does it make it out to be a hellish nightmare. Most of the time, Rose is an easy child to love. She's smart, interested in school, an upright citizen of the world, and pretty emotionally stable. Ted is open and aware of Rose's emotional state, and even admits that the loss of her mother has been hard for Rose - the mom isn't dead, she's just not in the picture - while never trying to "fix it". Ted's a good dad.

And, yes, there are episodes where Rose and by that fact Ted's fatherhood, figure more heavily than others. There's an episode where Rose's nanny is sick, so Rose has to come into Veridian Dynamics and chill at the daycare after school. This makes Ted nervous, because the daycare is notoriously dear to the company, and he shudders to see Rose used as child labor or an experiment subject or product tester. His solution ends up being to have Veronica watch Rose, which gives us a hilarious half hour of comedy, as well as some good insights into both Rose and Veronica as people.

Or there's the episode where Veronica and Ted realize that Rose, because she knows the other children, can be useful in digging up dirt on the other employees at Veridian. Or they decide to use her ability to play with other kids to get in good with the executives. In other words, Rose isn't a non-entity in the show, but for the most part, she exists as a foil to the wacky machinations at Veridian Dynamics and as a reminder of what the real world is. And that's fine.

The point that I want to get to with all of this is that I really like how Better Off Ted handles Ted and Rose's relationship. It's clear that they're close and that they have a very healthy relationship. It's obvious that Rose is going to grow up and be a very good, functional, probably kind adult. And it's nice to see that Ted isn't punished by the narrative for raising his daughter and working full time. It is both possible and perfectly fine for him to do so.

Yay!

But I'd also like to point out that the show doesn't give Ted "extra cookies" for this. He's not shown to be better or more capable or more honorable and saintly just because he has a daughter that he is doing a good job raising. He doesn't get extra props for wanting to care for Rose when she's sick. Why would he? She's his daughter and he wants to take care of her. That's natural and normal, and while it's nice that he wants to care for her, he shouldn't be lionized for doing exactly what parents normally do.

There's very frequently a double standard in cases like this. Single mothers are just expected to do all of this, to manage their children and their careers, to effortlessly juggle full time work and full time parenting without any support. But single fathers, no matter their failings, are given much more leeway. "At least he's trying." "Bless you for doing this!" And so on. We as a culture are so unaccustomed to the idea that men can be functional parents that we shower them with praise for doing the most mundane, normal parenting things.

I'm not saying that men deserve no praise for being good parents, merely that if men deserve praise for how they care for their children, then so do women. And that above all we need to remember that parenting is parenting, and the important thing is to do a good job overall.

Better Off Ted presents Ted as an average, decent but not spectacular father. He's very open and honest with Rose, but that means that sometimes she schools him on ethics violations. He's emotionally aware and receptive to her needs, but that doesn't mean he's above sometimes using her to spy on other executives. And while Rose is a big part of Ted's life, he's not shown to be a better man just because he's raising her on his own. It's no big deal, just another part of who Ted is as a person.

And there's something very satisfying about the fact that the show never tells us Ted needs to get married so that Rose can have a mommy. As much as Ted has a variety of love interests in the course of the show, their stories are always about their relationships with Ted, and not their ability to raise his daughter. Even his longer term love interests, like Linda and Veronica, are evaluated in terms of how compatible they are with Ted, and not on how good they'd be at raising Rose.

That having been said, I do have to admit that I prefer Ted's relationship with Veronica to his flirtation with Linda. Not because I think Veronica is a better mother figure - she's patently not - or because I think the two of them share true love or anything. Rather, I like that Veronica and Ted bring out different things in each other. Veronica makes Ted more competitive and excited about his job, and Ted makes Veronica feel her feelings. 

Plus, Veronica's relationship with Rose is one of my favorite parts of the show. While Veronica is basically a shark in a lady-suit, she cares a great deal for Rose in her own way. She thinks Rose would make an excellent apprentice and tries to impart to her the wisdom that Veronica herself has gathered: the importance of The Art of War, why she should destroy her enemies before they can get her, and how a good hairstyle can signify power to all who see it. Veronica doesn't treat Rose as a little kid, she treats her like she treats everyone else: as a person who is, albeit, inferior to Veronica but in need of her gracious guidance.

And I like that. Sue me. I think it's absolutely hilarious.

But I've gotten off track. The point here is that I really really like how the show deals with parenthood and children and the issues of being a single father in today's workplace. It's not always easy and it's not necessarily fun, but there's never any question that Ted loves Rose and we always know that he is proud of his role in her life. He doesn't need a woman to fix him or save him, and Rose is going to turn out just fine. Even with Veronica's meddling.

I certainly hope there aren't kids watching this show, since it's wildly inappropriate for children, but I do think that there's value here for the audience too. Ted's quiet competence in raising his daughter and the way the narrative treats him for it send a message that being a single father is just as normal as any other kind of family. 

And that's a message worth sending. It's one more step towards our culture understanding that a family is a family is a family, and hopefully it gives some comfort to the other single parents out there. Not because Ted is perfect, but because he isn't and it all works out anyway.

Still my favorite relationship.

Monday, December 15, 2014

On Hearing Loss, Hawkeye, and Superheroes with Flaws


I am going deaf. Not particularly quickly, mind you. I probably have decades of hearing left until I succumb and have to depend on technological assistance to hear. But I am going deaf. I've known it for about five or six years now, since I first noticed that I couldn't hear myself singing like I used to. Then I found that loud noises made all the sound in my right ear turn to loud static and sharp shooting pain. A little after that I started to experience fadeouts. And in the past year my left ear has started doing the static thing to.

I'm not telling you this so that you can pity me, I'm saying it because I want you to understand where I'm at with it all. I'm not particularly fussed about it, honestly. Back when I first realized I was going deaf I was pretty upset - I put a lot of stock in my musical ability and I thought I might someday want to be a singer. I can't do that now. And, really, that's okay. I've found other things to love, other lives to live, and when the time comes and I fully lose my hearing - probably when I'm in my forties or fifties - it won't be the end of the world.

But I will say that it was hard to get to this point of acceptance and comfort with my hearing loss. The first couple hundred times you have to ask someone to speak up because you very literally cannot hear them are embarrassing. Especially when you're telling a scared teenage girl that she needs to speak her fears much louder because you can't help her if you can't hear her.

It was hard not just because adjusting to any new life change is hard, but also because out of all the stories you see in pop culture, representation of characters with substantial hearing loss is pretty much nonexistent.

If you don't believe me, I'd like to do a little thought experiment: I want you to close your eyes and name a movie or TV show about a character who is blind. Got one? Okay. Personally, I always think of Scent of a Woman first, despite the fact that I've never actually seen that movie, nor am I particularly inclined to do so. Now, next I want you to think of a movie or TV show that features a main character who is noticeably physically disabled. Got it? Is it X-Men or My Left Foot or something like that? Right on.

Now I want you to close your eyes and think of a movie or TV show where the main character is deaf.

Go ahead. I'll wait.

Now, I'm not saying that there are no movies or TV shows with deaf characters. There are, and some of them are pretty good. But I am saying that compared to the way that our culture talks about other forms of disability, deafness is weirdly invisible. And that's dumb. Not just because it's a relatively common form of disability, but also because there is literally no reason for this. And yet when I think of movies or TV shows that deal explicitly with deafness, I can think of a couple of guest stars on episodes of Law and Order, Mr. Holland's son in Mr. Holland's Opus, and Marlee Matlin. Also this German movie I saw once.

So when I, as a woman in her early twenties, realized that I was slowly and inexorably losing my hearing, I looked to pop culture for an example of what that would be like. What was it going to be like to be deaf? What is deaf culture like? Who am I? And instead of finding something helpful, I found the Very Special Glee episode where the kids meet a glee club from an all deaf school and proceed to sing a touching duet with them where the hearing kids' voices are pitched to cover over the "embarrassing" and "awkward" sounds of the deaf choir.

I'm still pretty pissed about that.

All of this, however, is just a long intro to bring up a fact that I discovered in my panicked research. Because, as it turns out, there is one character in pop culture that can show me what it means to be deaf in a hearing world, and even what it means to be deaf and still very very capable. That character is Hawkeye.

Heck yes, Avengers Hawkeye! Clint Barton from the Marvel comics is canonically deaf, and it's kind of my favorite thing ever. Now, granted, we don't yet know whether or not the film version of Clint Barton, as played by Jeremy Renner, is deaf, but we do know for a fact that current comics Clint is. 

It's been mentioned multiple times on Matt Fraction's Hawkeye, in Hawkeye vs. Deadpool, and I think (but I'm not sure on this one) that it's come up in Secret Avengers. Point is, Clint Barton in the current Marvel comics canon is nearly completely deaf.

The origin of his deafness varies a little bit - sometimes it's because he stood too close to an explosion while working for SHIELD, othertimes it's something that happened in childhood, but the point of the matter is simple: Clint Barton has near complete hearing loss, and yet this in no way prevents him from being an awesome superhero.

This is a big deal. It's established that while Clint can hear pretty well if he puts his hearing aids in, they're not infallible, and sometimes they break or need new batteries or he forgets to put them in or whatever. The point is, it's not hand-waved away. Clint is deaf and it impacts his life. It does not, however, make him any less of a badass, and one has to assume that this is an intentional narrative choice.

I mean, how easy would it be for the writers to give Clint a cochlear implant? Or have Tony Stark build him hearing aids that never stop working and are surgically attached to his ears? He works for SHIELD. SHIELD could easily be persuaded to make sure their asset is never compromised in the field. But the writers haven't done that. They haven't let us forget or not care that Clint is deaf, but neither have they made it an insurmountable obstacle. Instead, they've chosen to go the best possible route: reality.

Because here's the thing: there are only certain circumstances in which my hearing loss actually affects my daily life. By and large, I can get by. And even for people with complete hearing loss, the kind that even hearing aids can't help, it's not like life is impossible. Heck no! It's just life, with a couple of extra hurdles in the way.

It's not like the comic goes deep on this, but there are little moments. In Hawkeye vs. Deadpool, Clint forgets to put in his hearing aids at the beginning of the night. He's then forced to work with Deadpool, whose mask covers his face entirely, and Clint can't hear him or read his lips. The solution? He literally just tells Deadpool this, and Deadpool rolls his mask up so Clint can see his mouth. That's it. Problem solved.

This also comes up when he's working with Spiderman too, and again the solution is the same. See, being hearing impaired doesn't make Clint unable to be a superhero, it just means he has a couple of workarounds to use.

It's worth noting too that Clint's disability really doesn't have any impact on his superpower. Or rather, his lack of a superpower. He's a great shot not because he's deaf but because he's a great shot and also happens to be deaf. He's not Matt Murdoch in Daredevil whose disability very literally is his superpower. He's just a guy who is deaf and also very good at a thing. And I know it sounds weird, but that's really comforting.

What I got from looking at Clint was an assurance that while going deaf will affect my life (and already has), that doesn't mean my life is going to be worse or that I won't be able to do any of the things I love to do that I know I'm good at. I'm not going to fall into some netherworld of the deaf community that exists without contact with the world upstairs and never be seen or heard from again.

I know that sounds a bit dumb, but what else was I supposed to think? There are barely any deaf characters in pop culture, and even fewer who are doing the thing that they love to do happily and well. I mean, I can think of that one guy from The Replacements, but that's about it.

And this is just dumb. Seriously. Super dumb. It's not like deafness is all that hard to portray in movies or television. Sign language is gorgeous to watch and surprisingly intuitive to understand. And for the audience members who don't know ASL? Subtitles. Seriously. It's that easy.

It's interesting that of all the media in the world, the one that's best at showing deaf characters (or at least the one that has deaf!Clint Barton) is comics. Comics are uniquely suited to portraying deaf characters, because they're an even playing field. Deaf and hearing readers get the same experience. But it's also cool because comics are visual. They can literally show the sign language and still convey plot. I'm just saying, it's pretty neat.

But this doesn't let TV and movies off the hook. The problem with the complete lack of representation of deaf characters is that as a person freaking out, I had no image to show me what I could expect. The lack of representation suggested to me that in becoming deaf I was going to become completely alienated from pop culture and society as a whole. And it's completely stupid because I patently know that's not true, but it haunted me anyway.

Now, I wouldn't go so far as to say that my experience stands in for the experience of everyone fearing the loss of their hearing, or even that I have a particularly enlightened or informed understanding of hearing loss. But I do know that Clint Barton brought me comfort when I desperately needed it, and for that I'm pretty stinking grateful. In the end, that's really all you need to know.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Strong Female Character Friday: Jemma Simmons (Agents of SHIELD)


This week's Strong Female Character Friday is a guest post from Trey Stewart!

I don’t know if Debbi consciously planned to have a week focused on women in STEM*, but today we're going to keep it going and talk about Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), my favorite character on Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. Because Jemma Simmons is brilliant, flawed, and the kind of strong female character that I personally would like to see a heck of a lot more.

It's not necessarily surprising that I'm fond of Simmons. At least, not to me. I tend to like smart characters such as Sherlock Homes or Dr. House. Characters that solve the mystery with just the power of their minds. But Simmons is kind of uncommon on television. When we see this trope, the character with the brains saving the world, it's almost always a guy. Or, if it is a girl, she's more of an asskicker than a scientist.

Simmons, however, is a strong female character who could almost be described as the anti-action girl. Her primary contribution to solving the problem of the week is that she is a super genius who is good at science. She wants to go out into the field, but she knows she's not good under pressure and that she isn't really interested in hurting anyone. She's a feminine nerd who wants to save people and who refuses to let the feminine or the nerd get in the way of that.

Obviously, there are female characters on television and in movies that are intelligent and/or good at science but they frequently seem to be either action girls (Brennan on Bones) or created entirely to be attractive to male viewers (Seven of Nine on Star Trek: Voyager). I wish it were a common thing for strong female characters to be good at science in the same way that action girls are common. Tragically, it isn't. Yet.

So, as a little background, Agents of SHIELD is an American TV show that takes place in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and follows a group of agents as they deal with stuff that doesn’t quite warrant the attention of Captain America and the Avengers. The cast is relatively diverse and there are plenty of weird, interesting characters. Two of the members of SHIELD in the current season have been Avengers in the comics and one of them has actually died before in canon (Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson). It makes for a pretty interesting show.

SPOILERS

Additionally, each character has a distinct and important role on the team, as well as their own character arc each season. Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), for example, goes from being so perfect a crystallization of what a SHIELD agent is that it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take over as Captain America to being revealed as an undercover HYDRA agent and then going full on Hannibal Lecter in season two. Then Skye (Chloe Bennet) goes from being a hacker with a shady past to an Inhuman SHIELD agent, and possible future Avenger, with a super-villain for a father. 

In short, there are several really good candidates for my favorite character.

But Simmons wins by a landslide. She's kind of the opposite of what I would expect in a spy and honestly it's wonderful. She has no killer instinct, no trust issues, not even a healthy level of paranoia. She forgives Skye for betraying the team early in season one. She's merciful to the point of not wanting to kill Centipede/HYDRA agents even when they are very literally trying to kill her. Obviously, not killing people is a good thing but spies and other official types on television tend to be a bit trigger happy. Simmons? She really isn't.

It's not just her compassion and trusting nature that won me over. She's also an incredibly terrible liar and this super happy friendly person who likes doing what is expected of her. These character traits aren’t weaknesses so much as strengths that give her a different toolkit for dealing with problems. 

She likes to do what she's told, and she's not good at hiding things. If nothing else, that makes her a character much more commonly used as a punching bag on other shows, rather than a hero with her own epic storyline.**

I love smart characters. I said that before, but it bears repeating. I love smart characters and Simmons is over the top, comic book smart. She had two PhDs by the age of seventeen. Not even Tony Stark can say that. She's described as loving homework more than life itself. She probably was one of those people doing extra credit for fun. Personally, I'm the sort of person who likes school and writing papers plenty, but even I love some things more than homework. 

I’m not saying that Simmons is bad for being such a nerd. On the contrary, it is great to see a woman who is consistently the smartest person in the room. Even better, she's not some arrogant jerk like Hugh Laurie’s House, but genuinely respects everyone while brilliantly outsmarting them.

Seriously, she might be the smartest person in the MCU. I'm sure Tony would argue, but he'd be wrong. Over the course of the series she's worked on cures derived from two different alien species, counteracted the effects of Extremis, and performed surgery to remove an eye implant with a kill switch. If she were a real person, and not a fictional character working for a fictional organization that likes to keep ground breaking scientific discoveries a secret, she would have won several Nobel prizes by now. Obviously, it's unrealistic for one person to have done all the stuff she has but not really any more unrealistic than creating a suit of armor out of spare parts.

It should be noted though that she's not really on her own for most of this. For all of the first season and a bit in the second Jemma Simmons works closely with Leo Fitz (Iain de Castecker). In fact, they work so closely together that they are referred to as FitzSimmons, a single entity. So most of the scientific discoveries Simmons makes over the course of the series are done while working with other people. 

But, again, this isn’t a bad thing. Simmons is kind of a female power fantasy in science. Actual scientists work together and it is good to see this reflected in a genre (superhero stories) that tends to feature lone scientists making incredible discoveries.

Thus far Simmons’ character arc hasn’t featured shocking revelations of the sort that have come out about other characters, but it's still pretty interesting. During season one, when the team visits a SHIELD base known as the Hub, Simmons is established as being an awful liar. She tries and fails to convincingly lie to Jasper Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernandez) while trying to find information to use in rescuing her teammates. This establishes that Simmons has flaws (always good), but it also sets a benchmark for season two, when we see that Simmons has actually learned to lie and learned to do it convincingly. Even if her arc isn't as dramatic as other characters', it still matters. She grows and changes, just like a real person. An incredible, awesome, brilliant person.

At the start of the series, Simmons isn't the most assertive of characters either, but she learns that too. One of her biggest accomplishments was using GH.325 to heal Skye. The events of the show make it clear that the drug is dangerous, but Simmons defies orders from Agent Coulson in her investigation of the drug because she realizes GH.325 could be used to save lives. She stands up for what she believes in. Granted, it goes pretty far awry, but she sticks to her guns.

The time she spends under cover, though is in my mind what really cements her as a strong female character. Specifically, when she goes undercover in season two. She's chosen for the mission - infiltrating HYDRA's science division - because her academic background gives her reason to have access to files that other agents, such as Bobbi Morse (Adrianne Palicki) would not. 

While Simmons does do some dishonest things in her time undercover, she succeeds in rising through the ranks of HYDRA mainly due to her friendly, pleasant, personality and her intelligence. How unusual is that? A spy whose superpower is being really really nice and it works? Just saying, it's refreshing.

Ultimately, the more traditional action girl, and possible strong female character in the making, Bobbi Morse, has to extract Simmons from her cover, but not because Simmons herself screwed up. She didn't. In fact, without her actions and her aggressive friendliness in infiltrating HYDRA, the team would have been lost. They need her. She adds value not just through her vast intelligence but also with her compassion. 

One of the things that makes Agents of SHIELD so much fun to watch is that it has a diverse cast of characters. Not just racially or in gender, but in the outlook and actual design of the characters themselves. There are scientists and action heroes and bureaucrats and tech wizards all working together to save the world. And that's a good thing. A very good thing. Because while it's obviously important to have a variety of strong female characters on television so that women and girls can have role models to look up to, it's also important for white dudes like me to see these women and know that their real life counterparts exist.

One of the questions I see asked when men do a terrible job of writing women is “Do they know any real life women?” People ask that because the female characters don't behave like people, they act like cardboard cutouts where human beings should be. But when written well, having women like Simmons on television gives the boys and young men who are watching an idea of what real women are like. It helps us to humanize the women we see every day, and it suggests that despite what we've been told, the problems men and women face and the way they overcome them aren't so different after all.

It feels like it shouldn't need to be said, but it does. Seeing poorly written women hurts both women and men. But when women are written well, men can see a new perspective on the world. Hopefully, this translates into male viewers having better friendships with the women in their lives, but at the very least, studies have shown that exposure to diverse media makes people, especially young men, more compassionate over all. And if the young men watching happen to want to be writers, then maybe their friendships with women will translate into better written female characters.

But most of all, I like the variety, both as a viewer and as a person deeply invested in the future of education in America.

It's been talked about a lot here and in other places, but representation in the media really does have an impact on what people choose to study. When CSI became popular there was a spike in applications for students to study forensic science. Why can't the same be true for women and the science fields? I want more character like Jemma Simmons because I want more women doing science. I want more minds innovating and creating and moving the world forward. Don't you?

Having different kinds of strong female characters isn't just good on a personal and social level, it also makes for good media. If Simmons were any less flawed or brilliant or interesting, Agents of SHIELD would be diminished. She adds value, just by being there. She is a vital part of the team. And, as far as I'm concerned, the best reason to tune in.

Trey Stewart has his PhD in Educational Research from the University of Alabama and currently works for a think tank examining educational policies in Alabama. He likes comics (just a little) and has strong feelings about gender representation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as he should.



*Ed. I didn't. That was a coincidence. Go me!
**Ed. See also Amy Santiago on Brooklyn 99. Love her.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Lisbeth's Body and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo


To be totally honest, I don't actually feel like I can do full and complete justice to this topic. Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (and sequels) is one of the most complex and baffling characters to arise in the past twenty years, and everyone and their mother has mixed feelings about her. But I've been mulling on this topic for almost a year now, and I worry that if I don't write it now, I never will.

The reason why all of us are all befuddled about Lisbeth Salander (played by Noomi Rapace in the Swedish movie and Rooney Mara in the American) is deceptively simple. Basically, she appears to be the feminist, kickass heroine of a book/movie series where she fights against institutionalized racism, sexism, and the abuse of power. She's a vigilante for women in need, a cyberpunk savior. So in that sense, she's everything we've been waiting for.

But she is also defined primarily through her relationship with the much more milquetoast Mikael Blomkvist, a reporter who happens to be hired on to investigate a cold case. Mikael, who is played by Michael Nyqvist (Swedish films) and Daniel Craig (American film), is a nice guy, but not actually all that interesting in and of himself. He's a moderately attractive, middle-aged, decently intelligent reporter whose one solid attribute is his ability to find trouble.

When he's hired on by a wealthy industrialist to solve the decades old murder of the man's niece, Mikael hits a ton of brick walls in the investigation, and eventually needs help. In the book, that help comes from Lisbeth, who has hacked his computer and is monitoring his actions for her own reasons. She reaches out to Mikael with a solution to his problem, and he in turn tracks her down and asks her to help. In the American film, however, it is Mikael who decides that he needs help, and it is he who takes the initiative to track down Lisbeth.

This reversal speaks to the larger problem with Lisbeth as a character. Because aside from the mostly sensationalized plot in the book, the real story revolves around Lisbeth and Mikael's relationship. Which is fine, theoretically, but in this case it's a little messed up.

Here's why.

Lisbeth Salander is an interesting character precisely because she is so screwed up. The product of an incredibly unstable childhood (with an abusive/potentially murderous father and a victimized mother), Lisbeth has been labeled as "troubled" and now lives as a ward of the state. She is not considered adult enough to hold property or conduct her own affairs. And instead of getting a caregiver, she is given a mostly disinterested caseworker.

The plot for the first book/movie, which is the one we're concerned with today, deals explicitly with Lisbeth's relationship with her caseworker. Her first worker, a kindly older man, mostly let her run her own life. She could work at her job, control her own money, pay her bills, and all that. Lisbeth liked that, and she liked him. But then her caseworker has a stroke, and she is assigned to someone new. 

This new man, Nils Bjurman, uses his position as her legal guardian to systematically take over Lisbeth's life. Now, instead of being mostly independent and only nominally a ward of the state, she is completely lost.

All of her money, all of her work, all of her life goes through Bjurman, who uses this leverage to extract sexual favors from Lisbeth. The violation increases in severity and scale, until finally Bjurman lures Lisbeth to his apartment and savagely rapes her. Having foreseen this probability, Lisbeth brought a hidden camera with her, and now has a tape of her rape. But instead of using this to turn Bjurman in to the authorities, she uses it to concoct her own revenge.

Filled with rage, Lisbeth breaks into Bjurman's house and assaults him, tying him down, blackmailing him, and finally tattooing the fact that he's a rapist on his chest. 

From here, she is then immediately embroiled in Mikael's investigation and soon into that enters into a sexual relationship with him. She's the aggressor and initiator, but it's still uncomfortable as an audience and a reader, because you have to wonder what her headspace is right then.

Anyway, the rest of the story paints Lisbeth as an avenging angel, a liberated woman who is haunted by her past but still fully capable of self-determination. And that's great.

The problem I have with the whole story is that I can't get past a single thing: this book, and these movies, were written by men. These are men's interpretations of the motivation and actions of a female victim of sustained sexual abuse.

I'm not sure why, but that kind of bothers me. A lot.

I guess it bothers me because so much about the relationship between Mikael and Lisbeth feels like the wish fulfillment of a middle-aged man. Lisbeth is considerably younger than Mikael, being in her early twenties, and is an emotionally damaged and "troubled" young woman who latches onto the middle-aged man who offers her stability and safety. Lisbeth loves Mikael long before he ever considers the possibility, and she reveals a frightening willingness to do anything for him.

More than that, the whole idea of Lisbeth as a character feels like something a man dreamed up to make himself feel better. Like, she's hot as hell, but desperately wants approval. She's dark and mysterious and cool, but also really damaged and fragile and needy. She's dangerous enough to provide a thrill, and soft enough to need a big strong man to take care of her.

And let's not even get into the whole thing in the later books where Lisbeth gets a boob job in order to "feel better about herself". Urgh.

The thing is, Lisbeth as a character has the potential to be a really interesting examination of a woman taking her life back after suffering horrible abuse. She's a sexual assault and abuse survivor, and she's strong and badass and cool, in charge of herself sexually and in all other ways. I want to love her.

But I can't. I just can't. Every version of her that I see feels like it's been filtered through so many lenses of male approval and sexualization that it makes me cringe. Take, for instance the American version of the story. David Fincher, the director, openly admitted that he cast Rooney Mara in the part because she felt so innocent and fragile. He had a strong hand in developing the look of the character, and it was his choice to put Mara as Lisbeth on the posters topless, with only Craig's Mikael preserving any of Lisbeth's "modesty" from the viewer.

It twists the whole concept of Lisbeth's body modifications, which make sense when one thinks of her as a victim of sustained sexual violence (tattoos and piercings are often used as a way of abuse victims to reclaim their bodies), into something more about the viewer than Lisbeth herself. Her piercings, her tattoos, her clothes - in this context they aren't something Lisbeth has control over, but something that the director and the writer have determined will titillate the audience and therefore should be included.

It's the knowledge that however much we want to view Lisbeth as a feminist hero, she is defined not by herself in the story, but by her relationship to the men in her life. Both the ones actually in the story, and the men who have a direct hand in shaping her story. It's really discomfiting. It kind of freaks me out.

Still, I don't know. I just don't. I don't know how I really feel about Lisbeth because there's still a big part of me that likes her. I want to love her, to embrace her, and to appreciate a woman who hunts down other people who hurt women. She's a pretty objectively interesting character.

If only there weren't this lingering stink of coercion over her. If only I didn't feel like she was always being controlled, coerced, manipulated into giving consent. If only I didn't feel like she was a figment of the middle-aged male imagination: the hot young thing who thinks you're all that and a bag of chips, who'll do anything for you, who will be the coolest girlfriend you've ever had, but who is so damaged that she needs you.

If only it weren't for all of that, I could totally love Lisbeth Salander.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Think of the Children! Tuesday: The Magic School Bus and STEM


I will be the first to admit that I am not the right person to talk to all of you about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). I quite literally failed high school chemistry, and I would have failed college calculus were it not for the kindness of a professor who awarded extra credits for "effort." Not kidding. I am smart, sure, but not in a particularly STEM oriented way.

That having been said, of course, over this past week I found myself thinking more and more about the media that's gotten me interested in science over the years. Late Saturday night, as I sat hunched over the toilet in our bathroom ruing the fact that I was succumbing to the family gluten allergy*, I took comfort in the fact that I knew pretty clearly what my digestive system was made of. Not because I've ever really studied it, or because I have an abiding interest in my bowels, but because I saw an episode of The Magic School Bus twenty years ago and I still remember how it all works.

If that's not success in educational television, I don't know what is.

For those of you either too old or too young to remember, The Magic School Bus was both the best and the weirdest offering of educational television in the nineties. It aired from 1994 to 1997 and was singularly responsible for making sure I caught the bus on time every day in fourth grade. If I got the first bus home, I could make it back in time to see the last five minutes of an episode, and that was totally having to sprint.

The show, which you can now find on Netflix, much to my glee, has a very simple format that it follows pretty closely. The main characters are the members of Ms. Frizzle's elementary school class - I think it's third grade? - and each episode is structured around a particularly memorable field trip the class takes. Simple, basic, easy. Every week the kids learn about a new aspect of science, and so does the audience.

The hook is that the field trips aren't the kind of thing you get to go on every day. Ms. Frizzle (voiced incomparably by Lily Tomlin) is a magical teacher and she has a magical school bus (also, apparently, a bus driver's license). When she takes the kids on a field trip to learn about the solar system, she doesn't take them to the planetarium, she takes them into space, so that they can bounce around on Mars and float past Saturn. She shrinks the bus down to explore a digestive tract (the episode I was thinking of in that wonderful moment), or she drags them all into an ant hive, or in one memorable instance, she takes them surfing in a volcano.

In other words, the trips are completely ludicrous and outrageously awesome. They are exactly the kind of field trips I wish we'd gone on when I was in school. Instead I just got dragged to Plymouth Plantation, Sturbridge Village, and the Salem Witch Trial Museum like every year. Every. Single. Year.

More than just wish fulfillment and occasional stretching of reality, though, the episodes actually do a really good job of giving kids a solid understanding of the basics. Yeah, the solar system episode implies that one can actually survive on the surface of Mercury, or even that one could travel the entire solar system in a day. Which is not true. But the episode acknowledges this in an epilogue that features the now adult characters answering viewer questions. 

And while it is silly and full of wish fulfillment, The Magic School Bus is informative and fun. It tells you things about science that stick with you for years. Decades, in my case. Because the episodes all feature the kids getting out there and experiencing the topic, children watching are far more likely to care about the subject material. The show makes it cool to like science, and that is surely a good thing.

Even better, for all that this show is just an excuse to go on awesome science adventures, the writers clearly took time and effort in delineating the characters we would focus on. The cast is diverse, both racially and in gender, with equal numbers of girls and boys, and a very solidly non-white cast. Each kid has their own personality, and those personalities are never stereotypes or offensive or even bad. They're just normal kids. 

Each kid has his or her own name and defining feature. You've got Arnold, the scaredy-cat, Wanda, the daredevil, Dorothy-Ann, the know-it-all, Ralphie, the jock, Phoebe, the bleeding heart, Carlos, the class clown, Tim, the artist. But even these defining features fail to capture the complexity of the characters. Like, Tim is super artistic, but he's also really snarky. He and Carlos like to tell jokes, but Carlos prefers puns and Tim has a very dry sense of humor. Ralphie is all athletic and sportsy, but he's also a daydreamer and sensitive.

In other words, like real people, these kids have dimension and a fullness of character that you don't often see in television, let alone animated kids' shows.

And, of course, there's always Ms. Frizzle. She's who I wanted to grow up to be (and I feel that to some extent I have succeeded). While she's certainly a colorful character, and it's easy to think of her as a plot device to keep the show moving, what I find most interesting about the Friz isn't her incredible wardrobe of themed dresses, her intense sense of irony when choosing field trips, or even her near godlike omniscience, but rather her motto: "Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!"

I mean, seriously, can you think of a better motto than that? Especially for an educator to be constantly spouting?

It's a really simple sentence, but I honestly feel like Ms. Frizzle's motto is genuinely profound. Take chances. Make mistakes. Get messy. These are all aspects of living a good life, a real life. And Ms. Frizzle makes it abundantly clear that not only is risking failure absolutely worth it, it's also frequently the only way to succeed. After all, if you fail, that just means you learned something about how it doesn't work. And that's often much more valuable than getting it right on the first try.

I think in a lot of ways, The Magic School Bus served as an antidote for me. It was the complete opposite of the school I was actually attending at the time. While said school, which shall remain nameless, was lovely and gave me a very good education, it didn't teach me how to live like this silly little show did. My school was all about rules and authority and learning the facts because those are the facts we tell you. And that has its place.

But Ms. Frizzle's classroom was all about learning by screwing it up. Doing the worst thing possible and figuring out how to use it to your advantage. My school taught me what the scientific method was. Ms. Frizzle taught me why it was worth knowing. There's a difference there, and it's a big one.

Now, I'm obviously not suggesting that instead of elementary school science classes we should just have everyone watch episodes of The Magic School Bus. I'm not saying that. What I am saying is this: Getting kids excited about science takes more than just telling them facts. 

If you want a child to want to learn something, and it seems increasingly that we do want our kids to learn science and go into STEM fields, then you have to help them understand why it matters. Maybe that's through a silly educational show. Maybe it's by helping your kids do wacky science experiments at home. Maybe it's something else entirely.

But it is something. As adults we have a responsibility to make sure that kids understand the world they live in. Not just because we want them all to grow up to be scientists and software engineers and doctors, but because we want them to know who they are and what the world is made of. We want our kids to know how the world works and why the sky is blue and what happens when stars explode. It matters that they know that, because it matters that they wonder about it. Kids naturally do wonder about that, for the record. It's not such a stretch to figure that they'd like to know you wonder about it too.

For me, watching The Magic School Bus and having parents who eagerly answered my fifteen kajillion questions about the world didn't lead to a career in the sciences. That's just how the cookie crumbles. But I do know that knowing this stuff makes my life richer. It makes it more worthwhile. And it makes it more exciting. 

Ms. Frizzle might be fictional, but I'm pretty sure she's the best teacher I ever had.

Also possibly a Time Lord.
*This is the worst day ever and I am very sad about this. I love bread so much. So. Much.