Wednesday, October 7, 2015

RECAP: Outlander 1x13 - Babies and Bandits and Blackmail, Oh My

And we are once more into the breach of Outlander recapping. This week's episode follows the pattern of the latter half of the season, where one nail-biting episode is followed by a more chill exploration of the characters and their relationships. Last week was our chill week (following the hell that was Claire's witch-trial), so this week is full on tension city. And, for the most part, it really works as an episode of television. There were some slow parts where I just wanted the plot to move the hell along, but overall it worked.

The thing to remember with this story is that we all kind of know where it's going to head up. At least, as long as Outlander doesn't break any major rules of storytelling or go completely off the rails with avant-garde plots and post-modern deconstructions of the form, we can all basically guess what has to happen for this season to be completed. Claire is going to be tested in her faithfulness to Jamie. Not sexually, since we've already really tested that when she had the chance to go back to Frank, but in just sheer loyalty. 

But more than that, the whole season has been about the undercurrent of the Frasers and their unresolved conflict with Captain Jack Randall. In order to finish the season in an at all satisfying fashion, that's going to have to come to a head. And that means that when we see Jamie and Claire and Jenny and Ian all happy and getting along on the farm, we can be damn sure that won't last long. 

Okay, so last week we left off with the realization that, no, it isn't lasting very long at all. Claire woke up to an empty bed, and came out of their bedroom to find Jamie standing in the center of the hall, a gang of men surrounding him with guns pointing at his head. Not a great wakeup call.

This week we pick up precisely there, with the shocking revelation that these aren't men pointing their guns at Jamie because they know who he is, they're people pointing their guns at him because they don't. See, this is the Watch, that legendary group of Scottish semi-outlaws who function like a mafia. 

They take payments from lairds and tenants who want protection and then rob and pillage the rest. It seems that Jenny and Ian have been hosting the watch for the past few years - largely out of self-preservation - and the Watch assumed that this strange man (Jamie) strolling around their house was a thief.

Yeah. Who'd have thought?

Fortunately for all of us, Jenny and Ian are on hand to save the day. Jenny reassures the men that this is no thief, it's her cousin, "Jamie MacTavish", who served with Ian when he was fighting with the French overseas.* The Watch, for the most part, buys it. Jamie and his lovely English wife are just visiting for a while, maybe staying, who knows! And in the meantime Jenny and Ian would be totally happy to put up the Watch for a few days while they wait for their other men to arrive. No problem at all.

Jamie is, of course, not thrilled about the revelation that Jenny and Ian have been forced to work with men he views as traitors to the cause - the Watch has been known to work with the redcoats when it suits them - and reminds everyone that these men definitely will not hesitate to turn him in if they realize there's a price on his head. Not that anyone needs reminding. 

But Jenny has a plan. Nothing in this visit is particularly out of the ordinary and there's no reason that the Watch should be suspicious of sweet young Jamie MacTavish. So Jamie just has to keep his head down and not start any fights and they'll be fine.

Or not. As we all know by now, "keeping his head down" and "not starting any fights" are two things that our Jamie sucks at beyond belief. Whether he's picking fights about the state of a horse's hoof or the way the Watch has pillaged Ian's tobacco store, Jamie's out to make trouble. At one point he even gets in a fight with five of the men at once, struggling to fight them while saving Lallybroch's hay stores from burning to the ground. But all of this is a moot point when the man the Watch was waiting for arrives, and he turns out to be none other than Horrocks.

You remember Horrocks, right? Way back in episode eight, Horrocks was the man that Jamie went to go meet because Horrocks was an actual eye witness whose testimony could prove that he didn't actually kill that man. But the testimony Horrocks gave wasn't all that helpful. Jamie didn't kill the man he's accused of murdering, but Captain Randall did. So it was back to the drawing board. And then Claire ran away and it all became moot anyway.

So that guy's back.

This is a problem for a couple of reasons. First, it's a problem because Horrocks knows who Jamie really is and that there's a price on his head. But also second, because Horrocks is pretty awful at keeping his mouth shut and has no actual incentive to do so. Naturally this ends with Horrocks blackmailing Jamie.

While all of this is happening, Claire has her own crisis to deal with. It seems that Jenny's baby has decided it's time to make an appearance. Which would be good, if it weren't for the fact that Claire has no experience delivering babies. Even worse, the midwife is out of town and the baby is coming out breach. Which, if you don't know, means that the baby is basically backwards, trying to come feet first. This is bad because it means the child might get caught at the shoulders, which could cause a tear, and could kill both mother and child.

Is this a bad time to mention that Jamie and Jenny's mother died in childbirth? Yeah? Oh well, Jenny's going to bring it up anyway.

These are the two storylines that cut through the episode, and they work very well in tandem with each other. While Claire fears for Jenny's safety and the new life coming into the world, Jamie worries about the future he might have here in Lallybroch and wonders how far he ought to go to protect that possible future. Even though, as Claire revealed this episode in a moment of brutal honesty, the future might not include children of their own. Claire fears she's barren, as she and Frank were never able to have a child.

She's worried it will upset Jamie, but it actually seems to comfort him a little. Yeah, Jamie would really love to have kids, but he also loves Claire and wants her to live. He watched childbirth kill his mother. He doesn't want to see her go out like that too, screaming and in pain. Like we needed another reminder that Jenny is upstairs possibly dying.

Eventually Jamie does give in to the blackmail, but it's not enough. Horrocks is greedy and a jerk, and he's quite happy to keep Jamie dangling on a string while he threatens everything and one that Jamie holds dear. Jamie's about ready to shoot the man and be done with it when from nowhere Ian steals the job, running Horrocks through and saving them all.

It's a surprisingly sweet scene, actually. Ian is very shaken up by having had to kill someone, but it's clear he loves Jamie enough not to regret it, and some backstory from Jenny revealed earlier in the episode that Jamie and Ian have been like brothers since they were kids. Ian doesn't regret killing Horrocks at all, but he's not well suited to murder. Together they hide the body and think of the matter as finished. Naturally it's not.

The man who runs the Watch isn't stupid. He understands how these things work. He saw Jamie and Horrocks recognize each other, then he finds that a day later Horrocks' horse is still tied up outside but the man is nowhere to be found. So he asks point blank if Jamie killed him. And Jamie, in a fit of abiding honesty, freely admits it. He even tells the man why he did it (though he leaves Ian out of the story entirely).

To Jamie's surprise (and mine) it seems the commander of the Watch is totally okay with this. He respects Jamie's honesty and he never liked Horrocks much anyway. Jamie's wanted by the English? All right then, so is he! It seems that the Watch is not very friendly with the redcoats right now, so even though there's a bonny reward on Jamie's head, the Watch would rather recruit him than turn him in. And that's exactly what they do.

With Jamie's rash actions costing them a man in the raid, the commander decides that Jamie will have to come along instead. And since Ian doesn't trust these men one bit, he's coming too. Claire tries to beg Ian to stay - because she's terrified Jenny is going to die in childbirth and Ian won't be there to say goodbye - but Jenny will hear none of it. She fully supports sending her husband to go care for her brother.

So Jamie and Ian go off, and we see their journey intercut with Claire and Jenny and the really difficult childbirth. It's actually refreshing to see Jenny's childbirth done like this, filmed in such a way that you really feel the pain and frustration of the moment. I mean, your usual Hollywood childbirth, even the horrible ones where the mother dies, is shown in snapshots. 

We see the mother have a contraction, and then we cut to the father holding a baby and being told his wife is dead. Maybe we see a little bit of a sweaty brow and a woman all covered up in sheets and blankets clutching someone's hand, but a really pregnant woman swearing and screaming while she crouches, squats, leans against a wall, kneels, gets on all fours, stands up again, leans on a dresser, and generally looks like she cannot get comfortable to save her life? Not common.

Happily, though, the birth ends well. Claire is able to guide the baby out, and both Jenny and the baby are fine. Not so for Ian and Jamie. While Jamie has a lovely conversation with the commander of the Watch before the battle, when they arrive to the designated place, Jamie quickly realizes that this isn't a place where they will wait to ambush someone else. This is an ambush placed for them. Horrocks sold all of them out before he died and the redcoats are there to take the Watch. Bonus! Now they get Jamie too.

It does seem a bit like no matter what Jamie does he's screwed. And there's a good reason for that: he is. Jamie has to be captured in order for the story to reach the conclusion we've been hurtling towards all season. So, byebye Jamie.

Back home, Jenny is surprised to wake up and find that she had a girl, not a boy, because she was sure it was a boy, but not upset over it. She's alive and well and so is the baby. In fact, just three days later Jenny is walking around just fine and even sitting on some cold stone steps with Claire. Ow. She and Claire have a bonding moment while they wait for the men to come back. Jenny is sure they will, but Claire is worried. Even the brief joy of Jenny giving her a pair of boar's tusk bangles can't distract her.

Though I'm sure we all can tell those bangles are going to be plot relevant sooner rather than later. I mean, they're a weird diversion unless they come up in the plot. They belonged to Jenny and Jamie's mother and were a present from an admirer she refused to name. So, intrigue.

Anyway, on the third day there's a sound and Jenny and Claire both run out to find on of the men from the Watch half-carrying Ian home. He lost his prosthetic leg and his horse in the fight, but he's otherwise fine. Jamie, however, is not. He and the commander were both taken by the redcoats and are by now, as I'm sure you can guess, on their way to prison. Dun dun DUN.

So, like I said above, this was a tight episode to make up for last episode being all about feelings and relationships. We're definitely in the home stretch of the season now, and it's just a matter of time before we end up with Jamie, Claire, and Jack Randall in a room together. Fun times.

What will Claire do? She will burn this entire country to the ground. Haven't you been paying attention?
*This relates to an interesting historical footnote that will be familiar to those of you who watch Reign: for much of the past thousand years, Scotland and France have been pretty close allies. Their alliance was based on a few things, but mainly centered around one thing: both France and Scotland haaaaaaate England. So they spent a lot of time trading soldiers and weapons and generally trying to work together to wipe England off the map. Unsuccessfully, as I think you can guess.**

**See also that time in the American Revolution when France came to our aid because, again, they really hate England. We did not return the favor in the French revolution, presumably because in that case the French were fighting other French people and not the English.***

***This is not an accurate interpretation of history. Probably.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Think of the Children! Tuesday: 'Chicken Run' Validates Cooperation

The thing that surprises me about Chicken Run, and it somehow manages to surprise me every time I watch it, is the way that the narrative so thoroughly rejects individual heroics in favor of rewarding collective action. In other words, Chicken Run is a movie where no chicken is truly alone and while no chicken can fly on her own, together they can soar. That’s pretty fantastic, right? 

It’s a movie where the grand heroics involve everyone working together, and it’s a film that validates the traditional feminine pastimes of its heroines by showing that they can be just as useful in orchestrating an escape as any amount of bravado or “sheer guts”. Actually, more.

And it’s also a movie that is incredibly brilliantly blatantly British. I don’t just mean in the sense that it was made by a British film company (the makers of Wallace and Gromit, naturally) and released in Britain, but in the sense that the ethos of this film, the structure, and even the movies that it’s mimicking so hilariously, are all British. It’s just a really really British film, and it exemplifies the best of that mindset. I mean, there’s lots of stuff about British post-War politics and rhetoric that is worth objecting to, but there’s also quite a bit that’s not. This is that latter part. 

The film is a parody/homage to the great British escape movies and war films, sure, but it also exemplifies what was so noteworthy in the actions of the British people during the war. The way that people pitched together to do the work that needed doing. The pragmatic, keep your chin up, carry on fighting spirit that was quiet but still very true. All of that, the humble and not-showy belief that all of us pulling together can make it through, that’s worth celebrating, and that’s a huge part of this film. So, you know, good.

If you’re not familiar with it, allow me to give you a quick primer. Chicken Run, which came out in 2000, is a feature-length claymation film that is ostensibly for children but kind of in practice for everyone. The plot is deceptively simple. Our main characters are chickens who live in a chicken farm on the British countryside. It’s an egg farm and there’s a looming threat of death hanging over everyone – produce too few eggs and you get the chop.

Ginger (Julia Sawalha), the hero of the film, is a chicken with a dream. She dreams that one day she and all of the other chickens will live free in the country, feeling grass beneath their feet and eating when they feel like it, no longer prisoners of the farmer and the farm. The other chickens love this idea, but are also more hesitant to buy in. After all, being chickens on a chicken farm is all they’ve ever known. A life without fences? Sounds nice, but how the hell do you propose we get there?

So Ginger keeps trying to help the other chickens escape, and her attempts keep failing. They do, however, catch the attention of the farmer, Mr. Tweedy (Tony Haygarth), who punishes her by putting her in “solitary confinement” in one of the empty feed pens. Yet every time Ginger gets out, she’s come up with one more plan to try to get them out. This is the status quo.

If Ginger were thinking only of herself, she’d be well out by now. As the mastermind of all of these plans, Ginger is well able and practiced at getting out of their coop. But she’s trying to get every single other chicken out at the same time as herself, so it never works. Ginger wants to save these other chickens, so she keeps putting herself in danger.

While she’s contemplating yet another new plan to escape, Ginger is offered a simple and easy solution to her problems. Falling from the sky – flying – she sees a rooster, Rocky (Mel Gibson). And here he is: living proof that they can escape by flying over the wall. Awesome! Rocky injures his wing in the fall, but Ginger figures that’s no big problem. Even with a wounded wing, Rocky can help them learn how to fly and by the time of the escape he’ll be all better. Win-win.

At first Rocky’s not enthusiastic about the plan. He’s a “lone free ranger” who doesn't want to be tied down by a bunch of chickens and their mildly insane plans to escape their fate. He, frankly, does not care. But Rocky has his own problems. He's on the run from the circus where he was a side-act rooster. The exact nature of his act is something he carefully keeps hidden from Ginger and the chickens, but it's quite clear he does not want to go back. So that's the deal Ginger strikes: if Rocky helps them learn to fly, they'll hide him from the circus so he doesn't have to go back.

And that's what brings us into the second act. Rocky commences teaching the chickens how to fly while Ginger works on perfecting the plan. There are the usual silly personality clashes. Ginger is selfless and kind and determined to help the others - she finds Rocky's egotism and womanizing ways to be kind of offensive and unnecessary. Meanwhile, Rocky is a playrooster who loves the attention he gets from all the hens - he thinks Ginger is stuck up and stiff-necked. Obviously they're going to fall in love.

That's definitely the weakest part of the film, its insistence on writing in a romance between Ginger and Rocky. The movie really does not need it. For our actual tension throughout the second act, we have the escalation of the danger the chickens are in. Frustrated by the meager profits afforded by her husband's chicken farm, the terrifying Mrs. Tweedy (Miranda Richardson) has decided to transform their business. They will now be a farm that sells chicken pies, not eggs. To aid them in this, she has bought a gigantic, frightening chicken pie machine which turns nice live chickens into pies. Yikes.

So clearly this is not a film for the faint-hearted child. Our heroes are the chickens and there's an entire frightening sequence when Ginger and Rocky are forced to escape from the giant machine. They sabotage it in the process, and buy themselves some time, but it's clear the stakes are pretty high.

By the end of act two, we know a couple of things. First, we know that chickens cannot fly (and the chickens themselves are starting to figure that out). Second, we know that Ginger's plan to escape will not and cannot work. And third we know that the truth about Rocky - that he can't actually fly - will come out sooner rather than later. 

Naturally all of this comes to a head at the same time.

On the morning that Rocky is supposed to finally finally give the chickens a flying demonstration, Ginger wakes to find his bunk empty and a piece of paper in his place. It's the bottom half of a poster she saw earlier that featured Rocky flying. The bottom part of the paper shows that he wasn't flying, he was being shot from a cannon. Ginger is devastated. Their plans are over. This causes the hens to fall into a despairing chicken-fight, but before the moment can linger too long, Ginger has another idea.

They can still fly, they'll just have to fly together. See, throughout the film we've been hearing bits and snatches of stories from Fowler (Benjamin Whitrow) about his old RAF days. As the chickens slowly realize, RAF stands for Royal Air Force, and that means that Fowler really did fly once upon a time. Just, you know, in a plane instead of with his wings. So Ginger and Mac (Lynn Ferguson) come up with a new and better plan where they all work together to transform their chicken coops (the "huts") into a mechanical airplane powered by chickens peddling little stationary bikes. 

Yes, it's kind of silly and ridiculous. But it's also lovely. The chickens use their already established skills to sew and knit and manufacture this plane. They make it themselves and when it's time to get away, they escape because they all work together to fly it. 

And that's what I want to get at in this film. That's what I consider so wonderful about this movie. Yeah, it has a typical Hollywood ending where Rocky comes back and helps them escape and he and Ginger reconcile and the Tweedys are defeated, but it also has a resolution that seems resolutely contrary to the usual fare. The chickens succeed because they work together. The plan doesn't end up being something that Ginger develops on her own, she doesn't "save" everyone. They save each other.

Plus, instead of forcing the chickens to be something they're not, the plan that ends up saving them is one where they each use their skills to help each other. Mac is a brilliant mathematician and engineer, so she makes the plans for the plane. Ginger organizes everyone because she's a born leader. 

Bunty (Imelda Staunton) is a great egg-layer so she lays eggs they can use to pay the rats who get them spare parts they need for the plane. Even Babs (Jane Horrocks), a notoriously ditzy chicken who is a punchline throughout the film, gets her moment when she heads up the team doing construction of the wings. Everyone has something to contribute, the movie says, and you don't have to be anyone you're not in order to help.

It's a validation both of traditional feminine work as well as a spirit of cooperation that is generally not common to Hollywood films, especially films for children. And as for the story being a little too dark for kids, well, you all know by now that I'm not a big proponent of things being "too dark" or "too scary". I tend to think that a little dark and scary is good for kids.

There's makes me really happy. It makes me happy to watch a movie that is about female characters orchestrating their own salvation from oppressive forces. The danger is real and present and their victory over it is their own in the end. It's fantastic. 

Because the message that this movie sends is that there is no one right way to contribute to your community. And it also makes it clear that the greater virtue is not escaping on your own, it's escaping in such a way that you can help everyone, even the ones who told you not to bother. It's a very practical application of kindness, and I'm generally of the opinion that films could use more of that. 

I mean, it's a film that validates ideals of sacrifice and selflessness and courage in the face of very real danger. It shows that sometimes the world is big and scary and sometimes the forces set against us are much bigger than we are, stronger and with more power. But if we work together, we have a chance. And, in a very true sense, the heart of the movie is when Ginger asks the other chickens how they want to die: because they gave up or because they tried to be free?

It's a movie with a female hero and a female antagonist, a movie about chickens that somehow manages to have more heart than most kids' movies about humans. And all the while it manages to be hilarious no matter how old you are watching it. What more do you want in a movie?

There's also some very literal gallows humor and it's great.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Masculinity Monday: Is 'HTGAWM's Wes Gibbins a Good Man?

As I'm sure all of you television watch-y people are aware, the epic drama How to Get Away with Murder has kind of a lot to say. We've even discussed some of that here - last year I wrote an article talking about how the show works as one big indictment of the patriarchy. We've talked about the inherent badassness of Laurel Castillo, one of the main characters, and we will definitely get around to in depth discussions of Michaela, Annaliese, and Bonnie too. Have no fears.

But for today I want to take a closer look to the character who might as well be our protagonist for the first season - though Annaliese takes that role more strongly in the second. Let's talk about Wes Gibbins.

Specifically, in light of our recent series on masculinity in the media, let's talk about how Wes Gibbins, an African-American man attending law school on scholarship and as a waitlisted student, who comes from a lower class background and had a mentally ill mother, is or is not a good man.

On the surface this can look like a loaded question. If, for example, I decide that Wes isn't a good man, then am I saying that black men with poor backgrounds are inherently untrustworthy or bad? And, alternately, if I say that he is good, am I just deciding that he might as well be good because the difficulty of his circumstances makes him unaccountable for any bad things he might have done? 

Well, as it turns out neither of those is true. Wes isn't a good man, nor does he appear to be a particularly bad one. Or, to be more precise, we just don't know what kind of man Wes really is. And that is what makes him such a fascinating character. It's also what makes his appearance on How to Get Away with Murder a good moment for the exploration of masculinity, black masculinity in particular.

But more on that later. First, the background!

So Wes Gibbins (Alfred Enoch) is our eyes in to the show. He walks in on the first day of law school to attend Professor Annaliese Keating's infamous class on how to be a defense attorney called "How to Get Away with Murder". He's late. He hasn't done the reading. It turns out that he only found out he was going to the school a few weeks ago because he was waitlisted. In other words, Wes is a complete outsider in this world of privilege and cut-throat ambition. He gets made a fool of that first day and it looks like a lot of the show is going to be us cringing as Wes the puppy is turned into bloodsport.

That, however, is not what happens. Instead we see over the course of the first season a curious thing. It's not so much that Wes really changes that much - though the events of the season do definitely change him - but more that we see more of who he is and we are given a much more complex idea of his personhood.

Like, for example, the fact that Wes is very compassionate. A "bleeding heart" as his classmates put it. Early in the first season, Wes becomes invested in the life of his neighbor, Rebecca (Katie Findlay). When she is arrested for the murder of a student at Wes' university, Wes sides immediately with Rebecca despite really not knowing her at all. He even persuades his boss, the aforementioned Professor Annaliese Keating to take the case. So, yeah, definitely a compassionate guy.

But, as it turns out, a suspicious one too. When Wes realizes that Rebecca might have left out some key details when explaining how she didn't kill her friend and was totally innocent, he gets suspicious and stays there. He doesn't just fawn over Rebecca and assume she's innocent and good. He looks into things. He tracks things down. He uncovers Rebecca's admittedly very shady actions and calls into question the very relationship that he originally pursued.

Yet through all of this, we're never told explicitly whether or not Wes is right to do these things. Is he right to try to defend Rebecca, or is he right when he decides to investigate her? Neither? Both?

And it's all complicated by the slow revelation over the course of the season that Wes might actually turn out to be a murderer - he is, at the very least, quite comfortable and collected when disposing of a body. Yeah, with the flash-forwards to the titular murder, we get a fuller and fuller story of what actually happened. And what happened really doesn't answer the question of whether or not Wes is a good person.

See, Wes is definitely the one who struck the killing blow, but he did it to defend Rebecca. On the other hand, did it have to be a killing blow? After the murder he's much more collected than anyone else. He even is the one to go back to the scene of the crime and get the murder weapon. In other words, Wes Gibbins is a lot more complex than he looks. 

He has moments of being a really genuine and good person, or so it seems, but then he has moments where all of that turns on a dime. Because we never hear Wes' side of the story, we only see how he behaves, we don't actually know that much about him. He's not a bragger. He's not particularly public. He's just a quiet guy who might be capable of murder but might also be a giant puppy dog inside.

I find that very compelling.

I find it all very appealing because in a lot of ways, Wes as a character is an antidote to the way black men are so frequently treated on television. Because he is neither a clear sinner nor a clear saint, he becomes something else entirely: a person.

Wes doesn't fit into the normal archetypes for African-American men in fiction. He's not overly sexualized, but he does have a healthy sexuality. It's made clear that Wes enjoys sex and has had it, and there's a lingering interesting possibility that he and Annaliese might eventually have an affair, but he's also not defined by his sexual allure or magnetism. He's not considered bestial like too many African-American men are, and he's not defined by his looks or his history or any of that. Wes is a sexual subject, not object. We see his sexual decisions from his perspective, and so we are not allowed to dehumanize him.

He's also not characterized as a thug. While Wes is from a lower-income background, he's not defined by his relationship to the criminal world. It's never implied or stated that Wes was a drug dealer or went to jail or any of the tropes about the "inherently criminal" black man. Even his background as the child of a single-parent household where his mother eventually committed suicide is brought up not to show how he's a "thug who only knows the ghetto", it's to actually make it clear how little anyone knows about Wes. He's not a gangster, he's a mystery.

I mean, obviously he's invested in his education, right? He's going to one of the top law schools in the country, working extremely hard to get ahead in a class and in a firm that does not provide any easy way to success, and he's doing it all on scholarship while living in a tiny crappy apartment and riding his bicycle around. He's dedicated. But we're never told why. 

He doesn't say anything like, "I want to be a lawyer because when I was a kid I saw how the lawyers never had to live in poverty like my mother and I so I swore to myself that one day I would have my law degree and make a better life for all those people who need a chance." Nope. No grand speeches. Wes' reasons are his own, so there's no room for trite or easy storytelling.

Alternately, he's also not characterized as a "magic Negro" or some kind of sainted black man. You know, the token character who's really just there to make everyone feel bad about how they treat some marginalized group or whatever but who has no actual personality beyond being noble and tragic? That. He's not that.

Wes doesn't give long and meaningful speeches about what it means to be a black man in America in 2015. It's even worth noting that when the students realize they're about to pin a crime on an innocent black man - Nate Lahey - Wes is not the one who protests and brings up the over-incarceration of black men in the US. That role goes to Michaela. Wes stays silent through the whole thing, and we're left wondering if he cares at all.

What I'm getting at here is that Alfred Enoch and Shonda Rhimes have done what seemed impossible. With Wes Gibbins and How to Get Away with Murder they have given us a picture of what it means to have a black male character who is just a person. He's a complex and interesting and kind of terrifying person, but he's never made to be a symbol of his race; he's never forced to stand in for every black man ever. He's just Wes Gibbins, and that's plenty.

So to answer my own question from the title, I honestly don't know if Wes is a good man or not. He does some things that are good, and others that really definitely are not. He has his moments of being a wonderful human being, a great boyfriend, and a big-hearted lawyer, but by the end of the first season we're left wondering if Wes is a murderer twice over. And it's not like he's a compelling character in spite of this.

Wes is a great character precisely because he's so hard to pin down. I can name a dozen white male characters with this level of complexity and moral ambiguity from shows this good, but when it comes to men of color, we're dealing with a much scarcer situation. Men like Wes, men of color who defy all attempts to fit them into stereotypes, are tragically underrepresented on television. And that sucks.

Still, if we can learn nothing else from how Wes is written, at least there's this: writing stereotypes and racial generalizations is nowhere near as interesting as writing a character with full complexity and agency and personhood. There's just no comparison.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Strong Female Character Friday: Doreen Green (Squirrel Girl)

Guys. Guys. It has come to my attention that Doreen Green, aka Squirrel Girl, has never been the subject of a Strong Female Character Friday.* What's up with that? She's totally amazing and awesome and worth talking about! So we're going to fix that right now.

If the names "Doreen Green" and "Squirrel Girl" conjure up nothing for you but a general sense that maybe something has gone horribly wrong down at animal control,  I have news for you. Not only is Squirrel Girl one of Marvel's best-selling and best-reviewed comics of the past year, the title character will also be getting a massive promotion this fall to being a full-fledged Avenger. That's right, the Avengers is about to have a pint-sized squirrel dynamo on their team. And there are very few things that make me happier.

You would, however, be forgiven for not really getting why this is so wonderful. Up until the past year or so, Squirrel Girl was considered a D-level superhero at best. Making her first appearance in The Marvel Superheroes Winter Special in 1992, Doreen Green is a mutant who happens to have the proportional speed and strength of a squirrel, as well as a big bushy squirrel tail. 

It seems she was created mostly as an in-joke in the Marvel universe, but she eventually came to be a member of a superhero group called "The Great Lakes Avengers" and later moved to New York to be a nanny to Jessica Jones' and Luke Cage's daughter.

The funny bit about Squirrel Girl, the part that's always made her sort of a footnote and kind of always a punchline, is that she's secretly one of the most powerful superheroes in the world. Between her heightened strength and speed and her ability to communicate with squirrels and rally them into a giant squirrel army, Squirrel Girl has actually taken down more big-league bad guys than pretty much anyone else. She has also beaten up all of the Avengers multiple times.

And this is a storyline that continues into her current incarnation. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl saw Doreen fighting such heavies as Whiplash and Kraven the Hunter and Galactus, all with an impeccable success rate. As in she defeated all of them. She defeated Galactus. Tell me again how Squirrel Girl isn't one of the most powerful superheroes in the world.

But what makes Doreen such a cool character is actually that while she can physically defeat most of these guys on her own or with the help of her squirrel army, she doesn't actually want to. Most of the time Squirrel Girl prefers to defeat her enemies with, well, logic. 

Like she explains to one of the low-level bad guys robbing a bank in New York that he could actually get a lot farther finding a way to harness his superpowers with a regular job. She even gives him a referral to get work with a construction crew downtown. Or how she defeats Kraven the Hunter by giving him something scarier (and more evil) to hunt than just her or Spiderman.

I mean, she takes down Galactus by figuring out that he's actually just really hungry and that what he needs is a lot of protein. So Squirrel Girl and her sidekick, the squirrel Tippy-Toe, take Galactus to a recently discovered planet of nuts, where they all gorge on delicious nuts and then take a nap.

Obviously the Squirrel Girl stories are a lot more lighthearted than your usual superhero stories. Even the plots where Doreen has to go up against her friends, like when they've been brainwashed by an evil Asguardian chaos squirrel (not kidding, actual plot), she does it with good cheer and an unfailing sense of humor. She's not afraid to tell people when they're being jerks, but she also doesn't let it get to her.

There's something so commendable about Doreen's whole attitude in life. Like, she has a giant bushy tail that she has to hide so she can go to college, right? So she stuffs it in her pants and realizes that it makes her look like she has a giant butt. Awesome! Or she realizes that the angle she's posing in makes her thighs look huge. Right on! Someone says that she's really weird for talking to squirrels. They don't know what they're missing, squirrels are amazing!

Doreen is so sure of who she is, so comfortable in her own skin, that it's honestly inspiring. She's not chipper to the point of being obnoxious, or maybe she is, but she's genuinely good-natured and warm-hearted because she loves herself and is therefore capable of really loving other people.

She collects friends and allies like other people collect bad reputations, and the general consensus in the Marvel world is that Doreen Green might be over-enthusiastic and kind of crazy, but she's an amazing person to have on your side.

That doesn't mean she's perfect, though. Doreen's still kind of a dork with a lot of strange habits and foibles. She's terrible at remembering to ask for permission and she can't pick up a hint to save her life. The start of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl finds her living in the attic of Avengers Tower, leading to the interesting realization that Avengers Tower apparently has an attic, but also that there's a random teenage girl squatting there. She didn't ask for permission to stay, she just kind of made sure she never got caught and then didn't leave.

Later in the series she actually breaks back into Avengers Tower and steals some of Tony's Iron Man suits so she can fly to the moon - it's not a horrible heinous crime and she does give them back, but it shows that Doreen can be kind of single-minded when she's trying to save the world. She assumes that everyone is as dedicated and energetic and happy as she is, and so you can see how she might rub some people the wrong way.

But not me. I love her. 

I love her because here is this woman who is so unapologetically herself, who is so comfortable in who she is, that she very literally changes the world. People have commented that it really feels like Squirrel Girl, more than any other Marvel comic, feels like it exists in its own little pocket universe. Like the events of the stories there, the sun-soaked streets of New York, the way everyone deserves a second chance and most villains can be reasoned with, doesn't fit with the rest of comics. It must be another world entirely.

The thing is, it's not. We know that from Marvel on high, but also because that way of thinking, the assumption that any universe where Squirrel Girl is one of the most powerful people in the world must be a very strange place, is kind of insulting. The more accurate interpretation, I feel, is that Doreen's positivity and belief in the inherent goodness of people actually changes the world around her.

I also really adore how she is able to help villains because she comes in with the assumption that they don't want to be evil, they just aren't sure how to get what they actually want or need. Now, even in her own comic this doesn't always end up being true, but it's such an attitude shift from the way that even really great heroes like Thor and Captain America view their villains that it's worth commenting on. 

In a lot of ways Squirrel Girl reminds me of the Flash in the 1990s Justice League cartoon. His villains were always kind of good-natured about being caught because they respected and liked Flash, and Flash in turn was always gentle and good to them and tried to figure out how to help them as people.

I like this approach because it makes clear the understanding that crime isn't something that happens in a vacuum. For most people, criminal action is the last resort. It's something you do when you have no other option. Doreen Green gets that. She believes that most people want to make the right choices, so when she fights crime it's with the idea of making it easier for people to do the right thing. I think we could all use a little more Doreen in our lives, don't you?

The title of her series, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, refers to a lot more than just Doreen's fighting prowess and habit of taking down ridiculously powerful supervillains. I think it's more about her attitude. Like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Squirrel Girl is defined by her attitude. You cannot beat Doreen. You cannot beat her down or make her feel bad about herself or make her give up on her friends. You cannot beat her. 

And it's just so wonderful to see a character like that who is also just a young woman going about her regular life. She's a college student, studying database management in computer studies. She has friends and a crush on a cute boy she met at the student fair and she likes looking pretty and having fun. But she's also a superhero who wants to save the world and more importantly can. Those things are not mutually exclusive. 

Squirrel Girl's attitude and life send the message that it is possible to live a life completely in harmony with itself. Not every superhero has to be tortured and traumatized inside. Not everyone needs a dark and gritty backstory. Sometimes there are just good people. Sometimes those good people are a little kooky and wear acorns for earrings and talk to squirrels out on the quad, but you know what? Good for them.

Squirrel Girl is one of those comics I really want any future children I have to grow up reading. Both for her confidence and for her belief that everyone deserves another chance, I want my kids (if I have any) to be like her. Doreen Green is a wonderful human being. She's strong inside and out, but more importantly she's kind. I can't think of any superhero I'd rather have save me.

I love you. Never change.
*As the main writer of this website, I'm aware that I should probably actually know these things off the top of my head and not need other people to tell me, but in my defense, there are over 800 articles on here and it's been running for four years. I lose track, okay?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

RECAP: Outlander 1x12 - Yeesh, Jamie, Tone It Down a Notch

Well, chickadees, it's that time of the week again - time to recap an episode of Outlander! Yay!

Last week we found Jamie and Claire having to hightail it away from Castle Leoch in the wake of Claire's witch trial. I have a sneaking suspicion that they're not going to find safe harbor back there any time soon. It was after the trial, when Jamie proved that he was willing to fight for Claire, witch or not, that Claire decided to tell him the truth: she's an accidental time-traveler from two hundred years in the future. Jamie took it surprisingly well.

So well, in fact, that he decided to help Claire return to her own time. Knowing the ache and sting of being forever parted from the place (or time) you call home, Jamie brought Claire to the standing stones where she first fell through and gave her a chance to go back to her own world. The thing is, Claire didn't want it.

I mean, she did, but ultimately she decided that she would rather stay in hellish 1743, because that's where Jamie is. Good on her. The only question then is, where can a man with a price on his head and a woman wanted for witchcraft hideout from their many many many enemies?

At home!

Yup, this episode starts off with Jamie and Claire making the trek back to Jamie's family home of Lallybroch. Now, to most of us this seems like a terrible idea. I mean, Lallybroch is basically the first place anyone would go to look for Jamie. But then again, he hasn't been there in four years, their neighbors and renters are notoriously loyal, and Jamie will hopefully be pardoned soon. So maybe this isn't such a terrible idea after all.

Unfortunately, coming home brings back bad memories for Jamie. As you may recall (and he certainly does), the last time Jamie was at Lallybroch he was being flogged by Jack Randall and watching his sister be carted away to be raped. So clearly not happy feelings associated with the place right now. And it's even more emotionally complex when Jamie reveals that he heard Jenny (his sister) had a baby after that. That Black Jack Randall, the tormenter of Jamie's life, is the father to Jamie's nephew.

So obviously in the name of really good timing, this is exactly when Claire spots a four year old boy and goes to make friends and Jamie sees his very pregnant sister in the courtyard. Jenny, who doesn't look much like Jamie except for the incredibly stubborn sets of their jaws, is thrilled to see her brother...for about thirty seconds. Then Jamie starts making accusations about Jenny being a whore for Randall and having his child, and then implies that Jenny's coming baby doesn't have a legitimate father either. It's not good.

And unfortunately, the appearance of Jenny's husband, Ian, who is apparently a lovely man, does nothing to soothe tempers. Claire gets called a "trollop", Jamie and Jenny glare at each other, and Ian just sort of stands in the corner and awkwardly asks if anyone wants some dinner.

Inside we get more of the full story of what happened to Jenny during the fateful day when Jack Randall came to Lallybroch. According to her, he didn't rape her. Probably. He tried, yeah, but he couldn't get it up and Jenny was so delirious with fear and the absurdity of the situation that she started laughing hysterically, which enraged Randall and made him beat her until she passed out. She's reasonably sure he didn't rape her.

Jamie is obviously very relieved to hear that, but he doesn't let it make him any more likely to apologize for calling his own sister a whore. Not even when Claire gently encourages reconciliation. Actually, that makes him bring her out and give her an impromptu explanation of eighteenth century marriage norms. See, as his wife, Claire really shouldn't badmouth Jamie or tell him what to do in public. Claire is dubious about this. But Jamie insists that it's a sign they're not united as a couple. So Claire agrees, with the promise that if he doesn't listen to her in private, she's not above throwing crockery and she has a very good arm.

Anyway, with Jamie back that makes him the Laird of Lallybroch. Certainly not as high and mighty a position as Colum's Laird-ship, but not half bad. He and Claire move into the big room in the manor - much to Claire's incredible awkwardness and murmurings about not putting anyone out - and he sets himself up as the chief man around there. Ian is incredibly good-natured about it, because Ian is a lovely lovely man, but Jenny is slightly less pleased.

Then we go immediately into Quarter-Day. Like when Jamie and Claire helped Dougal collect rents for the MacKenzies, the Frasers also live off of rents, just a lot fewer of them and much more humble. Quarter-Day is when, once a quarter, their tenants come to the house and bring their rent, along with being a celebration and sort of a fair. There's lots of food and gathering and people chatting up a storm.

A few notable things happen at Quarter-Day. The first is obviously that Jamie, deciding unilaterally to be more lenient about the rents because the harvests have been bad for a few years (and because he has no idea what he's doing but he's trying to be like his father), does not actually collect any rent. This is a problem because it basically means that Lallybroch is going to have to go into debt to get through the winter.

The second thing that happens is that Claire, slightly better at mingling with the locals than she was last time around, interferes in a domestic matter. When she sees one of the men beating his son for daring to take a bannock (like a scone) off the table, Claire steps in and takes the child inside to get him cleaned up and fed. Jenny helps her, and it becomes clear that Jenny knows what is going on. And Claire doesn't know what to do with that information. Because if Jenny knows, why hasn't she done something?

Then Jamie gets involved and manages to get stinking drunk and have a fight with the boy's father that night. Said boy, Rabbie, gets kicked out of his house and ends up living at the manor, which means they have no money and one more mouth to feed. Good job guys.

Oh, and the third thing is just that Claire might be better socially this time, but it's still super awkward explaining to people that, yes, she is Jamie's English wife, and no, this does not mean she's a redcoat supporter. Jenny's not much help there either, content to let Claire do some talking.

There's a quite funny scene that night where Jamie, drunk as hell, comes to bed in the middle of the night and wakes up Claire. She's less than impressed with him, but they have an adorable drunken conversation about how Claire has seen and ridden an elephant and Jamie thinks that's neat. We're reminded that even if Jamie is stubborn as hell and kind of acting like a weird overbearing jerk right now, he's a nice guy. It'll be okay.


Somewhere in there we also find out what happened to Jamie and Jenny's father. Their mother died a long while ago, but their father died while Jamie was in prison. Actually, he died at the prison. It seems that when Jamie was incarcerated, after the first flogging but before the second, his father came to see him and beg for his release. Randall, obviously, wouldn't bite. But he did think it was interesting, so he made Jamie an offer: if Jamie let Randall "have" him, then Randall wouldn't go through with the second flogging and would set Jamie free.

This adds an interesting layer to what we know of Jack Randall, but I don't think said layer is that Randall is actually gay. Or at least that's not clear. What is clear is that Randall is a sadist and literally can't get off without his sexual partner being hurt or miserable or non-consenting. Which is super gross.

At any rate, Jamie tells Claire that he very seriously considered it, because the flogging was horrible and he figured whatever Randall would do to him in private couldn't be that much worse. But he knew his father would be disappointed in him. Not for the "buggery" as Jamie puts it, but for giving in to Randall and taking the easy path. So Jamie said no, was brutally beaten and flogged, and passed out before he could see his father die of a heart attack in the courtyard.

His father died thinking that Jamie had been beaten to death, and apparently Jenny was laboring under that assumption as well until a trunk of clothes appeared at their doorstep a day or so before Jamie and Claire. Mrs. Fitz, ever resourceful, figured that Lallybroch would be the safest place to keep Jamie and Claire's things after they went on the run. Good woman.

Anyway, things between Jamie and Jenny continue to be antagonistic for a good while yet. Jamie is unhappy that Jenny keeps questioning him, Jenny feels like Claire and Jamie are trampling all over the way things ought to be done and taking on airs, and everyone is cranky. Except lovely Ian, of course.

Claire is mostly awkward, like when you go over to a friend's house and they get in a fight with a family member while you're there. It's the worst.

There are some good moments, though. Upon discovering that the mill is broken and so no one can grind flour, Jamie takes it upon himself to fix the wheel. Unfortunately, that requires him to swim under the millwheel and figure out what's wrong. While Claire watches him (and we all ogle his really well-formed bare butt), Jenny runs up. The redcoats are coming, and Jamie is still a wanted man.

It's a hell of a scene. Claire and Jenny sit down on Jamie's clothes to hide them, and Claire has to keep her mouth shut so no one realizes she's English, while Jamie hides underwater in the actual mill structure. Even more problematic, it seems that the redcoats who turned up are actually decent human beings and want to help fix the mill. Worse yet, they know how!

It's only a bit of quick thinking that has Jamie getting the mill moving again before the redcoat commander can step into the water to fix it himself and discover Jamie in the process. The redcoats ride away pretty quickly, but Jamie is left sputtering in the freezing cold water, buck naked, with his wife and sister staring at him.

Naturally he takes more issue with the latter.

In his attempts to cover himself up, though, so that Jenny can't see his bits, Jamie inadvertently shows her something else: his scars. And Jenny is shocked. She's never seen them before and they are clearly more horrible than she imagined. She runs, leaving Jamie and Claire kind of confused on the riverbank.

That night, Claire and Ian commiserate about being married to crazy stubborn Frasers. Apparently Ian wasn't even the one to propose. Jenny walked out into a field one day and announced that they'd get married in a month and he was still trying to figure out how to explain to her that she might want to wait when he ended up in front of a priest. There's no getting between Frasers when their dander is up, Ian tells Claire.

So what do we do? That's what Claire really wants to know. I don't think she much fancies the idea of being trapped with two stubborn squabbling siblings for the rest of her life.

Well, as Ian explains, the only way to get through is like getting through to a mule: kick them. And if that doesn't work, kick harder next time. Naturally, this is exactly what Claire does.

After literally dumping Jamie out of bed while he's sleeping to get his attention, Claire gives him the rundown. He's acting like a jerk and he needs to knock it the hell off. Jenny and Ian were doing just fine before Jamie came back, and he needs to swallow his pride and take some tips from them about what it means to be Laird of Lallybroch. He might have the name and the birthright, but he's being a jackass about it. If his father were there, he'd give him a right beating for how he's been acting.

The thing is, Claire is right. So the next morning we find both Jamie and Jenny at their father's grave, tentatively making peace. Jamie apologizes for being a dick and even gives her the rents. He's collected them after all. Jenny, for her part, apologizes for being so hard on him. For a long time she blamed him for their father's death, and then she blamed herself. But neither one is correct. Really it's Randall to be blamed, or no one. The siblings finally finally hug it out, and we all breathe a sigh of relief.

For like a minute. The next morning we see Claire wake up slowly and happily only to come out of her bedroom and see Jamie being held at gunpoint in the downstairs hall. So that's not good.

And that's where the episode ends.

This week's episode was really fun for me. I mean, all the family drama stuff wasn't great, but I liked seeing Jamie put out of his element. For once it's both Jamie and Claire who are strangers. And it was funny seeing Jamie revert to being a snotty eighteen year old for once. I'm so used to him being a sweet and gentle romantic hero, it was kind of refreshing to watch him being a jerk.

Even more, I loved the introduction of Jenny and Ian. Ian is, of course, just a wonderful human being and one of the only actually mellow people on the whole show. But Jenny has a special place in my heart because she's so clearly an interpretation of how one really can be a strong woman in a time and place like 1740s Scotland. She takes no shit, but she has the capacity to be really gentle. She's firey and stubborn and kind of a bitch, but she's also an amazing mother with a big heart and a fierce love for her family. In other words, she's complicated and well written and I really like her.

I also like that we have the opportunity for Claire to make a real female friend again. That would be nice. And it's super fun imagining what Jamie and Jenny must have been like growing up together. In a word? Terrifying.

So that's it for this week and next week it looks like we've got more Lallybroch and the resolution of what those guys with guns want. Awesome.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Who The Hell Picked These Classics, Anyway?

This is a topic near and dear to my heart because I feel like I never quite manage to say what I'm trying to when I explain it to people. Simply put, I dislike the idea of there being a list of "classics" in any media or genre. I don't like that there are some books you "simply must" read and that there are some movies that are "essential viewing" and that some television shows are "must see TV". Or rather, it's not that I hate these classifications, it's that I'm inherently suspicious of them.

Who decided this? Who chose these books or those movies or this television show? Who determined that The Killing Joke was required reading for anyone who wanted to get into comics and that Watchmen was the highest point a comic could aspire to, while leaving works like Persepolis or Squirrel Girl to be funny little diversions. Not classics, of course not, just interesting footnotes.

Who decided that?

I suppose part of the reason this is at the forefront of my attention is because, yet again, my proposal to write a book on the "alternate canon" of women in television has been denied. It bothers me because I keep submitting this book proposal - stupidly banging my head against the door - to an editor who sends email after email begging for book ideas about the golden age of television and all these great new shows coming out. He wants books about Breaking Bad and The Sopranos and Mad Men and the other TV shows that changed the game.

But he doesn't seem to want a book about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Xena: Warrior Princess and Veronica Mars and Gilmore Girls and Scandal and all those shows that changed the game for me. Because those shows aren't classics. They're not the new canon of television we all agree completely revolutionized the form. They're not essential to the narrative.

It bothers me. Obviously it bothers me because it dings my pride, that's not hard to figure out, but it also bothers me because it excludes my opinion as a critic and as a fan. It takes away the voice I have. If this is some conference that was set up where all the people who love television were invited and voted on what was the best expression of storytelling in televisual form, did my invitation get lost in the mail?

I also have been thinking about this topic because my mother happened to mention the other day that she and my father couldn't get through watching Pulp Fiction. They tried, because they believe in being culturally literate and they've heard it was a classic, but they got halfway in and hated every minute, so they turned it off and have since not finished watching it. My parents are the kind of people who care a lot about being culturally savvy, and I appreciate that about them,* but I could have told them right off the bat that they weren't going to like Pulp Fiction. There is basically no universe in which that would be a film my parents enjoy.

Who picked Pulp Fiction as a movie that you have to see in order to be considered cultured? And, for the record, I'm not against the idea of people having broad cultural backgrounds, either. I am actually in favor of people being culturally literate to their best potential. I endorse the idea of wanting to see the best films from the best directors and the best actors, of reading the best books. I think that there's a lot of value in trying to pin down art that is done exceptionally well and consuming it. 

And I do think there's value in having a sort of collectively agreed upon understanding of what those best art works are. It creates a sort of cultural shorthand. For instance, if I were to tell you that something was like Jurassic Park meets Casablanca, one, you would immediately have two pictures in your head - regardless of whether or not you have seen either of those movies - and two, you would start thinking of the plot for that amazing movie that someone needs to make please.

It's shorthand and it's very helpful. Because we have these stories we all sort of agree to be aware of, we can skip past a lot of work in trying to talk about difficult concepts. It's a shared vocabulary of sorts. Saying that someone was acting like a total Ebenezer Scrooge today means something we all agree to understand. That's incredibly useful.

On the other hand, I didn't get any say in the pieces of media that have become our canon of classics, and I'm frankly not all that jazzed about them. I've mentioned before that I don't particularly care for Charles Dickens (except for the film adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby starring Charlie Hunnam and of course The Muppet Christmas Carol), but it's bigger than my beef with any one person or story.

My problem with the classics is that they send the idea that great art, the art we should all aspire to, is almost exclusively done by rich white men who are dead now. Sometimes art is done by poor white men or middle class white men, but if we look at the canon, it seems clear that art as we understand it, great art that is to be consumed and marveled at and should shape our culture, is done by a tiny fraction of humanity and no one else counts.

For example, why the hell isn't Do the Right Thing higher on everyone's lists of great American movies? It's an incredible film and personally I found it a lot more compelling than Citizen Kane. If we're talking about films that shifted the paradigm and meant something culturally, then what's the deal? 

Or how about including the incredibly popular novels of the nineteenth century in lists of great American literature? It seems to me that the only real reason they're excluded is because the most popular novels then are what we would call chick-lit today. And, again, this is still a problem. Popular fiction, which is mostly written by and for women, is considered not worth counting when we consider the great works of literature being written in this country.

Who decides what stories are the ones we choose to revere and venerate and remember? Who picks the plots that will shape how we view ourselves and our culture?

Because here's the thing: this is not an academic argument. Well, it's not just an academic argument. This has real world consequences. The overwhelming whiteness (and secondarily maleness) of the classics is a genuine problem because it sends the message to young artists of color that they will never be counted as one of the greats. That there is no representation available for them at the top. And it also sends the message that all great art up until now has been done by white men. That diversity is new and no black people or Asian-Americans or Latinx or Native peoples or anyone else ever contributed something worthwhile to our culture.

That's a very dangerous message to send. 

It breaks my heart when my students haven't heard of Phyllis Wheatley, don't know that Helen Keller was a lot more than a punchline to insensitive jokes about disability, don't realize that the first novel was written by a Japanese woman. These people aren't in the classics, aren't considered worth assigning in school or adding to our cultural canon. They're invisible. 

Toni Morrison and Octavia Butler are relegated to the "special interests" shelves and Lucille Ball is considered first as an actress and second as a half of a tumultuous marriage, but almost never as the incredibly successful studio head and producer she actually was. 

So, again I ask, who picked these classics anyway? Whose choice was it to privilege "prestige dramas" about middle aged white men having extra-martital affairs and sketchy relationships with the law over network dramas where black women triumph over adversity and hold high powered jobs and reach their own levels of emotional complexity? Who decided that James Fenimore Cooper's books were high art, while the books by Frances Hodgson Burnett (which include ones you might have actually read) were sentimental craptrap?

Who voted for this stuff? I sure didn't. My picks would be a lot different. So if anyone does get an invitation to that giant convention where they decide these things, can you bring me along? I have some things to say.

Namely, that Persepolis is a classic and should be treated as such.
*At least, they care about that now. When I was growing up that was the furthest thing from a priority. Hence why I have a gaping hole in my understanding of pop culture between 1972 and 2001, but I can identify classical music by composer and artistic movement and know more about ballet than is really essential for any one person's life.**

**Just kidding. I love ballet. It is very essential.