Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Masculinity Monday: 'Captain America', Jim Morita, and Americanness

Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is slowly winding to a close, chickadees, but before it goes we still have a couple aspects of Asian-American masculinity to discuss. As you'll recall, we've already looked at stereotypes of the "hardworking Asian" with Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and investigated the underrepresentation of Asian-American characters even when played by Asian actors with Bellamy Blake and The 100. We even took a look at Asian-Americans and the new American Dream with Tom Haverford and Parks and Recreation.

Now it's time to get serious - today we're looking at issues of race and identity and patriotism, and also looking at how we typically understand the role Asian-Americans have played in American history. And we're going to do it by looking at a minor character in a major film, something I don't usually like to do but seems appropriate in this case.

First, however, let's talk a little bit about Marvel and their apparent problems with Asian-American actors.

Look - I try really hard to give everyone, even multi-billion dollar conglomerates, the benefit of the doubt. Marvel and Disney, however, are making this pretty damn hard. At this point, there are only two Asian-American (or Asian) major superheroes in the entire MCU: Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) and Elektra (Elodie Yung). That's it. Maybe we could count Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), but then we're stretching. The point is, Marvel's Asian-American representation is abysmal, and it seems like they're even going out of their way to avoid having Asian men on screen. How else can you explain Tilda Swinton playing a Tibetan monk?

And don't get me started on the bullshit that is insisting Danny Rand, aka Iron Fist, needs to be played by Finn Jones because he's white in the comics. That's stupid and you know it.

With all this in mind, it's actually kind of uncomfortable to know that I'm going to spend the rest of this article praising Marvel for what they did with regards to one single Asian-American character in one movie, and he's not even the lead. So please bear in mind while we go through this that I'm not actually happy with how minor Jim Morita's role is here, and I definitely think that Marvel needs to get its head on straight with regards to Asian-American characters and roles. Seriously, get your head together, Marvel. Besides, my love for this character isn't about what Marvel did with him, it's about the possibilities of who he is. So, you know, keep that in mind.

Jim Morita (as played by Kenneth Choi) springs to life, fully formed, about forty minutes into Captain America: The First Avenger. He's there in the Hydra prison camp with Bucky and DumDum and Gabe Jones and everyone, ready to be liberated when Captain America comes looking for his wayward best friend. But instead of Morita just functioning as yet another piece of competent window-dressing in those scenes, he gets a tiny taste of dialogue, arguably the most interesting moment he has in the movie, when DumDum wonders out loud if he's an American and therefore worth of rescue.

"I'm from Fresno, Ace."

The moment is jarring and yet fantastically significant in its characterization. From that one sentence we can infer worlds about Jim Morita's background, childhood, and the current status of his family. But we can also tell a lot about his temperament. I mean, clearly this is a man whose reaction to racist bullies calling him unAmerican is on par with Steve Rogers' himself. DumDum is significantly larger and stronger than Morita, and we can tell that just by looking at how DumDum looms over him. But what does Morita do? He pulls out his dogtags, cocks his head, and goes sarcastic. I love this guy.

Now, if you're hoping I go on to talk about all the cool and wonderful things that Jim Morita does in the course of Captain America, you're probably going to be disappointed. For all that he's a really interesting character with a great intro, Morita does not get a lot of screentime and he doesn't have much of a role in the plot. He does go on to become one of the Howling Commandoes, which is neat, acting as their radio communications guy, and he even carries that role after the war, appearing in Agents of SHIELD as one of the Commandoes working with Peggy after Cap's fall into the ice.

But the majority of his time on screen is as one member of a group shot, another reaction point for whatever drama is happening with our white leads. Jim Morita isn't actually a very important character in this story, which is a damn shame, because as it turns out, he has more to say about what it means to be an American than anyone else in that movie besides Steve freaking Rogers himself.

I say that because of the complexity that we can infer in that one little phrase, "I'm from Fresno, Ace." But since I am well aware that not everyone is as obsessively interested in American history as I am, allow me to explain:

Jim Morita is an American with a Japanese surname, right? Fresno is a city in California which, though certainly not challenging San Francisco for population and diversity, has a large historic population of Japanese and Chinese Americans. Without getting into too much detail here about why hundreds of thousands of East Asian immigrants came to the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s, suffice to say that there was and is a significant Asian-immigrant population on the West Coast.

Fresno was, in the 1940s at least, a farming town, so we can infer from all of this information that it is most likely that Jim Morita's family were farmers or farm laborers. It's not necessarily a foregone conclusion, but it's probable. We also don't know how long ago Morita's family emigrated from Japan, but we can certainly guess that he's second or third-generation just based on the general immigration statistics from that time period. Born in 1919, his parents or grandparents would have most likely come to California in the early 1900s during the Western expansion boom. 

The real important part, however, comes when we use all this inferred information and think about what that means for Jim Morita right now. When we meet him in 1944, we can guess a couple of very important things about him simply based on where he is and the year. First, we can guess that Morita was, prior to being locked up in a Hydra prison camp, part of the 442nd Infantry Regiment, a predominantly Japanese-American regiment that went on to become the most decorated regiment of the war.

Second, we can take a wild guess and say that Jim Morita's family is, at the time of the movie, locked in an internment camp in the United States.

It's funny when you think about it. Jim Morita came into the comics world as one of the Howling Commandoes all the way back in 1967 - I can hardly imagine that the writers who created him wanted to call our attention to the history and plight of Japanese-Americans in WWII. In fact, his character in those early comics is kind of hilariously stereotypical. He knows karate and he uses it in fights, despite the story in these books being about World War II and that being a super weird thing to do. At no point do the comics go into the history of what it must mean for Jim Morita of Fresno to be fighting alongside Captain America. I'm not sure it ever occurred to them.

The history of Japanese internment in WWII is one of our nation's greatest shames and also greatest secrets. While it's become better known in recent years, thanks in no small part to the advocacy work of George Takei, who spent his childhood in such a camp, Japanese internment is the kind of ugly secret we don't talk about because we can't defend. 

With the United States whipped into a fervor of racialized anger towards Japan in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack, the government decided to take steps to prevent any "Japanese spies" from further harming the country. 

To that end they rounded up all Japanese-descended citizens they could find, two-thirds of which had been born in America, and placed them in internment camps until the end of the war. They were allowed to bring one suitcase of belongings, and in many cases the rest of their belongings and property were seized by towns and neighbors before they returned.

Given the suspicion against Japanese-Americans at this time, it seems weird to think that the government would allow them to enlist. And you're kind of right to think that - the government did not allow Japanese-Americans to enlist until later in the war, at which time they enacted a draft on young men in the internment camps, forcing them to fill out a questionnaire about their loyalty to the United States. Should they answer "No," stating that they did not wish to fight for a country locking up their families, they were placed in prison for dodging the draft. If they answered "Yes," they were drafted into the 442nd Infantry Regiment and placed on the front lines in the European Theater.

So, in case you're keeping track at home, there's no part of this that isn't horrible.

All of this awfulness, though, only informs our understanding of Jim Morita as a fascinating character. Right? When you think about the fact that this almost certainly has to be his background, you're left with a complex understanding of who he is and why he's there and what it means for this Nisei soldier to be fighting back to back with Captain America. I'm pretty sure that the writers of the film didn't mean it that way, but I'm taking it and running.

For Jim Morita, who probably grew up thinking he was a normal American only to be locked into a camp simply for being born, to then actively choose to fight for his country is a big deal. Yes, he was probably drafted. But that doesn't change how important it is that he goes on to be one of the Howling Commandoes. Even more, we know from the film that there is newsreel footage out there with Jim Morita's face in it, right there next to our symbol of hope and liberty.

Imagine being in an internment camp and seeing that newsreel. Imagine seeing a face like yours being treated like an equal by America's "greatest soldier". Imagine seeing Jim Morita and thinking, "Hey, don't I know that guy?"

Then imagine growing up in the Marvel universe after that, when the Howling Commandoes come home after the war and Jim Morita comes back to Fresno. Imagine growing up with his name listed alongside all the others, talked of reverently in biographies and documentaries, interviewed by historians, one of the greatest soldiers from one of the biggest wars.

I've talked a little bit before about how big an impact it would have had in the Marvel universe if Bucky Barnes had been Jewish - well now think about what must have happened in the MCU, because Jim Morita is very definitely Japanese. 

"I'm from Fresno, Ace."

I'm not typically in the habit of unearthing minor characters with only a handful of lines to point out the "diversity points" they lend a certain production or show or film. In general, I find that antithetical to real diversity, a sort of veneer of representation that can't hold up. And I do really wish that Morita had more to do in Captain America than nod in the background while Steve and Bucky and Peggy argue in the foreground. He's such an interesting character and there could have been so much more to say. But, and this is the key point here, it's a start.

It's a start because, intentionally or not, Jim Morita's line is a reminder of what it means to be American and fight for your country. More than even Steve's explicit life in the film, Morita's line reminds us that being a patriot doesn't mean agreeing with everything your country does. It doesn't mean following blindly, and it doesn't mean making excuses. You can love your country and you can fight for it without thinking it's always right.

Steve Rogers is all about fighting for the little guy, and that's great, but he also transforms into a gigantic blonde Hercules, a pinnacle of Aryan virtue. Jim Morita doesn't transform and he doesn't get the spotlight, but that doesn't make him any less of an American hero. If anything, it makes the idea of his fighting in Europe even more resonant when you remember what he's left behind at home to do it.

We're almost at the end of Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month now, and I thought it was well time to talk about historical representations of Asian-American masculinity. But I also wanted to talk about this, about American-ness, because so often when we focus on aspects of ethnicity and heritage, we lose focus of what it means to be American as well.

Jim Morita is American. His story is American, for all that it involves a lot of people being very focused on his race. The internment of his family, that's an American story. His being drafted and serving in a segregated regiment, that's American too. Even the bits we don't like, the ones that make us uncomfortable, are American stories as well. His Japanese heritage does not make him any less of an American or a patriot, and what I love about that line is how he knows it.

So, no, Morita sadly doesn't get his own movie or TV show or comic or even more than ten lines of dialogue, but I love him anyway. We need more characters like him, particularly Asian-American characters like him, who in one line can challenge what we understand American-ness to be, who can stand up to racism and spit in its face, and who can speak for those they left behind.

More of that, please.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Strong Female Character Friday: Sameen Shaw (Person of Interest)

When we think of "Asian-American" characters, we tend to default to images of East Asian actors and actresses. If we're being particularly broad-minded we can usually be called on to remember including the Indian sub-continent and South Asians in there, and every once in a while we remember to toss in a few South-East Asians or Oceanic Asians. But only a couple. 

Heck, even for a site committed to diversity, we here at KMWW haven't done a spectacular job at representing Asian diversity so far this Asian-American and Pacific Islander heritage month. We've looked at the two different sides of the "Asian best friend" trope with a Korean character (Lane Kim from Gilmore Girls) and an Indian character (Connie Maheswaran from Steven Universe), but we've been remiss in going broader afield to talk about the wider Asian-American experience.

For the most part, in American culture "Asian" means Japanese-Chinese-Korean, and all other ethnicities are filtered into a larger unseen category of Other. And that means that even when talking about the actual issues and problems faced by Asian-American women in popular media, we have to take a step back and figure out if we're even addressing the vast diversity of Asian-Americans.

I mean, Asia's a pretty big place. Kind of the biggest, if you think about it.

That's why today we're stepping a little bit out of our comfort zone and discussing a different kind of Asian-American character, one who faces a lot of stereotypes and assumptions and preconceived notions but who rarely gets included in discussions of what it means to be Asian. Today we're talking about Person of Interest's own Sameen Shaw, a Persian/Iranian woman who is, yes, Asian.*

Now Shaw is a fascinating character for a lot of reasons, few of which have anything to do with her racial background. She's a former doctor turned wet works agent, and she has a personality disorder. She's bisexual and lost her parents at a young age. She can get shot in the stomach and stone-faced dig the bullet out herself, all while monologuing to the villain she tied up in a corner. 

Oh, and she really likes kids but she doesn't want you to know that she likes kids. Also dogs. Her most recent character arc on the show has a level of complexity and nuance that puts the Winter Soldier storyline in the Captain America movies to shame, and that's coming from me.

In other words, Sameen Shaw is a fantastically complex and interesting character and I could write a whole article on her without even touching her family background. But that wouldn't be entirely fair to her either. As we learn from the show, Shaw is actually really proud of her background. She speaks Farsi and celebrates Persian New Year (Nowruz). 

She speaks lovingly of her mother, who fled terrorists in Iran and came to make a new life in America. We don't know for sure if her father was also Persian, but either way, Shaw's identity as a Persian-American woman means a great deal to her, and so it should mean a great deal to us.

Here's the thing: when we talk about the stereotypes that afflict Asian-American female characters, we tend to be talking about stereotypes that afflict East Asian female characters. We tend to focus our discussions on things like geisha and dragon-lady and tiger-mom stereotypes, which is valid and good and necessary to discuss. 

These stereotypes are harmful and pervasive and need to be talked about. But it's much rarer for us (and I include myself in this diagnosis) to take a hard look at the tropes that affect Asian-American characters from different parts of Asia. As an Asian-American woman, Shaw never really has to face being called a "dragon lady". But she does have to face being called a "terrorist" or a "harem hottie". And that's worth talking about too.

But before we talk about that, let's take a quick refresher and talk about Person of Interest as a show.

So Person of Interest is a CBS series currently finishing out its fifth and last season. It takes a slightly outlandish premise and spins it into a fantastic story about surveillance and big government and paranoia and finding a family where you least expected it. It's great. Really. And it's only gotten better since Edward Snowden released the NSA files that proved this series wasn't nearly as far-fetched as we all had hoped.

The premise is this: there is a machine that takes all the data about you on the web and on surveillance footage and tracks it. It's supposedly looking for terrorists, but really it's looking for violent activity - any violent activity. This Machine sees everything and knows everything. From your fifth birthday to what you put in your pockets this morning, it knows, and it uses this information to predict what you will do. It's unparalleled in doing so and has helped stop any number of major terrorist attacks.

But. It turns out that a machine isn't necessarily going to be able to tell the difference between "terrorism" and "violence", so in the process of looking out for American national security, it also ends up predicting run of the mill murders and kidnappings and premeditated crimes. The intelligence agencies that get their information from the Machine don't care about all this random violence. But other people do. 

Those are our heroes and the ones that we track - the Machine's creator, Harold Finch (Michael Emerson), and his "assistant", John Reese (Jim Caviezel). They take the information the Machine gives them - just the social security number of a "person of interest" - and use it to stop crimes. That's basically the show.

How does Shaw work into all of this? Well, when we meet Sameen Shaw (Sarah Shahi) in the second season, it's because her number has come up. 

An intelligence agent working for the US, Shaw's job is actually enforcing all the "relevant" - as in relevant to national security - information that the Machine provides. But some of the information has been fabricated and created to push forward other American interests. Shaw has stumbled into an awareness of this corruption, and so she has to be taken out. Needless to say, that doesn't work.

For a while Shaw is in the wind as a burned spy, but it's not long before she finds herself on "Team Machine", getting numbers and saving people. She even comes to view the people around her, Finch and Reese and even the wayward Root (Amy Acker), as her family. And she really loves the dog.

As the show progresses, though, the story gets more and more complex. There are twists and turns and increasingly Orwellian plots, with Shaw often at the center of it all. The third season sees the rise of a second all powerful machine, this one called Samaritan, and the fourth season has our heroes hiding out from a system of surveillance they can no longer control or hide from. Shaw finds herself clerking a counter at Bloomingdales by day and working with cut-rate thieves by night, frustrated that her life of unbridled badassness has brought her to this.

Now, I don't want to spoil what happens next, but suffice to say that Shaw's story comes center stage as the show comes into the fifth season and if you needed a reason to watch the show, trust me when I say that sitting through four seasons just to get to the fifth isn't at all unreasonable. It's very good, and Shaw is very good in it. 

Anyway. Shaw's character growth throughout these seasons is really worth looking at, because it highlights how even as a character with an Axis-II personality disorder, Shaw is still capable of growing and loving and contributing to a community. It's a story we very rarely see, following a woman whose emotions are "all turned down really low" as she nevertheless finds value and meaning in helping people and caring for them. 

Even more, she goes from a place of complete isolation to one of full investment in a family group. She's even in a loving and committed romantic relationship, something she herself wasn't sure she was capable of.

Shaw really hits the "diverse character" bingo, if that were a thing. She's a neuroatypical bisexual woman of color. I mean, wow. And yet none of those identities feel ancillary to her character, nothing feels tacked on just for the diversity points, nothing is wasted. It's all just part and parcel of who she is, and that person is freaking awesome.

Okay, so what does all of this have to do with Shaw's identity as an Asian-American woman? It's great that she's such a well-rounded and appealing female character and all, but does it matter that she's also specifically Asian-American? Would this story have been in any way different if Shaw were white?

Yes. Yes it would.

It is very significant that this character, who has slowly become the central character for the whole dang show, is Persian, is Asian-American, is a woman of color. It's important because so much of the show is about how the interests of regular people and ordinary citizens can be abused when governments seek to increase "protection" by decreasing privacy. In other words, it is really thematically resonant that one of the people fighting against government overreach here is a Persian woman whose mother fled a repressive regime in Iran.

That's what we're getting at. It matters that Shaw becomes our hero, our champion of the right to live as we choose and not be caged in by the State, because of her family history and background. It matters that Shaw fight back against the government she once served, not just because she's Persian, but also because because she's a first generation immigrant. She's from a family that chose America, that chose to come here and start a new life in the shadow of tragedy. 

Shaw is American, very American, and that makes her the perfect figure to fight back against an American government gone wrong.

As for the stereotypes she faces, there's something satisfyingly twisty about having Sameen Shaw fighting terrorists when she herself has had to deal with racialized accusations of terrorism. As a Persian woman, Sameen has had to face the stereotyping of West Asian and Middle-Eastern women as accomplices in terror or as exotic "flowers" waiting to bloom in the right man's hands or as timid and oppressed sheep who need to be saved from their own culture. 

Instead, Shaw is a fully realized person who loves and respects her heritage but could never be called meek or submissive. She's not anyone's exotic harem girl. She's the person who puts terrorists behind bars. No, Sameen Shaw isn't having anything to do with those stereotypes, and her pushback only makes her that much cooler. Especially since she pushes back without pushing away her culture and heritage.

Clearly I could go on and on talking about Sameen Shaw and the sheer awesomeness that is her character arc and her relationship with Root and all of that. There's a whole other article in here about how Person of Interest subverts the Bury Your Gays trope by having Root and Shaw essentially becoming bulletproof - even when they're dead they're not really dead - but we'll have to save that for another time. For now, let's take a long moment of silence and appreciate Sameen Shaw, a character who forces us to remember the diversity inherent in the term "Asian-American" and a woman who lives life on her own terms. 

Here's to you, Sameen. 

Also I want us all to appreciate that Shaw is eating a steak off of her utility knife while doing surveillance. I love her.
*Because Iran is in Asia. West Asia, sure, but that is still part of Asia. Asia is really big, hence that whole opening paragraph.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

'Advantageous' and the Price of Being a Professional Woman

What are you willing to sacrifice to make a better life for your children? That is the central question at the heart of Advantageous, an independent science fiction movie that came out last year (and was first runner up to win its category in the 2015 Undies). The movie takes place in a not particularly distant future where work is scarce, opportunity scarcer, and women are being slowly but surely pushed out of the workforce. Instead of getting a horrible dystopia, though, the world we see is just a slightly more advanced version of our own, and so the choices and problems we come to see in that world just look like advanced versions of the problems we already have. Which is neat.

In addition to being just a cool new sci-fi movie, however, Advantageous is also the rare science fiction feature to be written and directed by (and starring) Asian-American women. Directed by Jennifer Phang and written by Phang and the film's star, Jacqueline Kim, the movie situates itself squarely in telling the story of Asian-American femininity, even as it tells a very universal story.

So our heroine for this tale is Gwen Koh (Kim), the spokeswoman for a futuristic cosmetics company. As in, not cosmetics like makeup but cosmetics like non-invasive cosmetic surgery. Gwen is the face of their brand, and she's doing very well for herself when we meet her. She lives a happy, if small, existence with her beloved daughter Jules (Samantha Kim). Jules is just on the cusp of puberty, still a little girl dependent on her mother but on the verge of growing up, and you can tell that both Gwen and Jules are kind of treasuring this time.

But since this is a movie and not a Facebook slideshow, something has to go wrong. In this case, it's that Gwen loses her job. Or, more specifically, her contract is not renewed. While the Center doesn't say so explicitly, they want a younger spokesmodel when they roll out their newest procedure, a form of body-swapping that will let their customers slip into the ideal body of their choice. Gwen, an Asian woman in her forties, is too old and too "specific" for their needs. So she's let go and set adrift in this modern world, just as it seems like her only choice for Jules is to send her off to a prestigious and expensive private school.

Gwen tries to fall back on her support system, only to quickly realize that she has no support system. She's single - Jules' father isn't in the picture - and her parents are estranged owing largely to the whole thing where Jules' father isn't in the picture. Her one good friend is a scientist at the Center with whom she was having an affair, Fisher (James Urbaniak), and aside from that she just has Jules and the vague awareness of Jules' friends' parents. Oh, and also her cousin Lily (Jennifer Ikeda), but Gwen is very reluctant to reach out to Lily, for reasons that become clear later.

In other words, Gwen is stuck. She's out looking for a job in a terrible job market that already wants to push out women, let alone Asian women quickly reaching middle age. Everything she can find pays less than what she had, and she's wildly overqualified for all of it. Gwen wants to hold out for something better, something good, but she kind of can't. There are bills to pay, Jules needs to go to school if she wants an opportunity, and she's stuck.

So what's a woman trapped in a dystopian future to do?

Well, as you probably guessed just from the structure of the story (and this isn't a spoiler - it's in the trailer), Gwen decides to volunteer for the body-swapping procedure. That way she can keep her job, and get a raise, and the Center will get a spokeswoman with her experience plus a youthful face and body and a satisfied customer who can speak from experience. It's a win-win, right?

Obviously this is where most of the drama comes in. Yes, there's some drama with Lily and her husband Han (Ken Jeong), but for the most part the story is about Gwen coming to the decision to make this choice and how it impacts the rest of her life, particularly her relationship with Jules. I mean, well-adjusted kid or not, there's something inherently horrifying in imagining a child going from having a loving mother to living with a stranger who happens to have her mother's memories. It's weird for Jules, as well it would be.

It's hard to talk about that aspect of the story without spoiling it, though, so suffice it to say that it's amazing and you should totally watch the movie. Freya Adams is amazing as Gwen 2.0, Jennifer Ehle is chilling as the head of the Center, and the mothers of Jules' classmates are Brazil levels of horrifying and creepy. So you should totally watch it.

But the real thing I want to get at here is how deftly this movie creates a conversation about women in the workforce and how for some super messed up reason "beauty" and age and race are all mixed into the idea of what it means for a woman to be professional. It's a major point in The Beauty Myth and certainly bears remembering: women in the workforce are frequently judged just as much on our appearances as we are on our actual work histories. Seriously.

So with that in mind, this movie is an incisive examination of this trend. As women are more and more enabled to work outside the home, there is a greater and greater pushback against them, culminating in movements that force women to wear expensive and uncomfortable clothing, spend money on makeup and cosmetic surgery, and judge ourselves based on a "professional appearance" rather than a level of corporate competence. It's a pushback, and Advantageous does a great job at reminding us just how insidious these forces really are.

I mean, take Gwen. She's well-educated, very good at her job, and has performed for years at a high level with no problems. But she's for some reason still a contract worker whose contract can be voided out because she looks too old. Even though Gwen is the kind of professional woman whose work and career are on a level most of us can never aspire to reach, she's still subject to small and petty grievances that push her down.

And when she is unemployed, Gwen is told she's fighting against a job market that just plain doesn't want to hire women. She's middle aged, which means that she doesn't have "much productive time left", and she's not white, which somehow seems to mean that she's not "universal" enough for her job as a spokesperson. Gwen's story might take place in a futuristic dystopia of limited opportunity and fragile economy, but it's alarmingly similar to the world we live in now. Her world is emblematic of the fears a lot of feminists have, as expressed in a lot of feminist fiction like The Handmaid's Tale and Bitch Planet. That in pushing for a more equal world, women leave ourselves open to a push back that will shove us into a systematic oppression much greater than any we've faced before.

The story of Advantageous is frankly much more about mothers and daughters than it is about the workforce, more about the lengths we will go for the people we love and the incredible pressure that parents can put on themselves to make the world a better place for their children, but this sideline of the physical discrimination that women face in the workforce is an important underlying structure of the story. It is, sadly, taken as a given. We're not even told much to explain this discrimination, we're just supposed to accept it. And we do, because it's so similar to what we face in our world today.

Today Hollywood has decided that despite people of Asian descent being the largest "racial" subset on the planet and despite China being one of the biggest audiences for American media, it makes "more sense" to cast a white woman as the lead in Ghost in the Shell than an Asian woman. Why? Because "Asian is not universal" we're implicitly told, while white apparently is. 

Gwen's difficulty finding work as a spokesperson doesn't strike us as strange at all because we almost expect it. She's an Asian-American woman - we almost assume that these are the difficulties she must face because these are the difficulties that Asian-American women face in the workplace today.

It's tragic when we feel Gwen cave and allow them to change her. It hurts to see her transform into Gwen 2.0, the younger and whiter version. It hurts because we're watching Gwen very literally give up the thing that makes her who she is, her person, in order to conform to an ideal of beauty that isn't just damaging, it's deadly.

It's important to talk about this issue all of the time, but it's especially important to shine a light on it now, in Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and also when issues of whitewashing are finally coming out in the media. Yes, white women suffer from ageism and sexist "looks" discrimination too, but to a far lesser extent than women of color. And Asian-American women in particular are often silenced in a very noticeable way, whether it's by erasing them from the narrative or by pushing them out once they reach a certain age and level of fame. For every Lucy Liu out there, there are a hundred women just as talented who were never able to break through. 

If I'm going to link Advantageous to any one real world situation, though, I'd actually link it to the news story from a few years ago about Lindsay Price, an Asian-American actress, getting cosmetic surgery to change the shape of her eyes. Now, I don't know Price and I certainly don't have a direct feed into her thoughts and feelings on the matter, but it seems relevant, doesn't it? This talented woman who saw that the only way for her to succeed in her chosen profession was to change her physical appearance, to alter her body. 

Advantageous is about mothers and daughters, but it's also in no small part about how the way we as women live impacts our daughters. In one heartbreaking scene, Gwen asks Jules if she thinks she's pretty. Jules replies, "Sometimes." Gwen's face falls, aware that this is only going to get harder for her daughter from here on out. It will only become more difficult as time goes on to look in a mirror and like herself, especially once she goes out into a world where her viability as an employee is based in no small part on her physical appearance. 

And Gwen has to face the fact that the choices she makes, though made in large part to help her daughter succeed, have also sent a very dangerous message: that being who you are isn't enough and changing yourself is sometimes the best path. It's the kind of message that no one wants to tell young girls but we know they'll find out anyway.

Also it's just a very visually beautiful movie. So, you know, watch it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Masculinity Monday: Tom Haverford's American Dream

Well, it's the third Masculinity Monday* of Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and so far we've covered a couple of really complex and difficult-to-fully-consider-in-2000-words topics. We looked at the myth of the inherently "hardworking" Asian-American man with Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, then we pivoted to talk about "stealth Asians" or the invisible representation of mixed race Asian people, most notably with Bellamy Blake on The 100. So we've been busy. Now we're going to change gears again and talk about a completely different angle of the Asian-American masculine experience: the American Dream.

When I say "the American Dream", I can bet that most of you have a pretty clear picture in mind. A house in the suburbs, white picket fence, golden retriever, two cars in the driveway, heteronormative marriage, and two to three kids. Right? That's what we're all told the American Dream is. It's that thing that we're all supposed to want. Only, I would argue, that image is incredibly outdated. Sure, some people still dream of that life, but a lot more don't. In fact, I would say that the modern American Dream, the thing that we all desperately want even if we pretend we don't, is something more like the characters on Friends. And I don't mean that as a horrible cynical "the world is going to shit" concept. Hear me out.

So at its core, the "American Dream" is really just a distillation of what we as a culture have chosen to value at any given time. Not really what one individual person values - even in the age of sububia, there were lots of people who didn't want kids and liked living in the city - but what the culture as a whole has chosen to uplift and admire. You can tell what that dream is just by looking at the media and stories that we tell. Like, say, sitcoms. 

For the first forty years of sitcoms or so, the vast majority were about nice white families living in nice white suburbs having nice white problems. But at some point in there we shifted, leading to now when most sitcoms are about nice white people in their late twenties living in a big city and having nice white people who have a lot of sex and think about pop culture a lot problems. Do you see what I mean? We've gone through a cultural shift, and I don't think it's necessarily any more or less healthy for us as a culture to revere and idolize the single person with a lot of disposable income more than a nuclear suburban family. Just different.

With this in mind, though, our idea of what it means for a character to pursue the American Dream becomes a little different, especially when we think of it as a generational shift. Particularly in the case of recent immigrants to America and their children, there is likely to be a big difference of opinion in what it means to pursue the American Dream and whether or not that's a worthwhile thing to do. 

You can see this pretty well in Fresh Off the Boat, where parents Jessica and Louis Huang think of the American Dream as owning their own steakhouse and living in Florida while their son Eddie dreams of living like a rapper and being cool and dating lots of girls. But nowhere does this tension find more hilarious and topical fruit than in Parks and Recreation with the life of Tom Haverford. 

Well, I say the life of Tom Haverford, but what I really mean is the life of Darwish Sabir Ismael Gani, which is Tom's birth name. Born to Indian parents in South Carolina (just like the actor who plays him, Aziz Ansari), Tom Haverford is obsessed with his own American-ness. He dreams of being a mogul or a celebrity or somehow famous. He wants his own airline, his own record label, his own chain of high end luxury menswear outlets. 

Even when he's living in a small town in Indiana, working in the Parks and Recreation department in a decidedly unglamorous job, stuck in a greencard marriage with his Canadian college friend, Tom is still trying to live that life that he believes is the American Dream. He's still trying to be a baller.

Look, Tom is a fantastically hilarious character and Ansari did an incredible job bringing him to life and also making him sympathetic, which was no small feat when his character constantly crapping on the incredibly sincere and lovely sentiments of those around him. It would have been much easier to take a character like Tom and make him the butt of every joke, make him the kind of guy who the audience loves to hate. But the show doesn't do that. Instead, it shows us how this modern American dream can be destructive but it can also be motivating, which is a much more complex and interesting story to tell.

Let's start at the beginning, though. When we first meet Tom, he's working as Leslie's assistant in the Pawnee Parks Department. He hates his job, just kind of does it for the paycheck, and dreams constantly of something more, something bigger. It feels like his whole life is stalled, forcing him into a weird netherworld where neither his romantic nor his professional aspirations can come to fruit. 

So it's not super shocking that the show shakes Tom loose of those stagnant situations relatively early on. His greencard marriage ends when his wife's citizenship is secure, leaving Tom free to actually try to find a life partner. And eventually he decides to quit his job at the Parks Department to start his own entertainment business. American Dream, here comes Tom Haverford!

Well, if that were the case, then his character development wouldn't actually be all that interesting or compelling. Instead of having Tom go on to be improbably successful right off the bat, the show makes it clear that he has a lot to learn about business and life before he can actually achieve his dreams. Furthermore, he has a lot to learn about relationships and women before he's going to be ready to commit to a loving and healthy partnership. Tom's story on Parks and Recreation is less about him figuring out what his dream is and more about him growing to a mature enough level to achieve it.

In other words, Tom's story is an examination of our cultural values and a repudiation of the idea that success should be easy or cheap. It's also a story that openly thinks through the question of what it means to be a success in America, to be American, in this day and age. To have this story told by an Indian-American character, then, is both appropriate and really interesting. That's what we're getting at.

Tom's first company, Entertainment 720, fails spectacularly, mostly because he has no idea what he is doing. He just sort of starts the company and assumes this makes him successful. It doesn't. Then he starts a second company, Rent-A-Swag, which rents high end clothing to middle school boys (and other people too). Rent-A-Swag, interestingly, actually does really well right up until a rival store opens across the street and drives it into the ground. So that's two strikes for Tom's business attempts, two strikes for his dream of independent wealth and entrepreneurship.

His third company, Tom's Bistro, actually does very well. By this point, Tom has learned a lot from his failures and is ready to actually go into business and do it well. But you know what? Tom's Bistro fails too. He pushes for a big expansion which should have been very sound and a great idea, but economic forces beyond his control conspire to crush it, causing him to declare bankruptcy again. Tom feels like nothing is going to go right, like his dream is nothing more than a concatenation of his failures. As it turns out, though, his failures are the most important part.

It's after this third strike that Tom changes direction and really starts to think about his life and what it means to pursue the American Dream. And from that comes his book on how to fail your way to greatness. Tom becomes a self-help guru, the kind of guy who sells out stadiums and writes bestsellers and buys back his old restaurant. He finally does get his success, but not without a lot of failure and disaster along the way.

On the romantic side it's very much the same story. We first meet Tom in a semi-loveless marriage, trying to pick up girls using PUA techniques and generally being a lech. When his marriage breaks up, however, he realizes he had feelings for his wife and we start to see a small level of maturity breaking through the clouds. 

Each of his successive girlfriends then gets to know a slightly better and more giving Tom, culminating in his relationship with his second wife, Lucy, a partnership of equals. 

In other words, Tom gets his dream. He gets to be cosmopolitan and a success and married to a woman he loves and a jetsetter and all of that, but he doesn't get there without a lot of failure first. So what does that have to do with Asian-American masculinity.

So in a lot of ways, Tom is a subversion of what we've come to expect of depictions of Asian-American men. Like Harold and Kumar before him, he can be extremely lazy and he fights back actively against the stereotype of Asian men as sexless. Tom loves sex and we are made well aware of this at every turn. Like Bellamy Blake, however, Tom also exists in a weird nether-space of kind of Asian-ness and kind of not. As we noted above, he's changed his name to sound more "American" - read, "white" - and he doesn't seem to value or express his parents' culture.

But more than either of these, what I think is fascinating about Tom's status as an Asian-American male character is how thoroughly he's allowed to celebrate American culture. And not just the parts of American culture that we think should be celebrated. Tom is a lowest common denominator kind of guy. He likes tabloids and celebrity culture and pickup artists and all sorts of things we just aren't used to seeing Asian-American men enjoy. Tom is not a nerd, he's not a "worker drone", and he's not some stoic high-culture snob. He's a dude who constantly calls his best friend Ben a hopeless dork and refers to himself as a "pimp". 

And yeah, it's a little jarring to think of it as a good thing to have a character like Tom who celebrates everything we tend to think of as the bad side of our culture, but that's the beauty of it. Tom loves the crap we don't like, and that's because he can. His character is allowed to choose, and he chose schlock. That is, strange as it may sound, a good thing. 

It's a diversity of representation, a reminder that Asian men are allowed to be shallow and vain and obsessed with monetary success. They aren't inherently more "spiritual" or "intelligent" or "above that". To think that way is to deny the basic humanity of a whole group of people - being a person means having the option to choose garbage if you want. So we should celebrate that Tom does choose what he likes and lives it so loudly. It's good for us.

Going back to Tom and the American Dream, though, I think that perhaps the most interesting aspect of Tom's character on Parks and Recreation really is this new conception of what the American Dream is and should be. We're used to the idea of immigrants and the children of immigrants going after that other dream, the dream of suburbia and a house of one's own. But we're less comfortable with the update, with the idea that immigrants and their children might come to America because they want fame and fortune, because they want to be young and hot in New York City, because they want to be moguls and celebrities. 

As an ambassador of the new American Dream, Tom exists as a reminder that the world is much bigger than we give it credit for. And by succeeding in the pursuit of his dream, he teaches us that our traditional American values of hard work and grit can still count and still matter even in this new world and new dream. And that's worthwhile too.

So here's to Tom Haverford, a baller. You know that's how he'd want us to refer to him.


Monday, May 16, 2016

Strong Female Character Friday: Connie (Steven Universe)

[I know it's not Friday, but TIME IS AN ILLUSION.]

Last week for Strong Female Character Friday, we kicked off our series of articles examining strong representations of Asian-American femininity by looking at Lane Kim, Rory's put upon best friend from Gilmore Girls. Our point in talking about Lane, a fantastically complex and fun character, was that her role as a perpetual background story of Rory's life did her a disservice. Lane is awesome and complicated and deserved her own storyline, even if the show is called "Gilmore Girls" and not "Kim Women". Which would be a great other show that should totally happen. Just saying. 

In looking at Lane we were also looking at the tendency for shows and movies to push Asian-American women aside by putting them in best friend roles, the kind of roles where they can pat themselves on the back for including diversity but not have to actually engage with any kind of challenging storytelling. That kind of thing.

This week, then, we're going to extend our net a little further and talk about a female character who arguably occupies a space very similar to Lane's - the Asian-American best friend from a strict family whose storyline revolves around her friend - but which executes this story very differently. We're going to talk about Connie Maheswaran from Steven Universe and the right way to tell a best friend story.

In a happy turn of events, it feels like Steven Universe as a show is only becoming more popular with each second I spend typing this. So I'm not even going to bother taking the time to explain the premise to you - but if you need to know you can check out my explanation here - and we'll just dive right in. Suffice it to say, Steven Universe is an animated children's show about a bunch of kindhearted aliens who save the world, and Connie is one of the few humans who knows what's up.

Connie Maheswaran comes into the story of Steven Universe kind of late in the game by their standards. They've already been on Earth for thousands of years before she shows up, and Steven himself has already been around for like thirteen years. But Connie's arrival does seem to herald a shift. When Connie comes she's right on time to help Steven come into his powers and process them, making her an invaluable part of the team, his best friend.

Connie likes being Steven's best friend. She really does. She loves how free and open his life is, enjoys the sense of adventure and unexpected, and even kind of digs the occasional world-threatening danger. She likes it a lot more, at any rate, than she enjoys her relatively strict homelife. It's not that Connie doesn't love her parents, but more that as an only child of high-achieving parents who move a lot for work, Connie is desperate for a life that doesn't make her feel that pressure. She wants to experience more than just violin lessons and extra math homework. Which is definitely the start of how she ends up hanging out with Steven. But it quickly goes a lot deeper than that.

See, like any good character, the further we get into the story, the further we get into Connie as a character. Far from the early days where Connie and Steven were just running around having fun, the two of them eventually develop an incredibly close bond, with Connie even learning how to swordfight so that she can protect Steven in battle. Because, yeah, they're close enough friends that Connie wants to be there to protect her friend on the literal field of battle. 

She's devoted to Steven, though occasionally in a kind of unhealthy way. She's Steven's first crush and he's hers. They share books and TV shows and jam sessions and when they imagine the future they're always together. Hell, when Steven learns how to fuse his first fusion is with Connie, a coming-together that happens because they both just enjoy being around each other so dang much. 

So while Lane on Gilmore Girls spent more time in the background as time went on, pushed out by Rory's ever-expanding life, Connie is being brought into Steven's ever-expanding life and being made more and more a part of it. Which isn't just better development, it's also a better statement when we think of her as a minority character.

Let's take a step back and look at this. We know from interviews with the cast and crew that Connie, voiced by Grace Rolek, is Indian-American. Based on some basic nameology or what have you, we can pretty reliably place her family as originating in Southern India and being Tamil.* Not super important, but interesting. What is important is that this means Connie is a character of color. And we knew that, but it gets even cooler when we think of her role in the show.

Connie is Steven's link to human life, sure, we get that. Between Connie and his father Greg, Steven gets to be tied back down to Earth, making him all the more willing and motivated to protect his home planet. Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl might have all chosen to protect Earth, but Steven received the protection of Earth as his birthright, passed down from a mother who swore to fight for this planet and a father who just so happened to be born here. Connie, on the other hand, doesn't have this big epic story. It would be very easy for her role in the narrative to be the typical girlfriend role: the one who reminds the hero what he's supposed to be saving.

And to some extent that is what Connie does. Steven sometimes thinks of her as a stand-in for humanity, not in a bad way, but in a "here is the human being who is not related to me for whom I feel the most feelings" way. Connie reminds Steven what it is to be human, whether it's questioning why he doesn't go to school or asking silly human questions like, "How old are you really?" Connie reminds Steven how to be human and that's fantastic. 

It is also, however, a very small portion of what she does.

If Connie were to see herself described as the character who reminds the hero why he ought to fight, she'd be pissed. She would insist that this is a reductive and heteronormative reading of character development which refuses to acknowledge the complexity of her as a person. And she'd be right. There's a whole hell of a lot more to Connie than just being Steven's friend. For starters, she's not his damsel in distress. Connie thinks of herself as Steven's Knight, the one who's going to save him from all the bad things of the world. And, oh yeah, save the world too:
I don't know what will happen in the future, but if something dangerous comes along, I don't want to be a burden, I want to help! I want to be there for Steven, to fight by his side! The Earth is my home too, can't I help protect it?
Seriously, she's got more guts than adults three times her age, which mixes together to make Connie a really fantastically cool character. I mean, it would already be new and different and great for Connie to be a well-rounded best friend with her own story arc who represents humanity and just so happens to be Asian-American. That would be rad. But to have this Asian-American girl being one of the few people to step up and say that she wants to save the world? That's huge. That is actually a very big statement about the world. 

It's saying that the world does not inherently just belong to white people and everyone else happens to live here. And while that might sound like an obvious statement, it is shockingly rare to find an example in Western television of a world protector who isn't white. So to have Connie stand up and ask to help defend the Earth really is a big deal - she's a visual representation of all of the good in the world, of our capacity for kindness and learning and sacrifice, and she's brown.

That's a big deal for me, a white adult watching this show. Imagine then what an even bigger deal it is for the thousands and thousands of kids of color who get to watch it. Who get to see a hero who maybe looks like them saying she's going to fight for her planet. Who get to see her push back against societal expectations. And who get to see her being a very very good friend.

Connie Maheswaran is pretty damn important.

It really is funny for me to look at Connie and Lane side by side. They have all at once so much in common and so much not. They both come from strict households where they are pushed to achieve and live up to expectations, though Lane's expectations are more religious and cultural while Connie's are more academic and musical. Their best friends both come from non-traditional family units which they worry their very traditional parents will find hard to accept. They are both devoted to their best friend and enjoy spending time with this other person who is so different and so wonderful to them.

But where Lane gets pushed further back every year, eventually only appearing every five episodes or so for ten minutes a piece, Connie has become more and more integral to the functioning of the show as time goes on. You can't have a Steven Universe without Connie anymore, and that's a really big deal.

In a world where Asian-American characters are lucky to even be the best friend in a show not about them, Connie's increased relevance and her entire arc of strength and responsibility are incredibly important. She exists as a reminder that there's nothing wrong with being a best friend, as long as you're actually an equal.

*It's also worth noting that in "Sworn to the Sword", the episode where Connie learns to swordfight, she ends up in a very particular outfit which was intentionally designed to mimic what practitioners of Kalaripayattu wear. Kalaripayattu is an Indian martial arts/swordfighting style - Connie's blue uniform, braided hair, and actual fighting form are quite representative of this fighting form, an intentional nod to her heritage and a super cool thing to include in the show.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Friendship Doesn't Have An End Goal - Discussing 'Hawkeye'

You know what? It says depressing and awful things about us as a culture and society that when I try to think of friendships between men and women that start as friendship and stay as friendship and never veer into something that isn't friendship, I am struck dumb with the difficulty. 

I mean, when you factor out stories where one or the other of the characters isn't human and stories where one or the other of the characters is absolutely definitely gay (and not Chasing Amy gay) and stories where the characters are separated by a significant age gap and stories where the characters are related, stories about heterosexual men and women being friends and just friends are in alarmingly short supply.

Maybe it's because we've all been brainwashed by When Harry Met Sally, but it does seem pretty clear that our culture has bought wholeheartedly into the idea that men and women can't be friends without sex getting in the way. Which is, frankly, stupid.

Furthermore, it feels like we as a culture really don't give friendship its due in general. I mean, we've got movie after movie about the bonds of family and our entire media structure is based on the importance of romantic love, but there is very little out there that's just about friendship. I mean, we've got My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and the occasional buddy cop movie and that's pretty much it. And most of those examples are same-sex friendships. Not to say that same-sex friendships aren't worth celebrating, but it divides the world into "people I can be friends with" and "people I can be romantic with".

Which is, again, stupid. Friendship is one of the best parts of life in large part because it's entirely altruistic. It's deciding to care about someone and let them into your life even though you don't have to and you're not getting sex out of it. Friendship is entirely voluntary - there's no marriage vows or custody agreements for friendship, as much as we sometimes joke about it. Friendship just is, and it's great.

So since I'm all for stories that push back against these sorts of societal blind spots, let's take a quick look at that rarest of birds, a male-female friendship where no one is in love with anyone else, they're not related, and they're really just two people who like each other enough to weather all of the crap that goes along with a relationship between two human beings. They fight, they make up, they share a dog and a superhero codename, and most of all they share life. Because that's how friends work. I'm talking, of course, about Clint Barton and Kate Bishop from the Marvel Comics Universe.

Yes, while it generally gets left out when people discuss the epic gold that is the standalone Hawkeye comic, the friendship between our two Hawkeyes (or Hawkguys if you ask the residents of Clint's building) is both epic and genuine. It's epic because they express their friendship by taking down Russian mobsters together and go to fancy parties together and count on each other to help out even when they're fighting.

It's genuine because, well, they fight. They have flaws. Kate frequently thinks that Clint's life is a mess, that he makes bad life choices, that he needs to stop feeling sorry for himself and get off his ass. And Clint thinks that Kate is spoiled, obnoxious, and too privileged to understand where he's coming from. Neither of them is wrong, and sometimes they're so pissed at each other that they end up on opposite sides of the country resolutely not speaking. But you know what?

That only makes it a more realistic friendship.

The thing about friendship is that it doesn't have an end goal. Despite what Buzzfeed listicles might tell you, there's no one point where you can stop and say, "Yes. We have reached apex friendship. We are Friends." That's not how it works. There's no wedding, there's no ceremony, there's no single defining point that says that you are as friends as you can possibly friend. Friendship doesn't have an end goal, it's a goal unto itself.

This is what I feel like Clint and Kate demonstrate really well. By all accounts they are two people who have just enough in common to feel like they ought to be friends, but they're different enough that probably no one would blame them if they decided to just stick to a mentor-mentee relationship or even a vague acquaintance. They don't have to be friends because that's not how friendship works. And when they decide that they are friends, we don't really see that as a set point with a clear and defined goal. It's just that at some point we the readers understand what they the characters understand. They are friends and they will probably keep being friends. Probably.

The fact that friendship is entirely voluntary makes it all the more heartbreaking when Kate, utterly fed up with Clint's bullshit (and understandably so) steals his dog and goes to the West coast. It's painful to see her do this and to see Clint left at odds without her, but it's also understandable. They're just friends - she doesn't have to stay.

And when she comes back? That means even more too because she doesn't have to. She has every reason in the world to walk away, to not help Clint, to just cut her losses and keep running, but she comes back anyway, because he's her friend.

Factor in the complete and utter lack of any romance between the two of them, and you've got yourself that rarest of birds in American pop culture: a completely platonic, very close friendship between a man and a woman. Rejoice.

I feel the need to point out as well that while it feels easy to say, "Yeah, well, the reason it's platonic is because Kate's too young for Clint," that's a cop out. Comics are totally okay with having women in their early twenties date men in their late thirties. That's not a big age difference for comics at all. Which is alarming when you think about it, but does make the lack of romantic or sexual tension between these two all the more comforting. The comic doesn't go there! Yay!

Instead, the comic focuses on how these two broken people from radically different backgrounds can make each other better people without having to worry about bumping uglies. Clint was raised in abject poverty, was abused, ran away to join the circus, and spent years dealing with a physical disability. Kate grew up in the lap of luxury, emotionally neglected but provided for, and went into the hero business because she kind of didn't have anything better to do. Yet despite this gulf in their experiences, Clint and Kate can love and support each other.

I mean, while other heroes squabble and fight over codenames and proper credit and have rivalries and piss all over each other, Clint and Kate literally share a superhero name with almost no argument.* This doesn't mean that they never get mad at each other or have fights - they patently do fight - but rather that their relationship, despite their differences, is based in a mutual respect that is incredibly hard to shake. Their friendship is solid, even when they're not super enthused about each other. That's pretty great.

As for their friendship being solid, I think the fact that the Matt Fraction and David Aja Hawkeye run is so compelling is because it realistically portrays what happens when a very solid friendship is tested. So for most of this run Clint and Kate really aren't getting along, and that still doesn't change how much we can tell that they care about each other. They care about each other enough to call for improvement. 

Kate loves Clint enough to demand that he stop running away and avoiding his responsibilities, and Clint loves Kate enough to demand that she grow up and stand on her own two feet. And yeah, they kind of hate each other sometimes. But that's the great thing about friendship: you can be pissed the hell off and still consider someone one of your closest friends. Friendship is a voluntary system, and good ones can definitely handle the growing pains of a relationship built on genuine intimacy and trust.

It doesn't hurt, of course, that they really do have things in common. Both Kate and Clint are the kind of people who realize they don't have superpowers, shrug, and then go fight crime anyway. They're both masterful archers, both obsessed with the color purple, and both keep feeding their dog pizza even though that is definitely not a good food for dogs.

Friendships, particularly a friendship like Clint and Kate's, should be built on a solid foundation of shared interests and mutual goals, but it's a sign of health and strength when they build past that. When the friendship extends to helping each other out in awkward family situations and supporting each other at funerals. When they've got each others' backs even when they kind of want to punch each other too. 

Friendship is great, is what I'm getting at here.

In our society, we prioritize bonds that have clear delineations and defining markers of success. We think about familial love and we obsess over romance. But we give way too little credit to the importance and value of pure platonic friendship - particularly a friendship as close and challenging as what Kate and Clint have. Friendship doesn't have a point, it's a good in itself. There's no markers or guideposts or signs that you're doing it right or wrong. It's just you and another person figuring it out, no ulterior motives or goals to hit.

It's the only kind of relationship where it is by its nature completely voluntary. If you don't think that's the raddest thing, I'm not sure we can be friends.

*What happened was that Clint was Hawkeye, then gave the name up to go undercover and said that Kate could use it. Then he came back and she told him she wasn't going to stop being Hawkeye. So now they're both Hawkeye and the solution seems to work well for them.