Thursday, July 31, 2014

Divergent - Just Because You're Strong Doesn't Mean You're Safe

Tris Prior is afraid of six things. Among them are drowning, being burned alive, birds, more drowning, being forced to kill the people she loves, and sexual assault.

It's funny (it's not very funny) because Tris is a soldier. She can take care of herself. She's a really good shot, great a throwing knives, and a solid hand-to-hand fighter. Heck, she even has mad strategy skills. She's a strong person, physically and mentally, so why is she afraid that her boyfriend is going to rape her? I mean, her boyfriend is practically a PSA on informed consent and respect, so why is she scared?

Divergent is, in a lot of ways, very similar to most other young adult dystopian novels/movies. It centers around one girl, Tris (Shailene Woodley), who is special in a certain way, and follows her as she rebels against her oppressive society and fights to change the rules so that everyone can enjoy a high level of bodily autonomy. Tris in particular is a girl who believes that the best way to protect people is to learn to fight and sacrifice for them, so she joins the Dauntless Faction - a pseudo-military group in her society. She goes through bootcamp (initiation), flies through her tests, and is eventually admitted into the squads of the Dauntless protectors. 

The Dauntless initiation process is specifically interesting because of the way that the leaders test their initiates. The leaders believe that the sign of real courage, and the mark of a good soldier, is someone who can face and overcome their fears. So to test this, they inject the initiates with a serum that will simulate their worst fears, and then watch their neural responses. Each initiate has to go through their fears, and deal with them, while their brain scans and a representation of what's going on inside is viewed by the Faction authorities. Pretty nerve-wracking.

When it comes time for Tris to be tested we as the audience are pretty confident we know what her fears are going to be. We've seen them a few times at this point. Drowning, birds, being burnt alive, having to kill her family, etc. But the really interesting one is actually more simple than all of these: Tris' fears filter across the screen, and we see suddenly that she is scared, no, terrified, of having sex with her boyfriend, Four.


Now, a lot of commentators were surprised by this scene, and a lot of them saw it as another case of a religious fundamentalist speaking out against teenagers having sex. Because Tris is afraid of having sex with Four, and because this becomes a plot point, we are apparently supposed to gather that Tris is afraid of her own budding sexuality or that she's a good girl and therefore is scared to lose her virginity, or even that she has this fear that Four "only wants her for her body".

I don't think any of these are actually the case, though. Because, to my mind, Tris' fear that her older, more experienced boyfriend will want sex with her whether or not she wants it with him aren't that irrational. I mean, they're not all that flattering to Four, but from Tris' perspective, they are a totally reasonable thing to fear.

If you recall, earlier in the story, before Tris and Four are really anything in particular, Tris is attacked by several of her fellow initiates. They know it's her, they target her specifically, and they try to kill her. Because Tris has been doing so well in her training, the other initiates decide to violate and kill her and thus remove her from the competition. It's a stated fact that they are going after her because she seems strong, and that they intend to at the very least make her weak.

That there is a sexual element to all of this seems almost a given, but it's important to note. Not only are her attackers trying to throw her over a very literal cliff, they're also pawing and pulling at her clothes and skin, pulling her hair, and groping her. It's less clear in the movie, but the book is completely clear on this fact. 

It's made even worse when Tris pulls off one of their masks (they're wearing masks) to find that one of her attackers is a former friend, Al. The revelation of his identity shames Al, and then Four comes to the rescue and brings her back to his room where she can be safe, but it's clear the incident has shaken Tris.

And why shouldn't it shake her? She was just attacked by men, one of whom she considered a friend, who wanted to violate her in order to "bring her down a notch". They attacked her because she was strong, and they hated her strength. Obviously when she sees Al the next day, she flips out on him and yells that she never wants to see him again. That's not hysteria, that's a very reasonable reaction.

So with this context in mind, remembering that this happens at most a couple of weeks before her fears are broadcast for everyone to see, is it at all surprising that Tris is afraid of sexual assault? I really don't think her fear stems from a fear that Four is an inherently bad person, or even from a fear of sex. As far as I can tell, what Tris is afraid of is the idea that no matter how strong and prepared and able to fight she is, she could still be raped.

Tris has just spent a couple of weeks/months training with a paramilitary organization. She can throw knives, use a gun, deliver devastating punches and jabs, and she can probably poison you too. But Four is bigger, older, better trained and more experienced. In a fight, Tris might come out on top. Maybe. Probably not. In an ambush situation where Tris is without weapons or warning? Almost certainly not.

It's also important to remember here too that Tris doesn't have any faith in the power or sympathy of the Dauntless leadership either. She has no confidence that if she were to report an assault to her leaders they would listen or care. In fact, we know they wouldn't. When news of her assault reaches the upper levels, no one bats an eye. If Tris had been more harmed, we are told that she would have been blamed for not being able to fight back. In other words, it's always the victim's fault, so there's no use reporting anything.

Given all of this, then, is it so unreasonable to think that the specter of violence, and particularly sexualized violence, might loom large in Tris' mind? 
“There is no accountability,” [Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-NY] said during a news conference on Capitol Hill. “Because the trust that any justice will be served has been irreparably broken under the current system, where commanders hold all the cards over whether a case moves forward for prosecution.” [x]
All of this probably does and should sound familiar to you. It's extraordinarily reminiscent (and I would assume intentionally so) of the current legal debate going on over how to handle cases of sexual assault in the military. In 2011, over 26,000 service members reported being sexually assaulted in an anonymous survey conducted by the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. But that's an anonymous survey. Only 3,553 sexual assault cases were actually reported to the Department of Defense in 2013. And I don't think that's because that's how few rapes there were. [From The New York Times]

This doesn't even try to calculate sexual harassment complaints or incidents either, this is just about sexual assault. And while the gradual increase in rapes reported probably reflects the increased attention paid to these cases and the slowly improving conditions for service-members who report sexual assault, that's still a massive gap between assaults and reports, and that's way too many assaults in the first place. I mean, even one is too many. This is a lot more than one.

What's really interesting here, though, is the fact that this the military we're talking about. These are our fighting forces. I would assume that a large proportion of the people reporting these sexual assaults as well as the ones not reporting them are trained combat professionals. And you know what? That doesn't actually mean you won't get raped. That sucks. I don't like writing that. But it's true.

I mean, just based on the statistics alone, the conclusion we have to come to is simple and horrifying: no matter how well-trained you are, how strong you are, and how many precautions you take, there is no guarantee. Someone could still hurt you. That's horrifying.

It's horrifying, but at the same time I think it's something that should come up more in our cultural discussion of rape and victim blaming. Too often people will mouth off about how the victim of a rape ought to have taken more steps to protect themself. Should have learned some form of martial arts. Should have carried pepper spray. Shouldn't have worn heels or talked on a cell phone or walked alone at night. We have so many ways to say that it's your fault for being raped, and that you should have taken better care of yourself.

But here we have layer upon layer of statistics about the massive, terrifying, systemic rape crisis in what should be the safest place in our country: the military. You can't argue that all of these service members were weak or needed to learn to protect themselves or shouldn't have been dressed so provocatively. They're soldiers. And in the end, that didn't make a single effing difference. 

I'm not just trying to bum you out here. I have a point. While learning self-defense and being "strong" are very good and important ways to stay safe, ultimately they can't save you. Instead of insisting that people be strong and prevent being assaulted, we need to address the real problem. We need to make it clear that it is not okay to assault someone.

It seems so incredibly simple, but it's not. We need to create systems of justice and clear communication streams that make it easy and reliable to report incidents of rape and assault, and, yes, harassment, so that these reports can be investigated and prosecuted. We need to make it clear that assault is not the fault of the victim, but the crime of the assailant. We need to make it utterly true that assault - sexual or physical - will not be tolerated in our culture, in our military, in our world.

Look, I appreciate the fact that Divergent deals realistically with the fears of a teenage girl in a violent society. I like that we are totally clear on how she is afraid that no matter how strong she is she won't be able to stop someone hurting her. But I really, really wish that wasn't a story we needed to tell.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Lie of Mysterious Masculinity, the Brooding Hero, and Angel

Yesterday and the day before were kind of heavy topics-wise, and tomorrow is promising to be a not super fun topic too, so I thought before we dive into more depressing stuff about our culture, let's take a minute and appreciate a trope that has appeared in a surprising number of shows now: the sexy brooding hunk of a hero who is an all reality a socially inept nutcase who isn't so much majestic and mysterious as deeply bad at interacting with people.

Can we talk about this trope for a minute? Because I love the stuffing out of this trope.

I love it because it puts paid to the idea of the perfect male character. All too often, writers, especially writers of female-driven shows (and this is mostly a television phenomenon) create these perfect male characters, the ultimate receptacle of the female lead's love. These men are tall, built, dreamily handsome, and yet somehow mysterious and complicated. They have a lot of feelings and emotions, sure, but they keep them locked away deep inside, a mystery for the right woman to solve.

You know what I'm talking about. A kajillion romance novels have been written about these guys, and they show up with alarming regularity on television, especially genre television. I mean, doesn't this describe half the male cast of The Vampire Diaries and True Blood? Or what about the most infamous vampire hunk of all, Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel?

Well, see, Angel is actually the one I'm really referring to here when I talk about how much I enjoy this particular trope, about the perfect guy who actually isn't mysterious, he's just a complete dork. Because Angel? Is a complete dork who has no idea how to talk to people. It's great.

For those of you not in the know, Angel is this character (played by David Boreanaz), who appeared in both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel: The Series. He was (is?) a vampire, but he's a super special awesome vampire because a hundred years ago he was cursed with a soul. So he's moral, but also has eternal youth and is super handsome and strong and stuff. 

He's very good at deep emotional conversations. Not.
He fights the good fight, and somewhere along in there he falls in love with Buffy, a vampire slayer. It's doomed romance, complicated by the part where he loses his soul and goes evil and tries to end the world but dies instead then comes back and they decide that maybe they should break up.

So Angel moves to Los Angeles (heh), where he becomes an absolutely terrible private detective (who has no license) investigating supernatural crime and fighting monsters and saving stuff. That's the gist of the character, in a nutshell. But what's important to understand is that in between being a drunken layabout of a human, then a vicious killing machine of a monster, then a heroic but stunted vampire with a soul, Angel never really got around to learning people skills. Like, at all. He's terrible at them.

Sure, when we first meet him in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he seems like this sort of perfect, mysterious guy. He's handsome and helpful but sometimes cryptic and vague. He has this deep and meaningful emotional trauma that he keeps very well hidden inside himself, and our heroine, Buffy, is always trying to draw him out of his shell, to give him that emotional stability that he seems to crave. She wants to solve the mystery that is Angel. It makes for a very juicy love story. But, arguably, not a very realistic one.

Which is why I found it so fascinating when Angel became the lead of his own show (Angel, in case that wasn't clear). Because now we were seeing Angel without the filter of Buffy's romantic interest in him, and what we got was...different. 

Basically, without the Instagram filter of "romantic, mysterious hunk" laid on top of him, we can see Angel for what he really is: a socially inept dork who isn't mysterious, he's just really terrible with people. And that's great. Why? For starters because it's much more true to life and also funnier. But more because it skewers the idea that this man, this sexy brooding hunk who needs to be fixed by the love of a good woman exists. He doesn't exist, he's a myth. A myth that, I would argue, is as damaging to men as a lot of the myths surrounding female characters are to women.

He has a way with words.
The Angel we saw on Buffy was kind of the perfect guy. He was sweet, thoughtful, and generous, but also dark and mysterious and brooding. He was completely into Buffy, to the point that he couldn't even register attraction from anyone else, and he was willing to sacrifice greatly to be with her. He could help out in a fight, but he was always willing to let Buffy take the lead. Sure, he went evil sometimes, but he did it with such panache! And besides, his evil phase just went to show what a dark and complicated guy he was.

In Buffy, whenever the Scoobies wanted answers on something vaguely related to vampires, they would go to Angel, who would give them this cryptic answer that would (eventually) help them solve the case, but would first make them flail around a little bit. He never gave a straight answer, he was always being so. damn. mysterious.

Cut to Angel. All of a sudden we're seeing all of this from Angel's perspective, and it becomes clear that he's not being mysterious. At least, not on purpose. In all actuality, Angel is a ridiculously stunted person, and he just doesn't know how to talk to a human being. So when he gives those cryptic answers? It's not supposed to be cryptic. He just doesn't know how to convey information in a normal fashion. Or when he disappears in a swirl of his coat when he's done talking to you? Not dramatic, he just didn't know how to end the conversation and now he is running away.

Can you see why I like this version better?

And the thing is, Angel's Angel isn't less heroic than Buffy's version. He's not less brave or good at fighting or committed to battling evil. Actually he's moreso. Because in Angel, he's a person. Before he was a cartoon drawing of the perfect boyfriend. But now we see him for who he really is: a goober, but a goober with good intentions.

All those sexy brooding hunks are attractive and all, but they're not real people. Real people have flaws, and those guys only have flaws that make them seem more tragic and sexily damaged (which is gross and should not be a thing). They fight the good fight, but not because they have a moral obligation or because they chose to or because they have some meaningful reason to do so, they fight the good fight because the plot demands it. They're cardboard cutouts of a romantic fantasy, no more real than all those damsels in distress or those manic pixie dream girls. They're fake. And we don't need them.

He turned into a puppet one time.
Not when there are all these delectable goobers around! Angel is arguably the king of the goobers, but here's a quick roundup of other guys who fit this list: John Sheppard (Stargate: Atlantis), Derek Hale (Teen Wolf), Castiel (Supernatural), Steve McGarrett (Hawaii Five-O), Oliver Queen (Arrow), Batman (sometimes), Tuxedo Mask (Sailor Moon), Duke (She's the Man), and so on. I could keep going. The point is that all of these characters are big attractive men who seem to fit a feminine ideal of what masculinity is, who are mysterious because they don't say much and who are super heroic, but are actually just gigantic dorks.

There's something very comforting about this trope. The idea that that big guy over there in the corner who's not saying much and kind of weirding you out is actually not a scary murderer or some hitman or a potential rapist, but really a kind of inept man lacking the proper socialization skills to ask if he can get past you because you're blocking the vending machine. 

The idea that the brooding hunk you can see sending glances your way is actually just trying to figure out why you look so much like his first grade teacher. The sexy dude staring off into space on the train isn't contemplating the meaning of life or his tragic backstory, he's trying to decide who would win in a fight: a shark or a polar bear with an oxygen tank.

What I'm saying is that I love the idea that everyone is people. Because everyone is people! Okay, that sounds super weird, but you get what I mean. Everyone has the right to be represented fairly and complexly in stories. We all benefit from that. If stories where women are reduced to being perfect girlfriends and wives, whose only conflict arises from their use as bait or character development for the male characters, are harmful to women, then can't we assume that mysterious brooding heroes who exist just for female character development are harmful to men?

I mean, clearly our society has more examples of this for women. Like a lot more. It's more ingrained in our culture to associate female value with male relationship than vice versa. But that doesn't mean we should give mysterious brooding hunks a pass. That doesn't make it okay for stories about women to create harmful stereotypes about men. Sexual objectification, and that's what this is really all about, is harmful to everyone, no matter who is being sexually objectified. Even when, I know, it's an upper-middle-class white guy being objectified. It's still damaging.

He always sings Barry Manilow at karaoke night. Always.
You could argue that the sexy, brooding hunk hero with a mysterious past is actually a male power fantasy, but I don't think it is. In fact I'm pretty sure it's not. Who wants to imagine themselves as emotionally damaged and reliant on another person for healing? That's a weird thing to fantasize about. And it's not a power fantasy if you're imagining that you need someone's love to heal you. I'm sure logically that someone fantasizes about this, but it's not the norm.

No, these are stereotypes created by and for women, and they don't just harm guys who can't live up to them, they harm women who see these brooding hunks as a romantic ideal and refuse to accept substitutes. That's problematic for two reasons: 1, perfect people don't exist, and 2, a lot of the sexy brooding hero traits are also traits belonging to not nice men who will be not nice boyfriends. Better to recognize the fantasy as a fantasy and get to know people for real.

Ultimately, though, I think the real reason I love Angel and his horrific social awkwardness is because it knocks him down a peg. It makes him relatable and real. Who hasn't been trapped in a conversation with someone, utterly pinned, and wished they could just run away instead of politely ending it? Who hasn't wanted to just answer, "Because of reasons!" instead of explaining their thought process?

Who hasn't gotten caught spacing and had to come up with a better answer than "Would astronauts or cavemen win in a fight?" when asked what they're thinking about?

Pretty people are awkward too, sometimes, and it's good to remember that. It reminds us that everyone is human, from the people on our screens to the people around us. And it also is stinking funny.

So have a video of Angel trying his hardest to dance like a normal person (because it's hilarious and I love you), and remember that representation matters. It seriously always matters.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Think of the Children! Tuesday: Peter Pan Is a Cancer on Society

If there's one story in Western culture that we've seen more adaptations of than The Three Musketeers, it's Peter Pan. Okay, to be fair, that's an exaggeration. There are lots of stories that we keep recycling over and over, and Peter Pan is just one of them. But it's an important one, because somewhere in there, this little story by J.M. Barrie, written in the late 1800s, became enshrined alongside the fairy tales our culture has been lugging along for half a millennium now.

What I mean is that it's funny to think about the relative newness of Peter Pan in relation to its cultural saturation. Sure, there are fourteen kajillion versions of Cinderella kicking around (and I should know, since my mother's hobby was to collect and watch/read all of them), but Cinderella has been in our culture for a very long time. Peter Pan? Not so much. So it's interesting that this is a story so incredibly pervasive in our collective unconscious.

I say it's interesting. What I actually mean is that it's creepy as hell, and probably deeply unhealthy.

Peter Pan seems to be one of those stories that everyone loves but no one really gets. Or rather, no one really bothers to think about. Because if you really think about it, Peter Pan is not a nice fairy story about a boy who wouldn't grow up, it's about the monstrous ways that a perpetual childhood can destroy the psyche. I mean, it's told in a loving and sweet way, but it's still a cautionary tale. And I think most of us kind of miss that part.

Not like that's a new literary tradition, the missing of the point. People to this day insist that Machiavelli was being totally straight when he wrote The Prince and that he was a sick son of a bitch. Not so, in fact, because even a cursory examination of his life history would reveal that he effing hated the prince he wrote that for, and he intentionally filled the book with bad advice on governance in the hope that the guy would become so hated the people would kill him. I did not make that up.

Or how about Thomas More's Utopia? Yes, it's the book most cited by Danielle in the lovely Ever After, and it's what we attribute her feminist leanings and general egalitarian attitude towards, but the book itself was meant to be a joke. Erasmus even commented on how funny it was, and More himself was a little baffled when people started to take it seriously. They didn't get the joke. And so too, have we completely missed the point of Peter Pan.

Look, when we come down to the brass tacks of the Peter Pan story, what do we know? What does every version stick with?

Peter Pan is a child who ran away from his life when he heard his parents talking about what he would be when he grew up. He decided that growing up sounded terrible and resolved to never do it. Therefore, he went off to Never Never Land, a magical island full of fun stuff where he doesn't have to get older.

Eventually he collects a herd of young boys to follow him around and think he's god, and they fight against pirates and racist Native American stereotypes, and everything is fine until one day Peter gets separated from his shadow and meets Wendy Darling and her brothers and then he takes them to Neverland and all hell breaks loose. Sort of.

That's the gist, though, right? Peter Pan is the boy who wouldn't grow up, and he lives an enchanted life among fairies and living in the woods and he has no responsibilities, but he gets to fight pirates all the time and never has to pay bills or go to school or think about his impact on other people at all. Sounds amazing.

Except for the part where that actually sounds like a hellish dystopia, and where Peter Pan is a sociopath in boy's clothing and a probable murderer to boot.

I'm seriously not making this up, you can check the book: Peter Pan actually kills the Lost Boys when they get too old. Really. As it makes clear in the book, being in Neverland doesn't actually stop you from aging, it just slows the process down a lot. So when the Lost Boys get too old, Peter "thins them out." Quote from the book, included right after it talks about how many people he's killed. So...yeah. 

Also, I should point out, Peter Pan does himself age, he just ages much more slowly than everyone else. And notably, he only ages physically. Mentally and emotionally he doesn't grow up. But physically?

Think about it. In most portrayals of Peter Pan, the kid looks to be about ten or twelve, right? Well, by Peter's own account, he ran away from his parents when he was a day old. Now, this is a makebelieve story, so we can let that slide, but even if we assume that he ran away at an age where that was physically possible, like three, that still means that he has been aging this whole time. Not quickly, but definitely aging.

Which paints a much more complex and kind of frightening picture of our hero, doesn't it? Effectively what we can learn here is that Peter isn't a hero, he's a narcissistic sociopath building a cult around himself and murdering his followers. So, the most accurate version of Peter Pan put to screen is probably the one from Once Upon a Time where he's a villain. 

More than that, though, the book seems to be trying to explain why Peter's life, cut off from civilization and from all notion of responsibility, is actually horrifically unhealthy. Peter has no emotional attachments to his Lost Boys. He can barely remember who they are. He can barely remember who anyone is unless they're in front of him all the time. Heck, he keeps on forgetting Wendy, and she's one of the only three women he knows in the entire world.

He can't tell reality from fiction, even going so far as to play pretend with the Lost Boys without knowing that he's playing pretend. He really can't tell. He'll make them pretend to eat dinner, and then punch them if they try to complain about wanting real food. Because, for him, this is real. Why wouldn't it be real? Eat your invisible steak!

There's other stuff too. Like, what actual motivation did Peter have to cut off Hook's hand? None is ever given. From what we can tell, Hook is hunting Peter because of the hand thing, but it's never explained why Peter did that in the first place. Based on his general character, I would have to say that he did it for no reason at all. Because Peter is a deeply damaged child with no sense of the outside world or of consequences in general.

Which brings me to the larger point. Peter Pan is a cautionary tale. He's not supposed to be our patron saint of lost childhoods, he's actually supposed to be grim picture of what it's like when we try to put off adult responsibilities and hold onto our youth. Peter is a picture of the horrific thing we would turn into if we disregarded all that painful boring ugly stuff called growing up. He has no empathy, he has no responsibility, he's basically evil. Peter Pan is a two year old id in a nearly grown body, and he is a monster.

So how did we get this so wrong?

If you look at the general movie interpretations of Peter Pan, they seem to be saying the same thing. Peter is a hero, and the grownups who insist that the Darling children come home and become adults are the bad guys. Yes, eventually Wendy and company do come home, but Peter never changes, and we should be glad of that! Yay for Peter Pan and his perpetual youth. May he never change.

The animated Disney version is a sweet, watered down vision of unfettered childhood, while Hook gives us a world in which growing up was the worst possible thing Peter could do. Heck, the IMDB summary for next year's live-action Pan says it's,
The story of an orphan who is spirited away to the magical Neverland. There, he finds both fun and dangers, and ultimately discovers his destiny -- to become the hero who will be forever known as Peter Pan. [x]
Lest we forget, Finding Neverland might have purported to be a biopic of J.M. Barrie, but it missed the boat most of all, concocting this fanciful man who loved being a kid and wished he could have never grown up, instead of the actual man who was trying to make a political statement.

Even my favorite version, the 2003 live-action Peter Pan, completely misses the point. Sure, it's closer than all the rest, portraying Peter as a screwed up snot of a kid who has no idea what he's doing and talks out of his butt most of the time, but he's still the good guy. I like this version best because Wendy is the main character and it's really a coming of age tale, but even so, they didn't get it. The tragedy is that Peter Pan will never grow up. That's not a constant or a comforting thought, it's stinking awful.

Why am I insisting on ruining your childhood right now? Well, first off because it's fun. But second, and much more importantly, because I feel like in missing the point of Peter Pan, we are in grave danger as a culture of becoming like him. It's fine if you like the story or want to dress up in a cute Peter Pan costume for Halloween. Whatever floats your boat. But I am not okay with the idea that Peter Pan, the boy who became a monster because he never grew up, is our cultural hero. And he is.

If you look at most sitcoms on TV right now, who are the main characters? Immature man-children who refuse to grow up and accept responsibility. That's our thing. Our cultural self-perception is of a guy in his late twenties wearing a hoodie and some Converse, complaining about how his girlfriend dumped him for not having a "real job". Whatever, man! He's not some sellout like the rest of them. Yeah, he lives with his parents and he spends all of his time working on his one-man show about My Little Ponies, but that doesn't make him a loser. That makes him deep. 

Or you can look at the dozens of independent romantic comedies that litter Netflix. The sensitive man-child, who is quirky and sweet and refuses to accept the meaningful impact of his actions. Sure, he'll learn a little lesson about being nice to the pretty girl before the movie is over, but his overall actions, where he never actually goes out and gets a real job or attempts to do something with his life, will be lauded. They make him more authentic. More real. More admirable, because he won't grow up.

His refusal to grow up is supposed to be charming. Because there's nothing our culture hates more than an adult who knows they are an adult and that they have stinking responsibilities to deal with tomorrow. It's like we're all whining children screaming because we have to go to school, and even though we understand that if we stayed home we would be bored, we still don't want to go to school. Because it's haaaaaaaaard.

I honestly think that all this "never grow up" crap is part of why I so steadfastly insist on being a killjoy about everything. I've always loved rebelling, but in our culture, rebelling is kind of hard to do. I can't rebel by being an "artist". I can't rebel by ditching my job and following a band around for a year. Our parents did that. It's passe. So I rebel by working two jobs and doing this blog on the side. I rebel by working really hard and paying bills.

That's not really to make me sound good, either. It's to point out how messed the hell up our culture is. My character type is lambasted in the media for being boring and stodgy. I am the butt of a thousand sitcom jokes. The ideal woman is a girl-child who can't pay her bills or drive or remember her last name, but gosh is she pretty! Peter Pan has infested our culture, and we have got to root him out or he is going to devour us whole.

I'm not blaming Peter Pan for all of our problems, mind you. I'm a Millennial, and I firmly believe that we got the short end of a lot of sticks when it comes to the economic situation we were spat out into and the horrible lack of jobs and prevalence of debt. I think that sucks, and I think that it's hard. That's not the issue here. The problem is that our culture seems intent on claiming that there is no problem. That we're all just Peter Pans who won't grow up and don't want to and that's fine.

It's not true and it's not fine. I want to grow up, but the culture has created a lie that says that I don't, and then chosen to believe that lie over my screaming mouth. I want to grow up, but all I ever see are images on television and in the movies telling me that I shouldn't. It's like they're trying to cover up their complicity in my extended childhood by making me want to be a kid forever.

The ending of the story is always the part people ignore, but it's the part that matters the most in the telling of it. After Wendy and John and Michael have had their adventures in Neverland, after they have defeated Hook and saved Tiger Lily, after everything is set right again, they go home. Neverland is nice, but you can't live there. Childhood is nice, but it's only nice because it ends. If it didn't, it would become a hellscape of self-obsessed monsters and immature understandings of the world.

It's not fun growing up. It's never fun. But not growing up is much worse. And while I really did enjoy being a child, I'm not a child anymore. It was fun not to have responsibilities, but I do now. I know who I am in the world, and I know that a part of the world depends on me. I know that my actions affect other people, and that I want to affect them positively.

I know that even though it's hard, growing up is good. It's natural. And it's what we have to do if we want to survive.

Grow up, kids. It's the only way to save yourselves.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Lucy - The Trailer Lied To You. It Sucks.

I was so excited for Lucy, you guys. You have no idea. I saw that trailer and I could barely hold in the squee. I mean, here it was, the answer to my deepest movie-related desires: an independent, original female-lead superhero movie starring Scarlett Johansson, opening wide as a summer tentpole feature. It was just so...magical. Plus, the trailer looked rad as hell.

Sure, there was that problematic part of the trailer where it looked like Lucy (Johansson) was shooting a Taiwanese cabby for not speaking English, even though they were in Taiwan. That didn't look super promising. But the rest of it? Looked stinking awesome. Morgan Freeman was going to be in it, and it looked like at most there was going to be one white guy in this whole movie, a movie about a lady superhero kicking ass.

Plus, the plot, from what the trailer told us, was going to be a really compelling revenge thriller. Lucy, a naive party girl, gets kidnapped in Taiwan and has a bag of drugs slipped into her stomach. Against her will, she is made a drug mule, but then something goes terribly wrong, and the bag leaks, giving Lucy superpowers. She enlists some scientist dude (Morgan Freeman) to help her figure out what is happening while she tracks down the men responsible and murders them. Yay!

This is what we were promised, isn't it? Well, trust me when I say that it is not what we got.

I mean, if you want to be technical, yes, that is the plot of the movie. Sort of. Everything I wrote in that paragraph above does happen, it just happens very differently. Instead of being this cool thriller about a woman getting revenge on the men who infringed on her bodily autonomy, what we got was...something. I'm not entirely sure what. But definitely not what I was expecting. And I mean that in a bad way.

It's actually kind of hard to talk about the movie we did get because it was so so so different from what I was expecting. Like, different enough that I'm beginning to suspect that the marketing people lied on purpose in order to sell tickets. Because I cannot think of a single person I know who would have bought a ticket for this if it were accurately advertised.

Here's the gist, as far as I can express it in words:

Lucy (Johansson) is an American university student living abroad in Taiwan. She parties a lot, and one day her boyfriend takes her to a hotel and asks her to carry a briefcase upstairs for him. She refuses, and so he grabs her arm and handcuffs the briefcase to her. She is displeased. Inside, she goes in and asks for the man she's supposed to give the briefcase to, and the clerk calls him. 

Cut to a shot of a cheetah stalking a gazelle on the Serengeti. Cut back to the hotel lobby. Some men come downstairs. Cut back to the gazelle. Cut to Lucy. Cut to the cheetah. And so on. Like a lot. A weird amount.

Lucy gets dragged upstairs, where she meets up with Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik), the recipient of the briefcase. A terrified Lucy is forced to open the case while everyone else hides in case it's a bomb. It's not. Lucy hyperventilates, and Mr. Jang discovers that the briefcase is full of bags of some blue crystalized drug. He makes someone snort it. They get high. 

Blah blah blah, Lucy gets knocked out and wakes up with a bag of the drugs inside her and a plane ticket to Paris. When her handlers take her to a cell to wait for her flight, they try to assault her. She fights back, and then they kick the crap out of her, breaking the bag. She then goes on a very trippy very literal flight up the ceiling as the drug pours into her bloodstream and BAM! Lucy has superpowers.

We cut to (probably, I only saw this movie once, so the details might be wrong and I'M NOT WATCHING IT AGAIN) Morgan Freeman lecturing to a packed hall about how we only use 10% of our brains, and what would happen if we could use more of it. Superpowers, apparently. We would get superpowers. The more of our brain we controlled, the more of the outside world we could control, because that absolutely is totally reasonable logic and not at all made of crack.

I don't feel like running down everything else that happens in the movie, so here's a rather brief synopsis. Please bear in mind that all of these plot-like things are intercut with audio of Morgan Freeman talking about evolution and video straight from a National Geographic documentary. At one point we had to watch frogs having sex. It was...different?

Lucy goes to a hospital and gets the drug removed from her stomach. It's apparently a synthesized chemical that pregnant women make that allows us to use our brains. She's got half a kilo floating around her body, so clearly crap is about to get weird. Also she's almost definitely going to die. But before that, she needs to figure out what is happening to her.

So, she beats up Mr. Jang, uses her superpowers to get a disguise, and calls Interpol to alert them of the other drug traffickers. The Interpol agent who answers, Pierre Del Rio (Amr Waked), becomes obsessed with the case. Then Lucy flies herself to Paris to meet up with Del Rio, grab the drugs, and then meet Morgan Freeman and figure out what's happening to her.

The bad guys, apparently a Korean drug smuggling thing, follow her. There is shooting. She passes out at one point. Later she kidnaps Del Rio, and drives through Paris in a really terrifying car chase that is ultimately pointless, only to get more of the drug and go off to meet Morgan Freeman. Del Rio thinks she's pretty. She kisses him. Then she and Morgan Freeman get down to figuring out what is happening to her brain before the drug cartel murders them. 

Del Rio gets in a shootout with the cartel. Lucy shows off her superpowers and gives some incredibly profound sounding bullshit answers to a bunch of philosophical questions. Then she has Morgan Freeman inject her with the remaining 3 kilos of the drug because of reasons. I think. 

Lucy absorbs the drug, the shootout continues, and then Lucy timetravels around a bit before slowly exuding a black goo that eventually absorbs her and becomes her and then becomes a flash drive full of the knowledge of the universe and made of stars. Literally made of stars. Del Rio runs in and is all, "Where's Lucy?" and she texts him, "I am everywhere."

End of movie.

And I guess there's a little part in there where she calls her mom and is sad that she might die, and a really funny exchange with her deliciously self-involved roommate (Analeigh Tipton), but most of the movie is just Scarlett Johansson doing her damndest to make you care about a walking plot device, and Morgan Freeman reciting incredibly inaccurate "facts" about evolution while the screen keeps showing you bizarre nature videos and scenes of vicious violence.

We all walked out of the movie theater completely baffled, not just by the emotionless ending or by the weirdness of the fact that our heroine literally turns into a flash drive made of the stars, but because none of it really meant anything.

See, the problem with this movie isn't that it's completely batshit, though it is, or even that it's kind of ponderously long and the characters aren't particularly compelling. Those are problems, but not the real reason why this movie made me so angry. And believe me, it made me very angry. It made me angry because I can accept loose characterizations and bad plotting and even really terrible science if it matters. If at the end of the movie I can look back and think, "Well, the rest of it was crap, but at least it was saying something interesting.

I cannot say that here, because as far as I can tell, the movie isn't saying anything at all. It's just weird.

Best side-eye ever.
Arguably, the point of the movie is the idea that the point of human life is to pass on knowledge. While that's a super lame and boring point, I'd be okay with it if it actually seemed to be supported by the story. But it's not. Throughout the movie, Lucy, who is supposed to be our first superwoman who can know the secrets of the universe, actually tells people almost nothing. She's cryptic or terse or otherwise unhelpful. If the meaning of life is to pass on knowledge, then Lucy isn't doing a very good job of it.

Even at the end, when she literally transforms herself into a repository of human understanding, it still doesn't make sense, because Lucy's dead/everything. She can't explain any of it to them. She just dumped a bunch of knowledge in their laps and then bamfed out of existence.

It's also problematic because Lucy appears to have, at first, a very strong sense of self-preservation, but later on she decides that she needs to sacrifice herself. For what? So we can know more stuff? Why?

It bothers me because that's fundamentally different from how I view the purpose of human existence. But it also bothers me because that's a terrible motivation for a character to have. Even worse, it turns a potentially epic female superhero into a blank slate that exists to further the ambitions of a man. Make no mistake, I don't think Luc Besson or Scarlett Johansson were trying to make that the point of the movie, but that is what happens. Lucy loses her self, and instead becomes pure information. The female protagonist is subsumed and deleted, her emotional fulfillment considered unnecessary and distracting. All that we are left with is questions, and a flash drive.

This movie had so much potential. So stinking much. And in the very beginning, it really looked like it was going to take advantage of that potential. You see, Lucy is a character whose bodily autonomy is violated in several different ways throughout the film. First, her boyfriend handcuffs the case to her. Then she is forced to do a series of actions. Then she is cut open and has something inserted into her abdomen. Later, a man sticks his hand down her shirt, and when she pushes him away, he retaliates by savagely beating her.

It made sense to assume that a movie where this happens, and then where the heroine gets superpowers, would be a rape revenge flick. You know, those movies where the heroine uses her powers to get back at the people who hurt and violated her. It felt like we were about to get a timely piece on the overwhelming anger that most women feel about the state of our bodily autonomy in the world. We live in a culture where the rape of a teenage girl was filmed and became a viral video. Hell yes I wanted to see Scarlett Johansson viciously attacking her violators. That's the kind of vicarious thrill that I, as a pacifist, really want in a movie.

But what I got was a bunch of really terribly researched and horribly outdated brain science, a wishy-washy plot, and an ending that makes no sense and leaves you cold. I am not okay with this.

I suppose you could compare Lucy to 2001: A Space Odyssey, because they are both intensely odd science-fiction auteur pieces about deep philosophical subjects with inscrutable endings, but I think that comparison really just highlights how cheap Lucy is, philosophically speaking. 2001: A Space Odyssey might be completely baffling and weird and slow and hard to love, but it says something deep and meaningful. I mean, you may not like it, but you definitely respect it.

By contrast, Lucy tries too hard for too little reward. At one point Lucy travels backwards in time by waving her arms as she sits in an office chair, and she manages to send herself to the exact time and space to meet Lucy, the first hominid fossil. But, you know, back when Lucy was alive.

They touch fingers like a Michelangelo painting that felt a bit too obvious for the moment, and I think we're supposed to be moved or something, but I just felt a bit irritated at the presumption. Besides, it's not like Lucy was about to go propagate her new species. That would have made sense. Nope, she immediately came back and then sort of died.

I guess what I'm saying is that I was expecting to love this movie, to find a few problematic race elements, to address them, and then to go back to loving this movie. It has all the things I should love. A kickass female protagonist, a weird but potentially cool concept, great actors, a predominantly non-white cast and international locations, and a director who's done very well by me in the past.

But I didn't count on this weird metaphysical crap, and I don't like it. Not because I dislike science or don't believe in evolution, either. I love science, and I believe that God created the evolutionary process because that's just super rad. I don't like all this weird crap because it's inaccurate and also metaphorically void. It means nothing. Blech.

So, very long story short: don't go see this movie. It's not fun enough to be bad fun, and it's not deep enough to be engaging it's just terrible. It's truly depressing to watch so many talented people try so hard and make such an awful movie.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Love Won't Pay the Rent - Sex and BBC's The Musketeers

Last week I talked (at length) about BBC's The Musketeers and their surprisingly progressive portrayal of race in this new adaptation. I like it. They've done a very good job at not just casting non-white actors in lead roles, but in actually trying to address the idea of what it means to be a person of color in early-Enlightenment France. 

This week, though, I'd like to tackle a related and also uncomfortable topic: how the BBC's The Musketeers handles sex and romance, and whether or not this is even remotely period-accurate.

To begin with, though, we have to admit that judging the historical accuracy of a portrayal of sex and romance is actually a lot harder than judging the historical accuracy of portrayals of race. This is simply because most historical records of "romance" are incredibly biased. Either they come from popular literature, which would be like ascribing historical legitimacy to the Meg Ryan rom-coms of the 1990s, or they come from personal diaries and therefore anecdotal experience. 

Furthermore, all attempts to study sex and romance in prior historical time periods tend to butt up against the simple reality that most of history is written by men. Because men were the ones who were educated enough to be able to write. So any idea we have of sex is going to be extremely male in point of view, simply by virtue of who wrote down what was going on. In the rare cases where we do have a female perspective on sex and romance, it's usually an educated, upper-class woman, the only kind of woman likely to get an education (except nuns) writing. And she definitely has a different experience than your average peasant lady.

Suffice it to say that any discussion of historical romance or sex is really complicated because when it comes down to it, we just plain don't know. But we can guess. And guess we will. (By guess, I mean that we will make logical inferences based on historical evidence, because that's how we roll.)

The Musketeers is based on Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers, as you have hopefully already surmised, and as a result it's pretty bawdy. The characters in Dumas' classic were always sleeping their way into and out of trouble, and the characters of the BBC show are no different. Every male lead (excepting Captain Treville, which is interesting) has at least one female love interest, and most of them have a couple. 

There are love triangles, love quadrangles, and some configurations too complex to really suss out, which is all fun and games and really and truly enjoyable. Interestingly, though, the show has taken a rather different route with their portrayal of the women behind these romances. Instead of it all being bedroom eyes and come-hither glances from female characters who are, we are assured, as pure as the driven snow, The Musketeers wants you to know without a doubt that, yes, these women have had sex. Some of them have had a lot of sex.

And most of them, brace yourself, have had non-consensual or at the very least dubiously-consensual sex. 

In any other show, this fact would bother me. A lot. But I was already charmed by the show's handling of race, so I figured I'd see how this all played out. I'm still not entirely sure where I land on it, but I think I'm more favorable towards it than not. Here's why.

As I ranted so eloquently regarding Game of Thrones this season, I'm not okay with the use of rape as a filler or background noise or as a tool for the character development of men, and I definitely hate it when it's done gratuitously to shock viewers. I'm really not okay with the dumbing down of non-consensual sex and the idea that "she really wanted it in the end". The Musketeers doesn't do any of these things. Instead, the rape scenes are never shown, only referenced, and, interestingly, cover a range of situations and consequences.

The two main female characters of the show, Milady (Maimie McCoy) and Constance (Tamla Kari), both have storylines that deal with sexual assault/harassment. But they're dealt with very differently. In Milady's case, she accuses her brother-in-law of raping her, and then claims that she killed him in self-defense. If you don't know the larger story, Milady was once a poor thief who married a rich nobleman, Athos (Tom Burke). According Athos, when his brother discovered Milady's past, she killed him to keep it secret. According to Milady, his brother raped her, and she killed him by accident, trying to get away.

What's really compelling here is that, while Milady has proven herself very untrustworthy over the course of the show, and murdered a lot of people, we don't actually know if she's lying here. She could be, sure, but she very well might not be. And what I find most notable is that the show doesn't tell us one way or another, but it does give her story equal validity to Athos' version. Later on, Athos even cops to the idea that he might not know all the facts. He takes responsibility for the fact that his rash actions (sentencing her to death) might have been wrong.

This is notable because of the atmosphere we live in now. Women are frequently accused of inflating rape statistics and making false rape claims, and society considers the burden of proof to be on the woman to prove that she was raped, rather than on the man to prove that he did not rape her. That Milady's accusations are given story weight, a weight that does not redeem her character, mind, or excuse the awful things she's done, is kind of awesome.

On the other side of the spectrum, however, we have Constance Bonacieux. Constance deals with a more insidious, and probably more historical, form of sexual assault. We learn early on that she is married to a cloth merchant, only ever identified by his last name, Bonacieux (Bohdan Poraj). He is older than her, and the show makes it clear that this was an arranged marriage, not a love match. 

The show goes even further to tell us that Constance is deeply unhappy in her marriage. She has no physical interest in her husband but does make it clear that she has sex with him, because, well, she's married to him. She doesn't have a choice in the matter. As the show progresses, and Constance falls in love with their renter, D'Artagnan (Luke Pasqualino), she is torn between her duty as a wife and her romantic feelings. We get the impression that this is the first time Constance has been in love, and we know for a fact she's never been in love with husband.

No, Constance's marriage, as we learn in episode seven or so, was a pure transaction. Her family sold her to Bonacieux in exchange for a small sum of money. She was an extra mouth to feed, and they didn't want her to end up an old maid, so she was married off as a teenager to a man she'd never met. We discover this when Constance tries to stop all of this from happening to her young cousin, Fleur (Alice Sanders). She is insistent that Fleur get the chance to live a happy life full of love, and get to be educated, and not have to marry some man she doesn't know.

So while the story never explicitly tells us that Constance has been raped, we are implicitly told this from the moment she comes on screen. And that, to me, is the more interesting storytelling choice. Because while Constance's situation is dubbed by the show to be "normal", it's also shown to be wrong. 

In fact, at the very end of the first season (SPOILER), when Constance has finally decided to leave her husband and run away with D'Artagnan, she comes home to find that he's attempted suicide. He then guilts her into staying with him, saying that if she ever leaves, he will kill himself and it will be her fault. Far from being just a crappy thing to do, this is actually textbook abusive behavior, and gives an alarming view into what Constance's married life must be. Presumably this will come up more next season. It better.

In fact, if there were one hobby horse the show hit on just as often as it hit on race, it would be the horrible results of a culture based around transactional marriage. It's a storyline that comes up time and again, not just in Milady and Constance's storylines, but in the storylines of every single other female character on the show. Seriously.

We've got the story surrounding Queen Anne (Alexandra Dowling), a lovely and kind woman married to an overgrown child of a king. Anne is deeply unhappy in her marriage, which we are shown was definitely for strategic purposes and not even a little bit for love. Her husband, King Louis (Ryan Gage) isn't super pleased with her either. She's so serious and boring and hasn't had a son yet. Her lack of a male heir (or any heir) leads to rumors that she isn't fit to be queen, and puts a strain on her already strained marriage.

To complicate matters, Anne falls a little bit in love with Aramis (Santiago Cabrera), the Musketeer who keeps saving her life. We get the impression that in another world, Aramis and Anne might have been very happy together. Maybe. Or maybe not. But certainly not in this one, where Anne had no say in her romantic or sexual future.

Aramis pops up again in another storyline alongside this where we meet the woman he nearly married, Isabelle (Alice Patten). Isabelle was his childhood sweetheart, and when they were teenagers, she fell pregnant and they planned to marry. Sadly, she lost the child, and shortly thereafter her father spirited her away. Aramis was never able to find her again until, out of the blue, he discovers her at a convent, a nun, now called Sister Helene.

He's a little surprised, but even more so when she reveals that she wasn't put there against her will. She chose to join the convent because when she lost the child, she realized that the two of them had no future. 

Aramis tries to protest, but Isabelle is insistent. They would have made each other miserable. Her without an education, stuck raising children in the countryside, and him deprived of excitement and adventure, stuck farming and feeding hungry mouths in some little cabin in the woods. While Aramis insists that he would have been happy, it's most telling when Isabelle rebuffs him, and makes it clear that she wouldn't have.

Heck, even the minor romantic interest characters touch on this topic. Athos has squishy-warm feelings for the lovely Ninon de Larroque (Annabelle Wallis), a noblewoman determined to change the state of female education in France. Her ambition nearly gets her burned at the stake as a witch, but the more interesting part of her storyline is her stance on marriage. While she completely believes in romance, Ninon makes it clear that any marriage she could enter would be transactional simply by virtue of her fortune. If she married, her husband would become the sole executor of her estate, and she would have no control.

Athos, I should point out, agrees with her that it's a stupid system, and the two of them have a heady moment of "Will we fall in love?" until circumstances force them apart. But it's not the circumstances entirely that are doing the forcing here. Neither Athos nor Ninon is comfortable with marriage and both of their reasons for discomfort are shown to be completely valid. Marriage in 1700s France is a pretty awful thing.

The one character who really falls outside this framework, I should point out, is Porthos' love interest (or one of them, dude gets around), Flea (Fiona Glascott). Flea isn't a noblewoman, or a middle-class shopkeeper's wife, or even a peasant. She's a thief and a lowlife, living in the Court of Miracles - Paris' underworld. Heck, Flea doesn't just live in the Court of Miracles, she runs it, and she makes it clear how much she loves it.

Flea is notable not just because she's a new perspective on this whole issue, but because out of all the female characters on the show, she's the one least hindered by ideas of propriety or marriage. As the character with the least connection to societal norms, Flea doesn't care if she gets married or not. Even when she is in a relationship, she doesn't let her boyfriend boss her around, and is totally comfortable kicking his butt. Even more notable? 

When given the offer to leave her life of squalor and become an upstanding Musketeer's wife (an offer made on screen and mentioned as having been made in the past), Flea declines. She likes being free, and she has no intention of being anybody's wife. Being respectable never did anyone any good that she can see.

The thing is, she's kind of right.

Don't get me wrong. I, personally, am a fan of marriage. At least in the hypothetical. I would very much like to be married one day, and I'm not suggesting that we all take a tip from Flea's handbook and toss all societal norms out the window. But I do think there's something to be said for examining what we mean when we talk about marriage. Because as the show points out, there are a lot of different types of marriages, and not all of them, in fact, few of them, are actually about love.

Historically this rings true, at least as true as it can, given the caveat stated above about lack of proof and unreliable historical narrators. It's telling that the only love marriage on the show (Athos and Milady) ends in utter tragedy and disaster. That's probably a gross exaggeration on the actual historical situation, but I think it would be dangerous to dismiss the whole topic as taken out of proportion or historically inaccurate. I don't think it's historically inaccurate at all.

I mean, think about it. In pre-Enlightenment France, what value do women have outside of their roles as wife and mother? This is a time in history when women are codified as sexually inferior, and their position is as vessels for the continuation of families, not as people. Women exist, as far as historical record shows, pretty much for sex and babies and maybe some housework. That's about it.

In the upper classes, it's well documented that most marriages were based around strategic or financial negotiations, rather than love. But even on a middle-class level, as we see with Constance, marriages were determined by the need for everyone to be fed and clothed, and basic needs for food and shelter took precedence over romance. This is factored alongside the social stigma towards unmarried women. In other words, if you weren't married, what was the point of you? You're just a drain on resources, and you're a shame on your family.

Real marriage is supposed to be about two people becoming one spiritual entity. It's meant, if we're talking about "Christian marriage", to provide a way for two people to become more like Christ in their ability to love another person and, by growing closer to each other, to learn more how to be in relationship with God. Trust me, I know this, I've been to a bunch of weddings this year.

But let's be real. Most marriages aren't about that. Most marriages are about financial transactions or legal responsibility or getting to have sex a lot with the same person. All of which are potentially valid things. It's just important to consider that love marriages as we think of them, well, they're kind of a luxury, aren't they? And while I don't think that everything about The Musketeers' portrayal of sex and marriage is totally accurate (for starters why are all of the love interests white?), I do think it's a step in the right direction.

While there is a clear connection drawn between transactional marriage and prostitution, since both consist of the exchange of goods and money for sex, the show steers away from blaming the female characters for "duping" their poor husbands. Really, in this situation, everyone knows the score. Bonacieux might be a manipulative jerkface, or even some sadsack who doesn't know any better, but he's fully aware that his wife doesn't love him. He knew that going in. So instead of blaming female characters, the show rightly takes aim at society, the real villain here. It posits that in a patriarchal system where women's only value comes from their reproductive function, no one, not men or women, can find uncomplicated love.

The show makes it clear that a society where marriage is primarily about a financial or social transaction is a broken society. It's not just that the show gives us examples of unhappy marriages or that it points out how most marriages in that society cannot be equal because of how the law is established. It's that the show tells us these things, and then makes us unhappy about it. It says, "This is wrong!" and then tells the story in such a way that you feel angry about how wrong society is. Constance shouldn't be married off to some random guy for financial reasons! She should get to be educated and marry for love.

Isabelle shouldn't have to choose between a shotgun wedding and holy orders, with those as her only two options. Anne should get a say in who she marries, and not just get passed around as a treaty with a woman attached. Milady should have the social freedom to be an equal in her marriage, and the right to be listened to when making a serious allegation of sexual assault. Ninon shouldn't be afraid her husband will rob her blind. Flea shouldn't have to think that the only way to stay free is to stay an outlaw.

None of that is okay. And we need to be reminded of that.

I really hope she's coming back. Love her.