Sunday, July 7, 2013

'Bates Motel' and Women's Bodies

There are three- no, four recurring female characters in  the show Bates Motel, a prequel series to the Hitchcock film Psycho. I can't really rank them from best to worst or vice-versa, since the ways in which they're poorly or well written diverge (hah!) enough to make it difficult to come up with even a vague notion of quantifiable difference. So I'll just go in the order I think of them. I'll say now  that my basic thesis here is that the writers are awesome at objectifying women's bodies- but not necessarily through T&A, though. Rather, women's bodies are tools for plot and drama frequently in this show, and things are either done to their bodies or they are written as using their bodies in ways that remove personhood or individuality from them. I'll get into this in more detail later. If you aren't into spoilers, I'll give a nice heading at the bottom for you to read on from so as to get the overall picture in more depth, though. :)


For those unfamiliar but interested (and not concerned about spoilers), the show is about Norman Bates and his mother, Norma (yeah, they do comment on how odd that is at least once in the show), who move to a tiny town in Oregon after Norman's dad is found dead in the garage (having been crushed by a shelf that fell on him). Weird things start happening, and there are lots of mysteries going on at once, shady characters with which to deal, and a really complicated relationship between Norman, Norma, and Norma's older son from her first marriage, Dylan. Of course, Norman himself starts proving weird and odd, and there are hints toward the end of the first season that he blacks out and does some pretty horrible things during these moments (like kill his dad, for example, ahem). 

So first, I'll start with Norman's teacher, Miss Watson, played by the Blue Fairy in Once Upon a Time

She starts out pretty generic, the run-of-the-mill hot English teacher that recognizes our central character as "special" or some kinda jazz- we see that crap all the time in shows and movies, no surprise. And there are a few moments in the first half of the first season (the only one that's done so far) where she actually seems to be earnest and caring, providing a useful contra to Norma's fiercely controlling nature (more on that soon, of course). But she soon takes an odd turn and starts becoming a pseudo-Mrs. Robinson and starts trying to get Norman into a Teacher-Student Romance. I'm not really going to delve too much into the "teacher" aspect, since it probably goes without saying I find that highly problematic in its own right. But  the nuance I wish to contribute is that it's disappointing because a person at first presented as "safe" for the main character turns out to be quite "dangerous," and she uses physicality and her body as a means of manipulating and controlling him. It starts subtle with the generic leaning and personal-space-invasions you see all the time, but then it gradually escalates. She hugs him, she blocks his way, she follows him outside (see above gif) when he tries to get away. Eventually, she hugs him a few times (highly inappropriately, of course) amidst divulging more information than she should and/or requesting he do the same (again, highly inappropriately).

And then she escalates to giving him rides a few times. This is exceptionally invasive and inappropriate, yes, but also highly controlling and manipulative. She presents herself as wanting to help, but she puts him in her car, a place he can't escape from, and then proceeds to invade his space in the metaphoric sense- interrogating him, dropping teasing bits of information with the intent to make him ask what she means in order to then word-vomit all over him. She pulls the simpering, crying  display in a semi-damsel-in-distress move a few times, and while maybe she does have some pretty crappy stuff going on (to which we're never given too much detail, so its nature isn't ever revealed), she very clearly makes sure Norman knows about it to pull at his heartstrings. Literally final straw is when she gives him a ride home... from a dance... and makes a stop at her own house; and not only is she then way too sexxy about cleaning an injury on his  head, but she friggin' gets naked in his view (under the pretext of changing out of wet clothes in order to then drive him home).

Interestingly, Norman  has visions of his mom while he's at Miss Waton's house, saying  exactly what anybody else would  be thinking: That Miss Watson's behavior is entirely inappropriate and terrible, that she's taking advantage of a sensitive boy with issues. Now, it gets wonky when this  hallucination says, "You know what you have to do," to him, and the last shot of the season is Miss Watson's dead, half-naked body, a necklace with a "B" on what's left of her neck. This necklace is meant as an insinuation, I think, that Miss Watson was having an affair with the father of yet another female character, Dylan- another strike against her, as any info we get about the affair presents it as entirely negative. Granted, it's all from third parties, since the dad is dead and Miss Watson's identity as the person he was cheating with isn't even implied until that shot of her body lying there. All we know is Dylan freaks the fuck out about it.

So okay, yeah, woman's dead, but that doesn't help- if anything, it's worse, because she never gets a chance to redeem herself before she's killed off. So all we know or see of her is she's basically a light version of a femme fatale whose use of her body leads to her own death. Blegh. She started out as cool, but (and yeah, I'm about to sound incredibly academic here) got pretty  insanely annoying after not too long.

Next, there's Bradley Martin, a fellow student of Norman's. 

Another female character that started out good and just got worse as I saw more of her. In the first episode, we find out she's out with her girl posse as their leader, the nice, , pretty, spoiled sweet girl that isn't really all that mean but is still the queen bee at school. They come across Norman and very obviously find him incredibly adorkable from the get-go, so she offers him a ride to school. The group witnesses her father crash his car while on fire, and it's unclear later if Norman is the only person that bothered to try to reach out to her as Pops was dying in the hospital (it took a while... ouch), or if he's the only one she responded to. Either way, we're at least given the impression she doesn't really talk to anyone else. So while Norman is hot for her from the get-go, it takes a while before things go from just a deep friendship forming during her grief into something with romantic connotations. And that's okay, right? I mean, it's pretty touching to see the way Norman is so genuine about how she's doing, and she clearly responds to that in ways she herself didn't anticipate.

And then they have sex. And suddenly she becomes cold and stops talking to him, which, of course, he doesn't take to all that well. She gives him a pretty hurtful brush-off on her front porch, and this leads to him sort of brooding around. 
His friend, Emma (we'll talk about her in a few), overhears some of the other girls talking trash about him in the bathroom, and she confronts them, inadvertently divulging the whole sex part to them. This leads to Bradley then basically telling him to get a life in the hallway at school- a move more typical of an alpha bitch than how she's originally presented. 

Jump ahead a little, and she starts massively flirting and using  her feminine wiles to get Dylan (recall, Norman's older bro) to let her into her, by this point dead, dad's office. They get shot at, which causes her to then bond with him, of course, and Norman witnesses some more flirtation later.

So yeah, she's complex. On the one hand, she goes through her process of healing in the pretty horrible face of her dad's death with Norman at her side, but once they have their little therapy session, she does a 180. And then she becomes more like a seductress or fille fatale than anything else- batting her eyelashes at Dylan and all. So she seems to sort of be a sex for solace type, although it's not all sex, per se. She uses her body in order to use Norman (as a conduit for her own healing), and then to manipulate Dylan into helping her get to her dad's old stuff. Internally, in the show, it's pretty crappy, and I don't really like the idea of anyone using anyone else, no matter how horrid their circumstances; but it's much more complicated and negative when being a bit more meta. And that meta-ness is the meat of the argument I'll use to tie all four of these gals together. For now, let's go to the friend I mentioned, Emma. 

Emma is Norman's only real friend at school. She's pretty smart and adventurous, and proves herself pretty kickass in a pinch- she and Norman get shot at together a few times, and she usually is the one to do the saving in those situations. She doesn't really take crap from anyone, like how I mentioned before that she confronts some gals talking trash about Norman. She has a way of viewing things that makes me pretty sure she's supposed to be more mature and thoughtful than her peers, and she uses this intelligence to solve one of the big mysteries of the show- in fact, it's her inquisitive mind that alerts anyone to said mystery in the first place. And she consistently upholds her moral compass and has reasonable reactions to situations, either by outside forces or ones created because of Norman's behavior.

Oh, and she also has cystic fibrosis- something that's handled remarkably well and deserving of its own post. I've talked on my personal blog about "supercrips" (persons with disabilities- fictional or real- that are in the media and presented as "survivor" or "hero" stories; they "overcome" their disabilities) and how they're a problematic stereotype in popular culture (because they're presented and thus perceived as an  ideal to which all other disabled persons are then compared)- and she isn't one at all. Her disability is entirely normalized and addressed in a "this is perfectly natural" sort of way by  her, and gently addressed by any adults discussing her. Now, thing is, they very easily could have made her into a supercrip, given the physical nature of some of the shenanigans she and Norman get into (not hanky panky- running for their lives and all that kinda jazz), but instead, the disability leads to some out-of-breath moments, but it's never portrayed as something she "beats" or "triumphs over" or anything. And since I'm an aspiring professional disability advocate, I'm biased to say this makes her the best-written woman on the show. But I recognize my bias, so I rescind that position for the sake of honesty and  neutrality.

But the problem I have with Emma (who is, I think, the best-written female, in terms of positive portrayal) is that she's still googly-eyed for Norman. She's smitten with him pretty much from the very beginning. And while sure, she's a loyal friend to him, she has constant little emotional bats and mini-freakouts over the fact that he doesn't reciprocate- she gets all pouty over the school dance and that he hadn't asked her, until he, you know, does- and when she sees Norman looking at Dylan there, she storms off. And while yeah, I did kind of root for her in making Norman walk home that night (because he does kind of use her in an attempt to get over Dylan), the reason she had the freak-out in the first place is she has this almost unhealthy obsession with Norman. She sort of forces him to be friends with her, really, by semi-stalking him until Norma gets involved and rules in her favor (presumably because she sees Emma's oxygen tank and thus views her as non-threatening). It's unfortunate, because Emma, Bradley, and  Norman  are thus caught up in a rather messed up love triangle where nothing  is entirely reciprocated- or, well, I guess  square, if you add Dylan into the mix. But with just Emma and Bradley, it's definitely, at least at first, a Betty and Veronica situation, right down to the bloody hair color of brunette v. blonde. The thing is, it isn't that Norman is entirely oblivious to Emma's feelings, either, which makes the way he uses her even worse. Norman keeps Emma around because he has nobody else except his mother to talk to, and he does this knowing she has a crush on him. I feel stupid, but I can admit to doing what Emma does- sticking around to get what a body can out of a relationship, even if it's only romantic in one direction. But there's a line between a character being  written  as a realistic and  well-rounded one, versus as being written in a way that undermines their strengths. Emma's clinginess and tendency to blow up at and for Norman because of her romantic feelings for him problematize the rest of her characterizations. And ultimately, Norman depends on her physical presence and thus takes advantage of her feelings for him, even is it's not deliberately to hurt her. 

And last, but by no means least, Norma Bates, Norman's mother.

This character is disturbing for so many reasons, it's ridiculous. Given the source material, it's no surprise she'd be a messed up parent and over-controlling mother. It's what you'd expect- she's controlling and manipulative, and Norman always  goes back to her- every time he remotely rebels, it backfires, sort of proving her right and causing him to be sorry. Her manipulation never leads to her physically abusing him, but she is obviously doing enough mental and emotional damage that he literally hallucinates her presence when he's distressed. And she uses physicality in more subtle ways- she kicks  him out of the car during an argument at least once, and she often uses the silent treatment on him. And the boy is seventeen, and she still thinks it's okay to change clothes in the same room as him- it's no wonder we're all waiting for the Oedipus Complex within Norman to really burst out. 

But in terms of how women are portrayed in fiction, she's devastatingly characterized by what happens to her body. In the pilot, she gets raped by the former owner of the motel, and kills him when Norman  leaves the room by stabbing his unconscious form repeatedly on the kitchen floor. She flirts like crazy with the sheriff and his deputy, focusing more on the latter when it doesn't work on the former. So she keeps using those feminine wiles to keep him from being suspicious  and then eventually starts sleeping with him to keep on his good side- he says he'll protect her, but only if she's good. Norman talks to her about it, and she basically says she'll do what she has to do, so be it. The deputy ends up beating her and raping  her, too, though, and in the, "I LOVE YOU WHY ARE YOU MAKING ME DO THIS!" way. Then a guy who thinks she stole money from him threatens to kill her. The sheriff steps in and deals with the guy, but not before she has a gun (or maybe knife?) to her throat in a car with the dude making the threats. Then she tells Dylan that her most recent husband, his step-father and Norman's actual father, was beating her, which caused Norman to black out and kill him- and all that was the impetus for them moving. And then, Oh God Then, she confesses to Norman that her brother raped her all the time when she was a little girl. 

So yeah, it's just flat-out painful to watch and slowly come to understand. Domestic violence and rape are all that make up her character- she's constantly a victim and whenever she seems to be doing something  for herself or Norman that wouldn't be bad, the next male comes in and threatens her body. Her body is targeted at least once per episode, and all we know about her backstory involves her body being abused. So while sure, she treats Norman like crap, the reasons seem to be  centered around the fact that she has been and is consistently being physically assaulted and used and abused. They were going for complexity, but it's actually fairly flat because it's all the same, horrific thing over and over again with her. I really don't have anything good to say about her, except that she's played fantastically. But all of the actors in this show are amazing- gotta give the casting director and these actors a lot of props. Especially Vera Farmiga, the gal playing  Norma. I mean, you could give her a load of crap for agreeing to play a character that's one-dimensional for such a terrible reason, but she  does it phenomenally. 

Oh, and yes, in very fucked up ways, she does love both of her sons. It's obvious she loves Norman more, though.


So the overall problem is that all of these women's bodies are used, by characters in the show (and its backstory)  for their own desires, goals, and urges; and by the writers of the show for dramatic purposes, in ways that remove autonomy and agency from these women. It's this latter part I find most troublesome. These characters are fiction, yes, and that argument is often used as a pass for stereotypes and negative portrayals. But the thing is, their being fiction means they're being created by real people that are choosing to construct them as objects and victims. And they're choosing to depict these women as emotionally unstable and abusive, and as using their bodies as a means to an end- be it desire, healing, friendship, or even protection, their bodies are what get them what they want in some way. I'm not saying I demand that when a character is assaulted she be fine and dandy the next day in the show- but seriously, using abuse and trauma as the main aspects of a woman's psyche continues/echoes the discourses of subordination of women embedded in the real world. 

So it isn't that these women are being objectified in-story, per se. It's the fact that someone in the real world chose to write the story that way. Why do writers do this all the time? I could scream, "Yar braw rabble-rabble, patriarchy blah  blah," but it's more nuanced than that. One  thing to consider about norms of behavior and interaction and perception is that they become embedded and ingrained in our everyday lives, to the point that they're second-nature and taken for granted- without even realizing it, we do things that uphold the status quo, and we get used to perceiving  things in certain ways. So writers coming from a real world that objectifies women's bodies and not really perceiving it in daily life means that when creating a fictional world, those writers will write the world  to reflect their own. Thus, if they don't think twice about whether something is objectifying a woman's body in the real world, they won't do it as they write their own. And even if they do often try to act as proponents of equality, it's easy to miss things that perpetuate inequality. So I'm not saying these writers are bad people. But it's sad that they don't have the thorough devotion necessary to avoid this sort of thing.

And that this devotion is necessary is, of course, shameful, as well. But I'm at this point giving the writers the benefit of the doubt and assuming this is all unintentional.

Now, if it's deliberate, we have a whole different can of worms, but I doubt I need to really argue how messed up that really is. 

-This is Gab. Over and out.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Well-Rounded: Portrayals in 'Continuum'

I have a lot of reasons for liking the recently-aired Canadian show Continuum, but the two I'm going to focus on are its deconstruction of some usual tropes in popular culture, as well as its surprisingly well-written and well-acted lead character- surprising because she's a she and doesn't fit a lot of the negative stereotypes about women making up a probably disproportionately large percentage* of the entries on

No, she's not a robot

I'm going to do my best to avoid specific spoilers, so hopefully you'll be able to read this and not feel stabby at me by the time you're finished. However, a lot of thematic elements that develop over time in the show are necessary to go into in order for this to work, so if you haven't seen Continuum  yet, I'm warning you, you may, indeed, get spoiled here. 

The premise of the show is that, roughly sixty years in the future, corporations have bailed the governments of the world out of a major financial crisis, and thus have taken control. What used to be the separate countries of the United States and  Canada has become the North American Union, an oligarchic police state with the corporations in charge under a body called the Corporate Congress. In response, a revolutionary group called Liber8 (labeled as "terrorist" by the corporate government) blossoms, and they make one particular move (in the first thirty seconds of the pilot) that leads to a group of them being sentenced to death (presumably without much in the way of a trial). During their execution, they combine pieces of an orb thingydo together, and presto! They're transported back to contemporary Vancouver, Washington. But lo, one of the corporate cops, Kiera Cameron, somehow got sucked into the time warp, and  she, too went back with them. The rest of the show is about Kiera working with the Vancouver police department to track down the members of Liber8 as they try to manipulate the past in order to prevent the corporate takeover of the future. 

I think having a description is necessary because two vital aspects of the story are its main strong-points: The conflict between Liber8's overall goals versus the actions of its members (in contrast to the government and police of the future), and  the way Kiera is portrayed. 

Let's start with Liber8. I've only seen the first season (yay Netflix), but as one would expect, there are myriad scenes where its members monologue about the evils of the corporate government. The whole premise of their name, for example, stems from how civil liberties are mostly gone in this future corporate state, and they seek to restore them. Overall, the things they espouse philisophically are the same ideas about democracy and liberty and freedom that are, supposedly, the cornerstone of our validations  for revolutions such as those of the  Arab Spring, the current situation in Turkey, and even the American Revolution. Notions of basic human rights and liberties that are being suppressed and violated aren't just notions in Continuum- the writers go to great lengths to show viewers that the members of Liber8 aren't exaggerating when they say personal freedom is nigh but gone. 

Some examples of the grievances of Liber8 are:

  • Lack of free speech
  • Extreme  surveilance of citizens
  • Databases of everyone's identity and DNA
  • A highly militarized police force whose officers get implanted with chips that enable them to access that database with, literally, a blink
  • All food production and distribution is under the control of one company
  • The Corporate Congress removes a number of important events from the historical record, as well as fudges things it keeps in order to paint a more pleasant  picture of corporations and corporate rule (a huge example is the bailouts of 2010 are removed from record entirely)
  • The existence of a Global Corporate Congress implies the situation in North America isn't unique

 So we're meant to sympathize deeply with the goals of Liber8- all of these things are "unheard of" and fly in the face of what we perceive as the cornerstone of modern, democratic societies currently in existence now. So it's not surprising a group like Liber8 would rise up,and one would assume the members of such an organization would be our heroes in a show about a future such as this.

An example  of stuff promoting the show,
but there's no reason to assume the
group within the show doesn't use this image, too
I'd like to note  a few things I think done in order to trip us  up, then. First, look at that iconography- using a red fist like the one in the  picture above (and that appears to be a regular image for  Liber8's propaganda) invokes (most likely deliberately) the raised fist of  solidarity  associated with communist revolutions and socialist movements. And yeah, it's red. Kind of blunt imagery, there. But given the bad rap communism  has in modern political rhetoric, one  would wonder why a hand such as that would be the symbol for any fictional revolutionary group. From an intellectual standpoint, it makes sense- corporations are in charge, so, essentially, capitalism has become not only the economic system, but the political one, as well. So bash it with communism? Okay, sure. More cynically, however, it may  be intended to undermine or make viewers question Liber8. That bad rap communism has means that a lot of people (wrongly) assume that the "communist revolutions" of China and Russia were actually communist- but they weren't, they were dictatorial. They led to police states not unlike that of Continuum itself, not fee and open societies like Marx and Engels would have wanted. But by invoking iconography associated with those false peoples' revolutions, seeds of doubt can be planted in the minds of viewers.

Also, there's the fact that the Corporate Congress and the police force, the City Protective Service (members are called "protectors") refer to Liber8 as a terrorist organization. It should come as no surprise- using "terrorist" as a misnomer is often a tactic employed by governments  attempting to stifle and delegitimize dissent. So if just given this info- liberating organization labeled as "terrorist" by the authoritarians would usually be a shoe-in for the group we're supposed to root for.

But then we see tactics we usually would associate with baddies being used by Liber8 members. Bombings, shootings, killing bystanders, and even killing one another- the tactics of these Liber8 members are exactly the opposite off what we'd expect noble revolutionaries to be doing. So we're also meant to believe the members of Liber8 being shown to us  are unethical and  bloodthirsty, cut-throat and utilitarian to the point of dismissive of human life- the "greater good" is a theme they toss about. They say they're fighting for a better future, but when their plan for that fight involves murdering the teenaged version of a future person's grandmother, we're not meant to side with them. We're meant to want  them to lose, because they do, in fact, act like the "terrorists" we're conditioned to fear on a daily basis.

Enter the main character, the Protector that got caught in the time warp and  traveled back to 2012. 

My gun doesn't use bullets, and yes, a computer screen
essentially appears IN MY FACE when I need it.
And also my outfit makes me invisible. Try me.
At first, she seems like a puppet for the Corporate Congress and its chokehold on the citizens of the  North American Union. She's very mission-focused and bluntly determined to get the job done, and we don't see her questioning a single order. And we're shown  enough of the CPS's practices to see that they aren't afraid  of causing collateral damage to civilians in order to get the target- CPS also blows up public  facilities during chases and in order to capture Liber8 members. 

So in that sense, while the two organizations- the government in the future, as well as the civilian group trying to end its reign- have entirely different goals, they do a lot of the same things. Individuals don't seem to matter- in Liber8's case, be they members or bystanders (let alone CPS or Corporate Congress members), or in CPS's case, the people they're targeting or that may inadvertently get in the way (and, actually, I think we're supposed to think  they also don't care about members as individuals, too).

So here's a huge dilemma: There doesn't seem to be any sort of structure or system without reason to hate it. We're supposed to dislike the Corporate Congress for its police state, but we're also supposed to at least disagree with Liber8 for its methods. The CPS, as the enforcement arm of the Corporate Congress, is just as implicated as the Congress itself, yet wantonly offing anybody doesn't really make  Liber8 seem like a very good alternative, either.

This leads to questions of systems versus individuals. Do the members of Liber8 that we see act the way every member does? They're willing to die for the cause, yes, but they're also more than willing to take down myriad people entirely uninvolved in the process. Is that the philosophy of the organization? Do the means justify the ends every single time? Is it possible to root for Liber8 but  hope the members in 2012 get caught?

And let's play with the word "continuum" a little. On the surface, the throwaway analysis has to do with timelines and whether they're linear, i.e. on a continuum or not.

But I actually want to take it a little deeper and discuss escalation and something law enforcement are trained under, something called (wait for it)... use of force continuum.  The gist is that law enforcement are trained to start small and only escalate as the threat itself escalates- they begin with  just talking, then move to non-weapon, hand-to-hand, then non-lethal weapons (sticks, pepper spray, etc.), then finally lethal weapons. They're supposed to gauge the situation and  determine  what level of force is  necessary, and only move forward on the continuum if absolutely  necessary. 

So when the CPS sends a bunch of swat choppers and blows up an entire floor of a building (one that likely has civilians in it), what the hell? Are we to believe that Liber8 had already grown into that much of a physically violent threat that CPS decided to quite literally bust out the big guns immediately? 

We see escalation right in the show- there's something  about how the execution taking place in the pilot is the first in decades, I  believe, yet there they are, about to off a bunch of people at once. And both sides bomb  the shit out of stuff, so how else to respond but in kind? But it's ambiguous as to whether Liber8 actually threw the first bomb- and I think we're supposed to believe they didn't. Which begs the question, who are the real terrorists?


Okay, that worm was dangling really low. But I think we're supposed to bite it. And that's fine. 

But the deeper question is where will they go next? I guess time travel is a pretty fat trump card, but there's obviously more to it. I said before that Liber8 was targeting ancestors of people in their time. So I postulate that CPS will somehow manage to send someone back (and probably contrive a way to get them stuck in our time, too, otherwise keep them as a shadowy menace and thus give them no reason to want to return to their own time) that is going to also start going around murdering ancestors- but of Liber8 members, naturally. 

Is there much else they can do? I mean, I doubt either is about to nuke anything in the  past because of the effect it would have on the future- but what about the future itself? If they're willing to blow up a building to get one Liber8 member, would the Congressional Congress even blink  before nuking a whole city (or at least, like, bombing the shit out of a neighborhood or something)?

Bottom line is, if we're going to follow theories that humans need authority in order to feel secure, then what authority  are we, as viewers caught up in this fictional world created in Continuum  supposed to look to for guidance?

And then there's Kiera. I said before she seems like a mouthpiece at first. But she's not- it's slowly revealed that for some time (although it's impossible to tell how long) before being transported, she had been questioning the Corporate Congress and CPS's goals and tactics- flashbacks (from her personal continuity, at least) show her hesitating at orders (in contrast to the first impression, yes), thinking  hard about information she's given, and a refusal to abuse the power she's given as a member of CPS. And of course, she does everything she can in the present to keep people from getting killed by the things the Liber8 members are doing. 

I think it's pretty obvious she isn't supposed to be the norm (for  Protectors, I mean), and we're meant to like  her not only because she's the main character, but because she's demonstrably a good person. We're meant to root for her as she struggles against Liber8, yes, but also as we consistently see her moral compass point in directions opposite of that of the government she's employed by- we're watching her as she, without necessarily realizing  it, is already defying  the Corporate Congress and CPS. She puts herself on the line myriad times in order to protect others, and she seems to be an example of the good cop in the corrupt system. So I'm pretty sure thatt she'll eventually have to decide whether to be lawful or good. And, well, yeah, she's going to choose good. 

Bomb just went off. First thing I do?
Check on the civilians.
But, there's more to her than just her pursuit of the Liber8 members. Some of the flashbacks  of her personal  past involve, yes, a family. She's a wife and mother, and she misses her family dearly.

All- North American Unian-ee. 
Now before you roll your eyes, let me assure you- this doesn't get overplayed or beaten into your skull until you see the faces of her husband and son when you close your eyes. She doesn't act like a mama bear. Not in the slightest- when she's dealing with Liber8, she  never once says anything like, "I'm doing this for my family/husband/son." Her home roles of mother and wife are separate from her role as law enforcer, and stuff about them really only crops up when she's by  herself and has the time to think. Usually she's focused on The Job  and protecting the people in the present. And no, I don't think that's the same thing- she's not protecting people here because  they're stand-ins for her family, she's doing it because she wants to keep people in general safe- it's why she's former military and then a  CPS member in the first place. She had that passion before becoming a wife or mother. And, let  me add one thing about this without giving  too much away- the relationship with the husband is complex. It's not fairy tale, let me assure you. She's not just a doting wifey, and he's not the alpha male of the household.

And does she pose? Does she act all slinky and sexualized? No. She's sexual in some moments, but she's in total control, and any time anything related to sex occurs, it's part of her development and shows the journey she's taking in her  mind  and heart- it's not sex for the sake of T&A- and, in fact, no T&A gets shown  at all. 

Not sexy
Of course, none of this would work if the acting was bad, but it's not- imho, it's top-notch and entirely believable. I never question Kiera's willingness to take  a bullet, or the pain she feels from missing her family.

And this. All this, my friends, is amazing. Not that anybody would do it, per se, but the fact that it would actually be written into a show at all. A female character that kicks butt, but has personal motivations  WHILE STILL HAVING A FAMILY. It's kind of unheard  of. I mean, I love Sarah Connor,  but her entire existence revolves around her son- and  while that's noble, it's also flat. And Jane/Deb is adorable and into social justice and all, but in the end, all she cares about is snagging a dude. I could go on, but my point is that the typical treatment of female protagonists leads to characters who usually don't and can't exist as their own character- there's always something, be it another person, or some ideal self, to which they're attached and/or compared to, and seeing a show where the writers are willing and able to write a woman with a family as an independently motivated person- while still maintaining the emotional connections to family that any normal human being would have- is refreshing, exciting, and pretty gorram special.

Kiera is a believable answer to the question raised by the fight between Liber8. Of course, buying into  the way fiction  stories work, she'll probably end up some sort of grand savior, but if the quality of the show continues in this direction, I bet that, however it happens, it'll be entirely convincing and moving.  

I can't wait for season 2 to make  it to Netflix, and for 3 to air in the States, too. 

*This claim, of course, is just my assumption as a slightly disillusioned female consumer of pop culture. I haven't taken the time to bore through the entire catalogue of entries and quantify how many relate to negative portrayals of women there are on TVTropes versus other classifications.

-This  is Gab. Over and out.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Welcome to Diverging Analysis

Hello internet,

Welcome to Diverging Analysis, a cultural analysis site run by two girls with a penchant for overthinking. Our goal is to create an open and welcoming community for readers with diverse perspectives who are looking to have a lively, civil discussion.

So who are we? Well, we're called Cat and Gab for starters. I'm Cat. I'm a recent college graduate living in NYC and I guess I'd characterize myself as a creative academic. While I attended college, I double majored in both Biology and English and I've always been a bit of a split personality. Gemini, you know? Perhaps that's why I resist easy responses to media and social issues. I always seem to be looking for alternate readings and trying to look at things from a different perspective. My perspective is that of a woman of Chinese descent. I've lived in more and less affluent communities with differing ethnic makeups so I'm pretty good at identifying privilege, though it isn't always the perspective I take on an issue. Aside from my academic background, I also have a bit of experience as a film, theater, and book critic and recapper.

We won't be confining ourselves to current pop culture on this blog (I might slip in a Victorian novel once in a while) but I do have my preferences when it comes to the media I consume. I guess you could characterize my interests as more traditionally feminine. I like art and fashion and dabble in watercolor, portraiture, and fashion design. I maintain a beauty and fashion blog when I'm not here. I've always loved writing fiction and one of my dreams is to one day be a published author. My reading tastes are pretty closely allied with my own writing. I like historical fiction, romance, fairytale/fantasy, and young adult. I tend to seek out anything critically acclaimed or with a certain level of cult popularity (it must be popular for a reason, right?) but when left to my own devices, I'll usually look for properties that are similar to the ones I've already described. I like romantic comedies, period pieces, anything inspired by fairytales, and fantasy. Oh, and musicals. Definitely musicals. I grew up participating in a lot of choirs and musical theater productions. I have a fondness for classic Hollywood movies and anything with elaborate costumes. Whether it's books, television or film, I usually prefer stories with a female protagonist (which can make things very difficult, but that's another article). As for music, my tastes are pretty varied. I like Top 40, indie pop, country, classical, and singer-songwriter as a start. I'm drawn to vocal-driven music but I do have more than a few terrible pop songs on my iPod.

I'm Gab, and I'm an activist at heart, so most of my posts will probably have some progressive agenda going on in there somewhere- or the motivation will at least come from that, even if the presentation seems pretty neutral. I don't hate the wealthy or successful, the educated or prosperous- I just hate it when they act like people unlike them are undeserving or Bad, and when they refuse to give any assistance to those in less comfortable circumstances. Lack of empathy is something I absolutely cannot stand, and usually my fire about an issue can be traced to that characteristic in someone. I grew up in Southern California for a bit, then spent the most of my youth  in Las Vegas (it's not as snazzy as you'd think). I went to a small, private, liberal arts college in the southeast corner of Washington and earned a BA in politics (not political science- big difference) with a minor in (ancient) history- I wrote a thesis comparing modern democratic theory and politicians to Stoicism, Utilitarianism, Marcus Aurelius, and John Stewart Mill. While there, I volunteered in a special ed. K-5 room, and got a job full-time in there once I graduated. So I spent the next two years working and living in Washington, falling in love with the state. I'm in Indiana now, working on a Ph.D. in political science from a Big 10 University (I got the M.A. in May 2012). While I'm pretty familiar with critical race and feminist theory, as well as lots of various democratic and American political theory (especially social policy and general policymaking), I'm focusing on disability and identity politics, hoping to become a disability studies scholar- if I finish and stay in academia. Washington keeps calling me back, so who knows...? Key to the perspective I bring to the table: I grew up under lots of axes of marginalization- low-income, first-generation  college student, Native American, siblings with disabilities, and female. That's probably why I'm such an activist in my core- I grew up experiencing lots of discrimination and oppression, so whenever I get a whiff of it elsewhere, I perk up like a hunting dog and address it as best I can.

As for pop culture, well, I dip my toes into lots of stuff. I play video and tabletop games, read comics, watch lots of movies and TV (anything from sci-fi to documentary to horror to crime scene procedural), listen to pretty much any and every kind of music (even Country- GASP!). I play Dungeons and Dragons and Magic: The Gathering, but I'm not into PC gaming- shucks, right? The only reason my roommie and I have cable is to watch The Walking Dead, but I've never seen an episode of Mad Men. Go figure? I love watching, listening to, absorbing pop culture and sifting out the ways it perpetuates or challenge-s current societal discourses, assumptions, practices, etc. I try not to be too jargony (something that gets me in trouble in grad school) so anyone I'm communicating with can understand- otherwise, what's the point?

Cat and I met a couple years ago through this wonderful mechanism enabling you to read this little endeavor of ours- the Internet. We're both fans and followers of a pop culture website called, since it does what we do for fun- overanalyzes pop culture.
But recently we've been feeling like the site doesn't satisfy our analytical needs. There are just certain perspectives and issues that they just don't or won't cover. And so for that reason and others, we decided to strike out on our own and creating a diverging blog. This is a place for the perspectives that diverge from the path. We're diverging from OTI, our academic backgrounds, and our own personal blogs to create something new. We want Diverging Analysis to be a safe space for discussion that we share with you, our readers. We'll bring our perspectives and the benefit of our experiences and academic backgrounds but we're not trying to lecture you. We want to know what you think. Right. Cat and I have already seen how our backgrounds compliment each other, leading to insights that each of us wouldn't have arrived at on our own. My perspective adds to hers until we arrive at a unified thesis that is supported by both of our respective opinions and deductions. And that's what we hope you'll bring as well. Our goal is to reach other people that enjoy popular culture, but who also don't always take it at face value- or who like to recognize the implications of taking pop culture at face value. So, come have a conversation with us. Contemplate. Converse. Overanalyze. Debate. Discuss. We're here to talk and to listen. This blog will have a little bit of everything: movies, television, music, news, games, art, fashion, politics... and likely more. As we've said, we're not interested in limiting ourselves. We're diverging off into a great unknown full of possibilities and we'd be thrilled if you'd join us.

You can email us at and follow us on twitter @DivergeAnalysts