Let’s Talk About – The Responsibility of the Writer

Star Wars: Squadrons just came out.

That was the impetus for this post.

I mean, I’ve felt like I needed to talk about what I think of as “the Responsibility of the Writer” for a while now, but Squadrons was a huge sign that I needed to post this today.

Because it’s the umpteenth Star Wars game that has let us play as redeemable, likable space nazis, and . . . let me just put it out there that the world does not fucking need likable space nazis in anything we watch, read, or play.

This reiterates a thing I spoke about a few weeks back, in my post about how much I hate Proxy Racist characters. In that post, I made the point that modern American society just does not need a feel-good revenge plot for a racist villain from an 80’s film. In fact, I feel like it’s irresponsible to write any story from a racist’s perspective in 2020, no matter how positively it portrays minority characters.

Because stories from the perspective of those minorities are infinitely more uplifting and undoubtedly what the world needs more right now.

I still stand by that. And I still stand by the idea that it is our responsibility as authors to make that change possible where we can (i.e. I’m going to write about Latinx and Afro-Latino characters because I’m an Afro-Latino who grew up in a Puerto Rican family).

But since that post, I’ve felt a nagging need to clarify . . .

. . . that this is not the “WRITE LIKE THIS OR ELSE” blog. I don’t want to make demands, and I never want to say a static “You cannot write this!”

But I do want to say that if you do write certain things, you absolutely need to frame them responsibly. And if you shirk that responsibility, you might be contributing to a wide range of societal problems, even if you think you’re not.

Because all media does have an impact on society. We, as writers, do have power over it.

The power to normalize ideas.

Trends become common thought, and yield results–good and bad. On the innocuous side, there are the obvious creative trends, like the magic school stories that came after Harry Potter, a much needed continued exploration of an environment we all loved. On the bad side, there’s the nationwide, decades-long trend for mean-but-morally-ascendant-bad boy-protagonists . . . that normalized selfish assholes, and, at the very least, put us on the path to Trump.

What I’m saying is, we can write whatever we want, but we need to start being responsible about how we write those things and what ideas we’re normalizing with them.

The Responsibility of the Writer

If I had to define the responsibility, it would be as follows:

It is the writer’s responsibility to handle risky content with care so as to not foster and uplift horrible ideas. If it is impossible to frame a story in a way that is healthy, the writer should instead frame it in such a way that is is very clearly unhealthy without glorifying that toxicity. In cases where the content is too hot, never ever present the story from an unhealthy perspective; while you absolutely still have the freedom to write from that unhealthy perspective, doing so means you’re outing yourself as a terrible person.

You can write a story from a villain’s perspective, but you should:

A) Not actually make them a fucking racist, a misogynist, an unapologetic serial killer, a violent criminal, etc. in a plot that gives them zero motivation and/or uplifts them for doing terrible shit. This includes the bog-standard, bad boy protagonist who murders people, but–for example–hates liars, which every other character in the plot turns out to be (as if that double standard is realistic in the goddamn slightest).

If for some reason you have to write about a really terrible person, then–

B) Make it extremely clear that they’re monsters by taking the checks and balances further; actively have characters call them out for the terrible shit they’re doing and don’t use the swelling music, set design, or plot to undermine that criticism, even if the protagonist ignores. Give your reader an unfiltered view of them; a reminder that, “Hey, in case you forgot, the shit they’re doing is actually bad.”

You can write the YA story about the toxic relationship, but you should:

A) Make your protagonist totally aware that it’s toxic and trying to get out of it, maybe ending the novel with the relief of escaping that kind of abusive relationship. Or–

B) At least have one goddamn character point out how toxic the protagonist’s relationship is in an exchange the reader cannot glance over. Make them aware that your boyfriend isn’t supposed to treat you like absolute shit all the time. Because selling a fucking book isn’t more important than empowering young women, you fucking leeches.

Sorry. The toxic bad boy trope just . . . really pisses me off because of how manipulative and ubiquitous it is. Like, some day, I want to have kids, and the idea that my daughter will get her hands on City of Bones and be convinced that she’s supposed to literally deify a pushy little shithead already pisses me off.

But moving on.

You can write the story about racism, but you should:

A) Never write it from the negative perspective. Write either from the perspective of the victim, or, at worst, the perspective of someone who used to be racist. Because crossing your arms, huffing, declaring that “This is a free country!” and writing an actual racist who says racist things means you’re just a fucking racist.

Or–

B) Nope. There is no “or.” Again, the topic’s too hot, so never write it from the negative perspective.

With all of that said, I get that not all stories are this clean cut. In fact . . .

Most Stories Can’t Be This Clean Cut

Many of the best ones aren’t. In fact, many of my favorites aren’t.

But, in my experience, all of the best risky fiction at least tries to be responsible.

Joker is an example of a villain’s story that at least tries to be responsible. It intentionally teeters between evocative / tragic and scary / murderer for the entire movie to build tension, and then goes full B at the end because it’s supposed to (although the mystique of the Joker, as an iconic character who’s had a ton of iterations, makes the crescendo weirdly triumphant anyway when it re-e-e-e-eally shouldn’t be).

In contrast, absolute garbage, guilty pleasure media is usually significantly less responsible:

In Venom, our protagonist, Eddie, bonds to a higher power, Venom, which talks in his head about how badly it wants to kill people. Eddie agrees to follow that voice’s orders (because it tells him it will kill him if he doesn’t), and then, via his willingness to serve, he’s rewarded with the ability to kill and eat whoever he wants . . . which the plot frames as a su-u-u-u-uper cool thing. There’s even a plot line where the higher power is slowly eating away at Eddie from the inside and that plot line never gets resolved, like the message is “Don’t ask questions! Just keep doing what you’re told!” It almost watches like fascist propaganda.

Meanwhile, the toxic relationship trope at least seems hugely popular in Romance across all media. Shows like You and 365 Days made the rounds at my job when they came out, with the one coworker demanding I watch You (and, yeah, literally demanding because she was a monstrous asshole), and the YA trope is the angry, raven-haired Once-Ler who negs the protagonist every chance he gets.

What I’m trying to say here is, once again, I’m not making demands. I’m not telling you what you can and cannot write.

I’m just begging you to please be responsible.

To acknowledge that your story might have the power to influence the way someone sees the world.

Please wield that power well.

~~~

I’m still hesitant to put this out there. Probably because, at this point, I’m just tired of stoking the totally unreasonable, determinedly close-minded First Amendment Bear.

But . . . I do think this needs to be said. Or, rather, I need to say it. It feels like we’ve been completely careless with our power to normalize ideas for ages, and now, in 2020, we have to acknowledge that lack of care comes with consequences that we need to consider in our own work and see in others.

By which, of course, I mean to say fuck Venom and don’t go see Venom 2.

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Until next time, take care and stay safe.

A Writer Watching – Titans, Episode 1

Yesterday, I decided to watch a comic book movie to try and wind down, escape the news.

By the end, I was so incredibly angry that I hopped on here and wrote a monster post about that movie–how I couldn’t help seeing it in a really, really bad light.

It was one of those cases too where you just need something vitriolic out of your system, so I wrote the entire post in one, trance-like sitting, hit “Save draft,” and then thought, “I can’t post this.”

Not because it was so hateful–I have no shame in the fact that I fucking hated Venom and I’m never going to apologize for that (also, yeah, it was Venom)–but because it was very reactionary; I might still post it, but I need some time to think it over–maybe share it with some friends to see if my extremely hot take has legs, or if I was just seeing a huge issue that wasn’t really there.

That done, I decided to wind down . . . by watching a comic book TV show.

And, literally 13 seconds in, I realized, “I need to do a Writer Watching for this.”

So, here we are. As always, I’m super late to the party, but, look, I’m still quarantining and working-from-home, so I’ve delved into the “bad movies / shows I felt I should watch” part of my backlog.

So, if you’ll humor me, let’s dive into the tonally backwards, massively irresponsible mess that is the first episode of Titans.

  • (0:13) Holy shit. The very first shot is of abandoned circus tents. A girl is walking in, looking at the blinking lights, music playing in the background, and . . . are we getting the Joker immediately? Seriously, if this show couldn’t go 5 minutes without shoving that fucking clown down our throats again, this is going to be a real short Writer Watching.

    [Kept watching and it turns out this was a Dick Grayson origin scene, but wow, isn’t it weird how my brain is just trained to expect the Joker whenever I watch anything DC?]
  • (2:13) The marquee in the background, which says “The Flying Graysons,” started to blink. “Flying” went dark, and, omfg . . . I seriously thought it was going to light back up as “The Dying Graysons” and I almost lost my fucking shit.

    Please, 2020, give me this one gift. The one executive who was like, “Oooooh, that would be super edgy!” Just please, give me that sweet, sweet, boardroom-certified melodramatic grit!
  • (4:15) Also, as a huge fan of the Teen Titans cartoon from back in the day, y’all fucked up with this intro. Seriously, how did Puffy AmiYumi knock it out of the park so hard that motherfuckers don’t even try?
  • (4:46) Oh. Oh, we’re actually following Robin immediately. Okay. Yeah.

    Disappointing.

    Cause, alright, I’m about to drop my truth on you guys.

    DC has four crutches that they absolutely rely on for almost every movie and show they make.

    1. The Psuedo-Batman Crutch, by which the protagonist of a show emulates Batman so closely that they cease to be themselves and become Batman instead (i.e. Arrow, in which Oliver Queen was even fucking trained by Ra’s al Ghul).

    2. The Bat Family Crutch, by which a movie or show centers around Bat Family characters or is otherwise tied directly to Batman (i.e. Gotham, Pennyworth, Batwoman, Titans).

    3. The Joker Crutch, in which a movie or show A) focuses entirely on the Joker, B) heavily shoe-horns in the Joker, even if he has nothing to do with the over-arcing plot, or C) focuses on characters directly related to the Joker, thus including a ton of scenes about the Joker and/or cameos by the Joker (i.e. Joker, Suicide Squad, anything else with Harley Quinn in it).

    4. The Marvel Crutch, by which a DC movie or show attempts to emulate Marvel (i.e. Wonder Woman [which is set during a World War, has Diana using a round shield–which she’s never been known to do before–and even gives her her own Howling Commandos], Aquaman [in which a prince of a mythical realm has to fight his brother for control of that realm], and Legends of Tomorrow [in which a gang of misfits goes on fun adventures in an exciting frontier, like the Guardians . . . and the Atom is a very embarrassing rip off of Iron Man. Also, Arthur Darvill–who played a significant, named role on Doctor Who–is playing a straight, no-fucks-given rip off of the Doctor, which isn’t related at all, but will always blow my mind]).

    Getting back on track, this show is already leaning real hard on that Bat Family crutch and I was hoping it wouldn’t.
  • (6:04) Sound the alarms! We’ve got a “Joker” here! Six minutes in and already the name drop!

    I don’t remember if this show has its own Joker, but I’m going to assume it does and he just got lost among the 4 other Jokers we got in 2019.
  • (7:02) We get our first clear shot of Raven here, and . . . I mean, no shade whatsoever on this actress, but seeing her, with the purple hair and everything, is just a reminder that I never, ever wanted this show. On the long, long list of things I never wanted a grim dark, realistic reboot for, Teen Titans wasn’t even on the list because I could never even fathom it being an option.

    It is just depressing that this is real, but a revival for the original CN show isn’t.
  • (8:20) I know this is a TV series with an ensemble cast, so they need to move quickly. I really shouldn’t rag on them for that.

    But holy shit, this first scene with Raven goes from “Hey, mom,” to “The demon inside me almost killed you, mom” in one minute and eighteen seconds.

    I mean . . . maybe slow down a little? Cause if you had her say, “It’s because you’re afraid of me,” and her mom just knelt, took her hands, started praying, and you ended the scene there, I would’ve been so intrigued.

    Instead, someone came in with a 2×4 with “THERE’S A DEMON INSIDE HER OR SOMETHING!” written on it and hit me in the back of the head with it. Eight times in a row.

    Them: “ARE YOU GETTING IT!?”

    Me: . . . <unconscious>

    Them: “THERE’S A DEMON INSI–
  • (9:46) That said, I would gladly watch an entire Raven TV show and, based on the last few minutes, I really wish that’s what this show was.

    [A few minutes later, at 11:20] Yeah, if this entire show (or episode at least) was devoted to Raven, her plot could slow down and we wouldn’t have to experience it at this insane, break-neck pace.

    Like, if nothing else, this moment is a great example of bad plot balancing. Or bad prioritizing of plot threads. Robin’s pseudo-Batman stuff? What-the fuck-ever. I’ve seen it a million times. Go watch any Batman show or movie, or go watch Arrow. But this superhero who has dark powers she doesn’t understand and can’t control? Wa-a-a-a-ay more interesting in my opinion.
  • (12:48) We’re in a tropey-as-fuck drug exchange scene. Gang A gave Gang B a duffle bag full of plush dolls and, obviously, the drugs or whatever are in the dolls.

    But, fuck, I would give everything if the one guy in Gang B cuts open the doll, looks at the stuffing inside, and is like, “Synthetic stuffing.” And the other guy is like, “Grade A. Only the best.”

    Gang B: “And they’re all cute animals.”

    Gang A: “As requested.”

    Gang B: “Deuce, give this man his money.”

    And e-e-e-e-end scene!
  • (13:21) After Robin drops down and demands everyone drops the drugs and guns, one of the thugs starts looking around like, “Where’s Batman?” and, on behalf of the entire audience, yeah, same, dude.

    Cause even I, a longtime Robin fan, think this Robin sucks.

    He just looks terrible. They had an opportunity to give him some sick new outfit, maybe some mash-up between his old Robin suit and the Nightwing outfit, to make it clear he’s already going in that direction. But, nope, they gave him the half-cape, full-bangs treatment that Tim usually gets.

    He’s wearing kid-Robin’s look and thus looks like kid-Robin.

    Just the worst choice for him.
  • (13:40) And here’s why I could never write Batman. Cause, however many years into his campaign, criminals are still, to this fucking day, falling for this smoke pellet bullshit.

    If I wrote Batman, criminals everywhere would operate with gas masks and infrared at the ready. Because, even outside of Gotham, Batman’s techniques would be recycled by amateur vigilantes so often that fucking no one would fall for Batman Gadget #1 anymore.

    Them not learning is the equivalent of real life criminals never thinking to wear bullet proof vests. It just does not make sense.
  • (13:55) Ah, yes. That new-age Batman thing where he and other Bat Family members use guns all the time and just murder people.

    Them bats gotta grit, I guess.

    [After watching to 14:02] Okay. Robin is . . . actually murdering these guys, and like . . . <looks around> Is this shit for real? Like, actual Batman, as I know and love him, would hunt this Robin down. I know in new movies he doesn’t give a shit, but my Batman–TAS and JLU Batman–would not stand for this shit at all.

    And just . . . Why this? Why is this the turn all of this Batman shit is taking?

    Why are we leaning into murdering these criminals the heroes know nothing about?

    At this point, you have to ask, “How were Silver Age characters more progressive about the treatment of criminals than modern heroes are?”
  • (14:03) I actually just laughed aloud, because they try to do that thing where someone rakes a bad guy’s face against something sharp or dangerous, like broken glass or the road from a moving car. Only, here, it’s boney-ass Robin raking a guy’s face against . . . the alley wall? And, like, apparently half of his face comes off on that wall? Bitch, was his face cake? Is that the plot twist of the show?

    Batman drops down and is all, “Yes, Robin, the criminals are all cake!”

    And Robin is like, “Wha–What!?”

    And the Cake Boss or whoever the fuck pops out of the trunk like, “Crime is cake, Robin! All crime is cake!”

    And Twitter is like, “omfg i cant whats real”
  • (14:26) Also, I thought this show was going to rip off Daredevil with Robin’s fights, but, instead, we just have the same over-choreographed fights we’ve seen in everything else.

    I guess that’s not fair–there’s no winning for DC in that scenario–but, I mean . . . I could’ve won. If they’d ripped off Daredevil, I would’ve laughed really hard at least.
  • (14:36) Robin catches the child abuser he came out here for, and–after killing, like, 5 guys in this alley–he cuts this guy’s face and says, “If you ever touch your kid again, I’ll find you.”

    Like, “Hey, uh . . . Robin? That one guy who you stabbed in the throat with part of a gun? He was just someone’s cousin who didn’t even know he was going to a drug deal tonight. That guy was terrified before you even got here, and you murdered his ass in cold blood. But this actual child abuser who you know is evil . . . gets to go free?”

    Just what the fuck even are these priorities?
  • (15:07) The infamous “Fuck Batman” from all the marketing could not have been delivered at a stranger place. It’s supposed to be a reply to the one guy who was like, “Where’s Batman!?” but that was, what, five minutes ago? Just didn’t stick the landing here.
  • (15:33) Okay, I wasn’t going to say anything, but holy shit, Robin’s apartment looks exactly like Daredevil’s. What the fuck even? They show a longshot of the living room, and the only difference is there’s no neon sign outside–just dirty, mute white windows, which actually draws a perfect comparison between Netflix Daredevil and this Robin now that I think about it.
  • (16:00) I know they’re going for “gritty badass hero” here, but it re-e-e-e-eally just comes off as “young serial killer” using his vigilante work as a vehicle to commit his murders . . . And, actually, ya know what? I’d watch the shit out of that show.
  • Sidebar: Okay. Gonna dial it back here because I’m commenting on things every 30 seconds, and I can’t spend five hours doing this today.
  • (21:43) Okay. Okay. So excited, because Starfire’s intro is, like, the closest we’ve come to really rad cinematography and I’m pumped.
  • (29:49) Okay, eight minutes later, it’s cool that she is clearly socially and physically powerful.

    But I’m disappointed that she has an amnesia plot.

    And that amnesia plot is also gritty.

    I don’t know why I expected anything different though.

    Whatever. Getting into the craft of it, we’re already working with one mysterious past with Raven, so the fact that we have another is annoying. Especially because Starfire is someone I just want to have clarity on immediately–mostly because I’ve never had to wait on her premise before, in anything I’ve ever watched. Starfire has always just been an alien from another planet and that was always fine. I’m not sure why we need this gritty, origin-like preamble for a character I always expect to be a source of comic-booky levity with no origin whatsoever.

    But, even ignoring all of that as my preference (which it absolutely is), I think it just does a disservice to the dynamic of the of the characters to have character A in a mysterious past plot, character B in a detective work plot, and character C . . . doing detective work to figure out their mysterious past.

    Starfire looks dope, acts dope, but the plot they gave her is weirdly samey.
  • (33:36) Robin describes Batman as a “stop-at-nothing guy who solved everything with his fists,” and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a worse description of Batman in my entire life. Not because that isn’t what Hollywood has made him into, but because that isn’t all Batman is supposed to be. The idea that Robin described him like that means the Titans Batman has to be the worst piece of shit on Earth. Basically a rich boxer who goes out to beat the shit out of people every night. No thank you.
  • (35:52) Okay, I’m officially sick of this damsel-Raven bullshit. Like, I get we’re doing an origin story here, but this girl just needs to be more aggro. And, sure, creator’s choice, but if she, at least, tried to fight back when someone tried to force her into a car against her will, it would feel more like I was actually watching Raven. I mean, isn’t this supposed to be a gritty TV show for angsty teens? Why the fuck isn’t Raven like, “Hey! Get your fucking hands off me!” or something? Why can Robin kill people but Raven can’t “cuss”?

    Whatever. In the end, this is a case of source material balancing: do you make her completely different from all the source material? Totally similar to the way she was in one piece of source material? I would argue that, because the cartoon was pivotal in making the Teen Titans popular, it would’ve done them a service to make her a little more like that interpretation of the character.

    Cause this interpretation just feels like a helpless kid and it sucks.
  • (40:13) Starfire giggles at the dude she just burned alive and . . . cool. Great. So, the team of fun, teen heroes I loved so much are all total sociopaths in a hyper gritty world.

    Fucking . . . lame.

    They took all of the sullen bitterness out of Raven, doled it out to everyone else, and then turned the contrast up to ultra-max, so she’s the innocent, helpless one and all the other characters are edgy, gritastic murderers.

    And it just fucking sucks.

    I could write an entire post about this alone, and maybe I will.

    Because I don’t understand how you could so thoroughly and absurdly kill an entire team’s dynamic.

    It would be like if they redid Guardians of the Galaxy and everyone was a large bruiser with daggers while Drax was made into the pilot of Quill’s ship.

    Just fucking why?
  • (44:16) If there’s one thing I wanted to see, it’s this shot right here: Raven, with the full black eyes, kicking ass. I just wish this could’ve happened way more often. Slower plot, but maybe with one more instance of her actually fighting people off instead of crying for help.

    Also, I don’t want to sit through another 8 episodes of damsel-Raven learning to control her powers.
  • (48:34) Oh nah.

    Nah. They did my Beast Boy dirty.

    He looks . . . terrible.

    And his weird, gross, slow, bone-breaky transformation means he’s going to be locked in as the one animal per fight?

    I– . . . I’m sorry. I’m out. I’ve seen a way better version of this character already and I refuse to downgrade.

In fact, I’ve seen better versions of all of these characters.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to keep watching and maybe do more of these posts, but the answer is a firm, resounding “no.”

Instead, I’m going to go find out where I can watch Teen Titans and wash away the grim dark.

~~~

Thanks for stopping by. I don’t do A Writer Watching too often, because they take way longer to write than it seems. However, I did one on Solo: A Star Wars Story, and another on the first two episodes of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, the follow-up for which became my first Edited in Post.

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to Like. If you agree with any of it, or if you want to argue why I should finish watching Titans, feel free to Comment down below (and also, absolutely drop spoilers if you want, cause I’m pro-o-o-obably not watching more of this, even if you tell me I should–no shade, just being real). If you want to be notified when I post again, you can Follow me via the button on the left side of the screen on PC, or via the hamburger menu on the upper right on mobile.

But, no matter what you do, please stay safe, and take care.

I Hate Proxy Racist Characters

I tried watching Cobra Kai.

The premise, as I assumed it, was interesting. I thought we’d be catching up with the villain from the original Karate Kid, which is true–we do. But I assumed we’d find out that villain wasn’t actually a villain, an idea that the prologue (cut almost entirely from the original film) sets up. We see the villain kid being notoriously ordered to “Sweep the leg,” and we see his reaction: even he’s shocked that his douchebag sensei would tell him to take advantage of someone’s broken leg in a fight. The rest of the scene plays like normal, and then we cut to present day . . .

. . . Where we find our protagonist has the typical “Hollywood” version of a sad life. We watch him get up, go outside, encounter a young Latino kid . . .

. . . and to this kid, our protagonist immediately says, “Oh great. More immigrants.”

I hit Back like I was calling an elevator (*clickclickclickclickclick*). I remember saying, “Nope. I’m good.”

Cause, yeah, believe it or not . . .

I FUCKING HATE

RACIST CHARACTERS!

In 2020, it feels weird to even have to write this, but it also feels essential.

Which makes me sad.

I’m aware that Cobra Kai (which I keep misspelling as “Kobra Kai” for some weird reason), was first released in 2018. But, maybe because it’s so recent, I feel like that line–the decision that made me immediately drop it back into the abyss of Netflix content from which it came–deserves to be looked at.

Because, like edgy shithead comedians from the 2000’s–the long-extinct champions of “I’m gonna say it!” humor that empowers all racists and sexists–the Proxy Racist character is a problem I want to catch immediately.

So let’s define it.

The Proxy Racist

This is the fiction writer-equivalent of the shitty, edgelord, “I’ gonna say it!” joke: a grossly racist character who says horrible, racist shit while the writer in control of that character (and everything they say and do) smacks the dust off their hands. “I’m gonna write it,” they might have literally said to themselves, and now they stand akimbo, proud of themselves for establishing a gritty tone while alienating a large portion of the audience.

“I really want my audience to hate this guy,” they say, and then–as if there’s no other way to achieve that–they pen a character who talks about how much they hate Dwarves and want to kill them all.

“I want my audience to look forward to this asshole getting what’s coming to him!” the writer says, and then chooses to write the racist shit the character says, from a perspective that can only be called “privileged.”

To make it clear, the Proxy Racist is just a vehicle for a writer to be racist, not because they are, vehemently and vocally, in their day-to-day, but because, when faced with the choice of changing their writing or offending a bunch of people, they chose to offend a bunch of people. The writer of the shitty racist character ultimately doesn’t care how upsetting that racist character’s words and actions are to a minority. In the most brutal irony, they only think about the emotional reaction those words will get out of an audience of “readers,” “watchers,” and “gamers” who are safe from those words, because the white writer just assumes those faceless readers, watchers, and gamers are all white.

The weird paradox of it is, if we give the writer the benefit of the doubt and assume they did consider how the racism would emotionally impact a minority, their decision to keep the racism in makes it undeniable that they ultimately just shrugged. “It’s more powerful this way!” I can hear them excitedly telling themselves, safe in their writing nook, comfortably displaced from all the people their choice is going to offend.

Or, obviously worse, the writer of the Proxy Racist is just angrily selecting words and scenes because of their right (or, more accurately, privilege) to write those things. An avenue to vent their racist thoughts to the public; to say what they really want to.

Now, I was about to write, “Let’s move onto some examples to make this problem extra clear,” but, really . . . I just wanna vent.

I’m Tired of Racist Proxies Ruining Shows for Me

Remember when the one racist episode of Community was removed because it had blackface?

I had a passionate exchange with some friends about it.

Them: “But the joke, as I took it, was that [the one character–I refuse to watch it] is just really excited to play D&D, so he dresses up in full cosplay. But he’s also just really socially inept, so he doesn’t realize how weird it is that he dressed up as a Drow.”

Me: “Does anyone call it out as racist?”

Them: “The one character calls it a hate crime.”

Me: “So the actual punchline is that it’s racist. Because the joke you’re talking about could absolutely exist without the racist part. He could’ve showed up dressed as a Dwarf with the long, braided beard and it still would’ve hit that same punchline.”

Them: “Okay . . . Okay, yeah, you have a point. Touché.”

But Racist Proxies Also Ruin Games

For an example that isn’t directly related to comedy or TV, you can look at Divinity: Original Sin 2, a Fantasy example, and thus an example I had to bring up.

If you thought that example from earlier–with a character talking about how he wants to kill all Dwarves–was a weird thing for me to make up, surprise! I didn’t make it up!

At the last part I made it to–a small fishing town–there was one enemy NPC on the docks who talked explicitly about how he wanted to gruesomely murder all Dwarves.

But, really, it’s not just relegated to that one Fantasy cop (surprise, surprise) in Divinity 2; it is a fantastic game, but, unfortunately, it also has an unreal amount of racist proxies in it. Seriously, the majority of enemy NPC’s are bigots with zero qualms about saying how much they hate whatever group.

Of course, I have to say, right off the bat, that I don’t think the entire dev team is racist; characters in a Fantasy realm saying racist shit about a made-up, Fantasy race is a far cry from characters in a Fantasy realm hurling real life slurs at each other.

But Divinity 2 is a dialogue option-heavy RPG, meaning you can totally choose not to kill a lot of the racists you encounter. In fact, you can even decide to help them during any morally open-ended quests they’re involved in!

And . . . win one for the nazis playing the game, I guess?

I get the intention behind having those characters in the game. I get the fact that, in this setting, racism and bigotry are a big problem, and such settings are legitimate and potentially helpful tools for speaking about real world racism.

But I also feel like if one of the writers on your team pens a character who freely talks about committing genocide, in gruesome detail, . . . maybe you need to have a talk with that writer.

“Bob . . . I mean, he’s literally just an NPC.”

“Not even the main villain, dude.”

“You do not have to make this deep a cut for a passing quest NPC.”

“There’s another way, Bob.”

And that’s really what I want to end on here. The idea that . . .

There’s Another Way

For a long time, my mantra has been “If you want to combat a bigoted trope, don’t just put a woke spin on it. Totally undermine it instead. Don’t do it at all–do the opposite.”

I’ve also said, time and time again, that we just do not live in a world that needs more minorities as a side characters–we need more minorities as protagonists.

Both of those mantras always come to mind when I think of how to fix a Proxy Racist.

Do we need fiction that talks about racism? Yes, totally, the same way we need more minorities as side characters. Sure.

Would it be better if we just fought racism in fiction by writing a story with a minority as the protagonist? Yes. Abso-fucking-lutely.

The absolute anti-thesis of that, which isn’t helping anyone? A story with a white protagonist who fights a racist white villain.

Or a story with a racist white protagonist, even if they eventually learn better.

Again, don’t put a spin on it. Undermine it completely.

The reforming racist is absolutely a character arc worth telling, and I think that, in the near future, it’s going to be important to write that story.

But, until then, if you’re writing a show where your white protagonist is a racist who has a change of heart and starts teaching a young Latino kid martial arts . . . maybe just make the entire goddamn show from that kid’s perspective.

Or, at the very goddamn least, when you get to that part in your manuscript where your character is going to say something genuinely racist–that point when your nostrils are flared and, “I’m gonna write it!” is on the tip of your tongue–just fucking don’t.

~~~

Well, it turned out I was angry this weekend! What a surprise! Thanks, Twitter!

No, seriously, I was going to write something fun, but then I tried out Cobra Kai on Thursday and it was just a wrap after that.

Thanks for stopping by, and if you want to be notified when I post again, you can follow House of Error on the left side of your screen (or via the hamburger menu on the upper right on mobile).

Next week, I’m going to post something fun–I swear. I won’t look at Twitter or the news at all and it’ll be great.

Until then, take care and stay safe!

Edited in Post – The Rest of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

It’s been over two years since I did the first “Writer Watching” for She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. While rereading it, I had a bunch of nervous laugh moments whenever I’d said shit like, “I’ll talk about that next time!”

Yeah, I have no idea what “that” was.

What I do know is that it was always weird for me that I just never came back to finish the series.

In one part, it was because it just felt weird–I was voicing really reactionary opinions on the first and second episodes of a TV show; it felt like I should finish the season and then comment.

But, on the other hand . . . it just felt like watching it while nitpicking was making me like the show less. Like, significantly less.

And, finally, it felt like the feminist angle of the show actually required more patience than a 30-something man, writing on his blog, could give it. Basically, I reached Seahawk, initially hated how he was handled, and decided to back away instead of writing a whole thing about how much I didn’t like him.

Well, I’m still in lockdown. It’s 2020 now, and, seeing as all of my time is spent in the one room, working or watching things on Netflix, I figured it was the perfect time to actually return to the series and finish what I started.

Instead of being absolutely insane and commenting on specific things, however, I’m going to try something new.

As I’ve said on this site before, I am a really intense self-editor; I will mercilessly edit and rewrite my own work, which is a double-edged sword because A) there’s always going to be room for improvement and, B) the new additions I make will always have grammatical errors of their own (it’s a thing).

A vent for that reflex (or maybe a result of it), is that I love imagining edits for existing works that I think can improve with a few tweaks (or, in the case of Episodes VII – IX, a ton of tweaks).

So, considering that She-Ra and the Princesses of Power triggered that reflex, I figured, “Why not write a whole post about it?” A post that I’m making the first in a new series: Edited in Post.

To be clear, my goal here isn’t to “improve” on the story as a whole; I am not conceited enough to think my edit of She-Ra would be better. All that I can say objectively is that A) it would be different from the end product we got and B) it would be how I would’ve edited the end product if I was in the writer’s room. Ultimately, this is just an editing exercise and a way for me to consider my identity as a writer.

All of that said, let’s start by establishing a really healthy baseline with . . .

What I Liked

1. Adora

Of all the things I didn’t think I would like in this show, Adora herself was probably number one. In my original post, I talked about how much I disliked the White Savior vibe I was getting from the pilot two-parter. I was super glad to see that problem didn’t persist because the show spends a lot of time with Glimmer, Bow, and other non-white characters.

Beyond that, however, I still didn’t think I’d like the no frills protagonist of any Fantasy show that much; I have become hard-wired to expect the typical batch of issues a protagonist has (like trying to understand their powers, trying to figure out a mystery left for them by an ancient race, etc.). For sure, Adora has that same batch.But . . . she still manages to be incredibly likable on her own. She’s funny, a terrible actress, cocky in a dorky way that’s super fun to watch, and–more interesting than anything, else in my opinion–she’s su-u-u-uper prone to making mistakes (which is probably the freshest breath of fresh air). Like, I often consider protagonist fatigue; whether they’re men or not, the lamest thing in the world is the no frills protagonist who just does everything right. Adora is not that character.

And, because it needs to be acknowledged, she is not that character in massive part due to Aimee Carrero’s performance.

There were . . . so many moments where I laughed out loud just because Carrero’s delivery was so good.

“I’m a triple may-zhor, and I also teach, unless that’s not a thing students do. Is it hot in here?”

“Ah ha ha ha ha. Is that a good laugh or a bad laugh? Ha ha ha . . . Well, the longer it goes on, the more I think it’s a bad laugh.”

Really early on in my watch, I started getting super excited for Adora dialogue in fun situations.

2. Scorpia

The greatest failure of my life is that Scorpia isn’t real and she isn’t my best friend.

I’m not kidding; I’m actually sad that I can’t be woken up by Scorpia every morning, rushing into my room to ask if I’ve breathed in the new day yet (which I would absolutely hate coming from anyone else).

I think that in the great array of strong female protagonists, ranging from Super Sexualized to Tough and Angry, Scorpia is something completely different. She’s this extremely hug-able, determined, compassionate woman who’s also always the strongest non-She-Ra person in the room, and she has the freedom to be all of those things because her character is not her charging into a room, tackling the nearest man and flexing like, “I am Scorpia! I am strongest in the world!” Like . . . she’s just a character and her being a buff giant just adds to that character. I just love it. I’m here for Scorpia. I stan her and I want to see way more characters like her.

3. Basically the Rest of the Cast (and their Fun Drama)

I really enjoyed the majority of the Princesses and other characters (some more than others naturally; it is a cartoon show after all).

Mermista was the real standout for me, and she’s the one who made me realize why I liked the cast so much; they all had some low stakes drama with each other on occasion, and every instance of that was extremely fun and fresh to me (i.e. Mermista deciding that she was Sea-Ra, just straight up jacking Adora’s alter-ego for her character in the D&D episode). I really lived for those moments–those brief, beautiful nuggets of petty that really gave the characters life.

Those dynamics, and the show’s ability to showcase that drama, were great.

Okay. There’s a lot more I liked, but I have to start trying to shorten these posts. Suffice it to say I liked the show a bunch, but to get into the edit, here’s . . .

What I Didn’t Like / What I Would Change

1. The Not-So-Fun Drama

Unfortunately, in my opinion, the show wasn’t able to handle more complicated friendship drama later on. I felt Season 5’s Adora/Glimmer beef was a little exhausting–especially after it seemed to be solved by the end of an episode . . . but was still there in the next episode. I’m definitely not saying I didn’t want to see those characters fight; I just got incredibly tired of watching them voice the same issues, over and over, without working on them, which even the show points out is strange.

2. The Pacing on Catra’s Arc (and thus, for a while, Catra)

It must be reverse day, because of all the things I thought I’d love for the entirety of the series, Catra was number one.

When I first watched the show, I absolutely loved her. I enjoyed her attitude, her design, how her situation was understandable, so you wind up feeling for her.

But then the show shoots way past the point where she’s understandable . . . and the plot just keeps supporting her, for way too long.

It isn’t until Season 4, Episode 10 where she actually starts losing, and, as a person who’s experienced the full spectrum of gaslighters, it feels like it took way too long for her to be redeemable. Like, she opens a portal that almost destroys all of reality because she’s a jealous brat, and it is pretty impossible to forgive that.

It doesn’t help that the plot support came in ways that seemed over-the-top and devalued other characters.

Scorpia and Seahawk share an episode where they vent about the treatment they’re getting from their special someones. Seahawk leaves that episode triumphantly proclaiming that, fuck it, he doesn’t care about what Mermista thinks of him. Scorpia left that episode . . . determined to devote herself to Catra’s bullshit no matter what?

Hordak also, weirdly, winds up bowing to Catra because she rips out a gem powering his new exoskeleton . . . but then gives it back to him? So, like, he’s in charge, but really she’s in charge? The thing is, I wouldn’t have even minded her just straight up becoming the leader of the Horde, but it was done in this weird way where she still gets to be angry about being subservient . . . while also calling the shots? Why didn’t she just kill Hordak? Why didn’t the show just shift her into Queen Catra mode and give her a dope new outfit?

In the end, I just got tired of it. She stopped being relatable, the drama between her and Adora stopped moving, and her drama with almost every other character stopped feeling logical.

3. The Rest of the Pacing Too, Actually / Why Did They Save the Good Part?

This is not my first rodeo when it comes to Netflix Originals from Dreamworks.They usually have pacing issues. And weird half-seasons. I get it.But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem that needs fixing.

Particularly because . . . the last season of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is fucking awesome.

If you’re not aware, the last season is actually the season that most resembles the intense, desperate-rebellion energy of the original show. The stakes are insanely high and it absolutely rocks.

The fact that it’s only the last fifth of the show will always feel like a weird mistake to me. Especially because the middle seasons just spun wheels on a lore-based plot twist that just didn’t feel unique (basically a perfect example of the “mystery left for protagonist by an ancient race” plot line that’s already deep into trope town).

The Edit in Post

Okay. So, how would I have reorganized all of this?

  • Delete a lot of the plot mystery: I liked Mara and thought some of the lore episodes with her were amazing. But I would completely cut the Heart of Etheria plot line. By the end, it got super convoluted, and the plot twist that the Princess’s energy was meant to power a weapon that would destroy the planet was weirdly antithetical to the message of the entire show. Other details, like the planet being in another dimension, are such weird, late-game additions that it just felt like the writers were hitting points on a checklist of “Things We Have to Do Because the Original Show Did Them.”
  • Move up Horde Prime–and thus the stakes–by, like, 2 seasons.
  • Move up Catra being exiled from the Horde and make it permanent.
  • And I mean move her exile up to Season 2 so Catra and Scorpia take over the Crimson Wastes. Catra builds her gang by stealing Horde tech, or maybe finding a new character to enlist. This results in a new faction that fights both the Princesses and the Horde. Would actually be way cooler to see Catra build a stronger army than the Horde, come back, and beat Hordak.
  • Move up Double Trouble’s intro. Absolutely introduce her in Season 2, in the Crimson Wastes, and have her work for Catra. Give the audience a slower, better burn on the mystery of who she is among them and let her work more subtly on putting a wedge in the gang. It would be . . . such good drama.
  • Give us a full season at least of Entrapta and Hordak. Just bolster the idea that Entrapta would actually, logically decide to stay with the Horde because she and Hordak are the most adorable friends ever.
  • Pad out everything with new episodes of good filler that explore character relationships and drama (i.e. gimme that Bow and Glimmer flashback solo adventure!).

So, to be clear, my changes would’ve looked like this:

Season 1: Introduce main characters and setting. Establish stakes early early with Entrapta getting captured way sooner. Use remaining episodes to establish Entrapta / Hordak friendship via B plots. End season with Catra beating the gang, who narrowly escape, and then she takes over for Shadow Weaver.

Season 2: Establish early in the season that Catra is tired of Hordak. She miscalculates a first attempt to manipulate him (or maybe trying to fight him), gets banished to the Crimson Waste. Catra, Scorpia create a new faction via B plot, gaining power with Double Trouble’s help. Plot A remains the cast fighting the Horde, but maybe also getting infiltrated by Catra’s faction? Establish that there’s some super powerful Old One’s weapon (basically, the Heart of Etheria minus a bunch of lore episodes), and the season ends with all three factions fighting for it. Hordak is defeated by Catra, but he hints heavily at Horde Prime’s arrival.

Season 3: Catra as Queen of the Horde, fighting She-Ra for the season with Shadow Weaver drama and question of how to get the weapon to work. Full season of peak Catra / Adora drama via “Catra, why the fuck are you fighting us when Horde Prime is on his way!? Goddamn!” but worded differently. Also peak Entrapta drama as she joins Catra to “keep working on tech,” but is really trying to figure out how to free Hordak. Peak season for the drama. I imagine that right as Entrapta is freeing Hordak, Horde Prime shows up and handily defeats everybody. Hordak goes to Prime, his mind gets erased, and Horde Prime captures both Glimmer and Catra.

Season 4: Basically the same as the Season 5 we got, only with Catra ingratiating herself to Prime at the beginning. I’d love to write her being frustrated at having to be subservient to Hordak again. But, more than anything, I’d love to write the argument where Glimmer tells her, “If you had just helped us fight him, none of this would’ve happened.”

Again, this outcome would’ve been different (not necessarily better), but I can say that I absolutely would’ve loved to write it and watch it.

~~~

It was weird to write this out (this is usually just an exercise I perform in my head for a week after watching something), but I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, please consider Following the House of Error; the field to do so is to the left side of your screen on desktop, or in the drop down menu (i.e. the hamburger icon) on the top right on mobile.

Next week is going to be a post about my writing process–the ways in which it’s similar to and differs from Brandon Sanderson’s. Until then, stay safe, everyone!

Don’t Save “the Good Part”

I sometimes wonder about “the good part” of a story.

You know–that part where everything comes to a head, or something huge and game-changing happens? I look at stories with very clearly defined moments like those, often dominating the narrative by the creator’s design, and I think . . .

. . . what if that was the beginning of the story?

For example, say someone wrote a super hero story with a powered protagonist and their best friend hunting for a murderer. And then, at the very end of the story, the super hero finds out that their friend is the murderer. It’s surprising and shocking if done well, and it shoves the cast into an unexpected, uniquely tense situation . . . for the last episode and a half of the season, or the last few chapters of the book.

I look at that, and I wonder, “What if all of that happened in, like, chapter 10 of 20 instead of chapter 17 of 20?”

“What if the villain became a good guy in the second book, instead of having a change of heart in the last chapter of the last book and dying 7 pages later?”

What if, instead of saving that ace, and using it as a conclusion, a writer just went all in? What if, for half of the story, the protagonist struggled with hunting down their best friend, or the former antagonist had to work with the good guys–people they were just trying to kill a few chapters previous?

What kind of crazy, unusual shit would a writer have to come up with then, when “the good part” had to set the tone for their entire story?

Looking at stories from that angle doesn’t always yield awesome, unique results.

But I feel like it’s always worth the look.

The Mandalorian & the Exciting Use of Danger

Last week, I wrote a giant post that was highly critical of one writing habit.

And I did so . . . after endeavoring to be more positive on this blog.

I definitely don’t want to delete that post, cause it’s full of criticisms I stand by (I will always think it’s bad when logic takes center stage in any Rule of Cool story, not just anime [although popular anime is usually fueled by the Rule], because the resulting logic is often terrible).

However, I will balance the criticism by talking about a writing habit I absolutely love in another hammy, Rule of Cool story.

Today we’re talking about making your protagonist vulnerable . . . with The Mandalorian!

The Paradox of Realistic Danger

A big hurdle for popular fiction writers is presenting believable danger to their audience.

To be clear, I don’t think it’s something any particular writer struggles with; it’s just an issue for the entire genre. People watching a show will see a protagonist flung into extreme danger, a-a-a-and commercial break.

Eyes usually go half-lidded. “Uh huh. I’m sure Batwoman is going to die in Season 1, Episode 4.”

Unless you’re a kid (or reading / watching Game of Thrones), the excitement doesn’t come from the belief that your protagonist could actually die. The excitement comes from wondering, “How are they gonna get outta this one?”

But, naturally, excitement only really comes from that question . . . if the audience can’t easily predict the answer.

In modern entertainment there’s an extreme bent toward the untouchable badass. The perfect hero who kick flips off a rocket or dodges the giant sword by sliding under it, only the very end of a single lock of their hair cut by the blade (in slow motion). There are IP’s that do this intentionally to great effect (One Punch Man is a fun example), but more often than not the goal of the perfect badass is to sate power fantasy.

The thing is, whenever danger is concerned, perfect badass stories are extremely predictable. If an invincible superhero walks into a warehouse full of thugs, danger doesn’t come into play at all; the enjoyment in that scene is derived from watching the hero kick ass. But, at this point, there are only so many new, inventive ways for that hero to kick ass. I’m sure an argument can be made that there are actually a ton.

But even if there are, the end result of that warehouse scene is always the same. The perfect hero beats the shit out of everyone without breaking a sweat. End scene.

But . . . what if it wasn’t always that easy?

What if a story staring a badass protagonist . . . showed that, at the very least, that protagonist had to struggle to get by?

In my opinion, that wouldn’t just make the story way better, it would force the writer to be more creative.

The Vulnerable Mandalorian

I expected The Mandalorian to be a non-stop montage of slow-motion dodging, tacticool trick shots, and shaky cam.

I thought it was going to be a massively boring, masturbatory look at a fan-favorite character (because I assumed the Mandalorian in question was Boba Fett).

I’m so glad I was surprised.

In episode 1 of The Mandalorian, the Mandalorian is [not a spoiler] searching for a bounty. Naturally [also not a spoiler], there are complications. You know that there’s no way the protagonist is going to die in episode 1 . . . but the danger he finds himself in is so intense that you might actually blink. You might actually say, “I really have no idea how the hell he’s getting out of this.”

And that’s probably because, 10 minutes previous, your badass, strong-silent-type protagonist . . . [minor spoiler] almost died.

Yeah–in the pilot, the writers included a scene where the Mandalorian absolutely would’ve been killed had someone else not intervened. And, to be clear, he didn’t just nearly die; he nearly died in a way that would’ve been extremely embarrassing for a perfect badass. Was that the show suggesting its protagonist might actually die? Hell no.

But it was the show saying, loud and clear, “This perfect badass ain’t perfect.”

With that one scene, a balance was struck. The Mandalorian is great at killing things and tracking bounties. He looks really cool and his armor is super strong.

But he is not invincible.

In fact, even in moments when the Mandalorian does survive a confrontation, he’s lost his armor as a result, or has gone out of his way to say, “My armor only protected me from this range,” making it clear that it’s extremely dangerous to be a bounty hunter in the Outer Rim.

And that not only makes the show more exciting and interesting (the Mandalorian has been defeated a few times now and almost died maybe thrice?), but it establishes rules that force its writing team to be more creative, which is always a good thing in my opinion.

See, if the Mandalorian was invincible, then they’d be stuck writing scenes where he just walks into a room, lets people shoot at him, and then headshots all of them. There would be zero danger, and the writing team would fall into the same pitfall as others writing perfect badasses: trying to make them kill or beat up all 18 thugs in a way that’s actually new and interesting.

As is, with the Mandalorian being vulnerable, the writers definitely have more rules to stick to (i.e. “the Mandalorian can’t survive a point blank shot from a sniper rifle”), but that forces them to get more creative, which makes for a more unique, interesting story.

How? Prime example: in one episode, the Mandalorian’s armor gets completely destroyed. It’s a trade off from another confrontation where definitely he would’ve died. If the writers had just gone the easiest route possible, he would’ve killed his opponent with no problem and come out without a scratch. A level below that (but still totally unrealistic): He would’ve had a hard time with that opponent, getting knocked around, but the damage would’ve been limited to typical, Hollywood “fight dirt,” as I call it; his armor would’ve looked dirty to convey that he was beaten up, but a few minutes later, he would be functionally back to tip-top shape. As it was presented, however, with him losing his armor, following the rule that it couldn’t protect him from anything, the writers were forced to create some way he gets that armor back.

Thus the scenes at the Mandalorian Forge. Which, ya know, if you haven’t seen the show, just know that they’re cool worldbuilding moments, used to convey things about Mandalorian culture but also the social setting of the story.

Now, I can’t pretend that the writing team thought of all of this in the order I’ve presented, but I do think that, had the Mandalorian just been another perfect badass, the likelihood that we would’ve gotten those forge scenes would’ve been significantly less.

And, to me, that trade off wouldn’t have been worth it at all.

In fact, blanket statement here: trading creativity to appease power fantasy is never, ever worth it in my book.

All I Can Really Say Is Give It a Shot

This is another one of those points when I have to stop and clarify that, hey, I’m not a published novelist. The ideas stated here are just my ideas about writing, which I at least try to do every day. I cannot say “perfect badasses suck and no one likes them” because that isn’t true. Full disclosure: I’ve absolutely written a perfect badass character before and she’s one of my favorites.

But I can and will say, hey, if you’re struggling to write a story with a super powerful protagonist–if you don’t feel like the danger in their adventure is ever really palpable, and the end product feels silly–why not try dialing back that protagonist’s powers? You don’t have to make them all-the-way vulnerable, but maybe you can establish rules for what their armor / powers / knowledge can and can’t handle.

To be clear, I’m not saying to give them kryptonite, cause that is an easy solution used so often that it’s also wildly predictable. I’m saying . . . maybe don’t make them impervious to bullets, and don’t make them perfectly, unrealistically able to dodge them either.

At the very least, I promise it’ll make it easier for you to create genuine suspense in your WIP.

~~~

Well, that’s it for this one. Excited to be putting out two in a row. I have a backlog of posts to write, some of which I was extremely excited for, but never got around to because of the day job and my WIP. I’m hoping to circumnavigate the persistent end-of-year depression I always go through, so I’ll keep working posts into my schedule.

Still waiting on replies for short stories I sent out, but I did start writing a new Sci-Fi short as well. Of course, it’s another dark one (Black Mirror really opened up the floodgates for me). I’ll do an update post next week to share what the year has been like and lay down plans for 2020.

Anyway, thank you for passing by and giving this post a read. If you’d like to see more, you can give me a follow with the button to the left side of the screen, and if you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

A Writer Watching: She-Ra and the Princesses of Power – Episodes 1 & 2

She-Ra_TitleScreen

There were a bunch of times when I wanted to return–when I considered writing posts about whatever sparked my interest. But nothing really pushed me like She-Ra and the Princesses of Power did. Not because I’m an insane person who thinks the show is bad . . .

. . . but because the angry, trolling manlings of the internet really came out in full force for this show–a reboot of a cartoon from the 80’s that was never made for them in the first place. Seriously, the unbridled privilege in action there is astounding.

So I thought, “I watched the first two episodes, and I liked them. Why not make a whole viewing journal, written as I watch the rest of the season, so I can dish on the stupid incels who hate anything remotely progressive or feminist, while talking about what the show does right and wrong?” And here we are. Full disclosure, I originally planned to make this one huge post–for the entire series–but I quickly realized that would be insane, so, instead, I’m going episode by episode (or potentially arc by arc [I’m playing it by ear]).

*Disclaimer Though: Seriously, I criticize absolutely everything. It’s just what I do. I expect the incels to already be gone at this point, but if you don’t want to see this series honestly criticized for the things it genuinely does wrong, you should probably leave as well. I like it–I don’t watch TV shows I don’t like–but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a lot of criticisms to make. Why make those criticisms at all, you ask? Because I’m a writer. Because maybe you are too. Why shouldn’t we be able to critique this show that’s great–but flawed–and aspire to make our own work better?

Anyway, enjoy!

Episode 1 – “The Sword Part 1”

  • (1:00) First thing–what I saw a bunch from the incels was that the animation was terrible. We’re ten seconds in, and, hey, incels what in the fat hell are you talking about? I get that there are some small animation errors here and there, but there are with every animated show. This is very obviously high-quality from the get-go.
  • (4:50) Goddammit, Shadow Weaver looks awesome. One of those times I wish I’d designed a character.
  • (4:51) Here’s where they revealed that Adora is a soldier for Hordak, something I absolutely fucking love, because it sets the show up to transcend the “one-a the guys” feminism of comics or other shows. Adora starts off the series being the no-nonsense, sparkle-free, princess-hating super soldier that most feminist characters are–characters who I’ve grown to think of as “one-a the guys.” Obviously, “one-a the guys” female characters are far better than hyper-sexualized, man-focused female characters, but there’s still room for improvement. “One-a the guys” are still geared to be relatable to men, and that’s always weird to me.
    Anyway, I digress. My original point: it’s interesting how Adora starts off this show as “one-a the guys” while she’s working for Hordak, who lies to her about who she is and what she’s supposed to want.
    I’m really hoping this show did that intentionally, and that it proceeds to promote being girly and being strong at the same time–as opposed to either being a woman who is tough, never acts girly, and has sex only with other women (ya know, things that are obviously not bad on their own, but that are very often bundled into the “strong female” archetype), or a woman who acts girly, and is either obsessed with a man, or needs to be saved by one.
    Again, I’m not sure that She-Ra is actually eschewing the “one-a the guys” thing, but it seems to be with this exposition, and I hope it is. Because we need
     strong, female characters who exist somewhere in the middle of the “girly damsel”-and-“perfect, man-like ultra-badass” spectrum.
  • (9:11) Kinda weird how these Dreamworks shows keep starting with protagonists–who are training in the military–stealing a speeder . . .
  • (10:43) . . . and then, while joyriding in it, finding the show’s macguffin by accident.
  • (12:20) Having watched a few episodes of the original show years ago, one of the things I was super curious about was whether or not Bow would still have giant red hearts on his outfit. I love that he still does.
  • (14:19) Oh no–no, no, no, no. I don’t like this weird, Catra sleeping at Adora’s feet, on her bed, thing, and it’s not–I repeat, it’s not–because I’m some kind of stupid homophobe. No, there’s just something really, really gross about it, from a friends-perspective.
    Never, ever be such a shitty friend that you let your bestie degrade themselves for you. Seriously, I know it’s small–I know that they were trying to do a cute thing with her being a cat–but this moment has the potential to foster really bad interpersonal habits. Seeing the protagonist sleeping while her friend sleeps at her feet, like an animal, probably gave a bunch of kids the wrong idea about how devoted a best friend could be.
  • (17:07) “Light Hope.” I . . . love how unapologetic they are about sticking to all of the original names.
  • (20:25) Okay. It’s about time to talk about it.
    This show . . . absolutely, 100% has White Savior Syndrome.
    That is the massive flaw of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. There are characters from different races, but they all play second-fiddle to a pretty, white protagonist who has shining, blonde hair and glowing, blue eyes when she uses her powers. She-Ra looks great, but she fosters a trend I’ve seen of empowering white women . . . at the expense of minorities–the result of creators saying, “Well, we want to be forward-thinking . . . but we don’t want to make the protagonist a minority!”
    This scene, with Adora being shown a town destroyed by Hordak’s forces, embodies that white savior vibe perfectly.
    The white protagonist is shown how these poor, othered minorities are losing their war. If only there was a strong white woman, privileged with the power to be better than all of them–by right of just being born–who could save them all!

    Maybe that trend sticks out to me because I am a minority, but this show will forever be an example of it. I’m sure it’s well-intentioned, but it’s weird that Catra, Glimmer, Bow–they’re all nice and tanned . . . while Adora and the queen, Angella, are fair-skinned.
  • (22:09-22:30) Light Hope: “Adora . . . will you fight for the honor of Grayskull?”
    Adora: “For the honor . . . of Grayskull!”
    The writers could’ve made that smoother.
    Look, I’m a fantasy writer. And a very, very intense self-editor. Things need to sound natural.
    That did not sound natural at all.
    Light Hope asks our protagonist a question, and she’s all, “Yes, I will! But I’m not going to actually say yes, even! I’m just going to say the catchphrase that I suddenly know! Or, like, I’m just gonna repeat the last part of that full question you just asked! For no particular reason, really! I’m not even gonna be like, ‘Wait, what’s Greyskull?’”

    Just sayin’, you get one chance to make a moment like that perfect. One chance to bring She-Ra back and make it absolutely seamless. But that one moment–which should have been flawless, even if the rest of the show wasn’t–was messy.
  • (22:44) She-Ra really does look so awesome though. She triggers such a child-like awe in me. I’m a man in my mid-30’s, watching her transformation like, “Whoa-a-a-a-a. Her hair is so pretty!”

 

Episode 2 – “The Sword Part 2”

  • (1:12) Such a good move making Adora unable to control her She-Ra powers. Giving protagonists a learning curve for their power set is always great when those powers are crazy.
  • (8:07) They’ve been mentioning it for a while, but I appreciate that Glimmer also has a learning curve with her powers. It gives her some obvious room to grow, and I assume that, like Adora, she’ll grow as a person as she gets more powerful.
  • (8:14) I sure hope that Bow, who seems to already be an expert with his bow, gets the same treatment. I sure hope that, in this show that’s trying to be progressive, we don’t have a male character who’s just static comedy relief. His growth wouldn’t need to be tied to his powers, of course, but it would be kind of shit if he was just there to make the funnies. Ju-u-u-u-ust sayin’.
  • (10:18) This scene . . . really annoyed me.
    Shadow Weaver: “Where is Adora!?”
    Catra: “For the last time, I don’t know! . . .”
    Shadow Weaver: “. . . Have it your way. I already know where she is. We’ve been tracking her.”
    Me: . . .
    Catra: “Uh, then why’d you ask me?”
    Me: Exactly.
    Shadow Weaver: “Because you’re going to get her back!”
    Me: That makes . . . zero sense.
    Don’t send some new, badass, genuinely threatening villain to capture Adora. Don’t create drama by having Catra intervene somehow.
    No, just send the one under-performing warrior-in-training, who has clear issues with authority, to do it.
    I always hate contrivances, but I especially hate them when they require characters to make incredibly stupid choices.
  • (11:04) Interesting how, even on this show, set in a really sparkly world with lots of pinks and purples, our magical girl protagonist hates pink flowers.
    Do ya . . . Do ya see what I was talking about earlier? Isn’t it weird that this show is designed to appeal to people who like bright colors and sparkly transformations, but the protagonist hates that shit cause writing trends dictate that she should?
    Maybe I was wrong about that “one-a the guys” thing, but I’m still hoping Adora changes as the series progresses. I’m hoping
    this is more of an “I was raised by Hordak to hate those things” kind of situation. I mean, Adora does lose it when she sees a horse for the first time, and loving horses is traditionally a girly girl thing.
  • (11:52) Ahhhh . . . C-Cool. The minority people in this town are, like, half-animals . . .
    . . . Cool.
    Yeah, ya know the way Catra, Adora’s best friend who has tanned skin and sleeps at her feet like a fucking animal, is, in fact, part animal?
    Yeah, these other tanned-skinned people are animals too.
    great
    just . . . just great
  • (16:30) I haven’t seen past this episode yet, so I have no idea how this Catra / Adora friendship thing plays out. She-Ra is a Dreamworks animation, and they are awesomely brazen with the sexual diversity of their characters, so I genuinely have no idea if they become a thing or not. Either way though, here’s how I feel about this:
    If Adora and Catra are friends, I like the friends angle, but I hope there’s some actual romance somewhere else in the story. Whether it’s with a male character or a female character, it would be cool to see the tough, boss-bitch character at least invest time into a romance.
    If Adora and Catra are more than friends, that would lean into the “one-a the guys” trend, but it would still be awesome if it got into the emotions of the relationship (instead of the comic book approach of showing the two hot chicks naked in bed together and that’s it–not like this show would do that anyway). If I got to see the relationship that was denied me with Korra and Asami (and which is still being denied me with Shiro and Keith [#keiro]), I’d be happy.
  • (19:26) Holy shit! There’s a magical girl transformation! A-a-a-and it’s legit as fuck!
  • (20:20) Yo, can we take a moment to acknowledge that Bow was straight-up just ready to die fighting the Horde right here? That’s . . . That’s fucking awesome. This dude was just ready to die saving people–in the second episode. Nobody gonna talk about that? . . . No? . . . It was just posed as comic relief? . . .
    great
  • (20:45) I’m sure the incels would whine about She-Ra being OP and immediately knowing how to use her powers, but she clearly dips into something like the Avatar State here, where she’s amazing and terrifying, and I love that. It does make things convenient for writers, yes, but there’s also something rad about your protagonist going mute, growing 4 feet taller, and having giant, golden hair that’s awesome (just fucking try to come at me about that last part when y’all motherfuckers know you love Dragonball).
    *I watched ahead a bit . . . More about this topic next time.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Thanks for dropping by! I don’t update on a regular schedule; I’m a man trying to get his life in order and get published at the same time, so posting on this site is limited to whenever I have time and really, really don’t want to write. Or just relax.

If you enjoyed this post, and want to get a notification when I post the next part of this series, please hit the subscribe button to the left of your screen. You can also follow me on Twitter @LSantiagoAuthor, or just pass by again in [INSERT RANDOM NUMERIC VALUE] [INSERT RANDOM UNIT OF TIME]! Thanks!

Just Watched #3 – Twin Peaks

“I’ll see you again in 25 years.”

There’s a very specific way that I say, “What the fuck, dude?”

In the TV show of my life, that would absolutely be my catchphrase.

And, as in real life, I’d sigh it when I’m watching, reading, or playing something that thoroughly fucks my mind. To the point that “What the fuck, dude?” takes on a new meaning.

I remove emphasis from everything but “fuck,” the “dude” shortened to a half syllable, as if, in that moment, saying the sentence clearly is too much to ask for. I’m just that tired. That ready for things to go back to normal.

Which is exactly why I muttered, “What the fuck, dude?” at the end of Twin Peaks.

No spoilers here, of course, but just . . . dude . . .

Twin Peaks is, at its heart, a soap opera. Which, of course, is immediately strange because, of all the things I expected Twin Peaks to be, a soap opera was not one of them.

It is also a mystery/thriller, for sure.

And a heavily supernatural, surrealist day dream/nightmare?

Side Note for Gamers: Twin Peaks is also completely responsible for Deadly Premonition. If you’ve ever played that game and thought, “This is so original!” Nope. It was heavily inspired by Twin Peaks. The two are different for sure, but the comparisons draw themselves.

But, whatever; my point is, at its heart, Twin Peaks is actually a soap opera.

And, in being a soap opera, it answered one creative question I’ve had since I was young: “What would happen if I wrote a thing and paid a ton of attention to every single character in that thing?”

The answer: that’s what a soap opera is. Obviously, there are other factors that make a soap opera a soap opera, but I don’t know another word for a huge ensemble piece that tries to captivate a large audience with a mix of relationship drama, intrigue, mystery, and popular fiction elements, regardless of genre.

It doesn’t matter if it’s set in a hospital.

It doesn’t matter if there are witches and little puppets who come to life.

It doesn’t matter if it centers around the mystery of a murdered girl.

Whatever it is–even if it’s a story with a cast full of dinosaurs–if you give each dinosaur their own subplot, what you wind up with is a soap opera. Even if you’re only trying to tell a bunch of individual stories based in one town, in order to do each story justice, you’ll have to add the relationship drama, the intrigue, the mystery, the popular fiction elements, and a bunch of other things anyway. Because, hey, the fact that the kids down the block are trying to save their buddy from the Underneath has nothing to do with Becky Terwilliger (I just made her up [I know, hard to believe]), but Stranger Things doesn’t show us what Becky’s up to, because it’s not a soap opera.

What I’m saying here is, giving a large cast of characters a lot of attention and complexity is what Twin Peaks does . . . and that’s why it’s basically a soap opera.

And, to be clear, I’m not saying that’s bad.

But watching Twin Peaks made me realize that unwittingly writing a soap opera . . . is something I never want to do.

Because, in the end, I’m not sure if I liked Twin Peaks or hated it.

I can tell you that I absolutely loved a lot of what it did. The main plot lines were intriguing, Dale Cooper and most of the characters were great. Some of the subplots were fun and exciting. Lots of the surreal imagery was bizarre . . . and awesome.

But I also just . . . hated some of the characters. Hated them to the extent that I didn’t care what happened to them.

But, unfortunately, the show really cared about all of its characters, including the ones that I didn’t like, which means–in true soap opera fashion–it refused to let them go. And, hey, I’m not saying Twin Peaks didn’t kill people off, but there were two cases of people just not dying when they should’ve. And one case of a character leaving the show . . . without actually leaving the show.

In one of the pretend-death cases, the writers did something new with a character, and it wound up being weird–and the best.

With the other . . . I mean, there was no reason for [REDACTED] to stay alive. I sensed hints of the ol’ Game of Thrones switcheroo, where we were supposed to start caring about a heel, but nope. It didn’t work. At least not for me.

In the last case, a character I genuinely disliked left the town of Twin Peaks, not sure when he’d come back . . . and Twin Peaks followed him. And started a new storyline just for him, with completely new characters. Yes, a spin-off of a show . . . in the show it’s spinning off.

. . . Why?

But, whatever. What matters is, I still enjoyed watching the weirdness of Twin Peaks. And I still learned a bunch from it:

  • Massive stories with large casts are guaranteed to have characters people don’t care about. Because that’s just a symptom of soap operas.
    You have to cast a wide net.
    You have to make the pirate man with the burned hand, because, hey, some people like pirates.
    In the same fashion, Twin Peaks had to make the robotic biker dude, because some people like robot bikers. Also (wow, I actually have to say this), disclaimer: there is no robot biker on Twin Peaks; I was being sarcastic. Just a really whiny biker who managed to super emote . . . while just staring blankly 90% of the time? Whatever–I hated him.
  • Charming characters can get really annoying if their subplots go on forever.
    One subplot involved one of my favorite characters deciding who the father of her child was.
    Twenty episodes later, when she still hadn’t made up her mind, I stopped caring really hard.
  • Incredibly annoying characters can become a ton of fun when they have drastic role reversals.
    The example Twin Peaks provides is really, really out there, but it worked. And, even though it was silly (even the reason for the personality change was pure camp, oddly born from tragedy), I absolutely loved it.
    It’s a thing that can work.
  • High-level character alchemy can backfire. It can backfire really hard.
    “Hmmm. I wonder what we’ll get if we combine a tough biker . . . with an incredibly fragile, emotionally-underdeveloped baby.”
    The answer: Literally the worst character ever.

~~~

A part of me feels like I should’ve watched the new season of Twin Peaks before writing this, but I think I’ll save that for another time.

At any rate, thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed this one. But if this was lost on you because you haven’t watched Twin Peaks, I . . . recommend it? Ugh. I’m not sure of anything anymore. If you like being really weirded out, watch it; making you feel weird–especially by showing you strangely human moments–is the very root of what this show does.

Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out–which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email – a new post from me delivered right to your inbox – then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

But, either way, thank you just for stopping by. And, as always, write well.

Let’s Talk About: The Everything’s Great Threshold

I started watching Parks and Recreation recently. As a man who’s genuinely terrible at keeping up with television, I’ve had this show on my Netflix list for as long as I’ve had Netflix.

Parks and Rec follows a familiar curve. Season 1 wasn’t great, very obviously lifting its joke climate from The Office. In season 2, the show finds its own identity and becomes way, way better.

But, by season 6 . . . it’s exhausting to watch.

Why? Well, that’s what I decided to make this post about. Because it’s exhausting for a reason that I’d never experienced before.

Everything . . . is just perfect.

In its earlier seasons, Parks and Rec had a lot of entertaining conflict. Budding romances that viewers wanted to see happen, goals that the department was trying to complete, setbacks for a cast of fun characters to figure out together.

By season 6, however, it’s a nonstop thrill ride of pretty much everything going well. There is one major set back for the protagonist, but, within two episodes, it’s like it never happened.

And, maybe I’m a pessimist . . . but that kind of optimism is just . . . so boring.

And it’s cloying; I’ve seen things go well for people in real life — long streaks of good times — and that’s fine, but I’ve never had to watch friends on TV, high-fiving and constantly talk about how much they love making out with each other.

I mean, sure, you can blame this on the fact that Parks and Rec wasn’t designed to be binge-watched on a streaming service. It was written to provide spaced-out doses of good vibes on NBC.

But it’s still tedious watching episode after episode of everything going great and being perfect for everyone. The cast is split up into neat, perfect pairings that fall in love very easily — sometimes unbelievably. The main characters are just rolling in job promotions — that they often turn down because they’re already so happy.

I mean . . . fuck’s sake. So far, there have been no normal weddings on this show; every wedding on Parks and Rec has been a cute, surprise wedding. Not “most of them” — literally all three of them have been surprise weddings. Every single one. Because every single couple that’s gotten married on this show loved each other so much that they just had to get married “tonight!”

Couples don’t fight; they disagree with each other, but the disagreements are always easily resolved. Which is weird because, in early seasons, relationship problems endured — as they do in real lie — instead of neatly fizzling out.

Near the end, babies start happening, and I actually sighed when one husband decided he really wanted babies . . . on the same day that his wife — in another part of Indiana and unable to reach him by phone — found out she was pregnant.

Wow. The magic of everything being unrealistically perfect.

It almost feels . . . contrived somehow.

I write this, and I think, “Well, they just wanted to write a really uplifting show by making it absurdly optimistic.”

But the question becomes . . . isn’t that just boring for everyone?

Because good stories revolve around good conflict.

And, I understand that there is still conflict and motivation in later seasons of Parks and Rec — because you can’t have a story without conflict — but, I guess what I’m trying to say here is . . . there is a ceiling to positivity in fiction. A point at which it becomes impossible to care about a group of characters, because they’re routinely handed victories.

I’m calling it the Everything’s Great Threshold, and it’s going in my personal, writing rulebook.

  • Too much positivity — to the extent of magically-timed solutions to your characters’ problems — kills any tension a story could possibly have.

Or, in other words, when everything is perfect, small problems become challenges — and challenges aren’t real problems.

When said by a character whose life is perfect, “We have to put together this benefit dinner on short notice!” is not a problem. It’s a challenge.

When said by a character who’s struggling to do their job well — someone who has already gotten a warning that they’re up for review, for example — “We have to put together this benefit dinner on short notice!” is pure hell. It’s intimidating, nerve-wracking, and, when it’s resolved, for better or worse, it yields a much better emotional pay-off.

At least that’s how I feel. Granted, I’m just an amateur who’s only had one short story published.

But, hey, life doesn’t just throw victories at you.

~~~

Keeping it short and sweet for today. It feels good to get back to writing theory though; this site has been more of a journal recently.

But, hey, for anyone who was enjoying the journaling, just know that I got through the first chapter of Memory this week, finally fixing the problems I’d had with it before. I’m going to continue editing the rest of the novel, making sure everything works with the new intro, but the point is, I’ll actually be submitting again really soon, and that feels awesome.

Anyway, thank you for reading. For anyone new to the site, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out–which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email – a new post from me delivered right to your inbox – then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

Either way, thank you again just for stopping by. And, as always, write well.

 

Fantasy Fandom: Steven Universe

Confession time: I still watch cartoons.

I’m a writer who believes he can learn good writing habits from absolutely anywhere, so I have no qualms about trying out new cartoons that friends recommend.

Or just . . . trying them out when they look awesome.

Adventure Time.

Rick and Morty.

And, especially–said with a heavy, nostalgic heart–Avatar: The Last Airbender, and its follow-up, The Legend of Korra.

The thing is, my ability to watch those shows turned out to be surprisingly rare when I suggested them to fellow writers.

Me: “Avatar–not the James Cameron one, the good one–is one of the best fantasy stories I’ve ever exper–”

Other Writer: “I’m not watching a cartoon show.”

Me: “–ienced . . .”

Another time:

Me: “You haven’t seen Rick and Morty?”

Another Writer: “No. People keep telling me watch it, but, ha, I just never get around to it.”

Me: ” . . . ”

Yet another time:

Yet Another Writer: “Oh, our [mutual friend] got [whatever article of clothing] because it’s supposed to look like the one character from some cartoon?”

Me: <looks at said article of clothing> “Oh! Lumpy Space Princess? Adventure Time?” <inhales to shout, “I love Adventure Time!”>

Yet Another Writer: “Right–that’s it. Sorry. Didn’t know because I’m an adult and I don’t watch cartoons.” <actually rolls her eyes>

Me: “. . .” <sigh>

So, look, everyone has their reasons, so I don’t want to judge.

But, man what a shitty, boring life.

Cartoons are amazing. They have the ability to convey incredible love and support very real diversity.

And, when it comes to the range of cartoons I watch, no show does love and diversity better . . . than Steven Universe.

dccomics_ad_SU_v5

For a short summary, a group of aliens called Crystal Gems live in a town called Beach City. There, they defend the world from attacks from their own people–homeworld gems who want to turn earth into a colony for a giant space empire, or corrupted gems, made animalistic and insane after a war with humanity ages ago. Among the Crystal Gems, there’s Steven, the half-human son of the Gems’ former leader, Rose Quartz.

Why I Love It

The show is as much about the Gems and their adventures as it is about Steven, and his growth as a kid. Not simply a rapid loss of innocence, but a sapping of faith that Steven counters with a determination to love and accept everyone.

To not fight, which is, in and of itself, beautiful. It’s a concept that I’ve been working with and one that I think the world needs more of.

But the show’s passive, loving male protagonist is only the beginning of its press for diversity and acceptance.

For starters, Steven is also, obviously, a fat kid. The show embraces that immediately, unabashedly focusing its first episode on Steven’s love for Cookie Cat Ice Cream Sandwiches (which he begins to believe are the source of his budding gem powers). Rather than doing the usual song and dance of fat-kid-loves-food-and-that’s-all-he/she-loves, the episode eventually pushes Cookie Cat aside in favor of showing our overweight protagonist . . .

. . . helping save the day.

Wow. Whodathunk it, right? An overweight kid being some kind of hero? Also, please apply the appropriate amount of bitter sarcasm from a guy who’s struggled with his weight for his entire life. I would’ve loved to have this show when I was 10. Especially because it never slims Steven down to convey character growth; there’s no shitty diet and work-out montage that makes “thinner” synonymous with “better” or “stronger.”

Seasons later, Steven is still fat, and still a hero.

That initiative is followed up with the rest of the 95% female cast. Because, you see, all Crystal Gems are women.

So, our young protagonist is surrounded by incredibly strong, loving, women with a ton of depth.

There’s Amethyst, who’s short, heavy, and loves fighting as much as a good gag.

There’s Garnet, who’s strong and stoic (the old go-to for strong female characters), but she’s also . . . a spoiler I refuse to give away.

Last, there’s Pearl, a comical take on typical thin-equals-best character design–a gangly ballerina who obsesses about perfection. And also hates Steven’s father, because she was in love with Steven’s mother.

Because, of course, all Crystal Gems are lesbians, a concept that the show completely embraces.

But that’s still only scratching the surface of this wildly progressive cartoon for kids. There are episodes where you find out male characters are gay–without gasps or ostracization. There’s Connie Maheswaran, Steven’s best friend, who’s Indian-American.

And there are episodes where side characters are made extremely human and flawed by their conflicts. There are episodes where main characters struggle with the consequences of war and toxic relationships. And, to all of these problems, the solution isn’t just the usual, comic book-ish “Punch it real hard!” Sometimes, it is, because it needs to be.

But just as often, the answer is love. The answer is taking pain in and dealing with it constructively, instead of just dishing it back out.

There’s just . . . so much that Steven Universe does that I genuinely can’t explain here.

So, rather than continuing to rant, I’m going to finish up with . . .

What I’ve Learned from It

Here are the three major things the series has taught me so far:

  1. Do not be afraid of diversity. We’re clearly living in an America that still fears it, but it doesn’t change the fact that everyone is beautiful. Write for everyone, without holding back. If you feel you don’t know enough about a marginalized group, do research and write them anyway.
    On that note, yes, write heavy characters. Ones who are smart, ones who are beautiful. Because, as a heavy man, I know for a fact that there’s more to us than how much we enjoy eating. We aren’t a bunch of maladjusted, bumbling jackasses, but the majority of media will always portray us that way–unless we provide a different dialogue. That dialogue being that not every hero is a 20-something-year-old model.
  2. Punching isn’t always the solution. Despite what fight-heavy America wants you to think, fighting often just makes a bad situation worse. Stories that embrace combat as a problem, rather than a solution, are just as engrossing–and often richer in real emotion.
  3. It is always possible to explore a range of side characters. They’re a wealth of stories just waiting to happen. All you need to do is allow those characters to have their stories that exist completely (and realistically) outside of the protagonist’s world. Have a protagonist who’s a hero? The Asian woman who works in the cafe down the block has an awesome story to tell–because she’s a real person–but that story might not have anything to do with your hero.

~~~

Well, I did it again. Another 1000+er.

Thank you for reading this one. And, if I’ve piqued your interest in any way, I’d suggest giving Steven Universe a chance. And, for that matter, if you have the adult friend who recommends cartoons . . . maybe check them out on occasion. Because, even though it might not seem like it, there’s a ton a cartoon can still teach a grown adult.

Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was recently published in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out. Part of that means posting on here every weekday, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting an email every weekday–a new post from me delivered right to your inbox–then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

Regardless though, thank you just for dropping by. And, as always, write well.