Tag Archives: Top 5

Top 5 Disney “Princesses”

I love Disney. Can you tell?

Despite its flaws as a company and an artistic entity, Disney has just enough redeeming qualities to keep us coming back. It has pioneered animation ever since its inception, creating beautiful, moving stories based on fairytales, folk stories, and literature, and it has also utilized and inspired new technology, such as fantasound in the 1940’s.

Walt Disney has built an empire out of his versions of stories and characters, whether you love them, hate them, or love to hate them, and it’s impossible to deny the influence his creations have had on many of our childhoods. Men have the overall advantage in society, to put it mildly, and so many prominent female figures in the media become role models to the growing women of the future, for better or worse. As I’ve said in the past, many people like to focus on the negative impact of Disney’s views and portrayals of women, but by now, you know me. With some exceptions, I like to be a bit more fair-minded, and observe how far the company has come in its near-decade of existence.

As a once-girl-now-woman, I’d like to share with you my top 5 favorite female Disney characters. They can be characters that I have liked the most or ones that have influenced me and my worldview in these 20 or so short years of life, but one thing is for sure: they are all awesome women in my mind. They practically need no introduction.

 

5. Merida

 

While she still gets the honor of breaking into my top 5, Merida ranks the lowest for me because of her youthful obnoxiousness. She has many admirable traits, one of which is wanting to go against the prim-and-proper future that her mother has planned out for her, but she’s somewhere between Ariel and Aurora when it comes to emotional and mental maturity. She wants what she wants and is willing to do stupid things to get it, barely questioning her motivations or the people offering her easy solutions at all.

I’m not saying she’s not relatable, because she definitely is. She wouldn’t be on this list if I didn’t seriously relate to her. It’s just that some of her antics are like watching a kid throw a tantrum. They might have a good reason for being upset, but it can still be an annoying way to try and resolve the problem.

 

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just because I felt the need to grow up more quickly than the kids around me. Immature characters need something more for me to really, deeply admire them, and while Merida is good, she’s not the best I’ve seen. Her movie was also a lot smaller scale than what many people were expecting from the trailers, so while it’s not a bad coming-of-age, mother-and-daughter-understanding narrative, it’s also not as epic and engaging as most Disney and Pixar fare.

But regardless, Merida is rebellious and wild, much like her stunning CG hair. I love her design, and as someone with Scottish heritage, it’s nice to see and hear some Scottish influence gracing the mainstream silver screen. Merida also likes what one might traditionally described as “boy things,” and is very proficient as a rider and an archer. It’s refreshing to see that, by the end of her movie, she doesn’t have to compromise her hobbies or her tomboy-ish nature as part of the growing-up process. She teaches her strict mother a lesson while learning an important one of her own: communication and understanding are what grow relationships, not trying to force one another to change.

Merida is clearly a “girl” more than she is a “woman,” and that’s okay. It works for her story and character arc, and at the end of the day, that’s all I really ask. I just like to see some more growth into womanhood, and what that means.

 

4. Belle

 

Belle is kick-ass, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. She stands up to a beast twice her size and doesn’t take any of his childish nonsense. She’s beautiful, but she is neither shy nor jerky about it. She reads in a time when women aren’t expected to, and does so openly and without apology. She sees Gaston’s rapey swagger and raises him a one-way, face-first trip to the mud.

Is Belle a bit too perfect? It’s certainly possible, but she’s also the kind of person many of us wish we could be, without appearing too preachy as a role model (see Cinderella). She’s selfless, gorgeous, quirky, brave, snarky, and pretty confident in her own skin. She loves her family and would do anything for them, even if it means sacrificing her own happiness. She also seeks adventure and excitement in a life of perceived drudgery and stigmatization. So while she may be a bit too reasonable and too self-actualized from the beginning of the story, she is still very relatable and likeable.

As mentioned before, I also love her voice acting and reflexive expressions. She shows a lot of her character through those attributes alone.

 

Beauty and the Beast is less of a story about Belle’s growth and more about the growth of the Beast, through her eyes. Yes, she learns to love someone she once feared and despised, but she ultimately teaches her prince more than he taught her. You could argue that she is feminist improvement of Cinderella, the woobie who exists to laud the values of Christian martyrdom and patience, by being smarter, more outspoken, and more assertive about her boundaries. And while I do think that Cinderella gets more criticism than she deserves, when looking at the intent of Mr. Disney, I wouldn’t entirely disagree with this idea. My reading of that story is a more modern take, and I admit that.

But I digress.

On a more self-serving note, Belle is also the first brunet princess. Represent, brown-haired ladies!

 

3. Moana

 

Moana is a small-island girl who longs for adventure on the high seas. As someone who has always loved the ocean, I found a kindred spirit in her right away.

Moana is young and uncertain, but reasonably so, given her upbringing. She has a good sense of duty and family, and though her passion is not encouraged by her parents (out of fear for her safety), she bonds with her grandmother over their mutual fascination with the sea, which kind of bridges the two worlds she inhabits. She struggles with her desire to sail and her desire to lead her people, as she sees the two options as mutually exclusive. A good chief must think of her people and do all that she can to help them, and while her parents have taught her the traditional way to be a chief, and have made good points about the dangers of the ocean, her destiny is to go there, and the fact that they have shielded her from the outside world has not adequately prepared her for what she must do.

This story may resonate particularly well with Millennials, many of whom feel that they were not properly prepared for the demands and stresses of the “adult world.”

 

Moana finds an unlikely teacher in Maui, the cocky but secretly scarred demi-god who is responsible for the problems that threaten to engulf her island. She learns a great deal from him while also teaching him what it truly means to be a hero of man…and woman. Moana is a force of unyielding love and forgiveness, even in the face of her own self-doubt; she shows Maui and even Te Ka that they don’t have to be defined by their past and the people who have hurt them. She also finds joy and even strength in the discovery and embracing of her heritage, especially at the start of the film.

She’s just a good, good character. I’m not sure what more I can say about her that isn’t just dancing around that main point.

 

2. Mulan

 

Disney’s first fighting princess, and to quote Lindsay Ellis, “the only princess with a body count.”

But seriously, Mulan is awesome. Her movie, while simplifying a lot about Chinese culture, is very feminist and even queer. Mulan disguises herself as a man in order to join the Chinese army in place of her ailing father, and while she initially struggles to adapt, she finds more freedom and satisfaction than she ever had in the restrictive roles of “woman” and “daughter.” Mulan finds strengths that she never knew she had and as a result, she saves her country almost single-handedly. It is so satisfying to see her rewarded, and to see the people who initially dismissed her enlightened or receiving comeuppance for their stubborn clinging to the past.

Her movie is by no means perfect or free of problematic elements, much like many Disney movies. As I said, Mickey Mouse-ifying Chinese culture or just using it as an exotic backdrop is definitely patronizing and annoying. But at the same time, you might call it a crucial step in Disney’s learning process, which has resulted in more culturally-respectful movies like Moana. And however meager it may seem, it does count as Chinese representation in a mainstream, well-liked medium, which I think makes it overall a positive step forward despite its flaws.

Mulan shares many of the traits of women on this list. She loves her family, but goes against them to follow what she knows is right. She is smart when her confidence is bolstered, and she finds unconventional solutions to problems, like defeating the entire Hun army with a well-timed avalanche. Mulan finds herself by going against the grain and doing what was previously considered “man’s work,” but unlike Merida, she finds more of a balance between the feminine and masculine aspects of her life. While we don’t get too deep into her life prior to becoming a soldier, we can assume that she liked certain aspects of womanhood. Just not the whole “get auctioned off to the highest bidder and be his submissive bride and breedmule for life” thing. She clearly isn’t wild about that, on top of not being very good at it.

 

Mulan doesn’t fit into either the male or female world perfectly, either by Western or Eastern standards. She excels in the in-between, and that is what people like about her.

The only really disappointing thing she does is turn down a position on the Emperor’s council, but it might be somewhat unfair to expect her to be completely selfless and keep pushing the boundaries for Chinese women everywhere. She is only one person, after all, and the entire impetus of her story is the desire to keep her family together. It makes sense that she would want to appreciate the fruits of her labor in person.

Mulan is a “girl power” character, but her praise is by no means cheap or unearned. Sometimes that phrase is used as a derogative, accompanied by an eye roll or a sneer, but those people – let’s face it, many of them are men – are usually less concerned about balanced female representation than they are threatened by any kind of social politics “invading their movies.” They seemingly ignore how many movies that they love have explicit or implicit political themes, and simply bash on increased diversity as being only “for diversity’s sake.” See the new Star Wars trilogy as an example of this.

 

At times Mulan can come across as a bit bland, but her movie is fun and funny and full of likeable characters, which makes up for that in my humble opinion. While it’s not my favorite, I come back to Mulan probably more than any other Disney movie. It brings me joy, and a large part of that is due to Mulan herself. She’s a quiet badass, changing the world one slaughtered army at a time.

 

  1. Esmeralda

 

 

She may not be an official Disney Princess, but I’m counting her, goddamn it!

Esmeralda is my favorite female Disney character, and I find her movie, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, to be criminally underrated. While it deviates heavily from the book and has some cringe-worthy “comedic” bits, it also contains adult themes that Disney has never tackled before, or ones that were only lightly touched-upon in the past. Lust, religion, xenophobia, genocide, parental abuse; these and many more appear very blatantly in Hunchback, making it a very dark and powerful story about human nature. The score and the art design are also very striking, making the story all the more memorable in Disney’s arguably homogenous lineup.

The movie has some unfortunate depictions of the gypsies as thieves and murders, but some of it could be accepted as them needing to protect themselves and their people from Frollo’s spies. Many people also complain that Esmeralda is overly-sexualized and how this is a harmful stereotype for many female minorities, but again, problematic elements do not necessarily cancel out good characters. Esmeralda is sexualized in part because Frollo objectifies her, and while he never learns to see her as a person, Quasimodo does.

 

As a person, Esmeralda is funny as hell, particularly in her fight with Phoebus and the latter half of the Festival of Fools. She’s witty and snarky when the moment calls for it, but she’s also proactive as a heroine; she is fiercely defensive of her people, demanding without apology that they be treated just like everyone else. While she does gasp at Quasimodo at first, she is quick to befriend him, showing that her convictions are strong and she is truly a kind, understanding person. She really does believe in freedom and equality for all people, and she can and will fight for it.

 

Esmeralda, much like Belle, is a self-actualized character from the get-go; she knows who she is and what she’s about without needing to learn or grow very much. What makes her compelling, however, is her bravery in facing the challenges of her people and of the time. She fights back against soldiers who try to steal her hard-earned money. She stops Quasimodo’s humiliation at the festival and stands up to Frollo, not knowing the depth of Frollo’s madness and his growing lust for her. Esmeralda risks her own safety for what is right, despite her fear, and though she lives in such a cruel world, she is still kind and forgiving to those who prove that they deserve it. Adversity sucks, but seeing such a good character arise in those circumstances is all the more admirable.

And while she does need to be rescued, Esmeralda is not a traditional helpless damsel. Her plight makes sense and she resists as much as she is able.

 

Not to play into her criticism, but Esmeralda is also gorgeous. I’d be lying if I said she didn’t make me question a few things as a child. One physical thing of note is her piercing green eyes. In the past, green eyes were thought to be a sign of evil, and many of Disney’s early villains do possess that feature. It just goes to subvert what Frollo and society say about Esmeralda, namely that she is wicked and deceitful. She is exactly who she presents herself to be, unlike Frollo, who hides his sinister desires and motives behind the mantle of God and His will.

 

So that is my list. Do you agree? Disagree? Who are your favorite Disney women?

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Top 5 Anime Clichés I Wish Would Die

…Well, “die” is a strong word. Maybe they should just…go away? Quit their day jobs? Take a vacation?

Don’t get me wrong; I love me some good Japanese animation. I’ve grew up with it, even if it was mostly terrible, kiddy-fied dubs of adult shows done by 4KidsEntertainment at first.

By middle school, I was frequently sneaking downstairs at 3am on a school night to catch Adult Swim on Cartoon Network, which broadened my horizons with shows like Inuyasha, Case Closed (a.k.a Detective Conan), .hack//SIGN, and Wolf’s Rain. That was when I really learned that, despite its silliness, anime had so much more dramatic, mature potential. I certainly preferred it to live-action teenage schlock like Degrassi and One Tree Hill.

This was the closest I ever came to being a hipster, by the way.

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All compliments aside, anime can be weird. I mean really, really weird. Like used underwear in a vending machine weird…even though those don’t really exist.

Here are some things that annoy me about anime:

 

5) The Tsundere Character

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While it may be true that there is a fine line between love and hate, most average people don’t behave this way. It’s extremely bipolar.

I suppose it’s only to be expected. There’s a prevalent stereotype that women date men who are no good for them so that they can “fix” them, so why shouldn’t the opposite be true for some men? It might make sense that they’d want to melt the beautiful, frigid harpy’s heart. In theory, the greater the challenge, the more satisfying the reward, so if you could just tweak her the teensiest bit, she’d be the perfect wife!

I’ve never personally felt the attraction to people who treat me like crap (unless you count a few odd two-faced friends), and while I can understand why it’s a popular fantasy, I’ll thank it to stay out of my escapism as much as possible.

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Wait no, just kidding! NOTICE ME, SENPAI!

 

The Tsundere character is, as you might have guessed, a belligerent female character. She either runs hot, cold, or jumps schizophrenically back and forth between the two, almost as though she’s in need of some serious therapy. Even more so in the cases where the woman seems unaware or in denial of this fact.

But I’d never suggest something like that. This behavior is obviously totally normal and healthy. Why, just look at how often it shows up:

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It’s not cute and charming. It needs to be treated immediately.

 

4) Too Many Harems

Ah, I remember being young and having 7+ super attractive male friends who all had a stupendous crush on me and constantly fought for my attention.

Oh wait…

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I can buy some people making lots of friends, even if it’s predominantly with one gender. What I can’t buy is an unremarkable dude (or girl, for that matter) being surrounded by hotties, all of whom seem intent on winning this Joe Schmoe’s heart.

There is nothing subtle about this setup; it’s a shallow fantasy for the viewer at home to mentally port themselves into. Even if the main character has something of a genuine personality, which is unlikely, there’s usually a very flimsy explanation given as to why they’ve suddenly become the clueless anime Bachelor.

Even if I could believe it more often, I’m getting sick of it. Save it for the dating simulator games. To make it work effectively in an un-interactive visual medium is to make the protagonist so bland that you could close your eyes and lose nothing whatsoever. It’s junk food sprinkled over many generic anime shows, particularly poorly-written ones like Sword Art Online. Probably the best use of it was in Ouran High School Host Club, which was an affectionate parody of the genre and ended over a decade ago.

 

3) “You Had Me Worried”/”I’ll Never Forgive You!”

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I see this attitude as an extension of Japan’s highly collectivist culture, and in truth, there is something to be said for it. It’s not wrong to keep others (especially your loved ones) in mind when deciding how to live your life, and in anime, protagonists frequently run off and risk their lives, and not always for the sanest reasons.

However, coming from a country where mental illness is skyrocketing, I find something distinctly off-putting to this as well, at least in the anime context. Particularly when it appears to be presented as the only reason that the protagonist should feel bad.

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You might have just as easily destroyed the world, rather than saving it, but who cares? Your bae was worried about you!

The two basic flavors here are sadness and anger. Either the character is trying to guilt our hero into an apology, or he or she is trying to scare them into one.

On some level, it comes across as battling selfishness with more selfishness, just from a different source. And then the other person (usually the protagonist) mumbles a “sorry” and either all is pretty much instantly forgiven or the worrier is mollified for the time being. It feels like a lip-service to the worrier, and trust me, there is a world of difference between someone who shows concern for others and someone who feels the need to play the martyr.

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This can often be the dutiful girlfriend/boyfriend character, which also pairs well the Tsundere. It’s more obnoxious when the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, so to speak. Even when it seems genuine, it’s still an attitude that doesn’t sit well with me, but to be fair, I am an individualistic Westerner. Maybe its value is just lost in translation.

 

2) Blandly Unlikeable (Or Just Bland) Protagonists

This is very in-line with trope #4 above, but whether the character gets a bunch of interchangeable love interests or not, bad writing is still bad writing, regardless of how much bad writing there is.

People often debate about what makes someone a Mary Sue, and to what extent that title is warranted. Why would some complain about Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, when she is no more inexplicably gifted and lucky than Anakin or Luke Skywalker before her? Is it just because she is female, and the largely male Star Wars fanbase can’t easily picture themselves in her shoes without having to sprout a uterus in the process?

I understand that the term “Mary Sue” gets thrown around to the point of near meaninglessness these days, but think about it’s classic definition. And think about this: the lead character, as you might expect, usually has to carry the story (unless you’re particularly clever and talented)

 

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and while you can fill the screen with quirky side-characters to balance things out, you’re better off putting some real time and effort into your main man (or woman) right off the bat. Who that person is can determine what your story is really about (for example, growing up vs saving the planet).

If all you can say is “she’s pretty and nice,” but then have her instantly become an all-powerful witch who can bend reality to her whims…that’s when it can become a problem.

Believe it or not, a character can be unlikeable, yet still easy to sympathize with. Characters can do bad things or think bad thoughts, but the point is to make them work with their flaws, not be ignorant or dismissive of them. Real people are admired for overcoming adversity, and so too are their fictional counterparts. We like to see that we’re not alone, and furthermore, we want to believe that, regardless of the obstacle life has thrown at us, we can beat it.

On the flip side, you can also find characters that are so ridiculously upbeat and happy-go-lucky that you pretty much never find them in the real world. Or if you did, they’d likely annoy the living hell out of you.

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It’s fine though. They’re just too good for this world, kind of like Jesus or Nausicaa.

Side note: I don’t really think Tohru is a Mary Sue, but at the very least, she’s a boring character that it’s hard to feel any genuine connection with, aside from a few basic things. To see a character like her done right, I recommend Shirayuki from the manga/anime Snow White with the Red Hair.

Being too nice and generic is by no means the worst that can happen, though. In fact, I’d prefer that to a character who is despicable, yet inexplicably coddled.

Involving the every-man in a world-changing story can be a great way to build character, drama, and intrigue in a way that doesn’t feel too forced or contrived, but giving a boring, unremarkable, sometimes actively contemptible character mad skills or a remarkable destiny doesn’t endear us to them automatically.

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Nor should it.

Huh…maybe Sword Art Online is just the perfect barometer for everything I can’t stand about anime.

Speaking of which…

 

1) Gratuitous/Surprise Nudity and Perversion

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But seriously, guys. If the show is not labeled as an Ecchi, Hentai, or whatever sexual genre, I don’t want to see stuff like this popping up. It’s very off-putting.

If I know to expect it, that’s one thing. While I think the “don’t like, don’t read” sentiment is too often used as an excuse not to write better,  it does have some practical, necessary uses. I take the “Mature Audiences” label with as big of a grain of salt as I can muster, especially if I’m familiar with the studio, director, channel, or even time of day that I’m watching. But I don’t think I should just expect to see some “hilarious” (MASSIVE air quotes) sexual harassment just because I happen to be watching an anime. To me, it’s like a happy kids movie being suddenly interrupted by a vicious grizzly bear mauling. Where did that come from? Why?

Did it add something meaningful to the story or the tone that I’m just not getting?

If there is one thing that puts me off about Japan and Japanese culture as a whole, it’s the portrayal and representation of women. And I say this as someone who has become significantly less prudish since I left high school.  I realize that my country has a very different religious background, among other things, and that we have this weird double-standard where extreme violence being easily visible and accessible is a-okay, but sex isn’t.

That said, both the U.S.A. and Japan have their share of problematic elements, and we seem to be on a similar page when it comes to how we view ladies. Whether they are competent fighters or damsels in distress, 14 year olds who look 20 or 20 year olds that look 14, there is nothing quite like the unparalleled character development we get from naughty up-skirt shots.

And it seems my cup runeth over with them, no matter where I go.

Notice that I’m not calling  for a ban. If that is your thing, power to you. Just because I like chocolate doesn’t mean I’ll necessarily like chocolate covered ramen noodles, but you totally can, if you catch my drift. I’m just asking that we give it a point, or ease up on it a little bit, because plenty of people do find it creepy.

At least when it comes right out of nowhere and is particularly mean-spirited. You have the entirety of the internet for that, if you really want it.
As an unofficial 6th pet peeve: cutesy, loud, over-exaggerated chewing when female characters eat. That habit needs to die in a fire.

*None of these images in the article above are owned by me.

My Top 5 Modern Adult TV Shows, Part 1

Time to bust out your remotes, everyone!

I’m definitely more of a movie person than a T.V. person, but I’ve never really been able to articulate why. I love good stories and good characters, and television is arguably the better medium for that because it has all the time in the world to flesh them out.

As with many things, both have their individual pros and cons. Movies have an exciting, rewarding feel to them due to their spectacle; it used to be much more of a treat to go see movies in the theatre than it is today.

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Cinema is intrinsically unique and massive, and can get away with some subjects, words, and images that T.V. shows can’t, but its products are sometimes rushed due to limited run times. Especially in the process of adaptation, important elements and morals can be sacrificed in the name of pacing, and while some cuts are understandable and necessary, others are downright criminal.

Sometimes even worse, in my opinion, are the stories that are whittled down for pandering purposes. Simple, feel good romps have their place, but it’s tragic when a powerful narrative is senselessly broken down and altered, simply because it might not have sold well in its original incarnation.

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T.V. shows, by contrast, feel smaller, but often more casual and approachable. They have more flexibility when setting the pace and structuring the narrative. Outside of books, television can offer the most accurate depiction of how events would play out in real time; for example, over the course of weeks or months. Where a film would need to resort to time transitions, a T.V. show could choose to break things down, one by one, focusing on the impact that such events might have on a character. What would be background elements in a movie could come to the foreground in a show, and sometimes it’s those little details that make a story transcend from mindless escapism into something profound and relatable.

The downside of television is that great stories can become labored, meandering, and directionless. Long production time can translate to more changes in cast, directors, producers, writers, and sponsors, and shows without a somewhat clear end game can lose meaning, or just overstay their welcome in the public consciousness. And, much  like movies, they can also dumb down an otherwise important experience.

Conversely, what might have once been lofty or difficult to comprehend can become more accessible, especially when trying to teach morals and concepts to younger viewers.

In essence, films are often a whole greater than the sum of their parts, and shows are comprised of many great parts, but sometimes make for a weaker whole. They both can have similar pitfalls, especially when money becomes more important than the artistry, but they can also produce great, stirring, memorable stories that are beloved long after their initial theatrical or broadcasting run.

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Today, because I don’t do it so often, I’d like to shine a brief light on T.V. shows. Specifically, I would like to honor and endorse the recent shows which, while enjoyable in general, have also really made me think, whether it be about myself, society, or life as a whole.

It’s going to get very adult up in here, so as much as I love these series, unfortunately I will have to leave off talking about Gravity Falls and possibly more Steven Universe for a later time.

 

5) Last Week Tonight

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I’ll start out with a comedy show that has some lighter moments.

Much like his predecessors John Stewart and Stephen Colbert, John Oliver is funny, witty, poignant, and never takes himself too seriously. Unlike them, however, Oliver seems distinctly more balanced politically, taking shots at wackos and assholes on both sides of the aisle. Also, due to his flexible network, he seems to be far less driven by agendas and endorsements.

Most importantly, and perhaps a first for any political comedian, Oliver gets some things done. Sure, he clowns around while drawing attention to important issues that sometimes go under our radar, but then he also does things like buying and forgiving an ungodly amount of zombie debt, and delivering questionably acquired food to clothing makers who produce cheap clothing with foreign workers in dangerous working conditions. He is less passive than other political comedians, and his show offers a refreshing balance of being told what you want to hear and what you don’t. Oliver can call us all out when our desire for freebies and instant gratification might actually be destroying something that we need, while at the same time catering to our growing desire to be edu-tained, if we have to learn anything at all.

It seems like it should be contradictory, and yet…not really. Or at least, he’s making the current system work for him, and that is definitely not something we can scoff at too much.

Whatever you want to call his methods or his ideologies, that dorky, British rat-faced bastard is breaking new ground in comedy and activism.

 

4) Rick and Morty

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Here we have another comedy show, though much blacker and less audience-driven than number 5.

Rick and Morty is about so many things, but first and foremost, it tells the story of an average boy with an eccentric, alcoholic, downright sociopathic scientist grandfather. Morty seeks validation and guidance from Rick, and Rick often takes advantage of Morty for his own selfish pursuits, barely disguising them as “grand adventures” across time and space. There are morals, references, and frequent call outs to the elephant in the room, whether that “room” is the episode, pop culture, or the rest of society.

Meanwhile, Morty’s parents, Beth and Jerry, are constantly trying to resuscitate a dying marriage, unable to completely stop resenting one another for their failings. Morty’s older sister, Summer, often shifts between “semi-popular girl” and “disaffected teen”, but is by no means a one-dimensional character. She deals with the stress of being the oldest child, often overlooked, and later, she feels bitterness and guilt at being what caused her parents to “settle” for each other.

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There is so much more to the show than that, and it is genuinely funny (sometimes in not so dark ways), but the characters are what really makes the show work. Much like in Family Guy, everyone has their “asshole tendencies,” and somewhat like Archer, those traits and instances are presented at face value. You can either take them as they are, or leave them, and should you choose to take them, you begin to see things that you may not necessarily like, but you definitely understand or relate to.  The “good guys” won’t always win in the end, but often times, there was no perfect “good guy” to begin with.

Shows like this officially killed my belief in karma, or at least how it is presented by most people. Very few people are objectively good or bad, but it comforts us to think that because we are all egotistical to some degree. We don’t like to imagine a world that isn’t fair, but especially not when it’s going to be unfair to us.

Rick and Morty plays with reference humor, almost by definition digging up the past, and then reminds us that life is not so black-and-white, as we liked to think as children. Wubba Lubba Dub Dub.

 

Orange is the New Black

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Speaking of black-and-white…

This show deals with so many themes that we either haven’t seen before, or haven’t seen in this degree of scrutiny and popular discourse. Most prominently, it talks about lesbianism, racial tension, and the life and treatment of prisoners, specifically women, in the American Correctional System.

There is some comedy involved, especially during the culture shock episodes, but there is also very gritty drama.

The main character, Piper Chapman, is at first a sheltered, entitled Caucasian woman, implicated in drug smuggling by her ex-girlfriend, Alex. She is then thrust into a world she has never really known before, where no one cares who she is beyond what she did and what she’ll do now. The outsiders who seem to care more about her are fleeting, only really hoping to bolster themselves in some way.

More than ever before, Piper must deal with feelings of powerlessness, isolation, and remorse, and making matters even more complicated is Alex, who lives in the same facility.

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Much like Walter White in Breaking Bad, Piper undergoes a startling character shift, but in this case, it is borne from the desire to survive prison. The series is far from over, but one this is already clear: a part of her hasn’t survived.

The prison bunks and tables are segregated by groups, and each collection of characters has their own problems and stories, taking spotlights away from Piper every episode. What they did to end up in prison is, of course, important, but again, it is not so important as the consequences and new decisions they must face in order to continue moving forward. Relationships are established, rekindled, and lost, sometimes very quickly, but even the strongest, most likable characters have to use and trample each other. Beyond that, they must either have crazy inner strength, whatever privilege and influence they can claim, or strength in numbers.

kate-mulgrew-orange-is-the-new-black[1] SpanishHarlem[1]

 

The story is as much about actual prison living conditions as it is about women’s relationships with each other. Some characters you will love, and others you will hate, but those boundaries may not stay in place for very long, because change is inevitable and some limits of compassion and empathy will always exist. Murder is still a wrong, regardless of why it was committed, but considering intent is not a worthless endeavor, and some crimes are punished too harshly and/or disproportionately among our people.  Sometimes innocent people go to jail, or are forced into situations that they can’t really fight or control. We want to believe that they can because this is America, and we want to believe that we can, as long as we truly consider ourselves “good people.”

This show, along with Last Week Tonight, really cemented the fact that saying “as long as it never happens to me, I don’t care” is a poor excuse for labeling people as “just criminals”; effectively striping them of their humanity and not concerning ourselves with how they are treated, during and after incarceration.

 

To be continued…

Top 5 Worst Romantic Comedy Cliches

Don’t get me wrong; I love romantic comedy as much as the next girl. It’s like entering a sugary alternate reality where hot movie stars try to be clumsy, cute, and relatable human beings; even a “loser” can get the girl/guy; the bad guy gets his comeuppance, or at least spends the rest of his life miserable and alone; and happily ever after always wraps up nicely for two souls who were bound to be together.

It’s an alternate reality where everything is how it should be.

Romcoms are a fantasy. Not the type that invokes images of grand adventure, dragons, and wizards, but in its own right, it involves just as much suspension of disbelief. It’s a type that deals with idealism and simplicity. It’s definitely got a charm to it, but sometimes people take issue, whether it’s because it’s not a fantasy they personally subscribe to, or because all fantasies give unrealistic expectations for the complicated world we actually live in.

Sometimes we need a break from the unshakeable truth: “Life isn’t fair.”

So while I’d be a snob and a hypocrite to act like I’m above all the cotton-candy clouds and sparkly fairy dust, I maintain that romcoms are, consistently, the least challenging, most pandering genre, next to robot/monster beat-em-ups. It is emotional “porn”  for women (though some men enjoy it as well), and there are a couple of common tropes and trends constantly being used and abused that I take particular umbrage with.

1# Lack of Humility/Subtlety in the Writing

 

A lot of films (besides just romcoms) have a tendency of “breaking the fourth wall.” For those of you who have never heard this expression before, look at your T.V. or computer and image the show you are watching exists in its own separate reality, not connected to yours. “Breaking the fourth wall” is, in essence, transcending beyond the screen, the wall that separates you from them. It’s when the characters implicitly or explicitly refer to the audience. One common example is talking or “winking” to them.

If you still don’t quite get what I mean, think of the side glances into the camera you see on Looney Tunes, or comments like “gruesome, isn’t it?”. Look at Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, where the titular character isn’t narrating so much as thinking out loud in the moment, all the while smiling and looking right at you, like he knows you’re there. Games do it too. Without spoiling too much, the cult classic Conker’s Bad Fur Day‘s ending pretty much obliterates any semblance of fourth wall left standing at that point.

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This is often, if not almost exclusively used for comedy.

Sometimes, writers use a subset of this to poke fun at themselves via the trope Who Would Want To Watch Us? Other times, they like to verge on fourth wall breaking with something called Lampshade Hanging, or “spotlighting.” That is when you take a problem or an unbelievable element within your own work and drag it into the spotlight within said work, so that everyone can see it. It can’t be ignored because the creator is addressing it. They knew it was there, even before you did.

Some writers do it because they think it’s really funny, or self-mocking. Others treat it like critic repellent.

I don’t mind Lampshade Hanging here and there. I love self-referential and self-debasing humor. But it irritates me when films sneer down their nose at common cliches and tropes, only to then use them later down the line in the same work. As if somehow that makes the overdone original again. I find it pretentious, cheap, and lazy.

Here is one example:

In the movie Pitch Perfect, Jesse, the love interest, (who is downright adorkable, by the way) tries to get Beca, the snarky sound-mixer protagonist, interested in movies. She totally gets the appeal of music, but movies just bore her. Jesse insists that the endings are the best part, but Beca gives a little speech about how they are so formulaic and predictable. Why would you want to watch something when you know how it will end?

Guess what happens:

Jesse and Beca hook up in the end. The guy gets the girl. That is as predictable as the sun rising in the morning. But wasn’t that snarky little speech just so enriching and innovative?

Allow me to quote a new favorite critic of mine, TheMysteriousMrEnter, from several of his reviews:

“Pointing out your problems does not make them go away.”

This can also work out badly in the inverse. If the writers are actually doing something unique or interesting, but feel the need to bash us over the head with it as much as possible. That’s obnoxious too.

For that example, look at Disney’s self parody, Enchanted. It turns out Princess Giselle has to save her damsel-in-distress boyfriend from a giant dragon. Instead of just letting the scene play out on its own, the evil queen/dragon has to make dry remarks every few minutes about how interesting and flipped the situation is.

I THINK WE GET IT.

As with many things in life, balance is key. Also, don’t pee on your audience and tell them it’s raining.

2# I Hate You, I Love You

 

Chicks love seeing relationships where there are none. Whether characters are just friends, bitter rivals, or hated enemies, odds are that you will find a fandom for every possible couple. I think romcom writers recognize this, because they seem to get a lot of mileage the “will-they-or-won’t-they” trope, particularly when it involves open hostility.

The Ugly Truth. The Proposal. Leap Year. And those are just some of the more recent ones, to name a few. The couple starts out with one or both parties hating the other, only to find out in the end that – surprise! – they actually love each other.

In some cases, the parties may even go back and forth.

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I’m aware that there is a thin line between love and hate, and both require a level of passion and devotion, but used as often as it is, this trend quickly becomes annoying. Either put a new spin on it, or let it sleep for a while.

Also, can we do something about the awkward love triangle? You know, where the woman has a hot nice guy and a rude, obnoxious but also hot other guy, and she never fails to go for the jerk? Blah blah blah bad boys are cute. Blah blah blah nice guys finish last. How do we know life isn’t mimicking “art,” and not the other way around?

3# Obligatory Third-Act Misunderstanding

 

This is an epidemic. Not just in romcoms, but in movies as a whole. It needs to be destroyed, preferably with fire and salt.

Some stupid, contrived thing must break up the characters, all because the writers can’t figure out how to write a full story without cramming one in for pointless drama. It seriously just drags out the inevitable for another 20 or so minutes.

Yes, people can be dishonest and keep secrets. Yes, sometimes there is a liar, and he/she gets the mask pulled off at the wrong time. Stuff like this can happen in real life. But often this trope is, as I’ve mentioned, stupid and contrived.

Maybe the guy waffles around, debating when is the best time to tell his girlfriend that he was dating her only because of a bet. Or maybe he vehemently denies his growing feelings, only to have her accidentally overhear.

*COUGH COUGH*
*COUGH COUGH*

 

Or maybe he just can’t admit his feelings to her face because he’s stubborn (a man, basically) or awkward, and she’s had enough waiting.

Maybe Hugh Grant is Hugh Grant-ing it up, and the woman identifies him as an a-hole.

Take your pick, or fill in more blanks with your personal favorites. You know what I’m talking about.

And this isn’t just about nitpicking, or not acknowledging that sometimes avoidable, asinine things can happen in real life. Because they do. This is wondering why no one ever calls the police or arms themselves in a horror movie. This is wondering why they always run upstairs when a maniac is chasing them. The reasons for this trope are so idiotic; things that could easily be solved by something in the real world that we call “open communication.” Or having two working brain cells to rub together.

But then again, an open, healthy relationship is boring. And normal.

How about we put these misunderstandings in the first act and then get past them? How about that? That isn’t too overdone…yet…

4# The Woman is Always Right

 

Most romcoms, usually as a result of the totally necessary use of #3 above, end with someone (most often the woman) storming off. It is almost always up to the man to figure out what went wrong and fix it.

a la tvtropes.com
a la tvtropes.com

 

Okay, I’m a woman. I get other women. We’re emotional beings that don’t always recognize logic. I admit this. But we’re not stupid and crazy and hormonal all the time.

Half the time when I see this contrived bs, I am yelling at the woman to use her Cosmo-clouded brain.

“Confront the man, and I don’t mean like a closed-off idiot!” “Be honest and tell him what in holy hell is bothering you!” “THINK!”

Sure, the men do stupid things too. They can make mistakes and not recognize them. But romcoms like to make this a big thing that happens all the time. No one likes being wrong, and certainly not the women inserting themselves in the protagonist’s place.

This is not a romcom so much as a family comedy, but look at the Lindsay Lohan movie Parent Trap. Elizabeth (the mother) up and left Nick (the father), effectively splitting up their twins for life and content to never inform them of each other’s existence, and then she got upset that he didn’t come after her. He, on the other hand, figured that was what she wanted.

(note: I loved that movie as a kid, but I find the parents stupid, impossible to relate to, and damn near despicable)

As another example, look at Bride Wars. Emma’s boyfriend Fletcher calls her out for being crazy and catty (and stupid), and Emma and the movie frame him as the a-hole who just doesn’t understand. Sure, he isn’t gentle with his words, but he told her what none of her other girlfriends would, and he had every right to question why the woman he was marrying seemingly changed overnight into a childish, vindictive, passive-aggressive jerk. In the end, the two girls (Emma and Liv) who fought stupidly the whole movie over the “ideal wedding” become bestest friends again like nothing ever happened, and Fletcher is told off and leaves the movie entirely. Even though he was technically right, he’s wrong.

Women win, even when the conclusion makes no sense or is terribly skewed. As much as I dislike Leap Year, at least the confusion is on Anna, and she goes after Declan and proposes to him. Even Pitch Perfect tried it, with Beca driving Jesse away, only to win him back.

Contrivance and cliché can have some flavor with a little mixing up every now and then.

5# Woman as Lonely Cat Lady/Loser.

 

She’s insecure. Don’t know what fer. She turnin heads when she fix herself up mo-o-ore.

…Sorry. Just thought I could sum this one up while simultaneously mocking One Direction.

The woman in the movie is supposed to be you. Yes, you, lonely girls and aging women. She’s just like you, but hotter. She just doesn’t know it/own it yet. Again, they can insert themselves into the place of the lead woman and get a sense of catharsis from it.

Maybe she’s clumsy and awkward. Maybe she doesn’t know how to pick clothes or styles that flatter her, and just stumbles around in a baggy t-shirt and loose jeans. Maybe she has – gasp! – glasses!

Regardless of how it happened, it must be fixed. Usually with the introduction of a love interest. I guess that when I get right down to it, that’s the gist of what bothers me.

It is at its most egregious state in The Ugly Truth. But I can’t even talk about it, because it is seriously one of my most hated movies ever. Right up there with Identity Thief. That disgusting piece of trash thoroughly insults both genders, and the pig-headed man is always portrayed as being “in the right.”

My favorite romcom of all time,  My Big Fat Greek Wedding, is also guilty of this one, but I don’t mind it so much there. I thought it was used effectively. Sure, Toula sees a man and feels bad about herself, but I don’t think that is really the impetus for her fixing herself up and going to college. She didn’t need a man so much as a fulfilling purpose in life, and the backbone to put her foot down sometimes with her wacky family. The man came later, when she was much happier and more confident with herself.


The problem with mirroring real life so closely is that, at times, it tends to highlight our grievances with the real world, rather than let us temporarily forget them. Why aren’t all men dashing princes, ready to sweep you away to their castles astride gallant white stallions? Why don’t nice women with wonderful personalities and quirks always find Mr. Right at the opportune time, or sometimes ever? (ask the same question for the fellas)

I wouldn’t mind a little less simplicity, a little more variety, or at least changing things up more often. The world is complex, full of plenty of unique, possible scenarios, but here the writers are, sticking to what is familiar. Comfortable. Routine.

And so are we.

Even fantasies have become standard and predictable, when they were meant to excite and stir the imagination. So what does that tell us?

Disclaimer: Photos and gifs belong to their various owners, not me. Keep in mind that this is my list, and I’m not insulting you if you like any of the movies/things I referred to negatively. I’m also not saying that said films don’t have an original bone in their body.