Category Archives: Pop Culture Ponderings

Headcanons, Queer Readings, and the Art of “Reading Too Much Into Things”

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The nature of media is that we will all look at it a little bit differently—we all have different brains in our heads, after all, and we’ve all had different life experiences that will frame and shape the way we perceive things. A result of this may be that you’re watching a TV show with your pal and you spot what you see as the blossoming of a beautiful queer romance, but when you mention it to your friend they blink in surprise and say they hadn’t noticed that at all. “Are you sure?” they ask, sincerely but bemused. “They just seem like good friends to me.” Maybe they’ll suppress a sigh, maybe they’ll laugh it off. “Not everything has to be gay all the time. You’re overthinking it.”

Damn, you think, suddenly unsure. Maybe they’re right. Maybe I am reading too much into this—maybe in my hunger for queer representation, for stories and relationships I could genuinely see myself reflected in, I’ve developed a habit of digging too deep and seeing things that aren’t there. Not everything has to be gay all the time, you think, even though you’d actually been headcanon-ing both characters as bi, though that feels like a technicality that will take too long to explain to your already-sceptical buddy.

You settle back on the couch, feeling kind of dumb. But then you hear another voice: there is a flash in the corner of your eye, and though you can’t quite see it, you get the sense that there’s a little human figure sitting on your shoulder, like an angel in a cartoon: a voice of reason.

The figure speaks, and he says:

Queer readings aren’t ‘alternative’ readings, wishful or wilful misreadings, or ‘reading too much into things’ readings. They result from the recognition and articulation of the complex range of queerness that has been in popular culture texts and their audiences all along.

“Wow, you’re right,” you say, smiling. “Thanks, influential queer pop culture scholar Alexander Doty!

Your friend says “What?” and you say “What?” and you get back to watching the show. Continue reading

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Land of the Lustrous as a Story About Burnout

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You ever feel like you can finish the things you need to do if you just pump yourself full of coffee or energy drink? You ever feel like you’d get more done if you just… didn’t sleep? Like you’d type much faster if you had fingers made of gold alloy? Like you’d be able to fit exercise into your schedule if you had super-fast legs? Like you’d become someone truly impressive and valuable if you just… transcended your mortal form and became a super-powerful being that no one could ever think of as useless?

No? Not even a little bit? C’mon, maybe just a little bit. Continue reading

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Of Cosmic Stakes and Personal Stories (Spider Verse, Infinity War, and Others)

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A confession: I haven’t seen Avengers: Infinity War nor Avengers: Endgame yet, and I don’t really plan to. I promise I’m not trying to be contrary or edgy with that statement—in fact, it makes me kind of sad. I love superheroes! I like the Marvel movies! So why aren’t I compelled to join in the hype for the epic, universe-bending crossover event?

In an unfortunate case of history repeating itself, I think I might be switching off from the MCU for the same reason I dropped Doctor Who back in ye olden days: the constant ante-upping required to keep the series fresh and engaging has led the story to cosmic stakes where the rules of time and space are being warped willy-nilly and the multiverse hangs in the balance, whereas the thing that drew me to the series in the first place was those more grounded, relatable, personal stories. When it comes to the MCU’s shift towards Big Crossover Events, Civil War (allegedly a Captain America standalone movie) was about as much as I could take in terms of world-altering stakes, an over-stuffed ensemble cast who couldn’t possibly all get the screentime they deserved, and “epic” tone.

I get it, superheroes need to save the world, and it’s a natural progression that they should save the converging, warping universe in an adventure that brings together characters from all across the wide-spanning story. I get it, but, well, ehhh. I’m willing to admit this is personal taste, of course—and I would just say that Crossover Events aren’t for me… but then again, I was really compelled to see, and really enjoyed, Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse. So what’s going on there? Continue reading

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Fun with “Canon AUs” in The Good Place

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The celestial, “afterlife bureaucracy” setting of The Good Place gives its storytelling a degree of elasticity you wouldn’t find in a non-fantasy series—as of the recently-completed third season, I’ve lost count of the number of times the story-world has been reset, rewound, rebooted, or generally bamboozled. And hey, if you’re writing in the realm of the ethereal, why wouldn’t you take every opportunity to play with spacetime? It turns out, you can get some very interesting character writing done within that cosmic framework and all the divergent paths and “what if?” narratives you can play with as you stretch and squish the Universe. So today let’s sit back with a tub of frozen yoghurt and look at how The Good Place, with all its timeline reboots, raises questions of nature and nurture, of fate and destiny, and even of soulmates, all while giving its writers a smart exercise in consistent characterisation and its audiences an endless parade of alternate versions of the same story—in many ways tapping into the methods, and the appeal, of the good ol’ Alternate Universe fanfiction. (Spoilers ahead!)

Continue reading

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“It’s Not Over ‘til it’s Over”: The Post-Apocalyptic Optimism of Girls’ Last Tour

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However ill-founded, however misguided, hope is the basic stratagem of mortality. We need it, and an art that fails to offer it fails us.

Ursula K. Le Guin, in Dancing at the Edge of the World

Girls’ Last Tour is probably the most melancholy slice-of-life series I’ve ever watched—either that, or it’s the most charming and sweet post-apocalyptic sci-fi I’ve ever watched. Generally speaking, setting a story after the end of the world gives you violent thrillers in the vein of Mad Max, The Hunger Games, or Fallout, action adventures that highlight the desolation of the setting and the natural wild awfulness of humans. Not so for this little show, which tells the story of a handful of survivors navigating a wartorn wasteland and, instead of becoming torn up themselves, doing what they can to hold themselves and each other together, making the most of the worst situation. While it’s a tale with a lot of heartache built in, Girls’ Last Tour also has an inescapable undercurrent of optimism and resilience—and that’s something we could all do with a little bit of these days.   Continue reading

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Once More, With Feeling: Teens and Time Loops in Revue Starlight

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Never trust anyone who says high school is “the best years of your life”.

That said, of course, it can feel that way at the time, especially in comparison to the looming threat of adulthood and all the scary responsibilities and realities it contains. While I knew even back then that year ten was not the peak of my existence, the passage of time and its implications of change struck me with deep apprehension. After a rocky beginning to my teen years, I’d finally settled in with a group of good friends, and the thought that we might have to separate due to something as mundane as graduating was terrifying and wrought with injustice. Things were good. I didn’t want to lose anyone, didn’t want anything to change, wanted to hang onto that little slice of fun carefree (ish) existence.

Would I have trapped us all in a time loop to preserve the ties of our friendship group and avoid the pressures of adulthood? A magical cryptic theatre giraffe never asked me, so I suppose we’ll never know. But a little part of me would, you know, see where you were coming from if you decided to do that.

Spoilers ahead for Revue Starlight episodes seven, eight, and nine! Continue reading

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It’s a Metaphor, Max: The Storm

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I remember the fateful day when the final chapter of Life is Strange—appropriately titled “Polarized”—came out and the internet as I knew it, even parts I hadn’t known were invested in the game, collectively exploded. The starkness of the final choice, now dubbed “save the bae vs save the bay” because you have to laugh otherwise you cry, was the main topic of discussion and/or ranting, for good reason. I’m not saying it’s a bad dichotomy to present the player with (and as I wrote about in my last post, can be interpreted to represent Max’s character development and contribute to the story nicely), it just could have been done so much better. One aspect of this, which bugs me personally the most, is the fact that the entire scenario is kind of… nonsense. Which, like last time, I’m going to try to break through using WB’s “everything that makes no sense is a metaphor” theory. Let’s take a bite out of it. Continue reading

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