Category Archives: Pop Culture Ponderings

“Lilibet” vs “Gloriana”: Fun with Duality in The Crown


All hail sage Lady, whom a grateful Isle hath blessed. Not moving, not breathing. Our very own goddess. Glorious Gloriana. Forgetting Elizabeth Windsor now. Now only Elizabeth Regina.

[Contains spoilers for Netflix’s The Crown. Also spoilers for British royal history]

Much in the same way Bruce Wayne and Batman can be considered different characters, the woman nicknamed Lilibet and the monarch dubbed Elizabeth II could be considered different identities. Much like being Batman, stepping into the role of queen involves cloaking yourself in a persona that is largely based on symbolism and what the people need to see, and also much like being Batman, it involves swallowing a lot of tragedy and ignoring affection because that is what a hero/flawless leader does. The Crown quietly toys with this concept of dual identity and how it tears a person up inside, or at least, it quietly toys with it until it all comes to a head in the series’ final episode and everything is absolutely the worst. Continue reading

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Choosing What To Leave Behind: Oxenfree and Grief


[Ahoy mateys, spoilers abound!]

The Dead Big Brother trope is the logical opposite of the Dead Little Sister—where a DLS often kicks off manpain of some variety it also symbolises a death of innocence, as these characters are very rarely to blame for their death and their adorable, pure spectre haunts the protagonist for the rest of the story. A DBB more often symbolises a death of stability, the loss of a protective anchor that makes the world without it scary, unpredictable, and raw. This is definitely the case for the heroine of Oxenfree, Alex, whose older brother drowned some time before the game’s story begins, leaving a gaping emotional gap in her—and others’—lives. It’s awful. Alas, if only we could go back in time and stop that fatal accident from happening… Continue reading


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Firewatch, A Game About Avoiding Your Problems Until They Burn Everything Down


There are few things louder than silence. If you want to drown out guilt, grief, responsibility and other uncomfortable emotions that demand your attention and threaten to take over your life, your best bet is a trip away from society and industry where your only company is a really big forest. Forests don’t judge and demand nothing from you but mutual peace and quiet, and that quiet will form walls that keep out those pesky, hard-to-deal-with feelings. This is part of Henry’s logic, anyway, when he takes a job as a fire lookout in the Middle of Nowhere National Park, Wyoming, following his wife’s decline into early onset dementia and his inability to cope with this. He soon finds, though, that the silence of the forest is not as welcoming as it might have once seemed. Continue reading

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Who Won the “Civil War”?


Who indeed? Though I myself am still firmly on Team Cap, I discuss the narrative’s deliberate ambiguity in a piece written for Popgates. Read the whole thing here!


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Strange, Norrell, Magic and Morality


“Can a magician kill someone with magic?”
“A magician might,” he had replied. “But a gentleman never could.”

[Spoilers ahead for the novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell]

I’m packing in my writing degree and starting a study of Theoretical Magic. I can’t say imaginary academia has ever captured my interest as much as the detailed footnotes and references to books and accounts on magic that help build the world of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Susanna Clarke’s vividly woven alternate history is a fascinating study in slow-burn but effective worldbuilding, but I can gush about that another day—magic has come back to England, and just as it’s blurred the boundaries between wholesome human Earth and the bizarre, terrible nooks and crannies of Faerie, it’s made the nation’s morality a little grey. Or has it?

To backpedal: it’s 1806, and despite once being full of magic-practicing folks—largely due to the country being ruled by a magician king and his fairy army for three centuries—England is now dry of spells and enchantments. Studying the history and theory of magic in England is, however, as much a gentlemanly pursuit as the study of Classical Greece and ballroom dancing. No practical magicians remain… except for Gilbert Norrell, who appears out of the woodwork, slam dunks an entire Society of Learned Magicians into the trash, and makes his way to London to Begin a New Era in English Magic.

He’s a finicky, nervous, haughty and vindictive little bugger, and is keen that he should be the only magician around, and that everyone who wishes to continue studying magic should do it as he directs. When a talented novice named Jonathan Strange approaches, however, Norrell is delighted to have a pupil… though due to Strange being blasé, brave, and equally arrogant and spiteful as his tutor, and with a thirst for a different kind of magic to the one he’s teaching to boot, naturally the two butt heads and end up in a catfight, as well as at opposite ends of a spectrum of magic attitude. Continue reading

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Mary Sues Revisited, Part 2: Practically Perfect in Every Way


[Mary Sues were the very first topic I wrote about on this blog, some years ago. I’d like to re-examine them with my current mindset, under the hopefully true impression that I’m now older and wiser]

The long and short of my opinion on self-insert characters in teen girls’ fanfiction is really: man, who the heck cares? Writing stories that are deeply self-indulgent, highly autobiographical and borrow heavily from other people’s work is an essential (if sometimes embarrassing) part of the growth of a writer. Maybe these young authors will use their trashy OC fanfic as a practicing ground and eventually move on to write Man Booker Prize winners, maybe they’ll just keep it up as a fun creative hobby. If they’re having fun and not hurting anyone—except for annoying the Fandom Guardians, or whoever it is that gets so up in arms about these things—I see no reason they should not be left to their own devices, especially when placing yourself in a fantasy can often be a great source of safety and self-esteem.

If a Mary Sue is defined as being a) an author self-insert, and b) unbelievably perfect and wonderful and ideal and with great cosmic significance, I’m going to try and examine the second point today. Continue reading


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Mary Sues Revisited, Part 1: Insert Self Here


[Mary Sues were the very first topic I wrote about on this blog, some years ago. I’d like to re-examine them with my current mindset, under the hopefully true impression that I’m now older and wiser]

People have been talking about Mary Sues a lot these days, mostly in the great kerfuffle of a conversation that sprang up around Rey, the undisputed heroine of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The young lady did very much awaken the force, and it seems to have upset some folks… though equally as many (if not more) folks have been keen to rebut that Rey being a Mary Sue is a ridiculous accusation, mostly pointing out that she’s a perfectly reasonable and un-Sueish character compared to the male heroes of previous movies. And even if she is some sort of Mary Sue, what’s so wrong with that anyway? Continue reading


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Peaky Blinders vs Boardwalk Empire, the Cage Fight

peaky boardwalks

In the turbulent era between the end of the First World War and the full swing of the Roaring Twenties, a cunning and aloof gangster must navigate a treacherous criminal underworld to rise in power, while being pursued by a staunchly religious but morally grey police officer and trying (unsuccessfully) not to fall in love with a timid girl who’s more of a badass than she seems. Shall we visit this case in Birmingham or Atlantic City?

Basically, everyone’s got a bit of a hype for period drama gangsters right now, leading to the existence of both Peaky Blinders, which follows the English gang of the same name, and Boardwalk Empire, which follows the rise to power of a corrupt politician in Prohibition era America. They both bring up questions of morality, power, religion, corruption, family, and a lot of slick dialogue as they play with the intricacies of criminal politics. After watching the first season of each (a while ago, in Boardwalk Empire’s case, and in the case of Peaky Blinders, I watched all of it in the wee hours of one night, so I apologise for any inaccuracies in referring to either) I’ve decided to have a poke at both to see if one of them wins this proverbial turf war for our viewership. Major spoiler free! Continue reading


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Symbolic Rap Music and Artistic Anachronism


So you’re watching 1612, as one does when one wanders into Russian historical drama marathons that are happening at one’s house, and you’re soaking up the atmosphere—the battles, the weaponry, the costuming, revelling in the attention to historical detail that goes into making an accurate and powerful period movie… and suddenly, there’s a unicorn. A symbolic unicorn, of course, just wandering about, representing the strength and purity of the Mother Nation they’re trying to protect… or, something. The point it, it’s a bit of a shock. And definitely not accurate.

Then again, they may have had unicorns in 17th century Russia. I’m not up to scratch on the history of it. What I and most people are sure of is that Jay-Z wasn’t around producing music in the 1920s, which is a beef a lot of folks had with Baz Lurhman’s Great Gatsby. If you went in expecting luxurious boppy jazz as the soundtrack to lay the historical scene-setting foundations for one of the most famous 20s novels of all time, you were very and possibly not pleasantly surprised. There’s some jazz in there, oh yes, but more prominently is there rap, hip hop and dance music.

To everyone beating sticks against his door protesting the anachronism, Baz declared that he used rap and party music in place of jazz for some of the major scenes because rap is now what jazz was back then—it originated with a similar group of people, it brought them power and let them speak out, it united everyone in a new, upbeat mess of popular music and captured the partying spirit of the time. So when Nick’s walking into Gatsby’s party for the first time and we the audience hear Fergie playing, what Baz is saying is that it’s not necessarily Fergie actually playing, but what Fergie feels like to us is what the music at the party, whatever it is, feels like to Nick. Continue reading

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Pros and Pratfalls of Regenerating Your Cast

Being Human season 5 cast

[Spoilers ahead for Marvel comics and Being Human]

A series’ heart is its characters—whether it’s comedy, tragedy, fantasy, what have you, generally speaking, if you’re going to really capture the audience what you want is a good cast. You could have the most banal or wacky concept in the world, but if you have good characters people like and are interested in, people will watch it. Similarly, you could have the coolest and most fascinating backdrop ever, but without good characters to form that human connection, nothing’s going to glue. So, once you’ve got this band of characters that forms the bridge of audience attachment, you’d be silly to change them, right? Well, not always. Not every series revolves around the same set of fictional people for its entirety, and sometimes it’s beautiful and sometimes it’s bad.

Some series cling to their characters for decades, some change them every few seasons as a matter of course (like Skins), some bring back beloved concepts with new faces (Star Trek: Next Gen perhaps). Every long-running series has a kind of conceptual mould at its heart (e.g. Madoka Magica’s mould is “young girls fight monsters and discover the evil in the system they’re fighting for”) and a set of main characters (Madoka, Homura, Sayaka and co.). Sometimes, if they run long enough, these can get a little tired, so you have to change things up, unless you’ve got something truly episodic with no excessive continuity like old sitcoms. Generally, you can either change the characters (for example, bring in a new group of Magical Girls to follow) or break the mould (now instead of this being a story about fighting monsters it’s about fighting each other and their various dubious motivations).

Comics often keep their moulds, but get new characters within it. The new Thor comics star a woman (to the ecstatic cries of one half of the internet and the groans of the other, of course) not because Thor as we know him has been warped into a sex change, but because a new character has picked up the hammer and gained the powers therein, thus becoming the person to carry the title. So you can still have all your adventures that play with the universe and themes that suit that story, but to keep things fresh there’s a new lead to follow, get attached to, come to understand. It keeps the flavour and formula the same, but changes up the human connection to make things interesting and fresh. Thor was also a frog at one point, I’m pretty sure, so it’s not as if this is something new. Continue reading

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