I like Transformers now, and I like Starscream. Who’d have thought? And who’d have thought it would lead me down a tangent about the mythological archetype of the Trickster and the blurring of the gender binary within?
It’s the high heels, is what it is. The Transformers property I’ve grown attached to is the 2011-2013 animated series Transformers Prime, which WB got me into, and in which Starscream is rocking a pair of stilettos built in to his very mechanics. Many of the characters went through a design overhaul for Prime, most notably baddies like Soundwave, who is no longer a walking boombox that you can slot other Decepticons into; and Starscream, who’s now delightfully spindly and spiky compared to his earlier, blockier counterparts, and who now has better-looking legs than me complete with those wonderful heels. To me, this look conveys his character well—one glance at this robot and you can tell he’s bad news, but you can also tell what kind of bad news he is. Continue reading
This post is a modified version of a presentation I gave at the AAWP conference in South Australia at the end of November. I got a lot of positive feedback, which is very exciting since it was my first time being part of an event like that! Mostly, I’m just delighted they let me talk about cartoons. But hey, if you can wrap it in a scholarly framework, you can talk about whatever you please. It’s really rather wonderful. So without further ado…
I’ve talked a lot about The Hero’s Journey on this slice of the internet—one of the first posts I made applying my studies to pop culture was looking at Moana as a Hero figure, and one of the most recent was looking at Revolutionary Girl Utena. For some beautiful symmetry, I’ve brought the two together, to examine how they both work as critiques of Joseph Campbell’s model in their own ways, laying a challenge to the static image of The Hero and the gendered implications of Campbell’s text. One is a metatextual challenge, telling the story of a girl who just happens to be a Hero and silently asking the audience (and the pre-conceived assumptions they’re bringing into the cinema) “why not?”, and one is a much more direct in-text challenge that ends up tearing the whole business apart. Both are valid and both are effective, and both tell, in my opinion, really fun and interesting stories along the way.
But first, let’s look at The Hero’s Journey, and why it’s important that these contemporary stories are playing with this familiar model and critiquing it. Continue reading
I thought of her as a goddess once…
–Revolutionary Girl Utena, Episode 38 ‘The Ends of the World’
It’s a rough lot, being a woman in a fictional world, especially if your world is one built on the unambiguous lesson-teaching foundations of the fairy tale or the symbolism-laden slippery slope of myth. Either way, job options are scarce and you will inevitably end up in a symbolic or supporting role that props up the heroism of the main male character, be he Hero or Prince. This is something Revolutionary Girl Utena knows well, and goes to great measures to critique: first by showing a fairy tale maiden who aspires to be a Prince herself, and second by showing a fairy tale maiden who remains trapped within the expected archetypes of her genre and who is having literally the worst time in the world because of it.
Strap in, gang. It’s time for me to organise my thoughts on Anthy and what we learn about her in Episode 34, through the framework of theories of myth and how the show uses and then breaks them down. Absolute mega spoilers to follow. Continue reading
Look… your teen years are confusing as hell. In many cases I think dousing coming of age stories in magic and metaphor actually helps us comprehend them, which is perhaps why we as storytellers love structures like The Hero’s Journey so much, and also perhaps why Revolutionary Girl Utena so loves dealing in the abstract. The show’s first arc gives us the story not just of our hero Utena’s first steps into the strange dreamlike world of the duelling society, but her first clumsy steps into the world of young adulthood: the First Threshold she has to cross and the necessary first defeat that she has to go through on her personal Hero’s Journey. Just as ol’ Joe Campbell says heroes and mythic figures have to die to be reborn, so does childhood have to “die” to let said heroes grow towards maturity. For our hero Utena this first death/rebirth takes place at the climax of the Student Council Arc, and includes facing all the terrors of sexual maturity, self-identification, and the sad truth that comforting as they are, fairy tale tropes cannot always be applied to real life, and sometimes the “handsome prince” is a manipulative sack of dicks that you need to challenge to a swordfight. Continue reading
Recently, me and the rest of my cohort were tasked with summing our projects up in a short presentation–an exercise in all sorts of important skills, such as public speaking, and the ability to get your ideas across in a bitesized and succinct conversation rather than trapping everyone who asks about it in a long-winded in-depth discussion of research until their brains melt out their ears. Unfortunately, I had something approximate to The Black Death that week and couldn’t physically present, so I recorded the mini-lecture-that-would-have-been to send in for assessment. I thought I may as well post it here as well, as a further exercise in self-promotion and slowly moving past the instinctive insecurity I get at hearing my own voice. So without further ado: heroes! Gender! Archetypes! Woohoo!
If you really can’t be bothered, here’s the Three Second Thesis: Joseph Campbell says that The Hero is always a boy, and I think that’s a bit silly, so I’m writing about a Hero that’s a girl. It’s much more complex than that, though, really, so hopefully you can be bothered, and take a listen to the talk below (I do lose my voice at the very end, but bear with me–it’s a big improvement!):
Transcript: Continue reading
Let me tell you some spicy goss I’ve dug up in my research.
If you’ve been with this blog for a while, you might remember my abridged guide to The Hero’s Journey, Joseph Campbell’s mythological theory of the Universal Narrative that is repeated as a pattern throughout the literature and folklore of the ancient world and deeply informs our current pop culture. You may also remember me tilting my head a little and pondering here and there that hey, this book kind of works on the assumption that the titular Hero is a dude most of the time. I am, it turns out, not the only reader who picked up on this. In 1981, scholar and therapist Maureen Murdock asked Campbell if there was a feminine equivalent to the decidedly masculine-tinted Hero’s Journey, and Campbell replied that…
“Women don’t need to make the Journey. In the whole of mythological tradition woman is there. All she has to do is realize that she’s the place people are trying to get to.”
Murdock, I can only imagine, kind of went:
…and in 1990 published her own book called The Heroine’s Journey. Continue reading
Gather round, gang! Like I did a few posts ago with The Cauldron of Story, it’s time to take some literary theory I’ve come across in my research and apply it to modern media—in this case, Barbara Fass Leavy’s weighty and extensive discussion of folklore about supernatural marriages, and an overtly cute anime about a dragon who is also a maid.
[Hey, if you’re viewing this in the WordPress reader, please jump to the actual blog page and check out my sweet new banner by Jess Rose! And take a gander at her other stuff too–she’s just opened commissions, winky face]