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The Trickster Archetype in Pop Culture, Part Four: The Trickster is YOU!

goose_screenshot-14

When I talk about “the Trickster archetype” here, I’ve been using it to refer to fictional characters, with “archetype” being essentially a synonym for “really old codified trope”. But this phrase has also been used in more psychological contexts, specifically those drawing from the work of Carl Jung, who played with the idea that we each have our own inner Trickster, a manifestation of our playful, childlike, perhaps even animalistic subconscious. Creativity can be considered a “trickster impulse”, as can the urge for rebellion (a combo of the two is perhaps the most powerful modern Trickery there is—Helena Bassil-Morozow talks about this a fair bit in The Trickster and the System). I keep saying that we come back to this character type again and again because it means something to us, and whether I intend to or not I’m being pretty Jungian with that statement: maybe Trickster characters have such a strong appeal because they scratch a deep subconscious itch, call to us on a fundamental psychological level, and are ultimately “fantasy figures who do what we cannot or dare not” (to quote Lori Landay), fulfilling an ancient and intrinsic yearning for power and playfulness, and, well, to be a bit of a shit now and then. Continue reading

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

this cat

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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‘Let’s Talk About Love’, ‘Tash Hearts Tolstoy’, and the Asexual Coming-of-Age Story

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Sex is considered an intrinsic part of being human, and the development of a relationship with sex and sexuality an intrinsic part of growing up. This societal narrative leaves people on the asexual spectrum—those who do not experience sexual attraction—on the margins and considered abnormal. This can have an especially negative effect on asexual adolescents who are not experiencing the ‘rite of passage’ that is sexual desire and experimentation with sexual relationships. This is why—as with all queer identities—it is important to represent and normalise asexuality within fiction, particularly fiction aimed at young people.

In this paper I examine two young adult novels with asexual protagonists—Kathryn Ormsbee’s Tash Hearts Tolstoy (2017) and Claire Kann’s Let’s Talk About Love (2018)—and how their protagonists’ asexual identity is woven into their coming-of-age stories and romance arcs. I explore the tropes, stereotypes, and misconceptions that have traditionally informed media depictions of asexuality, and how these novels divert from them to provide a more accurate and nuanced representation of the asexual experience; and, in doing so, establish patterns and tropes of their own from which a uniquely ‘asexual narrative’ suggests itself.

This academic paper is now published, out in the world, and free to read in RoundTable!

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Queer Allegory and Queer Actuality in Every Heart a Doorway

The novella Every Heart a Doorway asks “what happens to the kids who come back from those portal fantasy adventures we all know and love, but can’t quite adjust to life back in the so-called real world?” On a deeper, even more metatextual level, the story also asks “what if we took all that queerness bubbling away in the portal fantasy genre and brought it to the surface?”

Presented at the South Australian Gender, Sex, and Sexuality conference 2019, and now recorded and YouTube-ified for ease of access!

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The Butterfly Effect – Scholarly Edition

2019-09-17

My presentation on how Life is Strange and Until Dawn let us mess around with tropes (and interrupt them in motion) is now published as a journal paper! It’s free to read here.

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The Trickster Archetype in Pop Culture, Part Three: Tricky Ladies

jamie moriarty

I spent my 2017 academic year picking a fight with Joseph Campbell and his blithe assumption that The Hero can only ever be a dude. Well, as my focus shifts from Heroes to Tricksters, the same issues crop up. The most famous mythological Tricksters discussed in the field and in popular culture tend to come from the following list: Norse Loki, Greek Hermes, West African Anansi, Polynesian Maui, and various versions of the archetype that appear in Native American mythology in the form of the Coyote, Raven, and Hare characters. These are all Trickster gods rather than goddesses. Lewis Hyde—whose book Trickster Makes This World I’ve quoted a few times in this series—quite confidently declared that “All the standard tricksters are male”. And, in a broad sense, he’s correct. But does this need to be the case? There are plenty of folks—including one particular writer I’ll be looking at today—who say “c’mon, my guy” and disagree. Continue reading

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The Trickster Archetype in Pop Culture, Part Two: Better the Devil You Know

The Good Place - Season 1

In the midst of talking about what Tricksters are, let’s take another brief interlude to talk about what they’re not. Last time I mentioned that Kyuubey isn’t a Trickster just because they’re tricky, and neither are most others who fill the sort of Faustian demon role in their story, and I want to expand on that. However, I also want to look at a couple of demonic (or demon-ish) characters from fiction who do fit the archetype, and explore exactly why. Demons and devils (and fantastical equivalents of these things) can be Tricksters, but it’s not because of their devilishness. Rather, it’s almost in spite of their devilishness, and comes down to a few key points including, once again, their place in the narrative itself. With a spoiler warning for both The Good Place and the recent state of the Black Butler manga, let’s dive in. Continue reading

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