13 Months After 13 Reasons Why

Warning for discussions of sensitive material ahead, including suicide and rape.

(You see, Netflix? That’s what you’re supposed to do. Put a trigger warning beforehand.)

Hey, it’s Catherine. Catherine, the Red Lady. That’s right. Don’t adjust your…whatever device you’re reading this on. It’s me, live on the internet. No return engagements, no encore. And this time, absolutely no requests. Get a snack. Settle in. ‘Cause I’m about to tell you why 13 Reasons Why is garbage.

I read 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher in high school. I knew going in that it was about a girl who commits suicide and then leaves behind a series of cassette tapes (what is this, 1994?) narrating why she killed herself, and why her classmates are to blame.

I wasn’t greatly affected by the book because a), I already knew what was coming, and b) I wasn’t suicidal in high school. Depressed, yes, suicidal, no. I didn’t really think much of the book to be totally honest. It was about Stephanie Meyer level prose. Just milquetoast teen melodrama.

Then about a year and a half ago I learned that that book I read in high school was getting its own Netflix series. And I remember thinking to myself, this could potentially be very bad. Suicide is a touchy subject for most people. That’s not to say there should be a taboo on the subject. I think a certain amount of healthy discussion can actually help prevent suicide. It’s all in how you handle it. The important thing is to show suicidal people the consequences of committing such an act, without glorifying suicide or shaming those who might be contemplating it–as if suicidal people don’t have enough to feel bad about. It can be a tenuous feat, which is why most people don’t even touch it. Between glorification and victim shaming, I’m sad to say that 13 Reasons Why succeeds in doing both.

It’s been roughly 13 months since the first season debuted on Netflix, so I think now is a fitting time to discuss it, especially since a second season is in the making why??? Why would they do this?????.

Everyone’s hot take on 13RW is that it’s suicide glorification…which is true. Hannah Baker leaves a suicide note behind for the express purpose of inflicting guilt on everyone she felt had wronged her. Suicide isn’t about other people. Suicides are singular events. People kill themselves because they truly feel they have nothing to live for. They aren’t thinking about revenge or how sad everyone will be about their deaths as they do the deed. They’re just thinking about how everything will finally stop, and maybe there will finally be peace.

Even though it’s mostly Hannah’s point of view guiding the audience through the flashbacks, it’s a boy named Clay who is the narrator. He was in love with Hannah, and only sees her as this guileless cinnamon roll who was too good, too pure for this world™️. Since the two main points of views come from the victim herself and the guy who was blindingly in love with her, of course Hannah’s death is going to feel romanticized.

But at the same time, 13RW also manages to shame suicidal people as well. It paints suicide victims as pathetic and vengeful, as people just seeking attention. Hannah’s tapes torture the people she talks about on them, and then she ensured those tapes were distributed. Not to her parents, who might be horrified to learn of what their daughter went through in that last year but at least they could make sense of this horrendous tragedy and not wonder forever if it was their fault…but to the people Hannah deemed responsible for her death. The backstabbing friends, the slut-shamers, the rapist, and the dismissive counselor. And also Clay; for some reason Hannah decided to torture him for 10 tapes or so before finally revealing that he wasn’t to blame because he was actually really nice to her. And then there’s the contingency that if the tapes are properly listened to and shared, an ally of Hannah’s was going to make sure the tapes went public. It was very clear that this girl was seeking revenge, not peace.

…oh yeah, and all the obvious ones, like the graphic rape scenes and Hannah slitting her wrists onscreen (in the book, she just takes pills, but I guess that doesn’t have any shock value), but everyone else has already covered that.

Look, I appreciate what Selena Gomez and the creators of this show were trying to do. Suicide and depression are serious topics, especially for teenagers, so they made a show specifically targeted at teens to dissuade them from killing themselves. But like the book, this series didn’t have anything poignant to say on the subject. It was essentially thirteen hours of angst and violence porn that only caused an upsurge in teen suicide rates. I haven’t heard of anyone who was comforted by watching the show–only traumatized or further depressed by it. I don’t know that there’s a positive way to portray suicide…but this definitely isn’t it.

And I beg of you, if you are contemplating suicide, consider this your sign not to. Talk to someone. If there’s not a counselor or someone close to you you can open to, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (America): 1-800-273-8255. Or if you’re not American, go look up the hotline for your own country. Because speaking as someone who has been depressed for years and feels as though surviving each day is an uphill battle, believe me when I say: there is always something worth living for. ~TRL

(PS, I wasn’t serious about that “no return engagements” thing, that was just a joke. I’m still going to make posts on here. That is, if I’m still able to if and after Congress repeals net neutrality.)

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Neo-existential Nihilism On The Rise…In Cinema

Existentialism is a pretty ubiquitous term, as my History of Theatre professor once said to me. Essentially existentialism is the examination of the individual and how their own free will shapes the path that their life will take. This is going on the idea that there is no grand scheme or cosmic force that affects the universe or its events. An existential crisis may lead the individual to ask the questions, “What makes life meaningful? Does life mean anything at all?”

Well, a nihilist would say “no”. The word nihilism literally comes from the Latin word meaning “nothing”. A nihilist rejects all conception of intrinsic value in life and existence. There is no meaning to life, so why even try to seek it? Why bother with anything if there’s no point to living?

Take Sherlock. In the beginning, the show seemed like a fun modern imagining about a socially inept detective and his everyman best friend solving crimes and righting wrongs. But at some point…the story changed. By the last season, Sherlock and John were no longer solving crimes. It seemed like all their characters seemed to exist for was to suffer. It was no longer a story with a definite beginning, middle, and end, but just a montage of pain and suffering. It’s like the writers didn’t give a shit anymore about telling a story or honoring the original material. They just wanted to squeeze their money’s worth out of teenage girls in love with Burberry Cumbercooch’s lizard face. The writers presented these mysteries, like how Sherlock survived falling from atop a tall building, or where it was all leading with Moriarty, only to laugh in the viewers’ faces for daring to care about the story in the first place.

Or better yet, look at Star Wars. The original trilogy is a masterpiece in story telling. The reveal of Luke Skywalker being Darth Vader’s son is revered as the most amazing plot twist in cinematic history. People became enchanted with this idea that stories could be clever and tie together in ways you would’ve never seen coming but make perfect sense once the answer is revealed. But the new movie, The Last Jedi, seems to spit on one of the core reasons the original movies were so beloved. The makers knew that people would be speculating about Rey’s origins, because her character was purposely made mysterious to get you wondering about her, only to tell the audience that Rey’s parents are nobodies. There’s no grand plan, it’s just nothing, and the makers think you’re stupid for picking up on clues specifically put there for you, and for trying to solve a mystery when there never really was one in the first place.

Oscar Wilde once said “life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” And nothing has proven him more right than this new age of social numbness, what I call neo-existential nihilism. It seems like humanity is caught in a backwards slide, losing more and more of our empathy day by day. A giant halfwitted bigot is running the United States, Congress is doing nothing to stop him, there’s a new hate crime or school shooting every week, and the only people who seem to give a damn about standing up to it is high school students–the same ones who are getting slaughtered. We live in a time when we care more about getting to own guns than the lives of children. It’s an idea that sounds like it belongs in a gritty dystopian society YA novel, but it’s not. It’s our horrifying reality now. Did we really, as a people, become so disenfranchised with our own species because of Columbine, and 9/11, and all of humanity’s other atrocities, that we lost the ability…to care?

Love Is The Answer (Feminist Media)

A Wrinkle In Time was one of my favorite books as a child. So when I first saw the trailer for the Disney adaptation, I was eager to see it. Meg Murry was just like me: wore glasses, self-deprecating, stubborn, misunderstood, and angry with a world that devalued her. So I was excited to finally see her save the day on the big screen.

What I wasn’t expecting was to burst into tears as Meg angrily declared to the monster that she was flawed, but regardless, she deserved to be loved–a message that 14 year old me really needed to hear. Hell, that’s a message 21 year old me needed to hear.

Less than a year ago, another woman-empowerment movie, Wonder Woman, also directed by a woman and also starring Chris Pine funnily enough, came out. Both movies tell the story of powerful women who fight monsters that are portents for humanity’s inner darkness. At the end of the movie, Diana says that “only love can save the world”, meaning that we must spread love for one another to fight hatred and violence, but A Wrinkle In Time teaches a different but equally important lesson: we must also love ourselves.

This is an important lesson to show young women, especially girls of color. Girls are taught from a young age that they’re automatically in competition with each other, that they must be skinny, dress like mini-fashion models, that they must smile and swallow their anger. Girls of color are especially impressed upon to be more like white girls. Meg’s naturally curly hair is a reoccurring topic in the movie. She ties it up at school because she’s embarrassed that’s not sleek and straight, and when the IT shows her ideal self, her hair is straightened like the popular girl from school.

And society is rough on teenage girls. They mock their YA books, their music, their makeup, their UGG boots, their pumpkin spice lattes. And from as young as age 12, men are already sexualizing these young women, yet teenage girls who want to explore their sexuality are labeled as sluts. So a movie with a girl who saves the day by something as simple as appreciating who she is is a refreshing take on adolescent girlhood. And note, once Meg had learned to herself, the first thing she does is show kindness to the girl who had bullied her at the beginning of the movie, who we see is suffering as much insecurity as Meg herself.

Diana said, “It’s not about deserve. It’s about you believe in. And I believe in love.” Well, Meg Murry shows us there is one person who deserves our love: ourselves. Because our love for ourselves will spark love for others. And only love can truly save the world. ~TRL

I Need A Wayward Sisters Spin-off ASAP

I need to scream about Supernatural for a second. **Spoilers for last night’s episode if you haven’t seen it yet.**

OH MY GOD???? I NEED A SPIN-OFF OF JODY AND DONNA AND THE GIRLS HUNTING LIKE THREE YEARS AGO???? Claire is such a badass!!!!! I love her!!!!!! And I ship her with Kaia so hard!!!!! And I don’t know if that thing that came out of the rift was Kaia resurrected or a Mirrorverse Kaia or what but whatever, Dreamhunter is my new OTP!!!!!!!!

And Jody keeps adopting all these daughters! She and Donna being hunters moms together???? I’m here for that shit!!!

And I love Patience and Alex too! They all bring something to the team and I just don’t mean abilities. JUST SIX BADASS LADIES KICKING SUPERNATURAL ASS. SAVING PEOPLE, HUNTING THINGS. THE FAMILY BUSINESS!!!!!!!!

(I need Charlie and Eileen on this team too. If only they weren’t dead.) ~TRL

How The Greatest Showman Avoids La La Land’s Mistakes

Woo, first post and first movie review of 2018! Let’s dive right into this.

The Greatest Showman deserves every award it’s nominated for and more. I haven’t felt this emotionally boosted and moved by a flick since…well, okay, Moana. (Lin-Manuel Miranda gets me every time.)

Movie musicals are often a hard sell, but with TGS and 2017’s La La Land, they may be on the rise. But I believe the former has shown us all–filmmakers, critics, and casual viewers alike–how to make a truly beloved musical film. Let me explain.

***Ahoy! Spoilers ahead!***

1. Fun!

What is a musical? It’s happy. You’re supposed to leave the theater feeling happier than when you came in. Sure, there are the rule breakers like Les Mis, but the whole point of musical numbers are to evoke emotion, and when you have a diverse cast in colorful costumes inviting you to the circus, how can you expect to feel any way but joyful? The songs and plot are so much more fun than watching two people struggle for a career and whine and be in a miserable relationship with each other. It’s obvious how much fun Hugh Jackman is having in this movie, and his natural charisma and sweetness oozes out in ways he’s not normally allowed to show.

2. Good, Well Sung Music

TGS stars major musical talent: Hugh Jackman, Zendaya, Zac Efron, as well as Broadway power from Keala Settle. Nearly every song was memorable and is sure to make one want to sing along. LLL had two songs of note: the opening number, which had the most charisma of the whole movie because it was actually entertaining and didn’t involve the lukewarm romantic leads, and “City Of Stars” because its monotonous seven-note piano riff gets played over and over throughout the entire movie and gets stuck in your head for a week after watching it. Plus Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are actors, not singers. Gosling sounds half asleep for most of the numbers he’s involved in and Emma Stone, apart from the audition song toward the end, sounds like she’s getting over a case of laryngitis. I know the point isn’t the singing, but for a movie with as high a production quality and as much Oscar buzz as it got, it was an immense letdown.

3. Engaging Romance

Efron and Zendaya immediately have 10x the chemistry that Stone and Gosling had. Maybe that’s just because their characters were so much more likable. Stone plays a bratty, self important, wannabe actress who is either good or bad at acting as the script demands it, and Gosling is an elitist hipster douche who shouts over jazz bands to mansplain what an amazing lost art jazz is. (Also, it’s really irritating watching a white person completely appropriate black culture all for his greedy little hipster self while John Legend, a really talented black musician, is barely a cameo in this movie and his opinions on jazz are chucked in the bin because he added synths and that’s just too mainstream for Mr. Jazz Jesus over here.)

Once all the dazzle of new Hollywood romance fades away, Mia and Sebastian do nothing but spend time apart to focus on their careers or bitch at each other for not being supportive enough because both of them are narcissistic assholes. Zendaya and Efron’s love story gets about 1/4 the amount of screen time that Stone and Gosling had, yet they manage to make you care about their relationship way more effectively. Maybe it’s because their main obstacle is period racism and not each other.

4. A Heavily Featured Ensemble

Even though this is a highly inaccurate because P.T. Barnum was a jerkass con man in real life biofic about the man who invented the circus, the other characters are significant in the movie, and not just props in the protagonist’s story. Efron’s character who is roughly based on James Anthony Bailey, Barnum’s family, and of course, the members of the circus, all get their fair due. My favorite character is probably Lettie, the bearded woman. She could have easily been made into a cheap joke about women with masculine features, but she is arguably the character with the strongest spirit, develops from an insecure washerwoman to a proud performer and shows leadership skills with the rest of the troupe, and leads the most acclaimed number in the whole film, “This Is Me”. La La Land makes the mistake of focusing solely on Mia and Sebastian, who I’ve already defined as uninteresting and unlikable.

5. Depth

La La Land has none of the charm that Greatest Showman has in spades. Also it is incredibly shallow. Now, a good movie doesn’t necessarily have to send some profound message about society or morality, but without charm or wit, it can feel about as vapid as an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Greatest Showman touches on serious subjects like racism and classism without ever crossing over into heavy handed self-importance. La La Land‘s message is more or less, “I deserve to have all my dreams come true because I’m in Los Angeles and I’m giving the absolute minimal effort to be successful and I’m young and attractive.” Greatest Showman‘s message is simple, and a little cliché, but true: “Don’t be a sell out.”

Man, I didn’t realize how much I hated La La Land until I wrote this review.

Anyway, it may be way too early to say, but I think The Greatest Showman is going to end up being my favorite film of 2018. Like I said, it deserves every award. ~TRL

Why I Like Slash

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I am a queer person, and I use the term queer to describe non-heterosexual/non-cisgender people. If you don’t like that term, you may not want to read this article.

There’s a nasty stigma around slash fiction that all the enjoyers and creators of it are crazy fangirls that fetishize same-sex relationships between men. But in my experience, that’s only a very tiny minority. Most slash writers are women, yes, and queer women at that. Here is a forum that talks a bit about the phenomenon of transformative fiction, and why generally women and other minorities are drawn to it more than to straight, cisgender, white men. Basically, minorities enjoy expanding past, or even straight up changing, canon because they crave representation, and material they are able to relate to.

But I’m not here to get into a big conversation about demographics and socio-political zeitgeists. I want to talk about why I like gay fanfiction.

To clarify, when I say “gay”, I don’t mean just mean gay male fanfiction. I have almost as many female/female ships as I do male/male. It’s sad that, as many queer women are involved with fan fic, that the amount of femslash pales drastically in comparison to dudeslash and het fic. (More on that at this link.)

First of all, fan fiction is not exclusively smut. Sex scenes do take up a good portion of the medium, but in most cases, smut accompanies real plot lines, usually a buildup of romantic tension between characters. Most fan fiction sets up the scenario where the characters in question finally admit their feelings for each other…which is usually then followed by sex as a form of catharsis for all the romantic and sexual tension that’s built up over time. The sex is usually a celebration of the getting together, not just porn for the sake of porn.

Second of all, I mentioned above that most slash fan fiction is about two (usually white) cisgender males, written by female-aligned persons. My friend Gemma made a YouTube video about that phenomenon, which you can watch here. It’s easy to pass off male/male fan fiction as young straight women using it as masturbatory material, but, I also stated that most slash fiction writers are queer themselves. So why would gay (I’m using that as an umbrella term here) women spend their time writing about the relations between two men? Sexually, aesthetically, and emotionally, what do homosexual relationships between men have to do with us?

Right now, on Fanfiction.net, the dominating fandom in TV is Supernatural, with over 120,000 fan fictions written for it. On Archive of Our Own, the number of fan fictions is over 170,000. Of those AO3 fan fictions, the top three most commonly written about pairings are all gay relationships between two white men, one of which is incestuous. Dean Winchester/Castiel (Destiel) takes up almost 40%, Dean Winchester/Sam Winchester takes up 14%, and Sam Winchester/Gabriel takes up 6%.

The loathsome BBC Sherlock series has 102,021 fan fics (as of this writing) on AO3, and over 50% of them are Johnlock. Again, two white guys. This leaves the next dominant pairing of the fandom, Sherlock/Molly, in the dust with only 6855 (currently) fics to its name.

And the pattern continues. Marvel Cinematic Universe? Steve Rogers/Bucky Barnes, Steve/Tony Stark, and Clint Barton/Phil Coulson. BBC Merlin? Merlin/Arthur. The entire pantheon of Star Trek? Kirk/Spock. All of Star Wars? Kylo Ren/Hux. ALL WHITE GUYS.

But, maybe with the exception of Kylux, pretty much all of the fandoms I just named all feature white men as their main characters. They are the most developed and central to the story. And usually, their connection to each other is the most meaningful, even though both parties may have female love interests in their life:

  • Except for his brother, Dean Winchester’s most important connection is to Castiel. The angel even says himself that he and Dean have a “profound bond”. Even though Dean’s supposed “love of his life” is a woman named Lisa, who is promptly shunted to the side whenever the plot shows up and eventually put on a bus, never to return to the show.
  • Bucky Barnes is Steve’s best friend for life, and when forced to choose between Bucky and his loyalty to the Avengers (not to mention his own personal freedom and safety), Steve picks Bucky without a moment’s hesitation. Even though Steve is maybe? dating Peggy Carter’s niece?
  • And everyone, even non-slashers, sings praises to the deep friendship of Kirk and Spock, the slash pairing that more or less started it all. Even Gene Roddenberry himself wrote into the novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture that their connection “had been the touching of two minds which the old poets of Spock’s home planet had proclaimed as superior even to the wild physical love which affected Vulcans every seventh year during pon farr” and called them soulmates. Even though Kirk is the essential “ladies’ man” and Spock is “supposed” to have no feelings.

Even a fandom like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, which is dominated by strong female characters, a good amount of which are lesbians/queer, the second most popular relationship tag on AO3 is a non-canon m/m pairing (two white dudes, of course; ones who have little to no significant interaction, I may add). The first and third are het couples, and the very prominent lesbian pairing that is canon comes fourth.

However, there are exceptions to every rule. The Once Upon A Time fandom (I wrote a bit about feminism, or lack thereof, in the show in this post), despite the fervor of the Emma Swan/Captain Hook shippers, currently has more Emma/Regina Mills fics on AO3 than any other pairing. A f/f pairing! And one of them is sort of a WOC! (Lana Parrilla is Latina, but her character isn’t necessarily. I mean, Mills is a pretty white last name.)

But this is not about me trying to convince you to ship what I ship, or even have a deep in-depth conversation about the nuances of fandoms in cases of race, gender, or sexuality. I’m just trying to explain why I like slash.

Kirk and Spock. Dean and Cas. Steve and Bucky. Holmes and Watson. These are indelible bonds that endure the test of time. Kirk loved Spock so much, he threw away his entire career just for the chance to bring him back from the dead. And to quote the greatest movie of all time: death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.

When I ship characters together, it’s not because of how attractive they are or if I think they’d have hot sex scenes together. I see this connection between them, this kindredness in their souls that scream that they are at their strongest together, and that they make each other feel whole and content. And I’m sorry to say, but I usually see that in pop culture between the main man and his “bro” rather than between the two heterosexual love interests. Very seldom do I see the protagonist and their opposite sex partner share that intense yet tender bond (there are the exceptions: Buffy and Angel, Smallville‘s Clark and Lois). Maybe that’s because screenwriters don’t know how to write meaningful romance. Or maybe actors have trouble portraying that deep need. Whatever the cause, for the most part, slash just seems to work better. So until Hollywood dramatically improves its m/f relationships, I’m gonna keep on shipping the gay. ~TRL

“Wynonna Earp” Is Everything “Once Upon A Time” Should Have Been

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**Spoilers ahoy.**

Our main character is a badass woman in a leather jacket, with past childhood trauma and a history of institutionalization. She is forced to travel to a small town that contains clues about her origins – apparently, one of her ancestors (or two) were legends. She teams up with a man in law enforcement. Her greatest wish is reconnect with her family. She’s the chosen one who has to save the tiny town she and her loved ones live in by fighting supernatural forces.

I used to love the TV show Once Upon A Time. Emma Swan was everything I wanted in a strong female character. But ever since…ohhhh, around season 3, the show’s been on a downhill tumble. It got so pathetic that I straight up quit watching after a while. There comes a time when you realize a show isn’t going through a bad spell–it’s just not good anymore.

Wynonna Earp, like OUAT, is about a woman who is the descendant of a famous hero. The show is based on the mythos of Wyatt Earp and the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Wynonna is a complex anti-hero who teams up with her sister and other characters to protect her town and break her family’s curse. I’ve watched the first season and man, is it good. But I can’t ignore the more than passing similarities to the fairytale show I used to enjoy.

What Once Upon A Time Did Wrong

When OUAT began, it promised a show about strong women, family, and the power of true love. The main story was about Emma and her strained relationship with her son, her journey to believing in fairy tales–and herself–and Regina Mills’s attempt at redemption for the sake of her beloved son and her struggle with her dark side.

But all these fresh new ideas were shunted to focus on the toxic guyliner-wearing fuckhead Captain Hook, who from his first appearance made an impression as a disgusting slimeball who comes off as a bit rapey. And Emma gives up all her strength and agency when she bewilderingly falls in love with this festering pile of leather. Regina, Henry, Snow and Charming–they were all forgotten, painted into the background as a backdrop for the dais worshipping the all wonderful King Hook and his abusive relationship with Emma.

And this is to say nothing of how the show has completely exhausted its vault of ideas, despite having the entire Disney pantheon at its disposal, or that only one (1) of the main cast is a POC, and that the LGBT community only got one (1), rushed, undeveloped arc shoved into one (1) single episode.

TL;DR: Terrible character development, stale plot arc, practically no representation for anyone who isn’t white and straight.

What Wynonna Earp Did Right

Wynonna is a well developed character, clever, strong, and flawed. Her relationship to her sister outshines either of the relationships she has with her two love interests. The cast is significantly more racially diverse than that of OUAT, and the lesbian relationship between Waverly and Nicole easily gets as much attention as Wynnona and Dolls or Wynonna and Doc.

(Doc Holliday being an immortal sassmouth is probably the coolest thing about this show, to be totally honest.)

Also, Doc and Dolls are both great guys, complex in their own right and vastly different from each other but still utterly lovable, and they both adore and respect Wynonna. And her character isn’t sacrificed for the sake of her relationship with either of them. A female character who isn’t defined by her relationships with men! So refreshing.

I have strong hopes for Wynonna Earp. I just hope I won’t be disappointed again. ~TRL