This post contains spoilers for “Nosedive”, the first episode of Season 3 of Black Mirror.
I have a love/hate relationship with Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror. For the most part, it does exactly what it says on the tin: offers up a dark reflection of our world (or a near-future version of it) for consideration. While the reflection is usually somewhat askew, we can still identify aspects of ourselves staring back at us through the glass, which is what makes the series so uniquely disquieting. Part horror and part satire, each standalone tale of dystopia seems to whisper: “Watch your step, because this nightmare world is just around the corner.”
However, in its quest to satirize the technological and/or cultural phenomena that govern our world, Black Mirror often fails to engage with those phenomena in a meaningful way, falling back on smug technophobia and intense cynicism to propel the action towards the most horrifying conclusion imaginable. As Kathryn VanArendonk puts it “the show’s primary crutch is too often that it uses thought-provoking and fascinating foundations in order to reach the simplest, most alarmist possible conclusion about a variety of technological innovations.”
Nowhere is this weakness more apparent than in “Nosedive”, the first episode of the newly released third season.
I was a Pokéchild. I had a biscuit tin full of meticulously sorted trading cards and an undefeated Psychic deck built around Alakazam’s intensely frustrating Damage Swap power. My sister and I religiously watched each new episode of the animated series as it aired on Sky One at 8am every morning. The morning they surprised us with a double episode finale, we were late for school. When the Gameboy release eventually dropped in Ireland and I got my sweaty little paws on Pokémon Red, I spent a long and indolent summer trading and battling on the green with the kids in my neighbourhood. I played so much that I would go to bed with the infamously tinny Pokémon music still ringing in my ears. Back then, the world of Pokémon was colourless and rigidly two-dimensional, the gameplay repetitive and the storytelling lacklustre. But for all its flaws, the contents of that little red cartridge instilled in me a profound sense of wonder and curiosity.
I was eleven years old when the Pokémon craze swept through Ireland, which was also the average age of the protagonists in both the animated series and the games. I think, for many kids of my age, the near-universal appeal of the franchise didn’t come the collectability of the monsters nor the adrenaline of the battles (though these things were certainly factors). The beating heart of Pokémon was a world that said, “Hey kid, imagine if, instead of sitting at home and doing boring homework, you could be out travelling the world on an important mission with a loyal band of fantastic beast companions at your side?” It was an intoxicating proposition. When my Gameboy batteries were eventually confiscated and I was forced to go to sleep, I would indulge in detailed fantasies about what my life would be like if Pokémon were real.
Fast-forward to 2016 and suddenly the world of Pokémon is more real than that eleven year-old girl furiously tapping away at her Gameboy could ever have imagined. In 1999, the idea that almost everyone in Ireland would own a pocket-sized personal computer – one that could make video calls, respond to voice commands and surf the World Wide Web in full colour – was the stuff of science fiction. Now, my phone acts as a window to a parallel universe, an alternate world where vibrant monsters frolick in the streets. Pokémon Go creates a simultaneous sense of being privy to a magical secret and being part of a vast communal experience. The wonder is back and this time it’s on par with tumbling through the wardrobe into Narnia.
For the past two years I have been quietly enjoying Penny Dreadful or, as my pal Ádhamh calls it, Eva Green’s Weekly Hour of Scenery Chewing. It’s a slick little series about classic horror characters getting into scrapes with vampires against the delightful backdrop of Gothic Victorian London. The production is polished, the cast is stellar, the costumes are stunning and there are pleasing twists on familiar literary figures. It also has a complex and intriguing lady character as its main protagonist and I am not above admitting that I could watch Eva Green chew the scenery all day long. Truly, all was going well, until last week when a shock series finale killed off Vanessa Ives and the whole series ground to screeching and profoundly unsatisfying halt.
John Logan claims that this surprise ending was nothing to do with ratings and everything to do with serving the story, a claim on which I call hefty amounts of BULLSHIT because no writer could honestly claim that this rushed and truncated excuse for an ending was part of his vision all along. On the most basic level, so much of it made no narrative sense. Here are eight reasons why:
1. The gang’s all back together but… why?
Victor Frankenstein has had zero contact with Malcolm or Ethan for an entire season, but when they run into him by pure chance in the hallway in Bedlam they’re like, “Oh hey, we’re about to go on suicide mission to save Vanessa who you also have not seen in an entire season, want in?” and he’s like YES OK NICE TO SEE YOU WHY NOT! This contrivance seems to be purely for the sake of getting the old gang back together for the big finale, which is… why? I mean, Victor is cute and all, but he also spent the entire season trying to violently brainwash Lily into dating him again, which puts him squarely on TEAM VILLAIN. Victor Frankenstein is a bad person and he’s also fairly useless in a fight and also HE’S BEEN IN A DIFFERENT STORYLINE FOR THE WHOLE SEASON so why on earth did he have to be there?
Vikings is a show that gets its women so very right that it never fails to send my shrivelled little feminist heart a-flutter with each new episode. Season 3 is exactly two weeks away, which is the perfect opportunity to vent some of my excitement by publishing a celebration of the ladies of Vikings that I’ve been sitting on for quite a while.
Before we begin, I want to point you towards Sophia McDougall’s excellent essay on the trope of the Strong Female Character, which is recommended background reading before we dive into Scandinavia circa 800 AD. McDougall’s view is that it’s limiting and reductive to evaluate female characters solely on their strength; especially when “strength” almost always means “being able to swing a sword” or “being feisty and not taking bullshit”. This essay forms the basis of a lot of my thinking on what makes a good female character. When I refer to a Strong Female Character in this post, I’m referring to the trope as outlined in McDougall’s work.
And without further ado, I give you my thoughts on the ladies of Vikings. SPOILER ALERTS FOR SEASONS 1 & 2 THROUGHOUT, so if you’re planning to watch the series and also need some excellent lady characters in your life, just take my word for it, go, go watch it right now, shoo!
OK, Internet. New Game of Thrones just started, and I know we’re all very excited. Before the deluge of internet commentary really begins, I think this is an appropriate moment to have a chat about the relationship between fiction and history, and more specifically the relationship between the fantasy genre and the specific periods of Euro-centric history from which it tends to borrow heavily. And specifically, to answer the question: what do we mean by historical accuracy?
It’s a tale as old as the Internet. Someone writes an article about a book/film/game/ interpretative shadow-puppet musical from the fantasy genre. Some members of the audience say, “Hey, I really like this thing, but I would like it more if the women were not being sexually assaulted quite so constantly and the brown people were not costumed entirely in Generic Tribal Chic.” Then, without fail, a deeply indignant nerd type will pop his head over the parapet of the comment box and let forth his ancient war cry: “BUT HISTOOOOOOORY THEREFORE YOUR ARGUMENT IS INVAAAAAALID!!!”
It may seem like I’m overstating for effect here, but this exact exchange just happened on a recent post from Media Diversified. Shane Thomas made some excellent (and, at this stage, well-worn) points about Game of Thrones and its race problems. This attracted the attention of one intrepid commenter, who didn’t bother to read the whole post but nonetheless left a long comment – equal parts condescending and clueless – which boiled down to, “The Mongols existed at some point, therefore Game of Thrones can’t be racist.” In his response, Thomas acknowledges that he is aware that history is indeed a thing, but the fact that history is extremely racist does not give a modern TV show set in a fictional world a free pass to also be racist.
Housekeeping: This post is based solely characterisations in the TV show.SPOILERS for Game of Thrones up to Season 3.
I like Game of Thrones for many reasons, up to and including my pantsfeelings for Tyrion. But as the series has developed, one thing that has really stood out to me for all the right reasons is the characterisation and treatment of female characters. When feminists advocate for more strong female characters and better treatment of female characters, a lot of people seem to hear ALL FEMALE CHARACTERS MUST BE PERFECT and NO BAD THINGS MUST EVER HAPPEN TO FEMALE CHARACTERS, respectively. This is not what we are advocating for. We are advocating for female characters who are, respectively, well-rounded and flawed in interesting ways, and who are more than disposable props used to further the male protagonist’s emotional journey.
Game of Thrones is full of women; all of them are flawed, some of them are outright detestable and, as one would expect, they are in no way immune to having graphically violent things happen to them. Granted, those violent things are usually pertinently gendered (we did all just watch a lady get stabbed to death in her pregnant belly a few weeks ago) and deserving of their own discussion, but in terms of character creation, the series has so far done an excellent job of portraying the women of Westeros as complex and engaging. Read More »
I just watched the first two episodes of the new HBO series, Girls.
First off, I acknowledge that any show featuring a main character who is a 24 year-old publishing intern with a major in English Lit, currently writing her memoirs in essay format and having a casual sex thing with an actor is … already hitting scarily close to home.
There’s also been a lot of backlash against this show (which I, obviously, have to work hard not to take as backlash against my life personally.) A lot of it, despite being wrapped up in palatable words like “shallow” and “unnecessary,” still reeks of my favourite flavour: MISOGYNY!
Honestly, I’m not going to even address the RARRR-GIRLS-DOING-THINGS-NO-ONE-WANTS-TO-SEE-THAT bullshit, except to say that it is getting tiresome wading through the same old thinly-veiled “arguments” any time a woman makes something about and/or for women. That said, some of the backlash is totally legitimate, such as the almost total absence of characters of colour except in incidental, stereotyped background roles. I hope this is something Lena Dunham et al take into account when introducing new characters.
Apart from that, I enjoyed my viewing experience immensely and apart from the aforementioned creepy parallels, here are some things I really relate to: