Freudian Friday: Come Away With Me

Yep, back by popular demand, it’s Freudian Friday! Let’s get down and dirty with some character analysis.

Today I want to talk a little about Doctor Who companions and their motivations for running away with the Doctor… and naturally, I want to talk about some gender issues in the show.

I’ve been lusting after this t-shirt for awhile:

GORGEOUS Threadless t-shirt design by Karen Hallion

The Doctor beckons, and Belle flies to his side. I actually love this t-shirt, entitled, “Adventure Awaits,” and the Cinderella counterpart, “Come Away with Me.”

But this one’s a little troubling. It’s rather shocking to see Belle dropping a book, of all things (heresy!), though we can probably assume that the Doctor has an amazing library in the TARDIS. She wanted adventure in the great wide open, and she’ll get it… but only if she takes the Doctors hand and follows him blindly.

It gets me thinking about the recent companions and their complete disregard for the lives they leave behind. Amy Pond leaves on the eve of her wedding. Martha Jones leaves a promising career. Rose Tyler leaves a boyfriend and her mother and an entire universe.

Granted, many of them leave behind dull, troubled lives. Donna Noble left a rather insipid existence to become fairly badass (though the results were disastrous), and Rose’s life and boyfriend were rather humdrum. Clara Oswold… well, we don’t really understand her motivations yet, do we? But when the Doctor comes along, generally cute and funny, and offers adventures untold in spaces unimagined, the companions snatch the opportunity to leave behind their dull existence and literally fly into a new one.

Young, bright women, abandoning their lives and family to join a mysterious man in his time-travelling spaceship. He beckons, and they come running… and don’t even get me started on how many of these women want to get it on with the Doctor. He’s irresistible, it seems.

There are a very few male companions in the 2005 reboot. Mickey and Rory accompany Rose and Amy, respectively, and Craig has a few of his own adventures with the Doctor. Donna’s grandfather tags along briefly, as does Captain Jack, whose motivations are sexually tense to say the least.

Most of them come along in the hope of some improved image of gallantry: Mickey, Rory, and Craig all want to mack on their ladies, all of whom have more or less abandoned them in favor of the sexy, exciting Doctor.

That doesn’t say much about the women in this universe, does it? They’re turned on by power and adventure, and consequences be damned if as pursue those qualities.

I don’t want to discuss River Song too much here, because a) she’s awesome and b) she carries her own set of fraught sexual issues.

On its face, the Doctor’s offer of adventures in space and time seems liberating. Come away with me, and I’ll show you the universe. It all hinges on him, though. These women, once on these adventures, have far less agency than they did in their ho-hum lives. They get to save children and aliens and the world—and the Doctor himself—but they invariably end up damaged, either emotionally or physically, and with no capability of returning to their normal existence.

Rose is thrown into a parallel universe. Donna has her eyes opened and then, lest the brightness of broad existence kill her, forcibly closed. Amy gives birth to and loses a daughter, and is thrown from her time to live out an existence she would never have chosen. We’ve already seen Clara die twice, and we’ve barely seen her at all.

So is it worth it? Would you trade adventure for certain emotional torture? And is it acceptable for the Doctor to continually snatch ordinary young women from what might have been ordinary, successful-in-small-ways lives?

And what does it say about Doctor Who as a show that the theme is one of a man enlightening and awakening pretty girls?

This is one of those questions that I hate to ask: I hate to scratch the shiny veneer of a show that I love. But there are some troubling issues here.

What do you think, readers? Are the Doctor and his writers misogynist pigs? Do the female companions actually benefit from his company? Would you go away with him?

Why Are Even Powerful Women Victims?

As I watched Emmie Mear’s #SuperWomen Twitter chat roll by me last night, and a variety of contributors trying to contribute names to a list of Super Women in popular culture today, I had some trouble articulating why I’m not a fan of Olivia from Fringe. She’s possibly the most bland character on television today—her evil twin was far more appealing—but that’s not what really bothers me.

No, I hate that she’s still portrayed as a victim: even her apparent “superpowers” came about because some mad-scientists experimented on her when she was a kid. Sure, she’s the only one to survive sane, with her powers intact, but those powers were forced upon her and she’s not that keen on using them.

Her reluctance isn’t caution: it’s fear. These powers only exist because she was abused as a kid. I get that it makes her noble for even thinking about using the abilities,  but the fact is, the show-writers perpetuate the effects of the abuse by forcing the character to never overcome them.

And she’s not the only example of the woman who only receives her powers through abuse: look at River Tam from Firefly, the perennial super-assassin-girl. She’s a badass, but she can’t control her badassery. Her skills are the result of years of brainwashing. A brilliant, bright girl was forcibly changed into a weapon of mass (and self) destruction.

That’s not personal power, folks. That’s rape.

It’s unacceptable for women to receive their super powers only as a result of tinkering by outside forces, especially when those forces are portrayed as male. These shows are basically telling us that these women are only amazing because a man stepped in and made her that way, forcing her out of who she was and into a painful new role. These women are powerful, and I won’t deny that. I just can’t redeem the victim-role they’re forced to play.

The journey for these women is then to integrate that power into their lives—and frequently that requires the aid of a lover, brother, or father. Although I hate to besmirch the name, River Song from Doctor Who is an example of where the path of abusive power-giving leads. She’s awesome (and empowering in other ways), but she only came into her awesomeness because she was programmed by a “religious order or movement” to kill the Doctor.

She overcomes that brainwashing, but only because the Doctor himself devises away to let her fulfill her mission, apparently killing him and satisfying her programming. All her well-laid plans to avoid the moment come to nothing, but the Doctor pulls her out of the fire and saves the day.

That’s really uncool when you think about it.

A strong woman’s journey should not require to overcome her abusive past. It should not require her to seek some man’s aid. It should not require her to integrate someone else’s idea of who she should be into her idea of who she is. Maybe she’s all the stronger for overcoming her past, but it’s still not okay to turn her into a victim. Perhaps making her overcome these challenges is more realistic—what woman doesn’t have to overcome some trauma and the perceptions of the world around her?—but the nice thing about television is that it allows us to move past what is and into what could be.

Buffy is awesome, and her power was inborn. Sure, she was “chosen,” but she had the latent powers there already. Part of her journey is to accept that these powers are a defining part of her, for better or worse.

I hate to be the lone nay-sayer, but I think the female superhero sub-genre has yet to reach its potential. We’re still a long way from giving women power without strings, and we viewers, readers, and writers, have the ability to change that. So let’s keep looking. Let’s keep fighting. We’ll have real Super Women across the board one of these days.

#SuperWomen

What do you think? Are you okay with this trope?

Who are some inherently super-powered women? How about:
Hermione from Harry Potter, who knows that nerdiness is awesome
Arwen from The Lord of the Rings films (who, sadly, chooses to give up her powers for a man, which could be a topic for another blog post!)
Daenerys Targaryen from A Song of Ice and Fire

Can you think of other powerful women victims? I can:
— Caroline Forbes on The Vampire Diaries received her powers from, well, a bite
— Seven of Nine on Star Trek: Voyager, kidnapped and turned into a borg as a kid
Sookie Stackhouse from True Blood, powerful but still vampire bait

Freudian Friday: Religion in Urban Fantasy

Throughout season four of True Blood, my constant refrain was, “This has to be offensive to Wiccans.” From what I know of Wicca, necromancy and murder aren’t high on the list of healthy pastimes.

More prayin’, less slayin’!

Now that season five has rolled around, though, my refrain is, “Whoa, this is super-offensive to Christians!” The vampires worship Lilith and call the “vampire bible” the true sacred text? Yikes.

It’s gotten me thinking about the treatment of religion in works of urban fantasy. Most universes with demons, ghosts, or witches tend to look toward Judeo-Christian mythology and either corrupt it or use it to ‘preach’ to the audience. On the other side of the coin, we have worlds like the ‘Buffy-verse,’ where Wicca is synonymous with the practice of actual magic and there’s very little worship involved. Religion seems to inform these universes by adding a vocabulary and a mythology rather than shaping them with any remnant of accuracy. And that may not be acceptable to viewers with strong religious belief, of any creed or pantheon.

While we can’t treat religion with kid gloves, we should ask: how far is too far?

Note: this blog post will deal mostly with Christian and Neopagan traditions, only because those are the religions with which I am most familiar. Please, if you can think of additional shows with treatments of additional faiths, leave a comment!

Let’s look at a few portrayal of religion in televised urban fantasy (and/or sci-fi):

Supernatural
Operating within the Judeo-Christian mythology, the Winchesters fight demons, ghosts, pagan gods (who inevitably eat humans), witches (who deal with demons), and even angels. Season five deals with the battle between Michael and Lucifer (yep, that Michael and that Lucifer), who want Dean and Sam respectively as their “vessels.” The boys end up locking both Michael and Lucifer into “the cage,” some trap in hell from which even an archangel can’t escape.

That’s dancing on the line of what may be offensive to some viewers, Christian and Neopagan, but the real rub comes from the show’s treatment of God: he’s missing. Portrayed as an absentee father who never appears in the show and causes endless speculation among viewers, God has washed his hands of the whole race and no longer acts even in the capacity of a deistic “divine mover.” And Jesus? The elephant in the room, so to speak, is never even mentioned.

Angels are not soft and fluffy.

True Blood
As mentioned above, we had a season in which Wiccans appear as harmless Goddess-worshippers and quickly fall under the management of a true witch who wields the power of necromancy and harbors a serious vendetta against vampires. Now we’re learning that the Vampire Authority is split between those who worship Lilith by rote and “terrorists” who fight in Lilith’s name to institute the factory-farming of humans. They quote scripture, too.

Characters frequently pray and ask for God’s protection against the supernatural, but we rarely see truly “good Christian” behavior. Our only experience with a pastor is a man who has an affair with a main character’s mother and later performs an exorcism. That’s… not very inspiring.

It seems that True Blood is an equal opportunity offender.

One believer tortures another.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy exists primarily in a dualistic, secular-humanistic universe. There is a First Evil, but the power of Good and the power of Evil are accessible to humans. The Powers That Be employ and equip champions like Buffy and Angel to fight Evil, but other humans are perfectly capable of fighting against evil without supernatural powers. I’m down with that—I really enjoy system built from the ground up, and this one is such that most dualist believers can place their personal mythology around the show’s framework, while non-believers can watch without offense.

But then there’s the whole sticky wicket of Willow’s “Wicca” and subsequent addiction to magic, which I’ve written about before. The conflation of Wicca and “Powers of Darkness” probably isn’t appreciated by practitioners of a religion that aims to harm none and live in harmony with nature.

Willow prepares to sacrifice a lamb as part of a spell to resurrect Buffy.

Charmed
Confession: I’m not a Charmed fan. I never watched it as a teen, and when I tried to watch it as an adult, it just didn’t click for me. (I believe the words “sooooo cheesy” came out of my mouth repeatedly.) The show uses Wicca/witchcraft and Wiccan/witch synonymously, even though the characters operate within a Christian framework. Angst follows when a protagonist who identifies herself as Christian discovers that she’s a witch—even though she’s a witch that fights demons.

The show jams Christian mythology and dualism together with so-called Wicca (which is duotheist, not dualistic) and witchcraft, and the resulting blend tastes a little sour to me. The internet is rife with diatribes from both religions, complaining about how the show is Satanic or just plain inaccurate. (Aside: if you like Charmed, please tell me why. I’m always willing to be convinced.)

I’m not sure how they end up reconciling witchcraft to a Christian outlook.

The X-Files
This show spans way too many episodes and monsters-of-the-week for me to discuss them all, but a recurring theme is Scully’s semi-devout Catholicism at war with the things she sees in the show. The show takes that juxtaposition seriously, and it deals with the ongoing battle of how people explain the presence of great good and great evil in the world.

Although the show portrays witchcraft as a “black art” at times, it also presents a villain from Orthodox Jewish mythology: perhaps, like True Blood it offends across the board. That said, I believe that the show portrays supernatural or religious power as good or bad, depending on what the user makes of it. In this universe, Christians are just as likely to do evil as witches.

Mulder and Scully continually debate the merits of belief in a higher power.

Doctor Who
The X-Files‘s stance brings us to our final example, the classic British sci-fi show that perpetually looks askance at religion. Religion is forbidden on shuttle platforms, along with weapons and teleportation. The universe’s Big Bad, the Daleks, are the ones who kill because of belief and blasphemy. The Doctor himself treats religion with disdain, attributing to it more death and woe than many other human practices. While a discussion of religion in Doctor Who could run textbook length, I think it’s sufficient to say that religion occupies a fraught position in that war-torn universe.

The Doctor mocks the “impure” Daleks, whose own technology does not recognize them.

That’s just a sampling of portrayals of religion in urban fantasy and/or sci-fi, and it doesn’t even include books. What do you think, readers? How well does religion stand up in a world of magic and mayhem? What other shows treat faith with finesse or with brutality?

Your First Doctor

I may need this t-shirt.

You never forget your first doctor.

About this time last year, Drew decided he would finally watch the Doctor Who reboot. My response was something like, “Uh… have fun with that!”

You see, he’d described Doctor Who to me many times in the past, and the idea of a show about a time-travelling alien who could regenerate his “human” form as many times as the show needed to keep the franchise alive just didn’t work for me. Even when you add in that said alien killed all his race in an effort to stop its greatest enemy from destroying the world. Or that the show treats some truly heart-rending topics—travelling back to try to save a loved one, an enslaved race, parting forever from a lover for the benefit of the universe—with enough finesse and brutality to make an angel weep. (You see what I did there?)

As you can probably tell, I came around. When Drew reached the 2010 episodes (series 5 of the reboot) a certain handsome young man and gorgeous redhead repeatedly caught my eye: the Eleventh Doctor and his Companion, Amy Pond.

Still I resisted, because, after all, the Doctor’s greatest enemy is a race of trash-can aliens who roll around waving toilet plungers and saying “EXTERMINATE.” But then Drew reached the series finales of the 2010 run, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw this:

“Who are all these attractive people?” I finally asked. “And why are there Romans?”

“They’re not really Romans,” Drew said.

Um, curiosity: piqued. We watched “The Eleventh Hour,” Matt Smith’s first episode, and the music was so good and the Doctor so adorable, I was completely hooked. At my insistence, we watched all of Matt Smith’s episodes before we jumped back and started with Christopher Eccleston and watched all the way through David Tennant, most viewers’ favorite doctor… and then we went back to Matt Smith

Because even after all the rest, I like the Eleventh Doctor the most. I was charmed by his ability to be both a nine-year-old and a nine-hundred-year-old. He was whimsical and weary, silly and sad. And the music was just so damned good. When he leaves the show, I’ll probably cry and pout and hate the next Doctor forever.

When I saw that ThinkGeek t-shirt, I realized how true it was. Drew still loves Tom Baker, the first Doctor he saw as a kid, the most. And he had the wonderful experience of seeing the show as a child… which, given that it’s technically a show for youngsters, is more than most of us can say. And I think Drew can really sum up why we love the show so much:

“My first Doctor was Tom Baker (I think of a lot of 80s US kids first saw the Doctor through PBS which bought all his episodes).  He was the apotheosis of everything your parents told you not do: he dressed weirdly, he offered candy to everyone he met, and lived his life for the simple joy of turning a rock over and seeing what sort of weird and wonderful creatures were living underneath.
 
We try so hard to proscribe what kids can do: don’t trust strangers, don’t ask questions, don’t play with matches, don’t wander off on your own.  The Doctor doesn’t believe in any of those rules … which is why his companions are always breaking rules 1 & 2 ‘Don’t ask stupid questions’ and ‘Don’t wonder off’. 
Plus the hat.”

Tom Baker and the hat. And the infamous scarf.

So there you have it. It’s am amazing show, one that gets under your skin and never leaves you. If you haven’t seen it, you should definitely give it a try… but choose your first Doctor wisely, because you’ll never forget him. (*coughpickMattSmithcough*)
Are you a Doctor Who fan, readers? Who was your first Doctor? Who is your favorite Doctor, and why?

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2012!

It feels like the start of a very good year. DecemBlog is over now, but I felt weird not posting today, so here I am. Going forward, I think you can expect to see posts from me every weekday.

I have some exciting plans for the future, including a series of Freudian Friday posts about the neuroses of many fantasy characters. Look for the very exciting start to this series on Friday, January 6 with the first installment of “Daddy Issues in Urban Fantasy!”

For now, I leave you with a video of the Christmas Shark visiting my home on Christmas Day. She brought us some presents, didn’t bite anyone, and seriously freaked out the cats. (If you want to know more about the Christmas Shark, watch the Doctor Who special, “A Christmas Carol,” an episode that makes me weep almost every time I watch it.)

You get a very nice tour of my little apartment in this video, and the bonus sound of me laughing. Cheers.

The V-Word

I’m talking about verisimilitude. What did you think I meant, you big weirdo?

Yesterday we talked about what makes a good character according to the Gospel of Jim. We skimmed verisimilitude, though, because this one is tough.

Jim says,

V-factor is the second most important element in creating interesting characters. The most exotic character in the world becomes nothing more than an annoying cartoon figure if he doesn’t behave in a consistant and believeable manner. (*kaffkaff*JAR-JAR*kaffkaff*)

When you are writing your characters, it is absolutely critical that you convey to the reader the sense that your character is a whole, full person with his own life outside the purview of this particular story. This is a task that will take a little bit of time, as your reader follows your character around and sees what is in his world.

So this is part of what I meant when I discussed world-building. People say the devil is in the details, but for a writer, the world is in the details. You have to create a character who exists and has existed in the world you’ve built: your protagonist will have a history in this world, and she won’t bat an eye at the firebats that populate the trees in her backyard. While you may want to describe the firebats in great detail, down to their glowing red ember-eyes, resist that temptation. The more you explain, the more it sounds like you’re trying to convince yourself.

Jim goes on to say that the majority of verisimilitude-creation gets done in scene sequels.

The single most important technique for doing that is through showing your character’s: 1. EMOTIONS 2. REACTIONS and 3. DECISIONS. When something happens in your story, a character with a decent V-factor will react to it. The reader will see his emotional reaction played out, will gain a sense of the logic of a question or problem, and will recognize that the character took a believeable, appropriate course of action in response.

Characters must make rational decisions, and those decisions will be informed as much by their history in your world as by the character’s individual traits. A woman raised in a society that oppresses women will not rebel against that society without some angst and fear about bucking her heritage. Even if she’s a fiesty chick, she’ll still feel some trepidation for going against her upbringing.

Verisimilitude, exaggeration, and exotic position do overlap and can create some friction. A woman raised in that misogynistic society who does not rebel won’t be interesting to read about. To create an interesting character, you need to set her apart by giving her the desire for change and the ability to make a change.

Rory the Nurse

Let’s get more specific. Do you watch Doctor Who? If you don’t, you should. It’s a joy to watch, especially if you enjoy fantasy. Anyway, the Doctor has a variety of companions who tag along on his adventures and act as the viewer’s surrogate, giving us someone with whom we can identify. Rose Tyler is a well-loved companion who may lack a bit on the verisimilitude side, while Rory Williams is a more ho-hum companion who has a high V-factor.

Rory reacts like most of us would: he’s terrified, he bumbles, he’s unsure. A normal person put onto the TARDIS and dealing with scary aliens who erase your memory would probably react similarly. Unfortunately, Rory’s not much fun to watch because he’s too much like us. Viewers and readers like to watch someone special. Otherwise we’d just play The Sims all day instead of reading or watching fantasy.

Rose the Badass

Rose, on the other hand, takes it all in stride. She’ll reason with a Dalek and hug a crying alien. A normal person probably wouldn’t do that. Rose has the V-factor, though, because she’s a normal girl working in a shop and living with her mother. She’s saved from wild improbability by her basic normality. I suspect she’s such a popular companion because the writers struck the perfect balance of verisimilitude, exaggeration, and exotic position.

That’s the trick. You have to balance reality with fantasy. If you play up one of the factors that go into building a character, you’ll push that character too far in another direction.

How do you give your characters verisimilitude? Can you think of some popular unbelievable characters?