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Fiction’s Fearless Females: Norma Bates

March is Women’s History Month, and both of us here at Graphic Novelty² have joined forces for the third year with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate women under the auspicious blogging series title of: Fiction’s Fearless Females! During this month, we will have six bloggers sharing who they believe is a fictional woman to be admired, and we will share each entry of the series on our blog. Today’s post comes from Kalie of Just Dread-Full, a superb blog centered on the horror genre. 

One thing worth noting about the horror genre is that it produces images that resist quick mental erasure.  From the statuesque model who turns into a decrepit, decaying old woman in the infamous shower scene of The Shining to the bloody womb hanging limply outside the skin of Nola Carveth in The Brood, horror does nothing if not supply us with grotesque images of often monstrous women.  Psycho’s Norma Bates, then, is no exception.  In Hitchcock’s original film, Psycho, we see Norma not as a mommy so much as a stereotypical mummy; all that is left of her is a skeletal, eyeless frame and some tousled hair pulled back in a bun. We hear her character, and therefore understand her character, only through Marion Crane’s ears as the delusional Norman voices her from afar in the antiquated Victorian house on the hill outside Bates Motel.  But Norma is a famous mummy, and a famous mommy, to be sure, one who lingers in the mind of the viewer long after the theater lights go on, and one who has lingered in the cultural imagination now for sixty-one years and counting.  Significantly, Norma Bates didn’t get to speak for herself until 2013, when the hit TV show Bates Motel rescued and re-invented her character through Vera Farmiga’s portrayal of her as Norman’s mildly cooky but vivacious and loving mom.  As a woman who navigates an excruciating past, a corrupt, drug-infested city, and a psychotic son with surprising sangfroid, Norma Bates in Bates Motel is who I choose to feature this year for the annual Fiction’s Fearless Females blogathon. 

Continue reading “Fiction’s Fearless Females: Norma Bates”

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Lisa Simpson

March is Women’s History Month, and both of us here at Graphic Novelty² have joined forces for the third year with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate women under the auspicious blogging series title of: Fiction’s Fearless Females! During this month, we will have six bloggers sharing who they believe is a fictional woman to be admired, and we will share each entry of the series on our blog. Today’s post comes from Jesse of the Green Onion, reposted with permission.

Oh, it is good to be back in the blogging ring.  Specifically, when it comes to collaborating with all the other amazing bloggers.  And once more I am grateful to throw my words into the Fiction’s Fearless Females series.

Fiction’s Fearless Females (#FFF) is a cross-blog event that has been going strong for years now.  Each year a collection of my favourite friends and bloggers come together to celebrate women in fiction.

This year’s line-up includes the usual suspects including posts coming throughout the month from Nancy at Graphic Novelty₂, Kalie at Just Dread-Full, and Jeff at The Imperial Talker.  Thankfully, you won’t have to wait much longer.  Plus, it gives you time to catch up on the masterful additions to #FFF already available.

This year, Kathleen of Graphic Novelty₂ launched the series with an exploration of Kara Zor-El – the best of the Super-Girls.  Michael J. Miller of My Comic Relief followed it up with everything you could possibly need to know about Doctor Who’s Martha Jones.  Both are worth reading right now.  So, go ahead, I’ll save your spot here.

Choosing a character for the #FFF series is harder than you might think.  There are so many amazing women to explore throughout pop culture.  When the #FFF first began, I was quick to write about Ripley from the Alien franchise.  An easy choice I would easily make again.  This year I wanted to find a character equally deserving to be in this collection of fantastic fictional females.

I gave this some deep thought.  There are three criteria for a character to be added to this series.  They have to be fictional – obviously.  They have to be “fearless”, which can be taken in many ways, but we don’t need any one-note distressed damsels.  And finally, they should celebrate femininity.  While there are many characters that fall into these categories, for me, there was one that stood out in all three.

Lisa Marie Simpson.

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Fictional

The Simpsons has been on television since 1987, first appearing as shorts during The Tracy Ullman Show.  We all know what happened next.  As the show landed its own ongoing series in 1989, The Simpsons exploded becoming the most popular television program of the 90s.  Redefining and dominating adult animation as a media.  And has gone on to become the longest-running scripted television show in history, currently running a 32nd season and weeks away from premiering the 700th episode.

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Beyond the small screen, Lisa Simpson has appeared in every form of merchandise there is from action figures to toothbrushes.  The Simpsons Movie brought Lisa and her family to theatres in 2007.  She has appeared in video games on nearly every console since the classic NES.  And comic books galore, including her own self-titled Lisa Comics, which lasted one glorious issue with a parody of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

You cannot mention Lisa Simpson without mentioning Yeardley Smith, the beloved voice and advocate for all things Lisa.  For which, Smith won the 1992 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Voice Performance as well as many other accolades.  Three decades later, and Smith continues her role as well as being one of the biggest faces for the series appearing at conventions and panels year-in-and-year-out.

As far as fictional goes, Lisa Simpson fits the bill.  It could even be argued that she is the most recognizable female character on the planet.  In fact, she is one of just a handful of fictional women on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

Fearless

When it comes to hitting the ‘fearless’ category, Lisa does not have the raw power of most of the other fictional females.  We are talking about an eight-year-old girl here.  However, I do not think that anyone could argue that Lisa Simpson could be defined as “fearless”.

Lisa Simpson started out as another childish character, getting into antics as much as her brother, Bart.  However, her character began to shift early.  She has become one of the most intelligent figures in all of Springfield and she is never afraid to show it.  Lisa is now one of the strongest liberal voices in primetime television.  And she stands for a wide range of causes.

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Though she feels like an outcast from her town and family for her beliefs, Lisa is not afraid of progression.  In fact, of all the characters in the show, Lisa has shown the most growth and stuck to her guns.  In season seven, Lisa became a vegetarian and some years later she adapted to Buddhism.

When it comes to activism, Lisa is at the frontline.  She is a feminist, often getting into disagreements with her mothers’ traditional guidance.  Lisa Simpson is a figure of environmentalism, winning real-world awards for being a voice of the planet.  She was even named as one of the animal-friendly TV characters of all-time by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. 

In a town that is at times meant to showcase America at its worst, Lisa is always the opposition.  Bravely she will not allow anyone to get between her and what is right.  Her left-wing ways have become legendary.  Ted Cruz has referred to the Conservative Party as the “Party of Lisa Simpson”.  In one particular Simpson’s future, Lisa even becomes POTUS, which was surely achieved through her strong voice and reasoning.

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Still, if you want to talk about powers and abilities, Lisa has had a few.  “Treehouse of Horrors X” even gave Lisa super strength, Clobber Girl, along with Stretch Dude became a formidable duo, and have made their own appearances in comics.  In video games, Lisa can knock people around with the best of them.  And it could be argued that her spiritual connection has granted her some powerful gifts throughout the years.

Lisa Simpson is as fearless as they come.  For a second-grader, she shows bravery and courage whenever she sees injustice.  Whether it is the mistreatment of snakes on an out-dated holiday or the ongoing battle with the local nuclear power plant, Lisa’s voice is heard.

Female

Not only does Lisa Simpson ooze femininity, but she is also a leader in women’s rights and a role model for young girls everywhere.

It is easy to forget at times that Lisa is just an eight-year-old.  But she is very much a little girl who loves ponies, her Malibu Stacy dolls, and believes that unicorns are real.  She is sweet, nurturing, and gentle.  But she is as flawed as anyone, being stubborn or righteous at times.  Lisa is as real as an animated little girl can be.

But over three decades, Lisa has become a symbol for women everywhere.  The feminist character has often spoken out about gender rights.  Of course, while maintaining the strong voice that we just covered.

Additionally, Lisa has proven time and again that she is capable of anything her brother can do.  Never treated as fragile or delicate, Lisa has played sports alongside Bart and the other boys.  And though her brother often plays the muscle, as a duo the two of them have accomplished some fantastic things like solving crimes and saving their friends.

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Most importantly, her strong morals have guided girls for three decades.  Lisa is a symbol of what women are capable of while changing the way that girls are represented on television.

Lisa Simpson is one of the greatest fictional characters, absolutely fearless, and an amazing figure of femininity.  An icon for speaking your truth and standing up against injustice, Lisa is a powerhouse.

 

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Martha Jones

March is Women’s History Month, and both of us here at Graphic Novelty² have joined forces for the third year with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate women under the auspicious blogging series title of: Fiction’s Fearless Females! During this month, we will have six bloggers sharing who they believe is a fictional woman to be admired, and we will share each entry of the series on our blog. Today’s post comes from Michael of My Comic Relief, who is a fine connoisseur of comics and lover of the Doctor Who franchise. 

By Michael Miller of My Comic Relief

Happy International Women’s Day!  In celebration of International Women’s Month, I’ve joined with some other bloggers to write pieces spotlighting some of our favorite female characters.  Kathleen, of Graphic Novelty2, kicked off the festivities with her brilliant look at Kara Zor-El/Supergirl and, following me, we’ll have Green Onion, of Green Onion Revival Project; Nancy, of Graphic Novelty2;  Kalie, of Just Dread-full; and Jeff, of The Imperial Talker.  You can find all their posts here but you should check out their super sweet sites, too.  Anyhoo (or AnyWHO, as the case may be (stop…don’t reward that (I’m sorry, I’m so sorry (you deserve better)))), this year when I thought of what “fearless” means, my mind turned to Martha Jones.  Played by Freema Agyeman, she was the companion of David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor in Series Three of Doctor Who.  Martha did a great many things while travelling with the Doctor but, in her faith and her willingness to advocate for her own needs, she models the type of courage which could transform all of our lives if we, too, could be so fearless.

Continue reading “Fiction’s Fearless Females: Martha Jones”

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Five Fearless Cartoon Females From The 80s

March is Women’s History Month, and both of us here at Graphic Novelty² have joined forces for the second year with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate women under the auspicious blogging series title of: Fiction’s Fearless Females! During this month, we had six bloggers sharing who they believe is a fictional woman to be admired, and shared each entry of the series on our blog. Today is our last post in the series and comes from Rob of My Side of the Laundry Room who couldn’t just pick one fearless female, he chose five! His blog and YouTube channel centers on great toys, cartoons, movies, and comic books of the 70s, 80s and 90s. For a nostalgic treat, you must subscribe to his channel and look for excellently made videos on themes such as Good Games for Bad Gamers, Rob vs The Internet, sentiMENTAL and Days of Dorker Past. 

Rob of My Side of the Laundry Room

To help celebrate International Women’s Day (March 8) and Women’s History Month (March), I along with some of WordPress’s best bloggers are teaming up to shine a spotlight on some of our favorite fearless females from movies, comics, television, and beyond.

For my contribution to this celebration, I chose the subject of 80s cartoons (Shocker!!). Before I begin let me say that there are dozens of fearless, headstrong, and strong female characters in the world of 80s cartoons. Last year for Fiction’s Fearless Females celebration I did a video for Scarlett, G.I. Joe’s counterintelligence operative and first female character. Scarlett is a very popular character in the world of 80s cartoons, so this time I wanted to talk about some great characters that are lost to time (kinda). Continue reading “Fiction’s Fearless Females: Five Fearless Cartoon Females From The 80s”

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Queen Amidala

March is Women’s History Month, and both of us here at Graphic Novelty² have joined forces for the second year with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate women under the auspicious blogging series title of: Fiction’s Fearless Females! During this month, we will have six bloggers sharing who they believe is a fictional woman to be admired, and we will share each entry of the series on our blog. Today’s post comes from Jeff of The Imperial Talker– who is an expert on all things Star Wars. His themed haikus are unmatched and deep love for the Star Wars franchise makes his blog a pleasure to read! 

Jeff of The Imperial Talker

Standing behind the doors leading into the royal hanger, the Queen of Naboo, surrounded by her loyal handmaidens and advisers, must make a choice. One path will keep the teenage monarch on Naboo, with her people, risking capture and death at the hands of the invading Trade Federation. The alternative path will take her off-world, traveling with the two Jedi escorting her, running the Trade Federation blockade above her world in the hopes of reaching Coruscant, the capital of the Republic, to plead for help directly to the Senate.

“Either choice presents great danger, to us all,” the Queen says as she turns her head and looks at the handmaiden standing next to her.

“We are brave, your Highness,” the handmaiden responds, calmly speaking for herself and the other handmaidens.

To be brave is to be fearless, to stand firm and unflinching when confronting danger. Either path the Queen takes includes the risk of death, to herself and her retinue, but these handmaidens will face the risk with fearless poise standing side-by-side with their monarch.

But there is something else at play here, another layer hidden in the dialogue between a Queen and her assistant. In this scene from The Phantom Menace, the Queen we see is not the real Queen. No, she is actually a handmaiden, a loyal bodyguard charged with protecting the Queen by serving as a decoy dressed in royal attire. And the real Queen, Padmé Amidala, she is the handmaiden who has spoken.

This truth will not be revealed until later in the film when standing before the Gungan Boss Nass this handmaiden, Padmé, will confidently step forward, risking her own safety, and declare that she is Queen Amidala. Even though this revelation takes place late in the movie the gravity of the revelation reverberates through the entire film. It is possible then to add an interpretation to the statement “We are brave” by considering that Padmé, as Queen-in-disguise, is using the royal “We” when she speaks. And by viewing the term through this lens one can easily believe that Padmé Amidala is not only affirming the bravery of the handmaidens, but she is subtly but confidently affirming, as the true sovereign of the Naboo, that she is fearless.

Amidala's Reveal
Stepping forward, Padmé reveals that she is Queen Amidala.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Again and again we see Amidala model her bravery, in word and deed, simultaneously as handmaiden/Queen throughout The Phantom Menace. This is obvious when she reveals her identity to Boss Nass. Begging for help as she gets down on her knees – an act of pragmatic and diplomatic submission – Queen Amidala places herself and her party at the grace the Gungans. It pays off as her act of fearless humility convinces Boss Nass that Gungans and the Naboo can be friends and allies.

The Queen’s courage is also obvious when she and her retinue travel to the planet Tatooine.

Their vessel damaged as it ran the Trade Federation blockade surrounding Naboo, the two Jedi accompanying the royal entourage must identify a location that is free from Federation control to perform repairs. Jedi Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi chooses a locale: the desert planet Tatooine. The head of the Queen’s guard, Captain Panaka, inquires how the Jedi know their Federation enemy is not present on the world to which Qui-Gon Jinn answers, “It’s controlled by the Hutts.” “You can’t take her royal Highness there! The Hutts are gangsters,” Panaka declares, immediately raising his concerns. Never-the-less, Tatooine, a lawless world on the fringe of the galaxy, remains their destination.

Upon landing in the desert Qui-Gon Jinn, accompanied by the astromech droid R2-D2 and the Gungan Jar Jar Binks, will head towards Mos Espa to seek out the parts they need to repair the damaged vessel. But as they head off Captain Panaka will stop them. With him is the handmaiden Padmé who remains silent as Qui-Gon and Panaka speak:

“Her Highness commands you to take her handmaiden with you,” the Captain explains.

“No more commands from her Highness today, Captain,” Qui-Gon responds, “the spaceport is not going to be pleasant.”

“The Queen wishes it. She is curious about the planet,” Panaka retorts.

“This is not a good idea,” Qui-Gon warns. “Stay close to me,” he tells the handmaiden as the group continues towards Mos Espa.

Padme joins the Group
The “handmaiden” remains silent while Captain Panaka and Qui-Gon Jinn discuss whether she should join the group.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

The exchange may not seem like much but it serves a clear purpose: to account for Padmé being part of the group heading into Mos Espa. Fair enough, but narratively this should not be necessary. If the handmaiden was part of the group to begin with we would think nothing of it. She would just be someone else who is seeking the parts for the damaged hyperdrive. So why bother briefly pausing the plot to account for the handmaiden tagging along with the party? Because Padmé is no ordinary handmaiden. Armed with the knowledge that “her Highness” IS the handmaiden, this exchange is no longer a narrative curiosity but a narrative necessity, a way of demonstrating, and reinforcing, that behind the veil of “handmaiden” resides a formidable monarch who is exercising her power and displaying her strengths.

Captain Panaka, as noted, expressed his reservation to the Jedi about taking “her royal Highness” to Hutt-controlled Tatooine. While we do not see it, we can presume he shared these reservations with the Queen herself. But now, in a surprising twist, the Captain has escorted the Queen, dressed as a commoner, into the hot desert to join the repair party. Why does he do this? Because “Her Highness” has issued a “command.” She has used her authority and given an order which the Captain is duty-bound to follow.

The command she has given – for a handmaiden to join the party – is a clever trick on the part of Amidala, a way to insert herself while maintaining anonymity. This does not come without risk. Captain Panaka is not wrong that Tatooine, being controlled by galactic gangsters, is a dangerous world. Qui-Gon Jinn acknowledges this as well, admitting that “the spaceport is not going be pleasant.” The Queen does not flinch. Instead, she is putting words into action, showing “We are brave” by placing herself in an unpredictable and potentially precarious situation.

Granted, this decision does seem ill-advised. Being fearless is laudable, but it is difficult to justify being reckless. “This is not a good idea,” Qui-Gon explains, a clear indication that he does not want anyone else to be put in danger, even a young handmaiden (although, for the record, I believe he knows Padmé is the Queen but that is a conversation for another time). Were something to happen to Amidala in Mos Espa – a run in with the Hutts, for example – the consequences could imperil not only her safety but the safety of the planet Naboo. So how can one justify her decision to join?

For starters, we can think about why she is joining the group. As Captain Panaka explains, the Queen “wishes” for the handmaiden to go with Qui-Gon Jinn because “she is curious about the planet.” Thus, we are explicitly told that the Queen is inquisitive, a quality which demonstrates her desire to lead effectively, gaining new insights and perspectives which will inform future decisions. Stuck on Tatooine for the time being, Queen Amidala chooses to step out of the comfort of her royal yacht so she might gain firsthand knowledge about her galaxy. Notably, this is exactly what happens when she meets Anakin Skywalker, a precocious 9-year-old boy, and is shocked by the revelation that he is a slave. The Queen was clearly under the impression that the abominable institution did not exist. In turn, after meeting Anakin’s mother Shmi, the Amidala learns that the Republic’s anti-slavery laws do not extend to every planet. A sobering truth that challenges her understanding of the Galactic Republic’s legal and moral reach, this discovery foreshadows the truth she learns a short time later about the ineffectiveness of the Senate and the Supreme Chancellor.

Padme and Anakin
Padmé meets Anakin Skywalker and learns a harsh truth: he is a slave.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Like her fearlessness, Amidala’s inquisitiveness is laudable. Yet, it does not entirely justify her decision to risk danger in the spaceport. Except, it does if we view it not solely as a pursuit for galactic knowledge. Rather, it should be interpreted as an example of the Queen’s strategic thinking. While Mos Espa is “not pleasant” and dangerous, given the situation it is also the safest place Queen Amidala can possibly be, a fact she must be aware of since she has given the command to “take her handmaiden.” Think of it like this: if the Trade Federation does track them down, discovering the royal yacht on the outskirts of Mos Espa, Amidala will not be there. Instead, the enemy will find the decoy Queen, along with the other handmaidens, the captain of the royal guard, and even a Jedi protector.

Meanwhile, Queen Amidala will be blending into the crowded streets of the unpleasant spaceport as the handmaiden Padmé. She will be fearlessly hiding in plain sight, as she does throughout The Phantom Menace, with no one the wiser.


Fiction’s Fearless Females is in it’s second year! Yay! The series runs for the month of March and along with myself will feature posts by Nancy and Kathleen of Graphic Novelty2, Kalie of Just Dread-full, Rob of My Side of the Laundry Room, and Mike of My Comic Relief. Be sure to follow each of these blogs (as if you don’t already!) and to check out all of the Fearless Females in the series.

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The Imperial Talker is Jeffrey Cagle. He holds a BA in Religious Studies from Mercyhurst College and a Masters of Theological Studies from Vanderbilt University.  A lifelong fan of everything Star Wars, Jeffrey enjoys combining his academic interests with his love of the “galaxy far, far away.” When he is not lost in his imagination, he is spending time with his family or coaching volleyball.

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Dani from Midsommar

March is Women’s History Month, and both of us here at Graphic Novelty² have joined forces for the second year with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate women under the auspicious blogging series title of:  Fiction’s Fearless Females! For the next few weeks, we will have six bloggers sharing who they believe is a fictional woman to be admired, and we will share each entry of the series on our blog. Today’s post comes from Kalie of Just Dread-Full– whose intelligent blog is all about horror books and movies. Her posts are a must-read, for her writing is dread-fully insightful!

By Kalie of Just Dread-Full

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Dani and her emotionally distant boyfriend, Christian

Warning: Because of the film I’ve decided to talk about, the following subject matter will be unavoidably uncomfortable and dismal. Second Warning: If you’ve not yet seen Midsommar and you want to see it, well, first of all, get to it 🙂 (it’s free on Amazon Prime), and second, you may encounter some spoilers. Okay, you’ve been warned, onward:

I think it would be remiss to discuss the inception of this post without discussing the context. First of all, I’m writing in the fairly early morning of March 20th, which I’ve already mistaken for March 19th, because at this point we’re all basically quarantining ourselves (to the extent that we haven’t been governmentally mandated to quarantine) and the days are starting to slip assiduously into one another. Second, I, the super-introvert who initially prized herself on her abilities to hide out alone in her apartment while interacting with the outside world predominantly via telephone, almost lost my shit trying to execute my original idea: a first person monologue of the naked, decaying, monstrous half-corpse in The Shining who emerges from the shower of room 237 first (presumably) for Danny – in the movie – and second, more overtly, for Jack. You need to understand, I was perhaps overly excited about the idea of a first-person fictional exploration, and one that gave a voice to an otherwise voiceless female, until I tried to make it happen and felt that it flopped completely (the piece was so odd that it was utterly unrelatable). So, here I am, at 6:30 a.m., attempting to execute a “backup” plan for my “Fiction’s Fearless Females”* post before I run to the grocery store to go apocalypse shopping.

So, instead of creating a monologue by a startlingly voiceless naked monster-woman who lurks in the bathroom of an expensive hotel, I’m going to take an easier route and discuss Dani (played by Florence Pugh) in Ari Aster’s Midsommar, because she’s nothing if not a complex, often difficult to understand but ultimately at least somewhat fearless fictional female. Michael suggested writing about Adelaide Wilson, played by Lupita Nyog’o, in Us, and I almost did that – because she is fascinating and brilliantly acted – both the original character and the “tethered” version of her character – but I ultimately had more of the “Dani” post already in my head, and felt I could write about her without re-watching Midsommar (I can’t say the same for Adelaide) so I went with my easiest bet, especially since my post is late already (and yes, for that I blame the plague).

Dani Midsommar 6So what we learn about Dani in the beginning of Midsommar is that she seems perpetually concerned about, and perhaps overly responsible for, her sister, who has Bi-Polar Disorder; we don’t know much about her sister beyond that. The sister’s mental illness seems like her defining marker and is the presumed impetus of the calamity that will ensue after the first couple minutes of the film. I tend to be wary of the use of mental illness as a stereotypically cheap plot device, but I guess that’s neither here nor there right now – indeed, it’s another post entirely. So Dani reads an e-mail from her sister about not being able to take it anymore, about “going away” and taking her parents with her, and while Dani’s somewhat coldly indifferent boyfriend, Christian, assures Dani that her sister has said similar things before and it’s an attention-getting ploy, we learn a few minutes later that Dani’s sister has killed herself and the girls’ parents by running a hose from the toxic gas emission of a car through various parts of the home that Dani’s parents and sister share. And, if I recall the film correctly, Dani’s the one who finds them all dead. Though there’s not much in the way of typical horror movie gore, the scene is both chilling and gruesome through its terse, simple camera shots, and the whole ordeal invokes that macabre sense of morbidity that is, in my opinion, becoming such a hallmark of Aster films as he continues to add to his repertoire.

Losing your entire immediate family to a murder-suicide, finding the bodies, and being in a situation where you can (wrongly) justify your responsibility for the travesty’s occurrence is a catastrophic trio of trauma. Indeed, this sequence of events seems noteworthy and calamitous enough to comprise a cinematic climax, and yet, all these events do is lay the foundation for a plot that’s enigmatic and emotionally grueling – for at least some of the main characters in the diegetic narrative, and for the viewers, who are likely astounded to contemplate what direction a film that starts such a way will go, based on its sinister and disturbing beginning.

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Pelle comforting Dani, something Christian has trouble doing

One element of the film that interests me, of course, is Dani’s reaction to the trauma she faces, and how her reaction drives the narrative. I’m also tempted to make the case, as I analyze Dani a little bit closer, that while I do like her character, her “fearlessness” in this film might be – depending on how you read the film – her shortcoming, her Achilles heel, her downfall, even if it’s a laudable characteristic. Fear, after all, though sometimes needlessly hyperbolic and speculative, and though pretty much always unpleasant, has served its purpose for centuries when it creeps through our psyche and settles in the deepest recesses of our mind. And it is also, in some sense, a leveler – an irrevocable marker of the human condition. The word “fearless,” to that end, is always used with a certain implicit qualifier: the reality that everyone is afraid at some point, even if they appear confident, even if they walk through their terror with grace and seem to surmount it. At the same time, when we rally against fear, from a religious or socio-cultural standpoint, what we seem to be rallying against the most is an excessive amount of fear that traps us and mutates our daily life into a chaotic labyrinth of “what ifs” and “I hope nots.” In fact, it seems especially appropriate in these times to admit both that fear is indelible (and indispensable) while warning ourselves that too much fear will consume us. Fear itself, in reasonable doses, keeps us from touching hot flames and fighting bears. In the abstract, it’s not such a deplorable emotion.

And in Midsommar’s narrative, it could have been an emotion that saved Dani from a lot more trauma – trauma compounded upon the initial trauma of losing her family in a horrible way. It is obvious to the viewer that Dani’s boyfriend, Christian, is not “good boyfriend” material. Though he’s not malicious, his friends are a pack of immature douchebags who happen to be anthropology PhD students, and Christian is much more of a follower than a leader. This is a group of guys who puts Dani down, keeps trying to persuade Christian to break up with her, and objectifies women constantly and consistently when they’re together. So when, in a gesture of fearlessness, Dani talks Christian into taking her with him and his group of friends to experience a Midsommar festival in Sweden, her fearlessness is a bit distressing. We’ve already seen her constantly try to appease Christian and to make him think and feel that he’s right about every one of their disagreements by this point in the film – and we don’t criticize her for it, because it’s understandable given her situation, and anyway she’s still remarkably level-headed for a young 20-something year-old woman who’s lost her entire family in the blink of an eye. But it would be reasonable, based on her desire to go to Sweden with Christian, to infer that she really does think he’s right about all their disagreements, that she deems herself wrong for wanting the amount of support and affection she secretly desires (and certainly deserves) from her boyfriend. The film keeps Dani in her place just enough for us to assume we know better than her, and it thus tempts us all to say that if we were in Dani’s situation, we’d never go on a trip with a bunch of immature assholes to watch an unusual, possibly religious ceremony in another country, especially if the option followed shortly after the deaths of our entire family. But, what we fail to realize when making that self-assessment is that most of us have never been and will never be in Dani’s position. Whether she is afraid of Christian’s month-long absence or desperate to escape the sadness of her post-traumatic daily life (or some combination thereof), we are likely to sympathize with her desire to go to Sweden with Christian and his friends, even as we cringe at the precariousness of the situation.

Dani’s perhaps harmful and hyperbolic fearlessness is evident almost immediately when the trip begins. Pelle, one of Christian’s anthropology friends, the one who’s from Sweden and invited the rest of the guys to the festival, offers the group some ceremonial fungus to celebrate the oncoming tradition. While popping hallucinogens might not seem like the most enticing undertaking for a person who’s witnessed a major trauma and is in an unfamiliar place with a “boyfriend” who only half-likes her, Dani’s fearlessness (of the consequences) and/or her fear (of not fitting in with the guys) drives her to take the mushrooms anyway. Of course, when she does, it’s not a pleasant experience for her – a reality that shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s read or heard the least amount of information about hallucinogens. Such drugs tend to morph with your mood, to emphasize, exaggerate, and re-create your most salient or your most subdued, secret insecurities, fears, and impulses, so the fact that Dani takes the mushrooms is a decision that could underscore the degree of naivete embedded in her fearlessness; it does not seem inaccurate to argue that, perhaps, she believes she can handle more discomfort (more additional trauma, even) than she actually can.

Dani Midsommar 4
Dani mid-ceremony as May Queen

While I could dissect this film scene by scene, doing so might actually require that I re-watch it (and, as you probably know, life in an apocalyptic plague is surprisingly busy), and I think such an article might get tedious. After having done some of my own research on the film, there are two slightly overlapping but dichotomous reads of the events that ensue once the group reaches Sweden. For a little background, the rest of the plot takes us through the often gruesome, always unpredictable, generally strange Midsommar festival, with its sacrifices (homicides), dining rituals, and bizarre sex scenes, and we’re likely to learn that after a certain point, rather early in the film, Dani couldn’t escape the festival if she wanted to. Indeed, the visitors who do try to escape after witnessing the first “sacrifice” (the ostensible suicide of two village elders) only show up later as semi-mutilated corpses that the cult caught and killed. So the question of Dani’s decision making, to the extent that it was ever relevant, becomes eclipsed by the question of her agency: Dani, we come to see, fairly early in the film, loses the ability to choose. Indeed, the cult and its Midsommar ritual seem so careful, so calculating, and so manipulative, that Dani becomes more or less an object tossed about amid more knowing subjects, a person following the mandates of greater forces – with trepidation, but without much option to do otherwise.

Until, that is, we reach the concluding scene of the film – and here’s where our different readings of the film might impact how we assess Dani’s fearlessness. The last scene of the film foregrounds a tent full of corpses – corpses of other visitors that have been killed, stuffed with straw like scarecrows, and positioned upright in the tent like deranged dolls. The corpses await their final burning – the ultimate sacrificial gesture committed by the cult, after a variety of dining scenes, games, and unusual rituals – but they require one more body to sacrifice. So they present Dani with an option: she can sacrifice Christian (who has not only mistreated her, but cheated on her when coerced into a sex ritual at one point in the film), or a presumably innocent man that she doesn’t know. They’ve given Christian a drug that paralyzes him so he can’t try to escape, and they sit him next to an innocent stranger. Presumably because of the coldness, even the cruelty, that Dani has experienced from Christian, Dani chooses to sacrifice him, and one of the final scenes of the film focuses on Christian being burned wearing a giant bear suit in the tent that he shares with the other corpses, while the rest of the members of the cult dance in celebratory unison outside the tent.

Some viewers consider this conclusion a happy ending, and if we take that route, it’s easy to position Dani as the fearless victor, despite the fact that joining a murderous cult and becoming their revered “May Queen” during a strange ceremony are both rather fortuitous occurrences. It’s obvious throughout the film that Pelle, who invited most of the group to Sweden knowing full-well they’d be sacrificed, has always liked Dani. Indeed, throughout the film, he treats her more kindly than Christian does. So Dani exercises the power given to her by the cult, mandates Christian’s sacrificial execution, and will live in Sweden with her new family, the cult – a family that includes Pelle, who we might presume was hoping for this ending the entire time. I’ve even read speculation that the death of Dani’s parents and sister were a set up by Pelle, a way to dictate her circumstances so that she’d chose to accompany Christian to Sweden. I don’t know if I completely accept this reading of the film, but it does position Dani as both intrepid explorer and ultimate victor against her creep of a boyfriend.

Dani Midsommar 9
Danny and Christian watch a sacrificial cliff jump.

My read of the film tends to be, I suppose, more traditional. I don’t doubt that the read I just provided is more original, that it “reads between the lines” in an interesting way. Indeed, those who adhere to the aforementioned reading tend to see Hereditary and Midsommar as Aster’s cinematic couple – one depressing and dismal (Hereditary), and the other airy and light (Midsommar). Such a read supposes that death and terror are always going to be imbricated in the narrative of a horror film, but that even horror films, with all their concomitant hideousness, can produce hopeful messages. I, on the other hand, don’t view Midsommar as particularly hopeful. Like all the visitors who visit the cult, Dani tends to be tossed around by their traditions; she fills the role they tell her to fill during the ceremony, even though she gets to wear a crown of pretty flowers and becomes the May queen. We have no reason to infer that her queenly status will last past the Midsommar festival, and after that, who knows what strange events she’ll have to undergo at the behest of her new cult-family. Even her position of “power” at the end of the film puts her in a tenuous space: she must select a person to die. Though she can use her temporary power as a means to get back at her asshole of a boyfriend (an option she chooses, in the end), she doesn’t have the power to reject sacrificial killing completely, and the elaborate drawings that adorn the walls of one of the buildings owned by the cult – drawings that rightly predict the end of the Midsommar ceremony – lead us to believe that more uncomfortable, even horrific traditions await Dani. What’s more – she’s stuck. This isn’t a chosen family; it’s a family she accidentally stumbled into and one – if those who tried to escape previously are any indication – one that she can’t leave.

In light of Dani’s situation, we might suggest that she’ll have to maintain a certain level of her already evident fearlessness to adapt to the new life that sits in front of her. It’s tempting to see the floral head-wear and the kindness of Pelle as inviting signals that Dani’s found a better place, a better group of people, but I doubt that. Dani, who certainly exhibits a type of fearlessness that we can all applaud when she moves on with her life after her family’s death, when she asserts herself and emphasizes that she wants to go to Sweden with Christian, is ultimately – or may ultimately – be a victim of her own courage. One reading of Midsommar definitely does not reward female fearlessness, to be sure. But perhaps what my dear mother says about life is true: The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Maybe Dani’s situation isn’t ideal now that she’s a member of a hidden Swedish cult, but is the situation really much better than living in a city and country where your parents have been killed and your sister killed herself, sharing a house with a cold, distant boyfriend who stays with you because he’s afraid to break up? Quite truthfully, I’m tempted to invoke the cliché, “six to one, half-dozen to another” to answer this question. After the death of her parents and sister, Dani’s position in the world is cruel and traumatic no matter what line of plot twists we choose. And she does buckle under this cruelty, but she never breaks. For maintaining her sanity in the face of chaos, for maintaining her sense of self in the face of a boyfriend who constantly ignores or disparages her, Dani is, truly, a fearless fictional female.

Just Dread-full’s note: The “Fiction’s Fearless Females” series is a tradition that was started last year between multiple blog. This year, participating blogs include Graphic Novelty2 (Nancy and Kathleen), My Side of the Laundry Room (Rob), The Imperial Talker (Jeff), My Comic Relief (Michael) and me! Because life has been busy, I haven’t posted any other installments of this series, but I likely will in the days to come. In doing so, I plan to broaden my generally genre-specific blog to allow space for some new voices and perspectives. As such, stay tuned! (P.S.: Pardon the inconsistent italics; WordPress is being counter-intuitive).

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Doctor Who

Today is International Women’s Day, and both of us here at Graphic Novelty² have joined forces for the second year with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate women under the auspicious blogging series title of:  Fiction’s Fearless Females! For the next few weeks, we will have six bloggers sharing who they believe is a fictional woman to be admired, and we will share each entry of the series on our blog. First up is Michael from My Comic Relief– whose blog is must reading for his brilliant views on comics, Star Wars, social justice, and of course Doctor Who! 

By Michael Miller of My Comic Relief

In celebration of International Women’s Day today and Women’s History Month to follow, I’ve teamed up with a group of other bloggers to write a series saluting some of our favorite female characters. Going first was a bit intimidating. Who could I write about? Who has the gravitas worthy of beginning our month-long celebration of these incredible characters? Then it hit me – it’s the Doctor! It seemed so obvious once I thought of her. So, in honor of International Women’s Day, Women’s History Month, and to kick-off our month-long series I’m exploring the Doctor, as portrayed by Jodie Whittaker in Series Eleven and Twelve (with more to come!) of Doctor Who. Continue reading “Fiction’s Fearless Females: Doctor Who”

Guest Post on 2020 YASF Tournament of Books

As the Head of Teen Services at my library, I attend a networking group with other librarians who work with teens in the Chicagoland suburb area. For several years the YASF (Young Adult Services Forum) group has had a yearly Tournament of Books for YA novels from the previous year, and this is my fourth year participating by writing reviews for their blog So like YA know

This year I was assigned graphic novels Bloom by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau and Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up WIth Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. Both books have gained impressive followings, rave reviews, and book awards due to their positive and true-to-life representation of LGBTQ+ life. Click here to find out which book I chose and WHY!

-Nancy

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Rey

In celebration of Women’s History Month and beyondboth of us here at Graphic Novelty² have joined forces with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate women under the auspicious blogging series title of: Fiction’s Fearless Females! This is the seventh of our planned eight piece series, and Kiri of Star Wars Anonymous features Rey of Star Wars!  In Kiri’s Star Wars blog she shares heartfelt reasons why Rey is fearless and connects the theme to love and her own life. Make sure you check out out her site and her thoughts on a galaxy far, far away…

Guest Blogger: Kiri of Star Wars Anonymous 

I have heard that the opposite of love is fear, not hate, which may be first emotion that comes to mind due to the love/hate analogies we often make. If we go by that assumption, then someone who is fearless, or without fear, is someone who loves immensely.

When asked by My Comic Relief to join in on the #FictionsFearlessFemales and write about a character from Star Wars, I immediately thought of Rey. Not Leia, like so many people often think of when they think about a fearless woman from Star Wars. Not Leia, but Rey.

Why is that?

As I dove deeper into my own exploration of Rey versus Leia and why I think Rey epitomizes a fearless woman more, I realized that much of why I like Rey is due to her relatability. Leia is stone, Rey is warmth. It’s not to say that Leia is not fearless, but more that I believe Rey is easier for me to relate to in her fearlessness.

When going by the theory that the opposite of fear is love, Rey demonstrates that in full capacity. When loving to your fullest extent, you:

  1. Love yourself
  2. Love others
  3. Love life

That is how you are fearless.

My past 6 months have been a whirlwind of horrible fear. In a nutshell, I have been bombarded with heavy subjects like drugs, addiction, overdose, death, and loss of money. I was not fearless. Even just writing this makes my heart rate rise and I get clammy hands. It was like an earthquake happened in my life. I am still dealing with aftershocks of this earthquake which namely include my lack of sleep due to hypnic jerks which leave me awake until 2 or 3am that happen night after night, physical symptoms that have been knots in my stomach for months so much so that I can’t distinguish happy or tense emotions from general anxiety, and pins and needles in my chest from sleeping in the fetal position every night.

I am not fearless. I am fear-filled.

To break away from fear, you need to love. You need to accept your limitations and others and love the life you have.

LOVE YOURSELF

Rey loves herself. I think she had to learn to love herself and be okay with waiting days on end for parents to return to her. This was part of her core and it gave her hope on Jakku. Even after the horrible realization that her parents were nobodies in The Last Jedi, she did not give into fear. Giving into fear would have been joining Kylo Ren because he would then represent the safety that she had been looking for in her parents. But Rey realized, or had possibly been beginning to realize through her training and with the mirror, that the safety and home she was looking for could only be found in herself.

Loving yourself means having a strong conviction and not deterring from it. Rey shows that stronger than any other Star Wars character, except possibly Luke in the Original Trilogy. In The Last Jedi, we are bombarded with the message of the movie: hope. But I think the message of the movie is always doing what you think is right, no matter what others think. Rey exemplifies this throughout both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, but especially in The Last Jedi. I would not be able to continue to do what was right after

being turned away by Luke. She followed her feelings and went to save Kylo, even if it didn’t work out. She went back to the Resistance, instead of going back to Luke at the end of the movie even though it may have made more sense to continue her training. She knew she was needed with the Resistance, to bring them hope again. Rey’s sense of self makes her more fearless than many people I know in my everyday life.

LOVE OTHERS

Rey shows her love for others unabashedly. It’s one of the character traits that I aspire to – the fact that she can show her emotions and not fear her emotions.

So often our society tells us to hide our emotions and Hollywood perpetuates this with their definition of “strong”. I think it is the main reason that I could not relate to Leia when I grew up but related more to Luke. The one scene that I would act out over and over again when I was younger was when Luke tells Leia about Vader being her father. It’s the one scene where she lets her guard down, where her emotions overtake her and she needs to be held by Han at the end. It’s a glimmer of emotion.

I immediately connected to Rey after the first viewing of The Force Awakens. She laughs with such joy over simple fixes in the Millennium Falcon, her excitement over meeting Han Solo is so real, and her devastation over Finn’s possible death and serious wounds tugged my heart strings. Rey wears her heart on her sleeve and I love her for that.

She continues this in The Last Jedi. Her anger at Kylo erupts from her when she yells at him for not appreciating his father, her frustration with Luke at his unwillingness to help culminates in physical fight, and her delight in seeing Finn at the end of the movie reminds us of her loyalty to her friends and the Resistance.

I hope that we see more women like this in movies as Hollywood continues to evolve. Not only for women, but also for men. It’s okay to cry and it’s okay to be unrestrained in your joy. We don’t need to act like toddlers with no control whatsoever, but we need to get over our fear of showing our emotions. We need to become fearless, like Rey.

LOVE LIFE

 

 

 

 

 

We love life by walking through it without fear holding us back. We take leaps of chance, hoping it turns out okay, and if it doesn’t, knowing that we will be okay in the end. When you’re filled with fear, you don’t follow your passions, it’s hard to make attachments and your focus is keeping yourself safe.

While safety is important, if we are always full of fear about something happening, we miss out on the beauty life offers us.

Rey waited around on Jakku for her parents to return for a long time and with a lot of patience. But when Finn and BB-8 were thrown into her life, she accepted the change and went along with what life threw at her. She had an adventure of a lifetime.

Rey loved herself enough to know that she would harness life and try new things without fear. She felt the Force, and used it to get out of her jail cell. She went off in search of Luke Skywalker and stayed there until she knew life was pushing her in a different direction. Rey could have stayed on Ahch-To long past when she left, insisting on doing things the “right” way and getting a complete training. But instead, she followed a different path and believed that life and the Force would take her where she needed to be.

We may not have the Force, but we do have gut feelings. We are only given one life, as far as we know. Don’t give into the fear of feeling like nothing will work out and that you need to remain safe. That is a fear trap.

If you made it to the end of the post, I hope you are swayed on how Rey is fearless, and perhaps more fearless than Leia. Today is my birthday and while I was writing this, I knew that this next year had to be one of less fear and more love. To stop worrying because what will be, will be. I no longer want to feel the chains of fear, but instead to have more conviction in my beliefs, show more emotion, and take chances that throw me into an adventure.

In short, I hope to be more like Rey and be FEARLESS.

******

I’ve joined forces with some other exciting bloggers and YouTubers – Nancy and Kathleen of Graphic Novelty2, Rob of My Side of the Laundry Room, Jeff of The Imperial Talker, Kalie of Just Dread-full, Mike of My Comic Relief and Green Onion of The Green Onion Blog – for a little salute to “Fiction’s Fearless Females.” Starting on International Women’s Day and going forward over the next couple months, a different contributor will offer their take on a favorite female who harbors a fearless spirit. Click on the links below to read about the other women being profiled.

Fiction’s Fearless Females

Ellen Ripley

Captain Janeway

Amy Pond

Wonder Woman

Scarlett

Princess Leia

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