Now It’s Time To Grow Up, And What That Means

I think that we’re all more or less aware of the sort of reactions that one gets upon graduating from university. The plethoras of “congratulations” and “I’m so proud of you’s” that one seems to get. Yet, upon my own graduation, there was one response that I received that I’ve sort of been puzzling over ever since.

“Now it’s time to get serious.”

I found this an odd sort of statement to make. I didn’t bring it up at the time, I just sort of smiled and accepted the comment, but ever since, I’ve sort of been asking myself the question, why? What does that even mean?

And don’t get me wrong, I’m aware of what was intended by it. The sentence was packed with too much cultural resonance not to: what she was saying was that now that my imaginary years of boozing, partying, and staying up passed midnight eating Cheetos out of a saucepan are behind me, it’s now time to grow up. It’s time to become what society thinks of as An Adult.

So what does that mean? I mean, I already was an adult, wasn’t I? I did what society asked me to do to qualify, I survived my eighteenth birthday, right? Doesn’t that mean that I already did the thing, four years before the comment was even made to me?

Well, no; according to society, there are a certain set of standard actions and behaviours that I need to follow in order to fully qualify as what we tend to think of as An Adult, including but not limited to: getting rid of my Mohawk and adopting a more subdued, more culturally acceptable haircut, quitting my retail job as well as my dreams of becoming the next J.R.R. Tolkien and instead going out to find a more practical way of making money, overcoming my childish trust issues and finding a husband, accepting that my biological clock must be ticking and creating a few screaming, pooping life forms of my very own, and last but not least, giving up everything in my life that gives me joy but that could be misconstrued as being ‘childish’ or ‘frivolous’.

In other words, “getting serious”.

And why would I do all of this, you might ask? Doesn’t it all sound like a horrendously boring way to live, or at the very least, like a very prescribed way of living with no personal influence from myself or my own likes, opinions, and personality? Well, yes, but it’s also the only way to be taken seriously as what society likes for all of us over a certain age to be: An Adult.

Except for the fact that, as practical as society likes to pretend capital-a Adulthood is, it isn’t really. All that capital-a Adulthood really is is another attempt from society to tell us what the appropriate way to be is, and it is a standard that is very difficult to live up to, if not impossible. After all, we all need to be happy, and sometimes the most juvenile things give us happiness. With all the constant pressure of adult life, sometimes it’s nice to just wind down with a Disney movie, or a fluffy superhero comic book. Sometimes we find that the only accurate way to express ourselves in the moment is by shaving our hair, or dying it a bright and funky colour, or by playing around with make-up that ‘isn’t practical’. Sometimes we can even build perfectly non-practical but completely fulfilling jobs from things that society tells us ‘aren’t serious’, like cosplaying, performing, writing, etc., etc. Heck, even the greatest, most respected astronaut could have began his or her studies out of a passion for Star Trek!

In fact, have you ever noticed that a lot of our ways of exploring our identity and our creativity aren’t covered under the narrow definition of how to be capital-a Adult?

So allow me a chance to decree that we should all say “screw it” to capital-a Adulthood, or anything that tries to tell us how we should and should not live our lives. We don’t need to suppress parts of ourselves or ‘get serious’ to make it in the adult world, we just need to find a way of living that makes us happy at the end of the day, regardless of what that means or how hard we have to work for it. After all, as long as we are not starving to death, we have a roof over our heads, we aren’t hurting anyone, and we are not horrendously depressed and disappointed with our lives, isn’t that enough?

Why Wonder Woman is Important

If I had to choose between DC and Marvel (and many geeks do), I would probably choose DC. Don’t get me wrong, I love Marvel, and one of my favourite superheroes comes from Marvel (Nightcrawler from the X-Men, if you were curious), but I’ve always seen DC as just a little bit edgier, a little bit more willing to take risks. And not to mention, Harley Quinn and, for that matter, everything to do with Batman would probably have to be my favourite things from any superhero comic. So when DC began their own cinematic universe, I was downright dying to see it all come together.

But truth be told, their first three movies left me feeling disappointed. I personally considered Man of Steel to be an awful movie with absolutely no redeeming qualities. Batman Vs. Superman was a bit cheesier, and I loved the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman and Jeremy Irons as Alfred, but it was not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination. And although I loved Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, I had some huge problems with the Suicide Squad movie, mostly because they romanticized the abusive relationship between Harley and the Joker.

I say all of this because, by the time that the release of the Wonder Woman movie became close enough to get excited about, I had begun to doubt that DC could put out a good movie. But nonetheless, I wanted to get excited. I really wanted this to be a good movie, because this was just such an important movie.

There have been superhero movies with female leads in the past. In 1984, the world saw the release of a Supergirl movie, in 2004 we had a Catwoman movie, and again in 2005, we had an Elektra film, but none of those films were critical successes, and more importantly, they were a vast minority, and both of those movies were released before Marvel’s great success with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As I write this, Marvel has released fifteen films, and not one of them have a female superhero as their lead. Their first superhero movie starring a female superhero, Captain Marvel, is set to be released in 2019, and it follows twenty films with male leads. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, is DC’s fourth film, following two films with male leads and one film that divides its attention between one male lead and one female lead.

Not only that, but this film is Wonder Woman’s first live action cinematic appearance. She has had a television series of her own, but she has not had a mainstream movie of her own until now, which is miserable when you consider her male counterparts within DC. Batman has starred in seven live action films, whereas Superman has starred in nine.

So why is it that we have received so many films with male superheroes and so few with female? Well, because studios have doubted for years that the typical movie-going audience will be interested in a superhero film starring a woman! For years, movie studios (including Marvel) have cited the previously mentioned flops of female superhero movies as a reason to avoid making more of them. So, yeah, it’s a pretty big deal that DC was willing to release a mainstream Wonder Woman film, especially so early into the game. And not only that, it’s a pretty big deal that they chose a woman, Patty Jenkins, to direct, because of the top 250 films released in 2016, only 7% of those were directed by women.

So this movie needed to be good. It needed to be, because if it wasn’t, the future of female-led superhero movies was in jeopardy.

So how was it, really?

Well, I am proud to confess that, upon seeing it, not only is it the first legitimately good movie released in DC’s extended universe, but it gave no disappointments. Truly, it is the sort of movie that future superhero movies will try to emulate, and I couldn’t be happier.

In some ways, Wonder Woman captured a side of superhero story lines that I have always loved, and that is the idea that all people, good and bad alike, are worth saving. Wonder Woman explores the idea of empathy, who deserves it and who doesn’t, and a lot of the focus of the film relies on the strength of emotion and of love – two ideals that, interestingly enough, have been labelled feminine and, in a lot of ways, have been excluded from other superhero movies.

And I’m not saying that love is completely excluded from other superhero movies. Many of them feature love stories, and although it isn’t part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Amazing Spiderman 2 dealt with a superhero’s reaction to the loss of his love. But Wonder Woman deals with this differently. For Wonder Woman, love is her strength. She quite literally gains strength through her love for her significant other, her love for her friends, and, even more interestingly, her love for human kind en masse, including her own villains. In Wonder Woman, love and emotions are her asset, not a weakness. Not something that makes her silly and illogical. It makes her walk across a battle field and face fire from enemy troops, and it makes her win the battle in the end. And although I won’t say that this is an aspect that would not be represented in a superhero movie made by and starring men, I will say that this is an aspect that is unique to this film.

And it is so important that this aspect is available in Wonder Woman, because love and emotions have been labelled as ‘feminine’ for years, and more than that, they have been labelled as inferior. Emotions are seen as illogical, but Wonder Woman argues against that. Wonder Woman states that, yes, she is a woman, and yes, she is emotional and loving, but that is her strength. That is what helps her protect people, what helps her defeat her villains. That is what makes her amazing.

And there is so much more that I can say about this film. As I said, this is very much a movie about empathy, and it shows empathy towards everyone – toward people of colour who have faced discrimination or historical genocide, toward people who were born in the wrong time and place and are just trying to do the right thing, toward people who have given up trying to do the right thing and have turned instead toward hurting others. Wonder Woman is a loving and wonderful film that I cannot recommend enough. And even though it took a long time for the DC extended universe to put out a great film, I am so glad that when they did, it was this one.

Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere Review

Neil Gaiman has been a writer that I’ve had my eye on for a long time now. I’ve read a few of his works – American Gods, Coraline, Stardust, some of his more well-known novels. But an extensive reading list given to me over the past four years at university has kept me from scouring through his entire book list, the way I’ve been wanting to. Well, for better or worse, I’m free to read what I want now, and one of the first things on my reading list was Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere.

I went into the novel fairly blind as to what I was getting into, and I came out of it with a very slight obsession. The story follows Richard Mayhew, a fairly average Londoner whose whole life changes when he stumbles upon an injured woman on the street. Soon, he finds that he is unable (literally) to return to his normal life, and he is thrust into the magical world known as London Below, where the forgotten find their place.

My first impression of the novel when I was reading through it was that it felt very much like a movie. People would make comments like “well, at least we got out of that okay” just before they found out the opposite. The characters felt very much like tropes, rather than real people (Richard is the trope of the everyman, the Marquis de Carabas is the trope of the helper with questionable intentions, Door is the trope of the innocent but quirky girl just outside of society so she doesn’t understand it all that well). And there was a short period of time where that sort of took me out of the story, until a cursory Google search of the novel informed me that… well, the novel was released alongside a BBC-released television movie, which explained a lot of the pacing. Once I realized that, I was able to forgive it a little bit, and once I was able to forgive it, I quickly found myself falling in love with it.

The story feels very familiar. I was going to say predictable, but no, that isn’t quite the word – the word is very much ‘familiar’, because I feel like this is a story I not only heard before, but one that I grew up with, one that I loved. I haven’t felt that way about a story in a long time. The characters may be very simple, but they are very likeable in their simplicity. The Marquis de Carabas’ intelligent wit may just be a part of his trope, for example, but it is a wonderful part, and Neil Gaiman does write it so well. And if we’re talking about characters that I thoroughly enjoyed, Croup and Vandemar, the novel’s villains, are evil to an enjoyable extent, and gory and gruesome to the point of thrilling. I loved every moment that the novel turned to them. Furthermore, the magical world that Gaiman creates of London Below is a fascinating one, fleshed out just enough that you feel like this is a world that could (unbelievably) exist, while leaving just enough unexplained that I frequently found my imagination taking hold and creating explanations of its own.

I loved this novel. I loved this novel like I’ve loved a select few novels. I’m sorry to finish it, but I excitedly await Neil Gaiman’s promised sequel The Seven Sisters.

What I Want to See in the Labyrinth Reboot

So, confession time here: I spend an odd amount of time watching the 1986 film Labyrinth, considering I’m a twenty-two year old woman who didn’t technically grow up watching it or anything. I checked it out for the first time when I was around sixteen, and although I didn’t think it was a perfect movie or anything like that, I came away from it with three distinct impressions: 1) it was a perfect adaption of a standard fairy tale or fantasy storyline, 2) David Bowie was awesome, and 3) Jim Henson’s style and the film’s set designs were positively gorgeous, making it quite possibly the most beautiful movie I have seen to date. From that point on, I’d watch it fairly regularly, and it eventually got to a point where it’s just become a comforting movie for me. Nothing can be wrong so long as Labyrinth is on, so if I’m having a bad day, I can just pop the movie in and come away feeling a little happier and a little bit more inspired.

So when I heard that Labyrinth was going to be rebooted, of course I had an opinion on the matter. Personally, I found the idea a little bit odd, and I wasn’t sure I liked it. There are two huge reasons for why I like the original film, and these are Jim Henson and David Bowie. They made the movie what it was, because let’s face it, the story isn’t the main draw for the film. I’m not even sure the original film cared about the story. If they did, they wouldn’t have meandered off to random subplots about creatures whose heads pop off and bogs of eternal stench. No, the whole film was just an excuse for Jim Henson to show off what he could do to create a magical setting and memorable characters, and it turns out that he can do a lot. Without Jim Henson or David Bowie, what does the film really have? Besides some stock plot about a girl trying to get her baby brother back from goblins, I mean.

This was my opinion for a long while, until my most recent viewing of Labyrinth (and by that, I mean last night) when I began to realize that maybe, just maybe, there were ways that this reboot wouldn’t completely suck.

And before I begin, there has actually been some promising news as far as the development of this reboot, and by that I mean that Helmer Fede Alvarez has been signed on to direct the film. For those of you who don’t know, Alvarez is best known for horror films like Don’t Breathe – a very atmospheric film that does a great job of evoking emotion. Alvarez isn’t Jim Henson, of course, but I think that’s the point. If Alvarez has been cast on to direct, then I think that the intention is to take it in a similar but different direction altogether. And let’s face it: the original Labyrinth had an eerie feel to it that I think a horror director could really do something with.

But there is something else that has been hinted at that absolutely must happen if I am going to approve of this reboot: it cannot be a remake. There is no way to remake the original Labyrinth. The original Labyrinth was built on Jim Henson’s vision and David Bowie’s awesome, and now that both men are sadly gone, there is no way to recreate that. However, that being said, I wouldn’t be opposed to a sequel – something that has been suggested, but as far as I can tell, not quite confirmed.

And I don’t mean a sequel where we catch up on what Sarah has been up to since 1986. I don’t care what Sarah has been up to since 1986. In fact, the reboot can even steal the premise from the original movie for all I care: a young girl wishes for Jareth to kidnap her baby brother, Jareth obliges, and she’s forced to travel through the Labyrinth to recuse him. But everything that happens from then on, all the creatures that she encounters and all the lessons that she learns all need to be original. I don’t want to see Hoggle. I don’t want to see Ludo. The only character that I want to return from the original is Jareth.

And when I say that, I don’t want the reboot to try to replace David Bowie. They can’t. It’s impossible. I want to Jareth to return, but I don’t want him to be some cheap look-alike. After all, Jareth is the Goblin King, isn’t he? He’s a fairy creature, and because of that, I’d totally buy it if everything about his appearance and demeanour were changed.

In the reboot, I want Jareth to be recast as some other iconic celebrity. The original intention for the Jareth character, after all, was for him to represent the id – he was hedonistic and ideal, and Jim Henson wanted to cast a rock star specifically because he thought that a rock star could capture that best. After considering which modern celebrity would best fill the role, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to see Lady Gaga in the role. While she might not be quite as iconic as David Bowie, she does capture that same sense of bigness, that same love of style and fairy-like androgyny, and she would be my perfect choice. However, that being said, I wouldn’t be opposed to other suggestions – just so long as the reboot tries to take the character and the story in its own direction, while still capturing the magic and strangeness of the movie that I have come to love over the years.

How to Write a Strong Female Character

I don’t think it’s any secret that I love women (for the purpose of this article, I mostly mean this in the feminist way, but I suppose it’s true in the bisexual way too). I love helping women, supporting women, learning more about the experiences of other women, and whenever I hear about a piece of media that is supposed to represent women well, my interest in it is immediately piqued. Because, let’s face it, there is also a lot of media out there that doesn’t represent women well; sometimes, they’re reduced to being plot devices for the sake of the male characters. Sometimes they’re represented as empty vessels, devoid of a brain or personality but there to provide the film with tits and ass. And let’s face it, people: these types of female characters are boring. I’m much more interested in seeing a woman with strength, a woman who can be explored and developed and who can really become something amazing.

But, as it turns out, writing strong female characters seems to be a much more complex art than it really should be. I mean, we as a society have been writing strong male characters for years, decades, centuries even. Writers know how to write them, so it shouldn’t be too hard to just transfer that ability over to the other gender, right? And some try, but audiences continue to pick these attempts apart and argue about what the ‘correct’ way to represent strong women is in the media.

Take the character of Rey from the newest Star Wars movies for instance. I’ve heard some people say that Rey is a terrible example of a strong female character, because she doesn’t have enough flaws, she isn’t willing to accept help from anyone, and she doesn’t come across as human enough, whereas Princess Leia from the original Star Wars series was a better strong female character because she was humble and cared more about helping others than herself. I’ve also heard that Rey is a wonderful example of a strong female character because she is emotionally complex, capable of taking care of herself, and doesn’t rely on anyone, whereas Princess Leia was a weaker female character because she was only allowed to be strong if the fans got at least one scene of her in a tiny, gold bikini and acting as a slave girl.

Arguments like these surround almost every female character that comes out in the media nowadays. Peggy Carter from the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t a good strong female character because she’s too aggressive, Harley Quinn in the Suicide Squad movie can’t be strong because she wears tiny, sparkly shorts that may as well be underwear, and Black Widow was criticized by fans because she expressed regret at never being able to have a family in Age of Ultron. It seems like the smallest little detail can suddenly make a female character either not feminist enough or too feminist, too feminine to be strong or too masculine to be taken seriously as a woman. So, really, what is the answer? How can one properly write a strong female character?

Well, in my own humble opinion, there is no real answer. There is no one way to represent a woman that will immediately translate as ‘strong’, because there is no single way for a real human person to be strong. And at the end of the day, that’s all that I want a female character to be: real. She doesn’t have to be a gun-totting badass, she just needs to feel complex and human. She just needs to be a person. And real people find all sorts of different ways to be strong. Some women find strength in wearing tiny, sparkly shorts that may as well be underwear. Some women find strength dressing up in men’s clothing. Some women find strength through physical means, some through mental means, some through emotional means. Some women find strength by being hyper-feminine and revelling in clothes, make-up, and pretty nails. Some women find strength by behaving the way men stereotypically do – fixing cars, building houses, whatever it is those men-folk do, I don’t know. And some women find strength through creating families, attaching themselves to friends, and helping others, while some women find strength by being all on their own.

So how do we represent that? How do we create strong women in the media if the definition of a strong woman is so incredibly varied? Well, the answer to that is a bit simpler: we keep writing female characters, as many of them as possible, and we make them as varied, unique, and individual as possible. And at the same time, we need to stop comparing them to other female characters, expecting them to act one specific way to be strong. To return to the example of Rey and Princess Leia, I personally find both of them to be good examples of strong female characters. One is a bit more independent and the other is a bit more focused on helping others, but neither of them are wrong. They’re just different, because women are different. And that’s awesome. That’s something that should be celebrated, not shamed.

The purpose of a strong female character should not be to show women and girls that there is only one way to be strong. The purpose should be to show them that they can be strong. Men and boys have had centuries of seeing complex and varied male characters – men that think their way out of situations, men that punch their way out of situations, men that can work alone and men that need validation, so that every man, regardless of how he defines himself, can feel like he has the capability to be strong. And as much as those characters are awesome and should continue to be written, now it’s our turn. Now we should have the opportunity to see ourselves represented, regardless of how we define ourselves, and we should know that our way of finding strength is perfectly valid.