Posted in supplementary material

Grief and Horror: Episode 11 Follow-Up

(Written by Martha S.)

Last week, we discuss in detail some of the broad ways that media handles grief and characters who are grieving, as well as how creators grieve through their work. The media we chose to assign for the episode all falls broadly under the umbrella of realistic fiction (Spontaneous perhaps has a touch of science fiction about it? Maybe if you stretch), and I want to address another genre that is saturated with grief and loss and the way people deal (or don’t deal) with those things: horror.

The easiest and most disingenuous way to describe horror, whether it’s in film or book form, is “something that causes fear.” I say this knowing that I myself have used that as shorthand, or as a way to distill the genre down to something classifiable (one of my job duties is purchasing and categorizing DVDs at the library that I work at, and when you only have seven genres on the shelf, you have to make some generalizations somewhere), but the reality is that while this is true, horror is much more multifaceted than that. What I want to talk about specifically is horror media driven by grief, and frequently also driven by guilt.

Frequently, in supernatural horror where the main character is haunted by a specter of some sort, that specter (whether it’s a ghost, monster, or other) is anchored to the protagonist by some kind of strong feeling or catastrophic event. Guilt is a powerful emotion, particularly when coupled with grief – say, over a loved one dying, or causing death either accidentally or purposefully (see: Dr. Cox’s breakdown in Scrubs). The protagonist is haunted, both literally and metaphorically, by the specter of their grief, until they confront their guilt and lay it to rest. Then, if the story has a happy ending, they can move on with their lives; if it does not, it may mean the protagonist is consumed (again, both literally and metaphorically) by their grief.

Horror stories can be cathartic to consume. I recommend this article by Aaron Orbey from the New Yorker on the subject, who speaks much more eloquently on using horror film as a way to exorcise one’s own feelings of loss than I ever could. Suffice to say, horror stories can provide us the same tools that all media dealing with grief can, with the added layer of being able to watch someone plagued by demonic horrors and say “at least I have it better than they do.”

Supplementary Materials

The Babadook (2014 film directed by Jennifer Kent and starring Essie Davis)
Not just a gay icon, The Babadook is also a portrait of a woman suffering the extreme grief over the death of her husband, guilt at her survival, and guilt over the way this death has come between her and her son. The titular monster is the tremendous and insatiable embodiment of her grief, guilt, and rage at herself, and **spoilers** doesn’t totally go away at the end of the film. Rather than exorcising this demon completely, Amanda learns to live with it, which is the reality most of us face with our own feelings of grief – they never truly go away, they just become easier to deal with.

Hannibal
Hahaha OH HANNIBAL. There are a couple of different incarnations of the character I could talk about, but I’m going to focus on the tv series, since the way they play with expectations on dealing with grief is just absolutely fascinating. We learn early on that Hannibal Lecter had a sister, who died – he mentions her to Abigail in episode 1.04, Oeuf, when he is talking about wanting to rewind time and “put the teacup back together,” as it were. Lecter’s whole deal (cannibalism included) can be taken as him dealing with the death of his sister – except that he himself refuses to be distilled down to a childhood trauma, which is more closely examined in season 3.

Aside from being the main general destructive force in the show, Hannibal also causes a number of very personalized losses, which he then orchestrates the recovery of in some breathtaking feats of gaslighting and brainwashing (note: Hannibal is not a show about recovering from grief in a healthy manner). I desperately want to assign episodes of this show as homework, so I’m gonna stop there, but suffice to say, Will Graham’s eternal grief over his job, the loss of Abigail, and all the second-hand grief he takes upon himself is about 75% of the show (the rest is beautiful, cannibalistic food portraiture).

iZombie 3.10: Return of the Dead Guy (currently airing CW tv show created by Diane Ruggiero and Rob Thomas, and starring Rose McIver)
In case you’re unfamiliar with the premise of this delightful show, Rose McIver stars as Liv Moore, a former medical student-turned-medical examiner for the Seattle P.D. after a disastrous party ends with her being turned into a zombie. Now, she helps solve crimes by eating the brains of murder victims and seeing visions of their past. This particular episode is of note because the brain she eats causes her to hallucinate her dead ex-boyfriend, who she was forced to kill after he went into full-on zombie monster mode (which there’s no coming back from). Liv gets the chance to face the guilt she feels over pulling the trigger, while acknowledging that it was the only, and the right, thing to do.

On a macro level, the show deals with Liv coming to terms with the loss of her human life, and finding a way to move forward without the emotional touchstones she has relied on for that life (including her family and ex-fiance).

The Orphanage (2007 film directed by J.A. Bayona and starring Belen Rueda)
We’ve already talked about The Orphanage on our very first episode, but it’s worth bringing up again because of how strongly Laura is motivated by the grief of losing her son – and also how the specter of another woman’s grief sets the wheels turning on the story in the first place.

The Others (2001 film directed by Alejandro Amenabar and starring Nicole Kidman)
**THIS WHOLE PARAGRAPH IS SPOILERS** This film is a pretty delightful inversion of the “haunted by guilt” idea, in that Nicole Kidman is actually haunting herself – the reveal at the end that she and her children are dead because of her (she killed them in a maddened haze and then shot herself) throws the rest of the movie, where she believes they’re being haunted by an invasive presence, into much sharper relief. This is another story where coming to terms with one’s grief doesn’t make the specter go away, but simply allows the grieving individual to accommodate the grief in an (arguably?) healthier fashion. Kidman may not be able to lay herself to rest, but she can at least stop denying the tragedy happened, and move forward in her ghostly way.

Pet Sematary (1983 novel written by Stephen King)
This Stephen King novel was made into a film, but since I’ve never seen it I’m going to be talking about the original novel. While Pet Sematary is not my favorite of King’s work by an order of magnitude, it fits our conversation here to a tee: Louis Creed learns of a cemetery where the things buried in it come back to life. He buries his cat there, to find that the beings that come back are monstrous versions of themselves – this does not prevent him from trying the same thing with his two-year-old son, who spends the last third of the book terrorizing the Creed family and ultimately killing his mother, Rachel. This book provides a solid example of what happens when the protagonist is unable to overcome their grief, as Louis, despite all evidence pointing to the terrible outcome, tries the resurrection AGAIN with his wife – who, the ending implies, also comes back as a monstrous shadow of herself.

Supernatural, the early seasons
The core of this show is Dean and Sam running away from their feelings under the guise of enacting vengeance on the forces that have been taking away their loved ones. It’s hard to anchor an infinitely long-running show on this, so it does wander from time to time, but the truth of Supernatural is of two men that are terrible at accepting and moving on from their grief. For more specific examples, I recommend episodes 1.01 (Pilot), 2.01 (In My Time of Dying), 2.02 (Everybody Loves a Clown), and 2.20 (What Is and What Should Never Be).

Posted in episodes

Episode 11

Better late than never, right, y’all?

The homework for the episode:
Pete: The Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, the Pitchfork review of the album, and the Wikipedia page for it
Martha: Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer
Calee: Scrubs, episodes 5.20 and 5.21

A musician familiar with the sounds and strains of death exorcises his grief through a brief, but haunting, album.

Mara Carlyle, high school senior, leads a pretty normal (albeit substance-fueled) life – until her schoolmates start spontaneously combusting.

Dr. Perry Cox makes a call with the best information he has, which kills three patients. This is the aftermath.

Grief is something that everyone experiences in some shape or form during their lifetimes, and pop culture can help us develop the tools to deal with and overcome it. We thread our way through three stories that show us how characters overcome their grief, and also how an artist can use his art to express it.

Your podcasters’ credentials:

Pete: Plizzanet Earth
Martha: Awful Squad: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds stream from Polygon (here)
Calee: “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure” trailer

Martha’s new zen place is watching Polygon employees get shot a lot in Battlegrounds; we debate how long is too long for an animated short before a Disney movie; and Pete tries to explain Snoop Dogg to Martha (J/K; she gets Snoop Dogg, she just doesn’t quite grokk his unique method of speech).

Martha also mentions the trailer for the upcoming Disney/Pixar feature Coco, which you can watch here.

Pop Culture and Mental Health: Discussion Questions and Big Ideas

  1. How do media portrayals of grief and loss align with “typical” experiences?
  2. Does knowing the story behind a highly personal work of media change the way we view it? How?
  3. How can media/pop culture help people deal with loss, both as consumers and creators?
  4. How do others respond to those grieving? What responsibility do we have to people?

There’s a whole lot to unpack here, and not just the notion (a carry-over from last episode) that the idea of “normal people” and the “normal way” of dealing with things is a whole lot of B.S. We all agree that one of the things media can do is normalize the fact that there IS no one way of dealing with grief, but that seeing characters we love go through the grieving process can help us when we suddenly have a heft of it and no tools of our own to process it.

We’re getting our Joseph Campbell on in our next episode, which is going to be all about The Hero’s Journey. Background reading of The Man With the Thousand Faces is 100% optional (PETER). Enjoy doing your homework!

Your homework for June 28:
Martha: The Book of Life
Calee: Shrek (the first one)
Pete: The “Beren and Luthien” chapter from The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkein

And remember, if you have questions, comments, or ideas for a show, give us a shoutout here or send us an e-mail to show@homeworkpodcast.com. We’d love to hear from you!

Posted in Uncategorized

Episode 11: Grieving (Pre-Reading)

On this week’s show––dropping on Wednesday as usual––we’re talking about grief and loss.

Homework

  1. Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer
  2. Scrubs season 5 episodes 20, 21, and 22
  3. Listen to Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Then, read the Wikipedia article about the album and the Pitchfork review. Finally, listen to the album a second time.

Discussion Questions

  1. How can media/pop culture help people deal with loss, both as consumers and creators?
  2. How do others respond to those grieving? What responsibility do we have to people?
  3. How do media portrayals of grief and loss align with “typical” experiences?
  4. Does knowing the story behind a highly personal work of media change the way we view it? How?

Notice something strange about that last question? It’s not really about grief and loss, is it? However, it’s the genesis question of the episode. I came to this topic because I was interested in running an experiment in how we consume media. I assigned a process rather than simply a work of culture for the homework. Listen to the album Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, then read some reviews about it and get both the critical angle and the background to album’s production, and finally listen to the album a second time. I was interested in the way that knowing the background of the album might influence people’s perception of it. However, that wasn’t enough to hang an episode on. So, I took the heart-wrenching events that occurred early during the production of Skeleton Tree as my tip off point and framed the episode around grief and loss.

Background aside, we had some fantastic homework assigned for this episode. Seriously, it might be the best collection we’ve had yet! Spontaneous gave a plethora of examples of how different people react to loss, and the episodes of Scrubs gave us insight into how a person’s community can and should––and sometimes shouldn’t––help with the grief process.

You’ve got two days to finish up your homework before the episode drops. Get crackin’!

Posted in extra credit

Not an Episode.

(Written by Martha S.)

Hey guys! You may have noticed that there is no episode today! That is my fault and I apologize – the day we were going to record I was very, very sick and had no voice to do so, so our actual episode 11 will go up next Wednesday, keeping to our normal schedule of content every other week. I apologize for false promises and for the delay, it was not my intention to put off our discussion on grief for so long, but life happens sometimes!

In the meantime, I want to address something related to Episode 10 (wherein we discussed mental health in pop culture) that I find pretty amazing: recently, on the second episode of the current season of The Bachelorette, Rachel Lindsay (the Bachelorette herself) and one of her suitors (namely, Peter Kraus, 31-year-old small business owner) had an open, honest, and simple discussion about how they had both been to relationship therapists and had really benefited from the experience.

I don’t care if you watch The Bachelor properties – in fact, you probably shouldn’t, considering all the shit that franchise perpetuates. I do, though, and so do millions of other people, and despite how you personally may feel about it, it is a media and cultural juggernaut. Having two adult, seemingly normal, very attractive people not only admit to having needed mental health care but benefited from it on a tv show that is such a mainstay in our pop cultural landscape is a huge step in normalizing mental healthcare.

As the Huffington Post points out (in this article here, by Emma Gray):

“In an ideal world, this wouldn’t even be notable. After all, mental health struggles are incredibly common in this country. Anxiety disorders alone impact 40 million adults in the U.S. ― that’s about 18 percent of the population. However, only about one-third of those people get treatment. This gap exists for a few reasons: a lack of comprehensive coverage for quality mental health care, the persistent idea that mental health isn’t “real” health, and the stigma that still follows admitting that you might need mental health care in the first place.”

So yes, more of this please. More real discussions about how normal people, every day, benefit from mental health care.

 

Posted in extra credit

Episode 10.5: Extra Credit

This is not a full episode of our show! Do to personal circumstances, we were not able to record our full Episode 11 for all of our fabulous listeners. In order to bring you the best content possible, we’re shifting the schedule back a week and giving you an extra credit episode to listen to.

We do partial credentials, but really, we’re all about Wonder Woman today.

Click here for the Vulture.com review by David Edelstein that I refer to. Here also is Edelstein’s rebuttal of sorts to his criticisms, which is part explanation and part apology, and which I don’t really buy but am presenting in the interest of fairness.

A word on Fox News’ absurd reaction to the movie at Entertainment Weekly, written by Derek Lawrence, is here.

Click here to read about how all the Amazons are played by real life Strong Ladies.

Episode 11 airs on June 14!

Posted in episodes

Episode 10: Pop Culture Perceptions of Mental Health

The homework for the episode:
Pete: Spellbound, 1945 film by Alfred Hitchcock
Martha: Legion, 1.01 and 1.02
Calee: Adventures in Depression, parts 1 & 2 by Allie Brosh (part of HyperboleandaHalf.blogspot.com)

Mr. “John Brown”––a patient suffering from psychogenic amnesia––is accused of murder, but he cannot recall what happened. Hopefully his psychoanalyst can cure him of “the devils of unreason” and prove his innocence.

David Haller has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and is a patient in a psychiatric hospital. But is his disorder actually a manifestation of super-cool mutant powers?

Allie Brosh bluntly describes what depression is like in ways that those who have never experienced it can begin to empathize with and understand.

What’s going on? We’re looking at pop culture portrayals of mental health issues. How have these portrayals changed over time? Is it better to view mental illness through the lens of fiction or autobiography? And our ongoing through-line of empathy continues to play its part, as we discuss how media portrayals can help people develop empathy, grapple with mental health issues, and the benefits and risks of how the media portrays mental health.

Your podcasters’ credentials:

Pete: Evicted by Matthew Desmond
Martha: Something Positive webcomic archive (located here)
Calee: The Good Place, NBC sitcom

Pete is seriously proselytizing Evicted as mandatory reading (Martha wanted more of a call to arms and less of a narrative angle), we all get nostalgic for legacy web comics, and Calee and Martha yell at Pete to watch The Good Place, which is apparently what it would look like if Bryan Fuller opened a FroYo shop in Heaven.

Pop Culture and Mental Health: Discussion Questions and Big Ideas

  1. In general, media portrays struggles with mental health in one of three ways: demonizing it, romanticizing it, or normalizing it. Where do we feel our homework pieces fall on this spectrum?
  2. How have media portrayals of mental health evolved over time?All experiences with mental health issues are different and specific to the person experiencing them.
  3. How can pop culture and media help us find common ground in something that is so radically different from person to person? How can we use pop culture to work towards a normalizing view of mental health struggles?

Martha mentions the article “How Mental Illness is Misrepresented in the Media” by Kristin Fawcett in the episode, read it here. Pete mentions 50 First Dates. Don’t watch it.

Our theme for our next episode is going to be: Grief in and through Pop Culture. Enjoy doing your homework!

Your homework for June 7:
Pete: A homework in three parts:

  1. Listen to the album The Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. (YouTube, Spotify, iTunes, everywhere fine music can be heard)
  2. Read the review for the album from Pitchfork and the Wikipedia page about the album.
  3. Listen to the album a second time. (and a third, fourth, twentieth…)

Martha: Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer (YA novel)
Calee: Scrubs, 5.21 and 5.22 (tv show)

And remember, if you have questions, comments, or ideas for a show, give us a shoutout here or send us an e-mail to show@homeworkpodcast.com. We’d love to hear from you!

Posted in extra credit

Supplemental: Unwilling Partnerships

By Pete R.

I want to take a step slightly to the side of what the episode focused on. One of the common themes with “strange bedfellows” is that of the unwilling bedfellows. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. certainly fits this description, as neither Napoleon Solo nor Ilya Kuryakin want to be working together. Much of the comedy and drama comes from their hostility towards each other and their eventual coming to terms with each other. In Good Omens, Crowley and Aziraphael began somewhat in this position, but by the time the events of the book occur, they are much more willing compatriots. They have long ago realized that they have more in common with each other than with their bosses, and actively work to subvert the Apocalypse.

So why am I so focused on unwilling partnerships?

First, it can often create really interesting dramatic frission. Sergio Leone’s spaghetti-western masterpiece The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly has this relationship at its center as Clint Eastwood’s “Blondie” captures Eli Wallach’s Tuco and forces the hapless bandit to work with him (or perhaps for him?) to find the location of buried gold. For being “the Good,” Blondie certainly acts like a right bastard, and much of Tuco’s time is spent trying to escape from his captor’s watchful eye. So from a purely dramatic and entertainment perspective, unwilling “strange bedfellow” relationships can be rewarding.

Waaaah aaaah aaaaah (wao wao wao)
“Rewarding?”

Second, this type of relationship can often lead to characters developing empathy. We spent much of the past episode talking about the importance of developing and teaching “radical empathy” in the modern era (roughly: creating a mindset that actively works towards understanding opposing viewpoints or alternative worldviews without necessarily endorsing or sympathizing), but most of our conversation was about how consuming media can help us develop that radical empathy through seeing other perspectives of lives. However, especially for teens, seeing others undergo that same experience is equally important. Children and teens learn both through their own experiences and through watching the experiences of others. During our teenage years, we struggle to determine who we are, and often establish those relationships by defining who we are NOT: I AM a Theater Kid, which means I am NOT going to hang out with the athletes. Admitting any sort of fault, uncertainty, ignorance, or even acceptance of differences is therefore difficult for many teens to do, even though that is often the necessary first step to begin to empathize with others.

Watching, reading, or listening to people go through that process normalizes it for students and gives them a template for their own actions. “Unwilling” strange bedfellow partnerships provide fertile ground for seeing one or two characters begrudgingly come to accept each other. One of the standout examples of this in recent media is the relationship arc between Jamie Lannister and Brienne of Tarth in Game of Thrones. The relationship begins entirely antagonistically as Brienne grudgingly transports “the Kingslayer” back to King’s Landing. However, over the course of that journey and due in no small part to the horrifying events that happen (it’s Game of Thrones, of course horrifying things happen), the two become close. It is clear that they both respect each other, and perhaps even pity each other; at the very least, they both have a firm empathy for each other, when before there was none.

lkvgfek

For a less intense example, consider the delightful Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Darmok.” This episode has innumerable merits––how to communicate, metaphor and allegory, storytelling as part of culture, things not being what they seem––but at its heart it’s the story of Picard learning more about an alien race known as the Tamarians through undergoing a trying event with a member of that race. The crew begins the episode frustrated and hostile towards the Tamarians, whom they cannot understand. By the end, communication is difficult but both sides have a better understanding of the intentions and mindset of the other. This is the first and most important step to forging empathy and continuing the conversations.

Star Trek: TNG Darmok
“What is this dagger I see before me?”

I’ve highlighted just a few additional sources to dive deeper into this theme, but “unwilling strange bedfellows” is a fairly common trope. Magneto and the X-Men often find themselves thrown into this situation, and many Terry Pratchett books in addition to Good Omens play on it to a certain extent (I’m fairly certain I could find a Discworld book for every topic we will ever cover). The first half of season 3 of the 2004 Battlestar Galactica look at this idea of “unwilling strange bedfellows” from a rather precarious position. Gaius Baltar is the president of humanity, but he is under the thumb of the Cylons. This leads to interesting ethical conundrums, as the quisling must weigh the good he can do as a leader to mitigate suffering against the inherent suffering that an occupied people suffer at the hands of the occupiers.

Picard and Dathon at El-Adrel.

Extra Credit assigned in this post:

  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
  • Game of Thrones (particularly seasons 3 and 4)
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation “Darmok” (season 5, episode 2)
Posted in episodes

Episode 9: Strange Bedfellows

A note from your podcasters: you’ll notice our episode is slightly different this week! In order to bring you the best content possible, we’re streamlining our discussion and shifting focus from trying to generate a syllabus of materials in the episode, to generating a lesson plan of Big Ideas that you can address using the media we assign as homework. Follow-up blog posts will include more media on the theme as usual, but more from us about how they connect to the podcast. 

Feedback is, as always, more than welcome! Tweet us at @DYDYHpodcast or e-mail us at show@homeworkpodcast.com to let us know your thoughts on our new direction.

The subtitle for this episode is basically “radical empathy,” which is the theme a lot of these stories boil down to and a very useful thing to be teaching!

The homework for the episode:
Pete: Good Omens, 1990 novel cowritten by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Martha: Anya’s Ghost, 2011 graphic novel by Vera Brosgol
Calee: The Man from U.N.C.L.E, 2015 film by Guy Ritchie

What exactly do we mean when we say “Strange Bedfellows”? If you didn’t get it from the homework context clues, we’re talking weird character matchups between people who have absolutely nothing in common – or DO they? We get down and dirty on the subject of odd couples, weird matchups, character growth and something Pete has dubbed “Radical Empathy.” Our homework takes us from ghosts to the apocalypse, from the Cold War to first generation Russian immigrants, and from the idyllic English countryside to 1960’s Rome in our search for commonality. What we find may shock you! (It won’t, but it does end up being quite interesting.)

Your podcasters’ credentials:
Pete: I Love You, Honeybear by Father John Misty (album)
Martha: Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, vol. 1: Who is Oracle? by Shawna and Julie Benson, and Roge Antonio and Claire Roe (DC Rebirth trade paperback)
Calee: Mystery Science Theater 3000: Cry Wilderness (Netflix incarnation)

Martha is digging hard on the DC Rebirth incarnation of the Birds of Prey, while Pete feels only lukewarm on the new musical offering from Fleet Foxes alum Father John. Calee has never seen MST3K before (author’s note: WHAT), but the new stuff sounds pretty great.

Strange Bedfellows: Big Ideas
– Radical Empathy: using media examples to teach empathy and understanding
– Determining the appeal of “strange bedfellow” relationships, through what they reveal about a character (and by extension the consumer by proxy)
– The idea of living in an “echo chamber” (slightly rehashed from our episode on News Media): how absorbing the viewpoints and opinions from others can expand your worldview
– The difference between understanding and empathy, and why it matters

We briefly mention a comic from the popular blog The Oatmeal, “You’re Not Going to Believe What I’m About to Tell You.” Read it here, it’ll be good for you.

Our theme for our next episode is going to be: Pop Culture Depictions of Mental Health. Enjoy doing your homework!

Your homework for May 24:
Pete: Spellbound, 1945 film by Alfred Hitchcock (watch it in its entirety on YouTube here)
Martha: Legion, episodes 1 and 2 (2017 show on F/X)
Calee: Hyperbole and a Half, Adventures in Depression parts 1 and 2 by Allie Brosh (located here and here)

And remember, if you have questions, comments, or ideas for a show, give us a shoutout here or send us an e-mail to show@homeworkpodcast.com. We’d love to hear from you!

Posted in extra credit

Conservation Follow-Up: The Evils of Capitalism

(By Martha S.)

Can you have progress, can you have capitalism, without the destruction of the natural world?

This is the question we dance around in our eighth episode, without really coming to a solid conclusion. My opinion then and now is that pop culture certainly doesn’t think so. The villain in the stories we discussed is invariably a version of Giovanni Ribisi’s  Avatar caricature, in varying degrees of complexity. But we are a people based on progress – we celebrate scientific advances even as they contribute to the capitalistic society that demands the development of our land into factories, the degradation of our air from pollutants, the poisoning of our water from…well, a whole bunch of stuff. Am I falsely equating scientific and capitalistic progress? Perhaps, but you don’t get the latter without the former, and many scientific advancements originally intended for good get monetized in the end. So I guess what I’m really coming around to is –

Are the ideas of conservation and scientific advancement mutually exclusive?

I don’t have an answer for you. But I do have some supplementary materials for you to read that might help.

Batgirl Annual #2 by Gail Simone
Someday we will do an entire episode on lady superheroes and you’ll get to experience the actual sound of my being radiating with joy, but until then, please pick up Simone’s Batgirl Annual issues. No. 2 does two relevant things: it pairs Batgirl with Poison Ivy, who (like Swamp Thing) is a physical embodiment of Nature Bites Back; and it tells an interesting story about a man using plant cells to grow organs in people that he sells at high cost to rich people who need transplants, effectively corrupting the natural world on a microscopic level. I like this one because it doesn’t describe sweeping geological destruction, but the subjugation of the natural world for (what else) capitalistic gain.

And then Poison Ivy Bites Back.

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Captain Planet
Listen. The main villain of this show was named Hoggish Greedly, which is too good for even me to make up. Regardless, the show gets a lot of credit for how hard it worked to instill a sense of both obligation and empowerment in its viewers – yes, we were told it was generally humanity’s fault for how bad we were messing up Gaia, but we also had the power (“You have the power!”) to fix it. That call to action is missing in a lot of these works; a problem is presented, and perhaps solved, but without a specific call-out to the consumer of the media.

Laputa: Castle in the Sky
As discussed in our episode, Miyazaki has a preoccupation with the relationship and causality between man, science, and natural destruction. Castle in the Sky is a lovely movie about people who created a paradise floating above the earth – its central thesis is basically that when presented with something powerful, mankind will inevitably turn it to destruction, rather than something useful or beautiful. (The exception being, of course, young teens who are still pure enough of heart not to be tainted by masculine ambition.) The opening credits also feature some truly excellent schematics of flying machines.

The Lorax
He speaks for the trees, ok?

Man of Steel
Not the central storyline, but it is worth noting that Krypton implodes because the core of the planet has been mined to the point of internal collapse. Even Kryptonians, smarter and more evolved than simple humans, are prone to hubristic destruction.

Pacific Rim
“We practically terraformed it for them.” One of the things I love about Pacific Rim is that there isn’t really a specific bad guy (other than the kaiju, natch). Unlike Godzilla, it’s not REALLY about how we destroyed the Earth with nuclear power – except that, very subtly, it is. Newt Geiszler (played by Charlie Day) drops a few lines about how the kaiju tried invading during dinosaur times, but the world was too pure, and now that we’ve poisoned it up a bit it’s ready for their take-over. And then Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi save the world…through the power of friendship.

Paolo Bacigalupi’s novels Ship Breaker and The Water Knife
Bacigalupi’s works are interesting in the context of this conversation because they are predominantly about the capitalistic nature of ecological destruction. In Ship Breaker, we meet our main character Nailer on a polluted beach, stripping a beached oil tanker of resources. The United States is a distopic wasteland, with portions covered by global-warming induced flooding and the population divided sharply along economic lines. Nailer makes his living by plundering the ecologically disastrous oil rigs that have been lying dead on his beach for decades.

Similarly, The Water Knife is secondarily about how a large portion of the United States is experiencing deadly dust storms and lethal drought, and mainly about the commercial fight over water and the land it comes from.

Posted in episodes

Episode 8: Caring (Or Not) For the Natural World

The homework for the episode:
Pete: Avatar, 2009 film by James Cameron
Martha: Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, vol. 1 by Hayao Miyazaki
Calee: Idiocracy, 2006 film by Mike Judge

In this era of EPA rollbacks, what role should pop culture play in raising awareness? Is capitalism the source of all environmental evil? Is Avatar actually a really racist movie? All this and more is on the table as your phenomenally nerdy cohosts dig deep into the conservation warnings broadcast by their homework. Discussion points include sources of environmental destruction, the role of consumerism in environmental deterioration, and more that’s sure to leave you perky and upbeat and not full of despair at all!

Your podcasters’ credentials:
Pete: “DAMN.” by Kendrick Lamar
Martha: Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer
Calee: Archer animated TV series

Environmentalism – Additional Material
The Day After Tomorrow (film)
Dune
series by Frank Herbert (novels)
Fern Gully
(film)
Godzilla
 (film)
The Happening (film)
Pokemon the Movie 2000 (film)
Princess Mononoke (film)
Swamp Thing (DC character. Solo titles by Alan Moore and Scott Snyder. Also shows up in Justice League Dark)
The Two Towers by JRR Tolkein (novel, but we refer specifically to scenes from the film)
Wall-E (film)

We’re a little film-heavy today, but the follow-up entry will mix it up a little.

Our theme for our next episode is going to be: Strange Bedfellows. Enjoy doing your homework!

Your homework for May 10:
Pete: Good Omens, 1990 novel cowritten by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Martha: Anya’s Ghost, 2011 graphic novel by Vera Brosgol
Calee: The Man from U.N.C.L.E, 2015 film by Guy Ritchie

And remember, if you have questions, comments, or ideas for a show, give us a shoutout here or send us an e-mail to show@homeworkpodcast.com. We’d love to hear from you!